In Memoriam: Norm Macdonald (1959-2021)

By: Jesse Striewski

Few comedians in recent memory have been as sharp or quick-witted as Norm Macdonald; he had the ability to perfectly sum up everyday issues in creative ways that most of us may have overlooked, all while making us roll on the floor with laughter. And he possessed the demeanor of “just one of the guys” that made him all the more relatable in a big brother kind of way. So when the sudden news of his passing after a long battle with cancer swept across airwaves this past Tuesday, September 14, many of us felt as though we had indeed lost that big brother we all loved.

Macdonald was born on October 17, 1959 in Quebec City, Canada, and rose to prominence as a stand up comedian in the mid-1980’s. His first television appearance was on Star Search in 1990, and soon after he found himself writing for the likes of such shows as Roseanne and The Dennis Miller Show, before eventually landing every comic’s dream job on Saturday Night Live in 1993.

His first film was a supporting role in the 1995 Adam Sandler vehicle Billy Madison, in which he played slacker friend Frank. But his first leading role came in the unforgettable form as Mitch Weaver in the Bob Saget-directed Dirty Work, which also starred Artie Lang, and the late Chris Farely (in his final role ever) among many others. Although widely panned at the time, it has since found its way into many hearts with a cult status.

During his time on SNL, he became arguably one of the best Weekend Update anchors in the show’s storied history, before leaving in 1999. He then briefly had his own program on ABC, The Norm Show, which ran from 1999-2001. Other film roles include Screwed (2000), as well as providing the voice of Lucky in all five of the Dr. Dolittle films. He also had recurring roles on such popular shows as My Name is Earl, and The Middle, and would often guest on his friend Conan O’Brien’s show. Macdonald’s last appearances include lending his voice to the 2019 Netflix feature, Klaus, as well as guesting on the talk show Quarantined, in 2020.

As a teenager myself in the mid-90s, I was fully along for the ride of SNL-driven comedy films that flooded movie theaters at the time. I was there when Macdonald appeared in his previously mentioned first film Billy Madison, and being the pack rat that I am, still even have my original ticket stubs from went I went to see Dirty Work and Screwed on the big screen (see photo below). His films undoubtedly played a vital part of my own youth, and judging by the outpouring of love from fans and celebrities across every and any social media platform these past couple of days, he is not about to be forgotten anytime soon. Rest easy, Little Chubby.

Original ticket stubs from the author’s collection of the Norm Macdonald films Dirty Work (1998) and Screwed (2000).

Album Review: Debbie Gibson – The Body Remembers (Stargirl)

By: Jesse Striewski

I wasn’t exactly a Debbie Gibson “fan” during her ’80s hey day. I was certainly aware of her presence thanks to MTV, but in my young mind, she was just something for my older sisters to listen to, not me. But with age comes wisdom, and my appreciation for all genres of music has grown exponentially over the years. Not to mention the moment I first saw Gibson scantly slinking around in her recent video for “One Step Closer,” I knew she had me hooked.

The Body Remembers contains fifteen cutesy pop tracks that often sound comparable to many of the current hits heard on modern radio today. Along the way, there’s contributions from the likes of Sixx: A.M./former Guns N’ Roses guitarist DJ Ashba and Cinderella drummer Fred Coury. There’s even a duet with Joey Mcintyre of New Kids on the Block, appropriately titled “Lost in Your Eyes, the Duet,” though said track is not as strong a ballad as probably hoped for. But the main overall highlights here are definitely the title track, and “Dance 4U,” the latter a seemingly perfect strip club anthem.

Okay, so I probably won’t go out of my way to listen to The Body Remembers on a regular basis any time soon. But you know what? I’d rather have my kid listening to something like this than the garbage that passes for music these days that was on full display at the V.M.A’s the other night. It’s a shame that someone with actual class such as Gibson’s doesn’t get the type of attention that the masses so blindly hand over to far less talented artists; if for no other reason, give her new disc at least one spin.

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Retrospective: 35 Years Since Rodney Dangerfield went ‘Back to School’ By Shawn McKee

It would make sense that after seeing Back to School in theaters thirty-five years ago, I would be re-visiting the movie today. It was one of my the earliest big-screen outings, where I can still hear Danny Elfman’s bombastic, dreamlike score reverberating through the aisles. I recognized similar musical queues from another movie my brother and I had seen the year prior called Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. In both cases, Danny Elfman was just starting what would become a long, illustrious career scoring films.

