Incredibly Bad TV Show: Conspiracy Theory with Jesse Ventura

Regular readers will know that we’re big fans of conspiracy theories here at TC. While not necessarily believing them all – especially the all-encompassing, shape-shifting lizards from another dimension type ones – they’re like intellectual table-salt. They enhance the flavor of life, and help foster a sense of cynicism about the motives and actions of government and those in power, which is certainly extremely sensible. However, just as conspiracy theories cover the gamut from plausible to completely-loopy [though remarkably entertaining], so does coverage of them in the mainstream media range from sober, serious consideration of the possibilities to… Well, to Conspiracy Theory with Jesse Ventura.

We should probably have got some kind of inkling from its location on Tru TV. The channel used to be known as Court TV, but changed its brand in 2008, now operating under the slogan, “Not reality. Actuality.” Going by shows such as Operation Repo, “actuality” appears to mean making stuff up and trying to give the impression it’s real.  Saying Tru TV does not have a good record for serious investigative journalism is like saying Michael Jackson had some deficiencies as a child-care provider.  But, hey, we’ll cut it some slack: after all, host Jesse Ventura remains one of the few people to crack the two-party system, during his spell as Governor of Minnesota. If there’s anyone capable of cutting through the BS, it’d be him.

Unfortunately,  any hope of a balanced look at the topics under investigation evaporates in the fiery heat of the near-hysterical approach to the subject matter. After the jump, we’ll bravely go through the entire series, episode by episode, and expose the deadly truth about Conspiracy Theory!!!! Ok, perhaps not, but after you’ve watched a few of these shows, the style does tend to rub off…

Witness the first episode, looking at the HAARP project in Alaska. This is something we’ve been talking about for a long time, having previously covered the topic in 2003 – Ventura, however, was clearly not paying attention, cheerfully admitting he’d never heard of it two weeks previously. Ok, everyone has to start somewhere, and while the qualifications of the ‘crack team of researchers’ in Ventura’s ‘war-room’ are never produced (they include June Sarpong, a crony of Tony Blair and owner of an MBE – hardly an establishment outsider), they do talk to the right people, notably Dr. Nick Begich.

Begich is not just one of the most knowledgeable people on the topic, he’s also one of the most level-headed: he carefully avoids making outrageous claims, just lays out the facts and how he interprets them. This is in sharp contrast with the tone here, which labels HAARP as a weapon for causing tsunamis, controlling minds or even, as Ventura breathlessly intones, “a death ray.” This reaches its epic apex just before a commercial break, when Begich’s harmless demonstration of piezo-electic transduction to play music inside the Governator’s head is breathlessly previewed as: “Coming up: HAARP invades Jesse Ventura’s brain!” I can just imagine poor Dr. Nick watching this nonsense unfold and slumping, embarrassed, ever-lower on his sofa. We were right there with him.

The series keeps trying to provoke conflict where none is present, such as sending Ventura to the gateway of the HAARP facility in remote Alaska. After a spot of hanging around, a bemused security guard, having drawn the short straw, is sent down to discuss things with the former Governor, and advises him to come back during one of the scheduled open days. Yes, this top secret, brain-frying, death-dealing facility has open days. Truly, the Cold War is over. Guess they ensure the tsunami-creating device is carefully hidden in a cupboard or something on those occasions.

Would you trust this man?
Jesse in his wrassling’ days

In the second episode, Ventura took on the Kennedy assassination of our generation: 9/11, with particularly unimpressive results. The main theory being floated for it was the ‘false flag’ one, that it was concocted to provide a pretext for invasion – but the obvious question was never answered. If that’s that case, why make all the terrorists Saudis, if we wanted to invade Iraq and/or Afghanistan? That’d be like the Nazis staging the Gleiwitz incident, and dressing the “Polish” corpses in kilts and sporrans. The episode instead bangs away at the missing black boxes from the two Manhattan planes, speaking to a couple of people who say they saw them being recovered. Interesting, to be sure, but hardly prima facie evidence for US government involvement.

