August 22, 2007

END OF SUMMER STORY-THON, Day 7 (more info on Story-Thon here)

Today's suggestion is from Aubrey Montoya: "dance camp"

In the wake of the success of slasher films (“Nightmare on Elm Street,” “Halloween”) and dance films (“Footloose,” “Flashdance”), in the early 80’s, a new subgenre of movie was born: The dance-horror movie. And then, as soon as it appeared, dance-horror died an ignoble death, like many of its flexible young heroines. But unlike many of its flexible young heroines, dance-horror did not dance, except quickly out of theaters and the public’s imagination.

The father of the subgenre is generally agreed to be Italian director Alfonzo Perutti. The story goes that the night Perutti’s film “Il Robe E Le Cose” premiered, he went to a nearly empty screening of the film at a busy Perguian cinema. Across the hall from where his work was playing, people were streaming into sold-out showings of “ Friday the 13th” and “Dirty Dancing.” (Though these films premiered years apart in America, they were released simultaneously in Italy, where Mussolini made the trains run on time but left the motion picture distribution system a shambles.) It was Perutti’s wish that he could get all these people to see one of his films, and he thought it would be easier to simply make a film both audiences would enjoy than it would be to herd people going to see the other movies into his theater by waving his hands and shouting.

The film Perutti made, “Dance Camp,” is considered a masterpiece of the dance-horror subgenre, largely because it is one of the only entries into that subgenre, and the only entry in that subgenre to be released publicly. By his own admission, Perutti set out to rip off both “Friday The 13th” and “Dirty Dancing,” but rather than ripping off “Dirty Dancing” and adding horror elements, or aping “Friday the 13th” and including a few gratuitous dance sequences, Perutti combined elements of many dance and horror films with all the storytelling acumen and filmmaking know-how of a hi-fi stereo salesman, which Perutti was.

The film’s plot concerns Julietta, a shy yet blossoming camper at a summer camp in upstate New York. She’s mentored in the ways of dance by Rafe, the camp’s groundskeeper and hunky dance instructor, who is also a werewolf. Julietta and Rafe must defend their burgeoning love against the disapproval of their peers, out-dance the kids from a rival camp across the lake, and steer clear of a masked ghoul who is stalking the camp and killing people with a cleaver. Also, Julietta is a welder, who ends up using her welding skills to weld coffins shut to keep the dead from rising. Also, the camp is on an Native American burial ground, more specifically, a burial ground of the Native American that invented dancing.

Since both films take place in a woodland setting and feature teenage girls, it is somewhat understandable that Perutti thought mixing “Friday the 13th” and “Dirty Dancing” would be a good idea. Less understandable is why he thought it would be a good idea to end the film with a “Saturday Night Fever” homage in which a zombie groans “STRUT” and proceeds to cruise arrogantly down a city street with a big zombie grin on its face even as its limbs fall off and its skin disintegrates, until by the end of the block it is simply a rolling grinning zombie head which finally comes to rest in a gutter and winks at the audience, before the rest of its skin falls off, revealing a disco ball.

Dubbed haltingly into English and released seemingly on a dare, “Dance Camp” was a failure at both the American and the Italian box office. Cobbling together his stereo sales comissions, Perutti was able to finance two more movies, a “Fame” knockoff in which the protagonists fufill their wish to “live forever” by becoming vampires, and a torture-porn interpretation of “Footloose” entitled “Foot Cut Off,” before retiring from the director’s chair to focus on his goal of selling more tweeters than any salesman in Italian history. He never got over his failure to break dance-horror, however, and is said to have cried when he saw "Thriller" for the first time on one of his electronics stores' 48-inch projection screen TVs.

American indie director Handsome “Gary” Tornado paid tribute to Perutti’s obscure work with his 2006 dance-horror film “It’s Got A Great Beat And You Can Die To It.” Audiences were puzzled, as few are familiar with the conventions the film was referencing. (For the uninitiated, the conventions of dance-horror are combining the worst elements of two movie genres and casting your 42 year old Italian wife as the lead character, a 16 year old American ballet dancer.)

Posted by DC at August 22, 2007 04:38 PM
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