Saturday, December 22, 2007

HALLOWEEN

2007/Written & Directed by Rob Zombie

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Rob Zombie's remake of John Carpenter's seminal classic Halloween (1978) is the latest in a seemingly endless parade of 're-imaginings' of some of the best horror cinema of the 1970s (Dawn of the Dead, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Amityville Horror have all undergone similar treatment in recent years). While this remake trend points to a certain lack of originality and a dearth of ideas within Hollywood (along with a desire to play it safe by producing films that have a built-in audience), Zombie has thankfully managed to bring a semblance of freshness to his film, while at the same time staying faithful to the overall plot and themes of the original (a balance achieved no doubt thanks largely to his genuine love and respect for the genre).

As was the original, Halloween is essentially the story of a bogeyman, a black soul born bad (in the shape of young Michael Myers) and predestined for evil, who commits terrible things as a child and returns to the scene of his atrocities when he breaks out of an asylum some fifteen years later on Halloween night, where he focuses his grisly intentions on innocent teen Laurie Strode and her two (much more promiscuous) friends, Annie and Linda.

Of course, Zombie's film was never likely to break the ground that the original Halloween did nearly thirty years ago. After all, Carpenter's film virtually invented the stalk & slash/teens in peril horror genre that in the ensuing years has been used time and time again, in everything from the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street series to the more recent Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer films. The ground that seemed so fresh when Halloween first opened has now become thoroughly trod on, and it's hard to see anyone bringing any real freshness to the now overly predictable genre (Wes Craven probably came closest with his original Scream).

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Fortunately, Zombie seems to realise this and doesn't try to re-invent the wheel. Instead, what he chooses to do is flesh out Michael Myers' back story; the hellish home life with an abusive step-father, the school bullies who torment him with sexual stories about his mother (who works as a stripper at a seedy bar) and – after he commits his original series of killings – the relationship he forms with his psychologist, Dr. Sam Loomis (the only person who seems to understand what a true embodiment of evil that Myers is). We also get to see the reasons why Michael Myers focused his deadly intentions on Laurie (something that wasn't revealed until the second film in the original series) and the origin of his famous mask (which for trivia buffs, was an unpainted William Shatner/Captain Kirk mask produced by the famous Don Post studios).

As a result, Zombie's Halloween is almost a film of two halves, the first half being a prequel of sorts, with the second half being a remake of Carpenter's original. And it's actually the first half of the film that is the most effective, even though it also demystifies Michael Myers to a certain extent (Carpenter never delved too deeply into Myers' background or family life, which made him a bit more mysterious and wraith-like). Brutal, extremely violent, sleazy and loud, the first half of Halloween sees Zombie clearly in his element, while by comparison the second half sees him struggling to bring anything new to the genre (it doesn't help if you have seen the original many times and have become overly familiar with the way the plot pans out). Nevertheless, the film as a whole works extremely well as a commercial horror film that has a bit of real dirt under its fingernails.

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Naturally, given Rob Zombie's background as a musician (both as a solo artist and with his band White Zombie), Halloween has a strong aural landscape, with music composed by Tyler Bates and a soundtrack that booms with some classic 70s arena rock tracks such as Blue Oyster Cult's Don't Fear the Reaper, Alice Cooper's Only Women Bleed, Rush's Tom Sawyer and God of Thunder by KISS (which opens the film).

Top lining the cast of Halloween is Malcolm McDowell as Loomis and Scout Taylor-Compton as Laurie. While McDowell makes an adequate if unexciting replacement for Donald Pleasance (who played Loomis in five of the original Halloween movies), Taylor-Compton is unfortunately rather bland, coming off as just another damsel in distress, with little of the resourcefulness and tenacity or spunk which Jamie Lee Curtis brought to the role. And scruffy, long haired Canadian actor Daeg Faerch is truly creepy as the 14 year-old Michael Myers. Just as he did with his first two films (House of 1,000 Corpses and it's sequel The Devil's Rejects), Zombie fills out the minor roles with faces that are recognisable to die-hard fans of the genre, including Ken Foree (from the original Dawn of the Dead), Dee Wallace (The Howling, Cujo), Udo Kier (Blood for Dracula, Flesh for Frankenstein), 80s scream queen Sybil Danning, Brad Dourif and more. As expected, Zombie's wife Sheri Moon also takes a role (as Myers' stripper mother), as does Zombie regular Bill Moselely.

The best film in the series since the 1978 original (which is admittedly not saying a lot considering some of the truly dire sequels), Halloween is also Rob Zombie's most accomplished film to date from a technical and dramatic viewpoint, although some of his die-hard fans may miss the sheer craziness and truly psychotic characters which populated his first two films. An unrated two-disc Director's Cut of the film is due out on DVD in the US mid-December.

Copyright John Harrison 2007

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

THE MIND IS A PLACE OF ITS OWN

DAVID JACOBSON ON BRINGING LIFE TO JEFFREY DAHMER

Released in 2002, David Jacobson's Dahmer is a haunting, harrowing and endlessly fascinating journey into the psyche of a truly twisted and irreparably disturbed mind.Anchored by a restrained, impressive performance by Jeremy Renner in the title role (who unnervingly nails the character, despite the lack of physical similarities), Jacobson tells his story by intercutting the present (just prior to Dahmer's crimes being revealed) with select scenes from his teenage years and early adulthood, which helps gives the film an appropriate sense of duality, and although it doesn't go as far as to try and explain or pinpoint the roots of Dahmer's psychosis, Jacobson does achieve the seemingly unimaginable, by eliciting a degree of sympathy for this most reviled of true-life monsters.

While we in no way excuse Dahmer for his actions, these flashback sequences powerfully demonstrate that the young Dahmer was a boy clearly in need of help, yet too scared to call out for it, and stuck in a world of parents too self-absorbed with their own problems to notice (or care) until it's far too late.

Although Renner dominates the film, Dahmer also benefits from strong performances by Artel Kayaru as Rodney (a potential victim whom Dahmer picks-up while buying a hunting knife) and Bruce Davison (best known as Senator Kelly in the X-Men films) as Jeffrey's father Lionel. Renner and Kayaru work wonderfully off each other, making good use of Jacobson's intelligent screenplay. Jacobson also uses music and lighting to great advantage, creating a strange but effective ambiance, and manages to piece together some highly effective sequences which range from the unbearably tense (Lionel demanding that Dahmer unlock an old chemistry box in front of him, which we know contains something grisly) to the almost poignant (Dahmer sitting alone in a chair at a party in his own home, while his 'friends' dance and laugh, oblivious to his presence).

Somewhat overlooked during it's initial release (heading direct to the video store shelves in many countries), Dahmer is certainly not a film for everyone, but hopefully the passage of time will place it alongside such other landmark serial killer films as Silence of the Lambs and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (yes, I believe it's THAT good).

DAVID JACOBSON: DAHMER INTERVIEW

Can you start by giving us a little bit of background on yourself? Where did your interest in film and filmmaking stem from?

I have always loved movies and come from a movie-loving family. For me it was a great escape when I was growing up. I didn't like to talk to people. It was a great way to be alone. I also loved stories of anti-heroes, which there were a lot of in the seventies. It made me feel less alone to know there were other people who hated their lives.

When did the idea of doing a film on Jeffrey Dahmer first occur to you? What do you think sparked your initial interest in the project?

My initial interest in Dahmer came from reading a book about him written by his father. It was a very interesting book to me, because it told the story not from a sensationalistic, journalistic point of view, but from an emotional point of view, the point of view of a father.

I like movies that don't conform to conventional genres, that come at subjects from an unexpected angle. I also felt in the story of Dahmer some emotional themes that I have experienced in my own life. This made it very personal. I think the things he did, cannibalising, mutilation, etc. came from emotional places that exist in all of us.

I also felt that the horrifying secrets he had to bear made him utterly alone and that is also something I think we all feel to a degree.I think we all bear secrets and those secrets cut us off from others.

What did you use as the basis for your research when writing Dahmer? Was there any particular books or documentaries that you relied upon more than others for insight?

After reading the book written by Dahmer's father, I went to Milwaukee, Wisconsin where his trial took place.There I read through a 160 page police confession by Dahmer and read through hundreds of pages of psychiatric analysis by the forensic psychologists who interviewed Dahmer for his trial. This gave me most of the material in the screenplay.

I believe that you wrote the first draft of the screenplay within two weeks. Do you normally write in a frenzy like this, or was Dahmer an exception?

I rarely write that fast and even that was just a draft. I went through many more drafts after that, and thinking and discussing. The writing process for me is pretty excruciating, but I do it because it makes the project so personal to me.

How did you go about raising the finance for the film? Was their much opposition to the project, given its subject matter?

