Zeegrade Reviews

Zeegrade Reviews
Movies for scumbags.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Meateater (1979)


     Theater is pronounced (thee-uh-ter) according to the dictionary — not (thee-ate-her).  Those who use the latter sound like uneducated rubes.  Thankfully, our star Mitford (the hopelessly lame yet likeable Peter Spitzer) wasn't trying to portray a sophisticated intellectual.  Every time he says the word — and, it's a lot — I want to karate chop him in the neck. 
The title of this film is more than a little misleading.  The three minute intro seemingly sets the stage as a raggedy, scarred, old man alone in a projection room of a derelict theater is watching a silent Jean Harlow film when he spies a rat and digs in:

Tastes exactly like Taco Bell.  Weird, huh?

So, I'm sitting there thinking to myself: This must be the Meateater.  Technically, yes he's The Meateater.  The end credits refer to him as thee Meateater.  However, his level of devouring meat does not in any way surpass the other characters in the movie, nor does he display any peculiarities that would define him solely on his consumption habits.  You might as well have assigned him the moniker "Airbreather" because whatever you called him, it bears little relevance to the title.  This is a movie about eating though, make no mistake about it.  Every scene seems to have somebody stuffing there maw with something.  No one more so than the bovine Lt. Wombat who crassly orbits Mitford's universe like a rogue moon.
     Mitford comes home from work and calls his wife, Jan out to the front yard so he can complain to her about his dead-end job.  Why this conversation didn't take place inside is one of the many odd segments that gives this movie some character.  Mitford is a shoe salesman.  A shoe salesman that is away nine months of the year.  Where the fuck is he selling these shoes?  Mars?  His luck is about to turn because sitting in the mailbox is a letter from his real estate broker, Mr. Knuckle (I know, right?) that his low bid was accepted and that Mitford now owns the Crest Theater.  This is a dream come true for Mitford and despite his wife's reluctance that he quit his job and move the family to another town she acquiesces.  I'll be honest with ya...I'm actually pulling for the poor bastard!
     Mitford signs the deed at Knuckle's — who's in the middle of eating — office making it official.  He asked why the Crest closed down considering it was the only theater in town.  Knuckle gives him the skinny:

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Pornography, damn you!  The close-ups on each mouth really drives it home, ya think?  Mitford assures Knuckle that he'll run only the most sterilized family-fare movies so as not to offend the working class provincials. They begin the process of cleaning up the theater and prepping it for reopening on Saturday.  While Mitford is away Jan hears noises coming from upstairs and thinks it must be a rodent infestation.  That same day she sees an older man standing in the lobby and when she talks to him he tells her — in a VERY exaggerated stutter — that he lives across the street from the theater and that they mustn't open it again.  Jan goes to answer the phone and when she returns the man is gone.
     Mitford needs to hire a projectionist and Raymond arrives in his office for an interview.  To bad he seems more occupied with Mitford's daughter Jeannie's ass:

 "Your daughter loves anal?  Sorry, just projecting."

If that isn't enough to creep out his prospective boss Raymond's "qualifications" leave even less to be desired.  His experience is limited to watching movies.  That doesn't worry Mitford one bit as he hires him anyway simply based on the notion that Raymond will try really hard.  With that finished, it's time to open the theater again!

Yep, sounds perfectly wholesome.

Raymond, sporting a cool Conan the Barbarian comic book shirt, stumbles around the projection room trying to get the movie ready.  It must be a pretty boring town because the theater is packed to see this documentary about — what else? — eating habits of animals.  Two eyes peer out from the darkness and then a hand attaches a cable to some wires sticking out of a junction box labeled "projector".  When Raymond goes to change the reel he's electrocuted along with a surge burning the rest of the film.  The crowd goes apeshit even though it sounded like the movie was ending anyway.  Mitford and Jan rush upstairs to break the current coursing through Raymond's body.  When the power is shut off an eerie scene is backlit from behind the theater screen:

To everyone's dismay, it was not Neil Patrick Harris.

Seeing this, the audience goes fucking berserk and storms out of the theater.   This is the most goddamned sensitive town in America!  The police arrive to investigate the matter.  Enter the Wombat!

A turkey leg was hidden in his mustache.