The next installment took on global warming: initially, this actually seemed like the most plausible and, as a result, effective one.  While scientific consensus tends to support the idea of man-made climate change, it’s by no means an absolute certainty – and, interestingly, those who are set to cash in on changes to counter this, include some of those who have been most prominent in pushing the idea, such as Al Gore. If they’d stopped there, the show would have been fine. Unfortunately, Ventura and his team then charged off in search of an over-arching plot, and the man in charge turned out to be determined to be billionaire Maurice Strong, a former top man in the UN (OMG! NWO! ZOG!) who now lives in… China (communist!). Needless to say, the team failed miserably to get any kind of interview with, or comment from, the man in question.

Roll on to part four, and the erosion of personal liberty and the growth of the surveillance culture is the topic. I’m beginning to detect a theme here: specifically, these are all reasonable, potentially important topics, covered in such a facile way as to make them ludicrous. There were any number of directions this could have gone, but after a couple of interesting anecdotes (such as the guy whose telephone call to his bank, led to a rapid visit from government representatives), the program derails into an investigation of Infragard. Wikipedia calls it, “a program run by the United States Federal government, which partners Federal intelligence and law enforcement agencies with private corporations, so that they can share intelligence information.” Really? That’s the biggest threat to personal freedom and liberty they could find? You gotta try harder, Jesse.

The hysteria certainly rose to previously unsurpassed levels as he investigated the Bilderberg Group and its members – who might be called “Bilderbergs” or “Bilderbergers,” there seemed to agreement at the point. Botox queen Sarpong pronounces gravely: “We’re proven they exist.” No shit, Einstein – what gave you the clue? Their Wikipedia page? As usual, the program charges off in the wrong direction, like a watchdog chasing after a passing car. There’s no mention, for example, that founder Prince Bernhard was a member of the honourary German Reiter SS Corps and also worked  for IG Farben, the company which owned the patent on Zyklon B.

Instead, it wheels out the usual talking heads like Daniel Estulin and Alex Jones, who have both made good career out of fomenting the more extreme claims about the Bilderbergers and – woohoo! – even David Icke. He goes on about “they” a great deal, in the context of world rulers – yet the program carefully omits that to Icke, “they” means shape-shifting reptilians from another dimension [or did, last time I needed a laugh and checked his website]. They straight-facedly promote the idea that the Bilderberg Group are planning the wholesale depopulation of the globe, leaping from there to the Georgia Guidestones, with their proclamation that 500 million is the right number for humanity. It’s the “A-> B -> C -> Z” school of conspiracism. We were, however, disappointed that there was no attempt by Ventura to “storm” a Bilderberg group meeting. That would have been fun.

Episode Six was on Manchurian Candidates – mind-control, as carried out by the US military. Now, there’s no denying the reality of things like Project Mkultra, which operated in the 1950’s and 1960’s, before – at least, officially – vanishing. And Jesse’s “crack team of researchers” have no problem wheeling out 40-year old documents which refer to such experiments. The issue is not whether such experiments took place. It’s whether they are ongoing. And there, the evidence presented is a lot more flimsy – and, as usual, draped in the kind of paranoid nonsense which makes the entire concept laughable to neutrals, and tremendously irritating to those who feel there may be something to it.

June isn’t pursing her lips.
She just looks that way.

However, I was particularly amused by the efforts the show depicted them having to make, to track down alleged mind-control operative Robert Duncan O’Finioan, liaising with Dave Corso in the back of a van parked in a Las Vegas lot, before eventually meeting O’Finioan in a deserted garage. I guess it was just too much trouble to go to his website, where a helpful block says, “To contact Duncan O’Finioan regarding speaking engagements please send an e-mail to” He says he has multiple implants, stuck in as part of the mind-control process. Oh, good: physical proof, the crack team of researchers will be all over tha… No: a couple of blurry shots, and that was it. It may be significant, that when you type Duncan O’Finioan into Google, the first completion it suggests is “Duncan O’Finioan fraud.”

Finally – and it’s probably for the best, as the coffee-table probably needed a break from us banging our heads off it – we had the season finale, with 2012. Again, the show took nuggets of truth (yes, the government does have a lot of secret underground facilities; no, you and I won’t be welcome in them if disaster strikes), and wrapped them in insanity such as 2012 and the Denver Airport murals – as they have a tendency to do, the conspiracy theorists only ever show part of them. Taken as a whole, the work by Leo Tanguma is a good deal less sinister.

