Thursday, February 15, 2024

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Thursday, December 28, 2023

Sean Gill's "Join Hands" Anthologized by the Scottish Arts Trust

My short story "Join Hands," which won the the Third Prize of the 2023 Edinburgh Award for Flash Fiction (judged by Zoë Strachan and Louise Welsh), is featured in the Scottish Arts Trust's latest anthology, Solemates and Other Stories, which is now available to purchase in print and electronically.

Sunday, December 24, 2023

Only now does it occur to me... SANTA WITH MUSCLES (1996)

Only now does it occur to me...  I never thought I'd witness a Christmas-themed off-brand lightsaber duel between Ed Begley, Jr. and Hulk Hogan.



And yet, this is indeed the final setpiece of SANTA WITH MUSCLES, a comedy-fantasy-actioner produced by Jordan Belfort, the real-life inspiration for THE WOLF OF WALL STREET. This last part actually makes sense, given that this is a movie which smacks deeply of money laundering.

I can give you a little more context, even though you haven't asked for it.


The premise of SANTA WITH MUSCLES is that Hulk Hogan plays a rich jerk who made his fortune in questionable dietary supplements

and spends his days lecturing his sizeable staff about philosophy, self-defense, and paintball.

During one of the Hulkster's paintball tournaments, his scofflaw behavior attracts the attention of the local police (depicted by Clint Howard, lending this a real New World Pictures/lesser Corman vibe).

In the subsequent chase sequence, the Hulkster suffers a brain injury leaving him convinced that he is Santa Claus.

When gang members mess with him at a local mall, the Hulkster's heroic actions––in character as Santa––earn him minor celebrity as "Santa With Muscles."'

Note: S&M accoutrement

This leads to his involvement with a local orphanage, which is under siege from the minions of mad scientist Ed Begley, Jr. The orphanage sits upon a cave of magic crystals which Begley, Jr. requires for his experiments (?).

The orphanage also contains the theatrical film debut of Mila Kunis,

who manages to emerge from this thing relatively unscathed, 

even though she is saddled with one-liners like "Keep your pants on, Q-tip!"

As far as I can tell, the only time she has been asked about this in adult life was during a 2011 interview with GQ. The following represents the extent of her public comment:

GQ: [asks about Santa with Muscles]

Mila Kunis: Jesus. You did not watch Santa with Muscles.

GQ: Fine. I watched the trailer on YouTube.

Mila Kunis: I was too young to fully understand the importance of working with Hulk Hogan. I just thought he was this huge man.

That's just shoddy journalism, GQ, only watching the trailer. That's why you come to Junta Juleil's Culture Shock, to learn all the important info the glossies and the trades are too lazy to tell you.

The orphanage also contains Adam Wylie, a.k.a. "the kid from PICKET FENCES,"

and Garrett Morris (SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE from 1975-1980, COOLEY HIGH, THE STUFF). The earnestness of Garrett's performance actually makes me sad that they made him do this. He deserves better.

Anyway, Begley Jr.'s interest in the magic crystal cave is what leads to the aforementioned ersatz lightsaber duel. It's not the first time that the Hulkster has flirted with a STAR WAR. Happy holidays, I suppose?

Monday, December 11, 2023

Sean Gill's "Classic Florida Literature: On the Novelization of Porky's II: The Next Day" in Evergreen Review

My latest essay, "Classic Florida Literature: On the Novelization of Porky's II: The Next Day" has been published online by Evergreen Review, a longstanding literary journal, founded in 1957, and known for publishing Samuel Beckett, Jean Genet, Vladimir Nabokov, Susan Sontag... and now an essay about the paperback tie-in of Porky's II.

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Only now does it occur to me... PHANTASM III: LORD OF THE DEAD (1994)

Only now does it occur to me... that PHANTASM III is one of the wildest collection of happenings and imagery and disparate tones to ever inhabit a motion picture... and that, somehow, against all odds, it works.

This is the handiwork of a filmmaker who was certain this would be the last film in the series and, damn the torpedoes, intended to go down with the ship. Therefore, Don Coscarelli has assembled a true Frankenstein's monster of his favorite things: it's Buñuel's UN CHIEN ANDALOU, Cocteau's ORPHEUS, Malick's BADLANDS, Lynch's TWIN PEAKS, Golan & Globus' NINJA trilogy, THE LORD OF THE RINGS, Waters' PINK FLAMINGOS, and a Lloyd Kaufman Troma flick, all shaken and stirred into the PHANTASM universe, where truth is a hallucination, and the only logic is dream logic.

The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) broods in his lair, contemplating his orb like Saruman.