I sent the script to numerous independent producers, none of whom showed any interest. Many people were just appalled that I would want to do a film on Dahmer, especially the ones who didn't read the script. I wondered myself if it was the right thing to do. He did atrocious things to people. He treated people like objects, which to me is the worst sin you can commit.

But somehow I kept being compelled to make the film. I knew that there was something that would affect people and perhaps make them see the world a little differently that it gets presented on TV or in big budget films.

After the many rejections, I finally committed my own money to make the film and that got the ball rolling. Eventually my producer Larry Rattner found the rest of the money and we made it through production. But we did it for around 200,000 USD.

One of the aspects of Dahmer that I find really works is its structure, the balance between flashbacks and the present. To me it really balances out the horror and even in some scenes a twinge of sympathy which you feel towards this character. Did you always feel during the planning and writing stages that this was the most effective method of telling the story, rather than opting for a straightforward chronological plot?

The structure was always under question from the first draft through the editing. I always had the flashbacks, but through the writing process I made them less and less expository and more narrative.

I don't like when films use flashbacks just to give some expository information to help you rationally understand the character. I always feel like that is a cheap shortcut. I also dont like films that answer all the questions for you.

The best films are like poems and allow for just as much connotation as denotation. In a sense I was just trying to weave together different parts of his life that related on an emotional level, not a rational biographical level. And I did want the audience to see him as a complicated, sick individual, not just a two-dimensional monster, or symbol of evil.

The film to me has a very sparse ambiance, and makes great use of sound (something which really comes to the fore when watching the film with headphones on). Are you an admirer of David Lynch? The atmosphere of Dahmer reminds me at times of some of Lynch's early works.

I am a very big fan of David Lynch. So much so I have to constantly struggle to keep my own voice. I think most artists are inspired by other artists, in part because they articulate a similar world view, but at the same time they form your world view. So it is hard sometimes to not just mimic them.

It is so hard to find your own voice.It doesn't come naturally to me. I'm still trying to find it. I also am inspired by David Lynch's willingness to still take risks even though he has been very successful.

How much room did you give the two leads to improvise? They seem to work very well together, and their on-screen chemistry certainly helps propel the film along....

We didn't do much improv in the production because there wasn't enough time, but in rehearsal we did do some.They are just both such incredible actors that they could open themselves to each other and the moment and make my writing come alive.

Critically Dahmer seems to have done quite well, and received a number of prizes at the 2003 IFP Independent Spirit Awards. How did the film fare commercially in America?

The film was self-released theatrically and therefore didn't do well at all financially, but the video was very promoted by Blockbuster video and did spectacularly for an independent film with no known celebrities in the cast.

I think the film's acceptance, after being so roundly rejected before production, will inspire me to listen to my heart and take risks.

(Note: Dahmer was released on DVD in the US by First Look Entertainment in a Special Edition that contains Director/Actor Commentary, Theatrical Trailer and a Making-Of Featurette).

FURTHER VIEWING:

JEFFREY DAHMER - THE SECRET LIFE
1992/Directed by David R. Bowen
Low-budget independent film put together not long after the Jeffrey Dahmer case first broke. Carl Crew not only portrays Dahmer on screen, but also wrote the screenplay (taking great liberties with the facts) and produced the project. Perhaps he should have focused on his roles behind the camera and cast someone else in the lead, as his lacklustre performance is one of the film's biggest drawbacks. Still, the film does have a certain sleazy appeal, being as it dwells more on the brutal killings than Dahmer's motivation. Released as a no-frills DVD in the US by Spectrum Entertainment in 2002. (Running Time: 100 mins. approx.)

DOCUMENTARIES

Although the definitive documentary on the subject has yet to be produced, there have been a number of television specials devoted to Jeffrey Dahmer, most of them produced by American cable TV networks like A&E to fill a one-hour time slot (restricting the actual content to a mere 45-50 minutes).

Among the best of these specials are Dahmer - Mystery of the Serial Killer (1993), Jeffrey Dahmer - The Monster Within (1996) and Born to Kill: Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Bundy (part of the 20th Century with Mike Wallace). Many of these programmes are available to purchase direct from the A&E website at: www.store.aetv.com. Dahmer - Mystery of the Serial Killer was also included on the video release Serial Killers: Profiling the Criminal mind - Volume 1.

RECOMMENDED READING:

THE JEFFREY DAHMER STORY: AN AMERICAN NIGHTMARE
by Donald A Davis
1991/St. Martin's Press/USA/Paperback/ISBN 0312928408
The first Dahmer book was this quicky paperback that reads better than most, thanks to the flair of writer Davis and the sheer horror of the details of the case. Illustrated.

PSYCHO KILLERS No.5
July 1992/Comic Zone/USA/Comic Book
Controversial comic book series that gained notoriety and achieved respectable sales (it lasted 16 issues, not counting a number of one-shot specials), but the writing and artwork was usually more miss than hit, with minimum plot and characterisation, and often bland, uninspired layouts. Still worth picking up for its curio value.

THE SHRINE OF JEFFREY DAHMER
by Brian Masters
1993/Coronet/UK/Paperback/ISBN 034059194
The best and most insightful of the Dahmer paperbacks, from the author of the Dennis Nilson study Killing for Company. Illustrated.

MURDER IN MIND No.3
1996/Marshall Cavendish/UK/Magazine
Weekly serial publication with each issue (usually) devoted to a specific murder case (both famous and obscure). Originally published in 1990 as Murder Casebook, the breaking of the Dahmer and Fred & Rosemary West cases in the early-1990s no doubt spurred Marshall Cavendish on to repackage the series. This 38 page issue features a pretty good overview of Dahmer and his crimes, heavily illustrated with some rare colour and B&W photos.

MY FRIEND DAHMER: A TRUE STORY BY DERF
March 2002/Derfcity Comics/USA/Comic Book
Disturbing and at times even poignant one-shot underground comic book, written and illustrated by John Backderf, who recounts his experiences as a high school classmate (and superficial friend) of Dahmer's during the late-1970s. (My interview with Backderf which appeared inHeadpress 25 will be posted here soon).

REAL-LIFE CRIMES....AND HOW THEY WERE SOLVED No.3
2003/Eaglemoss Publications/UK/Magazine
Another limited weekly publication, in a similiar vein to Murder In Mind but not as thorough, with each issue given over to covering several different crimes.

Interview & Article Copyright John Harrison

(This article originally appeared in a slightly different form in Volume 2 of the UK Headpress publication Creeping Flesh)

CH-CH-CH-CH-CHERRY BOMBS!



Like most great rock & roll bands, the Runaways were simply too good for the era in which they lived and breathed. They chose to exist in that murky, grey twilight zone which separated punk and hard rock, and weren't fully appreciated by followers of either genre until it was far too late.



The Runaways were formed in 1975, helped along in no small part by legendary Hollywood rock sleazemeister Kim Fowley. Aspiring rock goddess Joan Jett and her pal, bassist Kari Krome, responded to Fowley's ad in an LA music mag - the duo wanted him to help them form a band. Fowley was impressed with their raw energy and enthusiasm, and no doubt sensing dollars quickly agreed to help them out, provided a suitable line-up could be built around them.

Jett soon met drummer Sandy West in the parking lot of the infamous Rainbow Bar, while Fowley hooked up with lead guitarist Lita Ford and raunchy vocalist Cherie Curry (who was working at a teen club in the San Fernando Valley called the Sugar Sack). Unfortunately for her, Kari Krome missed out on a spot in the band's eventual line-up (Fowley felt her bass skills were insufficient), although she did stay on as a co-songwriter.



With the statuesque Jackie Fox coming into the fold on bass, the line-up was ready to begin work on their debut LP, The Runaways, which featured the classic teen rock anthem Cherry Bomb. The film clip which accompanied the song, featuring Currie strutting around in corset, fishnet stockings and stilettos, no doubt shocked a lot of middle-class parents, particularly those who were trying to raise a teenage daughter! Other standout tracks on the LP include You Drive Me Wild, American Nights, a cover of Lou Reed's Rock And Roll and the epic Dead End Justice (which plays like the soundtrack for a teenage Women-In-Prison film).

The Runaways' follow-up LP, Queens of Noise, was released in 1977, and it emphasised the increasing influence which Joan Jett was having on the band - she not only co-wrote most of the songs on the recording, but sang many of them as well, something which caused a lot of obvious friction between Jett and the band's designated lead singer, Currie. Although it lacked a standout single in the vein of Cherry Bomb, Queens Of Noise is arguably the band's strongest release, highlighted by tracks such as I Love Playing With Fire, Neon Angels On The Road To Ruin, Take It Or Leave It, California Paradise and Heartbeat.

