Cannon Group Doc ‘Electric Boogaloo’ Shows Today’s Low-Budget Auteurs How It Should Be Done

In Movies & TV by Lee Gardnerleave a COMMENT

A hypothesis: The streaming era has forced moviegoers into watching more mediocre movies than any other development in the history of cinema. Channeled into the limited options offered by online movie services, and faced with the poor job the services do in presenting their catalogs to viewers, we often wind up settling for sub-par indie dramedies, uninspiring documentaries, and cruddy horror and action. Worst of all, most of these films are joyless exercises, not nearly as go-for-broke fun as they should be.

No one went for broke quite like Menachem Golan and Yoram Globus, two Israeli film lovers/hustlers who landed in Hollywood in 1979 by buying floundering schlock studio the Cannon Group. For the next decade, they would pump out dozens of the lurid, lowball flicks upon which the straight-to-video market was built, including such titles as American Ninja, The Last American Virgin, Deathwish 4: The Crackdown, and yes, Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. Along the way, they carved their names into the yielding young brain tissue of a generation. Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (Amazon, iTunes) tells their story in a way that’s more entertaining than many of their productions, which is actually saying something.

Neither the larger-than-life Golan nor Globus cooperated with filmmaker Mark Hartley, but many of their former collaborators and stars did, and their stories enliven a classic rise-and-fall yarn. Golan and Globus plied the exploitation trade, selling movies based on the posters and preying on the base desires of young filmgoers—boobs, blood, violence, monsters. But their genuine love of film and their thirst for success led them into spending too much money trying to make some good flicks instead of just making even more bad ones. Not that their decade-long run produced nothing worth savoring. Tobe Hooper’s space-vampire epic Lifeforce lingers in many a nerdy heart, as do Neil Jordan’s The Company of Wolves and the slept-on action classic Runaway Train, among other less ironic winners. Jean-Luc Godard made a film for Cannon (King Lear), and so did Norman Mailer (Tough Guys Don’t Dance).

Hartley came to the Cannon story from having made the even more essential Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation, and he brings much of the same energy and glee to Golan and Globus’ careen through Hollywood’s triple-A league. While many of the former lackeys and B-movie stars who do talking-head turns here tell tales about the moguls’ pig-headedness or shady dealing, it sounds like everyone had a lot of fun, and it’s infectious.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about streaming services’ overwhelming catalog of low-budget single-set-small-cast horror flicks is that so few of them seem worth watching, even for free. But a few gems sparkle through now and then.

From the Dark (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, iTunes) explores the hitherto little-known concept of Irish vampires, as a peaty bloodsucker stalks a young couple lost in the depopulated countryside. Sometimes the things that make a movie work are so simple: Here, the vampire not only fears the sun, he’s repelled by any light, which leads to a string of tense and clever set pieces where survival hangs on a guttering candle or a dying cellphone. Director Conor McMahon offers little polish but plenty of rough urgency and dank dread.

Hidden (Amazon, iTunes) takes a less straightforward approach. Demi-stars Alexsander Skarsgard and Andrea Riseborough play parents living with their little girl in a vintage bomb shelter, hiding out from … something. Writer/directors Matt and Ross Duffer work up to a big twist that isn’t quite as satisfying as it wants to be, in part because they do so well throughout the film’s first three quarters in resisting explanation, sprinkling information, building unease, and delivering up some big, organic scares. Not bad for a weeknight.

But the streaming services do deserve our thanks for disseminating some good/badness that’s gone unseen for years. Not that everyone’s going to fill their queues with the work of Walerian Borowczyk.

Argos Films recently restored Borowczyk’s Immoral Tales (1974) and The Beast (1975), and they have popped up for streaming (Netflix, Amazon, iTunes). Calling the films arty ’70s softcore is accurate, though it doesn’t get at their beguiling power. Both draw from classic European history and folklore—the former includes segments on Elizabeth Bathory and Lucrezia Borgia, while the latter reinterprets “Beauty and the Beast.” Both feature rampant nubile nudity and lurid sexual activity. Both are kind of nuts.

But that obsessiveness lends them oddball heft. Borowczyk trained as an artist, and his films are visually sumptuous by any standard. He has a way with landscape shots and gorgeous grace notes—the way the light from a stained-glass window falls on a priestly procession in Immoral Tales, say, or an insert of a snail crawling over a discarded silk slipper in The Beast. Yet he’d just as soon linger on a pert ass or a full-on ’70s pubic thicket, or lavish screen time on the giant oozing prosthetic phalli of the shaggy title creature in The Beast. Incest, bathing in blood, catfights, deformity, bestiality, all rendered beautifully by a skillful filmmaker, for some unfathomable but tantalizing reason.

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