A particular highlight of this episode was June Sarpong driving all the way into the middle of nowhere to be turned away at a gate. Her conclusion regarding these facilities is, and I quote: “A lot of them have landing strips. That would help get materials in and out. It would also be a way to fly people in.” Wow, what a stunning revelation: I’d never have thought that landing strips might be used for…landing. Great investigative work there, June. Now, go get another injection of Botox, why don’t you?

Not everyone is quite as down on the show as us. A friend, who is deeply embedded in conspiratorial circles, but is definitely short of the lunatic fringe – we’ll call him “Agent B”, simply to create an entirely artificial air of Something Sinister Going On – sent us his thoughts on the show

You must be able to tell, as I can, that the man does, at least, have conviction when it comes to the subjects he pursues on the show.  Further, his efforts far outweigh the lies, spin and utter distraction courtesy of mainstream media.  As a fellow conspiracy researcher and concerned citizen, I’m all for a show like this.  Yes, it sensationalizes just about every topic they investigate, but that is purely the fault of the network top brass.  When someone wants to do a show on so-called “fringy” topics, there is always a compromise between those who really want free reign to investigate and what the show producers and the network actually want aired.  I don’t like it any more than you do, but I say “exposure at all costs.”  It’s amazing that the show is even aired and that taboo topics like 9-11, HAARP, Mind Control and the ever-so secretive Bilderbergers are even broached.

Heck, I was approached by a movie and TV production company about three years ago.  It never happened, but the producers also wanted to create a weekly conspiracy show that would cover many of the same topics, but they wanted it to be even more edgier.  The main producer was actually interested in having me as the lead, but he introduced ideas like having me air some late night podcast in a dimly lit scenario to ardent listeners, some of whom would call in and be guests (maybe similar researchers and topics like on Ventura’s show).  I would also have to flit about from place to place in the cover of darkness for my own so-called safety in order to create a greater sense of paranoia and danger.

So, you can see that, even though they say they love a good conspiracy, the higher-ups are only interested in creating something that is entertaining for the most part, as well as profitable.  If the public happens to be educated or even empowered by the intellectual material, that’s a mere side effect.  I bring this up because Ventura’s show could have ended up being way cheesier.  He may not be the most charming or well spoken ex-Marine, but, at least, he investigates… period.

There’s certainly a lot of merit in that approach, but I’m afraid I can’t be quite as charitable. There is a psychological process – I forget it’s name – but it controls how people react when presented with information outside their sphere. If someone is neutral on a topic, and is given data that’s somewhat positive or negative, it will tend to pull them in that direction. But if the data is extreme, at either end, it will tend to push the recipient away. For instance, show a neutral person evidence of conspiracies like Iran-Contra, and they’ll think more favourably of the field. But lock them in a room with David Icke for eight hours and they’ll never speak to you again.

That’s why the show feels to me like disinformation. Not that Ventura is in on it, I should stress, but it takes interesting or even important subjects (such as government surveillance) and portrays them is such an outrageous and extreme way, that it’s difficult to see how any neutral viewer could leave with anything except a snigger. The series reminds me of the time the late, lamented Weekly World News had a story on the CIA pushing drugs in LA. It was so far off their usual stomping-ground of aliens and Bigfoot, that the real purpose was painfully obvious: discredit the story, by placing it next to Batboy.

These are topics that do not need hysterical presentation – there’s enough meat on topics like 9/11, that a straightforward presentation of the facts would be more effective in creating a groundswell of interest. Of course, as “Agent B” points out, sensationalism = ratings, and it’s possible that is what’s behind TruTV’s over-the-top approach. At best, the show may have encouraged some viewers to do their own research. However, for anyone with access to a Google search box, there was basically nothing in the show to justify the tagline, “Think you know it all? Think again!

