Joe Bob Briggs

Drive-In Movie Critic of Grapevine, TX

Have you noticed how closing times at bars get earlier and earlier?
What's going on here? Certain cities and states now have bars that close at midnight, just like in Communist countries like Sweden.

Didn't we already find out in the 1920s what happens when you monkey with a man's drinking habits? He gets grumpy. He starts beatin' bunny rabbits over the head with baseball bats. He rips the legs off frogs and feeds them to his sister-in-law. He picks at scabs, runs nekkid across the golf course, and sings the theme from Green Acres out loud on the subway.

There was a time when Texas bars were open all night long, just like in New Orleans. Now they close at 2 a.m. And you usually can't even find any illegal ones after that.

Closing time in Atlanta was 3 a.m. the last time I checked. That's a little more serious of a bar town.

New York still has a healthy regard for tradition. Closing time is 4, and if you're still revved, you can generally find a party after that.

But if you wanna talk about a place that takes its drinking and dancing and carrying on damn seriously, look no further than...Arkansas. Legal closing time: 5 a.m.

A couple of weeks ago I was hanging out with some party animals from Little Rock who took me to this warehouse at the end of a gravel road down by the Arkansas River. It's a combination rave club/gay bar/transvestite performance-art space/beer garden/blissed-out ecstasy-trance scene.

There were, like, thousands of brain-damaged individuals in this place, all dancing their politically incorrect little tushies off, less than two miles from where Billy Clinton once presided over the Arkansas state government.

And everybody kept saying to me, "I guess this is no big deal to you, Joe Bob, because it's only Arkansas, and you've been everywhere."

And I would say, "I've been everywhere and I have never seen anything like this."

And the most amazing thing of all was the drag queens. I've seen drag-queen lip-sync acts in San Francisco, in New York, and--the horror! the horror!--even in Key West. These were the most committed drag queens I've ever seen. Even the ugly ones.

In fact, the ugliest ones were the most committed.
And people would say, "I guess you've seen a lot better than this, Joe Bob, 'cause, you know, it's the best we can do in Arkansas."

But I'm here to tell you something. If you wanna be a drag queen in Arkansas, you better know what you're doing. These he-gals want it bad.

Their acts were so good I wanted to propose marriage to three of 'em, including a guy with a 5-o'clock shadow who was dressed like Madonna and singing "Like a Virgin."

You had to be there.
But my point is, keep the dang bars open. It's good for society. It's good for the soul. Look what it did for Arkansas.

And speaking of deformed creatures, we finally got a decent horror flick this year. It's called Rumpelstiltskin and it stars Max Grodenchik as the deformed midget from the fairy tale who steals babies and eats body parts.

In the 15th century, the vengeance-seeking townsfolk--you know, the ones who always carry torches--set Rumpelstiltskin on fire, turn him into an ugly green rock, and throw him into the ocean.

But 400 years later he turns up in an El Lay antique shop, and pretty soon we've got a nasty troll swiping the newborn baby of a cop's widow and absconding to Bakersfield.

Actually, he can never quite keep possession of the baby, so Mommy flees to Bakersfield in a four-wheel-drive vehicle, forcing the cigar-chomping demon to hijack an 18-wheeler by decapitating a redneck.

Fortunately, a trash-TV daytime-talk-show host is on his way to the lake in a sport utility vehicle, so he picks up Mama and Baby, lures the troll into an over-the-cliff header, and helps her bust out of jail when they're arrested for killing a cop who actually died when the troll, with burns over 100 percent of his body, ripped off his own head and used it to eat the cop's neck.

Obviously, there's way too much plot getting in the way of the story here, but, basically, this is the old Troll Wants the Soul plot, with Rumpelstiltskin trying to get eternal life by dancing around and chanting a rhyme while the stolen baby rests in a zombie's arms.

What makes the whole thing work is that Grodenchik--as the twisted, nasty little demon--is both hilarious and scary; he has the whole Freddy Krueger thing going for him, but one step better.

Fifteen dead bodies. No breasts. Flaming baby. Mace-clubbing. Eyeball-ripping. Eyeball-eating.

Multiple ancient curses. Exploding demon. Close-up gunshot wound to the head.

Finger-hacking. Knife to the forehead. Broom handle stuffed in the mouth, exiting in rear.

Arm-hacking, with maggots. Neck-chomping. Flag through the stomach.
One shootout. Four motor vehicle chases, with two fireballs. Gratuitous zombie attack. Head rolls.

Drive-In Academy Award nominations for...
* Max Grodenchik, as the pointy-eared, jug-nosed, cackling midget from hell, for saying, "Come, bring the pain!" and, "Thy future is harsh on thy throat!" and, "I smell a baby!"

* Allyce Beasley, as the best friend who puts her hand on the ancient talisman and wishes for "an exotic male dancer."

* Kim Johnston Ulrich, as the young mom running from the "satanic little freak with pointy ears."

* Vera Lockwood, as the scary-looking antiques dealer who says, "Next time an old witch tells you not to buy something, you listen!"

* Tommy Blaze, as the talk-show host-turned-demon fighter who knows he's a jerk and loves himself for it.

* And Mark Jones, the writer-director, for doing things the drive-in way.
Four stars.
Joe Bob says check it out.

©1996 Joe Bob Briggs (Distributed by NYT Special Features)

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