THE CANNED FILM FESTIVAL STARRING LARAINE NEWMAN (1986) – Halloween Month continues at Balladeer’s Blog with this look at a neglected Movie Host show, since Movie Hosts/ Horror Hosts are as associated with Halloween as are monsters and cosplay.
In this post I won’t be covering the entire history of movie hosting and the “So Bad They’re Good” film subculture. For that, there are my many other blog posts covering movie hosting from Vampira and her contemporaries, through Moona Lisa, then Son of Svengoolie, Elvira, and programs like Saturday Night Dead, The Texas 27 Film Vault and MST3K.
THE SHOW: The Canned Film Festival Starring Laraine Newman. From June 21st to September 13th of 1986 this 90 minute syndicated program sponsored largely by Dr Pepper aired on Saturday nights in various time slots around the United States. Elvira’s show Movie Macabre had run from 1981 to 1986 and was winding down. The Texas 27 Film Vault, which had debuted on February 9th, 1985 was still on the air and would run for roughly two and a half years in Texas and Oklahoma.
Along came The Canned Film Festival, which, with a nationally known name like Laraine Newman attached to it, may well have been the reason that one of the attempted syndication deals for T27FV fell through. Be that as it may, Laraine Newman’s show would – like The Texas 27 Film Vault – show more than just lame horror and sci-fi films and would cover the whole spectrum of bad and/ or campy cinema of the past.
THE HOSTESS: Laraine Newman may be best known for Saturday Night Live and for her character actress work, but she had been a member of The Groundlings improvisational comedy troupe … As had Cassandra Peterson aka Elvira. Newman was also known as an aficionado of horror and fringe cinema.
With supporting players F. Richards Ford, Laura Galusha, Patrick Garner, Philip Nee and Katheryn Rossetter, Newman would host The Canned Film Festival while offering comedy sketches and film commentary to start and finish the show as well as going into and out of commercial breaks. This was in the time-honored Movie Host/ Horror Host tradition, albeit nationwide instead of regional like most such productions.
THE PREMISE: In fictional Limekirk, TX, Laraine became the new owner and Chief Usherette at her family’s business – The Ritz Theater, the town’s struggling cinema. In an attempt to increase business, Laraine used the theater as a showcase for some of the worst and weirdest cult movies available at the time.
For further comedy bits, our starlet launched enjoyably absurd side ventures in her efforts to drum up additional customers, like running a laundromat out of The Ritz as well, so that people could watch the movies while doing their laundry loads.
Adding to the fun was the recurring Concession Stand bit, in which Laraine would push thoroughly bizarre concoctions like Butter Lumps and Chocolate Covered Lug Nuts. This, too, was like the comedy bits that had been a staple on other Bad Movie Shows, tailored to fit each show’s premise.
Laraine Newman, in her Chief Usherette capacity, was comically militaristic about assigning seats to the theater’s patrons, despite the fact that attendance was so sparse there was never any danger of crowding.
Newman’s supporting players portrayed oddball customers of The Ritz who would congregate with her in various groupings to help ridicule the movies or do sketches parodying the plots of whatever movie was being shown (another Bad Movie Show tradition). In addition, Laraine and the “attendees” would touch on deeper historical and cultural aspects of the films in a more serious manner, like San Francisco Creature Feature host John Stanley and others would often do.
Rounding out the background characters was Laraine’s never quite fully seen mother, who ran the projector, played the pipe organ and violently pounded on the walls, like many an unseen monster projectionist on Horror Host Shows of the past.
Comment: At times the chemistry between Laraine Newman and her supporting cast anticipated that among the gathering of faux-beatniks who would discuss movies while hosting Off Beat Cinema, a later Cult Movie Show syndicated from Buffalo, NY beginning in 1993.
In the years before the internet allowed the scattered fans of The Canned Film Festival to connect and solidify some of the details, there was a quasi- Mandela Effect aura surrounding The Canned Film Festival. Skeptics insisted the show had never existed or that its fans were mistaking it for one of the many other Bad Movie Shows in television history.
Ultimately, thanks to the internet, the fans were proven right and a fair amount of material surfaced over the years. Entire episodes of the program periodically show up online but curious viewers need to watch them immediately, since copyright claims by outfits who own the distribution rights to some of the movies wind up getting the episodes taken down. (And I’m looking at you, Wade Williams Distribution among others.)
THE INTRO, EPISODES AND MOVIES:
“Nestled deep in the heart of America lies the pleasant, peaceful town of Limekirk. Time was when the good people of Limekirk would flock to the downtown majestic Ritz Theater. They would watch anything. Then, slowly, the audience began to dwindle and the Ritz Theater teetered on the brink of oblivion.
“But Laraine, who ran the Theater with her mom, had an idea. If the people of Limekirk were bored with normal entertainment, why not give them something out of the ordinary? She put washers and dryers in the lobby … but that didn’t work. So she gathered together a collection of the strangest, the silliest, most unusual movies ever made, stocked every refreshment imaginable, and called it The Canned Film Festival.”
*** June 21st, 1986 – The Terror of Tiny Town (1938), the notorious all-midget western starring Billy Curtis and Yvonne Moray. Typical good guy versus a bad guy storyline, but the casting makes this the most infamous novelty western this side of Harlem Rides The Range.
