Unstreamable is a weekly column that finds films and TV shows you can't watch on major streaming services in the United States.*
Are you reading this from Bellingham? Unstreamable is swinging by your fine city this Friday night—TONIGHT! Come join us downtown near the Pickford Center for a free screening of Pink Floyd - The Wall.
United States, 1981, 95 min, Dir. Hal Needham
Burt Reynolds plays J.J, a suave race driver who buddies up with Victor (Dom DeLuise) to cleverly convert an ambulance into a race car to clear their path to victory. Farrah Fawcett plays a sexy tree-obsessed photographer nicknamed Beauty, who catches J.J.'s eye. Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. play characters dressed up as (alcoholic) Catholic priests speeding cross country in a red Ferrari. Roger Moore plays a man pretending to be a James Bond-like version of Roger Moore. And Jackie Chan pops up in one of his first American roles as a Japanese Subaru driver. The film is a deeply chaotic, deeply '80s mess of racial stereotypes, sexist jokes, and fast-ass cars that reminds me of movies I'd watch as a young kid with my friends' older parents. It's equal parts fun and very outdated.
Director and legendary stuntman Hal Needham wrote the script partially based on experience. He participated in the OG Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash before making the film, claiming to have completed the cross-country race in 32 hours. Like J.J. and Victor, Needham sped across the country in a souped-up Dodge van made to look like an ambulance. Now that I would absolutely watch. JASMYNE KEIMIG
United States, 1984-1988, 22 min episodes, Created by Nic Broca
I've polled millennials this past week, asking them if they know about the Smurfs knockoff, the Snorks. So far, I haven't found a single person under 35 with any knowledge of them, but please, sound off if you have strong feelings about these flipper-footed, snorkel-headed sea minions and you didn't grow up in the '80s.
My understanding is that these plankton people were born from a legal dispute between Belgian businessmen who argued over who had the rights to the Smurfs. When one team didn't win out, they decided to create a Smurfs competitor with many of the same characteristics — which is how we get the Snorks. Instead of blue gnome-ish things that live in mushroom houses, we get groovy snorkel creatures who look like they live in Tampa Bay in the '70s.
Snorks ran as a children's series on NBC from 1984 to 1986, and then it was syndicated in the latter half of the '80s. The plots move quickly, with tight 15-or-so minute episodes revolving around the people of Snorkland and their grumpy governor. They're intelligent — they have robots and submarine-cars and ride seahorses for sport!! — but they lack the sort of lackadaisical freedom of the Smurfs. CHASE BURNS
New Zealand, 1992, 104 min, Dir. Peter Jackson
But underneath all the fake blood, Peter Jackson's violent ode to deep-seated mommy issues is surprisingly funny. Though extremely gory, the film never takes itself too seriously, inserting gags and slapstick humor wherever possible. After all, the madness kicks off after Lionel's overbearing mother Vera (Elizabeth Cosgrove) gets bitten by a Skull Island Sumatran Rat-Monkey after spying on her son and his new lover Paquita (Diana Peñalver) at a Wellington zoo. The bite causes Vera to decay and become hungry for the flesh of others. This undead rat-monkey disease spreads to others in town, and it's up to Lionel and Paquita to save the day. Dead Alive is a grisly but absurd romp that you definitely shouldn't watch while eating dinner. JASMYNE KEIMIG
United Kingdom, 1984, 59 min, Dir. Gerry Pomeroy and Dennis Marks
Every Scarecrow Video section has unstreamable gems, but I've had good luck finding loads of rare things inside Scarecrow's music sections lately. There's a big music-sized hole in the streaming market — Why do I have to hunt through blurry YouTube ripoffs to find a clear version of Cher's Believe tour? — but fortunately for Seattleites, we've got a place that fills that hole. Scarecrow's music sections have titles ranging from Divas Live to Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts to Slade in Flame to Judy Garland in Concert. You can close your eyes and point, and you'll likely find a title that's not readily available on the internet.
This week, I dipped into the section's Fela Kuti area, looking for some rare footage of one of Nigeria's favorite sons. There's plenty of mainstream stuff on Kuti — Dave Segal wrote about the popular Finding Fela here in 2014 — and a lot of it is corny. Fela "Afrobeat God" Kuti lived a huge life, the type of musician who "comes along once in a century," as Dave wrote, so things on him easily edge into hagiography. That's part of the reason why I enjoyed the hard-to-find documentary Teacher Don't Teach Me Nonsense. It layers rare performance footage against an extended interview with Kuti, where he talks about everything from the stiffness of the English language to how no one abides by traffic lights in Lagos. It isn't earth-shattering, but it is straightforward, leaving room for Kuti to speak. CHASE BURNS
*Unstreamable means we couldn't find it on Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, or any of the other 300+ streaming services available in the United States. We also couldn't find it available for rent or purchase through platforms like Prime Video or iTunes. Yes, we know you can find many things online illegally, but we don't consider user-generated videos, like unauthorized YouTube uploads, to be streamable.