Saturday, December 18, 2010
Friday, December 3, 2010
(1978/New English Library/UK)
Often downgraded as the poor man’s James Herbert (The Rats), Guy N. Smith was one of the most pure pulp writers of the 1970s. With no pretence to literary art, Smith authored some of the most visceral, arousing and downright exciting horror novels from that era, all of which were tailor made for the paperback medium.
A published writer from the age of 12 (when he contributed to his local newspaper), Smith had a career in banking forced upon him by his father, before he broke the shackles with his first book Werewolf by Moonlight, published by NEL in 1974. It marked the beginning of an intensely prolific career for Smith, who now has over 60 horror novels to his credit, not to mention a number of crime thrillers (he wrote a serial killer book, The Hangman, under the pseudonym of Gavin Newman), and his 1996 volume Writing Horror Fiction (A&C Black), a how-to manual for aspiring writers wanting to break into the genre.
Killer Crabs was the second and best of Smith’s series of Crabs books (the original, Night of the Crabs, having been published in 1976), and provides a great summation of his prowess as a writer. The premise of the series is one of pure B-grade schlock: an army of giant, ravenous crabs bob up from time to time at various exotic locales around the globe, wreaking havoc and snacking on the locals.
After being driven out of Wales in the first novel, the crabs this time resurface in the sunny far north of Australia, where they settle down to spawn in the mangrove swamps not far from the popular Hayman Island holiday resort. After treating us to an expected opening chapter crab attack (aboard a small fishing trawler), Smith settles in to introduce us to his cast of cliched but delightfully sleazy cast of characters, including Klin, the ruggedly-handsome, G I Joe - type action man, big game hunter Harvey Logan, British scientist Clifford Davenport (returning from the first novel), and holidaying sexpot Caroline du Brunner, who beds everything in sight bar the crabs, and whose sexual adventures Smith details with an enthusiastic gusto that would have doubled the pleasure of any young male who had picked the book up expecting a mere horror story.
‘Klin began to push forward with his thighs, slowly and purposefully at first, then speeding up as his tension mounted. Her eyes were closed. She was breathing heavily, her whole body stiffening, jerking, convulsing inwardly. Her legs shot upwards bicycling, faster and faster, and her fingernails tore viciously at his shoulders and back. Seconds later she was going crazy with passion beneath him, pushing her thighs at him, grinding her pubic bone on his as she sought desperately for an even deeper penetration.’
The scenes of carnage in the book are equally exciting, as the crabs multiply at enormous rate and move inlands towards the resort, a trail of death and destruction littering their wake. Smith revels in describing these scenes with a sadistic glee, bringing forth images of a gaudy, EC-inspired 1950s horror comic, as this passage describing the demise of a Japanese fishing captain amply illustrates:
'The crab was astride the captain, its legs holding him firmly, whilst the pincers, almost delicately, explored his body in search of another limb to amputate.
Helplessly the crew watched, some of them being sick with revulsion. It reminded them of a spider finding a fly caught in its web, and instead of devouring it immediately preferring to torture its victim by ripping off a leg at a time.
The severed wrist still spouted blood, a bright red fountain which sprayed over the crab, rendering it an even more horrific spectacle. Almost effortlessly the pincer found the shoulder joint and with a loud crunch removed the whole arm. Then, seconds later, the captain’s other arm suffered an identical fate.’
With its winning combination of action, gore, sex and never a dull moment plot, it’s surprising that an adaptation of Smith’s crab paperbacks never made it to the cinema (or even the straight-to-video shelf). With the plethora of shoddy Jaws clones that were festering flea pit cinemas during this time (Tintorera, Grizzly, etc.), I would have thought that a film about man-eating crabs would have had every cigar chomping schlock producer foaming at the mouth (I can just see the poster, depicting a horde of the ugly titular creatures emerging from the red-tinged surf, a screaming, bikini-clad young woman clenched between the triumphant claws of the leader crab!).
Copyright John Harrison 2010
Sunday, November 14, 2010
Directed by one-time experimentalist filmmaker Curtis Harrington, The Killing Kind remains one of the best examples of early-seventies sick sinema. The film borrows its ideas and themes from a number of sources - most notably Psycho - and blends them into a strong psychological thriller that is murky and dark without being relentlessly depressing.
The film opens on a deserted beach, where a group of male youths are enjoying their pack rape of a young tease named Tina (Susan Bernard, the pretty little imp from Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!). Although Terry (John Savage) is an unwilling (and unable) participant in the activities, he is the only one who is charged for the crime, and ends up spending two years in jail. Upon his release, he returns to live with his mother (Terry Southern) in an old, moody boarding house filled with mostly elderly women for tenants.
Almost immediately, we can see that the relationship between Terry and his mother is a little bit off-kilt. He calls her Thelma instead of ‘mom’, they kiss each other on the lips, she fondles his hair playfully, and they indulge in physical wrestling matches. Although Harrington never fully exploits it, there is an obvious sexual tension between mother and son, and the performances by Savage and Southern are terrific, and the chemistry in their scenes together strong and electric.
The Killing Kind is a film filled with ugly, repressed characters. When a frustrated neighbour (the wonderful Luana Anders) visits Terry at night, she tells him “It must feel wonderful….being raped. I wouldn‘t have told on you”. Oddly enough, it’s Terry who emerges as one of the film’s most sympathetic characters - even though he degenerates into a sadistic, psychotic killer, he seems as much an oedipal victim as a brutal monster.
What little humour is present in The Killing Kind is extremely black in tone. Terry and Thelma work themselves into fits of laughter talking about how one of the elderly boarders died after having a seizure and falling into the frozen foods cabinet at the local supermarket. In the words of Thelma: “She became a frozen stiff”. In another surprise sequence, when pretty young Lori (future Laverne & Shirley star Cindy Williams) tells Terry to “Loosen up”, he responds by trying to drown her in the swimming pool!