Incredibly Bad Film Show: Kinky Killers

Dir: George Lekovic
Star: Michael Paré, Beverly Lynne, Brooke Lewis, Mark Belasco

I can only imagine the conversation which took place in the distribution company’s office, with regard to this movie and its original title:

“I think we can use the film, but Polycarp? What’s that again?
“He was a second-century bishop. In Greece.”
[Long Pause]
“Yeah. Well, actually, no. Here’s what we’re gonna do.”
[Reaches for black marker]
“Oh, and I hope you weren’t attached to the DVD sleeve either…”

Hey, presto: say what you like about the quality of the actual movie – and we will have plenty to say there before long, trust us on that – whoever was involved with the marketing was a frickin’ genius. We stumbled across this on cable, so the cover (right) wasn’t even a factor. Frankly, if we had, it might have been a warning, because it would have been one of those cases where the sleeve is clearly trying way too hard. As is, the title was sufficient, along with the presence of veteran character actor Charles Durning. He won three Purple Hearts in World War II, taking part in both the Normandy landings and the Battle of the Bulge, and shows up here in one location, to no real purpose. One can only surmise some kind of gambling debt was involved.

This is not impossible: there have been gangster/movie connections elsewhere, and this feels like the same sort of thing, an ill-conceived vanity project, though this has far less sense of any connection to reality. Bodies – mostly of blonde strippers – are turning up in the streets of New Jersey, with parts missing and tattoos on them the victims didn’t have when they were alive, including the mysterious word, “Polycarp”. The police are baffled. What does it mean? I guess the NJPD do not have access to, oh, Google? Detectives Paré and Belasco are “investigating”; quotes used advisedly, since their methodology is not quite straight from the police manual.

Still, it gets them into the right area: that inhabited by Dr. Jill Kessey (Lynne), a psychiatrist who has been giving therapy to a number of the victims. Yeah, because strippers can regularly afford $200/hour therapists, right? Kessey has an ‘open’ relationship with her boyfriend (and his bad case of back acne), and it turns out he slept with the victims. The cops suspect him. Which means they break into their room, interrogate him in the shower, take him away in his underwear then dump him under a bridge in what looks like Brooklyn, according to Chris. That drooling sound you hear is civil rights lawyers thinking about the possibilities. The trail leads from there to another psychiatrist, Dr. Grace Sario (Lewis), who also has an unconventional approach to therapy, if you know what I mean, and I think you do.

The original sleeve with the real Polycarp.
Now, why didn’t they use him?

Ok, so far, it’s been dull in an erotic thriller kind of way, much as you’d expect from Ms. Lynne, the veteran of movies with titles such as The Bikini Escort Company, and the Black Tie Nights series. To describe her as “unconvincing” as a psychiatrist would be putting it mildly, and I needed to convince Chris at the half-way mark to persevere, and had to compromise by re-locating with her from the living-room to the bedroom. I’m glad I did, for it’s only after that point that full-blown religious looniness breaks out. Oh, it had been hinted at, with Pare’s cop found of quoting religious scripture to suspects [probably adding another count to that lawsuit], and if we’d been bothered enough to Google “polycarp,” could have found out its origins before the movie divulged them to us. However, it’s not until the final reel that we discover the truth.

[Spoiler alert, I guess. Though as usual, if you go ahead and watch this one, you should be doing so purely for amusement, rather than the plot.]  The murders are actually being committed by a coven of witches, led by Doctor Sario and Kessey, as part of a ritual with the eventual aim of putting the (very clearly plastic) pieces together, and triggering the coming of Lucifer. As you do. This is all explained in great detail by the perpetrators after they have captured three of the male actors: this is probably necessary, though it has the feeling more of a theology lecture than anything else – if the subjects are tied up, it’s likely to avoid them being bored into unconsciousness by the exposition and toppling off their chairs. Throw in some entirely gratuitous sex scenes before we get to that point, and the movie makes a late surge into incredibly-bad territory.

The entire exercise seems to have been churned out with amazingly little thought, from the basic concept – those with a fondness for T+A will be put off by the religion and vice-versa – all the way through to the casting, where I wouldn’t be surprised if they sold off all the roles at auction, not just this one. In Durning’s long career, which has gained him nine Emmy noms plus a pair of Oscar nods, it’s unquestionably a low-water mark. Even on the considerably less-distinguished resumes of Paré and Lynne, this is something which will be buried and forgotten as nothing but lurid nonsense with few redeeming merits.