It was exciting to witness the rise of so many well-known artists back then. Their ascendancy attributed to the zeitgeist of popular culture, with one classic movie after another. In 1986, legendary comedian Rodney Dangerfield scored big with a film that became the pinnacle of his career.

As kids, we forget how enormous movie screens looked. The dimming lights and flashing images from an unseen projector provided a surreal disruption of our adolescent sensibilities. I recall my bewildered shock of seeing seeing “Large Marge’s” jarring, eye-popping reveal in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.The Claymation effects of her split-second transformation were courtesy of director Tim Burton, another rising star at the time.

I was equally enthralled with Rodney Dangerfield’s patented “Triple Lindy” dive, performed in succession from multiple diving boards and accompanied by Elfman’s music. My indiscriminating eyes saw no difference between Rodney and the obvious stunt double performing summersalts between closeups. To me, it was simple movie magic.

Rodney Dangerfield struggled for decades as a stand-up comedian. He worked odd jobs throughout the 1950’s to support his wife and family. His comedy act picked up steam in the 1970’s after what must have seemed a lifetime, and he soon became one of Johnny Carson’s favorite guests on the late-night circuit. Dangerfield’s working-class background was the perfect fit for Thornton Melon, self-made millionaire and owner of “Tall & Fat,” a plus-size clothing store.

In addition to multiple one-liners delivered by Dangerfield, Melon couldn’t have been closer to his own persona. The script’s four writers, Harold Ramis among them, decided somewhere along the line to make their main character rich, and it works to the movie’s advantage. Infinite wealth is an artifice effectively used with Batman and Mr. Burns, among others. We know these characters are capable of anything, but it takes good writing to make it interesting.

Thornton lives in the lap of luxury, heeding advice from his limo driver, bodyguard, and friend Lou (Burt Young). He soon discovers that his wife (Adrienne Barbeau) despises him and is fooling around. He promptly divorces her. With no one else to turn to, Thornton seeks out his college-aged son, Jason (Keith Gordon) and decides to enroll in college himself after learning about his son’s difficulties. Thornton means well but constantly irks and intrudes upon Jason’s goals. To Thornton, college is a means to an end. He didn’t need it to be successful, so why should his son? He buys his way onto campus and pays experts to do his homework, disregarding the point of higher education. This attitude pushes him further away from his son than he can understand.

Meanwhile, Jason develops a love interest in a girl named Valerie Demond (Terry Farrell) who happens to be seeing the lead diver on the diving team, Chas Osborne (William Zabka), the blond antagonist from The Karate Kid. Similarly, Thorton is smitten with his literature professor Dr. Diane Tuner (Sally Kellerman), who is seeing economics professor Dr. Phillip Barbay (Paxton Whithead). These parallels are subtly delivered in a movie that never slows down. Thorton and his son are two sides of the same coin. They’re equal protagonists, but Thorton ultimately steals the show by design.

Both Melons share moments of failing and subsequently redeem themselves by the third act. Thornton learns that money can’t buy everything, as his son learns to believe in himself, and Back to School is a movie that just works. I could compare it to a dozen other classics and equate its magic to no end. It was the movie Rodney Dangerfield had been working for his entire life. And to see him embrace the role of Thornton Melon and perform it so effortlessly is a pleasure to behold.

The movie’s enduring legacy also comes down to its casting. In addition to the actors mentioned, there’s Ned Beatty, Robert Downey Jr., Kurt Vonnegut (in a cameo appearance), and Danny Elfman himself, performing with his band Oingo Boingo at Thornton’s mega party. Sam Kinison, as the deranged Professor Terguson, undoubtedly delivers some of the movie’s most memorable comedic moments. He, like, Dangerfield, is at the top of his game. Kinison was one of the many comics Dangerfield promoted and featured on his early HBO standup specials. It would have been a dream to see them in more movies together.

The carefree academic environment portrayed in Back to School is obviously long dead. It’s not a movie that fits well with the times, but to that extent, nothing does. It remains a classic though in every sense, and that fills me with hope. I’ll never forget seeing it in theaters, fully taken with its wild-eyed protagonist and his incredibly entertaining journey.

