Saturday, October 26, 2013


Since the mid-1980s, New York denizen Keith J. Crocker has expressed his love of exploitation cinema in several different ways - as an editor/writer of The Exploitation Journal, as a lecturer and presenter of film screenings and retrospectives, as a distributor of rare movie titles through his Cinefear Video label, and as a producer, co-writer and director of his own low-budget feature films. While I have read (and admired) Crocker’s writings on the genre for some time, I have never had the chance to watch one of his features, until a couple of them filed through the mail box earlier this week, direct from the man himself in the US. I decided that 2am on a Saturday morning was a suitable time to sit-down and (hopefully) enjoy a double-feature of Crocker craziness. On the bill: The Bloody Ape (1997) and Blitzkrieg: Escape from Stalag 69 (2007).

Crocker’s first feature (after several years of making 16mm and Super 8 shorts), The Bloody Ape was filmed during 1992/93 but not edited and released until four years later, and is a sleazy adaptation of Poe’s Murders in the Rue Morgue, captured in a way which recalls the feel of the old poverty-row horror films produced by companies like Monogram and Republic in the 1940s, but with a more lurid and blatantly titillating edge. In Croker’s film, a carnival barker’s main attraction - a 400 pound male gorilla named Gorto - is set free from his chains to embark on a frenzied killing spree, unleashing his pent-up sexual aggression along the way. It takes a while for the story to really kick-in, but once Gorto claims his first victim (a hippie protestor who has his dick pulled off while taking a pee break) The Bloody Ape becomes an entertaining orgy of gory kills, sexy thrills, stupid cops, and racial stereotypes that might seem offensive to anyone who isn’t in on the whole gag.

As someone who loves both ‘men in gorilla suit’ movies and old carnivals/side-shows, it would be pretty hard for me not to dig The Bloody Ape. Throw in some Herschel Gordon Lewis-like gore, some nude girls and I’m sold. One of the things I like most about the film is the way Crocker captures a genuine early-70s 8mm porn/grindhouse seediness, without relying on the fake scratches and other cheap optical effects which many of the more recent homages to the genre fall back on (although these effect are used in the DVD’s making-of featurette). Crocker’s choice to film on out-of-date Super 8mm film stock, rather than the popular VHS of the day, was a wise one indeed, as the look of The Bloody Ape is one of its primary assets. The scenes filmed at a Nassau (New York) carnival help give the film a bit of scale and atmosphere, while also providing a great filmic record of some of the wonderfully gaudy attractions the carnival offered at the time. They also provide a nice nod to two of my own favourite carnival-set exploitation films: Ray Dennis Steckler’s The Incredibly Strange Craetures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies (1964) and Dave Friedman’s She-Freak (1967).

Blitzkrieg: Escape from Stalag 69 is a homage to classic prisoner of war camp films like Stalag 17 (1953), as well as yet another much-loved genre of low-budget cinema: the notorious Nazi-ploitation films of the 1970s, characterised by the likes of Lee Frost’s Love Camp 7 (1969), Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS (1975) and Italian productions such as Gestapo’s Last Orgy (1977). Set during the dying days of World War II in Germany, the film tells of a notorious POW camp run by Commandant Helmet Schultz and the twisted experiments he subjected his American, British and Russian prisoners to within its walls, all while the Third Reich crumbles around them.

Shot digitally, the film lacks the great grimy look of The Bloody Ape, and is not as overall enjoyable as that film, but it is certainly more impressively mounted and an ambitious film for Crocker, running at 135 minutes with lots of story and character, and a scope that you don’t always see in films of this budget (helped by the participation of 50 World War II recreationists). Apart from writing, producing and directing, Crocker also takes a role in front of the camera, playing an American POW with a New York attitude and actually doing it quite well. Despite the abundance of dialogue and exposition, there is still plenty of the grimy sort of tasteless torture and gratuitous sex & gore that fans specifically seek out this genre of film for. One of the most important elements of the Nazi-ploitation films was the women, and Croker doesn’t disappoint with his casting here, using some great faces (and bodies), including Natasa Warasch, Gordana Jenell, Tammy Dalton (as a cabaret dancer) and, especially, Tatyana Kott as Natasha, a sexy Russian freedom fighter who spends a lot of time tied-up or naked (often both at once) and at one point delivers a nice little nod to Meir Zarchi’s I Spit on Your Grave (1977). In fact, Kott reminds me quite a bit of Camille Keaton, the lead actress from Zarchi’s infamous rape-revenge film.

An entertaining double that suitably finished just as the first faint light of dawn started to show through the venetions, when reality seems blurred and you feel like you are one of those ‘twilight people’ that Ed Wood talked about in his screenplay for Orgy of the Dead.

