By Vernor Rodgers
Find out where it's playing
in this column are not theatrical releases. They
available on the streaming services.
OF THE UNKNOWN"
Yeah, E.T. was sweet and cute and the
cordial meeting of humans and aliens in "Close Encounters" was a
feel-good moment, but some of us just love to see menacing,
killing-machine beasts from outer space -- the xenomorphs from the
"Alien" movies and the millions of invaders from "Independence Day"
and whatever the hell was going on in "The X-Files."
Director, writer and actor Brandon Slagle
("House of Manson," "Crossbreed") has followed up his last
directorial effort, the demonic possession horror movie "The Dawn",
with a nice, taut sci-fi thriller in "Attack of the Unknown," where
visitors from outer space arrive on Earth with "we come in peace"
being the furthest thought from their minds.
Rather than showing the mass destruction,
Slagle's script, based upon a story by Michael Mahal and Sonny
Mahal, focuses on an LAPD SWAT team unit as it captures a crime
syndicate boss, Miguel "Hades" Aguirre (Robert LaSardo) in a deadly
shootout, then is in the process of transporting Aguirre to a county
jail when the alien attack gets intense.
Richard Grieco, who some of us older people
may remember as Officer Dennis Booker in the late 1980s TV series
"21 Jump Street" -- although I most remember him for his menacing
performance as a man rendered a feline-ish beast via genetic
experiment gone awry in "Tomcat: Dangerous Desires" in the early
1990s -- is Vernon (not often you see gritty, courageous guys named
Vernon), a grizzled veteran on LAPD and pretty much second in
command under the calm and collected SWAT unit leader Maddox
(Douglas Tait). Just before the Aguirre transport detail Vernon is
presented some bad health news, which he accepts with a laconic
"this is what I get for living this life" attitude.
The SWAT group, still reeling from the loss
of a colleague in the Aguirre shootout, suddenly faces new issues
when its transport vehicle crashes into a building because the
driver and shotgun passenger have been killed. Quickly realizing
that something terrible is transpiring, the team flees on foot, with
a vacationer-podcaster, Dallas Zhang (Johnny Huang) in tow. They
make it to the jailhouse only to realize they are pretty much
trapped in there.
Meanwhile, Aguirre seems to be the only
person who is not surprised at what is happening and upon
questioning he details a supposed Mexican myth about creatures from
outer space coming to Earth occasionally and killing people and
wiping towns clean. This is initially dismissed but the reality of
the situation leads the people to accept there might be something to
this old tale.
Along with trying to survive despite
overwhelming odds, there is the underlying dynamic of the SWAT unit
instilled with the determination to take a bullet for each other.
Hannah (Jolene Andersen) is the only woman in the group but is
greatly respected -- and her expertise in electronics comes in
handy. These police officers face death with almost a smirking,
fatalistic humor while never giving up hope.
As expected, the body count grows and it
seems this is the end. But there is always a solution.
Slagle and company took a risk in actually
showing the beings in great detail, including the deadly tentacles
the creatures use. Watching these aliens stalking around can lead to
triggered memories of those laughable space creatures in cheap
getups that made old sci-fi menaces-from-outer-space pictures so
silly. But these "Attack of the Unknown" foot soldiers are pretty
decent in their total lack of character and dedication to their
I have admired directors like Slagle who
have been able to produce movies that likely are not lavishly
bankrolled but look like crisp productions. The special effects in
"Attack," especially the panoramic views of destruction in Los
Angeles, are impressive.
A note: Although Tara Reid gets top billing
in "Attack of the Unknown," she does not appear until around 57
minutes into the movie. That is all I will say about that.
