Author Mike McPadden’s new book, Teen Movie Hell, continues an obsession with cheese and sleaze rooted in his adolescent fixation upon those two essential elements splattered on a movie screen. In his 1990s youth, McPadden published an always idiosyncratic, often hilarious, usually sordid photocopied zine called Happyland.
In Happyland, behind the pseudonym Selwyn Harris, the author revealed his personality’s dark and steamy crevasses while reveling in the sin and grime of Times Square’s grind cinemas, peep booths and puke alleys.
Happyland’s confessional debacles led to McPadden’s employment as a Larry Flynt Publications staff writer, which led to his subsequent career of outsider literary achievement.
It’s safe to say that without Happyland, McPadden would be nothing today, maybe a dentist. It’s also safe to say that Happyland might not have happened without the example of groundbreaking New York City zine Sleazoid Express.
In McPadden’s words:
Founded in 1980 by genius/libertine/miscreant Bill Landis, the Xeroxed neutron bomb Sleazoid Express reviewed the latest trash flicks playing NYC while documenting its publisher’s noxious misadventures in and around the hellhole theaters that showed them.
From issue one, Sleazoid Express was puke-pit perfect. Then Jimmy McDonough showed up in its pages and, somehow, managed to improve on that perfection.
The original Sleazoid Express run petered out in 1986. A Landis-mounted revival fifteen years later resulted in a proper book, Sleazoid Express (St. Martin’s Press, 2002), but his 2008 death seems to have capped off the Sleazoid legacy.
Co-conspirator Jimmy McDonough, however, carries on in his legacy making. McDonough enriched the reading public with two world-class biographies in 2003: The Ghastly One: The Sex-Gore Netherworld of Filmmaker Andy Milligan (Chicago Review Press) and Shakey: Neil Young’s Biography (Anchor Books).
In the wake of those two disruptions, McDonough has dropped definitive volumes on Russ Meyer, Tammy Wynette and Al Green, and co-wrote John Fogerty’s memoir, Fortunate Son.
It might be overstating to say that Mike McPadden is preoccupied with Jimmy McDonough; so don’t go that far, but for decades McPadden, the future author of Teen Movie Hell, has marveled that McDonough and his Sleazoid partner Landis both wrote lovingly about the skunky 1982 teen sex comedy Pink Motel, a dimly remembered 1982 youth sex farce starring improbable teen faves Slim Pickens and Phyllis Diller.
Now, to commemorate the pre-order availability of Teen Movie Hell: A Crucible of Coming-of-Age Comedies From Animal House to Zapped! (Bazillion Points, 2019), the Skeeve has given McPadden space to ask McDonough to explain his enjoyment of Pink Motel, an enjoyment, like so much more, that turns out to be inexplicable.
MIKE McPADDEN: In Sleazoid Express, you singled out Pink Motel as a worthwhile film. But, as far as I can tell, no full review ever followed. What happened?
JIMMY McDONOUGH: We were far from reliable in those days.
MIKE McPADDEN: What do you remember about initially seeing Pink Motel?
JIMMY McDONOUGH: It was in some crap neighborhood theater, not 42ndStreet. There were a string of weird theaters outside of 42ndStreet that played all sorts of weird low-budget fare. We made the rounds. Maybe it was the little Hoboken two-screen theater in a little commercial plaza near the Path train [ed. note—The Fabian]. I loved that one. We saw The Human Tornado there. Or maybe it was the State in Jersey City. This great burger joint was nearby, Tippy’s Charcoal Haven….
There were even ads in the newspaper for Pink Motel. Just imagine—some poor misguided soul invested in prints and an ad campaign. You might as well set money on fire.
MIKE McPADDEN: What about Pink Motel initially struck you in a positive fashion?
JIMMY McDONOUGH: It was just so threadbare and devoid of any entertainment value. It lay there like a rock, almost defiant about its lack of talent and inspiration. You can say that about virtually all entertainment now, high or low. So Pink Motel was really ahead of its time. Somehow Pink Motelknew nothingness was the way of the future. And here we are. Everything feels like Pink Motel now, even if some saintly auteur is the one making it.
Screenwriter M. James Kouf went on to write (or co-write) Rush Hour, National Treasure and was a creator/producer/screenwriter on the TV series Grimm. Does he wake up at 3:00 a.m. in a sweat reliving Pink Motel? Somebody should ask.
MIKE McPADDEN: Did you go see other teen sex comedies during the Sleazoid era?
JIMMY McDONOUGH: No. It was only because Pink Motel’s ad campaign called out like a distressed siren on the rocks. It gave off an aroma, suggested a freakish anomaly. I still own the poster, with its “sexy” couple climbing the motel sign, done in a style of art more suitable for selling RVs. It looked like a relic from another era, even when it was new in 1982. You could stare at it and feel the melancholy of the ages.
MIKE McPADDEN: How did Times Square audiences react to R-rated teen sex comedies in contrast to other genres of the era: slasher horror, kung-fu, hardcore porn?
JIMMY McDONOUGH: Aside from the inescapable crowd pleasers like Animal House, I don’t recall them being around much. That might be my utter indifference talking.
MIKE McPADDEN: I imagine Landis constantly griping about the mere existence of such films. How did he react to any teen sex comedies you saw with him?
JIMMY McDONOUGH: Landis only went to two that I have any memories of, and that’s because I dragged him along: Pink Motel and another tragic impression of an actual movie, Teen Lust.
Equally as leadfooted as Pink Motel in terms of any kind of rhythm (cultural or otherwise), Teen Lust is (for better or worse) the far raunchier of the two. It oozes a garish, sweatin’-to-the oldies ’80s sheen.
Unflattering nudity involving ugly gym outfits, alleged “teen” humor written by smutty, clueless adults, a couple of written-and-recorded-for-$300-in-my-home-studio songs carelessly tossed in (I’m told the theme music from The People’s Court lurks there as well); consider these as plusses compared to the barren moonscape that is Pink Motel. Both movies inhabit the same peculiar no-talent zone.
MIKE McPADDEN: Revisiting Pink Motel, how does it play now?
JIMMY McDONOUGH: Watching it again after all these years I found myself contemplating suicide. It has nothing to offer; lessthan nothing. This movie thought a surefire way to success was to add a few meager scenes with Phyllis Diller and Slim Pickens as the motel managers, yet doesn’t allow them to utter one amusing line. Diller appears to be in pain. As does Pickens. I feel for them, even in death.
Do not watch this movie under any circumstances. Lance a boil. Make spin-art at the fair. Teach a child to read. Don’t watch Pink Motel.
I still like the theme song though: That recycled “Shaft” riff, and those lyrics are a plethora of riches—for instance, American tradition/Keeps you in condition. An unknown singer, giving her double-tracked all and deserving of an actual career. Was life better for this person after her brief check-in at the Pink Motel? Was her pay more than fifty bucks? Did she do it as a favor for a musician boyfriend on his way to rehab? Was there any joy or reward for any of the denizens connected to this sad creation? These are the questions that trouble my mind.