Occupation: Mothman

The Mothman Prophecies, to most of us, was a movie from 2001 with Richard Gere. But to Point Pleasant, West Virginia- where the Silver Bridge collapsed in 1967, and two couples were confronted by a beast unknown in one evening on a country road- it is a legend of the unexplained. As fans of the movie- if not Mr. Gere’s acting- and bizarre tales of the supernatural, Milky and I made a long detour from Gettysburg to visit the Mothman Museum (Luckily, Hillbilly Hotdogs was nearby to fuel us).
The Mothman Museum is around the corner from the Mothman statue, tucked on a boulevard that leads to a scenic park and amphitheater overlooking the bridge that replaced the fallen one. The statue itself is very memorable, a shiny steel representation of the beast that reportedly haunted the town in the late ’60s. It has glassy amber eyes that reflect the light, and especially camera flashes, which approximates the “glowing red eyes” that the witnesses described as it chased them through the “TNT area,” a woodsy road near a World War 2 ordnance factory.
The story goes, two young married couples- the Scarberrys and the Mallettes- were driving near that factory when they saw two glowing red lights near it. The lights seemed to be the eyes of a creature “shaped like a man, but bigger, maybe six and a half or seven feet tall, with big wings folded against its back.” It gave chase, and followed their car “at speeds over 100 miles an hour,” until finally it disappeared. The Mothman has been written off as a sandhill crane or barn owl that spooked them, to a paranormal harbinger of disaster that was warning the town of the impending bridge collapse. After the first sighting, others saw it. Whether this was real or mass delusion, I leave you to decide.
The history of the area is undisputed; the Battle of Point Pleasant, where Virginia militia fought off Shawnee and Mingo Indians led by Chief Cornstalk in 1774, killed over 100 men. And in 1967, Forty-six people died in the bridge disaster. In our grief we struggle to find reason. Our brains are pattern recognition machines, seeking order out of chaos. Was there a link between the sightings and the tragedy? John A. Keel’s book The Mothman Prophecies claimed there was. John has passed away recently, but the museum has photos of him, and mementos of his research. It’s one of the best museums concerning such a narrow subject that I’ve been to- they have quite a bit to see. Compared to the L.A. County Coroner’s museum, which was a dilapidated office selling t-shirts when I visited, this is the Smithsonian of Mothmaniana.
I haven’t read the book, but I have seen the movie. Starring Richard Gere and directed by Mark Pellington, I found it interesting but not all that compelling. I ought to watch it again. Gere is not one of my favorite actors in his later years, and while the visuals of the film are quite good, the story itself was the same old song and dance when Hollywood gets a great idea from someone else. They dilute the creativity out of it until it’s become dull as dishwater. To reference Roger Ebert, “the human characters are, I believe, based not on facts but on an ancient tradition in horror movies, in which attractive people have unspeakable experiences.” And that’s what’s wrong with the film; it takes the unique creature and the tales of the people who saw it, and moves them to Generica, U.S.A. It’s unfortunate that Laura Linney- who plays a local cop that Gere befriends after his wife is killed in a car accident- and Pellington got saddled with sad sack Gere and the boring, vague script.
The Mothman is barely glimpsed, and the best I can tell is that it is a harbinger of death only seen when people close to you die. One of so many movies where we see between the layers of reality and are faced with things we cannot comprehend, it fails to be as creepy as it should be. If they had studied the classic “weird shit be happenin’!” film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, they wouldn’t have started us off with Gere’s wife dying. Why, because you want to believe him. You feel bad for him. How much better would it be if we thought he was a little crazy, and chuckled, and then shat our pants when there were two glowing red eyes on the bridge, and nothing there when he got there? I admire the movie’s restraint in not making this a monster film, but it was almost too ambiguous.
And it’s a damn shame. The movie isn’t terrible, it’s just a bit on the bland side due to its lead and a script that goes for mysterious but delivers apathy. However, the reenactment of the bridge collapse is excellent and terrifying. It really makes you think about how the denizens of Point Pleasant felt when they saw the unthinkable happening on the Ohio river. They still have a friendly town of about five thousand, and the guy running the Mothman Museum chatted us up about the Jersey Devil for a while, and spoke volumes about the mystery of his home town. Much friendlier than Pennsylvania folks, who couldn’t be bothered to tell us where to find Whoopie Pies. West Virginny is on my good list.
So if you’re in the area- perhaps for snowboarding at Snowshoe, or to get some Hillbilly Hotdogs- stop by this friendly town and remember a tragic and mysterious part of American history.

I tried to ride the Mothman subway but my Metrocard wasn’t working.

80s Trash of the Week: Real Men

Imagine living in the shadow of a tragic comic genius like John Belushi. Brother Jim has had a hard road- he has his own style of comedy, sadly underutilized. Here’s one of his minor gems, starring another underappreciated comic actor, Jack Ritter- who after years of slumming in the daytime sitcom ghetto on “Three’s Company,” never managed to make great success. Put them together and you’d expect a train wreck, but Real Men is an enjoyable ’80s comedy that tries to mash up Repo Man and The In-Laws, and achieves moderate success, much like its leads.
The story begins when an agent is killed trying to deliver a map to the CIA; the agency is forced to call in its greatest operator, the rogue loose cannon known as Nick Pirindello (Belushi). This shadowy super-agent works undercover as a butcher in a meat market, and when they send a flunky to get him on the job, he fucks around with him. Belushi’s dark sense of humor, with its constant veiled threat of violence, works well here. His brother’s wiggly eyebrows had their own great power, but Jim’s always look menacing. He puts them to good use here.

