Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Part 19 - Home for the Summer of '81

It had only taken 10 months for me to forget how long it felt making that drive across West Texas again.  I could be crazy, but I believe that I had moved some of my stuff into James Fujii's garage for the summer, and packing what little I thought I would need (including a half-full 5 gallon water bottle full of latex) had set out across the country by myself.

Driving solo, you have a lot of time to figure things out for yourself like: nothing quenches thirst like water.  Soft drinks made me thirstier and nothing was worse than a frosty shake from a fast food restaurant.  All that did was coat my mouth and throat with a sticky film that required me to stop for water, again .  You also have the opportunity to test your stamina against your patience.  Did I REALLY need to stop for a rest?  Maybe ONE more little town before I stop in for the night.  12 hours vs. 14 hours vs. 16 hours.  Well?  What was is going to be? I had no one to answer to but myself.

It was during the second day driving between El Paso and Houston when I heard the POP!  My initial fear was that one of my tires had gone, but when the ride was unaffected, I figured that something else had happened.  Now, I noticed that there was a spray of something across the ceiling of the car and then realized....the latex.  Ugh!  I pulled over to the side to find that the 5 gallon bottle of latex, that had been sitting in the sun, had popped its lid and shot like a cannon because of the heat building in my car.  I pulled over to the side found the lid, capped it and rearranged the crap in the back seat so that it would be in the shade for the rest of the trip.

Being home that Summer was like being in limbo.  I remember I drove to Tracy's High School and met her in the school gym the first day.  It was good to be home, but no matter how much I tried, I knew that there was an invisible, barely perceptible timer counting down the days before I would return to CalArts for my second year.

I'm unsure now of what exactly I did that Summer.  I think I got a job at the Winn-Dixie grocery store, where my friend, Tim worked.  I say that because (as you will see) it is the only thing that makes sense in my crazy time line.  I did work at Winn-Dixie in the produce department (at sometime for sure!).  I even painted a giant poster of King Kong holding the Chiquita Banana in his paw.  When I wasn't working, I did my best to see Tracy as much as I could.

One night, her parents agreed to let me take her out on a date (remember, she wasn't even 16 at the time...birthday in November) and we went to see AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON.  Just when Jack appeared to David for the second time, all green and rotted, the film stopped, the theater went dark for a moment and the emergency lights came on.  We sat there for what seemed like 5 minutes, then an usher showed up, told us there was a problem and if we wanted to, could line up at the box office for a rain check or reimbursement.  We all started filing out of the theater, and I want to say we were outside of the lobby when someone yelled that the movie had come on again and we all stormed back into the theater to watch the rest of the film.

"Didja ever talk to a dead guy?  It's boring!"
Okay, honesty time here: When the movie concluded and we left the theater, I remember not being BLOWN AWAY by the film.  It was entertaining to be sure.  Some parts were funny.  Some parts were startling.  Some parts were gory.  It just didn't add up in my 19 year-old head.  Maybe I had built it all up so much that it didn't deliver to my high expectations.  Whatever the reason, I walked away initially not being a huge AMERICAN WEREWOLF fan.  I don't think it had to do with anything Rick Baker had done.  All of his stuff was cool (and still is for that matter!).  Beats me.

Another film I took Tracy to that summer was THE HAND.  She still teases me to this day about my attempt to frighten her in the theater with that film.  I'll admit that I had seen a photo of Michael Cane, losing his hand in Cinefantastique magazine so I got a bit freaked in the theater until actual point where his hand was severed and a geyser of blood shot out everywhere.  Then, it was just kind of funny.  The film, as a whole, should have been better, but as it was, it just seemed ridiculous.

Tracy, however, remains a fan of this film!

And then, there was HEARTBEEPS.  I think the less I say about this film, the better.  Yes, Stan Winston's make-ups and puppets were cutting edge at the time but the film itself was very tiresome to say the least.  What was interesting is that James Cummins had been working for Stan Winston on and off since THE EXTERMINATOR and had done some design work for the Catskil robot puppet from the film...

That's Catskil on the left, voiced by comedian Jack Carter
In order to preserve a smooth, metallic finish, Winston had used gelatin rather than foam latex, which is very challenging to do.  As the actor's body temperature increases during performance, or from the movie lights, gelatin has the reputation of literally melting off.  It must have been a nightmare on set!

James had also contributed to a little horror film that opened that Summer as well called DEAD AND BURIED.  Written by ALIEN's Ron Shusett and Dan O'Bannon, the story concerned a rash of murders in a small, sea-side tourist town.  The town's Sheriff,  James Farentino, along with mortician, Jack Albertson, investigate some very disturbing deaths, including one of the most effective post-burn victims ever on screen.  But if surviving being burned alive wasn't enough, it had to get worse as a murderous nurse injects the victim in his one good eye to finally kill him.

Stan Winston's disturbing puppet closed it's eye after the needle was shoved into it.  Gross!
There were many other moments in the film that showcased Winston's superb eye for detail (no pun intended).  At one point, another victim has had her head crushed and through a series of progressive heads, Jack Albertson, strips the victim's skin down to the musculature and reconstructs her until she is restored.

Even though the film had some very effective moments, it never seemed to rise above the level of a gory TWILIGHT ZONE episode.  Which, in retrospect, isn't that bad after all.

But alas, all good things had to come to an end.  My Summer was running out and I had to not just return to CalArts, but, now I had a room in a house waiting for me.  I decided it was time that I officially "moved out" of the house.  I rented a U-Haul trailer, loaded the furniture, books, records, my little portable tv, and my big bottle of latex into it and drove back out to California by myself this time.  It was sad to leave Tracy again knowing that I would be limited in being able to contact her until I would return for the Winter break.  I said good-bye to my family, and drove out early the next morning.

As I hit the Louisiana-Texas border, I hit inclement weather and discovered that I was driving through a tropical depression (which is a mini-hurricane).  The trailer in the back started swaying in the wind, but the Lizard King, with its 400cc engine dragged it through until the weather broke and I, again, faced the long drive through the West Texas desert.

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