Friday, September 6, 2019

THE EXPLOITATION OF SHARON TATE

Like CHARLIE SAYS, THE HAUNTING OF SHARON TATE is another in a slew of films and television shows put out this year, capitalising on the 50th anniversary of the crime. Based on the trailer and hostile reviews, along with my own disappointment in director Daniel Farrands' previous THE AMITYVILLE MURDERS (2018), I wasn't expecting much out of THE HAUNTING OF SHARON TATE. It's badly miscast and terribly acted, lacking in any sense of visual flair, and shows little respect for the memory of Sharon Tate herself, but I didn't find it the complete waste that so many others have. A tacky, tasteless and violent low-budget mix of speculative supernatural horror and true crime tabloid fact, THE HAUNTING OF SHARON TATE at least seems proud to wallow in its exploitative roots. I liked the opening credit sequence (utilising archival news footage) and the film does have quite a nice and effective ambient score, but it's really one just for the die-hard completists, or any masochistic Hilary Duff fans.


DO WHAT CHARLIE SAYS

This latest film from longtime indie fave Mary Harron (I SHOT ANDY WARHOL, AMERICAN PSYCHO, THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE) was released in Australia last week by Defiant (DVD or digital download only), and seems to have slipped onto the market with considerably less fanfare than some other Manson-related film and television productions from this year. It's a pity Harron didn't have the budget to make it look a bit more aesthetically pleasing and stylistically accurate, because in just about all other respects CHARLIE SAYS ultimately emerges as one of the better, and more grounded, cinematic renderings of what is by now a quite familiar (though no less shocking) tale of events.
Based on Ed Sanders' notorious 1971 book THE FAMILY, as well as Karlene Faith's THE LONG PRISON JOURNEY OF LESLIE VAN HOUTEN (2001), CHARLIE SAYS tells it's tale from the anchor point of three years after the horrific 1969 crimes, when the convicted Family members had their death sentences overturned, and the California Institution for Women suddenly had to consider how Manson girls Susan Atkins, Patricia Kwenwinkle and Van Houten were going to occupy themselves for the rest of their lives. Still loyal to Manson and his beliefs, feminist professor and rights advocate Karlene Faith is brought in to spend time with the girls, teaching them classes on society and empowerment and encouraging them to read and make decisions and observations based on what they themselves think and feel, not what they believe Manson would feel of want them to say.
Interspersed of course with flashbacks to life in the Family and the inevitable descent into Helter Skelter, CHARLIE SAYS becomes quite effective at drawing the viewer in to an interesting and often neglected side of the story - that of the deprogramming of the three girls and just how hard it was to wash away the indoctrination which Manson had psychologically forced into them, and their slow re-acclimatisation to the real world and acceptance of their responsibility in the horror.
One-time Dr. Who Matt Smith is surprisingly impressive in the Manson role, understated but with a genuine edge of menace and charisma, and great eye movements. I liked that a lot of his character was based around his musical ambitions as well, as Smith pulls off the singing, strumming and groovin' Charlie particularly well. The onscreen violence is limited but effective - there are a couple of startling shocks heading into its climax - and Herron does build an effective atmosphere of growing tension throughout.
Definately worth a watch if you are into true crime-based cinema, it's probably one of the most surprisingly engrossing films in the genre I have seen since David Jacobson's DAHMER (2002), starring future Marvel hero Jeremy Renner in a terrific performance as the notorious cannibal killer.


