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SKELETONS OUT OF THE CLOSET

skel2.gif (3289 bytes)Getting a start as an actor can be tough. In order to eat, many young actors are forced into taking roles that are unworthy of their talents at best, and at worst, just plain embarrassing. As they move onwards and upwards in their chosen profession, they probably hope that those humiliating early roles will just fade into deserving oblivion.

Well, tough. Here at AYCYAS, we’ve made it our mission to unearth everyone’s dirty little secrets.

  • Our first discovery involves perhaps the world’s least likely horror movie star. The film is Amityville 3-D, and the star in question, Margaret Mary Emily Anne Hyra, better known as….

  • Like most actors, Ray Liotta has experienced both ups and downs over the course of his twenty-year career. His resumé contains such high points as Field Of Dreams and Goodfellas, interesting and critically acclaimed films such as Something Wild and Cop Land, and probable regrets such as Turbulence and Operation Dumbo Drop. Then there's the film that I suspect may not be in Mr Liotta’s resumé at all….

  • It is a common misconception that John Travolta went from small-screen fame in "Welcome Back, Kotter" to big-screen fame in Saturday Night Fever in one easy jump. In fact, Travolta began where many do: with a small role in a horror movie. At the very outset of his career, The Twenty-Million-And-One Dollar Man found himself stranded in the ghost town of Redstone….

  • With A Stir Of Echoes in general release and The Hollow Man in production, we thought we’d take a look at where Kevin Bacon’s genre career began: playing one of the slabs of dead meat in The One That Started It All….
    [Warning: The under-18s and the easily offended should probably steer clear of this particular entry.]
  • Jessica Lange, one of the most acclaimed actresses of our time. Two-time Academy Award winner, four-time Academy Award nominee. Four-time Golden Globe winner, five-time Golden Globe nominee. Nominated for BAFTAs, Screen Actors’ Guild Awards, Emmys, you name it. Hard to believe that her very first movie could well have been her last…. 

  • There are some people who consider Brad Pitt to be "The Sexiest Man Alive". For them, we recommend such films as Seven Years In Tibet and Meet Joe Black. On the other hand, people who, like me, would enjoy few things more than seeing Brad Pitt with his head stuck in a vice would probably be better off watching the justifiably little known slasher film….


MEG.jpg (9410 bytes)Meg Ryan. While still a part of the cast of "As The World Turns", Ms Ryan scored a small role as Candice Bergen’s daughter in George Cukor’s Rich And Famous and made a couple of TV movies before appearing in Amityville 3-D as "Lisa", the ditzy friend of the doomed daughter of the house. In her big scene, she gets to deliver a speech about how great it is to have sex with a ghost, advancing the opinion that her friend’s father has "some sex-starved ghost stashed up there with boobs out to here!" Entering the infamous Amityville house, Ms Ryan announces, "I’m just dying to check this out!" but, sadly, she fails to make good the implied promise of this line. After instigating a séance that foretells her friend’s fate and taking part in the disastrous boat ride, she vanishes from the film. Perhaps the single most horrifying thing about Amityville 3-D is the discovery that, at the ripe old age of twenty-two, Ms Ryan’s screen persona (well, you’d hardly say "personality") was completely developed. It’s all there: the hair-do, the eye makeup, the little-girl grin, the Princess Di-like tilted head and glance up through the fringe. To date, Amityville 3-D remains Ms Ryan’s only foray into the horror field – unless, of course, you count You’ve Got Mail.

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ray.jpg (9087 bytes)….his big screen debut in the farcical Pia Zadora vehicle, The Lonely Lady. Many films about Hollywood – almost invariably made in Hollywood – paint the town as a cruel and brutal place, full of women willing to be used if that’s what it takes to be a success, and sleazy, evil men who can’t wait to do the using. The Lonely Lady goes its brethren one better by suggesting that the entire film industry exists purely to allow as many people as possible, both male and female, to have sex with Pia Zadora.