Incredibly Bad Film Show: Swing Vote

Dir: Joshua Michael Stern
Star: Kevin Costner, Madeline Carroll, Paula Patton, Dennis Hopper

The unacceptable face of democracy

What makes Swing Vote an Incredibly Bad Film is not the acting – no film with Mare Winningham in it will ever get less than glowing reviews in that area from us. No, it’s a story which combines relentless implausibility and extremely dubious morality, that had me wanting to assemble a mob with torches and storm the home of writers Stern and Jason Richman – just as soon as I finish vomiting at the heartfelt sincerity of it all.

The ‘hero’ – quotes used advisedly – is Bud Johnson (Costner), an alcoholic layabout who just got fired from his job at an egg-packing plant, and who barely functions on any level above survival. He relies mostly on the needling of precocious moppet Molly (Carroll) to get him through the day. She is the brightest in her class and wants to grow up to a vet “or chairman of the Fed.” Never mind the fact that given her parents and environment, she’s a more plausible candidate for an “I’m twelve and pregnant” edition of The Jerry Springer Show. Election day rolls around, and Molly convinces Bud to do his civic duty and vote. He instead, gets drunk and falls asleep, so Molly decides to exercise her father’s democratic right and vote for him.

It’s a massive burst of hypocrisy right there: why would someone so intelligent, yet clearly smitten with the divinity of the electoral process, choose to commit voter fraud? There’s another hole in the film’s philosophy too: while it may be a duty to vote. it’s not an obligation. If you choose not to vote, that’s perfectly fine too; if you’d rather collapse into alcoholic unconsciousness, that is absolutely your right. Go for it. Frankly, it would probably be best for the country if people like Bud are kept out of the process: what we see here is electoral evolution in action. The fewer dumb people that get to vote, the greater weight given to the ballots of those capable of completing the apparently-complex task.

Anyway, back in the polling station, the worker on duty, guarding the previous flame of democratic freedom has, conveniently fallen asleep, allowing Molly to swipe a ballot and enter the booth. In another remarkable coincidence, a rogue vacuum-cleaner knocks out the plug to the voting machine in the middle of the process. A startled Molly pauses only long enough to tear carefully the stub from the ballot, before escaping, her father’s vote now lost in electronic limbo [that sound you hear is the British electoral system sniggering, as we still use the sturdy “X on the ballot paper” method].

The unacceptable face of democracy
Hopper wonders if he can work with Lynch again

Naturally, in a third strike which doesn’t so much require the suspension of disbelief, as its garroting with piano-wire, that vote turns out to be the deciding one in the deciding count in the deciding state, and because Johnson was ‘robbed’ of his vote, he is given another chance. In ten days, he’ll get to cast the deciding vote. In the meantime, of course, both the Republican and Democratic contenders (Kelsey Grammer and Hopper) are falling over themselves to court Bud. I’ll pause for a moment to enjoy the irony of one of actor behind one of the most iconic rebel performances of all time in Easy Rider (or even Blue Velvet), now playing an establishment lackey.

From here, the film should have gone for dark satire – how far are the parties prepared to prostitute themselves for one man, especially a smart one who knows how to manipulate them? And there are moments when the film does take that route, most notably a lovely ad with the Democrat going pro-life in a playground of exploding kids. It would then have concluded with Bud deciding neither candidate was worthy of his vote – or even more subversively, casting his vote for a candidate outside the two-party system. This alone is something the film steadfastly refuses to acknowledge, even though almost 1.7 million voters selected someone outside the Rep-Dem duopoly in the 2008 election.

Instead, it goes for the sentimental jugular, with Bud undergoing a crash course in everything he needs to know, the night before he hosts a presidential debate. This allows him to deliver, at great length, the sort of heartfelt nonsense he must have insisted on plugging into the script [he helped bankroll this production], in the belief he was still playing Ray Kinsella, rather than a piece of alcoholic trailer-trash who can’t string ten words together.  It feels almost as out of place as the turd-shaped musical number Kevin Bud drops in the middle of a political banquet, though allows him to regain the respect of his daughter. Where the hell are Child Protective Services in all this?