Although they were gaining a lot of coverage in the rock press, and were building up a solid (though small) base of hardcore followers, the Runaways were never able to crack the big time record sales wise. Their biggest market was Japan, where they toured in 1977, and released a subsequent concert LP, Live In Japan. A fantastic document of the band's raw and energetic live sound, Live In Japan is an essential purchase for Runaways fans, particularly the original Mercury vinyl pressing, which features a luxurious gatefold sleeve, with the band looking resplendent in skin-tight leather and spandex.



Soon after the Japanese tour, Currie walked out on the band, allowing Jett the opportunity to take full creative control (particularly since Fowley had also by this time left the fold).

The Runaways 1979 recording, And Now....The Runaways, was a more slick and polished production, with bubblegum flavoured pop/rock tunes like Right Now and Little Lost Girls sitting alongside more traditional punk/glam tracks such as Saturday Night Special and Black Leather (the UK punk scene had created a huge impact on Jett, and that influence is clearly evident on this release).



Vicky Blue had by now replaced Jackie Fox on bass, but like their previous LP, 1978's Waiting For The Night, And Now....The Runaways performed miserably and in fact wasnt even released in the USA until 1981, when Rhino Records put it out as Little Lost Girls. The Runaways split soon after, with Joan Jett having the most successful solo career of all the band members, thanks to her worldwide 1982 hit I Love Rock & Roll. Lita Ford also found a degree of fame in the mid-1980s, when she joined the fledgling US heavy metal brigade, performing in skimpy outfits and big hair, and recording a number of moderately successful LPs, the best of which was 1983's Dancing On The Edge.

In 2004, Vicki Blue wrote and directed Edgeplay, an outstanding documentary on the Runaways which, despite not being able to use any of the band's original music, and the absence of Joan Jett (who refused to co-operate with the making of the film) provides an insightful, though-provoking and occasionally heartbreaking look into the history of the band (particularly the final moments featuring Sandy West, who tragically died of cancer in 2006).

Although I would have loved to have seen them live, I'm glad that the Runaways have managed to resist the temptation (so far at least) to do a reunion tour....something that I feel just wouldnt work. In many ways, however, the Runaways are still very much with us....not just in their recorded legacy, but in bands like the Donnas, and in the hearts of every teenage girl who dreams of picking up an electric guitar and rocking out.

Copyright John Harrison 2007

Saturday, November 10, 2007

FRED & ROSE WEST: THEIR SNUFF FILM CONNECTION?

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When the police car arrived at 25 Cromwell Street on the bitterly cold afternoon of February 24, 1994, its occupants could hardly have imagined the horrors which they were about to unlock from behind the walls of the three-story house in the drab, nondescript town of Gloucester, England.

The inhabitants of the house, Fred and Rosemary West - at first little more than suspects in the disappearance of their daughter Heather, whom had vanished seven years earlier at the age of 16 - would etch themselves into the ghastly record books as two of the most vicious and appalling serial killers in criminal history.

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For not only were the remains of Heather soon discovered under the concrete patio in the backyard of 25 Cromwell Street, but the bodies of eight other young girls would eventually be recovered from what the UK press would soon dub the 'House of Horrors' - two of the victims were discovered in the garden alongside Heather, while the remaining six were found buried in the dank, dark and foreboding cellar of the house itself (which had, ironically and chillingly, by this time been transformed into a childrens' play room).

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Within a short time, Fred and Rose West were implicated in a further three deaths - including that of Fred's first wife Rena and his stepdaughter Charmaine. While Fred West would eventually confess to the murders (a confession he was later to retract), his bespectacled, stony-faced wife has steadfastly maintained her innocence (all to no avail, as the damning evidence produced at her trial was enough to convince anyone of her guilt).

The vile crimes of Fred and Rose West made garish headlines around the world. How did they manage to get away with it for so long? The unfortunate girls buried at Cromwell Street had lain in their narrow, makeshift graves for nearly 20 years. The horrific picture that began to emerge was one of Fred and Rose West enticing vulnerable young girls into their cellar, where they would be subsequently trussed up, gagged and subjected to all manner of gruesome torture and degrading sexual abuse - often being kept alive for up to a week - before being viciously killed, dismembered (with Fred West keeping a number of the smaller bones as his own sick trophies), then unceremoniously buried in a small hole in the cellar dirt.

Apart from their abuse of the girls themselves, one of the most disturbing and mysterious facets of Fred and Rose West's murderous career was their rumoured involvement in snuff filmmaking. In An Evil Love (1996 Headline Books/UK), Geoffrey Wansell's riveting account of the crimes (by far the best and most comprehensive book written on the subject), the author frequently raises the likelihood of Fred West having filmed the torture, sexual abuse and murder of some of his victims.

The Wests had a love affair with violent pornography, and according to Wansell, they kept 'for their own amusement a videotape of a young woman, drugged and bound, whose captors inserted a clear plastic tube into her vagina, through which they encouraged two live mice to enter her one after the other*. Every videotape they kept reflected in some way their own depraved behaviour'. West also accumulated an extensive collection of pornographic videotapes featuring women being abused by animals, including both an Alsatian Dog and a boar pig, and suggested repeatedly that he wanted his wife Rosemary to make love "to a bull".

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Of course, video cameras were not a common household item in the early-1970s, when most of the Wests' victims were claimed. But Fred West did acquire an 8mm movie camera around this time, and bragged to his workmates that he had made pornographic films of his wife, which he kept "hidden under the floorboards".

Given his compulsive passion for both producing and watching pornography, Wansell reasons in his book that 'there must be a suspicion that he (Fred West) filmed the torture of some of the young women who died at Cromwell Street, hiding the film under the floorboards, and taking it out to watch with his wife after his children had gone to bed. Whether he actually filmed the death of his victims can now be no more than a matter for speculation, but there must be every possibility that he created what were later to become known as snuff movies - films of the deaths of his victims'.

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When describing the brutal death of Alison Chambers, who was murdered and buried at Cromwell Street in 1979, Wansell reports that 'This time the Wests may have pushed the boundaries of their humiliation still further: Frederick West may have filmed her death. West was well aware of the commercial potential of snuff movies. Only a few years after Alison Chambers' death, West even bragged to a young woman that he was "interested in them". There must be at least the possibility that one of his victims provided him with the chance to exploit what he would have seen as an opportunity to profit from this form of pornography'.

As the 1980s progressed, Fred West at one stage had 'seven video recorders, all of which he had stolen, and was duplicating pornographic videos for sale. At the outset, he simply offered them to his friends and workmates, but he then gradually extended his range, possibly to the extent of supplying them to local video stores for sale under the counter. West certainly suggested to a woman friend that he had made a profit from selling some that he had made himself, telling her that he had been paid 150 pounds a time for recordings which involved the humiliation and beating of women, adding that he "didn't understand how some of the women survived the beatings"'. Wansell also provides strong indication that West videotaped himself raping one of his own daughters around this time.

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Fred West's younger brother John may have also featured in some of the home videotapes: 'Among the collection of pornographic videotapes which Frederick West took such pains to collect over the years, was one which boasted a sequence called F*ck My Uncle. It specifically featured an older man with a beard - the type of beard John sported. The extract even included the line: "I always thought I'd have it off with my niece one day - I didn't think you were ready for it yet."'When John West was arrested on May 24, 1994 (in connection with the sexual abuse of his niece, Anna-Marie), his house was found to contain a large number of bondage and humiliation videotapes and magazines, which John West claimed to have picked up on his rounds as a dustman. In Wansell's words, 'The echoes of the pornographic discoveries in the top floor of Cromwell Street in the first days of the 1992 child abuse case are uncanny. They also lead to the suspicions that one person who would have been able to dispose of any incriminating videos taken by Frederick West would have been his brother John. Pornographic videos, perhaps even tapes of Frederick West's victims themselves, could have found their way into the assorted black bags that John was asked to collect (from Cromwell Street) from time to time' (to dispose of on his garbage route).

Whatever debauched acts Fred and Rose West committed to either film or videotape may now never be known. Amid strong speculation that he may have been responsible for an untold number of other deaths, and having been spurned by his wife Rose in the courtroom docks, Fred West hung himself in his cell on January 1, 1995. His brother John followed suit a year later. 25 Cromwell Street was torn completely to the ground. Many of the pornographic videotapes seized from both Fred and John West were destroyed by police without having been watched all the way through.

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The only person left who's capable of coming clean is Rosemary West, destined to spend the rest of her days languishing in a British prison - and so far, she isn't talking.

