Jill Schoelen Jamboree!!!

Jill Schoelen Jamboree!!!

This latest edition of BRAIN HAMMER’S PICKS FROM THE CRYPT is dedicated to the one and only Jill Schoelen! Jill is one of the more underrated “scream queens” in my humble opinion. She appeared in a string of memorable horror flicks including Wes Craven’s Chiller (1985), The Stepfather (1987), Curse II: The Bite (1988), Cutting Class (1989), The Phantom Of The Opera (1989), Popcorn (1991), and When A Stranger Calls Back (1993). Jill has two major assets going for her: she is beautiful, and she is a great actress. I want to be classy in writing this little tribute in hopes that Jill might read it, but I have to be honest. She looks like somebody’s sister… somebody’s sister I would like to fuck.

In honor of Jill Schoelen and her legions of fans, I shall now review three of the clas-sicks that she starred in.

 

LET THE BLOODSHED BEGIN!!!

 

 

THE STEPFATHER (1987)

Jill Schoelen plays an adorable young girl named Stephanie who doesn’t care much for her new stepfather, Jerry. Stephanie’s mother assures her that Jerry (Terry O’ Quinn) is a sweet man, and a great provider who wants nothing more than to make a family and get to know her better. Stephanie tries to make the best of the situation, but becomes distrustful of Jerry when she discovers how incredibly possessive and overly protective he is toward his new family. She gets a sneak peek at Jerry’s dark side when she catches him freaking out and smashing things in a fit of uncontrollable rage in the basement.

Stephanie has a very good reason to be afraid of Jerry – he is in fact a psychopath that murdered his first family before altering his appearance, changing his name, and moving to a new town to start over. Jerry will let nothing get in the way of his twisted dream of having the perfect all American family, and kills anyone who raises his ire or acts overly suspicious towards him. When Jerry catches Stephanie kissing a boy on the front porch one night he goes berserk and accuses the boy of trying to rape her. Stephanie’s defiance of his rules shatters his illusions of her perfection and causes him to snap once again and finally decide that he will have to kill the girl and her mother. Daddy’s home… and he’s not very happy.

THE STEPFATHER was loosely based on the real life case of John List, a New Jersey man who killed his entire family and then disappeared for 16 years before finally being captured after he was profiled on an early episode of America’s Most Wanted. This is more of a thriller than a straight up slasher flick, but it still manages to impress with some sudden mood swings and scenes of intense violence. The opening sequence that shows Jerry’s bloodstained former home and the dead bodies of his former wife and kids is fairly gruesome. There’s also a nasty 2X4 bludgeoning that really packs a whollop. Director Joesph Rubin (who also directed another favorite of mine – “Dreamscape”) does a solid job and creates a good balance of suspense, tension, and black humor. He went on to milk this formula for all it was worth far less successfully in his other well known thrillers “Sleeping With The Enemy” and “The Good Son.”

Terry O’ Quinn (“Lost”) is terrific in this flick. His performance as a psycho is so offbeat and convincing, I’m surprised he didn’t go on to be the Anthony Perkins of the nineties. Terry commands the screen from start to finish and displays some truly superior acting skills. His incredible performance in this film ranges from bloodthirsty rampages to an ultra tense dinner scene where he says nothing and yet somehow manages to show his inner rage boiling away using only his eyes. You also get the feeling that his deranged character is really buying into his fantasy of the having the perfect family. It’s chilling stuff, and a good thing too because his performance almost single handedly carries the entire film.

The mother is played by a horrible actress, and the “old step-brother” subplot is a throw away time waster. Jill Schoelen on the other hand turns in a great performance as the sassy and suspicious stepdaughter who eventually has to defend herself and her mother against a maniac hellbent on having a perfect family. While the acting in this flick is a little bit uneven, it never spoils the fun. I consider “The Stepfather” to be one of the very best 80’s pseudo-slashers. Terry O’ Quinn’s amazing performance alone makes this one a must see.

Just in time to cash in on the enivitable, lame remake, the good folks at Shout! Factory released THE STEPFATHER on dvd for the first time in the States. The dvd includes a commentary track with director Joeseph Ruben, and a fantastic retrospective titled The Stepfather Cronicles that features interviews with the director, producers, and writer of the film, and none other than Jill Schoelen herself! This is an essential purchase.