By the end of the film, we realise that Terry’s time in jail have had little to do with his present state of unbalance. The character he has become is what he was always destined to be, probably since early childhood. His killing of Tina and the female lawyer he holds responsible for putting him behind bars doesn’t purge him of his homicidal rage. It merely opens the floodgates to his true self, and he soon turns his attentions to the innocent Lori.
A film deserving of more praise than it currently receives, The Killing Kind was for years only available on long out-of-print VHS, until finally being released on DVD in 2007 by Dark Sky Films in a nice, uncut anamorphic widescreen print (along with an interview with Harrington recorded not long before his death).
Copyright John Harrison 2010
Saturday, November 13, 2010
In 2007, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, perhaps the ultimate ‘fan boy’ directors of the past 15 years, teamed up for Grindhouse, their valentine to all those gloriously tacky, often violent and always sexy drive-in exploitation double-bills of the 1970s. Unfortunately, the finished film turned out to be little more than an interesting misfire, amusing and enjoyable but one that could have - and should have - been so much more.
But one clear highlight of Grindhouse (in its original cinematic format) were the fake trailers shown at the beginning of the film and in-between the two features (Planet Terror and Death Proof). In particular, the faux trailers for Eli Roth’s sick slasher Thanksgiving and Rodriguez’s revenge actioner Machete garnered great audience reaction and were singled out as being worthy of expansion into features.
While we’re still waiting for Roth to come through, Rodriguez (along with co-director Ethan Maniquis) has answered the call by turning his two-minute long Machete trailer into a 104 minute ballet of outrageous and highly stylised comic book violence. Low on plot, high on splatter, tongue planet firmly in cheek.
Machete (Danny Trejo) is a former Mexican Federale, now an illegal immigrant doing day labour jobs on the streets of Texas after he is left for dead (and his wife is killed) by slimy drug lord Torrez (Steven Seagal, pilling on the pounds and sporting an hilarious toupee). Reluctantly, Machete accepts an offer from spin doctor Benz (Jeff Fahey) to assassinate McLaughlin (Robert De Niro) a corrupt Senator. The expectant double-cross sees Machete on the run, hacking his way through the bad guys with everything from weed whackers to surgical instruments and seeking help from a sultry taco slinger and leader of a rebel group (Michelle Rodriguez), his Padre brother (Cheech Marin), and the sexy immigration agent Sartana (Jessica Alba, who has the distinction of being both the film‘s worst actor and it‘s best-named character). Also along for the ride are Don Johnson as a trigger-happy border vigilante, make-up effects maestro Tom Savini as a hitman and Lindsay Lohan, who seems to have every one of her vices and exploits etched on her 24 year-old face and spends most of her scenes drugged-out or naked, before donning a nun’s habit and going postal (in what is either a smirk at Lohan’s public persona or just a simple nod to Zoe Tamerlis’ character in Abel Ferrara’s 1981 classic Ms. 45).
Naturally, this being a homage to low-grade seventies sinema, the film has a washed-out look, with deliberate scratches and jumps, retro fonts on the opening credits and some funky porn music on its soundtrack (not to mention a pretty silly nod to the famous bionic sound effect used in The Six Million Dollar Man). But while Rodriguez clearly has a genuine affection for the cinema that inspired Machete, and it shows his commitment in that he went ahead with the film even after the box-office failure of Grindhouse, there is still something disappointingly fake about the movie. Perhaps it’s all the blatant CGI violence, so over-the-top at times that it actually becomes quite tiresome. Or maybe it’s because these films weren’t made to be shown in suburban multiplexes filled with bratty designer-clothed kids and the latest Harry Potter epic playing next door. They were made to be watched as the bottom feature on an all-niter at the suburban drive-in, or in grotty, musty shoebox cinemas that have stained screens and play hardcore porn films every other day.
Maybe it’s because you just can’t make ‘em the way you used to, no matter how sincere you might be.
Still, if you can deal with the film’s forced hipness, Machete, anchored by the presence and raw charisma of 66 year-old Trejo in his first starring role, offers up enough visceral thrills to make a passable time-filler, best enjoyed with a couple of friends and a few cold beers. But it’s no substitute for the real thing.
Copyright John Harrison 2010
Saturday, October 16, 2010
A TEENAGER IN BABYLON
by John Harrison
St. Kilda in 1981.
Twenty-nine years ago.
If I close my eyes and try hard enough, I can often still smell that distinct, peculiar odour of rotting carpet, dirty ice and teenage sweat that would fill the dank, cavernous expanse of the St. Moritz ice skating rink which sat on the rim of the Upper Esplanade, overlooking Port Phillip Bay, the majestic art deco arch of the Palais Theatre and the iconic, gaping big-mouth entrance to Luna Park. St. Moritz had first opened its doors in 1921, and had been the place where my parents had met many, many midnights earlier, but by 1981 the building - just like much of St. Kilda itself - was in a state of decay and disrepair, and was only a few months away from closing its grand doors for good (after which it would stand deserted until gutted by fire three years later, it‘s charred innards coldly hauled away by Whelan the Wrecker).
St. Moritz became one of the hubs of my rapidly expanding universe in those days. Ice skating was my elective ‘sport’ of choice while I was a student at the Christian Brothers College in East St. Kilda, and every Wednesday after lunch period a group of us would take the chaperoned walk down Dandenong Road and onto Fitzroy Street, my small group of friends and I (school misfits, all) lagging behind so we could share a stolen cigarette and drink in all the lurid sights the area had to offer back then, the drab, dirty greyness and rustic brick of the landscape providing a suitable milieu for the diversity of people who inhabited it - the drunkards whose better days were decades behind them, musicians and new wave hipsters doing their best to look elegantly wasted and fashionably streetwise, the sickly junkies either looking in desperation for their next hit or stumbling around in the midst of it, the prostitutes who took us in with wary eyes as they chain-smoked and looked for trade, and the collection of other unique characters and desperados who wandered aimlessly and seemed to be doing nothing but killing time and waiting anxiously for darkness to fall. At the time, St. Kilda was still looked upon as a dirty and dangerous place, full of intrigue, crime, sleaze, sex and corruption, and Fitzroy Street was seen as the beating heart that pumped out all of this vice to the surrounding areas, a continual parade of buzzing neon, greasy hamburger joints (where it was always rumoured you could order a hit of smack with your Chicko Roll), badly-lit amusement arcades, seamy sex shops, skid row apartments, grotty milk bars, and the odd backroom gambling den.