Tuesday, August 27, 2019

MAGNIFICENT MINDHUNTER

MINDHUNTER season 2 has been mind-blowing, in particular the episodes helmed by David Fincher and Andrew (CHOPPER) Dominik. There is a coldness to it that is completely absorbing and frequently chilling, but this time around we are also given a much more harrowing insight into the personal lives of two of the show's main protagonists, Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) and Wendy Carr (Anna Torv).
Like the first season, a big part of season two's gravitas is provided by the supporting actors putting in turns as some of the world's most infamous and reviled serial killers. Cameron Britton returns as Ed Kemper and is joined this time by Oliver Cooper as David "Son of Sam" Berkowitz, Christopher Livingston as Wayne Williams, Robert Aramayo as Elmer Henley and Australian Damon Herriman in his second onscreen performance as Charles Manson this year (having also played him in ONCE UPON A TIME IN...AMERICA). All of them put in terrific, skin-crawling performances, and Herriman's Manson is much more developed and effective than his (very brief) appearance in the Tarantino flick.
Having the horrific Atlanta child murders of 1979-81 as its main backdrop was a good dramatic move, allowing the writers to deal with subtexts of racism and political agendas. I love the way the series is leading to what seems inexorably towards a confrontation with Dennis Rader (BTK), though since Rader was not caught until 2005 I imagine there will still be at least one more season before then. A likely backdrop for season three would be the Green River killings, which would make sense as they started not long after the Atlanta killing spree stopped, and FBI agent John Douglas was also involved in the case. It would also give the filmmakers the opportunity to weave Ted Bundy into the series if they wanted, since Douglas consulted Bundy about the Green River case.


ONCE UPON A TIME IN...HOLLYWOOD


Programmer Zak Hepburn has done a terrific job in bringing ONCE UPON A TIME IN...HOLLYWOOD in 35mm to the Astor Theatre in Melbourne, ensuring the walls of its beautiful art deco interior are adorned with era-appropriate one-sheets (though some party pooper had spoiled part of the fun by stealing some of the faux Rick Dalton one-sheets during last night's screening). I caught the Saturday morning session of ONCE UPON A TIME IN...HOLLYWOOD with the sad passing of Peter Fonda still bouncing around in my head, which I think helped put me in a more melancholy mood as the film swept over me (after all, the film takes place in the Hollywood of Peter Fonda's prime, and EASY RIDER is one of those films whose one-sheet posters line the Astor lobby at the moment).
ONCE UPON A TIME IN...HOLLYWOOD is sure to be one of those movies that will take some time and a couple of viewings to fully appreciate and digest. My initial thought are that as a piece of drama or storytelling it is no masterpiece and nothing particularly special. There is little of the kinetic dialogue that made Tarantino's earliest films so quotable, but it is easily his best film since JACKIE BROWN (1997) in my opinion, as well as being amongst his most restrained and romantic work. As a love letter to 1969 Hollywood and the film and the television industries of the time, it is impeccable and a veritable gourmet feast for the eyes (especially in 35mm on the giant Astor screen).
What the story lacks is more than made up for by the plot twists and surprises, as well as the wonderful characterisations and performances from Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio, both playing men staring down the barrel of career irrelevancy as they age, while living next door to them is Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate, the symbols of current Hollywood glamour, youth and success. Margot Robbie doesn't have a lot of dialogue but doesn't really need it, bringing Tate to life with her physicality and aura. Some of the supporting roles and bit parts fall flat, though I did love Bruce Dern as George Spahn, Damian Lewis as Steve McQueen and, especially, Nicholas Hammond as Sam Wanamaker. Dakota Fanning also brings an effective level of menace and creep as Manson girl Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme.
As its title eludes, ONCE UPON A TIME IN...HOLLYWOOD is a fairytale, one man's own vision of what once was and what might have been. The Manson Family element is just one thread which weaves its way in and out of the story, but it is always not far off and constantly building an atmosphere of tension and gloom as it moves towards the climactic confrontation which we all know is coming.
The Astor will be screening the film in 35mm several times a day until next Thursday (August 21st). Definately worth the effort to get along to see there (and get there early to enjoy the pre-movie selection of classic snack bar ads and movie slides). I managed to score one of the cool little promotion souvenir booklets for the film, a great nostalgic momento that even contains faux vintage cigarette, automobile and fast food ads ($1.25 for a Big Kahuna burger!). One of the things I always loved about seeing movies as a kid was buying the souvenir booklet from the box-office - some of the earliest ones I recall buying (and reading over and over) were for THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, STAR WARS, SUPERMAN, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, ALIEN, Langella's DRACULA, MOONRAKER and STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE. Still have all of them and have collected some other favourites over the years.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

SNAPSHOT

An essay I wrote on the 1979 Australian exploitation film SNAPSHOT (aka THE DAY AFTER HALLOWEEN) has now been posted over on the Diabolique website. Click the link below to check it out!




SAY THE MAGIC WORD!