*** June 28th, 1986 – Doctor of Doom (1963), the first female wrestler horror movie from Mexico that launched a franchise similar to El Santo, Blue Demon, Neutron and other male wrestlers. A mad doctor transplants ape brains into human bodies as part of his evil plans. Wrestlers Gloria Venus (Lorena Velazquez) and Golden Ruby (Elizabeth Campbell) thwart his schemes.
*** July 5th, 1986 – Ski Fever (1966), an international film project trying to imitate the 1960s teen beach movies but set at a ski resort instead. Martin Milner starred (God knows why), alongside Claudia Martin (Dean Martin’s daughter) and real-life Olympic skier Anton “Toni” Sailer. Amid lots of romantic coupling among ski bums, Milner and Sailer compete for Martin’s heart.
NOTE: Milner’s character wins out over Sailer’s character … named FRANZ GRUBER! I like to think that getting rejected by Claudia Martin in this movie drove Franz and his brothers Hans and Simon into their lives of crime. But I’m kind of weird.
*** July 12th, 1986 – Santa Claus Conquers The Martians (1964) – Martians kidnap Santa Claus and force him to make toys for the children of Mars. Cult figure Pia Zadora starred in this movie as one of the Martian children.
NOTE: A bizarrely poor taste joke was made by one of Laraine Newman’s supporting players when they expressed hope that Pia would be topless in the movie, just like she had been in her adult flicks.
*** July 19th, 1986 – Robot Monster (1953) – Yet another staple of Bad Movie Shows throughout the decades. Earth is invaded by Moon monsters who look like gorillas wearing diving helmets and antennae on their heads.
NOTE: A running gag during the Host Segments of this episode involved patrons mistakenly thinking the movie being shown was going to be Dog of Norway, the infamous fake movie that the Medved Brothers included as a joke in their original Golden Turkey Awards book in 1980.
*** July 26th, 1986 – The Crawling Hand (1963) – An alien force possesses an astronaut just before his space capsule explodes. Part of one of the astronaut’s arms lands on Earth, where it crawls around on its own, choking some people and possessing others.
*** August 2nd, 1986 – They Saved Hitler’s Brain (1968) – Nazi war criminals have preserved Hitler’s entire head, not just his brain, as part of their plans to launch a Fourth Reich and conquer the world. Another flick shown on virtually every single Bad Movie Show ever made.
*** August 9th, 1986 – Untamed Women (1952) – Hilariously bad film set during World War Two. American pilots shot down in the Pacific Theater wind up on an island of savage women descended from the Druids (In the Pacific Ocean?). The pilots romance the women while helping them fight dinosaurs, a wooly mammoth and the blood-thirsty cavemen who killed the women’s original husbands.
*** August 16th, 1986 – Bride of the Monster (1955) – Ed Wood’s notorious flick with Bela Lugosi as a mad scientist who experiments on human guinea pigs while trying to create “a race of atomic supermen.” He is helped by his monstrous lab assistant Lobo, played by the iconic Tor Johnson, and by a lame rubber octopus prop.
NOTE: Laraine and all the supporting characters – even her “mother” – wore Tor Johnson masks at one point in honor of the night’s movie.
*** August 23rd, 1986 – Las Vegas Hillbillys (1966) – Country singer Ferlin Husky stars as a good ol’ boy who inherits a failing Las Vegas casino and tries to revive it with help from his new friend “Jeepers” and beautiful Boots Malone. Gangsters interfere. Mamie Van Doren played Boots Malone and Jayne Mansfield portrayed an aspiring singer called Tawny.
NOTE: Mansfield and Van Doren were feuding and refused to appear in scenes with each other, necessitating the use of doubles as well as odd camera angles to disguise that fact. A sequel movie titled Hillbillys in a Haunted House came out in 1967, with Joi Lansing replacing Mamie as Boots. Personally, I’m holding out for Las Vegas Squidbillys and Squidbillys in a Haunted House myself.
*** August 30th, 1986 – Project Moonbase (1953) – The notorious sci-fi clunker set in a “futuristic” 1970 which has a female U.S. President, a revived Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team and a still-running Cold War with the USSR. A spy tries to sabotage America’s attempt to start a lunar colony but is thwarted by bickering ex-lovers, with the man jealous that the woman outranks him.
The battle of the sexes angle was fodder for the Host Segments in this episode as tensions developed between the romantic couple among Laraine’s sidekicks.
*** September 6th, 1986 – Rocket Attack USA (1961) – Cold War potboiler in which a Western spy tries to get information about a powerful Soviet missile. Events snowball, leading up to the legendary finale in which New York City gets wiped out by the Russian nuke.
In the Host Segments Laraine and one of her sidekicks try to solve the mystery of socks disappearing from the laundromat section of The Ritz.
*** September 13th, 1986 – The Slime People (1963) – Slimy humanoid monsters from beneath the Earth attack the surface world by isolating a major city via their secret weapon – fast-hardening fog.
Not all of the tales about The Canned Film Festival turned out to be true, of course. There were references to the existence of an unaired pilot episode which featured either Freaks (1932) or The Amazing Colossal Man (1957), depending on which rumor you heard. However, nothing has ever surfaced regarding such a “lost” episode.
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