The highlight of our walk would invariably be the sight of our horrified chaperone frantically waving us past the Ritz Hotel, ordering us to avert our eyes lest they be tainted forever. Long before it became just another in a long line of a faux ‘traditional’ British pubs, the Ritz gained notoriety as one of the seedier hotels in the St. Kilda area (no mean feat, indeed). Built in between world wars, by the 1960s it had become a respite and watering hole for hookers and local lowlifes, and in 1970 played host to Melbourne’s first drag shows. The entrance to the Ritz, loudly advertising their striptease shows and burlesque dancers - This Is The Show! - was a work of garish art that should be proudly on display in a museum someplace.
As 3:30 rolled around I would start the short walk from St. Moritz to the relatively straight and secure confines of my weatherboard Elwood home. Usually I would stop by the Acland St. McDonalds, hoping I’d be served by the cute girl with the blonde sharpie hairdo (short and spiky on top, wispy rat tails at the back) and silver lightning bolt earrings, the glittering outline of her homemade AC/DC shirt clearly visible through her uniform. She was probably no more than a year or two older than me, but already seemed light years out of my fumbling league. I’d sit at a table with my fries and shake and watch the parade of shady characters as they wandered in and out of the notorious Esquire Motel, scene of many drug overdoses and even a gangland killing before it was renovated and re-opened as an Easystay, providing a clean and safe environment for guests and maids you can trust, but robbing the place of its ambience and sense of sordid history.
On the days it was open, my nights back then were almost always spent haunting Luna Park. How cool it was to have such an attraction a mere ten minute walk from your front door. Many locals may have taken it for granted, and some no doubt thought the place was behind the times and ready to be bulldozed, but that was one of the reasons why I was drawn to it so strongly and so consistently. Walking the outskirts of that archaic, wooden white frame and entering that creepy, gaping clown’s mouth, it was like stepping back in time, to an era of rattling, death trap rollercoasters, dodgem cars that showered a continual rainbow of electric sparks over your head, a ghost train whose scariest feature was the occasional derelict slumped in the corner cradling a half-empty bottle of cheap red, and huge bundles of wispy, sickly sweet pink fairy floss that had you running around on a sugar high for the next week. It was a slice of Coney Island in my own back yard, and how could you not love the names of those rides and attractions? The Big Dipper, the Rotor, the Whip, the River Caves, the Giggle Palace with its psychotic laughing clown looking down at you from his throne. All that was missing was the row of sideshow tents featuring tattooed women and two-headed fish boys. It was a magical and beautifully gaudy electric wonderland, one whose exterior still looks very much the same today, though the interior will break the heart of anyone who remembers and loves the place for what it once was.
After leaving high school at the end of 1981, I spent the remainder of the decade riding the coattails of all the things that made living in St. Kilda at the time so exhilarating for me. They were simple but grand days: My years behind the counter of St. Kilda Video, on the corner of Acland and Barkly Streets (now the Big Mouth Café), where the customers often provided more drama, humour and horror than any of the movies we rented out. Long drinking and bullshit sessions at the Doultan Bar, when it was still just a dim, smoke-filled little cubicle frequented by the same tiny group of regulars and the odd blow-in. Devouring slices of Tony’s pizza - randomly cut in odd, almost Picasso-esque shapes - while marvelling at the huge collection of postcards from around the world that lined the wall of his Acland St restaurant (Tony would eventually die doing what he loved doing, keeling over at his pizza oven in front of horrified and hungry customers). All night dope-fuelled marathons popping coins into the latest games at the Red Cave Amusement Arcade, just down from the Greyhound Hotel. Dancing with drag queens at Bojangles and spilling out from the cramped confines of the Linden Tree and onto Fitzroy St just in time to see the dawn break. Feeling the visual and aural assault of the Bad Seeds, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Wall of Voodoo, the Huxton Creepers and others from the centre of the Venue’s sticky, beer stained floor.
Copyright 2010 John HarrisonBelow: the demolition of St. Moritz Ice Skating Rink, 1982.
Sunday, September 26, 2010
Russ Meyer's Finders Keepers,Lovers Weepers/Pandora Peaks
42nd Street Pete's Night of Perverted Pleasures
Sunday, June 13, 2010
Australia/2010/Directed by David Michod
Friday, June 4, 2010
Issue 23 covers two of my favourite, somewhat lesser known, Hammer Horrors from the mid 1960s, The Reptile (1965) and The Plague of the Zombies (1966), including interviews with Reptile star Jacqueline Pearce, the late great character actor Michael Ripper, and a rather incendiary interview with the director of both films, John Gilling, who has some very strong and not so flattering things to say about most of the people he worked with at Hammer (and kudos to Klemensen for running the interview as is, in what is mostly a Hammer friendly and positive magazine). Other features in this issue include an interview with Michael Gough (Konga, Hammer’s Phantom of the Opera, Horrors of the Black Museum), Michael Carreras on 10 Seconds to Hell and more.
The current issue of LSOH (24) is devoted to the Mummy movies produced by Hammer (The Mummy, The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb, The Mummy’s Shroud and Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb), and with its plethora of rare pics and detailed production information, is a must-have for any fans of the series, including an interview with the stunning female star of Terrance Fisher’s sumptuous The Mummy, Yvonne Furneaux.
If you love Hammer Films, or admire vintage British horror cinema in general, you’d be doing yourself a big disservice if you don’t pick up this publication. Apart from all the in-depth interviews and information it contains, the magazine is also beautifully designed, printed on quality glossy paper, profusely illustrated with often rare photos, and features some gorgeous cover and interior art by the likes of Bruce Timm, Mike Schneider and Mark Maddox.