A. Michael Baldwin––the original "Mike" from PHANTASM and famously replaced by James LeGros in PHANTASM II––reappears fifteen years later, having aged into "if young David Patrick Kelly were a New Wave musician."

In its David Lynch-inflected surrealist mayhem, it feels both post-TWIN PEAKS and pre-LOST HIGHWAY. The original PHANTASM's Jody (Bill Thornbury) reappears as one of the iconic spheres

in a twist (?) that presages Lynch's use of tulpa-spheres in TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN, or David Bowie's steam-kettle reincarnation in that same series. 

There's something very visceral and elemental here in Coscarelli's use of electricity, contorted reflections, fabricated/unnatural objects, and liminal spaces.



I think it's because Lynch and Coscarelli have both dipped deeply into the shared imagery pool of 20th Century surrealists like Dali, Escher, Magritte, Ernst, and Miró (and Cocteau and Buñuel, of course).

But Coscarelli is not merely content to make a surrealist, arthouse-horror picture like the original. He quickly introduces a gang of criminals (Brooks Gardner, Cindy Ambuehl, and John Davis Chandler) who clearly escaped from an early John Waters flick and appear to represent the tackiest/greediest elements of late stage capitalism.

You see, Coscarelli is also endeavoring to build an apocalyptic universe where America's Main Streets have fallen victim to a combination of Reaganomics and the Tall Man, all of which feels a little tonally similar to, say, Stephen King's THE DARK TOWER or THE STAND.

These campy criminals attempt to ply their trade by robbing the house from HOUSE (1985),

and only succeed in being dismantled by Tim (Kevin Connors), a survivalist child armed with a razor frisbee.


Of all the things that any viewer of the series might have anticipated from PHANTASM III, I believe its brief transformation into an R-rated HOME ALONE qualifies as the most surprising.

Draped in only the best denims that 1994 has to offer, Tim teams up with Reggie the Ice Cream Man (slow-jammin' Reggie Bannister, of PHANTASMs 1 and 2, and the answer to the question, "What if Clint Howard were the last action hero?")

and though he is "too old for this shit,"

the quest to dismantle the Tall Man's Earth-altering influence must continue. 

They are aided in this pursuit by another new addition to the cast: funk-rock singer Gloria Lynn Henry, playing an ankh-earring-wearing, Grace-Jones-flattopped, and nunchaku-wielding army vet named "Rocky."

If you guessed that are were multiple sequences of Rocky facing off against PHANTASM spheres with nunchucks, then you are beginning to attune yourself to the PHANTASM III wavelength.

That her acting repertoire includes a lot of flat line readings and a singular look of disgust/a withering glare

is only another addition to the Plus Column. To me, this is A+ avant-garde theater. It's especially welcome in a gross scene where the Ice Cream Man attempts to mack on the out-of-his-league Rocky

and is righteously shut down (at least outside of his orb-influenced hallucinations). 

Generally speaking, Gloria Lynn Henry plays it like she dropped into the film from someone else's dream and regards her current surroundings with disbelief and disdain. This is appropriate.

She also undergoes more costume changes per capita than any other character in the film, probably ten outfits or more. Whether this is a continuity error or an illustration of PHANTASM's ever-shifting dream boundaries is up for the viewer to decide.

I have a theory that each PHANTASM film represents the same dream being slowly remembered and interpreted and misinterpreted over time, sort of like the Mark Twain quote about "History never repeats itself, but it does often rhyme," and this is simply the version which happens to place a nunchaku badass in a central role. 

[In a sense, it resembles Robert Rodriguez's EL MARIACHI series, conceived by Rodriguez as a quotidian crime story (EL MARIACHI) retold as a tall tale (DESPERADO) and finally as mythology (ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO), with the storytelling itself approximating a whispered game of Telephone.]

With each variation, however, there are recurring motifs. At this point, we can decidedly say that exploding cars have, somehow, become an essential ingredient of the PHANTASM experience. 

As have STAR WARS references.

(The delivery and essence of this scene seems to rhyme with Darth Vader's "the circle is now complete" speech in the STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE.)

And the idea of ice cream eventually morphing into cryogenics perfectly encapsulates
this cycling of PHANTASM's dream logic.


And let it be said that Coscarelli does not take himself too seriously––a plunger plays an outsized role in the finale.

I do think the best way to conclude a review of PHANTASM III is to watch the footage of Rocky and Reggie's farewell:

A stilted goodbye of true comic perfection, open to a variety of interpretations and intentions, and perfectly unique to the world of PHANTASM III. 

"Enough of that!"



To be continued...