CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE UH-OH SHOW (2009)
By L.L. Soares and Nick Cato
(THE SCENE: The set of a game show, with a live studio audience. People are screaming and shouting in their seats as NICK CATO comes out from behind a curtain and stands before the crowd)
NICK CATO: Today’s movie deserves a little background. Hit it, Billy Cyclops!
(The lights dim down and a projection screen lights up with images from old horror movies)
NC: Herschell Gordon Lewis is the epitome of “Love Him or Hate Him.” He is responsible for the world’s first gore film (1963’s BLOOD FEAST) and directed over forty other exploitation and horror films from the late 1950s through the early 70s. He took a break after his last film of that period, THE GORE-GORE GIRLS (1972), to become a successful author of books for the advertising world (to date he has written over thirty-five). A much-requested speaker at motivational business conferences, Lewis once again gained fame for his exploitation films during the 1980s video revolution. His fan base became so large that in 2002, he got back together with old friend/producer (the late) David Friedman and made BLOOD FEAST 2: ALL U CAN EAT, the long-awaited sequel to his notorious classic.
(The audience “oohs” and “aahhs” as scenes of laughable gore effects splash across the screen)
NC: And now, Lewis has unleashed his latest celluloid atrocity, THE UH-OH SHOW. Released in 2009, the film played the festival and convention circuits for two years before finally coming to home video just this past August.
(The lights come back on to reveal that L.L. SOARES is now also on the stage, wearing a cowboy hat and clown make-up. The audience hoots and boos at him)
L.L. SOARES: Aw shut up, you ingrates! How much did you pay for the ticket to get in here? Nothing! So stop your belly-aching!
(NC shows the crowd his WIZARD OF GORE tattoo as LS drinks from a large glass of Guinness)
LS: Okay, okay, we get it. You’re a huge fan of Herschell Gordon Lewis. So am I. Which is why we’re doing this one together. Let’s see if the old master still has what it takes.
NC: I’ve been fascinated with Herschell Gordon Lewis since reading about him in the fourth issue of FANGORIA magazine. My old man even saw BLOOD FEAST down in Georgia in 1963, a couple of weeks before he went to Korea with the Army. I guess you can say Lewis’s films have been hereditarily handed down to me.
LS: Yeah, BLOOD FEAST is a real classic of its kind. No argument there.
NC: I was happy to see BLOOD FEAST 2 when it was released, although it was on a DVD. I had asked David Friedman at a Chiller convention in New Jersey how Herschell managed to make all the girls look like it was still the 1960s, to which he answered, “Beats me!” I thought it was a fun enough sequel, packed with plenty of classic Lewis-splatter and goofiness, although I thought Jackie Kong’s unofficial 1987 sequel, BLOOD DINER, was a much better film.
LS: I dunno, I’m on the fence about BLOOD DINER. Sure, it’s a homage to Herschell, but it’s a little too silly for my tastes. One thing about Herschell’s best, early films are that they took themselves totally seriously, which is why they were so cool. It was the effects and the bad acting that made them kind of funny, but it wasn’t until later in his career that he started to serve the gore with a wink, and that wink turned into a spasmatic eyeball! If only he’d stuck with the serious approach!
(Audience “boos” LS again)
LS: Aw shuttup, you pack of mangy dogs!
NC: I had been reading for years that Lewis’s next film was going to be titled GRIM FAIRY TALES, a collection of short, gory films based on Grimm’s classic stories. So when I heard he had changed the premise to a violent game show, I had no idea what the ‘ol Wiz was up to. When the title THE UH-OH SHOW was announced, my initial reaction was Lewis must be going for an all-out comedy. How about you?
LS: I’d heard the rumors about GRIM FAIRY TALES, too, and I have to admit, I wasn’t that excited. Sure, it would be cool to see another new movie by the Wizard of Gore himself, but something about fairy tales didn’t really grab me. When I heard the movie’s title was changed and it was about a violent game show instead, this actually sounded better to me. I couldn’t wait to see it. Of course, it took two whole years for it to finally get a decent DVD release.
NC: THE UH-OH SHOW deals with a televised game show (on a basic cable channel) that gains popularity due to its unusual angle: contestants who answer their questions wrong are forced to spin the “Wheel of Misfortune,” and whatever body part the spinner lands on is then cut off. In classic 2,000 MANIACS (1964) style, the first contestant loses her arm, then one guy is decapitated, all by THE UH-OH SHOW’s evil henchman, “Radial Saw Rex,” a scary-looking black guy with a huge portable chop saw. More bloody mayhem ensues, although most of it is as unconvincing as most of Lewis’s classic films.
LS: Yeah, but back in those classic films, Herschell was trying to make real horror flicks. Now he’s making pure camp. The thing is, however, I really liked the concept of THE UH-OH SHOW. A game show where contestants lose their limbs and other body parts is actually a brilliant idea. Even though it was a more comedic film right from the get-go, I bought this one right away and was really digging the game show scenes. Unfortunately, there’s a lot more going on in this movie, and it’s not all good.
NC: You bet! Lead bad guy Fred Finagler (played by Joel D. Wyknoop) says most of his lines obnoxiously loud, making him neither funny or frightening, but just plain laughable (and not in a good way). The majority of the cast are Florida locals, including star/UH-OH SHOW host Brooke McCarter, who does an okay job here, although the Oscars won’t be calling him anytime soon. Female lead Nevada Caldwell hands in a decent performance as reporter Jill Burton, and there are a few local model/strippers as the show’s VannaWhite-ish co-hosts. A cameo is even made by Floridian horror authors Jeff Strand and Lynne Hansen, but you’d better keep your eyes peeled or you’ll miss ‘em!