Based upon a novel by Harold Robbins, this turgid drama tells the story of Jerilee Randall (Zadora), an innocent teenager with ambitions to be a writer, who learns the ugly truth on her way to the top. Her first intimation that a career in Hollywood might not be all beer and skittles comes when she has the chance to meet her hero, screenwriter Walter Thornton. Stars in her eyes, Jerilee goes off blithely with Walt Jr, who introduces her to his friend, Joe Heron, played by Ray Liotta. Noticing that Jerilee is still holding her school award for "Most Promising English Major", Joe demonstrates his sparkling wit by observing that "it looks like a penis". The sad thing about this line is that it is perfectly accurate. The early stages of this film abound with phallic symbols: not just the trophy, but suggestively posed bottles and a hot-dog that’s positively obscene. A bit slow to pick up on the vibes that Joe is giving off, Jerilee climbs into a car with Walt Jr, Joe, and Joe’s girlfriend, Mary. No sooner does Walt start the car than Joe and Mary are all over each other in the back seat. Not satisfied with Mary’s breasts, Joe then lunges at Jerilee’s, laughing raucously at her repulsed reaction. After suggesting to Walt Jr that they swap girls, Joe settles back as Mary performs oral sex on him, while in the front seat, Jerilee nervously clutches her trophy in a manner surpassed for subtlety only by Dorothy Malone’s fondling of a model oil-well at the end of Written On The Wind.

At the Thorntons’ house, the awestruck Jerilee wanders around Walter Thornton’s study, then ventures out into the grounds, where Joe is lurking in the pool. Joe pulls her into the water. Jerilee manages to climb out and then, finally aware of Joe’s intentions, she does what any woman would do: she trips over. Joe is on her in a flash but, obviously worn out by his backseat activities, finds he needs assistance to do the deed. Help comes to hand – literally – in the form of a garden hose with which, in a nauseatingly protracted sequence, Joe carries out his assault. Thankfully, Walt Sr arrives to put an end to the business. Coming home to find his son’s friend raping a girl on his lawn, Walter does what any man would do: he packs his son off to Europe and marries the victim. After that, believe it or not, The Lonely Lady goes downhill….

Not surprisingly, it was three years before Ray Liotta made another movie, playing Melanie Griffith’s ex-husband in Jonathan Demme’s Something Wild. These days, The Lonely Lady may be just an ugly memory for Liotta, but so long as there are bad film fanatics willing to subject themselves to such cinematic horrors, his unforgettable debut performance will live on. Fortunately for me, The Lonely Lady falls outside the province of this website, so I am not obliged to dwell upon it sufficiently to write a full review. However, for those interested in just how bad this film is, visit Jabootu’s Bad Movie Dimension and Stomp Tokyo, whose hosts gallantly suffered through The Lonely Lady that others might be warned.

Footnote: Special thanks to Ken and his colleagues at Jabootu’s for the use of the still.

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dev.jpg (6033 bytes)….playing Ernest Borgnine’s right-hand man in Robert Fuest’s bizarre horror-western, The Devil’s Rain. Draped in a black cowl, heavily made up, Travolta must have felt that there was a reasonable chance of his inauspicious film debut passing unnoticed. However, he probably reckoned without a simple anatomical fact: he possesses a chin of extraordinary recognisability. That chin pops up in the oddest places throughout the film: behind William Shatner’s right shoulder as Bill takes pot-shots at the satanic congregation; in Bill’s car, blocking his futile attempt to flee; in a brawl with Tom Skerritt, who’s in town looking for Bill; and in a desecrated church, finding the lost-lost Book that will deliver the doomed souls into the power of the goat’s-headed Borgnine. The Chin is also present when "the devil’s rain" starts to fall, and along with the rest of the satanists, slowly and graphically melts away into a puddle of goop.

