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Hot Rods To Hell Poster
Your September 2008 Random Movie Club Results Are In!

Tagline: The motorcycle gangs take a back seat when these young animals clear the road for excitement!

The pizza: PAGLIACCI'S

Preshow: Living Single, The Dana Carvey Show



We watched a couple of TV shows from 1996. First, an episode of LIVING SINGLE featuring an RMCer who just happened to be in attendance! Imagine that. We also watched THE TACO BELL/DANA CARVEY SHOW. While I applaud the hearkening back to produce a "live" variety show, this outing was an absolute misfire. Even (future) heavy hitters on the team like Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell, Robert Smigel, Charlie Kaufman and Louis CK couldn't save this wreck, which was canceled after six episodes. When a show's monologue contains declarations regarding the show being irreverent and counter-culture, well, beware.

The Dana Carvey Show
A pretty great impressionist, Carvey had no real place to impress. Everything seemed jigsaw puzzled into place. Though I do concede, watching the Church Lady dance with Larry "Bud" Melman and a taco with legs sure was a sight. Not sure how counter-culture a sight, but a sight nonetheless.

Interesting note, pop songwriter extraordinaire Adam Schlesinger did the music. Besides fronting Fountains of Wayne, he did a lot of music for MUSIC & LYRICS and JOSIE & THE PUSSYCATS, as well as the song THAT THING YOU DO! and music for A COLBERT CHRISTMAS (perhaps there's the connection there).


When I was young, maybe 9, my family took a road trip to upstate New York. On the way home, we stopped for some ice cream. It was there that I noticed something weird in the parking lot, something that I still think about now and then. Someone had bought a cup of chocolate syrup. No ice cream, just syrup in a white Styrofoam cup. They then walked to a parked car, and with great care, slowly poured it on the center of the car's roof. I watched the syrup drip down, forming dark, spider webby tributaries against the white field of the roof. I didn't know if this was retribution or anonymous vandalism. I can't even remember if they took off after that or if the car's owner came back to see his defiled car. Maybe it was because I was stuck in the thought of, "why would someone spend money to buy syrup to do that?" I mean, it was such a premeditated act. The guy didn't key the car or break its headlights with a bat. He waited on line, purchased a product, then threw it away just to make his point. That fascinated me. It still fascinates me. And maybe that's why I was so attracted to HOT RODS TO HELL when I first saw it on the 4:30 movie a few years after The Syrup Incident. People going out of their way to hurt others. Fascinating.

I've seen 1967's HOT RODS TO HELL a few times throughout the years. I don't think I ever watched it on purpose, meaning I never popped it in the old VCR or loaded it into the new DVD player. It was always during one of those channel hopping sessions that are so prevalent in my life. Because of that, I learned two things at this screening; 1) I never remember the opening, my mind just cuts directly to the family being harassed on the road by kids in hot rods, and 2) seeing HOT RODS TO HELL with a group of people is an unbeatable experience.

Tom Phillips (Dana Andrews, delivering lines like Charlton Heston) is the dad in a typical American family: loving wife Peg (Jeanne Craine), teen daughter Tina (Laurie Mock) and kid brother Jamie (Tim Stafford). Tom's been out of town on business and is just about to head for home. His wife and kids are ecstatic that Dad'll be home for Christmas (Tina's hoping dad bought her the pajamas she wants..."the real kinky ones with the lace."). But on his drive back, Tom encounters John Carpenter-like fog mixed with an oncoming drunk driver. He crashes and is battered and broken, the Christmas presents strewn about the road. This is especially sad because we don't ever get to see Tina model the pajamas.

At the hospital, the doctor tells the family "we did a special procedure." It's typical dialogue for this movie, but it still felt as if Tom would later metamorphose into The Fly. Tom is frustrated with his bad back, which somehow doesn't hurt when he jumps up Linda Blair-style mid-nightmare or tosses the football with Jamie. But he does wince and hold his back a lot, so he must have a bad back.

Anyway, Tom's brother makes him an offer to run a hotel in a desert community somewhere between Vegas and, oh, I have no idea where. But they talk about Vegas so it must be nearby. So with Peg driving (Tom's still afraid to take the wheel), they head off to their new life. And that's when teenaged seditionists start messing with them with their intentionally reckless driving, running them off the road. Tom: "What kind of animals ARE those?!?"

The Phillips arrive at the hotel only to discover it's part of the adjacent club called Arena, which is in no relation to the L.A. club, believe me. Not that I've been to the L.A. club, but I'm pretty sure Mickey Rooney, Jr. doesn't play rockabilly there.

And so HOT RODS TO HELL becomes a low budgie CAPE FEAR. And although the three teens are less delinquents than spoiled brats, the game is on. And what an extraordinary game it is, because we get to play along. With bad photography (though it is in Technicolor), bad sound, bad acting, bad continuity (wait, wasn't it just night?), bad dialogue and bad anything I missed, lies a really enjoyable movie. I'd even go out on a limb and say RODS is structurally sound, has arcs that make total sense (bring Tom down as low as possible before he takes action), and has characters that have motivations for their actions. Sure it's all overcooked, but how can you hate a movie with dialogue like this from two of the teens- Gloria: "You think every girl's the same." Duke: "No I don't. The names are different."

RODS also boasts an appearance by Officer Bill. You see, I have this theory that when there are cops in a movie, one of them is named Bill. You see this all the time. "Better call for some backup, Bill." And headquarters is always downtown. No cop ever says, "Let's take him uptown and book him!" Anyway, so common are cops named Bill that when I wrote a script that had a cop in it, I named him Officer Bill. The lone cop in HOT RODS TO HELL is named Bill. That makes me so happy. And Bill has one of the best lines in the movie: "These kids have nowhere to go and they want to get there at 150 miles per hour."

And as if watching this movie with a bunch of fun people wasn't satisfying enough, the VHS tape had a bunch of commercials from 1987: Liquid Leather, Garden State Brickface and Stucco, Craftmatic Adjustable Bed (with the free camera!), Petland Discounts, and a commercial for the TV show MR. PRESIDENT.

I'm not the only one who loves this movie. Just visit the reviews on IMDB. Even the Steven Spielberg Exective Produced animated show
Freakazoid! did a parody called HOT RODS FROM HECK. And forty-some-odd years later, I'll be darned if this movie doesn't have its own website (www.hotrodstohell.com). In the late 80s, I met a guy in the no-longer-there Howard Johnson's in Times Square. We were part of a group of 30 people and we got stuck at a table for two. A couple of strangers. Somehow, one of us mentioned HOT RODS TO HELL, and we bonded. We both loved the movie. Twenty years later and I'm still friends with that guy.

HOT RODS TO HELL is a fun movie with a cool and memorable ending. And none of the cars are covered with syrup. I can't say the same about the dialogue, though.

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