The Bloody Ape and Blitzkrieg: Escape from Stalag 69 are both available on DVD from Wild Eye in the US, with each release carrying a nice range of extras, including commentaries, making-of featurettes, Q&A’s, short films, trailers and more. For more info visit the Cinefear website:




My latest article for Australia's Collectables Trader magazine is a look at JAWS memorabilia, to be published in their Nov/Dec issue.


Saturday, October 19, 2013

MANIAC (2012)

Franck Khalfoun's 2012 remake of William Lustig's 1980 grindhouse classic Maniac is a terrific example of a horror movie being successfully reimagined and not requiring a big studio budget to do so.
Possibly realising that it would be impossible to recapture the grimy Times Square seediness of the original, Khalfoun sets the remake in Los Angeles and gives the film a more digitally clean sheen, but the oppressive world of the lead character Frank Zito (Elijah Wood) and his rapid descent into psychosis is effectively captured by filming the majority of the movie from his point of view, so the only times we actually get to see the lead character on screen - a apart from a few brief isolated sequences - is when we catch his reflection in a mirror or on a television monitor. This POV style gives the film something of an early De Palma feel. The violence is brutal and startling, just as make-up maestro Tom Savini's notorious scalping effects shocked and outraged in the original.
Elijah Wood, so creepy in Sin City, is not as physically repulsive or intimidating as the late Joe Spinell, making his Zito more of a Ted Bundy type, in that females seem to find him attractive and safe to be around. And the relationship between Zito and young photographer Anna (Nora Arnezeder) is certainly more fleshed-out and believable than that between Spinell and Caroline Munro. Nice ambient score by Raphaël Hamburger, though not as memorable as Jay Chattaway's 1980 score. I liked the clever visual reference to the lurid and controversial poster art used to promote the original film. Lost its way a little bit towards the end, but overall I found this to be a rare remake that pays due tribute to the original while still managing to stand creatively and dramatically on its own.

Sunday, October 13, 2013


Been revisiting Allen Coulter's Hollywoodland for the first time since it was released in 2006. Such a terrific and underrated portrait of the life and mysterious death of George Reeves, the troubled star of the 1950s Superman television series. Was his 1959 death a suicide (the official verdict) or murder? Through the eyes of Adrien Brody's down-at-his-heels private eye character, the movie presents several plausible explanations for his demise, but ultimately this will forever remain one of Hollywood's most enduring mysteries. Ben Affleck really does shine in the role of George Reeves, his mannerisms and accent are often uncanny. This was the movie that started me rethinking my opinion of Affleck's talents, and I'm really keen to see how he takes on the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman in the upcoming Batman/Superman crossover film (though I still think it's a bit early to reboot Batman after the Chris Nolan/Christian Bale trilogy). The set design and costuming in Hollywoodland are beautiful, as is Diane Lane, who plays the part of the older woman, married to a powerful studio boss, who takes Reeves as her kept lover (ironically, Lane recently played Clark Kent/Superman's earth mother in this years disappointing Man of Steel).

Saturday, October 12, 2013


No matter how big or hi-def a TV you might have sitting in your lounge room, if you don't make the effort to go and see Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity in IMAX 3D then you are depriving yourself of one of the most spellbinding, exhilarating and intense cinematic experiences in years. Cuarón makes the soundless vacuum of space absolutely terrifying. Despite this, I want to go into orbit now more than ever. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, not amongst my favourite actors, deliver nice performances that ground the film (so to speak) and prevent it from becoming just another special effects showcase. And so refreshing to see a film of this scale that - like the classic sci-fi films of the 1950s - only runs for a brisk 90 minutes.


Cyril Frankel’s The Witches (aka The Devil's Own, 1966) is a Hammer production I had not previously seen, so it was something of a treat to watch the new local blu-ray release of the film. Based on the 1960 novel The Devil’s Own by Peter Curtis (aka Norah Lofts), it’s an occult thriller that may not reach the lofty heights of the studio’s masterful The Devil Rides Out (1968), but its first two acts contain some terrific moments of atmosphere and creeping unease, as well as one jarringly brutal sequence (when the local butcher skins a real dead rabbit on his shop counter, right in front of horrified lead Joan Fontaine). The film also contains a fairly blatant reference to menstrual blood, which I found kind of surprising for the time. Unfortunately, Nigel Kneale’s screenplay gets a bit hysterical during the climax (not helped by Ingrid Boulting’s unconvincing hypnotic gyrating), which undoes a lot of the good tension and intrigue established earlier on. It’s kinda nice to see a Hammer genre film from this period that doesn’t have a roster of familiar faces in its cast. Fontaine makes a great (and great-looking) mature female lead, and the film even gives hints of a sapphic attraction between her schoolteacher character and Kay Walsh’s journalist. Fans of 1970s UK comedy television will recognise a young Michele Dotrice from Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em in the cast. Like most Hammer productions from this period, it looks sumptuous and beautiful, though the blu-ray’s 1080i transfer is a little soft and tends to mute the film’s colours. Only extra on this BR/DVD combo release is the original trailer, though the UK release of The Witches contains the new 45 minute doco Hammer Glamour (which in Australia is instead included on - more suitably - Frankenstein Created Woman).

