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.
Saturday, January 12, 2019
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
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).
Friday, December 28, 2018
Decided on whatever whim I was having late last night to check out Eli Roth's contentious 2018 remake of Michael's Winner's 1974 revenge thriller DEATH WISH. I didn't hate it but it is certainly a pointless remake that amps up the violence porn but completely dumbs down just about everything else. Bruce Willis has been a great action hero over the years but he is somnambulistic here as Paul Kersey, taking over the role made iconic by Charles Bronson in the original and subsequent films. It's hard to buy Willis as a supposed brilliant surgeon, I think they changed his profession from the original architect purely for plot convenience (ie - to provide the excuse for a drawn-out scene where Kersey uses his medical knowledge to inflict painful torture on a crim to get information out of him, a scene reminiscent of a much more effective one involving Dustin Hoffman's tooth in MARATHON MAN).
I had a lot of fun with James Wan's AQUAMAN, which was pretty much all I went in looking for. In that respect, it certainly delivered. I was particularly taken by Rupert Gregson-Williams's score, one of the film's most pleasant surprises for me. I don't know why they had to change Aquaman's look into that of a scruffy biker and barroom brawler, but thankfully this movie has a big sense of adventure and creates enough stunning underwater vistas (and creatures) to carve out its own place amongst the comic book glut. Elements of BATMAN BEGINS, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and THOR RAGNAROK are clearly there, but thankfully there is much less AVATAR and much more FLASH GORDON to be found, and Wan's horror roots make themselves particularly known during the film's final act (the appearance of a bunch of scary and scaly critters known as The Trench had me thinking I was watching a remake of Sergio Martino's ISLAND OF THE FISHMEN for a moment). A lot of the costume and character designs were also visually cool and paid tribute to the comic book's roots - i.e., Altanteans riding giant seahorses, Black Manta having his big, bulbous helmet, etc. Enjoyed it enough to consider a second theatrical screening, this time in 3D.
Friday, December 21, 2018
To get myself into the Christmas spirit this year, I have contributed an essay on several early-70s toy-themed exploitation films gifted to us from master producer/distributor Harry Novak, which has been posted over on the Diabolique website and can be read by clicking on the link below.
Saturday, November 10, 2018
WENG'S CHOP #11 is now out and available to purchase in both standard B&W and (highly recommended) full colour versions, featuring my essay on BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES (1970) as well as contributions from reliable film folk like Stephen Bissette, Lee Gambin, Dennis Capicik, Troy Howarth, Kris Gilpin and many more. Congrats to Tony Strauss, Brian Harris, Tim Paxton, cover artist Meghan Vaughan-Strauss and all the others involved in this fine film publication. Below is a sneek peek at my eight-page article but if you want to read and see the whole thing you will need to buy a copy, available from the links below (not sure how much it will be here in Australia though, now that Amazon US is blocked in this country).
My wife Marneen and I had a very nice time at the launch of IF I ONLY HAD A BRAIN at the Grub Street Bookshop last night. Though touted as a journal (the first in a series published by Cinemaniacs), this publication is absolutely a book - 240 full color pages devoted to the depiction of scarecrows in cinema and television of all genres. This is beautifully designed and put together by Darren Cotzabuyucas and the rest of the Cinemaniacs crew, I am very pleased with how my two contributions to this volume (looking at the Batman villain The Scarecrow) turned out, and the rest of it looks just as stunning.
The launch included a talk by Lee Gambin and several contributors to the publication, including Sally Christie, Emma Westwood and myself. There was also a magnificent scarecrow on display out the back of the store (terrific work by Résè Mart). Was also great to meet up with longtime online friend Ari Offaleater Richards who was in town. Marneen presented him with some signed goodies in thanks for a great review Ari had given for her pop/dance song "Standing Ovation! You're the Star!" (Ari is a stand-up guy who sells an amazing range of movie posters at great prices via his eBay store, and I will always appreciate the signed Ted V. Mikels goodies he sent me when he was working with Mikels in Las Vegas in the early-2000s).
IF I ONLY HAD A BRAIN is available in both hard and softcover versions, with contributions from Lee Gambin (Editor-In-Chief), Amanda Reyes, Ian Cooper, Sally Christie, Emma Westwood, Lisa Rae, Michelle Smith, Phillipa Berry and more. The second volume is scheduled to cover Weird Westerns. Thanks to Marneen for taking some great pics with her Cannon t2i.
Sunday, October 7, 2018
Recently composed this FILMINK profile on Marneen Fields and her great stunt career which culminated with her winning the Legendary Stunt Award in Las Vegas recently. Click on the link below to check it out!