"SKIN: A HISTORY OF NUDITY IN THE
I met actress Diane Franklin in 2013 at
Texas Frightmare Weekend in Dallas and she surprised me by urging me
to send her a friend request on Facebook. I did and she accepted the
request. Since then I have seen Franklin use Facebook as well as
Twitter and Instagram to keep her fans apprised of not only her
latest projects but those of her daughter Olivia DeLaurentis (TV
series "Apocalypse Goals") and more recently her son Nicholas, a
It was Diane Franklin who made me aware this
documentary, "Skin: A History of Nudity in the Movies," in various
social media posts. Directed by Danny Wolfe, who also co-wrote it
with Paul Fishbein, "Skin" is an unabashed look at the evolution of
nudity in film that is rich with commentary from historians and
critics as well as performers -- women mostly of course -- providing
their insights on taking off their clothes for scenes, and the
Franklin appears to have more screen time
than the other actors and actresses in the film and offers her
thoughts on the positive and negative aspects. Among her
observations early in the documentary she says, "As an actress, once
I did nudity, I went from being a girl to a woman. . . I became an
actress to an artist."
Wolfe presents historical information from
such people as Mat Gleason, an art historian; Jonathan Kuntz, UCLA
School of Theater, Film and Television; Irv Slifkin, author of
"Groovy Movies"; Thomas Doherty, author of "Pre-code Hollywood";
Barry Kemelhor, publisher of Celebrity Sleuth magazine; Amy
Nicholson, film critic at KPCC; David Del Valle, historian and
author of "Lost Horizons Beneath the Hollywood Sign"; Liz Goldwyn,
of the Sex Ed podcast, director of the documentary "Pretty Things"
and granddaughter of movie icon Samuel Goldwyn; Joan Graves, senior
VP and chair of the rating organization MPAA; film critics Mick
LaSalle and Richard Roeper; and Russ Meyer biographer Jimmy
Many students of film are familiar with the
history of nudity in movies. It has been kiddingly suggested that 20
minutes after the technology of moving pictures became a reality
someone came up with the idea of filming people nude, thus those
classic short strips of men and women strolling around unclothed. In
a way, Thomas Edison helped usher in nudity in films. Falsely
claiming he invented the movie camera -- it actually had been
created in Europe -- he nevertheless was able to obtain the patent
and then set up The Trust, which enforced the decree that those
making movies had to pay a fee for the privilege. This triggered a
movement toward independent production, the early version of the
indy film market that would be able to skirt the content codes of
One of the ways filmmakers could inject
nudity in films was to exploit the Supreme Court decision that
nudity per se was not obscene. And in the early years, nudity was
acceptable if the person being filmed was not moving. This helped
propel Audrey Munson into superstardom of the early 1900s as she
would be undressed, but simply posed. However, Munson's life was
tragic. She attempted suicide but ended up living 104 years, mostly
in a sanitarium, which helped fortify the conviction that posing
nude was a sin that led to ruin.
Indeed, nude scenes in those early decades
of the 20th century were devoid of sexuality, with the exception of
Cecil B. Demille's "Sign of the Cross," which did show some
lackluster orgies. But the most sensational scene was that in the
movie "Ecstasy," in which Hedy Lamar would forever be known as the
first mainstream actress to go nude. And even that scene is more
comical than erotic, as while she is skinny-dipping in a lake, the
horse on which she has draped her clothes wanders off, forcing her
to scamper through the woods in the buff, trying to track down the
In the movie "Wings," the first-ever Best
Picture Academy Award winner, Clara Bow is in a scene that shows a
glimpse of toplessness, but it is a standard scene of someone caught
in a room either partially or fully undressed, frantically trying to
cover exposed body areas.
The film industry did decide to regulate
itself and hired Postmaster General Will Hayes to be in charge of
content guidelines, hence the Hays Code, which was established with
the association of the Catholic League of Decency. But for years it
was not enforced. The film industry used such strategies as to make
movies about native cultures, known for various stages of undress,
which led to Tarzan being able to skinny-dip with Jane, the first
nude scene in which a body double was used.