Thursday, May 27, 2010
THE LOST ART OF THE VHS BOX
by Jacques Boyreau As an admirer and something of a collector (but by no means a completist) of early exploitation/horror/sleaze films on VHS, I keenly picked up this book when I spotted it on the racks at Alternate Worlds (Chapel St, Windsor). Unfortunately, despite it’s great title and novel design (the cover looks like a VHS cassette and comes in a blood-splattered slipcase like an old sell-thru video tape), this colour compendium of vintage 1980s American video box art misses the mark almost as frequently as it hits it. With each video sleeve taking up a double-page spread (reproducing both front and back covers) author/compiler Jacques Boyreau certainly comes up with a few rare, lurid gems (The Legend of the Wolf Woman, The Black Panther, Nightmare Circus, Night of the Strangler, One Armed Executioner) he also throws in a few choices that had me scratching my head as to just what exactly Boyreau’s idea of a ‘grindhouse’ film may be (with the inclusion of baseball, war and hunting documentaries, Saturday morning cartoons, Jerry Lewis comedies and even a Barbie and the Rockers video and a Gary Coleman home safety instructional tape!). The text is minimal and limited to just a few page introduction, making Portable Grindhouse something more for the casual fan who wants something to display next to their shelf of Tarantino DVDs rather than the exhaustive study which the subject deserves.
(Fantagraphics Books/USA/2009/200 Pages)
Review Copyright John Harrison 2010
As an admirer and something of a collector (but by no means a completist) of early exploitation/horror/sleaze films on VHS, I keenly picked up this book when I spotted it on the racks at Alternate Worlds (Chapel St, Windsor). Unfortunately, despite it’s great title and novel design (the cover looks like a VHS cassette and comes in a blood-splattered slipcase like an old sell-thru video tape), this colour compendium of vintage 1980s American video box art misses the mark almost as frequently as it hits it. With each video sleeve taking up a double-page spread (reproducing both front and back covers) author/compiler Jacques Boyreau certainly comes up with a few rare, lurid gems (The Legend of the Wolf Woman, The Black Panther, Nightmare Circus, Night of the Strangler, One Armed Executioner) he also throws in a few choices that had me scratching my head as to just what exactly Boyreau’s idea of a ‘grindhouse’ film may be (with the inclusion of baseball, war and hunting documentaries, Saturday morning cartoons, Jerry Lewis comedies and even a Barbie and the Rockers video and a Gary Coleman home safety instructional tape!). The text is minimal and limited to just a few page introduction, making Portable Grindhouse something more for the casual fan who wants something to display next to their shelf of Tarantino DVDs rather than the exhaustive study which the subject deserves.
Cast: John Ashley, Andrew Prine, Arch Hall, Jnr., Johnny Carrol
Studio: Umbrella Entertainment
Aspect Ratio: 2:3 Widescreen and 2:3 Full Frame
Region: NTSC All
Running Time: 514 Mins
No. Discs: 4
The latest in Umbrella’s line of ‘Grindhouse’ releases (following on from their Ted V Mikels and Retro Sexploitation sets) is comprised of releases put out by cult film critic/musician/writer/wrestler Johnny Legend on his own Legend House label in the US, and focuses primarily on vintage juvenile delinquency (or JD) cinema from the 1950s and early-60s, with a few oddities thrown in for good measure.
ROCK BABY, ROCK IT (1957/B&W)
Directed by J. G. Tiger
A grimy obscurity filmed in Dallas, Rock Baby, Rock It tells the predictable tale of a teen dance club being shut down and taken over by rock & roll hating gangsters. Filled with clichéd jive dialogue (“Play it cool, Kitten”) and featuring mostly local actors with some very un-Hollywood like faces, this film does have its own strange, low-rent charm, and is filled with some great little-known rock & roll and rockabilly gems from the likes of Johnny Carroll (who also stars), Don Coats & the Bon-Aires, Preacher Smith & the Deacons and The Cell Block Seven. TEEN MANIA (2007/Colour/B&W) Compiled by Legend, this 66 minute party tape dishes out some choice clips from such 1950s & 60s teensploitation gems such as Rockabilly Baby, Untamed Youth (with platinum blonde bombshell Mamie Van Doren), I Was a Teenage Frankenstein, Beach Ball, Hot Rods to Hell, Riot on Sunset Strip, The Love-Ins and more. HIGH SCHOOL CAESAR (1960/B&W) NAKED YOUTH (aka WILD YOUTH, 1960/B&W) A group of overaged delinquents break out of a detention farm and get hooked up with drug smugglers operating out of Mexico (who hide their heroin inside piñatas). Another seedy, low-rent JD wonder from Johnny Legend’s seemingly bottomless vault of cinematic scuzz. PREHISTORIC WOMEN (1950/Colour) Having nothing to do with rock & roll, this early sexploitation pot-boiler has curvaceous, primitive jungle women driving their menfolk crazy with their frenzied dancing and evil temptations. Told mainly via narration, it’s like an old episode of Wild Kingdom, with big bosoms and long legs. Stars Laurette Luez as the glamazonian Tigri, queen of the prehistoric women. SPIES A GO GO (aka NASTY RABBIT, 1964/Colour) A pretty silly rock & roll/spy farce, inspired by the Cold War and the emerging James Bond craze, about a Russian plot to infect America with a deadly bacteria smuggled into the country inside a rabbit. A spy who doubles as a rock & roll singer foils the plot. Worth watching for star Arch Hall Jnr. (who is much better in Wild Guitar and The Sadist), the cool guitar-twanging, and the cinematography by future Hollywood heavyweights Vilmos Zsigmond and Lazlo Kovaks. BARN OF THE NAKED DEAD (1974/Colour)
Directed by O’Dale Ireland
Minor teen idol John Ashley stars as a rich, spoiled bully who rigs the election to become school president and proceeds to intimidate the students and bleed them dry, all the while keeping a dopey accountant and team of leather-jacketed hoods forming a shield around him at all times. It all leads to the usual tragic consequences and eventual comeuppance. A moderately entertaining but fairly staid and unexciting late-period JD film, highlighted by a rollicking theme song belted out by Reggie Perkins (“He’s the gangster in our school…He’s cool, he’s like a freezer…That’s why we call him, High School Caesar”). Ashley went on to appear in beach party movies in the 1960s, then reached an exploitation career high by producing and starring in a string of sleazy Filipino horror films directed by Eddie Romero (including the classic Mad Doctor of Blood Island).