*The video which Wansell refers to is Kilroy Was Here, a very grotty and brutal 17 minute short made in Europe in the mid-1970s by H.O.M Productions. The film, shot without dialogue, has a young woman tied and gagged in a low-rent, dirty room, where she is subsequently raped by two lecherous men who let mice crawl all over her body before making them run up a plastic tube that has been inserted into her. The men also have sex with each other, before leaving the girl tied up with a lit cigarette inserted into her vagina. Although disturbing and violent, the film was legitimately available from European mail-order sources, both as an 8mm short in the 1970s, and as part of a compilation video released by Videorama in the 1980s.



(Above: Another of the several books written on Fred and Rose West. I will be adding reviews of many of them on this page soon, along with some more background and essays on snuff movies and their mythos).

Copyright John Harrison 2007

Sunday, September 9, 2007

MASSACRE AT CENTRAL HIGH

1976/USA/Directed by Renee Daalder

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Conceived by producers Harold Sobel and Bill Lange as little more than a cheap exploitation film that would hopefully pack in the grindhouses and drive-ins for a couple of weeks before disappearing into the ether, Massacre at Central High ultimately proved to be a disappointment at the box-office during its initial run. Reviews were also ho-hum, and in the days before the mass-marketing of home video cassettes, the film looked destined to spend its life rotting away in some obscure cinema vault, before a chance screening in 1980 at the Thalia Cinema in New York caught the attention of Times reviewer Vincent Canby, whose subsequent write-up was so glowing the film suddenly found itself in demand by repertory and art house cinemas, as well as college campuses, across America.

After being teased by an exciting television trailer for the film (it was rated ‘R’ in Australia - restricted to adults over the age of 18 - and I was only 12 at the time), my interest in Massacre at Central High was rekindled by Danny Peary’s interesting essay on the film in the second volume of his Cult Movies series (Dell Publishing 1983), and I finally caught up with the movie via its local Australian tape release on the Merlin Video label. To my surprise, I found the film more than lived up to its reputation, and it has since developed a niche amongst my favourite B flicks from the much-maligned seventies.

Set within a teenaged world seemingly free from adult interference (although more than half of the action takes place within the walls of the titular high school, no teachers or ‘grown-ups’ appear in the film until the final sequence, and even then they exert no discernable influence), Massacre at Central High takes as its basis the well-worn theme of the new kid at school and his struggle to be accepted without having to change who he is. David (Derrel Maury) arrives for his first day at Central High and instantly catches wind of the stifling atmosphere inflicted by the ruling bullies Bruce (Roy Underwood), Craig (Steve Bond) and Paul (Damon Douglas). Unfortunately, David’s childhood friend Mark (the prolific Andrew Stevens, son of Stella and writer/producer/director and/or star of Z grade scuzz like Night Eyes, Point of Seduction: Body Chemistry III, Victim of Desire, Illicit Dreams, ad nauseam) is also part of this dominating clique, and his refusal to either join them or give into their ways immediately causes tensions between the two.

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After David sinks a few mean right hooks into Bruce, Craig and Paul for attempting to rape two pretty students (70s cult fave Cheryl ‘Rainbeux’ Smith and future Eight Is Enough star Lani O’Grady), the trio retaliate by crushing his leg under the wheel of a car. But rather than forcing him into line, this merely tips the brooding David right over the edge, as he sets off on his path of revenge by planning spectacular deaths for those who crippled him. Bruce plunges to his doom when Davis snips a wire on his hang glider, Craig takes a night time dive from the high board into the school’s swimming pool, only realising too late that it has been drained of water, while Paul is trapped in the back of his van and rolled backwards down a treacherous coastal road. But rather than liberate the school, the death of the three bullies only allows those which had previously been repressed to come out and try to assert their own dominance, and David (by now well and truly revealed to be psychopathic) decides that mass slaughter is the only way to get through to these people.

Featuring elements which were latter put to use in films like Class of 1984 (1982) and Heathers (1990), what helps set Massacre at Central High apart from the standard exploitationer is the assured direction and intelligent, thoughtful screenplay by Renne Daalder (whom at one point was rumoured to be a woman). The Dutch born Daalder, whose foreign upbringing no doubt helped him to create a unique insight into his vision of the American teen, went on to have a sporadic but diverse career which included orchestrating the famous ‘mass shooting’ sequence perpetrated by Sid Vicious while performing My Way in The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle (1980) and working as visual effects consultant for the 1994 Michael Apted thriller Blink. An interesting CV indeed....


Above: Original theatrical trailer.

Also appealing are the performances from most of the central cast, including Derrel Maury (a familiar face on seventies TV shows like Happy Days and Emergency), and Kimberly Beck, who creates a strong impression as Mark’s girlfriend Teresa. As a child and young teen, Beck appeared in episodes of The Munsters, I Dream of Jeannie, Land of the Giants, The Brady Bunch and others. Trash fans remember her best for her performance opposite Linda Blair in the 1979 disco schlock Roller Boogie, and as the female lead in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984).

Although some of the dialogue appears a little forced and clunky, Daalder at least refrains from overdosing on seventies’ slang expressions. He also fills the film with a number of exciting set pieces (in particular, the various creative deaths), all of which are well captured in a low-key way by cinematographer Burt Van Munster (who would go on to find fame and considerable fortune as the producer of the ground-breaking and highly influential reality TV series Cops).

While it has surfaced occasionally on VHS throughout the years, and has been released as a bare bones DVD in some countries (utilizing a worn and dull print). Hopefully, it won’t be too long before Massacre at Central High receives the deluxe disc treatment, as it’s a film which deserves to find a wider niche amongst fans of provocative exploitation cinema.

As an interesting aside, Massacre at Central High was also released in a re-edited version, under the amusing but highly misleading title of Sexy Jeans! The only addition which the crazy Italians made to their print was the insertion of some near-X footage, which is spliced into the film whenever a sex scene takes place in the original print. The fact that they are inserts is made quite obvious, as the faces of the characters are never shown during these more explicit moments, and the naked bodies on display seem to be just a little too old and hairy to be high school students! The film has also been screened in the UK under the title Blackboard Massacre.

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THE WILD, BUXOTIC WORLD OF RUSS MEYER

Is there then no American auteur director? Perhaps there is one. One man who thinks up his own stories, and produces and directs them too. And also serves as his own cinematographer. Not to mention that he also does his own editing as well. All of this connected with an intensely personal and a unique vision of the world. This man is Russ Meyer.
- William Goldman, Adventures In The Screen Trade

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Often dismissed purely as a director whose work revolved around a simple fixation on big breasts (as highlighted in an episode of Seinfeld), Russ Meyer was in fact one of the most distinctive American directors of the 1960s and 70s, with a cinematic style (based on stationary cameras, low-angles and rapid-fire editing) that has helped influence some of the most important renegade filmmakers of the pasty thirty years, including John Waters and Quentin Tarantino.

Born in 1922, Meyer began his career as a combat cameraman in Europe during World War II, shooting footage for newsreels back home. While most veterans espouse a ‘war is hell’ philosophy, Meyer openly professed throughout his life that this period spent in war torn Europe was the best time of his life. Returning to the US after peace was declared, Meyer found work as a popular still photographer, shooting several of the earlier centrefolds for Playboy (including that of his future wife, Eve), before eventually returning to filmmaking in 1959 with the trendsetting, humorous nudie-cutie film The Immoral Mr. Teas. Meyer followed up Teas with several more similar films (Eve and the Handyman, Wild Gals of the Naked West) before moving into his black & white drive-in period, during which he helmed his first really important and influential films, including Lorna (1964), Mudhoney (1965) and the cult classic Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965).

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As the sixties progressed, Meyer turned his attention to making tough, exotic colour sex fantasies like Common Law Cabin (1967), Finders Keepers, Lovers Weepers (1968) and Vixen (1968), whose impressive box-office success led 20th Century Fox to lure Meyer across to the studio to direct the sleazy, supremely enjoyable Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970), which – like several of his subsequent films – was co-written by prominent film critic Roger Ebert.

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Despite the commercial success of Dolls, it became clear that Meyer did not work well within the confines of a studio, and while his output slowed somewhat during the 1970s, he continued to turn out his own independent, softcore sex fantasies like Supervixens (1976) and Up! (1978), his work remaining unique even as hardcore pornography became commonplace. One interesting ill-fated project from this period was the Sex Pistols movie Who Killed Bambi?, which Meyer was hired to direct (from an Ebert screenplay and with Marriane Faitful cast as Sid Vicious' mother) before funding fell through after only a few days filming (the project eventually morphed into Julien Temple's The Great Rock 'N' Roll Swindle in 1980).