(Democratic) Rebel Without a Clue

The film is nothing if not neutral, even-handedly portraying Democrats and Republicans. In the hands of Stern, this comes across more as bland, commercial-minded cowardice than anything – oh my goodness, let’s not say anything which might potentially offend either side of the cinema-going audience [showing remarkable good taste, the public voted with their wallets, and Swing Vote failed to crack the top five, even on its opening weekend, earning a paltry worldwide total of $17.6m]. Both parties are shown as honest, compassionate politicians who just go a little overboard in their pursuit of victory – let’s hear it for completely toothless satire (Jonathan Swift is spinning in his grave like a Vegas slot-machine reel). At the end, we don’t even find out who Bud picks: for a film all about the importance of exercising your right to choose, this is a complete cop-out.

To summarize, we have a film which glorifies the kind of man most of us would actively cross the street to avoid, proclaims that defrauding the electoral process is noble, condones the media’s collusion in the fraud – a local TV journalist (Patton) discovers what’s going on, but opts to stay silent – and emphasizes the abject failure of democracy in America. The concept that every vote counts is a laudable one, though strained somewhat, say, here in Arizona, which has been Republican every Presidential election bar one for the past sixty years. However, when the vote that really counts belongs to a supposed “everyman” like Bud, it makes me want to break out into a rousing chorus of Tomorrow Belongs to Me.


Incredibly Bad Film Show: Shock Treatment

Dir: Jim Sharman
Star: Cliff De Young, Jessica Harper, Richard O’Brien, Patricia Quinn


In the early 80’s, it became clear to the makers of The Rocky Horror Picture Show that their creation was not quite the box-office bomb it initially seemed, but was developing, literally, a life of its own at midnight screenings. Inevitably, they saw the opportunity to cash in and do the same kind of thing again. After all, what was Rocky, except a bunch of cheesy songs, OTT acting and lurid content: how hard can it be to put that sort of thing together?

Well, if ever anyone thinks it’s possible to go out and deliberately make a cult movie, they should be strapped down and forced to watch this abomination, Clockwork Orange style. Which is pretty much the only way anyone will be able to get through it: our tolerance for bad films is near-unparalleled, but inside about 10 minutes, Chris was suggesting we should cut our losses and bail out. The setting is Denton, the small town in which Rocky opened, but centers on Brad (De Young) and Janet (Harper), now not-so-happily married. Matters come to head when they attend a TV taping of The Marriage Maze, a game-show hosted by the blind Bert Schnickt. He “wins”a stay in Dentonvale, the local loony bin run by siblings Cosmo and Nation McKinley (O’Brien and Quinn), while she is turned into a singing star by Farley Flavors, the head of a local fast-food company. He’s also played by De Young because, it turns out, he’s actually Brad’s long-lost twin, with designs on Janet, and the whole things is a set-up to this end.


Technically, the above would be a spoiler, but when the original product is as rancid as this, there’s not much that can possibly be spoiled. In the documentary accompanying the recent DVD release, several people make the claim that the film was simply ‘ahead of its time,’ foreshadowing the rise of reality television and shows like American Idol, which manufacture celebrities. Even granting that may have been the case (and it’s a stretch), it has achieved the remarkable feat of going from ahead of its time, to past its sell-by date, without ever actually passing through “relevant” at any point. Every aspect of the script now seems completely toothless, the satirical equivalent of a bout of constipation: there’s a great deal of straining going on, with nothing to show for it.

Certainly, it’s no Rocky Horror, with the key difference being the cast. Instead of future Oscar-winner Susan Sarandon, and Tim Curry bestride the entire movie like a corsetted Colossus, we get a Who’s Who – or more likely, just Who? – of eighties B-list British celebs. Barry Humphreys! Ruby Wax! Rik Mayall! Where’s Roger De Courcey and Nookie Bear when you need them? [In fairness, Curry was offered the role of Farley Flavors, but declined, apparently due to being unsure about whether he could do the necessary American accent] Jessica Harper looks particularly out of place, and appears to be be rather less comfortable than when she was being stalked round a school in Suspiria. One can hardly blame her: crawling through a room filled with razor-wire would probably be as pleasant an experience as watching this film.