Album Review: Iron Maiden – Senjutsu (Parlophone/WMG)

By: Jesse Striewski

It’s been six years since Iron Maiden released their last studio album, 2015’s The Book of Souls. At the time, Rewind It Magazine still didn’t even exist (although I did review the album for another publication at the time), nor did half of the lunacy that has since plagued humanity. But leave it to good old reliable Iron Maiden to stick to their guns and continue to grow their metal catalogue with ease in a way that only they know how.

Senjutsu (their second double album, and seventeenth overall), is just as epic as anything the band has released yet. The eight minute long title track starts the record off promising, but things really pick up by “Stratego,” a rallying battle cry reminiscent of the band’s 1983 classic “The Trooper.” At no point does Maiden disappoint or let up, continuing to get deep and explore multiple themes on tracks like “Lost in a Lost World,” “Days of Future Past,” “Darkest Hour,” and “Hell on Earth.” The only “complaint” one might be able to find here (if looking for one) is the actual length of many of its songs.

Those who “get” Iron Maiden will always understand their genius. They’re not some washed up nostalgic act forced to rely on their material of yesterday, as so many acts from their era so often do. After years of admiration, I was lucky enough to finally see them live in 2011 for The Final Frontier tour; to this day, it remains one of the best concerts I’ve ever attended, and I would go see them tour for Senjutsu in a heartbeat as well. We’re beyond lucky to still have them around, and at the top of their game at that.

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Interview with Actor Roger Rose By Jesse Striewski

Roger Rose is one of those celebrities you’ve just got to love; although he may not be as big of a “name” as such leading stars as say, Steven Segal or even the late John Ritter, he’s got his fair share of stories with the likes of both of them (and many more) from more than four decades of crossing paths and working in the “biz” with them. During a recent phone conversation with Roger, I was able to hear firsthand accounts from many of his encounters over the years, often resulting in uncontrollable, side-splitting laughter (did I mention he’s also extremely quick-witted?), making for one of the most hilarious – yet still enlightening – professional interviews I’ve ever conducted.

Right off the bat, Rose helped give some insight on both how he got started, and what he’s up to now; “I got real lucky! My parents were both broadcasters; my mom was on NPR, and my dad was a radio talk show host in L.A. and San Francisco. So I grew up around voice over, and I’m the voice of a bunch of TV stations around the country (Rose himself has lent his voice to everything from Scooby-Doo to Tiny Toon Adventures). I’m lucky enough to do some work for CBS network and things of that sort. And then I’m also producing a couple of things right now. There’s a couple of movies I’m actually working on too with the guy who made Police Academy and Ski Patrol, Paul Maslansky. He’s 87, and has so many stories about all these movies he’s done over the years. He’s just the best!”

Rose’s first on-screen role came in a 1981 episode of the Sci-Fi show Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. Regarding the experience he told me; “That was my very first SAG job, and I auditioned for the role and got booked, then had to run and give them my membership money because I lied that I was a even member! (Laughs). But the best part about that whole experience was, we shot during Christmas week. I had to cry in my ‘big scene,’ and there were special effects and all that, and they saved everything for the last day of shooting, which was December 24. And on a set, there’s a crew of maybe 150 to 200 people, and they all want to go home because it’s Christmas Eve, and it all comes down to me. My first professional television experience, and everybody is hating me. I could’ve basically not even said my lines and they probably would’ve said, ‘Great, print it, let’s go!’ (Laughs).”

Throughout the ’80s and ’90s, Rose appeared on a number of other notable TV shows, including Knight Rider, Mr. Belvedere, Married…with Children, and Seinfeld. I asked if he would briefly shed some light on what it was like to be a part of all these shows as well, and he explained; “You know, it’s funny. CNN recently did that show, History of the Sitcom, and now I know I’m old because I’ve been on half of those shows (laughs). The one that you don’t know that I’m on that’s probably more historical though is Three’s Company. They were shooting the intro for it, and someone came up to me and said, ‘Hey kid, want to make a grand?!’ And then I’m suddenly in the opening credits. I was the guy dressed as a woman when Richard Kline jumps on the bumper car, not realizing I was actually a guy! I was lucky enough to be on a couple of huge shows, but I have to say that John Ritter, far and away, was the nicest, most professional and wonderful guy I’ve ever worked with in the business, period.”