Directed by John Bushelman
Directed by Albert J. Cohen
Directed by Nicholas Merriwether
Directed by Gerald Cormier
TEEN MANIA (2007/Colour/B&W)
Compiled by Legend, this 66 minute party tape dishes out some choice clips from such 1950s & 60s teensploitation gems such as Rockabilly Baby, Untamed Youth (with platinum blonde bombshell Mamie Van Doren), I Was a Teenage Frankenstein, Beach Ball, Hot Rods to Hell, Riot on Sunset Strip, The Love-Ins and more.
HIGH SCHOOL CAESAR (1960/B&W)
NAKED YOUTH (aka WILD YOUTH, 1960/B&W)
A group of overaged delinquents break out of a detention farm and get hooked up with drug smugglers operating out of Mexico (who hide their heroin inside piñatas). Another seedy, low-rent JD wonder from Johnny Legend’s seemingly bottomless vault of cinematic scuzz.
PREHISTORIC WOMEN (1950/Colour)
Having nothing to do with rock & roll, this early sexploitation pot-boiler has curvaceous, primitive jungle women driving their menfolk crazy with their frenzied dancing and evil temptations. Told mainly via narration, it’s like an old episode of Wild Kingdom, with big bosoms and long legs. Stars Laurette Luez as the glamazonian Tigri, queen of the prehistoric women.
SPIES A GO GO (aka NASTY RABBIT, 1964/Colour)
A pretty silly rock & roll/spy farce, inspired by the Cold War and the emerging James Bond craze, about a Russian plot to infect America with a deadly bacteria smuggled into the country inside a rabbit. A spy who doubles as a rock & roll singer foils the plot. Worth watching for star Arch Hall Jnr. (who is much better in Wild Guitar and The Sadist), the cool guitar-twanging, and the cinematography by future Hollywood heavyweights Vilmos Zsigmond and Lazlo Kovaks.
BARN OF THE NAKED DEAD (1974/Colour)
The real odd one out in this set, Barn of the Naked Dead wallows in an atmosphere of grimy backwoods sleaze, as three aspiring, Vegas-bound showgirls are kidnapped by a tight-jeaned young maniac (a creepy and effective Andrew Prine) and held captive (along with other women) in his barn, where they are whipped and forced to perform circus tricks (!). Those who don’t comply get doused in blood and chased down by the madman’s hungry cougar. A ludicrous subplot has the psycho’s radiation-scarred father wandering the desert killing people. Although not reliant on nudity or overt lesbianism, Barn of the Naked Dead is nonetheless an interesting and unique riff on the WIP (Women In Prison) films which enjoyed a brief run of popularity in the early 1970s. The creepy electronic score (by Tommy Vig) is offset by the inclusion of a cheesy lounge-like pop vocal (Evil Eyes performed by Pamela Miller). Extras included on this set include a number of Johnny Legend ‘surprises’ (clips/trailers/anecdotes, etc), an interview with Andrew Prine and an edition of Legend’s video show Gore Beat, co-hosted by John Landis and covering the films of Fred Olen Ray, Brian Yunza and the late, great Ray Dennis Steckler. Review Copyright John Harrison 2010
Extras included on this set include a number of Johnny Legend ‘surprises’ (clips/trailers/anecdotes, etc), an interview with Andrew Prine and an edition of Legend’s video show Gore Beat, co-hosted by John Landis and covering the films of Fred Olen Ray, Brian Yunza and the late, great Ray Dennis Steckler.
Review Copyright John Harrison 2010
Friday, May 21, 2010
Standout pieces from the latest issue include an in-depth review of Mark Hartley's brilliant Ozploitation documentary Not Quite Hollywood (written by fellow zinester Kami), a (justified) rant against comic books artists stealing other peoples' work (including Nick 'son of Gene' Simmons), interviews with veteran Aussie film stuntman Grant Page (Mad Max, The Man from Hong Kong), and Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons, wild 80s pro-wrestler Chris Colt, and much more within it's 36 pages (not to mention all the freebie comics, zines and other goodies Dann usually throws in).
Check it out!
Saturday, April 24, 2010
“Look out for the cheater, make way for the fool hearted clown, look out for the cheater, he’s gonna build you up, just to let you down.”
In the mid-1960s, the classic (though somewhat forgotten) pop song The Cheater became not only a one-hit wonder for Bob Cuban and the In-Men, but a grim foretelling of the fate of it’s singer, Walter Scott.
Hailing from St. Louis, Missouri (launching place for the careers of Chuck Berry and Tina Turner), Walter Scott was a wiry, handsome singer, with an energetic stage presence and wide vocal range that made him a natural frontman for a pop combo.
Released in 1966, The Cheater would eventually climb to number 12 on the American pop charts, selling over a million copies and landing the band a spot performing the song on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. Unfortunately, like so many acts, the band were never able to replicate the song’s success, and for the majority of the 1970s and early-80s, Walter Scott eked out a living playing the gruelling low-rent nightclub circuit, where The Cheater became his signature tune and the highlight of his cabaret-like set.