Silent throughout 99% of the film, Travolta’s big moment comes when he detects Tom Skerritt’s infiltration of the congregation’s black mass. Moving with odd, jerky motions that suggest he is literally sniffing out the intruder, Travolta points an accusing finger and delivers his one and only line – which, I am saddened to say, is one of the Medveds’ notorious misquotations. The line is not, in fact, "Blasphemer! Get him, he is a blasphemer!" but merely, "Blasphemer! Blasphemer!" It is hard to believe that two words could be delivered so woodenly – and harder still that the actor who delivered them would one day command fees of $20,000,000. Oh, excuse me - $20,000,001. After all, take care of the dollars and the millions will take care of themselves….

Footnotes: More information on Travolta’s participation in The Devil’s Rain can be found at The Unknown Movies Page. Special thanks to Andrew of Badmovies.org for the use of the still.

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fridaythe13th.jpg (13770 bytes)….Friday The 13th. The rise of the slasher film gave many, many young actors employment during the early eighties. As long as you didn’t mind an idiotic storyline, hours in the makeup chair, and an abrupt and bloody termination to your role, there was always a way of keeping the bills paid. In his third film appearance, and first sizeable part, Kevin Bacon plays Jack aka Onscreen Victim #5. Along with his girlfriend, Marcie, and his best friend, Ned, Jack takes a job as a counsellor at Camp Crystal Lake, better known to the locals as "Camp Blood". Jack learns the meaning behind this affectionate nickname when he steals away with Marcie for a quick bounce on a bunk. As movie sex scenes go, this one is positively modest: we see much more of Jack’s shoulder blades than any other portion of his or Marcie’s anatomies. But, in the slasher film world, a moral transgression is a moral transgression; and Jack is suitably rewarded for his with the film’s most notorious and gruesome death: an arrow through the throat from underneath, complete with pumping, nastily realistic blood. Word has it that in the uncut version of this film, Jack’s death lasts about forty seconds longer than it does in the generally released R-rated version….

I’m sure that no-one watching Friday The 13th in 1980 could have anticipated that Kevin Bacon would go on to a lengthy acting career: there’s nothing in the film to suggest anything of the kind. Making his first appearance twelve minutes in, and slaughtered only twenty-nine minutes later, Bacon doesn’t get much of a chance to make an impression. Granted, he’s not helped by the film’s screenplay, which gives its girls character moments, but restricts its boys to behaving like idiots. Nevertheless, Bacon’s overall performance in the film is just as uninspired and as stilted as that of any of his fellow victims-to-be. That he alone of the cast went on to a career seems perfectly arbitrary. In fact, if I were asked to nominate who in this film gives the most indication of possessing genuine talent, I’d vote, not for Kevin Bacon, but for Laurie Bartram who, as Brenda, projects an attractive warmth and sassiness onscreen. However, a quick trip to the IMDb indicates that Friday The 13th was Bartram’s only screen appearance. Shows how much I know, huh?

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kingkongpic.jpg (9994 bytes)As has been observed with respect to Paul Newman’s debut performance in The Silver Chalice, it isn’t everyone who gets to embarrass themself in a full-blown starring role first up. Jessica Lange joined this elite group of unfortunates when she was cast as the female lead in the ill-advised re-make of the classic King Kong. Lange plays "Dwan" ("like Dawn, except I switched two letters to make it more memorable"), cast adrift when the yacht she was travelling on exploded. She subsequently explains her survival to her rescuers by revealing that everyone else was below deck watching Deep Throat at the time of the, ah, "tragedy". I hesitate to use that expression because Dwan herself seems largely unmoved, consoling herself with the reflection that "Harry probably wouldn’t have cast me in that movie anyway". Before long, Dwan finds herself attracted to palaeontologist Jack Prescott, but Jack turns out to have a rival for his affections in the shape of a fifty-foot ape named Kong….