He continued; “When I guested on Mr. Belvedere, he (the late Christopher Hewett) actually gave me a Saint Christopher’s medal, which was really nice and I was very honored, and still have it to this day. And Bob Uecker was of course great. I also did an episode of Too Close for Comfort with Ted Knight, and the thing about Uecker and Knight was, by that time I was already doing stand up, and someone told them I did impressions of them. And they both basically said the same thing along the lines of, ‘I hear you do impressions of me,’ and then they would each try to do their own impressions. I remember Knight doing Clint Eastwood, and you just had to laugh! Both very nice guys though!” Going back to Married…with Children, he stated; “I was really lucky on that. I did two episodes, and then the last two seasons I did most of the voice work on that show, too. But those people on that show knew they had it good, and they could not be nicer and more excited about being there. Ted McGinley (who played Jefferson) and I were hanging out on the set maybe the year before its final season, and said to me, ‘I’m the luckiest guy in show business!,’ and then they cancelled the show (Laughs).”

He digressed again; “And Seinfeld? Everything you’ve heard or read is true. I was lucky enough to have already met Jerry through my VH1 show, and then a couple of other times after that. I played the George character initially, and they cut a lot of my stuff out because I ad-libbed like crazy at the audition. Anyway, when they hired me they basically said, ‘Just do what you did at the audition.’ And then I realized, what makes these people so great is they actually hire you for you. And it was so great to do, just so much fun. Oh, and Knight Rider I don’t really have a great story about doing it, but I have come across Hoff (David Hasseloff) a couple of times since over the years, and he is exactly what you think he is; just a very nice guy! I actually tested for Baywatch after it went from NBC to syndication, which no shows did at the time! I tested for the role of like, Joey the stand up comedian lifeguard, and Hoff was there at my final audition. One of the things I had to do was a scene from the TV movie Norma Jean, which was about Marilyn Monroe. During my last line – and this was to show I could do drama, mind you – Hoff stands up and just starts signing (the lyrics to the Elton John song), “Goodbye Norma Jean!” And the producers are looking around like, ‘Just let him go with it!’ (Laughs). So then they offered me the job, and my manager at the time convinced me to turn it down, which I did. And the rest is history (Laughs).”

He then offered some unexpected insight on another show; “But I’ll tell you one that was terrible, which was Gimme a Break! with Nell Carter. They hired me, and told me they were probably going to fire me by the end of the week, because they fired everyone on that show! But I was trying to talk to other people on the show, and they wouldn’t talk to me because they were all terrified. She (Carter) was nice to me, but we were in the middle of camera blocking rehearsal, and the assistant director suddenly screams, ‘hit the deck!,’ and everybody, cast and crew, just hit the floor, and she starts throwing props and screaming! And then she walks off, and some guy goes, ‘Okay, lunch!’ (Laughs). And I didn’t make it to they end of the week, just like they told me. That one was actually devastating, and really upset me.”

Another role Rose will forever be remembered for was Steven in 1986’s Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives. As previously discussed in our recent retrospective piece on the film, Roger recalled some of his experiences on the set; “The movie had already been shot, and the phone rings and it’s Paramount calling (Director) Tom McLoughlin, saying there weren’t enough deaths in the film and they needed more, so they were going to go back and kill two more people. Tommy hangs up the phone and says, ‘I always wanted to do this…kid, I want you in my movie!’ And that weekend we shot my scenes. I said to Tommy, “Man I’d love to die brutally on film, that’s something I’ve always wanted to do (Laughs)!”

He then filled me in on how his time as a VH1 VJ came about; “I had a screen test to be a VJ at either MTV or VH1, and I told a much more elaborate story of my audition for Friday the 13th, and that’s what got me the job. About a year after I got the gig, the guy running MTV and VH1 at the time came up to me and said, ‘You know, you were going to be on MTV, but I’m the one who said ‘No.’ And when I asked him why, he said, ‘You wore a sports coat, and no one’s gonna want to eff a guy in a sports coat.’ (Laughs). It was one of the best experiences of my career though.”

Working on VH1 for over two years in the ’80s no doubt awarded Roger with many stories of celebrity encounters, including a three-parter with action superstar Steven Segal. He told me; “He came on my show with his then-wife Kelly LeBrock, and I told her how she was my “free pass” from my wife, and she loved that! So then we took all of these suggestive Polaroids, which Segal loved too – they were both characters! But needless to say, my wife was not pleased (Laughs).”

