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American history deserves more respect from Larry the Cable Guy

Date: 8/16/2011

Aug. 15, 2011

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

A new television series and four blissfully cheesy movies are featured in this week’s DVD column.

Only in America with Larry the Cable Guy: Season One

I realize that for many people history was the subject in high school and college that was the least appealing — at least that’s what I always heard (my educational nemesis was math).

The basic complaint against most history classes is that they were boring with all of those dates, names and events that meant nothing to us today. Of course, those events have shaped and directly affected our modern world, but perhaps the teachers in question never framed their lectures in that manner.

Coming in to make history fun, though, is an unlikely figure: Larry the Cable Guy. Larry is the star and host in this History Channel series in which he travels the country to various events and museums to learn something about the nation.

The format isn’t new. Monty Python members Michael Palin and Terry Jones, for example, are well known for their historic documentaries. Locally, my buddy George Murphy has done a great job in the role of the funny everyman in his series on WGBY “Making it Here.”

In this series, Larry brings his trademark “wit” — including references to bowl movements and flatulence — to subjects that varies from moon shining to the history of American firearms to the jumping frog contest in California. None of the subjects is handled in much depth and they basically provide Larry with a “fish out of water” framework for his comedy.

I suppose, begrudgingly, the legions of Larry the Cable Guy fans will appreciate this approach to covering American history and popular culture, but I just wish the objects of Larry’s discoveries were treated with a little more respect than being mere set-ups for his redneck humor.

Elvira’s Movie Macabre: The Terror and Eegah!

Elvira’s Movie Macabre: The Brain that Wouldn’t Die and The Manster

Isn’t it odd that one meaning of a word can be positive, while another can be negative?

Take “cheese” for instance. The primary definition is a product made from milk that is found in almost every culture in the world and is one of the most popular foods. Another meaning, though, is for something that just doesn’t have the positive qualities it should.

These four films, I will assert, are examples of both definitions. In these times, we need the cinematic nourishment that can be found even in these crazy well-intentioned drive-in movies, especially when presented in a format that lovingly shines a light on their failings.

“The Terror” is well known in horror film circles as the film director Roger Corman quickly fashioned when he realized that he had four days of superstar Boris Karloff’s services. The rather incomprehensible quickie costars a young Jack Nicholson, who is reported to have said, “This is the only Hollywood film with a complete script that has absolutely no story.”

“Eegah” is about a prehistoric caveman running amok in Palm Springs, Calif., looking for a mate. Only Elvira or Mystery Science Theater 3000 could make this one palatable.

“The Manster” is a truly loopy science fiction horror film from Japan in which an evil scientist injected an unsuspecting journalist with a serum that caused him to grow a second head and develop a split personality. This one scared the hell out of me as a kid! It doesn’t today.

The cheesy crown jewel in the group is “The Brain that Wouldn’t Die,” a horror epic from 1962 in which a brilliant but unscrupulous surgeon decides to keep his girlfriend’s head alive after a terrible car crash until he can find the proper body for a transplant.

Naturally, he starts hanging out at burlesque shows and with models seeking the body to meet his specifications. Meanwhile his girlfriend has some ideas of her own that culminate in an outrageous climax.

With these films, get plenty of popcorn and immediately suspend your disbelief.

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