Although his star had faded, Scott still caught the eye of many of the local women in the small towns he performed in, and he often indulged in one-nighters while still married to his first wife, Doris. The relationship inevitably dissolved and Scott married Joanne Calcutta, a rather harsh looking woman that the singer had met while on the road. But Scott’s second marriage - and the lessons he should have learned from his first - didn’t stop him from initiating an affair with one of his back-up dancers, a leggy blonde named Suzanne Flynn. Joanne retaliated in kind by starting up an affair with Jim Williams, a large, bear-like electrician she had hired to do some work around the home. In what was rapidly descending into some bizarre, cheap-thrills soap opera, Williams was also cheating on his wife of twenty years, Sharon.
Two months after the death of Sharon Williams, as Christmas approached, Walter Scott mysteriously disappeared. Scott’s parents immediately smelled a rat when, the day after Walter disappeared, they discovered Jim Williams at their son’s home, appraising his substantial jewellery and gun collection. Joanne also aroused suspicion when she immediately cancelled all of her husband’s future engagements. While Scott’s car was found in the parking lot of the St. Louis airport, there was no record of him having booked a flight under his own name, and investigators combing the icy surrounds uncovered no trace of the singer. The trail soon turned cold. Not long after, Joanne Scott married Jim Williams.
When forensic pathologist Mary Case was bought in by the St. Louis hospital to go over the case files of several suspicious deaths, she soon uncovered irregularities in the fatal car accident of Sharon Williams. The drivers’ seat of the car had been pushed all the way back, even though Sharon was a small woman, and hospital staff who worked on the woman felt she had the smell of gasoline on her when she was brought in. Sharon’s body was exhumed, and an autopsy revealed the cause of death to be two blows to the back of her head with a blunt instrument. Her death was subsequently ruled a homicide, and Jim Williams became the prime suspect. Police also suspected a link between the death of Sharon Williams and the disappearance of Walter Scott, who had now been missing for over three years.
It was Jim William’s estranged son, Jimmy, who would eventually provide police with the vital piece of information needed to crack open the case. Serving time in a Florida prison, Jimmy sarcastically teased detectives about their inability to locate Walter Scott, then revealed that, not long after Scott disappeared - and in the middle of a freezing winter snowstorm - his father had suddenly build a large flower box over the cistern in his backyard. Police took out a warrant to search the Williams home, and after removing the flower box and digging through the layer of thick concrete that had been laid across the cistern, they looked down into the pool of foul smelling water and discovered the decomposed body of Walter Scott, bound by rope and weighed down by bricks. He had been shot in the back at point blank range. His body was dressed in what his parents described as Scott’s lounging attire - track suit and socks - indicating he had been murdered at home.
Amazingly, Jim Williams denied killing Scott or having any involvement in his disappearance ("If I’m gonna kill a man I’m gonna shoot him right between the eyes, I ain’t gonna take the chance on missing the heart by shooting him in the back.”). Authorities didn’t buy Williams’ suggestions that his son Jimmy may have set up the killing as a way to get back at his hated father , and he was arrested for the murders of both Walter Scott and his former wife Sharon. Joanne Williams was also charged in relation to Walter’s murder.
Jim Williams was subsequently found guilty of two counts of capital murder and sentenced to life in prison, without parole. Thanks to the presence of only circumstantial evidence, Joanne Williams’ trial never made it to a courthouse, although she did serve 18 months for hindering an investigation. To Walter Scott’s parents, however, who believe only one person could have gotten close enough to their son to shoot him in the back at close range in his own home, their former daughter-in-law got away with murder.
Watch out for the cheater, indeed.
Copyright John Harrison 2010
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Friday, March 26, 2010
Monday, March 15, 2010
Hip Pocket Sleaze is an introduction to the world of vintage, lurid adult paperbacks. Charting the rise of sleazy pulp fiction during the 1960s and 1970s and reviewing many of the key titles, the book takes an informed look at the various genres and markets from this enormously prolific era, from groundbreaking gay and lesbian-themed books to the Armed Services Editions. Influential authors, publishers and cover artists are profiled and interviewed, including the "godfather of gore" H. G. Lewis, cult lesbian author Ann Bannon, fetish artist par excellence Bill Ward and many others.
A companion to Bad Mags, Headpress' guide to sensationalist magazines of the 1970s, Hip Pocket Sleaze also offers extensive bibliographical information and plenty of outrageous cover art.
"John Harrison's pioneering work in this fascinating book of sexy pulp fiction will open up an entirely new area of scholarship, collecting and just plain fun to readers and fans the world over." -- Gary Lovisi, editor of Paperback Parade; author of Dames, Dolls & Delinquents; The Sexy Digests
"A lifetime of research and reading is dished out with gloops of anecdotal sleaze and unique insight ..." -- Jack Sargeant, Deathtripping; Naked Lens; Lost Highways
Friday, February 26, 2010
The war film genre has always been a continually evolving one. And it’s probably no coincidence that the depiction of war on film has reflected the way in which its coverage in the media is also constantly morphing with the advances in communications and technology.
In the 1940’s, we huddled around the radio or sat in cinemas watching carefully edited and cheerfully narrated newsreels of gung-ho allied soldiers, charging into a wall of enemy fire with a smile on their face and their national flag in their hearts. In the 40’s, the line between good and evil, and us and them, was clearly defined and mostly unquestioned.
As the late-1960s rolled along to the beat of psychedelic pop and the pungent odour of marijuana, the Vietnam War brought the horrors of armed conflict straight into the living room. With nightly reports being filed from the front lines, and broadcast live on the evening news, the politics of war became more complex, and trying to separate the good guys from the bad guys wasn’t so easy anymore.
In 2010, with the second US-led Iraq conflict still unresolved after six years, it seems as if very little is able to be kept from us anymore. Photos of degraded Iraqi prisoners confront us from the front page of every newspaper in the world, followed shortly by ghastly internet videos depicting Americans being beheaded by extreme Iraqi militants (in what can be seem as one form of semi-legitimized snuff film). Even grainy mobile phone footage of a dishevelled Saddam Hussein swinging from the gallows can be accessed and watched at the stroke of a keyboard button, mere hours after the actual event.