Then there’s the songs. Oh, dear: yes, then there are the songs. Here is one particular lyrical nugget which stood out, from the all-time classic, Bitchin in the Kitchen:

Dear knife drawer
Now won’t you help me to face life more
Oh, trashcan
Don’t you put the dirt on me
Oh percolator, why are we always sooner or later
Bitchin’ in the kitchen or crying in the bedroom all night

I have known eight-year olds who could come up with better doggerel than that. O’Brien has certainly done his fair share of genuine classics: not just Rocky and The Time-Warp, but also the wonderful Name Your Poison, sung by Christopher Lee in Captain Invincible. As a contrast, here’s a sample of its lyrics: “There’s nothing sicker in society / Than a lack of liquor and sobriety / So, down the hatch / Here’s mud in your eye / Take a bracer with a chaser / Wash it down with rye!” In contrast, the songs from Shock Treatment feel, at best, half-finished, as if they had gone straight from the back of a napkin onto the soundstage [the entire film was shot in the UK, a strike in the US having prevented any location work there].


So, the story is uninteresting, the performances poor and the songs utterly forgettable at best. Is there anything that salvages proceedings? Well, the look of the film is somewhat interesting: the set and costume designers were the same as in Rocky Horror, and do quite a good job of capturing the hyper-realistic feel of the televisual world. That’s it. Otherwise, it’s almost impossible to agree with the participants who claim this was not a “prequel” or a “sequel” to Rocky, but an “equal.” That’s a completely ludicrous claim, without any merit: this is a shameless cash-grab, possessing none of the sense of fun and transgression that propelled the original into immortality. Rocky Horror was as clear an example of capturing lightning in a bottle as could be imagined, and this misguided attempt – complete with painfully-obvious pauses for ‘audience participation’ – should have been strangled at birth.

The other kind of “shock treatment,” the one involving electrodes and high-voltages, would be a good deal more enjoyable.


Incredibly Bad Film Show: Talaash

Dir: Suneel Darshan
Akshay Kumar, Kareena Kapoor, Pooja Batra, Raj Babbar


Bollywood films are all the rage now, with the Oscar-winning success of Slumdog Millionaire – even if was directed by the very un-Indian Danny Boyle. However, it is safe to say that not every product pumped out by the Mumbai studios over the years can quite claim to have been unjustly overlooked by the Academy, and Talaash is certainly one such case. Now, we are generally fond of the bright and breezy style favoured by film-makers on the Asian sub-continent. Three hours long? Not a problem. Enlivened by colourful dance numbers at regular intervals? Bring it on. Serve that sucker up with a keema naan and we are so there.

However, there are just some kind of films that do not suit this kind of treatment. Bollywood horror movies, for example, are a) pretty rare, and b) crap, for very good reason. When the participants are breaking out impeccably-choreographed moves, it’s almost impossible to sustain a mood of fear and abject terror. [Unless you’re watching Dancing With the Stars] Talaash is in exactly this category. It’s the kind of story which needs a completely different, non-musical approach. Chan-wook Park, director of Oldboy, would probably have been a great choice to take the story here in the proper direction. Which would be bleak, nihilistic, and everyone dies. Without bursting into song at any point, I should stress. To prove my point, here’s the synopsis.

Babu works for three underworld dons, and when arrested, refuses to talk, in the knowledge they will take care of his wife and children. But when he finally gets home, he finds his family near-destitute. Enraged, he betrays his bosses: their revenge is to take his young daughter Pooja, and raise her to sell as a sex slave, with the chilling phrase, “She’ll be married every night, and widowed each morning.” When Babu tries to fight back, he is beheaded in front of his wife, and Pooja is abducted. His wife goes insane and spends years in a mental hospital. His son, Arjun, becomes a high-profile vigilante, and is now ready to find the killers, in their new identities, and face the many obstacles keeping him from rescuing Pooja and restoring his mother’s sanity.