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Unfortunately, despite many threats, Meyer was never able to complete a feature after Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens in 1979. His much vaunted 10 hour autobiographical documentary The Breast of Russ Meyer, which he first started talking up in interviews in the early-80s, never appeared, nor did his planned 1990s colour remake of Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (surely an idea that would never have worked). He did manage to direct a music video for late-80s L.A. glam/metal band Faster Pussycat, and also assembled a video centrefold of top-heavy model Pandora Peaks in 2001, before dementia began to take an increasing toll on his health, with the director finally succumbing to pneumonia in 2004.

The world of Russ Meyer is as unique as any artist of our times. You can look at five seconds of a Russ Meyer film and know that you’re watching a Russ Meyer film. – Roger Ebert

THE BREAST OF RUSS MEYER:

LORNA (1964)
A rural, Fellini-esque melodrama filmed in black & white, Lorna marked Meyer’s breakaway from the relatively harmless nudie films to more gritty, and violent subject matter, and with Lorna Maitland in the title role, his pattern of using big busted, pneumatic women was established. Features an amazing opening credits sequence, where the camera tracks along an isolated road before coming to a halt on a preacher who warns the audience not to go on.

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FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL! (1965)
Meyer’s most famous independent film was essentially a remake of his previous Motor Psycho (1965), substituting the three male bikers of the earlier film with a trio of tough, hard driving go-go dancers and creating one of the most popular cult movies of all time in the process (along with establishing Tura Satana as one of the most iconic b-movie stars of the period).

CHERRY, HARRY & RAQUEL (1969)
Marijuana smuggling forms the narrative backbone of this tough little film set on the US/Mexican border. Coming off like a Don Siegal actioner with the addition of lots of raunchy sex, this is one of Meyer’s more underrated works, and features a strong lead performance from Charles Napier and a snappy theme song by the Jacks and Balls.

BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (1970)
One of Meyer’s only two studio films (1971’s ill-fated The Seven Minutes being the other), Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is a rollicking exploitation epic about an all-girl rock group, The Carrie Nations, and their sleazy, spectacular rise to superstardom. Bearing no relation to Valley of the Dolls (whose author Jacqueline Susann sued to have a disclaimer included during the opening credits), Dolls boasts one memorable scene after another, along with one of the best pop/rock soundtracks of all time.

BENEATH THE VALLEY OF THE ULTRAVIXENS (1979)
Meyer’s final feature was his ultimate expression of sexual parody, an hilarious and remarkably well-edited look at the exaggerated sex life of small town America, starring one of the director’s greatest finds, Kitten Natividad.

Also Recommended: The Incredibly Strange Film Show was a great UK documentary series on cult filmmakers, hosted by Jonathan Ross and produced by Channel Four in 1988. One of the best episodes was devoted to Meyer, featuring interviews with the director, Tura Satana, Roger Ebert and Kitten Natividad, along with clips and a peak at the unfinished The Breast of Russ Meyer. Currently unavailable on DVD. Also look for Russ in an amusing cameo as a video store clerk in the 1987 satire Amazon Women on the Moon.

Note: The above article was previously published in Filmink magazine.

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Monday, June 4, 2007

COLOR CLIMAX

'(Fred and Rosemary West kept) for their own amusement a videotape of a young woman, drugged and bound, whose captors inserted a clear plastic tube into her vagina, through which they encouraged two live mice to enter her one after the other. Every videotape they kept reflected in some way their own depraved behaviour.' - AN EVIL LOVE by Geoffrey Wansell (1996 Headline Book Publishing)

The video which Author Geoffrey Wansell refers to in the above excerpt from his engrossing study on the life and crimes of serial killer Fred West is Kilroy Was Here, a very grotty and brutal 17 minute short made in Europe in the mid-1970s by H.O.M Productions.

The film, shot without dialogue, has a young woman tied and gagged in a low-rent, dirty room, where she is subsequently raped by two lecherous men who let mice crawl all over her body before making them run up a plastic tube that has been inserted into her. The men also have sex with each other, before leaving the girl tied up with a lit cigarette inserted into her vagina.

Despite being extremely disturbing and violent, Kilroy Was Here was legitimately available from European mail-order sources, both as an 8mm short in the 1970s, and as part of a compilation video released by Videorama in the 1980s.

Although it wasn't one of their productions, Kilroy Was Here is the type of XXX loop which may not have existed were it not for the pioneering efforts of Color Climax, a Danish company who throughout the 1970s continually set new benchmarks in terms of confronting, kinky pornography. Living by their company motto as "The First, the Biggest, the most Pornographic", Color Climax did produce a great deal of straight sex material, but it was their scat, rape, fetish and animal titles - along with stints producing films and magazines featuring John Holmes and the child-like Tiny Tove - which helped gain the company their notoriety.

There was always something intrinsically unique with the material produced by Color Climax, something that made you feel all the more dirty for having watched or looked at it. Even as a teenaged kid, when a classmate had bought an old Color Climax magazine to school which he had procured from his older brother's bedroom, I was aware - if nobody else around me was - that this was different from other pornography that I had so far been exposed to. It was grimy and grungy (though that word had yet to enter my vocabulary), and there always seemed to be an element of danger and darkness about them.

Perhaps it was my naivete which read all of this into them, but even years later, when I first began to track down the filmed output produced by Color Climax, I was once again struck by just how unique they were. Even when watching one of their seemingly ordinary straight sex film loops, I would always sense that - knowing the company and their reputation - the events I was watching could suddenly take a sharp turn and descend into something totally bizarre and surreal. Even accidental moments helped perpetuate the image of Color Climax as taboo breakers always in search of that next level (a prime case in point here is their short Deep Throat Drinker, in which a man climaxes inside a girl's mouth, with the bulk of his come shooting out through her nose - this completely unexpected moment, coupled with the look of surprise and utter revulsion on the girl's face - transforms the film from just another porn loop into the realm of the grotesque).

A Brief History of Color Climax:

Established by Danish brothers Peter and Jens in 1966, the early Color Climax material was produced surreptitiously, with the pair operating from secret warehouses, using false names and shady printers to put their material together.

The legalisation of pornography in Denmark the following year took a lot of the heat off Color Climax's operations, and the company was well prepared to capitalise on this new found freedom, producing print and film material to eagerly feed not only the local population, but also the masses of tourist and curiosity seekers who were flooding to cities like Copenhagen to soak in the liberated atmosphere and purchase material which was only available in their own countries by illicit means.

In this atmosphere Color Climax thrived, with their self-titled magazine become Denmark's highest selling sex publication. Initially published in black & white, Color Climax switched to all colour in the early 1970s - beginning with issue number 86 - and began to incorporate accompanying text, printed in three different languages (a popular move which other porn manufacturers began to emulate, as it increased the publication's popularity in other countries, and also negated the necessity for expensive reprints in other languages).

No doubt one of the prime reasons for the success and longevity of Color Climax was their refusal to be pigeonholed - the company would obligingly provide material that catered to all tastes and proclivities (provided their was guaranteed profit in it, of course). Kinky material was always in demand, from urination and defecation to bestiality and implied child porn to freak show-like bizarrism, such as the appearance of 'Long Dong' Silver in Color Climax issue 120 - a tall, skinny black man whose cock was so long it could be tied into a knot (although he was unable to attain an erection). Bill 'The Bull' was another well-endowed black man who found momentary fame appearing in Color Climax films and magazines.

As Color Climax became more safe and respectable and throughout the 1980s - with many top Hollywood porn starlets travelling to Europe to work for them - their work began to appear less and less unique. Now one of the leaders in internet based pornography, Color Climax claim to have sold a staggering 140 million publications, over a million video cassettes and more than eight million 8mm film shorts during their near-forty year history.

The Films:

Many of the extreme shorts produced by Color Climax during the 1970s received new life during the 1980s, when they were compiled onto a series of best-selling video cassettes. Still popular and sought after, many of these video compilations are still legitimately available from several European sources (including online via www.eurosex.nl - although good luck trying to get them past customs officials).

While not complete (a nearly impossible task given the way these films have been re-edited and re-titled over the years), the filmography which follows presents a brief rundown of some of the more notorious titles from the Color Climax archives, along with video availability where known. Although specific production dates are hard to pin down, the majority of these titles were produced between 1972 - 1979. Unless otherwise noted, individual loops had a running time of approximately eight minutes. Serial numbers noted after film titles are taken from the original 8mm boxes which the films were packaged and sold in.

A note on languages: Naturally, the original Color Climax films featured Dutch dialogue. Films that were exported for overseas sales would have either subtitles added, or would be dubbed over in English, employing very forced and often amusing British accents.

ABDUCTED TEENAGER (CC Film No. 1281): Extremely violent short has young girl being abducted and raped (including anally) by three men.