In many ways, the Iraqi conflict has progressed into some kind of ultimate-stakes, multimedia reality show, and it’s from this smoky atmosphere that The Hurt Locker materialises. The latest film from director Kathryn Bigelow (Near Dark, Point Break, Strange Days) is an intense, fairly relentless war movie that deals primarily with the issue of combat as a drug, and an addiction that can mean sudden, violent death for anyone around them.
Following a small bomb disposal unit as they go about their treacherous business, The Hurt Locker doesn’t exactly have a complex, plot driven storyline. It’s basically a character study that’s structured around a series of individual set pieces. What makes it work is the almost continual thread of tension that weaves its way throughout the entire film, with the viewer always expecting, but never really knowing when, the next moment of violence will suddenly erupt (and when it does, it’s almost a relief). And when the tension’s not on the battlefield, it’s in the barracks, as the once cohesive unit comes to odds with their new, brash and seemingly irresponsible adrenalin junkie team leader, Sergeant William James (brilliantly played with a white trash edge by Jeremy Renner, who has early stunned me with his portrayal of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer in the 2002 Dahmer biopic).
With the gritty edge of a frontline television report to it (though thankfully not overly heavy on the shaky hand-held camera), and with its indelible sense of ‘stranger in a strange land’ isolation (it was filmed in Kuwait and Jordan), The Hurt Locker is one of the best American films I have seen for some time (even though its third act is something of a comedown after the first two), and an almost instant addition to the list of classic war cinema. A real triumph from Kathryn Bigelow and all involved, and one which I’d love to see Bigelow rewarded with an Oscar at the upcoming Academy Awards. If she happens to win, it will be one of the most deserved winners in the Oscars’ recent lacklustre history (and apart from being the first female to win a Best Director Oscar, it would also be great to see Bigelow upstage former husband James Cameron by denying him a win for the entertaining but way overbloated and hyped Avatar). A win for Renner as Best Actor would also not go undeserved.
Review Copyright John Harrison 2010
Saturday, February 20, 2010
2010/USA/Directed by Joe Johnston
Along with Dracula, the Mummy and Frankenstein’s monster, the Wolfman was one of the ‘big four’ of horror characters featured by Universal Studios in their genre films of the 1930s and 40s. First featured by the studio in 1935s The Werewolf of London, the character would enter its classic period six years later when Lon Chaney Jr. played the title character in The Wolf Man, reprising the role in four follow-up films for Universal: Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), House of Frankenstein (1944), House of Dracula (1945) and the comedic classic Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). Subsequent decades saw variations of the lycanthropy curse featured in such diverse films as I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957), Hammer’s masterful The Curse of the Werewolf (1961, my personal favourite werewolf film), a string of Spanish horror films starring and directed by Paul Naschy, the 1971 biker flick Werewolves on Wheels, the 1981 double-whammy of Joe Dante’s The Howling and John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London (both enjoyable but somewhat overrated in my book) and the Michael J Fox spoof Teen Wolf (1985). And of course, who can forget Michael Jackson’s hairy transformation in his classic Thriller video.
Now Universal is attempting to resurrect their line-up of classic horror characters with this updating of the werewolf legend. One of the more troubled productions in recent Hollywood history, The Wolfman (the abbreviation of the title stops here) was initially set to be directed by music video veteran Mark Romanek (One Hour Photo) from a script by Andrew Kevin Walker (Se7en) and David Self (Road to Perdition). Sets were built at Pinewood for a February 2008 shoot, but Romanek quit four weeks before filming, citing creative differences (apparently Universal execs wanted much of the psychological angle cut out in favor of a more action-oriented film). Enter Joe Johnston (The Rocketeer, Jurassic Park III), who is bought in to helm the film with barely a few weeks notice and is given little time to plan how to put his own stamp on the film. Even Danny Elfman’s gothic score is scrapped and replaced by a more modern industrial soundscape composed by Paul Haslinger, before they eventually went back to Elfman’s original soundtrack. As studio and director bickered over the final cut (with rumors that two different cuts of the film were being prepared, one by Johnston and one by the studio) and special effects constantly getting tinkered with, the release of The Wolfman continued to get pushed back, from November 2008 to February (then April and November) 2009, until the film finally saw the light of the cinema projector in February 2010.
With the addition of a couple of clearly telegraphed ‘twists’, Joe Johnston’s finished film is a fairly faithful remake of the 1941 original, with Benicio Del Toro as Lawrence Talbot, a stage actor in 1880s England who returns home to his estranged father (Anthony Hopkins) following the violent killing of his older brother, supposedly by a wild animal. While visiting a gypsy camp, Talbot is bitten by a wolf and soon succumbs to the curse of lycanthropy, sprouting excess body hair and snarling wildly as her terrorizes (and tears apart) the local countryside, before he’s captured and put in an asylum, given ice baths and exhibited to a medical board, and led on a chase across the rooftops of London (highlighted by a stunning shot of the creature perched on a gargoyle, howling at the full moon), all the while trying not to disembowel his brother’s fiancée Gwen (Emily Blunt), with whom he’s fallen in love.
So, after all the struggles to get the Wolfman howling again on screen, was it worth the wait? Well, yes and no. Many critics of the film have signalled out its pacing and, at the risk of being clichéd, it is a valid criticism. Nowhere in the film is the behind the scenes bickering more evident than in its pacing. Slow as molasses in some parts, jarringly fast in others, the film never seems to find a natural rhythm. The combination of old-school make-up and modern CGI never quite melds, although thankfully the CGI is not of the ‘video game’ variety, and with the way the filmmakers wanted the wolfman to look and move, it’s clear that CGI was the only viable option. A lifelong dream project for him, Benicio Del Toro (who also co-produced) certainly does his best to look tortured, but never seems to really convince as Talbot (and he lacks the good-natured ‘chumminess’ that made Chaney Jr. so endearing in the role). And Anthony Hopkings puts in another fairly clichéd, by-the-numbers performance of the kind that he has been telegraphing in for the past decade. In Silence of the Lambs, I see Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter, a complex, unnerving sociopath. In The Wolfman, I see Anthony Hopkins as, well, Anthony Hopkins. It’s almost as if he has become a caricature of his former great self. Emily Blunt is good but underused, and Hugo Weaving adds a bit of needed weight as a detective on the trail of the beast.