 

 

CUTTING CLASS (1989)

Paula Carson (Jill Schoelen) is a pretty high school cheerleader who gets caught in a lover’s triangle between her troubled basketball superstar bad boy boyfriend Dwight (Brad Pitt, in his first major film role!) and Brian (Donavon Leitch), the disturbed yet sensitive new kid who has just been released from a mental institution after killing his father. Dwight and Brian have a secret history (“Righty tighty, lefty loosey!”) and when Brian shows up offering Paula his hot dog because she had “that look” Dwight explodes with jealousy.

When Paula’s Father (Martin Mull!) goes off for a duck hunting vacation he has an arrow put through his chest by an unseen assailant with a deadly grudge against the bumbling district attorney. Then the killer pursues Paula and eliminates any member of the student body or faculty that gets in the way. The asshole art teacher gets extra crispy inside a 500 degree kiln, the haggard vice principal has her face smashed into a xerox machine, and the flabby gym coach is impaled with an American flag while happily bouncing on a trampoline! A couple of Paula’s friends are snuffed too. Then the killer sets a deadly trap inside a classroom for Paula and the Math teacher to solve or suffer the consequences (SAW stole everything from this movie!). No one said surviving high school would be easy, but Paula didn’t didn’t know someone very close to her would be willing to kill to fit in.

CUTTING CLASS opens with a fantastic scene where Jill fetches the morning paper clad only in her white t-shirt and it’s sexy as hell! You don’t see anything, but she just looks so damn naughty doing it. I love that scene! Pretty much the whole movie consists of men leering at Jill’s character. Every man in the movie (with the exception of her father) checks out her ass and tries to get her in the sack. The art teacher enjoys closely examining her stretching and accommodating young muscles. The flabby gym coach snuggles up close to help her improve her archery technique. Even the fruity high school principal played by the late great Roddy McDowall (“Class Of 1984”) can’t resist her. He even buys Jill a new cheerleading uniform just for the supreme pleasure of seeing her bend over in a short skirt to pick up the package! Jill carries the film as the leading lady with ease, and always looks great doing it. B-movie favorite Brenda James (“Slither”) co-stars and steals the show as the fast living hot blooded redhead cheerleader with no panties and breasts big enough to feed a family of four! WOW!

Then there’s the man himself – Brad Pitt. He plays a tough but tender high school rebel with a penchant for child endangerment (he even wears a red jacket to make it obvious that he is a rebel without a cause!). He gets to display his incredible white boy basketball skills AND unleash a jivey sounding black voice to say “I ain’t got no basketball scholarship!” after blowing his big shot with “the university!” I especially like the scene where Brad assures his girlfriend that he’s bigger than her father “where it matters.” This is truly a debut leading man performance to be proud of.

Brad’s male co-star is the internet favorite Donovan Leitch. Popular with both the guys and the gals (especially the guys), Donovan also appeared in the 1988 remake of “The Blob” (great flick). I got a chuckle out of reading his credit as “featured dancer” in the 1984 urban classic “Breakin 2: Electric Boogaloo!” Donovan does a great job as the disturbed young man who rides a bike with rainbow tassels on the handlebars and implores people to “gimme that man talk.” MAN TALK?!?

Director Rospo Pallenberg’s “Cutting Class” was one of the very last gasps of the 80’s slasher craze. And a great flick too. I think it’s criminally underrated and often misunderstood. It’s not so much a mocking parody of a high school slasher flick, but is instead a rather tame high school slasher flick done with a lot of cheesy humor. No surprise, as it was written by Steve Slavkin, who also wrote the beloved tv series “Salute Your Shorts!” There’s no graphic gore, but a fair amount of blood is splattered. The mystery of the the killer’s identity is sort of a joke, or perhaps I just find characters identified as “violent schizophrenics” who have endured hours of shock therapy to be overly suspicious.

Horror fans with a sense of humor and a taste for the gloriously cheesy 80’s should really enjoy this. Lionsgate was kind enough to recently release an unrated version of CUTTING CLASS on dvd. This would make a great addition to any 80’s horror fan’s collection.

 

 

POPCORN (1991)

Jill Schoelen stars as Maggie, a beautiful film student at the University of California who is tormented by recurring nightmares. In her dreams, Maggie watches helplessly as a young girl named Sarah is pursued by a mysterious sword swinging Rasputin lookalike. Maggie is baffled as to what the bizarre dreams could possibly mean and keeps a journal detailing her hazy memories. Maggie is convinced that the nightmares would make a fantastic screenplay, but her mother (Dee Wallace Stone of “The Hills Have Eyes” & “The Howling” fame) is concerned and urges her to put the dreams behind her.

