Archive for September, 2013

RVs of the Apocalypse! 1976 Travco Motorhome

Posted in Cars with tags , on September 25, 2013 by David N. Brown

Because, judging from traffic, I might as well change the name of this site to “Weird RVs” (if that wasn’t already taken), it’s time for the 10th installment of “RVs of the Apocalypse!” This time, the featured RV comes courtesy of, and reportedly belongs to one Jolene Sloniker. This specimen is a Class C motorhome and appears to be based on a Dodge B300 van, the successor to the previously-featured A100. As noted by the “Dodge Travco” writer, the Class C configuration is unusual for a Travco, though it is worth keeping in mind that, without the readily recognizeable “Family Wagon” legend, this van and any other like it would be hard to distinguish from many other professional and “homebuilt” versions. But surely the most noteworthy feature of the post is closeups of the bathroom!

Here we see a closeup of one of Travco’s most notorious innovations, the folding toilet! The compact commode drops down from under a sink, and the bathroom also features a shower head. I have seen this radical space-saving feature mentioned a number of times, but this is the only photo to come to my attention. Based on my research, I believe that these toilets were not used in Travco’s Class A motorhomes.

While I’m at it, I am going to make a correction to a previous post. I previously presented it as a matter of uncertainty where Travco built hardtop “Family Wagons” based on the A108. I am now entirely satisfied that this was not only done, but that the A108 was the STANDARD chassis for this version of the Family Wagon. I won’t say I shouldn’t have caught this before, but in my defense, the differences between the A100 and A108 are less obvious with the side doors fully open, as they often are to show off features of the camper interior. I am also satisfied that Travco did build Family Wagons with retractable roofs based on the original A100 as well as A108. On further review of vintage literature, I think it is likely that Travco phased out the A100 in favor of the A108 by around 1967. In the meantime, there were certainly A100/A108 camper vans built of less certain provenance, including Class C variations. Two examples are featured at this page. Especially interesting is one with a cabover streamlined shell that appears to be made of fiberglass. This suggests either an especially skilled homebuild or truly professional work; unfortunately, the source site offers no useful information.

Revenant Review, Part 4: Shanks

Posted in films, zombies on September 16, 2013 by David N. Brown

“Old Walker could not make it to Celia’s birthday party, because Malcolm (out of mercy) had buried him several days before.”

Back from the dead in more ways than one, it’s time for the fourth installment in this feature, and I’m pleased to present the Great White Whale of unfindable zombie films. Back in the 1970s, the infamous B-movie master William Castle, whose long history of gimmicks included wiring theater seats to deliver electric shocks, thought it would be a good idea to make a horror movie starring the world-famous mime Marcel Marceau as the protagonist Malcolm Shanks. The result was a 1974 film titled Shanks, and it achieved a legendary status, with partisan reviewers either praising it as an avant garde work of psychedelic genius or panning it as, well, an avant garde work of psychedelic genius. Peter Dendle’s masochistically comprehensive Zombie Movie Encyclopedia calls it “a dark vision… of how perverse innocence, left to its devices, really is.” A frequently-quoted review by Hal Erickson describes it as “not so much a movie as a hallucinatory experience.” The film’s reputation was probably helped more than hindered by the fact that THIRTY-NINE YEARS went by before its FIRST authorized video release. Armed with a copy of the authorized release that I received and viewed this weekend, I am prepared to wade into the fray.

The first thing I will say is that the authorized edition from Olive Films, is of excellent quality. Every scene is of very sharp quality. I mention this because more than one prior review made prominent mention of problems with image quality, particularly in the final scenes, due either to poor-quality bootlegs or poor lighting and camera work in the making of the films itself. The quality is, indeed, high enough almost to bely the film’s reputation. Apart from a few cuts to silent-film-style sepia, the film is marked by sharply-focused, even camera work, which offers a striking contrast both to the atmospheric blurs and shadows of established horror-film tradition and the jerky, choppy techniques that came into full flower in the 1970s. Even the finale is well-lit and shot almost to a fault (which I must regard as evidence of truly atrocious quality in prior bootleg copies). The workman-like photography serves to reinforce a decidedly un-psychedelic backdrop, where ’60s-’70s artifacts abound without a lava lamp or tie-dyed shirt in sight.

