Copyright © 2000. All Rights Reserved
by John Tebbutt
A lot of films are given new titles before we get a chance to see them. Sometimes there are legitimate artistic or legal reasons for this. Sometimes its to give a failed movie a second chance on video. Sometimes, no logical reason is apparent the film simply has a new name.
Watch Heavy Metal 2000 on video, and youll see its original title appear during the opening credits: Heavy Metal: F.A.K.K. 2. The upcoming Red Planet was re-titled over and over to avoid confusion with the recent Mission To Mars. No Escape (1994) was called Penal Colony until it became clear that test audiences assumed that the film was gay porn. (This is probably the same reason that Bone Daddy was changed to Palmers Bones.)
The Producers (1967): A supremely hilarious comedy about a pair of dishonest Broadway producers who set out to intentionally make the worst play the world has ever seen. What they come up with is an appalling Nazi musical entitled Springtime For Hitler, which was also the films original title. You can probably guess why they changed it.
Trigger Happy (1996): Occasionally, video consumers will be browsing the new release wall, and come across a film theyve never heard of but thats filled with bankable A-list stars. This is usually a bad sign. Even terrible movies get released if they have big stars in them.
Now, along comes a movie called Trigger Happy, starring Richard Dreyfuss, Ellen Barkin, Gabriel Byrne, Jeff Goldblum, Diane Lane, Gregory Hines, Kyle MacLachlan, Burt Reynolds, Billy Idol, Rob Reiner, Richard Pryor and Angie Everhart. Wow all these stars, and it went direct-to-video? Er... no. This movie was released theatrically under the title Mad Dog Time, but the producers would rather have you think that this isnt the same film. Why? Possibly because of the films box-office performance, as well as some of the reviews. Film critic Roger Ebert gave the film a zero rating, saying, "Mad Dog Time is the first movie I have seen that does not improve on the sight of a blank screen viewed for the same length of time." Ouch. (Check out Mr. Eberts excellent new book, I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie for more details.)
The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-up Zombies (1963): Great title, eh? It was originally going to be The Incredibly Strange Creature: Or Why I stopped Living and Became a Mixed-up Zombie, but Columbia Pictures threatened writer/director/star Ray Dennis Steckler with a massive lawsuit, thinking that the title was too similar to their upcoming Stanley Kubrick film, Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Steckler was amazed that Columbia would feel so threatened by his little $38,000 film. He phoned the studio to straighten things out, but couldnt make any progress until he demanded that Kubrick get on the line. Then Steckler simply suggested the new title Kubrick accepted, and the whole thing was dropped. The legal fees Columbia must have pumped into this pointless squabble caused Steckler to later comment, "I could have made five movies on what they probably spent trying to figure out how to stop me. I would have changed the title if they had just asked me politely!"
The Womens Penitentiary series: The folks at MCM Entertainment have a novel method for making a successful film franchise they pick up old women-in-prison exploitation movies, retitle them Womens Penitentiary XIV or something, and stick a picture of a couple of scantily-clad models on the box. (The box art, of course, has little to do with the movies within in fact, each picture just has the same models in different poses on a cheap balsa-wood prison set.) The films themselves are actually interesting examples of old-fashioned babes-behind-bars sleaze, many of which are considered "classics" of the genre. The first four films in the series are, in order, The Big Doll House (1971), The Big Bird Cage (1972), Women in Cages (1972) and Emanuelle Reports From Womens Prison (1982).
I recently picked up a second-hand copy of Womens Penitentiary VII, and it turned out to be Jesus Francos Island Women (1980) starring French porn star Brigitte Lahaie (who also appears in Francos Faceless, but with her clothes on). Its an enjoyably trashy bit of sleaze thats probably had a few minutes of graphic sex snipped out so as not to offend local viewers oh-so-innocent eyes.
Incidentally, Womens Penitentiary VIII is none other than Ed Woods ultra-ridiculous Fugitive Girls (1973)! It amuses me to think that horny guys might be renting the repackaged version of this hysterical oddity expecting anything other than big laughs.
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