Vicious Lips (1986)

(aka, Pleasure Planet, Lunar Madness)

[Spoilers Ahead]

Who knew the future had Eighties’ Girl Bands?

Not to mention big hair, wild New Wave fashions and an incredible club scene.

Look, some of these movies, you look at them and wonder, what were they thinking?  There’s an interesting movie here somewhere, but it just didn’t get made.

Somewhere in the future, a club owner needs a new act to play at her club, Maxine’s Radioactive Dream (not “Dreams,” that’s another Albert Pyun movie).  So she tells small-time agent Matty Asher (played by Anthony Kentz in a mostly annoying Jerry Lewis sort of way) that she’s going to give the slot to his band, Vicious Lips.

Which would be a great thing if his lead singer hadn’t quit.  And got run over by a car moments later.

I hate it when that happens.

Matty had found a lead singer for the show they are playing tonight — he went to the nearest High School talent show and recruited Judy Jetson (I’m not making this up!) who didn’t exactly have the most successful audition.

And, in the middle of the first show she plays with the band, Matty gets the call, and they have to rush off to the show which will make them, if they wow the crowds — and if they make it on time (and, after all, Radioactive Dream is on another planet).

So Matty goes to the nearest spaceport and steals a ship, and they fly off together, with a murderous monster locked in the rear compartment.

Now at this point, I’m expecting this to turn into a classic creature feature with the girls on the run from the escaped monster.  Instead we get a lot about makeup, drugs, and how important it is to be part of the team when you are in a band, instead of looking out for yourself.

And it even looks like it might all start getting interesting when Matty’s incompetence causes the ship to crash on an obviously deserted planet and the creature finally — finally!! — gets out of its prison.

Only, after a few scenes with Matty leaving the ship to go for help and meeting two strange girls dressed only in a few shreds of tattered curtains — and a brief moment or two when the girls realize the beast is loose and start running through the ship and locking themselves in every smaller parts of the ship — Judy escapes from the ship with the beast after her…

And everything stops making sense.

I mean that literally.  Dead people show up and zombies, one person abruptly changes into another, lots of running through endless walls of curtains (with the creature, naturally getting ahead of her at every turn)

Which is then resolved with the all-time worst ending for any film, after which it all ends up in Maxine’s for the big show, with Matty making the deal of a lifetime.

Look, Albert Pyun was one of the most talented directors working the Direct-To-Video market of the Eighties and Nineties.  He made a few pretty good films (like Omega Doom), even more workmanlike and perfectly acceptable average films (mostly involving kick boxing cyborgs, like Knights), a few more daring, even experimental films (like Deceit or Invasion) and a few real stinkers (of which Heatseeker is surely the worst.  I least I hope it is.  Yes, it is that bad!).  He had a knack for doing a lot with his tiny budgets, even if he couldn’t always put his vision on the screen, often thanks to a bit of editorial interference.

So it is no great surprise that the opening scenes have a great visual look to them, full of dark, grungy clubs, garish lighting with lots of color, plenty of clutter, and a motley collection of extras.

The spaceship is also quite well done, although it should be instantly recognizable as the unusual double-winged craft from Galaxy of Terror.  I suspect the spaceship crash may have been borrowed wholesale from that film along with most of the other model work shots, but it does look quite good.  James Cameron was the production designer for Galaxy of Terror, and I’m sure the ship was one of his designs.  It really deserved to be featured in a better film.  But that happens.

I’m not as sure about the shot of the spaceport.  However, whether it was in Galaxy of Terror or not, it isn’t as successful as the shots of the ship.  We only see it from one angle as an establishing shot, and never see any of the ships moving around in it.  I’m not even sure the Galaxy of Terror ship is in the shot.

And whatever you might say about the whole “Passion Planet” sequence at the end, the weird, curtained space, with its endless twists and turns (and weird people leaping out at you) is visually effective, even if we are watching the film fall apart all around us.

I never was into the who New Wave girl band thing, so I can’t speak to how good the Vicious Lips‘ music may be.  There is an awful lot of it, and we get quite a few songs crammed into the first half hour or so of the film.

But if you are into that sort of thing you probably won’t mind.

This one came out from Empire Films and that really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise as its head, Charles Band, was heavily into rock music, and it plays a large part in several of his films.  For once, Band didn’t write either the script, story, or original story concept for one of his films — although, to be fair, Pyun did write most of his scripts.  However, several of the Empire and Full Moon films did a far better job integrating the music with the film than we see here, particularly one of my favorites, Bad Channels.

I don’t know.  If he’d put together an ending where they get the ship off the ground again — or found a new ship — and make their way safely to Maxine’s after ditching the beast, this one wouldn’t have been as bad.

Which isn’t exactly high praise.

And I doubt if they had any recycled footage available to make that ending.

It would also have helped if they had a few roadies along on the trip for the monster to eat.  As it is, the entire cast has to make it to safety at the end.

I honestly don’t know how much of this was because Albert had to stretch his budget until it creaked and threatened to snap, or whether someone thought the ending was a really great idea (even if it is not only the worst ending ever, but also a cliche!).

Oh, well.  No wonder Vicious Lips never made it to DVD until 2013…

(Watch for free on Tubi)

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