ALWAYS PREPARED: Color Climax come dangerously close to paedophilia with this film, which features Tiny Tove as a girl scout in pigtails, done up so that she barely looks twelve. Tove and another girl scout (who also looks quite young) are seduced by a bearded man in his funky apartment when the girls go door knocking to sell raffle tickets. A second man also arrives at the apartment half way through the film to join the action. (Included on Teenage Bestsellers Programme No. 252)

ANIMAL BIZARRE: An infamous short which features Bodil Jensen in a lounge room, masturbating a huge horse then collecting its semen in a rubber sock, which she then proceeds to empty out over her face and chest, staring blankly into the camera with haunting eyes as she rubs the substance over her body. (Included on Color Climax Video Programme No. 282)

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Above: Bodil Jensen

ANIMAL CLIMAX: This video release compiles three shorts featuring Bodil, all taking place in the same barn. The first two scenes have Bodil and a blonde girlfriend taking on a pony and a pig (most of the animal interaction is performed by Bodil, while her companion watches on an masturbates). The third and most scandalous sequence has Bodil and a new female companion dressed as nuns (increasing its already potent shock value), taking refuge from a storm inside the barn, where the ensuing lesbianism quickly gives way to bestiality with a gray pony (a tabby cat also appears on the scene, although it is thankfully spared anything worse - on screen at least - than being rubbed up against a bare breast). Some very inappropriate country/rock guitar music is used as the soundtrack to this third sequence (think Dr. Hook without the lyrics), and the frequent flash of camera light bulbs (still photos being taken for print magazines) provides a curious intrusion on the action, jolting the viewer away from any illusion they may harbour that those two women are actually all alone with those animals in that barn. (25 mins approx.)

ANIMAL GROTESQUE (CC Film No. 1267): Same actors from Animal Passion.

ANIMAL LOVE (CC Film No. 1263): One girl, a dog and a boar.

ANIMAL ORGY (CC Film No. 1307): Another Bodil adventure, although this time she shares the limelight with not one but three other girls - Bodil and her companion seduce a shetland pony while two (much younger looking) girls entertain themselves in another part of the field with a dog. (Included on Color Climax Video Programme No. 282)

ANIMAL PASSION: One of the more disturbing bestiality films produced by Color Climax, this film has also appeared on some video sources under the title Old MacDonald's Farm. The film features a very inbred looking, elderly farmer who returns the homestead early one day to find his wife having sex with the family dog. "Caught you! I thought I'd told you to stop doing that!", the farmer exclaims, before her drags his wife into the barn to demonstrate why he prefers "pig fucking" - this obscene man then licks and fingers the pig's genitals, before masturbating over it than having intercourse with the animal (he sits on a small wooden stool to help him). When he leaves, the wife resumes her session with the dog, then urinates on and has sex with her husbands beloved pig.

BEATEN AND BUGGERED: This is the type of violent rape fantasy which the relaxing of Denmark's pornography laws opened the doors for in the 1970s. A gang of horrid bikers kidnap two girls whose car has broken down. They are taken back to their headquarters (replete with Nazi flag and a noose hanging from the ceiling!) where they have their clothes cut off from them with a knife (which is waved menacingly between their legs), then forced to sit in a bathtub as they are urinated on, are whipped across the backside, raped and have acupuncture needles stuck into their breasts. (Included on Color Climax Video No. 291)

BIKE GANG BALL: Routine sex short (at least by Color Climax standards), but worth noting because of its aping of the classic motorcycle films of the 1960s and early-70s, as two greasy, denim clad bikers and their dolls get in on while astride their choppers in the gang's clubhouse. (Included on Teenage Bestsellers Programme No. 252)

BIZARRE TASTES (CC Film No. 1305): One of Color Climax's more extreme non-bestiality shorts, featuring masochism, urination and defecation between two girls and one guy.

BLACK IS BIGGER (CC Film No. 1320): John Holmes loop, also featuring two girls and black man.

CHICKEN LOVER: Bodil appears in this very unpleasant short as a farm woman who forces the postman to have sex with a chicken. The film is made even more distressing by the way the camera follows the poor animal as it staggers around the barn, blood dripping from its genital area.

DEBASED DOLLY: Another realistic and disturbing rape film, Debased Dolly has a young female hitchhiker being abducted by two sleazebags, tied to a chair and given an enema, then raped and forced to swallow the red enema solution (which is forced down her throat via a plastic funnel). (Included on Color Climax Video No. 291)

DOG FUCKERS: Two young women - a red haired and a brunette - ride their bikes through the countryside. They stop for a rest and immediately launch into some lesbian action, before being joined by a collie - "It's just what I need, it's a really exciting turn-on". (Included on Color Climax Video Programme No. 281)

DOG LOVERS (CC Film No. 1285): Two girls, one man and a dog.

GOLDEN PARTY Golden shower sex loop from 1979 starring Tiny Tove. Was also featured as a photo layout in Sex Bizarre 25, published in April of that year.

HER BIGGEST DAY (CC Film No. 1324): John Holmes stars in this loop, alongside two girls and another man.

THE HORNY DOG (CC Film No. 1264): Three girls and one dog, also features lesbianism.

HORSE LOVERS: Bodil and her female companion help two horses to copulate, before bringing a bringing a white shetland pony into a barn. (Included on Color Climax Video Programme No. 281)

HORSE POWER (CC Film No. 1272): A continuation of Horse Lovers, this also features Bodil and her same companion, along with the same shetland pony, the only variation being a collie who wanders into the barn to join the trio. (Included on Color Climax Video Programme No. 281)

INCESTUOUS LOVE (CC Film No. 1274): One girl plus two men.

NAKED LUNCH (CC Film No. 1337): Typically grimy but fairly routine straight sex loop featuring two girls and two men, but one has to wonder if the film was deliberately titled after the William Burrough's novel.

PARTY PISSING (CC Film No. 1339): Two girls and two men.

PEE PLEASURES (CC Film No. 1319): Two girls and one man.

PERVERTED PUNISHMENT (CC Film No. 1340): Two women and one man.

PISS ORGY (CC Film No. 1301): Two girls and two men.

PISS PARTY (CC Film No. 1308): Four girls and one very drenched guy.

RAPE (CC Film No. 1628): Features one girl being abused by three men.

RAPED AND ABUSED: A bitter newly-divorced man seeks revenge on his ex-wife by hiring five construction workers to "fuck her into fragments". They abduct the woman and drag her into the construction lot, where they rape her until she collapses into unconsciousness on the ground. The film finishes with the five men urinating all over the woman. (Included on Color Climax Video No. 291)

SATISFIED MASOCHIST (CC Film No. 1265): Two girls and one man.

SECRET SPANKING CULT (CC Film No. 1262): Two girls and three men.

SEX AVENGERS (CC Film No. 1309): Violent rape short featuring two girls being attacked and abused by four men.

SEXY PISS STORY (CC Film No. 1330): Two girls and two guys.

SHITHOUSE PEEPER (CC Film No. 1275): A male watches two girls going to the toilet before being urinated and defecated on.

SNAKE FUCKERS (CC Film No. 1276): It's actually eels which are the object of affection in this rather repulsive loop, which starts out with two trendily dressed women wandering the streets on a shopping spree. Returning home to their flat with some live eels they've picked up at the market, the women begin to bloodily cut the creatures up in the kitchen, then start to indulge in some lesbianism, the last live eel being utilised as a sex aid (shots of the dead eels cooking in the fry pan are intercut with the sex sequence). The girls then serve the cooked eels up to their male dinner guest, before a threesome quickly ensues (he wonders what has gotten the girls so worked up).

A TASTE OF PISS (CC Film No. 1345): Two girls and two guys.

TOILET ORGY (CC Film No. 1282): Features two girls and one man.

TORTURE CHAMBER (CC Film No. 1342): Disturbing and extreme loop featuring a woman being tied up and abused by two men.

VIDEORAMA COMPILATION (Title Unknown): This compilation features a number of different bestiality segments, some of which seem to have originated from the Color Climax studios. Included are segments of a man having sex with a cow and a chicken, after which his girlfriend performs fellatio on him (both are wearing disguises), a menage a trois featuring a young man, his girlfriend, and their doberman (man and animal perform simultaneous cunnilligus on the woman), and a fairly nauseating segment featuring eels (after being used as sexual implements, one of the eels is placed into a plastic bowl, defecated on by a woman, then thrown into a frying pan). The dialogue throughout the segments has been completely over dubbed by a soundtrack that is a strange mixture of silent film-era pianola and surreal sound effects, including what seems like the sound of children playing. (28 mins approx.)

WILD ABOUT HORSES (CC Film No. 1313): Four girls, one horse and a dog.

