Please Release Me . . .

The special joy of the bad-movie press release

Illustration by Bob AulWhile I still think of myself as a young writer, I fear that the facts are not on my side: having been covering film for this paper virtually since its inception in late 1995, I now possess several filing cabinets filled to bursting with press releases dating back to the misty days of legend, the days when dinosaurs ruled the Earth and Ace of Base ruled the charts. I tell myself I should purge my home of some of this crap before I contract one of those exotic lung diseases you catch from keeping lots of moldy old paper around, but I simply can't make myself, for hidden among the endless promos for screenings at cafés that went out of business in 1998 and a bewildering number of announcements for events in Wyoming, Florida and places still more remote, there are some priceless treasures of oddness, wacky gold I wouldn't part with if God himself appeared to me in a vision and told me to stop being such a freaking packrat. I'll cling to this stuff until I end up eking out a wretched, Gollum-like existence under a bridge somewhere, cooing over my precioussss press releases and hissing at any foolish soul who dares to venture too near.

One of my favorite freaky press kits came just a few weeks back, and I've little doubt it will haunt me on my deathbed. The film's very title itself is a masterpiece: The Rays From Space & the Secret Kissing Experiments: The Adventures of the New Electric Girls. (The tagline: "Sex isn't enough. . . . Kissing is everything!") Its filmmaker, Richard Thornton, is currently in the process of assembling a "kissing movie" in six, one-hour chapters featuring such chapter titles as "A Flaming, Ruthless Kiss" and "Kisses of the Bygone Long-Ago." The plot takes such characters as Starr McCready ("a debutante, whose vision of love can't be satisfied by mortal man") and Sugar Bob ("No stranger to magnetic kissing, Sugar Bob shares these new kinds of kisses with his many girlfriends") and involves them in a sprawling adventure concerning ancient, occult societies of women and secret experiments in psychic kissing ("kisses that generate energy so powerful that mystic societies covet its ethereal force"). The kit includes demographic projections (the audience is estimated as girls and women from 15 to 60) and a two-page bio of Thornton, in which we learn that he has spent the past 10 years writing the screenplay at night while working at day jobs, first in his family's automobile dealership and later as an apartment manager. Whether all those girls and women do indeed line up for this thing once Thornton has completed it, he already has one starry-eyed fan in me.

Everything else in the world seems a little mundane next to The Rays From Space, but I still have a certain fondness for Tim Bomba's 1997 fax promoting Just Write, a romantic comedy incorporating music from 22 unsigned bands and financed by six dentists from Racine, Wisconsin. (I've no idea what inspired this dental consortium to invest in a romantic comedy featuring 22 unsigned bands, but apparently six out of seven dentists recommend Just Writefor their patients who enjoy romantic comedies.) By contrast, I still wake up shivering from the memory of the carefully packaged vial of dirt somebody sent me to promote a forgettable neo-noir called Sand Trap. The vial had come loose from its press kit, and even in pre-anthrax-scare America, there was something thoroughly chilling about finding a perfectly anonymous vial of anything in your mailbox. The instant you saw it, you knew deep in your soul that no good could come from such a thing. Given the ire my columns have occasionally raised among our readers, it didn't help that the contents of the vial suspiciously resembled poo.

Every time I get the chills remembering the Sand Trap fiasco, my heart is warmed thinking back to the time when the folks at an outfit called Shock Theater sent me an autographed photo of the guy who wore the rubber monster suit in The Creature from the Black Lagoon—sent it to me unbidden, for no reason at all that I could see. If they hoped it would lead me to look more favorably upon their future film screenings, they succeeded, and needless to say, the picture is now displayed with pride in my home office, the creature goggling at me as I write this very screed.

I couldn't finish this without pausing to remember my lost ones, those treasured press releases that have mysteriously vanished from my file cabinets, leaving me to wonder if they ever really existed at all. Did I really get that press release for the 1998 ocean liner-set horror flick Deep Rising, the press release that superbly masqueraded as a brochure for a pleasure cruise until you got to the very end, when it suddenly turned into a pop-up book and a giant, completely horrifying, multiheaded paper monster jumped off the page at you and scared you half to death? Could any movie, especially some forgettable monster movie, really have had a press release that mind-blowingly cool? And what about that Star Wars parody a bunch of potheads were working on in Huntington Beach? Did the filmmakers ever put down their bongs long enough to finish it? Is Lucasfilm suing them at this very moment? I must know! What kind of God would allow me to have misplaced the press release for that thing?

But it does me no good to mope about departed press releases; instead, I must cherish all the special press releases I still possess, even as they threaten to drown me in a tide of yellowing paper. Good, bad or indifferent as these films were, their press releases are nothing short of inspired, their anonymous copywriters guided by something mysterious and wonderful (rays from space, perhaps) to craft a kind of double-spaced magic.

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