As Dwan, Lange is simply awful. To be fair, she gets no help whatsoever from either her director or her screenwriter. Her dialogue is just atrocious, and to make matters worse, John Guillermin has her deliver it in a breathy, little-girl voice meant to convince the audience that despite that whole "I’d do anything to be a star" bit, Dwan is just a naïf adrift in a big cruel world. Add in behavioural habits like twisting her shoulders with her hands in her pockets, shuffling from foot to foot, and biting her lip while gazing up through her hair, and you have one of the most irritating characters ever put on screen. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine what Kong sees in her – other than the very obvious – since Dwan spends a lot of time yelling abuse at him and punching him in the mouth. Lange’s Oscar-clip – or more likely, Razzie-clip – moment comes when Dwan, convinced that Kong is about to eat her, reacts by shrieking the line that everyone who sees this film remembers: "You goddamn chauvinist pig ape!" It is frankly incredible that Lange’s career survived this scene; and more incredible still that she won the Golden Globe for the year’s Best Acting Debut - Female. (Although this was of course the era that saw Pia Zadora win New Star Of The Year for Butterfly….which I object to purely because she wasn’t qualified, so settle down, Chris and Scott!) It was three years before Lange made another film, finally scoring a role in All That Jazz. From there she went on to build a hugely impressive body of work in films both popular and critically-acclaimed, her debut performance becoming something to be recalled only by the mean-spirited and those with a taste for the truly terrible….not mentioning any names….

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ccskel.jpg (7940 bytes)….Cutting Class. It was not, believe me, because of any intrinsic merit that I tracked down a print of this weak horror effort, but rather because the film was brought to my attention by a friend who summed it up with the line, "Oh, that’s the one where someone sticks Brad Pitt’s head in a vice!"

How could I resist?

Like many of his acting forebears, Brad Pitt got his "big break" (or at least his first starring role) in a slasher movie. In Cutting Class, Pitt plays Dwight Ingalls, the emotionally volatile boyfriend of the film’s Final Girl, Paula, played by Jill Schoelen. Since the screenplay makes it clear that either Dwight or the certifiably crazy Brian Woods (Donovan Leitch) is the film’s killer, we spend a great deal of the film’s running time examining Dwight’s "qualifications": his foul mouth, his utter lack of consideration for anyone else, his constant drinking (including while driving, and even on school grounds!), and his violent temper. Does all this make him a killer? Of course not! – he’s just a typical American movie teenager! (I won’t say typical American teenager, but judging by the movies, you would think so.) Convinced that Dwight is the killer who has been working his way through the high school faculty, Paula flees from him in horror – only to witness Brian axing the math teacher to death. Dwight rescues Paula from Brian, and after a futile, not to say embarrassing, attempt to blow Brian up with a rock (don’t ask), the two take refuge in the school’s motor shop, where the final showdown takes place.

This scene is quite enjoyable in a mindless sort of way. First Brian and Dwight duel with power tools, then Brian traps Dwight’s neck in long metal tongs before offering him a choice: he can kill Paula, or be killed himself. Although the film has given us no reason to expect anything of Dwight, he does the right thing and chooses to sacrifice himself. At that, Brian hauls him over to a large bench vice and begins a practical demonstration of his life’s philosophy: "Righty-tighty, lefty-loosey". It is at this point, with the vice doing its work on both of Dwight’s temples (and with visions of Casino dancing in my head), that Paula intervenes, offering to "do anything" if only Brian will stop. Brian accepts this offer, leaving Dwight rather uncomfortably situated as he encourages Paula to strip for him. Paula says she will, if only Brian will do something for her: "Close your eyes…." Incredibly, Brian does – and ends up with a hand tool buried in his brain. And rightly so. Paula then rushes to free Dwight from his predicament. I did have some hopes that our heroine might confuse "righty-tighty" with "lefty-loosey", but no such luck.

Often in early roles such as these, it is difficult to see any talent in the future star in question, but in fairness I have to admit that Brad Pitt’s performance in Cutting Class isn’t too bad. (That he gives a performance at all puts him one up on most of his co-stars.) Unlike many young actors who, upon finding themselves stuck in such a dog of a film, try to idle in neutral and attract as little attention to themselves as possible, Pitt attacks his role with enthusiasm, making Dwight not just an arsehole, but a believable arsehole. Indeed, there were times while watching this film that I found Pitt’s performance a little too convincing, if you know what I mean – and I began to wonder just how Mr Pitt got along with the members of his high school faculty….

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