Meanwhile, Maggie’s film class decides to hold a fund raiser. At the urging of their professor (Tony Roberts), the students plan an all night horrorfest in an old abandoned movie theater. Ray Walston (“My Favorite Martian”) makes a brief appearance as a fruity old vaudeville performer who schools the kids on the rich history of the Dreamland theater and gives them access to a large trunk full of vintage William Castle styled film gimmicks. As the kids clean up the theater for the fund raiser (set to a musical montage that gave me “Revenge Of The Nerds” flashbacks) a geek named Toby (Tom Villard, who can play a geek with the best of them) stumbles upon a short film reel titled “The Possessor.”

The kids then watch the disturbing short film, which is eerily similar to Maggie’s nightmares. The title role of The Possessor is played by a deranged hippy filmmaker named Lanyard Gates. Gates was driven over the edge by scathing reviews and composed the film as his ultimate revenge on critics and unappreciative audiences. At the end of the film’s one and only screening, Lanyard Gates proceeded to kill his entire family on stage, with the sole exception of his daughter Sarah. Sarah was saved at the last moment by her Aunt, who shot Gates and then accidentally started a massive fire that killed several innocent people inside the Dreamland theater.

Normally a morbid revelation like this would be enough to scare reasonably intelligent kids away, but this is a horror movie, so the class decides to hold the horrorfest at the theater anyway. The lineup consists of a terrible trio of schlocky sci-fi flicks with titles like “The Stench” & “The Amazing Electrified Man.” A large audience full of overacting idiots in Halloween costumes shows up and quickly packs the theater. The fun is short lived however, as someone in the audience is hellbent on bringing the horrors of The Possessor back to life.

The seemingly harmless props that the kids were planning on scaring the audience with are turned into deadly weapons, and unfortunate victims are impaled, gassed, and electrocuted. But who is this maniac? Could it be Lanyard Gates back from the dead? Or is it someone who has been possessed by The Possessor and is compelled to finish to his life’s work? Maggie and her dimwitted and accident prone love interest try to solve the mystery and eventually uncover a madman with a penchant for disguises and a thirst for revenge.

POPCORN was written and partially directed by the one and only Alan Ormsby (“Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things”). Alan quit the picture after just three weeks of shooting and took his name off the film. The screenplay is credited to Ormsby’s pseudonym Ted Hackett (Hack it!). This was a notoriously troubled production. Jill Schoelen replaced the original lead actress shortly after the film begin shooting. The title “Popcorn” originally referred to an element in the story that was later removed and never shot. Regardless, the producers decided to keep the title, which does make sense considering the bulk of the film takes place in a movie theater.

The always underrated Alan Ormsby deserves a lot of credit for being one of the first people to pay tribute to the classic horror flicks of the 50’s and for turning the slasher film on its ear by neatly parodying the genre. Unlike a lot of modern horror flicks that attempt to do the same thing, you never get the feeling that he is completely taking the piss out of the genre. This is a loving tribute, done with hearts in the right place. “Popcorn” isn’t particularly gory but it makes up for a lack of blood with tons of energy and a mounting sense of dread and intensity. There are some very nice performances along the way from Jill Schoelen and Tom Villard. Jill is cute as a button and the always offbeat Villard pretty much steals the show.

Sadly, when it was first released in 1991, POPCORN came and went with the force and stench of a stale popcorn fart. The early 90’s were a shitty time for horror flicks and so-called fans that were burnt out on the genre turned their noses up at this one. Since then, the film had repeatedly played on cable and gone on to be something of a cult favorite. Elite Entertainment released “Popcorn” on dvd a few years back. The print is a bit murky looking, and there’s not much in the way of bonus features. The highlight of the disc is a collection of tv spots that include a funny parody of those “I’m going to Disneyland” commercials. After watching these ads the film’s tag line BUY A BAG, GO HOME IN A BOX will be permanently tattooed into your brain.

 

 

KEEP THE BLOOD FLOWING!!!

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One Response to “Jill Schoelen Jamboree!!!”

  1. No love for THE BITE? From what I read in that Fango article they did on her last month, she hates that flick, too. I think it’s groovy, though. Rock on, Brain. Rock on.

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