The Vortex Room keeps on keepin' on — for now — with the weirdest flicks you'll see all summer
FILM There's a T-shirt that's achieved must-have status in record time, even though as yet it may just be an idea for a T-shirt: A picture of Al Gore gesticulating at the podium, with the words "If you don't believe in climate change just look at San Francisco ... only a few years ago that city was still cool." Haha. Sob. The temperature drift from cool to tepid (and expensive) registers in a thousand ways, big and small, with the shuttering of cultural venues now a predictable minor-key prelude to the ka-ching symphony of condo construction.
Not yet axed, but with head positioned above the bucket, is the Vortex Room — that SOMA venue so cool you need to know the address (there's no sign), as if it were a Prohibition speakeasy or something. Spawn of the late, beloved Werepad, the Vortex was threatened with eviction last fall. After a few months of legal skirmishing the landlord backed down, but then served notice again not long afterward. "We are currently fighting it out in, I guess, a battle of resources. They appear to just want to wear us down. This new real estate marketing is just too tempting, I suppose," says founder Scott Moffett.
Aptly, July's Film Cult series at the Vortex takes as its theme "Bad Vibrations." The bounty of five Thursdays this month allows plenty of room for programmer Joe Niem to mine a collection of largely 16mm exploitation obscurities in which "Summer is spelled with a 'B'." As in, you know, bummer! — but more about that film title later.
Things kick off with a double dose of female imperilment from the golden age of TV movies. A Vacation in Hell (1979) has one would-be playa (Michael Brandon) arranging a day trip from a Club Med-type resort with four women so he can hit on the dumb blonde (Priscilla Barnes). The others are Andrea Marcovicci as Embittered Neurotic Man-Hating Possible Lesbian, Get Smart!'s Barbara Feldon as an insecure divorcee still looking for love, and erstwhile Marcia Brady Maureen McCormick as the teenage daughter she's dragged along as security blanket.
Upon reaching an isolated beach, their inflatable boat gets a puncture. They attempt to dither their way back to civilization cross-country, and in pure idiot panic incur the wrath of a strapping native hunter (Ed Ka'ahea) whom Marcovicci dubs "you murderous savage." Under the silly, talky circumstances, this ABC Movie of the Week has some surprisingly good acting. Which cannot be said, perhaps thankfully, for the prior year's Summer of Fear, aka Stranger in Our House. Fully exorcised then-telepic queen Linda Blair plays a seriously bratty SoCal teen who grows suspicious of the freshly orphaned cousin (Lee Purcell) who comes to live with her family, and who in record time goes from twangy wallflower to usurping seductress. This (eventually) Satanic thriller was the first mainstream Hollywood project for a Wes Craven fresh from Last House on the Left (1972) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977), and remains the tamest thing he ever directed — yes, tamer than Meryl Streep inspiring Harlem youth in 1999's Music of the Heart.
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