LS: See, I liked Brooke McCarter as the show’s host, Jackie, a lot. I thought he was suitably smarmy and pretty good in the role. I liked his sexy cohorts as well, especially Krista Grotte as “Champagne.” It was when the movie veered away from the game show that I started to get disappointed. The game show was so cool – why ruin it? Once that annoying Fred Finagler took center stage, I thought the movie went downhill, which is too bad. That said, I also liked Nevada Caldwell as reporter Jill Burton, too. She reminded me a lot of H.G. Lewis’s strong female characters from his 70s films like Nancy Weston (Amy Farrell) from 1972’s THE GORE GORE GIRLS and reporter Sherry Carson (Judy Cler) from 1970’s THE WIZARD OF GORE. The way she looked, the way she acted, Caldwell was another in a long line of Lewis’s classic heroines.
And I have to admit, it was kind of fun to see Jeff Strand and Lynne Hansen in this one. They’re friends of ours and it must have been a real thrill for them to appear in a Herschell Gordon Lewis film, even if it’s not one of his better efforts.
NC: The film takes a turn when a major network requests a spin-off. The show ends up being called GRIM FAIRY TALES, hence tying in what us Lewis geeks had been reading about for so long. And while these quick fairy tale clips are entertaining, they lack the humor that could’ve been expanded on THE UH-OH SHOW itself.
LS: This plot twist makes absolutely NO SENSE. They’ve got a hit game show. So they go on another network and instead of doing another violent game show, which is what people obviously want, they do a fairy tale show where that annoying corporate slimebag,Fred Finagler, with his sidekick Coco (Lauren Schmier), reads from a book while horror versions of fairy tales are reenacted. What do fairy tales have to do with a game show? Looks to me like Herschell might have started making GRIM FAIRY TALES, stopped half-way through, and then combined that story with THE UH-OH SHOW for some bizarre reason. The two plots have absolutely nothing in common except for Fred and Coco. And if there was a real UH-OH SHOW, and I was a fan (which I probably would be), I’d be pretty annoyed if my show went off the air and was replaced by a lame fairy tale show!
LS: It’s about time you people got smart! You know I’m right about this!
NC: You’re theory isn’t that far-fetched. For those new to Lewis, several of his films feature pieced-together segments from other films, admitted filler, and all kinds of stuff that scare mainstream audiences away. But those were a product of the time, minimal budgets, and Lewis’s gung-ho attitude to get a film produced and out for public consumption as quickly as possible.
With the UH-OH SHOW, it’s apparent Lewis flung things together as quickly as he always has, although there’s far less thought put into things this time around. And there’s a patronizing aura throughout (especially when Herschell himself appears, telling stories to a group of young kids) that mocks the intended audience (I’m hoping this wasn’t intentional). If I hadn’t met Lewis a few times and can honestly say that he’s a GREAT guy, I would have been quite aggravated about this. But I’m guessing Lewis did this for fun AND for his legion of fans. I just wish it wasn’t so painfully . . . unfunny.
LS: I don’t know, I kind of liked the beginning of the film where “Uncle Herschell” tells stories to the kids. Sure, it was hokey, but I was just happy to see one of my favorite directors onscreen, and it was a lot more entertaining than the GRIM FAIRY TALES show-within-the-movie later on. If you want to talk about unfunny, how about Troma Head Honcho Lloyd Kaufman’s totally unfunny cameo in the middle of the film as a pimp. While I like some Troma films, it’s that wink-wink sensibility that Troma is famous for that is the downfall of movies like THE UH-OH SHOW.
NC: And despite THE UH-OH SHOW’s wild premise, the whole thing is just soooooo boring.
LS: I hate to say it, but I kind of agree with you there. Like I said before, when they lose interest in the game show concept and go on to other things, that’s when I kind of lost interest in the movie.
NC: I guess we can’t explain what it is about Herschell Gordon Lewis that so many of us low-budget film freaks love so much. But THE UH-OH SHOW isn’t a good example of why we do. The gruesome nature of BLOOD FEAST (1963) and THE GORE-GORE GIRLS (1972), the surreal experimentation of SOMETHING WEIRD (1967), and the combo of gruesome and surreal found in THE WIZARD OF GORE (1970), are much better places to start if anyone is interested in seeing what all the fuss is about. Or better yet, check out Frank Henenlotter’s recent documentary, HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS: THE GODFATHER OF GORE (2010) for a concise, comprehensive view of the director’s entire career.
LS: Considering how old Herschell is, it’s a wonder he’s still making films at all. So I find myself not wanting to be too hard on this one.
NC: I don’t know. While it’s always exciting to hear about a new Lewis film, the disappointing UH-OH SHOW only made me yearn for the glory days of the Godfather of Gore. It saddens me, but I give it half a knife.
LS: I swear, if they’d stuck with the game show premise, I might have really enjoyed this one. But this movie is all over the place, and when it turns completely silly half-way through, I found myself getting bummed out. When you like a director as much as Nick and I like Herschell, you want the guy to hit a home run every time he makes a movie. But no such luck. It saddens me as well. I give it one knife.
But if you’re a hardcore Herschell fan, you might want to check it out anyway, just because the man just doesn’t make movies very often anymore. At least there were some scenes I liked about this one. I just wish it had stayed focused and stuck to one plot.
NC: Oh well, it looks like we’re done.
(RADIAL SAW REX suddenly bursts onto the stage, chasing NC and LS with his giant power saw. The audience shouts and screams as a spray of blood shoots out at them, and the curtain goes down.)
© Copyright 2011 by L.L. Soares and Nick Cato
L.L. Soares gives THE UH-OH SHOW! ~ one knife
Nick Cato gives THE UH-OH SHOW! ~ half a knife