The agency has found a lookalike for the killed agent, and they want Nick to recruit him as a decoy to trick the Russians into thinking he’s still alive. This dead ringer turns out to be milquetoast Bob Wilson (Ritter), who we meet when he tries to get back his kid’s stolen bicycle from the neighborhood toughs. Needless to say, he gets pushed into a pile of packing peanuts and leaves with his tail between his legs and his dignity as soiled as a pair of drunken cheerleader’s panties on a frat room floor. But we get the feeling we’ll be seeing these goons get their comeuppance.

Nick braces Bob that evening, trying to recruit him by appealing to his patriotism. Nick’s problem is his sincerity; he comes off as sort of crazy… so he ends up having to force him at gunpoint. Thankfully the Russians attack with machine guns and rocket launchers, which is all the convincing Bob needs. He gets to see what a crack shot Nick is- one of the running jokes is that he never misses, while the bad guys exhibit Stormtrooper levels of inaccuracy- and accidentally saves Nick’s life while trying to escape. Thus is born a bond between men that will never be broken. Well, at least until pussy is involved.

Soon they are on the run, giving this spy comedy the road movie formula it needs to keep moving. As they rest after fending off more Russians, Bob wants to know what this is all about. Nick explains that the map leads to a meeting spot, where we will rendezvous with the aliens, who are offering a gun big enough to destroy the planet. Bob scoffs, so Nick shows him the gift the aliens gave him, a ballpoint pen. When Bob continues to scoff, Nick shows him the pen’s power by nailing it through a baseball. Bob says he’s seen a pen do that on an “As Seen on TV” commercial, so Nick has to whip out the big guns. He activates the pen one last time, and it sprouts a little satellite dish, hovers in mid-air, and zips off into the cosmos.

“That was a once in a lifetime souvenir. I hope they don’t think I didn’t like the pen.” Belushi’s blase attitude is the low buzz of comedic energy throughout the film, occasionally spiking when Ritter is allowed off his leash to perform some crazy antics. When they are being shot at yet again, Nick tells him “do what I do!” so he obediently runs around shooting at people with his finger. Coincidentally, he aims at the same people Nick is, and begins thinking his finger has been gifted magical powers. Sure it’s silly, but this is also a movie where they get attacked by a crack unit of CIA turncoats in clown suits. Sometimes the jokes aim high and fall flat; for example, one-off gag about how the CIA communicates through supermarket tabloids like Weekly World News is wasted, but we have to see them actually fight clowns in an alleyway.

Another throwaway gag is when Nick takes Bob home to Mom to hide out for a while. His Dad turns out to be a transsexual who has the hots for Bob, and it’s pretty disturbing until you realize “Dad” is being played by Dyanne ThorneIlsa of the infamous grindhouse classics She-Wolf of the S.S. and Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks. It was her last film, and she certainly looks the worse for wear. Just when you think the film won’t get any sillier, they win a gunfight by default when the Russians break for lunch. Since they don’t get paid, they’re not as hard working as we are.

The movie really shines at the end, when they meet the aliens. That scene is handled just perfectly. Sure, there are a lot of callbacks to earlier mentions in the script, but it wraps things up nicely, and helps cement the absurd tone of the movie. Bob learns to have a spine after defeating Soviet spies and conducting alien diplomacy; getting his kid’s bike back should be a piece of cake. And hey, he got a free pen.

the trailer

So is it worth watching? It’s sort of like Spies Like Us, one of my guilty pleasures; Dan Ackroyd and Chevy Chase at a lower point in their careers, it’s actually pretty funny most of the time. Real Men has second-tier comedic actors in it, so it can only manage so much. I’ve always liked Jim Belushi and John Ritter, but it’s hard for them to carry a whole film. Late night on cable, this might not be a bad trip through ’80s nostalgia, when goofy spy plots like this were expected. It’s in the same vein as The Private Eyes– sort of corny, mostly family friendly, though Nick the spy does have a way with the ladies.

Beers Required to Enjoy: 2
Could it be remade today? It’s a time-honored formula. Sure.
Quotability Rating: Nil
Cheese Factor: Velveeta
High Points: “Here. Have a pen.”
Low Point: Clowns
Gratuitous Boobies: None, but Ilsa and Soviet dominatrix appear.

80’s Trash of the Week: Earth Girls Are Easy

I’ll admit it. I’ll watch anything with Geena Davis in it. Let me qualify that. Any movie with Geena in it. In that “Commander in Chief” TV show she had a forehead like Andre the Giant’s, which terrified me. But since her first role in Tootsie I’ve had a crush on her (probably because I was 12 and she was in her bra & panties). I’ve always thought she had an adorably cute face with that big wry grin of hers. I even watched that superflop Cutthroat Island, which is actually pretty bad. But she’s hot in her pirate outfit.