He continued his story; “So then I’m on some back lot of Warner Bros., having just gotten Ski Patrol – and I hadn’t seen Segal in a couple of years since he was on my show – and I hear him calling my name. He brings me over to some table and he’s with all these women and says to them, ‘You know what I like about this guy?’ And then he looks at me and goes, ‘You popped a chick and had a stain on your pants right before you interviewed me, and I respect that about you.’ My response was of course, ‘Listen dude, I know me, and that was probably just cream cheese from a bagel I was eating at the time!’ (Laughs). And another year or two after that, I did another thing with all these cameos with major movie stars in it, and one of them was Segal. He’s standing there next to the food table, and I say to him, ‘Look man, I don’t know if you remember me,’ and he interrupts me and says, ‘You know, it’s funny, people think I have a really bad memory…but I remember you all the way down to the stain on your pants.’ (Laughs).”

While the previous story might have been enough to end things on, I had to dig a little deeper about his most well-known leading role in the previously mentioned Ski Patrol. He said, “It was three months filming in Alta Park City, and I got to work with the likes of George Lopez (in his first film role) and Leslie Jordan, so how bad could it be? (Laughs). But what’s the weirdest thing that’s happened – and I never thought it really had any hold on anybody (except maybe my mom), because it had been around for awhile – but I was doing the NHL awards a couple of years back, and Anders Holm from Workaholics (another show Rose has guested on) was there, and when he saw me he said, ‘Ski Patrol! You altered my life.'” With praise as high as that, it’s hard to argue with a legacy as vast and influential as Rose’s.

And as far as those ‘projects’ he alluded to co-producing with Paul Maslansky earlier on? He did let me in on one of them; “I can tell you that one of those films will be a remake of Ski Patrol, which I’m very excited about, because I’ll be producing it with Paul!”

Retrospective: Four Decades Since There was ‘An American Werewolf in London’ By Jesse Striewski

The 1980’s no doubt saw an unprecedented surge of werewolf films; the original Howling starring Dee Wallace spawned a franchise full of endless sequels, while Stephen King’s Silver Bullet was adapted in to a feature film starring Corey Haim in 1984. And who can forget when Michael J. Fox became a Teen Wolf in 1985 (and when Jason Bateman followed in his paw prints for its sequel just two years after that?)? But out of all of these films, none of them reached the sheer surrealism (or weirdness) of 1981’s An American Werewolf in London, which just reached its fortieth birthday mark this past week.

Originally released on August 21 of that year, the plot found two best friends, David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne) attacked by a werewolf while backpacking through England together. Jack is killed mercilessly, while David survives the bloody ordeal, only to carry the curse of the lycanthropy with him until his eventual transformation.

In the meantime, David is taken in by the beautiful young nurse (Jenny Agutter) who befriended him while his stay in the hospital. Unbeknownst to her, David is not only suffering from terrifyingly vivid nightmares, he’s also being paid visits from a decaying Jack, warning David of his grim fate, and urging him to take his own life before it’s too late. When the inevitable finally happens and David turns, it causes for some of the most tense animal rampage moments ever captured on screen up until that time, eventually leading to its near tear-jerking climax.

The film was written and directed by John Landis, who was previously known primarily for such slapstick hits as National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978) and The Blues Brothers (1980), which no doubt aided in the levels of dark comedy found within Werewolf. The award-winning makeup effects were handled by the legendary Rick Baker, whose resume not only includes such Hollywood blockbusters as Star Wars, but numerous other werewolf films as well, including not only the previously mentioned The Howling from the same year, but also Michael Jackson’s video for Thriller two years later (for which he and Landis were both handpicked by Jackson for their work on the film). But it was Baker’s revolutionary work on Werewolf that would forever help shape the face of the genre to come.

Even the music in the film stands out with its own sense of irony; not only are two different versions of the hit pop song “Blue Moon” featured, so is Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising” (a band Rewind It Magazine was also there to cover live in 2019 – the “Revisited” version anyway). These songs (among others) are brilliantly inserted at prime moments throughout the movie.

Since it’s release, An American Werewolf in London has become somewhat of a cult classic, and was one of those films that seemed to always be on cable TV any given Saturday afternoon in the ’90s (I still even have the VHS copy of it that I picked up at a Kmart at some point in my teens). By the end of the decade, it even spawned it’s own stunningly predictable sequel, 1997’s An American Werewolf in Paris, starring Tom Everett Scott.