Then there is the story. Um. What is there to say about a story that centers on using human corpses as puppets? Shanks, a “deaf-mute” puppeteer picked on by his stepsister and her drunken husband, learns the secret from the scientist Walker (also played by Marceau), who demonstrates with dead animals in his castle/ lab. When Walker dies of natural causes, Shanks tries out his invention on his corpse. When the in-law and stepsister start asking questions, Shanks gets rid of them with an undead chicken and a GTO “Judge”, then uses their bodies for a show to entertain a teenish admirerer named Celia. His jailbait interest is alarmed on discovering Shanks’ secret, but soon accepts an invitation to the old castle. Shanks and Celia celebrate her birthday in Victorian dress, served and entertained by the in-laws, until a biker gang crashes the party. Stylized savagery ensues, culminating in a notorious scene in sepia of Shanks dancing with Celia before a jarring cut to a cop-out ending.

Shanks astonishes and apalls on amny levels. The horror/ zombie elements are usually passed over in commentary, yet the grue factor is fairly impressive: Walker looks none too fresh, especially after Shanks summons him back for revenge, and a sequence in which a pickled frog is reanimated is genuinely ghastly. The infamous chicken attack, on the other hand, is in my opinion a dud. The intended highlight, Shanks’ “shows” (carried our by two accomplished colleagues of Marceau), are about as problematic as they are unsettling. It is hard to watch without wondering first and foremost if we are actually expected to laugh. (I will admit to being amused by the deceased drunk pulling bottle after bottle off the shelf of a store, which presents a possible subtext of the “puppets” retaining its former personality.)

Finally, we are left with the matter of subtext. The corpse-puppets clearly represent one of the most overtly materialistic representations of the corporeal revenant, and can easily be regarded as further social commentary, but the film offers little to hang such an allegory on. Efforts to inject imagery of good and evil through recurring play cards (source of the opening quote) are, if not strictly ironic, then entirely unconvincing. Shanks is entirely too cunning to make a convincing “innocent”, and it is even more striking that the “evil” bikers come far closer to showing normal human emotional responses than he or Celia ever do. Ultimately, it is all too easy to regard the dynamic of Shanks and the puppets as a statement about the audience: That we, like too-wide-eyed Celia, are entirely at the mercy of the film’s weird and amoral vision.

RVs of the Apocalypse! Class C Flatbed Mystery Motorhome

Posted in Cars with tags , , , , on September 11, 2013 by David N. Brown

I’m back from a summer hiatus, and I decided it was time to do a piece I’ve been wanting to do for a while. There’s a personal story behind this: One night last December, I was meeting up with a friend at a local fast food restaurant (I got there on public transportation because I don’t drive, which makes my interest in this subject highly ironic) when I noticed a motorhome I thought was quite strange in the parking lot. From the brief sighting, I decided it was probably a 1970s Dodge van chassis, and the rest was evidently home-built. Some time later, I decided to see if there was any documentation of this or similar RVs. A few searches led me to this at the website Weird RVs:
Source Weird RVs: “Something is missing here”

As can be seen, this van follows the lines of a cab-over Class C RV, with the drastic difference that the camper body is too short to cover most of the exposed van bed. The end result converges on the design of a “sleeper” semi truck. The camper hull clearly provides a bed over the cab, and it would be feasible to fit a kitchen, lavatory or even a shower in the remaining space with no more than moderate ingenuity (though all of the above would be tricky indeed!) The remainder of the bed is open to a variety of uses. such as motor bikes, light watercraft, or a hitch for a fifth-wheel trailer home. The last application, while redundant at face value, would clearly be of some convenience if two people were in the van. In particular, it would allow the occupants to take turns driving and using the facilities without stopping or violating laws against having occupants in a moving trailer. The specimen I sighted was loaded with a mix of loose goods, and to my recollection there was some lining around the sides of the bed, which I suspect may have been a later modification. All in all, this type of RV is one of the more impressive examples of home-builder ingenuity, and an especially convenient way to flee civilization with as much of one’s worldly goods as possible!