By the 1930s, the production code became
more powerful under the guidance of Joseph Breen and things were
pretty tame until the 1950s, when the nudie films came out. Mostly
cheap and meant for limited booking, these films, primarily set in
nudist colonies, were pretty boring. There is only so much
excitement in seeing naked people cavorting in swimming pools or
Russ Meyer then showed up on the scene with
his silly "The Immoral Mr. Tees," a movie he made in four days at a
cost of $24,000. The plot, in which a man, injected with novocain at
a dentist's office suddenly can see all the women around him naked,
allowed the nudie to break through the barrier of the nudist camp.
So the era of the nudie cuties was born. Interestingly, a woman name
Doris Wishman directed such nudie cuties, usually featuring a
generously endowed star named, of course, Chesty Morgan.
A subset of the nudies were those with a bit
of menace, the monster nudies that eventually led to the gore nudies
of Hershel Gordon Lewis, considered the granddaddy of the sex and
murder horror films that took off in the 1980s.
When Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield and
Mamie Van Doren brought nudity more into the mainstream, things
began to loosen up. Such movies as "Blow Up," "I Am Curious Yellow"
and "The Pawnbroker" were helping mainstream Americans accept nudity
in movies, and with that, foreign films, much more revealing, were
being released in the U.S.
Naturally, there came a need for a rating
system to help the potential viewers know more about the content and
decide whether their children should see a movie. The upper level
rating of R and X were supposed to be enforced as to prohibit
children under age 18 (or 17) from being allowed in movies unless
accompanied by an adult, or in the case of X, not at all.
The ratings system allowed for more gritty
and violent movies like "Midnight Cowboy" and "A Clockwork Orange"
to not only be released widely but also critically acclaimed.
By the end of the 1970s, movies with nudity
were pretty common. The one problem with the ratings system was that
the adult film industry pretty much stole the non-copyrighted X
rating, labeling its movies with X ratings, causing a clouding of
what was a mainstream adult-oriented movie and what was just
pornography, hence the readjusting of the code that introduced the
Interspersed within "Skin" are comments from
actresses -- and actors like Malcolm McDowell, Eric Roberts and
Bruce Davison -- on their thoughts and experiences in doing nude
Kristine DeBell, who starred in an initially
X-rated version of "Alice in Wonderland" in the early 1970s, says
her experience during the filming "was a journey into sexual
discovery. I was young and I could relate to it."
She admits she really did not know what she
was signing on for, "but it was a role. I was a character and that
character had to be naked." She expresses her delight that the movie
later was released on video in a trimmed down R-rated version, thus
making it more mainstream.
Camille Keaton, who starred in the vicious
"I Spit on Your Grave," is a horror convention favorite who
willingly talks about this film, which is probably the first female
revenge flick in which her character, sexually assaulted by four
men, extracts some nasty avenging. Keaton says the role allowed her
to be vulnerable but also resourceful and "could kill." The nudity,
she admits, was a concern, "but there was a lot of respect" on the
Malcolm McDowell, who was a pacesetter with
male nudity in the movie "If," says that it was his idea to have a
full-nude sex scene in that movie but when it came to shooting it
was somewhat reluctant. He did it anyway and noted that an assistant
director actually walked off the set. McDowell also starred in
"Caligula," a Roman Empire movie of decadence that also featured
John Gielgud and Peter O'Toole. McDowell admits to being aghast at
the movie when he saw it, noting that producer Bob Guiccione, also
the publisher of Penthouse, "had no taste. Just look at his
Linda Blair says that after "The Exorcist"
she did have a hard time finding work other than movies in which she
was a haunted young woman, usually put in peril. She agreed to be in
the movie "Chained Heat," at a time when women-in-prison movies were
being churned out. Blair's experience was not a pleasant one.
Regarding a scene in which her character is sexually assaulted by
the warden, played by the late John Vernon, she recalls "He (Vernon)
did not follow the rules of working with stunts. He hit me HARD.