David F. Sandberg's SHAZAM! happily delivered the most fun I have had with a comic book/superhero movie in a long while, bringing a welcome whiff of fresh air to a genre getting burdened by the weight of its own overwrought, grandiose sombreness.
SHAZAM! reminds us of the sheer basic wish-fulfilment that comes with being a superhero. The film certainly follows the standard origin story template, but does so with a real sense of humour and heart, a few genuine surprises and even manages to inject some moments of atmosphere and fright without having to go all serious and dark (as the director of LIGHTS OUT and ANNABELLE: CREATION, Sandberg's horror roots certainly take hold in several spots). Comparisons to Penny Marshall's BIG (1988) and the Spielberg/Amblin' Entertainment films of the 1980s are certainly accurate, it's Christmas-time setting and amusement park action set-piece dripping with classic Americana. Nice performances throughout but especially from Jack Dylan Glazer as Freddy Freeman and Zachary Levi, who brings such an appealing blend of humour, innocence and slowly-developing sense of maturity and responsibility to the character of SHAZAM! (originally called Captain Marvel in the old DC comics before Marvel Comics trademarked the name for one of there own heroes). Will be interesting to see how Levi's Shazam will be incorporated into the larger DC cinematic universe, which is bound to happen sooner rather than later.
A perfect Friday evening date movie with Marneen Lynne, the whole audience broke into spontaneous applause as the end credits rolled, something you don't see enough of these days, where most multiplex moviegoers are desperate to get to their mobile phones and find out what they have missed as soon as the screen fades to black.


Friday, March 15, 2019

CAPTAIN NOT QUITE MARVEL-OUS

Marneen and I took in a Saturday afternoon screening of CAPTAIN MARVEL. Overall I'd probably rank it amongst the lower rung of the Marvel movies, Goose the kitty was one of the genuine highlights and I thought he had more personality than the film's star, Brie Larson, who is OK in the role but rather bland and certainly not as fun or charming as the likes of Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman) or Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow). The film does have some nice moments, including Samuel L. Jackson as a much younger Nick Fury (de-aged via CGI) and its 1995 setting gives it the opportunity to not only utilize a soundtrack featuring tracks by Hole, Garbage and No Doubt (as well as Heart and Lita Ford) but reference the likes of Blockbuster Video and slow-speed dial-up. It was also nice to see the late Stan Lee get one of his better and more amusing cameos (I figured this would likely be his last appearance in the Marvel movies but apparently he filmed several cameos prior to his passing that are still yet to be utilized).



AUDIO COMMENTARY ANNOUNCEMENT!

Very excited to announce that fellow Melbourne-based film historian Lee Gambin and myself will be providing the audio commentary for the upcoming Blu-ray release of this infamous 1966 horror western hybrid from the notorious William "One-Shot" Beaudine, one of the most prolific, interesting and misunderstood directors in Hollywood history. Arriving in June from the fine folks at Kino Lorber Studio Classics!





Friday, March 1, 2019

MANSON MOVIES

Now posted over at Diabolique, my look at Ian Cooper's excellent new book, a study of films and television shows directly about, as well as those clearly inspired or influenced by, the infamous Manson Family cult crimes of August 1969.




NIGHTWING

One of the first things I noticed while re-watching NIGHTWING (1979) this afternoon is just how wonderful the film's score by Henry Mancini is - moody, dreamy, melodic and dramatic with haunting wind instruments to make it reflective of the movie's Native American heart. 

Like John Frankenheimer's PROPHECY from the same year, NIGHTWING was a late entry in the 70s "eco-horror" craze that used the issue of Native American land rights as the topical backbone on which to grow their genre ingredients. Interesting to note the different angles they take: in PROPHECY the horror is borne from technology and "progress" (chemicals leaking into the river from a nearby paper mill), while in NIGHTWING it's the more "traditional" curse placed by the aging "Medicine Man" figure, who was usually represented cinematically as possessing some form of supernatural mystique. 

I wish some of the vampire bat sequences were better, many of the effects look pretty rushed, though the climactic image of the burning bats was effectively surreal and beautifully composed. A nice couple of lead performances from Nick Mancuso and Kathryn Harrold and solid support from David Warner (essentially playing a similar character to his one on THE OMEN three years earlier, though swapping his camera for vampire bat detection equipment and suffering not so gruesome a fate). The film also makes good use of the stunning New Mexico desert locations. Watching movies like TARANTULA (1955) and GARGOYLES (1972) on late-night TV when I was a kid definitely helped me develop an appreciation for genre films set in the American desert.