But it’s the original film that will no doubt be remembered for years to come. In 2007, I was lucky enough to meet the film’s star, David Naughton (see photo below). Even then, I asked him something along the lines of why he felt the film had such a lasting effect with audiences (my early journalistic instincts obviously kicking in), to which he said (and I’m completely paraphrasing here) something along the lines of; “I think it just struck a nerve because of how different and shocking it was at the time. People were not expecting what unfolded before them at all.” I couldn’t agree with you more, David.

The author with actor David Naughton at Screamfest in Orlando, FL in 2007.

Album Review: The Killers – Pressure Machine (Island Records)

By Jesse Striewski

Just one short year after 2020’s Imploding the Mirage album, The Killers return with a way more personal feeling effort than the previous one. And while the return of guitarist Dave Keuning back into the fold helps with the overall sound, there’s still a feeling like something is missing without bassist Mark Stoermer’s presence.

Apparently a loose concept record, Pressure Machine focuses on the Utah childhood of lead singer Brandon Flowers in the most Springsteen-like way possible. The one-two punch of “West Hills” and “Quiet Town” help establish the Americana tone of the eleven track album from then on out, and are arguably a couple of the strongest numbers found here. Other highlights include “Cody,” “In the Car Outside,” and “Runaway Horses,” featuring a duet with the lovely Phoebe Bridgers.

I’ve definitely struggled to find the love I once had for The Killers on their first two albums, and my enthusiasm for their last two releases was no doubt lower than usual. But Pressure Machine contains some undeniable moments of greatness, and at the very least deserves a chance at least.

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Retrospective: The Buzz Remains 35 Years After ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2’ By Shawn McKee

In 1986, director Tobe Hooper released the last film in his three-picture deal with Cannon Films, a follow-up to his 1974 landmark horror tour de force, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Like many of our modern horror greats, the 1980s gave Hooper his most consistent and impressive output, unmatched in proceeding decades.

The success of Chainsaw launched Hooper from independent filmmaking to mainstream studio productions. He directed the well-received TV miniseries of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot (1979), the atmospheric carnival slasher The Funhouse (1981), and the Steven Spielberg-produced supernatural horror classic Poltergeist (1982). Spielberg tapped Hooper to direct primarily from the visceral strength of Chainsaw, presenting Hooper with the challenge of directing a movie Spielberg had intended to make himself but couldn’t due to contractual obligations with E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982). Controversy over “who really directed the film” aside, Hooper proved to be undoubtedly the right choice for Poltergeist, and the evidence lies in his body of work.

Hooper’s deal with Cannon Films was something of a blessing for the former adolescent movie lover who spent his childhood in Austin theaters, absorbing everything he could. In two short years, he made three big budget movies with complete creative control. Unfortunately, Lifeforce (1985), his apocalyptic science-fiction epic, and Invaders from Mars (1986), a remake of the 1950s film of the same name, failed both critically and financially upon their release. This left Cannon with one last hope to cash in on the movie that had made their star director. They wanted a sequel every bit as harrowing and unsettling as the first one, and most importantly, just as successful. What they (and we) got was something completely different, a deranged sequel parody courtesy of Hooper and screenwriter L.M. Kit Carson.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 was a film Hooper initially only wanted to produce. Making a sequel more than a decade later to his most seminal work was a feat itself. He eventually took the helm and presented the cannibalistic Sawyer family in a modern setting. In the film, Leatherface & company have since moved underground thirteen years after the original massacre. But, as the opening title crawl tells us, “Reports of bizarre, grisly chainsaw mass-murders have persisted all across the state of Texas.” The story begins on a bizarrely satiric note that never lets up throughout the film’s all-out assault on unsuspecting viewers.

Hippies from the original have been replaced with obnoxious eighties yuppies, two jocks, on their way to see an Oklahoma-Texas (OU) football game. The blitzed yuppies shoot passing signs and scream and giggle hysterically as they call a local radio station with their bulky car phone to harass on air DJ Vanita “Stretch” Brock (Caroline Williams). They soon reach a bleak end after playing “chicken” with the wrong pickup truck along a desolate Texas highway. Inexplicably unable to hang up, Stretch listens in horror as Leatherface (Bill Johnson) dispatches her two pesky callers with his massive chainsaw. General mayhem ensues with comic gore effects by the legendary Tom Savini and accompanying music by Oingo Biongo. Their song “No One Lives Forever” decidedly separates the sequel from any notion of being a straight horror film. Unbeknownst to the killers, Stretch records audio of the slaughter and keeps it as evidence.