That was NOT OK." Blair says "The movie I signed on for was not the
movie we were filming. They kept giving us script changes, and I'm
thinking, This is not OK with me." Her co-star in the movie, Sybil
Danning, points out, "If you didn't agree to do something, you
Mariel Hemingway, who made an impression in
"Personal Best" (1981) as an Olympic athlete who has a relationship
with another female athlete (Patrice Donnelly), says she had to
fight hard to get the role of Dorothy Stratten, the Playboy playmate
eventually murdered by her boyfriend Paul (Eric Roberts), in "Star
80" because director Bob Fosse thought she was too tomboyish for the
part. The fact that Hemingway had breast augmentation led to stories
about what an actress is willing to do to get a job in a movie. But
Hemingway says when she got the implants, "I got them for me."
Franklin, who wrote in her autobiography, "Diane Franklin: The
Excellent Adventures of the Last American French-Exchange Babe of
the '80s," wrote that being raised in a family of European descent
meant she had no qualms about nudity but admitted in the book that
she had trepidations about the nudity required in her role as Karen
in "The Last American Virgin" and whether it was a wise career
choice for her. Regarding the love scene she has with Rick (Steve
Antin), she comments that she loves the scene. "It was slow and
beautiful," she says, stating that it added the aspect of romance in
what might be seen by young men as just an opportunity to see a
Despite her willingness to do nude scenes,
Franklin recalls "I didn't want to be a typecast as someone who just
"I didn't know if anybody would take me
seriously or let alone give me roles that would not make that
demand," she adds.
Sean Young, who was nude in "No Way Out"
with Kevin Costner," says of being undressed in film, "It's
double-edged. You want to be attractive enough (to do them), but not
Betsy Russell, of "Private School," adds
this sentiment regarding being nude on film, "When am I ever going
to look this good again?" and enjoys the idea of it being
permanently on film.
Brinke Stevens, known in horror fan circles
as a Scream Queen, looks with levity toward nudity, pointing out a
continuity error in the shower scenes in "Private School" in which
she is seen in the shower, then in the locker room drying off but in
a following scene is back in the shower. She says "I did so many
shower scenes I always thought of myself as the cleanest actress in
Director Amy Heckerling of "Fast Times at
Ridgmont High" says that in the 1980s, studios would require certain
amounts of nudity in movies. Didn't care how they were done, as long
as they were there.
While some actresses, like Shannon
Elizabeth, credit doing nudity with helping their careers, others
admit to being reluctant and some report unfortunate consequences of
Cerina Vincent, who is featured as Areola,
the foreign student in "Not Another Teen Movie" who is nude in every
scene she is in, reveals she was not sure she should take the part.
The comedy aspect of the film made it easier, but after the movie
was released she endured some backlash, notably from fans of the
Power Rangers TV series wherein she played the Yellow Galaxy Ranger.
"Dealing with the world judging you afterward was something I was
not prepared for," she says.
Rena Riffel, known for her duet nude dance
with Elizabeth Berkley in "Showgirls," likened the scene to "jumping
off a cliff, a small cliff." She said the scene turned into "a kind
of soft-core porn performance," and in the aftermath her work in
"Showgirls" had a negative impact in her relationships.
Perhaps the most harrowing after-effects of
being nude in a movie were suffered by Erica Gavin, star of Russ
"I wasn't ready to walk into a theater and
see myself naked that big . . . and I attribute that night of the
premiere to me becoming very ill, to the point I almost died. Seeing
myself that big on a screen, I became totally anorexic and I was
down to 76 pounds." Fortunately she has recovered.
"Skin" takes a look at the current sentiment
in the film industry, with political correctness and the Me Too
movement making the industry take precautions in dealing with
nudity. Indeed, Alicia Rodis is an intimacy coordinator who says she
is getting more work as filmmakers now are stepping lightly to make
sure there is no exploitation or backlash regarding nudity in films.
Says Diane Franklin, actresses now "can
choose to do nudity or not. If a woman's comfortable with it, that's
great; and if they don't, that's fine too. It doesn't mean you're
going to be given more or less opportunity. It just has to do with
who you are."
"Skin" is a little more than two hours long,
and is crammed with so many insights and film clips it is a worthy
effort and really should be part of the library of a serious film