JONESTOWN SINEMA

A sneak peek at my article on Jim Jones-inspired cinema, one of two pieces I wrote for the latest issue of THE SLEAZY READER, a special true crime edition (my other article is on vintage Manson-related tabloids and magazines). THE SLEAZY READER #8 is now out and available from Amazon.



RONDO AWARDS NOMINATIONS 2019

Very happy and excited to see that my recent article on BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES (1970), which appeared in issue #11 of WENG'S CHOP, has been nominated for a 2019 Rondo Award in the Best Article category! Thanks to Tony Strauss, Brian Harris, Tim Paxton and all the others involved in WENG'S CHOP for accepting the article for publication.
In addition, SIN STREET SLEAZE has once again been nominated for a Rondo in the Best Website/Blog category, as has the first volume of the Cinemaniacs Journal, IF ONLY I HAD A BRAIN, for which I contributed chapters on the Batman villain The Scarecrow, as depicted in the 1960s/70s animated cartoons and in BATMAN BEGINS (2005) and its two sequels.

Check out the Rondo Awards website at the link below for a full list of nominees and voting instructions!




Saturday, January 12, 2019

TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE Slideshow

For those interested who were unable to attend the TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE last night, here's a rundown of the slideshow I presented alongside my talk. I tried to give the slides a suitably grimy 70s grindhouse feel. Will hopefully get a transcript of my intro posted shortly.






















THE SAW IS FAMILY

Had a great night introducing THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) to kick-off the Tobe Hooper retrospective last night. Hopefully my talk went well and was enjoyed by the audience in attendance. I never get tired of seeing this movie, especially in a cinema. The screening was followed by a terrific discussion on Masks in Horror Cinema by Angela Ndalianis and Alexandra Heller-Nicholas (author of seminal books on SUSPIRIA, MS. 45 and the Rape-Revenge genre). Attendees were given a paper Leatherface mask upon entry, as well as a fantastic program booklet and there was a stunning Leatherface signed/numbered print by local comic book artist Tristan Jones available. Leatherface was even seen wandering around, thankfully in a more relaxed and jovial mood than usual! Lots of terrific prizes raffled off also, I usually always bomb out in raffles but bought three tix upon entry last night and ended up winning two amazing prizes, a TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 doll (sorry, action figure) from NECA and the Kino Lorber Blu-ray of IRMA LA DUCE (with Kat Ellinger commentary) that I am looking forward to watching asap.
The Tobe Hooper festival continues today with screenings of EATEN ALIVE (1976), THE FUNHOUSE (1981) and the full TV version of SALEM'S LOT (1979) along with talks and introductions by Sally Christie, Emma Westwood and Lee Gambin. I believe there may even be a BBQ going in the parking lot, so if you are in Melbourne and looking for something cool to attend today rock on down to The Backlot, I believe there are a few limited tickets left!







Monday, December 31, 2018

SATAN'S PIT

Last night's viewing. Thanks to film historian and writer Tim Lucas for alerting me to this wonderful film with one of his posts yesterday. HOUSE OF TERRORS is a 1965 Japanese film (originally titled KAIDAN SEMUSHI OTOKO) that has been dubbed into Italian with English subtitles added. The result is a surreal melding of Japanese gothic and Eurohorror, the beautiful B&W photography dripping atmosphere like stalactites. The film starts with a young woman losing her husband after a long and painful mental illness, after which she learns she has inherited the deed to an old property he owned, a mansion invitingly called "Satan's Pit", a place haunted by the ghosts of its previous inhabitants and looked over by a hunchbacked caretaker. The fun starts from the moment it begins and rarely lets up, there's some moments of genuine creepiness and scares and the magnificent spooky sounds and ambient music sounds like it could have come straight off one of those GHOSTLY SOUNDS record LPs later put out by Power Records in the early-70s.
Highly recommended and definitely worth a watch, I don't think the film has been officially released on disc but it can be found on You Tube (apparently the Italian-dubbed print is the only one known to be floating around).