“Dead Presidents” (1995) dir. The Hughes Brothers


Next week, Allen Hughes, one half of the dynamic filmmaking duo The Hughes Brothers, will be releasing his solo directorial debut “Broken City.” I don’t know if it will be any good, but if any of the Hughes Brothers’ prior films provide any indication as to “Broken City”‘s potential quality, it’s going to at least be interesting, if not, pretty damn good.  At this time, I’d like to give a shout-out to their most underrated film.

“Dead Presidents” was the Hughes Brothers follow-up to their explosive debut “Menace II Society.” “Presidents” is an ambitious redux of “The Deer Hunter,” but from the African-American perspective. It was based on one of the stories from Wallace Terry’s groundbreaking oral history of the African-American experience in Vietnam, “Bloods.”

The movie did not get particularly good reviews and was only moderately successful when it was released. Even someone from the Criterion Collection, who released a terrific deluxe special edition laserdisc at the time, opined that it was a mistake to give the Criterion treatment to this film. Sorry, I have to cry “Bulls–t!” on all of that.

“Dead Presidents” is not a perfect film, but it’s pretty sensational nonetheless. It has great performances by Larenz Tate, Chris Tucker, and Keith David, has some extremely harrowing scenes that are hard to shake from one’s memory, and really conveys a strong sense of desperation and anger of the working class, post-Vietnam. The scope and depth of this film is truly magnificent. When you consider that this film was directed by 22-year-olds, you almost want to kick the a– of anyone who dismissed this back in the day.

This is an underrated masterpiece that deserves rediscovering.

“Eating Raoul” (1982) dir. Paul Bartel

While Paul Bartel’s “Eating Raoul” was distributed by the “classics” division of a major studio (in this case, 20th Century Fox) back in 1982, it’s still one of the best “indie” films of that decade (when “indie” actually meant something).  It’s also one of the funniest.  The premise is genius.  A financially struggling couple, Paul and Mary Bland (played by Bartel and Andy Warhol/Roger Corman regular Mary Woronov), can’t seem to break out of their dead-end jobs to achieve their dream of opening a restaurant.  Since their apartment building is overrun with rich perverts and swingers, they come up with the genius notion of luring these lovely folks to their apartment with an ad in a swingers newspaper, killing them, and then stealing their money.  Trouble ensues when they bring in locksmith/burglar Raoul as a business partner who helps them dispose of the bodies.  Despite “Raoul”‘s grim, blacker-than-black subject matter, the movie is actually very sweet (though it feels odd to say that, given the perverse subject matter).  A great example of how you can handle otherwise offensive subject matter in a funny, relatively non-offensive way.  However, it still more than earns its R-rating, so probably not the best film to show your parents or people you don’t know that well.  The Criterion Collection just released a lovely Blu-Ray version of “Raoul” with all the extras you would expect from them.  Dave says check it out.

1. “Videodrome” (1982) dir. David Cronenberg

Number 1 on Dave’s Strange World’s all-time favorite films is David Cronenberg’s mind-blowing science-fiction / horror film about porn, technology, mind control, and government conspiracies. When “Videodrome” came out, it was treated like a cheap exploitation film due to its graphic sex and gore. Fortunately, history has been kind not only to Cronenberg as a filmmaker, but also to “Videodrome.” It’s now a part of the prestigious Criterion Collection and if any film needs rediscovery and appreciation, it’s “Videodrome.”

James Woods is perfect as the sleazy owner of an adults-only TV station looking to push the envelope for higher ratings. He encounters and becomes obsessed with an S&M flavored “snuff” TV show called Videodrome that he pursues with a vengeance. His obsession with Videodrome leads him down some very, very dark paths and not the ones you would immediately expect.

30 years later, it’s scary how much of “Videodrome” is now reality. Except that the government doesn’t need to implant a tumor-inducing mind-control growth in your brain through extreme pornography. Every time you log on to a computer, use your smart phone, send an e-mail, it’s being recorded … somewhere. And people’s constant desire to find something even more extreme and perverse to look at it is is getting easier and easier and along with consumerism, is furthering a “life is cheap” philosophy that’s getting worse and worse. And it’s all being done with your consent.

This clip is extremely surreal, but properly conveys the trippiness of this masterpiece. Deborah Harry (of Blondie) plays Nikki, Max’s partner in perversity. Not safe for work by any means.