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30 For 31: Charles Band’s “PARASITE”

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Like my first 30 for 31 pick, Robert Voskanian’s THE CHILD, Charles Band’s 1982 schlock gem PARASITE is movie that, for me, stinks of Halloween. And like THE CHILD, it is the opinion of many that it just plain stinks, but I refuse to hear it.

Of course, its reputed “badness” is what initially attracted me to the film when, late one night on Toronto TV station CITY TV, the film was scheduled to play the channel’s fabled “Late Great Movies” after hours program. I remember vividly. It was 1986, which would have made me 11 or 12, and it was a 1:30 a.m. screening, following an 11:30 p.m. screening of THE HOWLING. I remember the closing HOWLING credits hamburger frying imagery with Pino Donaggio’s folksy score (one of my all-time favorite late-night horror movie binge memories BTW is that damn burger frying) with now-deceased newscaster and “Late Great Movies” host Mark Dailey’s voice intruding into the music and teasing the impending appearance of PARASITE.

I was thrilled.

My trusty Leonard Maltin movie guide had given PARASITE a bomb rating, which I was well aware was a clear signal that the reviled film in question was undoubtedly a film for me—a movie that refused to behave. Other vintage bombed classics included ZOMBIE, THE BROOD, AMITYVILLE II and BLOOD AND LACE. PARASITE was in good company. Lenny (or one of his contributors) accused PARASITE of being a rip-off of ALIEN and especially repellent in its native 3D, with “blood and parasites literally thrust at the viewer”. And this was a bad thing???

I recall the clumsy dissolve from the “Late Great Movie” logo to the opening sequence, which saw scientist Robert Glaudini bound to a gurney, writhing around – in classic Band slow-mo – in agony against a psychedelic, mist-soaked backdrop reminiscent of Corman’s Poe picture dream sequences. After a brief aside that saw how the doc created the titular parasite, the sweaty Glaudini screams and a big rubber, toothy monster explodes from his stomach, true to Maltin’s claims of ALIEN inspiration.

A great opening indeed – even in pan/scanned 2D – and a formula that marked many of Band’s EMPIRE Pictures of the period: explosive, gory opening that would settle post credits into a somber narrative. PARASITE’s story, such as it is, sees Galudini roaming the SoCal desert that Band is effectively trying to pass off as a post-apocalyptic wasteland. A pre-MATRIX Agent Smith-ish villain is in hot pursuit of the scientist who has a monster in a thermos and also one embedded in his guts. Throw in some boobs, blood, a cool cameo by RUNAWAYS singer Cherie Currie (who gets her leg chomped nicely by a beastie) and of course, Demi Moore in her first starring role and you have all the makings of a cult gem.

Look, PARASITE isn’t a great movie and I’m not pretending it is. But it’s mine, so there. It is however an important film, in that it was a major player in the brief but effective split-scope 3D resurgence of the early 1980’, led by the Italian gore western COMIN’AT YA! and made profitable by this film before the fad dissolved in the wake of JAWS and FRIDAY THE 13th sequels. I’ve seen both PARASITE and Band’s METALSTORM: THE DESTRUCTION OF JARED SYN in polarized projected 3D and they look incredible, with all manner of nonsense “thrust at the viewer”. But there’s something about the washed out, full frame ugliness of PARASITE in that battered 2D form that spoke to me then and still speaks to me now. There’s something nightmarish about the film. It’s odd, arid and off-key, and Richard Band’s score is dark and nihilistic, playing with string scrapes and discordant sound à la Jerry Goldsmith’s PLANET OF THE APES score and Les Baxter’s grim music for Corman’s PIT AND THE PENDULUM. The whole thing makes little to no sense and Stan Winston’s meaty pre-TERMINATOR FX are unconvincing and yet absolutely gross.

I love PARASITE. I have it on DVD from Anchor Bay and it doesn’t look much better than it did on that TV print screened on CITY. I have it on RCA Videodisc too. It’s a classic piece of fetishized ‘80s weirdness; a grotty, grim and greasy movie that not many people like or have a real connection too, and yet I am curiously obsessed with it.

I now know Charlie Band, which is exciting to me as I am unapologetically a fan and that interest in his 40 year legacy making awesome crap movies led to me to taking up the task of editing his own magazine (DELIRIUM) for him in my spare time. And one of the joys of spending time with the veteran rogue producer/director is listening to stories about the making of those mad low-budget movies. But the strange thing is no matter how many times I’ve voiced my passion for PARASITE, the man hasn’t said a damn thing about it.

And I’m glad of that. Because PARASITE and my love of it is a mystery and it should stay in the shadows of my heart where it belongs. It’s the ideal post-trick-or-treat, sugar-crash flick to fall asleep by as Halloween night leaks into the early hours of November 1st

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About the author
Chris Alexander
Author, film critic, teacher, musician and filmmaker (not to mention failed boxer) Chris Alexander is the editor-in-chief of FANGORIA Magazine. He got his first professional break as the “Schizoid Cinephile” in the pages of Canadian horror film magazine RUE MORGUE before making the move to FANGO in 2007. His words have appeared in The Toronto Star, Metro News, Wired, Montage, The Dark Side, Tenebre and many other notable publications and he appears regularly on international television and radio.
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