Geena’s on the left

Before Beetlejuice, The Fly, and The Accidental Tourist made her a star, she was still taking projects like Julie Brown‘s Earth Girls Are Easy, as quintessential an 80’s movie as ever there was. It’s silly and over the top, garishly colorful, has campy special effects and a ludicrous plot, and tries to make some sort of comment on the dating scene, so yeah, late 80’s trasharama. Imagine Casual Sex? with Jim Carrey, Jeff Goldblum and Damon Wayans as aliens instead of Dice Clay, throw in a bunch of campy Valley references and songs by Julie Brown of “The Homecoming Queen’s Got a Gun” 15-minute fame, and you’ve got it.

Do you think we’ll ever regret these hair-dos?

It’s surprisingly watchable for being such a silly concept, because it never takes itself seriously. It teases you a few times, with a serious romantic subplot, but it’s all played for a gag with a decent payoff, so don’t let that bother you. Geena is Valerie, a hairdresser engaged to doctor Ted, which should be every gal’s dream of landing a rich chiseled Ken doll of a man, but like that Ken doll, he is too disinterested in sex for her liking. She tells her co-worker Candy (Julie Brown), who gives her an awful frosty blonde make-over that screams ’88, but when she tries to surprise him at home, he opens the door with a nurse in tow. She kicks him out and trashes the house in a “music video” scene, in her lingerie. While it’s sort of a chick movie, the producers were wise to insist that we get plenty of bikini action.

I ran out of Kleenex.

Valerie spends her weekend moping by the pool, while in the cold reaches of outer space, we see a Flash Gordon-like ship observing Earth. Inside are 3 guys covered in bright fur, like they skinned muppets and made catsuits out of them. They’ve been alone too long and after watching a holographic porno, turn their scopes toward our planet, where of course they see Geena sprawled by her pool, tantalizing them with a little side boob.

Late 80’s invention- the side boob.

They crash-land in her swimming pool and the fun begins. They’re goofy and good-natured, after all they’re Jim Carrey and Damon Wayans from the late-80’s super-skit comedy “In Living Color,” and Jeff Goldblum, who every went to for a studly nerd back then. She tries to hide them in the house but they want girls, so she ends up taking them to the hair salon for a make-over, which goes surprisingly well. Then we get an interlude for Julie Brown to sing “Cuz I’m a Blonde,” which is actually still pretty funny.

More proof that Cheez Whiz came from space.

From then on the movie involves trying to hide them from her hubby and her stoner pool man (Michael McKean), while taking them out to the L.A. party scene. They go to a club at Griffith Park Observatory, where Zeebo (Wayans) wows the ditzy Valley girls with their crazy dance moves, and Wiploc (Carrey) gets a following when he grabs an ice cube with his 8 inch tongue. Mac (Goldblum) is the most reserved of the aliens and has a thing for Geena, not surprising when the two actors married shortly after. They have a romantic scene and then skedaddle home where he shows her his magic “love touch,” which would be re-used in Cocoon.

“You guys were easier to wax than Robin Williams.”

In every movie where she bumps uglies with Jeff G, she has a nightmare afterward- in The Fly she had the infamous maggot baby, but here she just imagines all her neighbors as weird aliens, and other bizarre stuff like a midget with a beehive hairdo in her fridge. Now I know why Peter Dinklage’s character in Living in Oblivion was so pissed off about being in a dream sequence, it seems like half the roles for little people are in freaky dreams.

They give each other knowing nods at parties for enduring this.

The last part of the movie is a little confused and involves Ted trying to get back into Valeries good graces, and the alien boys getting into trouble with Woody the pool man. Zeebo and Wiploc wanna go to the beach because unlike Mac, they haven’t gotten any space booty. While Woody is gassing up, they manage to accidentally rob a store, trash Angelyne’s Corvette, drive through a car wash and then backwards down the freeway. Who’s Angelyne? I only recognized her because John Waters wrote about her in his book Crackpot!, but she’s a self-made celebrity in L.A.– by driving around in a pink Vette and buying billboards of herself modeling, she managed to get her 15 minutes.

Angelyne in all her skanky glory.

The boys crash into the giant sign of Randy’s Donuts, another L.A. landmark; I’m surprised they didn’t stop at Tail o’ the Pup for hot dog. Of course the cops haul them in and they end up under Dr. Ted’s care- could it happen any other way? How they unravel this conundrum, and whether Val ends up with her fun-loving alien or Dr. Dork I’ll leave for you to learn. The movie is good fun and an overdose of late 80’s nostalgia, with the B-52’s on the soundtrack. Before Carrey was making millions per picture he was in stuff like this, and Once Bitten. I liked him better as a goofball. And Geena fans, she’s never looked better.

Oh, it’s in the hole!

Beers Required to Enjoy: One
Could it be remade today? No way
Quotability Rating: Low
Cheese Factor: Off the charts
High Points: Smokin’ hot Geena, early Jim Carrey
Low Point:Things get serious with Ted
Gratuitous Boobies: Side only, but lots of cleavage.