Friday, December 24, 2010

The Grim Reaper Visits Weird Movie Village

Along with the lists of best and worst movies of the year, fashion disasters and the latest news from the Kardashians (gag), there's always a grim rundown of the year's celebrity deaths. I thought I'd take a look at this year's list and point out just a few of the passings that had an effect on Weird Movie Village. Some of them may surprise you.

Andreas Voutsinas. The name may not immediately trip off your tongue, but he was the original Carmen Ghia, the hilariously effeminate assistant of Broadway director Roger Debris in the original film version of Mel Brooks' The Producers (not the musical debacle with Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick). A member of the Actors Studio, he befriended Brooks' then-girlfriend Anne Bancroft (also much missed), who recommended Voutsinas for the role. The rest is history.

Although his screen time is brief, his feline appearance and aggressive sexuality (which freaks out Gene Wilder) was memorable and hilarious. My favorite line occurs when he instructs Wilder and Zero Mostel to take off their shoes before entering Debris' apartment with the warning: "White, white, white is the color of our carpets!" And, of course, the really uncomfortable ride in the extremely small elevator. He had roles in a couple of other Brooks films, but he also worked as an acting coach for such luminaries as Jane Fonda and Warren Beatty. Andreas, I'm sure the carpets are white in Heaven.

Jackie Burroughs. A shock. Within a month after my post, "Playing By Their Own Rules," Burroughs was dead of stomach cancer. I didn't even know it until I was doing research for this post—that's how good mainstream media is at covering stories that aren't of interest to "average" audiences. I mean, Brad Renfro's untimely demise in 2008 wasn't even recognized during the 2009 Academy Awards "In Memoriam" segment. That's a crime.

You can read more of what I thought about the wonderfully strange Burroughs in my earlier post, but her last role was in Small Town Murder Songs, made in Toronto (of course), and it does sound intriguing. Burroughs, who played an old lady for decades before she actually was an old lady, shuffled off this mortal coil at age 71. The picture I'm using here shows her in 1966 (she's the one on the right).

Beverly Aadland. Another name that may have disappeared into the sands of time (except here in WMV) was Aadland, who was the 16-year-old girlfriend of 50-year-old, dissipated swashbuckler Errol Flynn, and was with him when he died of a sudden heart attack in 1959. She was also in his last disastrous film, Cuban Rebel Girls. But that was just the beginning.

In 1960, her boyfriend entered her home and was found the next morning, "shot by his own weapon." Ahem. She claimed that he'd attacked her and they'd grappled for the gun. She was made a ward of the court, but soon drifted into dancing and waitressing, marrying twice before she met Ronald Fisher, who seemed to be able to give her the needed stability. However, Aadland told Fisher that she still loved Flynn, and if he was around, she'd be with him. Fisher replied, "Well, it'd be crowded, wouldn't it?"

Cuban Rebel Girls was one of those PD features that was available on super 8mm back in the day, but I was never interested in buying it. It cost $200, it was black and white, and it didn't sound particularly exciting. I wanted to save up for a color print of The African Queen, which I did.

Jamie Gillis. One of the major porn superstars of the newly permissive 70s (after Deep Throat), Gillis was a legend in the industry. He appeared in such legendary epics as The Opening of Misty Beethoven, Barbara Broadcast and Dracula Sucks. He was the go-to guy who could deliver complicated dialogue believably and still...perform. Some called him porno's Harvey Keitel. He made some notorious roughies involving brutalization, rape and forced enemas. He also performed in those squalid Times Square live sex shows (a glimpse of which can be seen in Lucio Fulci's nasty New York Ripper).

He appeared in nearly 500 movies right up to 2005, but he officially retired in 2007 as a gift to his partner, Zarela Martinez. He played a few "straight" roles—Joel M. Reed's Night of the Zombies, the Sylvester Stallone-Rutger Hauer thriller Nighthawks—and, ironically, his last credited performance is in the film, Die, You Zombie Bastards. Amazingly, it's not a Troma film.

Zelda Rubinstein. I saw Zelda in person back in the 1980s when she was accompanied by Franklyn Seales (Silver Spoons) for a terrific Los Angeles production of Larry Gelbart's Broadway show, City of Angels, starring Christine Ebersole (Grey Gardens). Whew. Have I dropped enough names? Indelible as the mini-medium in Tobe Hooper's Poltergeist, Rubinstein seemed to drop out of sight, except for her outspoken activism for little people and against HIV/AIDS. Good for her.

She appeared in Bigas Luna's 1987 Anguish (Anguista), which is such a bizarre film. When I saw it on video in 1988, I said, "Huh?" It reminded me of the Kent Bateman film The Headless Eyes (1971) in that both of the films' killers have an eye-gouging fetish. And yes, Kent is the father of Jason and Justine. Rubinstein plays the mother of a psychopathic murderer who urges him to kill, much like good old Mother Bates, but she's in a film-within-a-film being screened in a grubby Los Angeles theater where a real killer is afoot. Or something. It didn't make much sense to me.

I saw her for the last time in Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, which cult film fans seems to treasure and compare to Man Bites Dog in terms of being a spoof documentary about a murderer, but it just doesn't have the same bite. Get it?

Guess I'll have to do another installment of this post before the New Year. Happy holidays, everyone!

1 comment:

Russell Adams said...

He's not at all obscure, but I'd like to nominate Dennis Hopper for inclusion in your year-end wrap. He did his share of strange turns. For BLUE VELVET alone, I believe DH earned his place in the Weird Movie Village.


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