However, that isn’t to say The Wolfman doesn’t have a lot of good things going for it. It does. The cinematography by Shelly Johnson is dark and moody, foreboding and foggy but still wonderfully lush, and many of the sets and locations give the film a nice, epic feel. The film drips with a thick, gothic atmosphere, and Rick Baker’s make-up is once again superb, the veteran artist creating a wolfman that combines elements on Lon Chaney, Paul Naschy and Oliver Reed in Curse of the Werewolf. There’s a few genuine scares (even if they are of the ‘quick shock’ variety) and the film has a surprisingly visceral edge, with bloody limbs flying everywhere during the wolfman’s rampaging outbursts. As he showed more successfully in The Rocketeer, Joe Johnston (soon to helm the Captain America movie) clearly loves genre material, and that love does show itself throughout The Wolfman, and it is just plain great to see a good old-fashioned monster movie up on the screen, one that is not populated by idiotic teens looking to have sex and party down before getting tortured and skinned alive by some generic psychopath.
While far from being the disaster it could have been given the film’s troubled production, The Wolfman is unfortunately not the definitive modern interpretation of the iconic character that many of us were hoping for. But it’s still a solid, reasonably entertaining and occasionally arousing production, and a much more genuine evocation of classic Universal horror cinema than the studios' string of recent Mummy movies starring Brendan Fraser. It would be great to see a sequel that irons out all the wrinkles but, given the film’s much-plagued road to the screen, I wouldn’t be holding my breath.
Saturday, February 13, 2010
Creeping tails of wispy fog slithered their way up the tall window panes, shimmering with an eerie and ethereal glow in the cold light of the bright, full moon.
On the other side of the majestic glass, alone within the cavernous expanse of the isolated castle, Eva slept. Sheets of cool red satin hugged and highlighted her alluring naked form as she lay motionless on her back, as still as the night outside, and so deeply in sleep that she didn’t even sense the fog seeping it’s way through the keyhole and fine breaches in the window’s ornate frame.
The fog hugged the high walls and lushly carpeted floor as it slowly, purposefully made its way towards the bed, as if it had a heart and a soul lurking within its vapour, and was being driven by pure boiling lust. As the bluish-hued mist slowly nudged its way up under the sheets from the foot of the bed, Eva stirred slightly, her body stretching as she did so, but did not wake.
Beneath the sheets, the fog began to amass and attach itself around the silky skin of Eva’s lower legs, before it worked its way up around her thighs, the tingling sensation of arousal registering in the woman’s unconscious mind, causing her breath to deepen as her legs parted slightly and her hands flayed out to grip the sheets. Glistening with sweat, her chest began to heave upwards as the fingers of fog explored her torso, finding form and substance as they did so, until it was a pair of powerfully strong yet sensitive male hands that were travelling her body, bringing her every erogenous zone to life with an experienced precision that could have been mastered over centuries by the nosferatu that now had the woman in his grip, his handsomely cruel face breathing the hot air of passion over the nape of her neck, as he studied and drank in the beauty of the woman he was about to take and make his own.
Eva’s hands flung back and entangled themselves in her hair, rich and dark and flowing, as soft moans began to emanate from her moistened lips and her dreams became filled with flashing images of a powerful prince of the night, as much wild animal as he was passionate man, with blood red eyes that couldn’t be looked away from, and a body that was a sinewy mass of power and muscle.
Her body a simmering cauldron, Eva’s eyes opened and she awoke from her dreamy state just as her passion was about to be released. She stayed conscious for a mere split second, just long enough to see the man bare his taloned teeth and sink them into her soft, tender neck, feeding on her life’s blood as her body simultaneously climaxed. A scream that no one would ever hear echoed and reverberated around the halls of the castle as the visitor once again became sheathed in a web of fog and escaped into the night, leaving Eva exhausted, satisfied, and soon to be one of the beautiful undead.
Copyright John Harrison 2010
Saturday, January 23, 2010
Halftone Heroes is an exhibition featuring, and paying tribute to (via the art of Matthew Dunn), the long lost work of wartime artist William Henry Fletcher (WHF). With the majority of his original art destroyed shortly after his death, and any publications featuring his work being long out of print, this is a rare opportunity to journey into the world of WHF.
Location:The Owl And The Pussycat Gallery, 34 Swan Street, Richmond
Time:6:00PM Thursday, January 28th
Sunday, January 17, 2010
It’s been a few years since the Tote Hotel in Collingwood was any sort of major hub for my social activities, which is one of the main reasons why I decided to stay away from the place during its final weekend of trading. The Tote has never been ‘my’ pub, and I had no desire to show up like an incongruous ghoul in order to lament the demise of a place I haven’t really frequented for some time.
I saw some great (and some less than great) live bands at the Tote, but the main thing I will miss about the place had already been taken away several years ago. Situated above the main bar and band room was the exotic confines of the Cobra Bar, decked out in bamboo with framed posters from old snake themed movies lining the walls, Phillipa would hold court behind the bar, lighting your cigarettes and serving up her superb cocktails with a fine hand and a sharp tongue.
Here in this often sweaty and cramped environment, we would gather to watch screenings of old 8mm films (some of which I organised myself), take in scatological plays performed by the Sissies & Sluts theatrical troupe, listen to DJs like Bebe Bombora and Betsy Jinx, watch burlesque dancers shake and shimmy, attend art exhibitions, or just sit and shoot the breeze over a cool beer, a hot pizza and some great music.
Things were never the same once Phillip gave up the reigns on the Cobra Bar – the name stayed the same, but the atmosphere was gone, and soon so was I. Going there became too depressing, like trying the chase the ghosts of a past. I kept the memories and moved on….
Friday, January 15, 2010
Juliet Anderson: Selected Filmography