Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains
This offbeat film is the ultimate compressed rags-to-riches-to-rags
story. Within a few days, three girls go from runaways to rock stars, and
back to oblivion.
A very young Diane Lane plays a teen with a 'tude. Some of her comments
get aired on television, and other teens express admiration for her in
"man on the street" interviews. Those broadcasts attract the attention of
some greedy promoters who are salivating at the fact that she, her sister,
and their cousin have a garage band called The Stains. It's more of a
theoretical band, really. They've only had three rehearsals and can
neither sing nor play, but after all rock has never been about musical
virtuosity in general, but about attitude, especially in the punk rock
area. (Remember Sid Vicious?) Although the girls have virtually no talent,
their stage posturing and see-through blouses start to attract a
following, and the media gets a hold of the phenomenon, which enlarges the
following. The band's success also inspires more greed from more
promoters, and plenty of jealousy from bands which take music more
seriously. The jealous rivals soon tell audiences about the greedy
profiteering behind The Stains's ostensible anti-commercialism, and the resulting disgrace returns the
girls to obscurity as fast as it had lifted them out of it.
(The film includes a post-script in which The Stains perform in a rock
video that shows they have rebounded to stardom - by becoming a glamorous
This is an odd little film that almost works, but not quite. The pacing
of the film is deadened by 1970s-style dialogue in which long pregnant
pauses substitute for words, and the characterizations are inconsistent.
The script can never decide which characters and situations it likes or
even which ones it takes seriously. Some characters have been exaggerated
into obvious buffoons at all times and are in the film only for comic
value. Other characters seem to live in the real world. Still others seem
to stray back and forth between realistic behavior and buffoonery. I'm
still not sure whether it this film is supposed to be funny. If so, it
fails, but if it could have found a consistent tone and held it, it might
have been a cult classic.
There is one other liability that kept the film from success. It is
filled with bad music. Mind you, this is not a weakness in the filmmaking.
It is SUPPOSED to be a film about awful fifth-rate bands, so they can't
sound like Hendrix and Clapton singing Dylan songs. But that artistic
consistency comes at the expense of commercial viability. There's more and
a half-hour of performances in this film, and bad music is bad music,
whether intentional or not. How many people look forward to
listening to a dozen really bad songs performed poorly? The answer is,
"Very few," and the miniscule size of that target audience limited the
marketability of this film so drastically that Paramount never released it
until four years after it was made, and never even made it available on home
media. Prior to the current DVD release, it had only been seen on cable TV
broadcasts and in a few arthouses in 1985.
OK, so the film is not so hot ... but the DVD includes a commentary
track from Diane Lane and Laura Dern, who were 15 and 13 when they made
the film. (Young Debbie Rochon is also in the film, making her debut as an
Lane and Dern now look back on their youthful antics with a combination of
nostalgia and chagrin, and their reflections are worth a listen.
Diane Lane film clips.
The time is the near future. Gas prices have risen so high that only
the very rich can afford to drive. A politically correct, mild-mannered,
vegan first grade teacher thinks he has the solution. An amateur inventor,
he is convinced that he can get a car to run on wheat grass. Unfortunately
his experiments fail time and time again until he accidentally cuts
himself and spills some blood into the wheat mixture. To make a long story
short, he discovers empirically that his engine will run perfectly on
blood, but only of the human variety.
At first he's reluctant to face the implications of that conclusion,
but he finds that there are certain perquisites which come with being the
only car on the road, not the least of which is an unlimited supply of
kinky sex. In order to maintain his newly developed sex addiction, he must
operate his blood car, and in order to operate his blood car, he must kill
As he starts to wipe out the local supply of the elderly, homeless, and
hitchhikers, his every move is being monitored by a top secret cabal of
government agents. They are not particularly concerned with his killing
spree, since they realize they will have to do the same thing once they
possess what they really want from him - the blood car technology, for
America and America alone.
This is an extraordinarily funny black comedy, and that statement comes from a guy who
is not especially fond of black comedies. It is quite clever from start to
finish, tautly scripted, with lots of politically incorrect laughs in
almost every scene. Some examples:
When the teacher finds out that his car runs on blood, he starts to
kill small animals in his neighborhood. Unfortunately, he only has one
of those Daisy Air Rifles, so it takes him forever to hurt even a small
dog. He can't even penetrate the dog's skin, despite reloading again and
again. Eventually he has to bludgeon the adorable little critter to
death, crying as he does, for he's a vegan and can't bear the thought of
After the feds recruit him, they must erase all traces of his
identity. This involves, among other things, killing all of the first
graders who would remember him.
He kills a wounded war veteran with multiple artificial limbs, but is
disappointed to see that this tactic produces only a quarter of a tank,
while his previous kills had filled 'er up. "Damn," he says to himself,
"I need a WHOLE person."
The funny script is ably supported by some outstanding cinematography.
Visually, the director created a parallel universe very similar to the one
in Napoleon Dynamite, one in which wide open spaces are populated by a
very small number of people, all of whom are extraordinary and eccentric.
The musical score, a blend of classical and vintage pop, works perfectly
to accentuate the twisted actions on screen. The actors are young and
generally inexperienced, so there are some weak performances and some
inappropriate casting, but the cast all "gets it." They understand the
offbeat tone of the film, and they create their characters with that in
mind, so the eccentric line readings, often dry and deadbeat, seem to be
in character for eccentric people, as opposed to just bad acting. I think
it worked great.
The film is also filled with raunchy dialogue and nudity. Three minor
characters showed their breasts, and lead actress Katie Rowlett's dialogue
consisted of a steady stream of particularly colorful sex talk, both
during and before sex scenes, although
she did not contribute any nudity. One source reports that another lead
actress, Anna Chlumsky, took a shower in the deleted scenes, but I can't
confirm that as of now. (She also takes a shower in the completed film, but
nothing is visible.)
The film is only 75 minutes long including the credit sequences, and
that's a good thing. One can only tolerate so much weird behavior until it
stops being charmingly quirky and becomes irritating, so a short running
time keeps the film taut and prevents it from overstaying its welcome. The
pacing is excellent, and the editing consistently invents unique ways to
support the comedy, both with timing and creative visuals.
Overall, this one was a completely pleasant surprise for me. A total
sleeper that turned out to be one of the better "sick" comedies I've ever
seen. Napoleon Dynamite meets Troma meets South Park. Alex Orr, the
writer/director, is a name to watch.