Australia seems to be one of the first places in the world to see THE AMITYVILLE MURDERS, the new film by Daniel Farrands that has been released locally (on DVD only) by Defiant Entertainment. Subtitled “A Haunting on Long Island” to give it a bit of marketing tie-in to THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT (2009) from the same studios, THE AMITYVILLE MURDERS is of course yet another film to be based on the infamous events which took place in the early-seventies in the now-iconic Dutch Colonial house on Long Island with the sinister window eyes. Though the slaughter by Ronald DeFeo Jr. of six members of his family made headlines in New York and other parts of the US when it occurred on November 13, 1974, it was the subsequent claims of hauntings by the next tenants of the property, George and Kathy Lutz and their three kids, that the story became a worldwide phenomenon. The publication of Jay Anson’s sensational best-seller THE AMITYVILLE HORROR in 1977, followed by the film adaptation in 1979, helped embed the case in the psyche of the public at the time. The 70s were a time when the mainstream were embracing and experimenting with ESP, UFO hysteria, Bigfoot sightings and paranormal events, making the events of THE AMITYVILLE HORROR all the more palpable and believable to the target audience of its day. Of course, one of the angles which makes THE AMITYVILLE HORROR so fascinating is that a very vital part of it is absolutely true. Ron DeFeo DID kill his family in a mass-murder rampage through that house in 1974. So regardless of the validity of everything that came afterwards, the Amityville legend was born from bloody, violent fact.
So far there have been around twenty (!) films based on the Amityville events and its legacy. Not to mention countless documentaries. But really, all most people need to see are the original 1979 film with Margot Kidder and James Brolin, Damiano Damiani’s remarkably sleazy sequel AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION (1982) and perhaps the 2005 remake with Ryan Reynolds and Melissa George. AMITYVILLE 3-D (1983) also provided some moments of fun in that format. THE AMITYVILLE MURDERS attempts to dramatize the events leading up to the DeFeo murders, with the apparitions and voices which the killer later claimed had driven him to commit the massacre (his insanity plea failed and was sentenced to life in prison, where he remains).
The problem at this point is that events have really become so familiar that it’s hard for a film like THE AMITYVILLE MURDERS to add anything new. AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION depicted the same events (though with a fictionalized family) with much more tension and frisson, and with some genuinely impressive physical make-up effects by John Caglioni, Jr. The low-budget of THE AMITYVILLE MURDERS unfortunately shows in its very cheap and unconvincing computer effects, and there’s always something off about a movie with an early-seventies setting that’s filmed on HD digital, something that stops you from being able to get fully immersed and involved. It’s like watching a re-enactment of a famous crime on an episode of FORENSIC FILES.
The biggest positive which THE AMITYVILLE MURDERS has going for it is the performance from Diane Franklin in the female lead. As a twenty-year-old, Franklin played Patricia Montelli, teenaged daughter to Burt Young and Rutanya Alder in AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION. After indulging in an incestuous relationship with her possessed older brother Sonny (Jack Magner) who later kills her during his rampage, Franklin comes full-circle in THE AMITYVILLE MURDERS, playing Louise DeFeo, the matriarch of the DeFeo clan, who with her family live in fear under the angry, ruling hand (and leather belt) of husband Ronnie (Paul Ben-Victor). With her big hair and period clothing, Franklin is the most assured of the cast, and brings a genuine sense of a devoted wife and mother trying her best to convince herself that all is right in her world when in reality her entire family is clearly crumbling around her. It’s nice to see her graduate to the next generation with her role in AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION, and her father in that film, Burt Young, also shows up in THE AMITYVILLE MURDERS playing the generous grandfather to the DeFeo clan. The appearances of Franklin and Young certainly make THE AMITYVILL MURDERS required viewing for those die-hard fans of AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION.
Writer/director Daniel Farrands has given horror fans some wonderful documentary films over the past several years, including NEVER SLEEP AGAIN: THE ELM STREET LEGACY (2010) and CRYSTAL LAKE MEMORIES: THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF FRIDAY THE 13th (2013), as well as writing the screenplay for HALLOWEEN: THE CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS (1995). He is clearly a genuine fan of the genre and certainly shows some talent and potential as a feature director, but THE AMITYVILLE MURDERS sadly does not demonstrate enough skill or, more importantly, contain enough tension or scares to make it a worthwhile viewing experience or even a passable fright flick. Here’s hoping his upcoming THE HAUNTING OF SHARON TATE, a fictionalized account of the terrifying visions which the young actress had in the lead-up to her death at the hands of the Charles Manson Family, at least tries to add something different and unique to another infamous crime case which has also been covered from just about every conceivable angle in the fifty years since it occurred.
Saturday, September 29, 2018
To coincide with the upcoming release of the VENOM movie, I have written a piece for FILMINK on the origins and background of the character and the previous attempts to bring him to life on the screen. Head on over to FILMINK at the link below to access the article.