Monday, October 7, 2013


Pretty crazed Halloween mask I bought from one of the bargain shops down Chapel St yesterday. I love some of the Halloween stuff that these local cheap discounts stores get in around this time - some of it has a similar feel to those classic monster rack toys that companies like Lincoln and AHI produced in the 1960s and early-70s. I chose this mask because I was drawn to its colourful lurid gaudiness, the hippie hair gives it a touch of Charles Manson and Rob Zombie, and there's definite traces of Ed 'Big Daddy' Roth in the face design and colour scheme. If only there was a screening of The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies playing somewhere locally that I could run up and down the aisles during...


Spent an enjoyable evening at Her Majesty's Theatre last week watching the fabulous Jerry Hall put on a star turn as Mrs Robinson in the stage play adaptation of The Graduate. Mike Nichol's 1967 film is not amongst my fave movies from that very fertile and creative period of American cinema of the late-60s/early-70s, but the story translated to the stage fairly well, and kept its 1960s setting (with the requisite soundtrack of songs from that era, of course). While the film featured a great and powerful ensemble interplay between Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft and Katherine Ross, here it is all about Jerry (in Bancroft's role). With her sexy strut, boozy flirtations and smoky Texas drawl, Hall is outstanding, just lots of fun to watch in a role that could have easily descended into self-parody in the hands of a lesser talent. It's no coincidence the play drags just a little in the second half, when Hall is on stage less. Nice effective minimalist set design.



Finally snagged myself a vintage 1975 Ideal Jaws game to add to the collection! The old store sticker on it (J. M. Fields) gives an original price of $6.49. I paid slightly more for mine, but still got a pretty good deal on it...



Watching the new Australian Frankenstein Created Woman blu-ray release has certainly given me a new appreciation for Terence Fisher’s 1966 film, possibly the most unique (not necessarily best) entry in Hammer’s Frankenstein series. There’s something much more... grim and baroque about Frankenstein Created Woman , right from the evocative opening sequence that shows a young boy watching on as his alcoholic father is beheaded by guillotine on some barren hilltop. The screenplay by the (recently deceased) Anthony Hinds (writing as John Elder) injects some science-fiction elements and touches on some deep subjects like religion, metaphysics, psychosexuality and the existence of the soul. Of course, all of this is delivered in pure pulp fashion, but it still manages to ask some interesting questions. Another terrific performance from Peter Cushing as the Baron. The three arrogant (and doomed) young toffs, in their top-hats and tails, bring a strange sense of flamboyance to the film. There’s even an element of doomed romance that is nicely played and rather affecting. The moments of horror are not amongst Hammer’s most graphic, but they are rather brutal and chilling nonetheless, and seem more horrific because they are delivered not by some grotesque monster but by a beautiful young blonde woman (in the form of enigmatic Austrian model and Playboy Playmate Susan Denberg).


Having finally gotten around to buying the Criterion DVD release of Cornel Wilde’s The Naked Prey (1966), I can finally ditch the fuzzy old VHS tape I recorded off late-night television nearly twenty years ago (the last time it was televised locally on free-to-air to the best of my knowledge). What an astonishing film this is, and watching the Criterion disc is like discovering its beauty and uniqueness all over again. Wilde, a former matinee idol, not only produced and directed The Naked Prey but also stars as an ivory hunter who is chased across the harsh (colonial era) African landscape by a group of natives who have been offended by the party’s refusal to hand over some trinkets in exchange for safe passage. The deceptively simple screenplay earned co-writers Clint Johnson and Don Peters an Oscar nomination. There is some incredibly strong imagery on display throughout the film, not all of it pleasant (the authentic archive footage of elephants being slaughtered for their tusks is tough to take), and it reflects elements of the notorious Mondo genre at times (the shot of natives actually crawling about inside the carcass of a deceased elephant is both fascinating and repulsive). Scenes of a man being covered in clay then roasted over an open fire still manage to disturb nearly half a century later. At age 52, the fitness-conscious Wilde is in terrific shape (though he later admitted that the draining physicality of the role took a toll on his health). Filmed in Rhodesia (today’s Zimbabwe), the vistas look stunning on Criterion’s release, and the authentic African tribal chants used on the soundtrack help bring a real sense of urgency, authenticity and tension to the proceedings.

While I’ve only ever sat down and watched it a handful of times over the years, The Naked Prey remains a defining moment from my early years of discovering cinema. I couldn’t have been more than eight or nine when my mum came into the bedroom one late Saturday evening, woke me up out of a dead sleep, and told me "there’s a movie coming up on TV that you might enjoy". It was The Naked Prey. Whether my mum sensed that there was an emerging film buff in me I’ll never now, but it - like the film itself - is a memory that has stuck with me ever since.