Wombat and his partner Mulligan resemble shady used-car salesmen rather than cops.  While investigating the back room where the hanging man was found, Wombat notices the old man who lives across the street loitering in the hallway and he gruffly asks what the hell he's doing out there, sorta scaring him away.  Perhaps you should question him?  A man was just murdered for fuck's sake!  Mulligan cuts the hanging man down and they send the corpse to the lab for an analysis. 
     Two corpses and a ruined Grand Opening later, Mitford tells Jan that they have to reopen the theater despite the unfortunate events.  He chalks up Raymond's death, ironically, to a kid that didn't know what he was doing — a fact Mitford willfully ignored.  He leaves for the police department to see if the hanging man was identified.  While washing dishes, Jan looks up and sees the old man that lives across the street staring back at her through the window.  The old man scampers off.  Agitated, Jan goes across the street to confront the oddball.  He's not home but the front door is unlocked allowing her a look inside.  There's a picture of Jean Harlow on the wall.  Jan returns to the theater and finds the man sitting alone in the balcony.  She threatens to call the police for spying on her.  He tells her that his brother worked here and starts going on about getting burned in a fire and a man named Crawford.  He skulks away crying about "Ben".  Jan investigates the projection room seen in the opening credits and sees that it's decorated with pictures of Jean Harlow.  One picture in particular grabs her attention because it bares more than a passing resemblance to her daughter Jeannie.
     Mitford tells Jan that the hanging corpse was identified as Crawford, the former owner of the Crest.  They argue about reopening the theater even with everything that's happened.  Wombat is called over to the house for some back story as to why the old man is obsessed with the the theater.  The shot is framed perfectly:

"I love your new golden dragon head with rainbow hair!"

Wombat tells them that the old man is Noah Whateverthefuck.  I can't make out his exact last name but I'll get to that later.  Noah's brother, Ben was a projectionist at the theater and he perished in a fire there which pegs him as The Meateater in the beginning of the film.  Wombat asks Jan if she wants him arrested and she declines.  Fuck almighty, she murdered that roast!
     Mitford's incredulity over Jimmy Dean's sausage is put on the back burner because today the theater reopens!  A hopelessly dopey kid gets dropped off by his parents with strict orders to be out front by 8:30.  He has other plans:

"Bitches know I got game!"

The plan is to pay for his ticket and let his hoodlum friends in the back door.  Knuckle stops by to offer his support and decides to stay for a wiener.  Jan really know how to sell those dogs!  Dopey kid finds the back door locked and is attacked shortly afterwards by Ben.  He's tossed down a stairwell while the audience laugh like jackals at two rhinos fucking.  This is why people hate the suburbs.  It's almost time for Jeannie's date and she treats a rotund patron very rudely at the concession stand.  They run out of cups so Jeannie ventures upstairs to ask Mitford where she can find more.  Along her way to the projection booth Ben subdues her.  He takes her back to his Jean Harlow shrine.  Meanwhile, the parents of the dopey — now deceased — kid wait impatiently out front.  They go inside and with the assistance of Jan's son Ricky, search the theater for him.  They don't find him.
     With the evening finished and both parents believing that Jan left on her date, the family is off to the ice cream parlor.  On their way back they break into song:

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I think it's pretty clear that Oscar Mayer partially funded this film.  When our trio of songbirds return home they find that Jeannie's date has been waiting for her for the last two hours.  Mitford, Ricky and the date go and search for her when Jan comes to a frightening realization while on the phone with the police.  She leaves a note telling Mitford that Jeannie never left the theater.  Jan's right of course as Ben insists that Jeannie is Jean Harlow reincarnated.  While trying to flee him she runs into the corpse of the dopey kid who is strung up by his feet.  Jan arrives in time to thwart Ben's amorous intentions on Jeannie.  As they both try to escape Noah arrives.  A tension-free chase begins through the theater until Noah finally catches up to Ben.  Ben retreats to the roof where Noah follows him.  He begs his brother, "no more" however, one glimpse of Jeannie emerging from a hallway cues him to push his poor brother to his death.  The fall appears only a few feet yet...

Did he fall from space?

Fuck me!  That fall wouldn't even have killed him let alone shatter every bone in his goddamn body!  Mitford arrives in the aftermath and the family flees the theater.  Mitford's dream is over as the screen pans to a window in the now closed Crest Theater where the flickering of the movie screen shows a Jean Harlow movie being played.  
     Great ending, huh?  All Noah wanted was his brother back and what does he get for it?  Splattered across the floor like a ripe cantaloupe.  How exactly did Ben manage to avoid detection after all those years?  You mean to tell me that after the fire not one person searched for his body?  Did they think it was incinerated and give up after five minutes?  His "burns" weren't even that bad — just one side of his face.  He could have had a pretty normal life back in society even with his scars.  Talk about blowing shit out of proportion.  Noah and Ben have a last name, though it's hard to make out because both times when Wombat says it he's got food in his mouth.  Yet, the end credits list him as "Noah Webster" — the same as Mitford's family! 
     I gotta admit that I felt bad that Mitford's dream failed miserably and that he had to go back to selling shoes.  The Crest Theater was in operation in Monrovia, California up until it was condemned the same year The Meateater was filmed there.  For a small budget film this had plenty of local charm it you give it an honest viewing.  Mitford's quirkiness and Wombat's bull-through-a-China-shop performance are worth the price of admission.  This was the one and only performance by Arch Joboulian who plays both Noah and his burned brother Ben.  He actually does a serviceable job compared to other one-and-done "actors".  Somewhere in this forgotten film is a message about our relationship with food but fuck if I know what that missive is.  Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to the all-you-can-eat buffet. 

    

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