the film: The Dark Backward

the Guest: Elbee (Cooking with VPL)


(Warning: Name dropping ahead) In the early ’00s, I ran with a pretty eclectic bunch of nerdy musicians. I was on first name-basis with bands like Ozma, Teen Heroes, Reel Big Fish (to some extent), and even Weezer (I’ve done merch designs for each of these bands, too). Within this amorphous social blob (hardly a circle) were various actors and celebrities. One of whom was Diva Zappa (of the Frank Zappa clan).

One evening while hanging out at a rehearsal studio with the band Snmnmnm, Diva excitedly told us that there was this weird movie that she and her brothers Ahmet and Dweezil used to watch, and it’s title forever confused her…she described the premise: A terrible stand up comedian somehow inexplicably grows a third arm out of his back! and she just couldn’t understand why the movie was called “The Dark Backyard“. To which I interjected “The Dark Backward“. Suddenly, it was as if all the confusion in the world stopped. The truth, in this moment, set Diva free! She gasped, exclaimed that NOW it all made sense, and we had a good laugh about it.

I tell this story here, because I forgot to even mention it in this week’s podcast, our tribute-of-sorts to the late and great, the magnetic and fascinating Bill Paxton – and his role in this strange film The Dark Backward.

the dark backward
Judd Nelson plays Marty Malt, the sweatiest comic in showbiz.


As mentioned in the above anecdote, the film, directed by Adam Rifkin, is indeed about a struggling stand-up comedian, named Marty Malt (Judd Nelson), who is afflicted with a strange new appendage. During the day he works as a trashman with his only friend, an accordion-playing buffoon named Gus (Bill Paxton). At night, Marty moonlights as a would-be stand up comedian, but his jokes are bad, and his delivery is terrible. Usually that means developing a gimmick to further a career in comedy. And that is what happens, though, unintentionally, by way of a third arm growing out of Marty’s back. Being that this is a show biz film, various characters swoop in when they see what opportunities this third arm might present, positive or otherwise. The cast is rounded out by appearances from Lara Flynn Boyle, Wayne Newton, and Rob Lowe.

the dark backward
Desi the 3 armed wonder comic and his musical accompaniment Gus…and their agent Jackie Chrome.


I had seen this movie a handful of times over the years; while our guest, Elbee, had only seen this once nearly ten years ago. And, Bill Paxton is one of Elbee’s favorite actors. I mean, he nearly single-handedly elevated Marvel’s Agents of Shield with his guest run. Even his minor cameos in major films are the stand-out scenes, often stealing that film’s star’s thunder. So it is here we talk about one of his most unsung roles in one of the strangest little indies you’d lay your eyes on. Join us as we put our hands on this grimy and goofy flick called The Dark Backward.


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