Now, don’t know about you, but I’m not exactly whistling a merry tune after reading that little storyline. However, the makers insist on treating it exactly as if it were the usual ‘boy meets girl’ fluffiness, so when Arjun finally discovers Pooja’s location, rather than – oh, I dunno, going therehe and Tina break into a musical number [below right] involving, for no readily apparent reason, a horse and a speedboat. Or, going the other way, another musical number is immediately followed by an attempted rape on Tina, still wearing the same costume in which she was happily bouncing around, not minutes before. The words “unevenness of tone’ don’t even begin to describe how all over the place this is. If you randomly spliced together I Spit on Your Grave with The Sound of Music, you’d be getting there.


Ah, yes. Tina. I completely forgot to mention her massively botoxed self. She is the daughter of one of the bosses involved in wrecking Arjun’s life, and for a long time we thought she was going to end up being Pooja. As a result, we spent the first two hours with our flesh crawling every time she and Arjun made doe-eyes at each other; it was like watching Princess Leia kissing whom everyone knows now is her brother, multiplied by a factor of about 1,000. At least they never sang about their love for each other. I’m not sure whether it’s a good thing or not that this potentially incestuous subplot doesn’t develop – though I guarantee you, it would have done in the Chan Wook-Park version.

The hero is played by Akshay Kumar, who is one of our favourites and is well-suited to this role, since he can bring the appropriate level of angst to proceedings. However, once again, this carefully-constructed brooding intensity is completely derailed when Arjun starts busting out moves like he was Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. Any hopes for sustained gritty realism are completely dashed the first time we see Arjun as an adult, where he leaps off the seat of a speeding motorcycle, flies through the windshield of an oncoming truck and then proceeds to beat up the arms-smuggling occupants. This does set the scene for the grand finale where he is shot twice in the chest, beaten up and still then manages to get up and fight the villain.

Credit Kumar for apparently doing a good deal of his own stunts, not least a sequence outside a train which is all the more impressive because you know there’s no blue-screen involved. That scene involves him having to race along the roof, and stop the train before it crashes into a school-bus stuck on a level crossing. This is because Tina – for a jape – has fed everyone on it save Arjun, including the driver, opium-laced candy balls. Oh, how the long winter evenings must just fly past. Fortunately, Indian trains have brakes that allow them to stop dead, inside about fifty feet, with a decorative shower of fireworks from their wheels. That’s part of a lengthy chunk set on the “palace on wheels”, which includes some of the most unfunny comic mugging I’ve ever seen. And I have sat through most of Wong Jing’s lesser works. Maybe it’s cultural, and Mumbai audiences were rolling in the aisles. If so, then this “we’re all the same really” is palpable nonsense.


Arjun discovers he needs to go to South Africa, where he is helped by a former senior detective in the Mumbai force – now a South African taxi-driver, which must say something about the salary earned by an Indian cop. There he meets a ‘hostess’, and we were now convinced she was going to be his sister, forcing Arjun to commit suicide after committing incest. We really must stop watching Aki Kaurismaki films. In a thoroughly implausible twist, he convinces Tina her father is a villain, and she then makes her father see the error of his ways, and ‘fess up where Pooja is being held. Arjun goes there to rescue his sister, only to be caught, beaten and forced to watch as Poona is auctioned off since he arrived the day of the sale. This is remarkably lucky, since an entire decade has passed since her kidnapping. I’m impressed with the bad guys’ restraint, feeding, clothing and keeping a young girl for so long, before selling her. Such charitable dedication can only be applauded.

Their lair is simply fabulous, with the auction taking place somewhere that looks more like a Vegas show-lounge, though lacking the taste and restraint you’ll customarily find in the decor at such places. It also includes a fire-pit, inside which Arjun is chained and forced to watch proceedings. Inevitably the sale takes the form of a fabulous dance number, which does much the same for sex trafficking as Pretty Woman did for street prostitution. The hero breaks free and snatches his sister; sudden cut to them on a motorcycle being chased through the South African streets. Quite why a 160-minute long movie couldn’t apparently be bothered to show any more than this, escapes me. The showdown between him and the lead villain [played by the same guy who was Gobindar in Octopussy] then follows, with entirely the expected resolution. Refreshing to find a director who refuses to counter the audience’s expectations in any way, it would appear.

The entire thing is available on Youtube: it really doesn’t do the epic, sweeping scale of the movie’s awfulness justice, You do however, get to see the most painful example of blackface since The Black and White Minstrel Show went off the air. Enjoy.