John Holmes:

John Holmes was already a big name in American adult entertainment when - in 1975 - Color Climax purchased the European rights to 35 of Holmes' US films. The move not only helped spread Holmes' reputation across Europe, but also proved to be a financial goldmine for Color Climax, who made more money out of Holmes than they did out of any other single model, male or female. According to the company, one their Super 8 loops featuring Holmes (released on the Expo label as Film No. 51), sold an astounding 80,000 copies, and later enjoyed video success also, with its inclusion on the Color Climax compilation Bestsellers Video No. 243.

The success which Color Climax enjoyed with their John Holmes distribution deal led to the company flying Holmes into Copenhagen in 1976 to star in six of their own film productions, which he filmed in a ten day period, and which again remain perennial bestsellers for the company on video and DVD.

Tiny Tove:

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While John Holmes was the most prominent established porn star to appear in Color Climax loops, their biggest female name was without doubt Tiny Tove, so dubbed because her small frame and underdeveloped breast made her appear much younger than she actually was (always a goldmine for porn producers). As a result, Tove was often cast by Color Climax in the role of naive schoolgirl or curious younger sister, being seduced (never without too much trouble) by her onscreen sibling's boyfriends, or by much older men whom she gets trapped with whilst travelling from door door indulging in wholesome activities like selling cookies to raise funds for her school.

Not a lot is known about Tove - some sources claim that she was following in the footsteps of her mother, who spent time in jail during the early 1960s for appearing in stag films. During the mid to late-1970s, Tove became the focus of Color Climax's Teenage Sex series of magazines and films, at least one of which (Golden Party) showed her both urinating and being urinated on.

Much like her formative years, little is known about Tiny Tove's life or career after she disappeared from the porn scene in the early-1980s. Perhaps once she began to look of legal age she quickly outlived her usefulness, in a ruthless business not known for its sense of loyalty or nostalgia.

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Recommended Reading:

A Report on Denmark's Legalized Pornography by Gordon Schindler, Editor (1969 Banner Books/USA)

Copyright John Harrison 2007

Note: the above piece is part of a planned larger work to be eventually included in an upcoming book on the extremes of adult entertainment. As usual, I do not sell or know where to purchase the videos listed in this research, I can only suggest you search through online retailers based in Europe.


Saturday, May 26, 2007

ZODIAC

2007/Directed by David Fincher



One of America's most infamous and elusive serial murderers, the self-dubbed Zodiac Killer terrorised people in the San Francisco area between December 1968 and October 1969, preying mostly on young couples who were necking in cars or relaxing by Lake Berryessa. Although his official tally of victims stands at seven (with five deaths), nobody really knows for sure how many lives the Zodiac Killer claimed – the Zodiac himself put his toll at 37, although this has been much disputed, with detectives working on the case claiming he took the credit for other unsolved killings as a way to hype himself.

Apart from the random nature of his crimes (this was a time when the senseless shooting of strangers was not an everyday occurrence), what galvanised the citizens of Northern California about the Zodiac case was the way that the killer himself taunted police and the public, sending threats and cryptic coded messages to the San Francisco Chronicle and other newspapers. He also created something of a terrifying, if somewhat comic book, image with the disguise he used while attacking the couple at Lake Berryessa.



Based on the books Zodiac and Zodiac Unmasked by Robert Graysmith (a cartoonist for the Chronicle who became obsessed with first cracking the Zodiac's code, then with unmasking the killer himself), Zodiac is one of the real cinematic surprises of 2007, and possibly the best – and certainly the most accomplished and mature – film from former music video director David Fincher (Alien 3, Se7en, Fight Club, The Game). Charting the almost 20 year investigation into the case, Fincher creates a narrative which, even to those who know how ultimately frustrating the hunt to bring Zodiac to justice became, never fails to both entertain and engross (despite the director and screenwriter James Vanderbilt taking certain liberties with some of the facts of the case).



As Graysmith, Jake Gyllenhaal brings a quiet intesnity and determination to his role. His somewhat introverted performance is more than offset by Robert Downey Jnr., who continues on his career renaissance with a great turn as the addicted, self-destructive crime reporter Paul Avery, and Mark Ruffalo as the legendary and somewhat flamboyant police inspector David Toschi (who was an inspiration for both Steve McQueen's character in Bullit as well as Clint Eastwood's Inspector Harry Callahan – the first Dirty Harry movie in fact had definite parallels to the Zodiac case, which is highlighted in a great scene in the film). The rest of the ensemble cast (including Anthony Edwards, Chloe Sevigny, Elias Koteas and the great Candy Clark) also immerse themselves into their roles, and special mention must be made of John Carroll Lynch, who brings a real sense of restrained menace as prime Zodiac suspect Arthur Leigh Allen.



Although met with a good critical reception upon its release, Zodiac was not a popular film with American cinema audiences, and it's not overly difficult to understand why. Those coming to the film expecting another pacey, high octane film along the lines of Fincher's Se7en would no doubt be disappointed to discover that, despite the subject matter at its heart, Zodiac is not so much a film about a serial killer, but rather a journey through one's man's personal obsession with uncovering a mystery, regardless of the potential costs to both him and his loved ones (that is not to say it is not confronting – there are some genuinely disturbing and shocking sequences peppered throughout the film, along with a creepy atmosphere which pervades virtually every frame).



Beautifully photographed on high definition video by Harris Savides, Zodiac is a visual feast, recreating the landscape of late-60s/early-70s San Francisco with a stunning authenticity, but one which is not so forced or obvious that it intrudes on the film itself. From the clothes to the cars to the d├ęcor, right down to the old Coca-Cola and snack food machines that line the walls, the film effortlessly sucks us into the world which is being depicted (hell, we even see people smoking in elevators and on planes). The film also looks magnificent on the big screen, packing the entire frame with a detail that will no doubt be somewhat lost once it hits DVD shelves.

As has become almost de rigour for films set during this period, Zodiac also crackles with a soundtrack of popular music from its era. What is nice about this soundtrack though is that it is not comprised of the expected hits, but features a great cross-section of tracks ranging from Donovan's Hurdy Gurdy Man (which is put to terrifyingly good use) and Bernadette by the Four Tops to more jazz oriented cuts such as Solar by Miles Davis and Johnny Coltrane's Mary's Blues.

At 158 minutes in length, Zodiac does demand quite a bit out of its audience, but those who allow themselves to be seduced by it should come out of the cinema feeling quite satisfied and impressed…and a little bit rattled by the extremes of human behaviour that some people find themselves capable of.

Copyright John Harrison 2007



Link of interest:
http://www.zodiackiller.com/

Note: A low-budget Z-grade film about the case called The Zodiac Killer was produced in 1971 and is available on DVD from Something Weird Video. When this film was first released in San Francisco, a detective was placed inside a 'feedback box' that stood in the cinema lobby, in the hopes that the real Zodiac may have gone to see the film and dropped a note into the box!




Monday, March 12, 2007

THE LURID WAR PAPERBACKS OF HORWITZ PUBLICATIONS

In more recent times, the Sydney (Australia) based Horwitz company have become well-known as the respected publishers of such mainstream, glossy monthly magazines like TV Soap and Inside Sports, as well as a string of popular childrens' books, and a series of gardening manuals compiled by high profile Australian TV personality Don Burke.

But no doubt many of readers of their current publications would be more than a little dismayed, shocked and even disgusted to learn that during the 1960s and early-1970s, Horwitz made their mark by grinding out a seemingly endless stream of lurid war-themed paperbacks, most of which proudly wallowed in the sadistic torments which the German and Japanese powers meted out on their enemies during the Second World War. What made these paperbacks even freakier (particularly the Nazi themed ones) is the fact that Horwitz were a Jewish owned company.

Founded in 1920 by Peter Horwitz, the company initially published sporting journals and trade papers, before expanding into the paperback market just after World War II, with a series of science-fiction and western titles that were published under the imprint of Transport Publishing Company. Between 1950 and 1952, Horwitz published Thrills Incorporated, Australia's first science-fiction magazine, and their success enabled them to survive the lifting of import restrictions in 1958, which put a lot of smaller business out of action.

Horwitz's biggest paperback successes, sales wise, were undoubtedly their line of Carter Brown detective mysteries (penned by A. G. Yates) and J. E. Macdonnell's line of wartime naval adventures, both of which the company were still publishing well into the 1980s. They also found a strong readership for their Perry Mason and Raymond Chandler titles in the early-1960s (the Chandler books stand out particularly well, thanks to their terrific Theo Batten cover art). They also published the war comic Battle Action during the late 1950s. However, it is their more salacious titles which we are interested in here.