The highway aftermath sees the arrival of Dennis Hopper, portraying Lieutenant Boude “Lefty” Enright, a former Texas Ranger. Lefty is obsessed with finding the Sawyer family and avenging the death of his wheelchair-bound nephew Francis (from the first film) and maiming of his niece Sally, the lone survivor. Hopper was the movie’s biggest star at the time and would solidify his comeback with David Lynch’s Blue Velvet later that year. Discovering the tape on hand, Lefty convinces Stretch to play the incriminating audio on air to “lure” the killers out of hiding. Meanwhile at the state-wide Chili Cookoff, Drayton Sawyer “The Cook” (Jim Siedow, the only returning cast member) has established an enterprising business from his family’s ritualistic killings and processing of human meat. Drayton later hears the recorded audio of the highway murders and sends Leatherface and “Chop Top” (Bill Moseley) to the radio station to eliminate the problem.

The tense confrontation between Caroline Williams and Bill Moseley is perhaps the movie’s most “nuanced” moment, followed by an ingenious jump scare that launches a chainsaw wielding Leatherface from the shadows and roaring into the room. Stretch screams, runs, and hides as her radio technician L.G. (Lou Perryman) is comically slaughtered by Chop Top. Leatherface then corners Stretch and uses his chainsaw in a perverse and overbearingly phallic manner. She survives their encounter by coaxing him into simulated chainsaw sex, and the rest is cinema history.

The movie screeches into its third act with Stretch making another inexplicable decision to follow the Sawyer family to their hideout. Lefty trails her and admits that she was used to discover where the Sawyer family is hiding. The two are separated as the movie plays out in the catacombs of Tobe Hooper’s twisted sensibilities. Lefty arms himself with multiple chainsaws and battles Leatherface in the only chainsaw duel of its kind.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 was not well-received when it first came out. It also had the misfortune of being released at a time of unadulterated MPAA tyranny, where slasher films were rubber-stamped with X ratings to no avail. Hooper chose to release the film unrated, similar to George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead (1985). In both cases, horror fans are fortunate to not have to track down uncut versions thirty years after the fact. Such a move took guts, and frankly, the movie is not that violent. There are maybe three on-screen deaths, some casual bloodletting, and a grotesque moment involving a skinless L.G., but it’s hardly worth the fuss. Call me desensitized, but there’s nothing in the film that warrants an “X.” The movie ends on the same chaotic note it began with, portraying Stretch manically dancing around with a giant chainsaw, having survived her own traumatic brush with death.

Chainsaw 2 defines subjectivity. Critics hated it, fans were disappointed, and the movie failed to achieve the success Cannon was hoping for. They wanted a horror film and were given a black comedy evident by the movie poster’s parody of The Breakfast Club (1985). It’s a mad film, equally unsettling as the first, but with an entirely different tone. Roger Ebert called it a “geek show” in his one-star review. Other critics said that it only proved Hooper’s “contempt” for the original. Leonard Maltin gave the film a “Bomb,” saying, “Frenetic overacting and attempts at black humor sink this mess.” It’s a polarizing but no less memorable film. Hooper wanted to bring the comedy he felt existed in the first one to the forefront. In the process, he unleashed an insane commentary on modern times.

Hooper could have easily made the same movie again. Instead, he created something unique beyond the countless mind-numbing sequels, remakes, and reboots. It’s a film that embraces chaos, absurdity, and schlock to its lasting status as a cult favorite. Sadly, Hooper passed away in 2017, leaving us with one less pioneering auteur. We didn’t just lose a horror icon, we lost a talented filmmaker with an uncompromising vision, something rarely seen today.

Album Review: Night Ranger – ATBPO (Frontiers Music s.r.l.)

By: Jesse Striewski

In hindsight, I might have been a tad on the harsh side when I reviewed Night Ranger’s previous studio album, 2017’s Don’t Let Up (whether or not it was completely justified is still debatable, though). But I’m glad I did not let my view of said last record deter me from listening to the band’s latest collection of new music (their thirteenth), ATBPO, which no doubt contains some hidden gems throughout.

Album opener “Coming For You,” and recent single “Breakout” are both high-energy rockers with some excellent shredding from guitarists Brad Gillis and Keri Kelli, and almost sound more suitable for a power metal album rather than here. “Cold As December” and “A Lucky Man” also invoke some interest, with the latter standing out as one of the strongest tracks here overall.