Tuesday, August 28, 2018
An inaugural inductee into the American National Toy Hall of Fame in 1998, the View-Master has proven to be a popular toy with each successive generation of children and young teenagers. Introduced to the world at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, the View-Master was a small handheld viewer, through which stereoscopic 3-D photographs could be seen, via thin cardboard discs (known as ‘reels’) containing seven pairs of small colour photographs, which is inserted into the viewer and rotated via a small lever at the side.
The View-Master had its beginnings within the walls of the Oregon-based Sawyer’s Services, Inc. (later shortened to just Sawyer’s), one of America’s largest producers of scenic postcards during the 1920’s. When avid photographer William Gruber hooked-up with Sawyer’s in 1938, he presented them with a special rig he had built in order to view stereoscopic (3-D) images from frames of the then-new Kodachrome 16mm colour film. After refining the viewer and dubbing it the View-Master (a name Gruber hated, thinking it sounded too much like a kitchen appliance), the initial viewers were made from Bakelite and sold at photography stores and scenic attraction gift shops. Subjects for the early reels included scenic attractions like the Carlsbard Caverns in New Mexico and the Grand Canyon.
The novelty of the View-Master quickly saw its popularity, as well as the profits of Sawyer’s, skyrocket. During the Second World War, the American military used View-Masters as a valuable tool for training their personnel in depth perception, purchasing over 100,000 viewers and nearly six million reels between 1942 and 1945. When Sawyer’s absorbed True-Vue, View-Master’s main rival, in 1951, it not only took care of the competition, but enabled Sawyer to take advantage of True-Vue’s lucrative licensing agreement with the Walt Disney Studios, producing popular reels of Disney characters, as well as reels depicting the various rides and attractions at Disneyland after the theme park opened in 1955.
In 1966, Sawyer’s was taken over by General Aniline & Film (GAF) and the View-Master, now more streamlined and manufactured in plastic rather than Bakelite, became a much more youth-oriented product. While scenic and travelogue reels were still being produced, the focus began to shift more towards movies, television shows, cartoons and occasionally music groups. Many of these post-GAF reels are amongst the most popular and sought after with collectors – some of the View-Master TV show sets produced during this period include Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, The Brady Bunch, Hawaii Five-O, Laugh-In, Batman, The Man from U.N.C.L.E and many more.
1970 saw the introduction of the Talking View-Master, a larger and heavier model which played special reels that had a clear plastic sound disc attached to them. While they were more expensive and had electronics in them that tended to break down after time, and the sound was often tinny and hard to understand, the Talking View-Master was a popular addition to the line, and remained in production in various incarnations until 1997. Another variation was the lighted View-Master, introduced in 1958, which used batteries and a built-in light globe to illuminate the reels, rather than have to hold the viewer up to a window or other external light source.
While the majority of View-Master reels were manufactured in America and Belgium, a number were also produced in countries like France, Austria, India and Australia (there were several Australia specific sets produced in 1973, covering cities like Alice Springs, Cairns, Adelaide and Melbourne).
In terms of collectability, most View-Master viewers and reels can be found quite easily and inexpensively, such was the huge numbers they were produced in. There are certainly exceptions, though. Early viewers and reels will always command good prices if they are in great condition, and of course some of the reels for popular or cult movies and television shows remain desirable as they appeal to a cross-section of collectors. Again, condition is always a main factor in the value of the reels, since they were made of rather thin cardboard and could be damaged or bent easily, and the film frames were susceptible to scratching. The paper envelope packaging for the reels was also rather thin and easy to tear, and the rear flaps often detached. Most reels also came with an illustrated booklet that will often be missing or damaged. Naturally, packets that are unopened and still in their cellophane wrapping are the most sought-after. Also popular with collectors are the special gift sets that are occasionally produced to tie-in with general themes (like superheroes, monsters and Disney) and specific movies/topics (such as the E.T., Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Hello Kitty and The Little Mermaid).
Advertising and other promotional material can also appeal to the hardcore collector. This includes store display signs, wholesale catalogues, demonstration reels given out to retailers, and even incentive items, like the pair of gold-plated View-Master cufflinks that were given out to company employees who had achieved or exceeded their sales targets. Another very desirable item is the thin plastic folding View-Master, which was produced to fit inside medical text books in the early-1970s, and came with a number of specially made medical reels, which helped students visualise diseases and parts of the human anatomy with a depth not achievable on the printed page (many of these images required a rather strong stomach to look at).
After 25 different models of viewer, thousands of titles and nearly 1.5 billion reels produced over the decades, and even a feature film reportedly being developed by DreamWorks (!), it’s safe to say the View-Master will be around and entertaining kids – and adult collectors – for many years to come.
Copyright John Harrison 2018
(Note: The above piece was originally written for Collectables Trader, an Australian magazine which I regularly contributed to. Unfortunately, the magazine ceased publishing before this final piece could be run).