By the late-1960s, Horwitz had begun to turn away from reprinting popular overseas material in order to concentrate on original titles written by local, mostly unknown authors (although they did continue to reissue occasional titles imported from the US, particularly from the Midwood company). It was no doubt a money saving move, but one which yielded unlikely fruits. Although they would have been considered little more than mindless lunchtime fodder at the time of their publication, Horwitz's adult paperbacks have survived as little documents of some of the more extreme and oddball aspects of low-rent Australian culture, encompassing subjects as diverse as true crime, film tie-ins for local exploitation films, and the (mostly fictional) lives of sex workers in Kings Cross (a suburb of Sydney notorious for its prostitution and drug racquets).

Above: Typical example of Horwitz's line of sex paperbacks.

For these titles (which were usually published under their Scripts and Stag imprints), Horwitz mostly eschewed the use of original cover art in favor of cheap photographs featuring (usually topless) young models in suitably provocative poses. Strangely, this cost-cutting process lends the books a more memorable, coarse quality which they otherwise might have lacked.

Horwitz Goes To War

The sadistic war paperbacks published by Horwitz exist in a strange, unique twilight world all of their own. While publishers in the US (Monarch) and the UK (Badger) produced war paperbacks with rough plots and provocative cover art, none were as intrinsically mean spirited as the Horwitz titles, which focused - or to be more precise, wallowed - almost solely on the cruel torture and punishments which the Nazi and Japanese powers handed out to civilians (in particular, comely young females) and the Allied armies during the 1939 - 1945 world war.

One glance at the Horwitz war paperbacks, and it's easy to see the type of cheap thrills readership which they were aimed at. Lurid, color saturated cover art firmly emphasized the sex and sadism angle of the novels. Of course, just like most other adult oriented paperbacks from this era, the content of the Horwitz novels could rarely match the expectations raised by their titillating covers (although many of the stories still read as tight, tough and enjoyable war adventures, particularly those penned by the prolific John Slater 1 and Jim Kent).

Extremely violent and salacious, the cover art employed by Horwitz for its war paperbacks emulated the gaudy artwork featured on the covers of 1960s American mens' magazines such as Man's Story, Wildcat Adventures and Men Today (refer to Adam Parfrey's brilliant hardcover volume It's a Man's World, published by Feral House in 2003, for a great history of these publications). Some of the local Australian artists whose work graced the covers of Horwitz paperbacks include Theo Batten, Peter Chapman, Maurice Bramley and - most prominent of all - Col Cameron (see below).

The cover art employed by Horowitz for their war paperbacks invariably depicted a terrified woman, her clothes torn to shreds, being menaced by a leering Nazi Commandant or Japanese General, reflecting an unmistakable glint of sex 'n' sadism in the eyes. Col Cameron's use of primary colors in the artwork gave them a comic book feel, reminiscent of Norm Saunder's artwork on the infamous series of Topps' Battle bubble-gum cards produced in 1965 2.

For the most part, these war paperbacks stuck to a predictable formula, with their plots often interchangeable. But what they lacked in literary merit they more than made up for in both entertainment and exploitation value, and considering the inherent racism often found within their pages, it's quite astonishing that these books were being published as recently as the 1970s.

According to Lyall Moore, who was the director of Horwitz in the late-1990s, the company published a total of sixteen paperback titles per month during the height of their popularity in the mid-1960s, with each title having a print run of 20,000 copies. Distributed mainly through railway newsstands across Australia, Horwitz ceased publishing their unique war paperbacks in the early-1970s, by which time their popularity had severely declined (killed off no doubt by the increasing tolerance for sex and violence in mainstream film and literature, as well as the introduction of hardcore sex films and magazines).

Written under contract, Moore remembers the author's payment at around Aus $250 - $300 per title (certainly not a bad wage for the time, keeping in mind that most of these paperbacks clocked in at around 120 slim pages, and writers like Ray Slattery and Jim Kent were grinding out one title per month on average).

Towards the end of their run, the Horwitz war paperbacks resorted to using photo covers, which although suitably lurid, could not match the effectiveness of their painted covers, and by the early-1970s their paperback line had just about died out, relegated to the dusty shelves of Australian op shops and secondhand bookstores, where they can (fortunately for collectors) still be picked up dirt cheap (often as low as 25 cents, although some of the more knowing stores have begun to charge up to Aus $10.00 for higher grade copies). Naturally, the paperbacks are more scarce in the USA and other countries outside Australia, and as their popularity begins to (slowly) grow in these countries, no doubt their value will begin to rise accordingly (recent eBay auctions for high-grade Horwitz Nazi paperbacks have begun to bring prices as high as US $30.00).

1 John Slater was a pseudonym for a number of authors, including Carl Ruhen, R. L. Taylor and Carlene Hardy. However, most of the 84 paperbacks in the John Slater series were penned by Ray Slattery, who also wrote a number of war novels for Horwitz which were published under his real name.

2 Topps' 66 card Battle set depicted the story of World War II via the use of some very violent artwork, which bore captions like Execution At Dawn, Nazi Terror and Torture Chamber. Norm Saunders, who painted the Battle cards, was also responsible for the notorious series of Mars Attacks! cards which Topps issued in 1962.

Col Cameron: Horwitz's Premier Cover Artist

Col Cameron was undoubtedly one of the prime keys to the success of Horwitz's line of war paperbacks. Without his stark - and often disturbing - cover art, it would be hard to imagine these books being as popular as they were, so effective was Cameron's work in capturing the promised thrills of what lay within its pages.

Cameron first began providing paperback covers for Horwitz in the early-1960s, when Ron Smith was the art director for the company. Cameron at the time was working as an illustrator for the Australian political magazine The Bulletin. His first covers for Horwitz were naval based scenes for a couple of J. E. Macdonnell titles, before he found his ground with the more violent and savage Nazi/Japanese paperbacks.

Responsible by his own count for over a hundred Horwitz paperback covers, Cameron - no doubt like the majority of cover artists - seldom read any of the material prior to beginning work on a piece. Horwitz editor Roy Fuller would simply suggest a basic concept or theme for the cover and Cameron would be left to create the appropriate image, which would usually take the artist between a week or two to complete (unless it was a rush job - Fuller would often have Cameron working on two or three covers at once). As a freelance artist working from home, Cameron rarely had the change to interact with the other Horwitz artists, and many of them are now unfortunately relegated to the pages of obscurity.

In his own words, Cameron churned out his Horwitz covers "like sausages", and was not always happy with the work he did for the company, viewing his time there primarily as a learning experience (he also found himself at odds with the company when he provided some western covers which didn't follow the thematic guidelines suggested by the publisher).

While his work is appreciated amongst the rather small band of Horwitz devotees, Cameron's art has yet to find any real widespread acknowledgment within the pop culture art community. Unfortunately, Cameron himself will never see the result of any future interest in his work, as he passed away in 1999, perhaps only vaguely aware that his art had had any lasting impressions (Graeme Flanagan, author of the Australian Vintage Paperback Guide - managed to track Cameron down for an interview just a couple of years before his death).

Fortunately, a lot of Cameron's original paperback art has survived, and is currently in the hands of his long-time partner (Lyall Moore recalls that most of the Horwitz artists received a flat fee of $150 for their covers - although Cameron himself has said that his early covers only earned him around $60 - with the work being returned to the artists upon publication). Hopefully, some exhibitions of his original art will be organized in the near future, which should help establish Cameron's reputation as one of Australia's most memorable pulp paperback cover artists.

(Special thanks to Graeme Flanagan for his help in compiling this bibliography and providing information on Col Cameron. Graeme's essential reference work, the Australian Vintage Paperback Guide, was published by Gryphon Books in 1994 and is still available from their website at: www.gryphonbooks.com)

Note: In some of their 1970 paperbacks, Horwitz advertised a magazine called John Slater: Stories of Women in Bondage - an adventure/men's publication - the debut issue of which was to contain short stories with titles like Women of Manila, House of Torment and Daughters of Agony (the stories traversed subjects like black magic, coercion, bondage & discipline, and the familiar World War Two territory). The magazine, which had an advertised cover price of 60 cents, was to also feature a full color centerfold painted by a regular Horwitz artist (no doubt Col Cameron was one of the potential artists, not only for the centerfold, but for the cover and story illustrations as well). Unfortunately, it looks like the magazine was cancelled before the first issue was even published, as no copies of it have ever surfaced, and even the Horwitz archives don't have a copy.

Note: The above article is part of a sample chapter from my upcoming book Hip Pocket Sleaze - devoted to the world of lurid adult paperbacks - which is scheduled to be published by Headpress in the UK later in 2007 (visit www.headpress.com) .

Copyright John Harrison 2007