That’s not to say they are not some weak moments, though; “Hard to Make it Easy,” “Dance,” and “The Hardest Road” are all catchy in their own ways, but feel more like modern country than rock. And “Bring it All Home to Me” seems to really be reaching for the “Sister Christian” crowd a bit too much. However, “Can’t Afford a Hero” does make for a much more effective power ballad.

If nothing else, I have to give Night Ranger credit for not relying solely on nostalgia from their hey day like so many other bands from their era do; now if only modern radio would actually start playing new material from the groups whose hits they’ve played to death, maybe audiences would finally understand that, too.

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Retrospective: 35 Years Since ‘Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives’ By Jesse Striewski

As a kid growing up in the ’80s, there was nothing more enticing when visiting the video store than the horror section (well, except maybe when they would have one of those “back rooms” in the shop but that’s another story itself). And in those times when I would wander off into the area reserved for horror films, my eyes would usually hone in on those already established, well-known franchises that included the likes of single name villains such as Freddy, Leatherface, Chucky, and of course, Jason.

Each of these individual films had their own unique covers, and I of course had to see them for this reason alone. As stated in a previous interview with actress Deborah Voorhees, the first entry of the series I would ever see was the Jason-less Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning. But I would eventually piece them all together slowly over time, with Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives quickly becoming my favorite of the franchise with it’s classic monster movie feel, campy jokes (starting with its James Bond-esque opening credits), and rocking soundtrack featuring then-new music from a revitalized Alice Cooper. When Jason Lives was originally released in theaters on August 1, 1986, it quickly became the first film since the 1980 original to rightfully receive some critical praise.

After the lukewarm reception the previous year from the new concept introduced in A New Beginning, it was clear that the series was in dire need of getting back to basics. Written and directed by Tom McLoughlin, it saw the return of the character Tommy Jarvis (this time portrayed by The Return of the Living Dead star Thom Mathews) from parts IV and V, who mistakenly resurrects Jason with a friend (played brilliantly by the late Ron Palillo of Welcome Back, Kotter fame) at the start of the film. Tommy does his best to warn the local community, but is railroaded every step of the way by the local sheriff (David Kagen). The sheriff’s daughter Megan (Jennifer Cooke) is the only one who believes Tommy, and teams up with him to stop Jason.

Actor Roger Rose, who played one of Jason’s many victims in the film, Steven Halavex, recently lent some behind-the-scenes insight to Rewind It Magazine; “The movie had already been shot, and the phone rings and it’s Paramount calling (Director) Tom McLoughlin, saying there weren’t enough deaths in the film and they needed more, so they were going to go back and kill two more people. Tommy hangs up the phone and says, ‘I always wanted to do this…kid, I want you in my movie!’ And that weekend we shot my scenes. I said to Tommy, “Man I’d love to die brutally on film, that’s something I’ve always wanted to do (Laughs)!”

Still from Friday the 13th Part VI of Steven (Roger Rose) and Cythina (Annette Edwards) shortly before meeting their gruesome demise.

He continued; “Originally Jason was going to shish kabob me and my date, and there was this whole big special effect thing going to happen, but there wasn’t any time left. But it was still a real, rusty old machete that Jason “killed” us with, so that was actual fear you see on our faces in that scene!”

Another thing that stands out about the film is the previously-mentioned music. Aside from one track by hard rock band Felony, the majority of the songs featured were from Alice Cooper’s 1986 album, Constrictor. Most notably remembered is the track “He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask),” which served as the film’s theme song, and also featured a Jason Voorhees-themed music video to go along with it. I’ve been lucky enough to personally see Cooper in concert three times over the years (see attached photo below), but alas, his material from this particular period in his career has remained long since retired unfortunately.

Jason Lives went on to gross over $19 million at the box office on a $3 million dollar budget, and has since become a fan favorite. Since its release, there have been four more entries to the original Friday the 13th franchise, as well as the 2003 crossover film Freddy vs. Jason, and a 2009 remake. But few have matched the all around heights achieved with Jason Lives, which will likely remain one of the higher points in the series. So if you’re looking to go back to Camp Crystal Lake (or Forrest Green) this Friday the 13th, consider giving Jason Lives a try (and be sure to keep an eye out for our full interview with Rose, coming soon!).

Alice Cooper performing in Orlando, FL on 10/25/13, courtesy of the author’s collection. Cooper provided most of the music for Jason Lives.