Friday, November 29, 2013

NEL PAPERBACK NASTIES

Any lovers of Hip Pocket Sleaze, especially the vintage UK variety, should enjoy this terrific BBC documentary from 1996, which looks at the lurid pulps published in the early-seventies by New English Library (NEL), with particular emphasis on their infamous line of skinhead and biker titles. Apart from interviewing anthology editor Peter Haining and author Peter Cave (Mumma, Speed Freaks, Chopper), the documentary also serves as a biography of sorts of the late James Moffat, who under the name Richard Allen authored some of NEL’s most famous and collectable titles, including Skinhead, Knuckle Girls, Boot Boys, Mod Rule, Glam and Punk Rock (he also penned the paperback tie-in of 1976’ Queen Kong under his real name). Moffat’s widow is interviewed (I love that she has his last half-empty pack of Dorchester cigarettes still sitting next to his ashes on her mantlepiece), and there’s some great archival footage of the hard-drinking, prolific jobbing writer from a 1972 television interview.
 
 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

MONSTER ART

 
 
Couple of stunning pieces of original Dave Warren art that showed up earlier this week as thanks for featuring him on my blog a while ago. Will be framing these and finding a prime spot to display them asap...My piece on Dave's art and obsessions can be found here:
 

40 YEARS OF TURNING HEADS

Was great to be in the front row at the Nova for the screening of The Exorcist (1973) to open Monsterfest 2013 last Thursday night. Linda Blair did an energetic and entertaining introduction, though she had to put up with the usual inane questions from the audience ("What star sign are you?"). The film itself looked (and sounded) stunning on the big screen, though I wish it had been the original theatrical version and not the extended Director's Cut. I haven't seen the original cut in a cinema since 1982, when the Capitol in Swanston St paired it with Friday the13th (1980) for a couple of weeks run. It was the first time I was old enough to see either of them, so it was a great introduction to two completely differing styles of popular modern horror cinema...I came back to see that double another three times before it finished its brief run.
 
Earlier that day, I was lucky enough to meet Linda Blair and have her sign a few pieces of memorabilia for me.
 
 


CORRUPT CUSHING

What a sleazy little slice of swingin’ 60s pop madness Robert Hartford-Davis’ Corruption (1968) is. Like Jess Franco’s later Faceless (1987), Corruption is a lurid and seedy riff on Georges Franju’s beautifully haunting and atmospheric Les Yeux Sans Visage/Eyes Without a Face (1960). As the brilliant surgeon pushed to the extremes of violent obsession in his effort to restore the horribly burned face of his beautiful young wife, Peter Cushing gives an incredible, sweaty performance that would have to rank as one of the most intense and off-beat of his career. When he is eyeing-up a potential victim sitting in front of him on the train, his face generates genuine unnerve and menace. After a chase across white seaside cliffs, the plot escalates wildly, with a home invasion by a group of New English Library-style counterculture bullies and an out of control surgery laser. The cool jazzy lounge soundtrack by Bill McGuffie, under-lit interiors and distorted camera lens techniques, along with much of its general ambience, helps give Corruption a more European feel than many British genre films of that period. Surrounding Cushing are Sue Lloyd, Wendy Varnals, New Zealand-born Noel Trevarthen, and a couple of future Hammer starlets, Kate O’Mara (Horror of Frankenstein, The Vampire Lovers) and Valerie Van Ost (The Satanic Rites of Dracula). The director’s son, Scott Hartford-Davis, works in Australia and has directed over 350 episodes of the popular night time soapie Home & Away over the last ten years.
 
The new Grindhouse Blu-ray/DVD set of Corruption is a treat, offering both the uncut UK/US version and an International version, which I haven’t yet watched but I believe it ups the nastiness and nudity a little. The restoration and transfer look spectacular and really do justice to Peter Newbrook’s lovely cinematography (which captures both cramped tension and beautiful countryside), and there’s a nice range of extras included that make this a worthy release to celebrate a memorable but rather obscure and under-discussed performance by a great actor in what would have been the year of his one hundredth birthday.
 
I need to hunt down a copy of the film tie-in paperback of Peter Saxon's novel to add to the library...
 
 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

COUNTERCULTURE PULPS



STICKING IT TO THE MAN!
By Iain McIntyre
(2012/The Leda Tape Organisation/Aus/80 pages)
 
Compiled by Western Australian born (now Melbourne based) writer/musician/radio host Iain McIntyre, Sticking it to the Man! takes a look at some of the best (and worst) vintage paperback pulp that was inspired by the counterculture period of 1964-75. One of the most sweeping periods of political, sexual, cultural and racial unrest during the 20th century, the counterculture created a melting pot of ingredients which many of the more salubrious publishers (along with filmmakers) found ripe for exploitation - from marijuana and LSD to psychotic hippies and their freelovin’ chicks, from campus protests and Hells Angels on wheels to the Black Panthers and riots on Sunset Strip, there was plenty happening for youth to get aroused over, and plenty for the older generations to get scared shitless about.
 
Broken up into general subcategories (Power to the People!, Better Living Trough Chemistry, Freaksploitation, Ghetto Blues, etc.), Sticking it to the Man! reviews over 120 paperback titles from this period. Some highlights include BB Johnson’s series of Superspade adventures, Patrick Morgan’s surf thrillers (Girl in the Telltale Bikini, Beach Queen Blowout, Cute and Deadly Surf Twins) and Ann Fettaman’s Trashing (which McIntyre tried to organise a reprinting of back in the 2000s, only to discover it was a dying wish of Fettaman’s that the book never see print again). Many of the reviews are presented as a single short paragraph, but there are also a number of titles which are looked at more in-depth (with McIntyre clarifying in his introduction that the longer reviews are not so much a sign of a book’s importance or quality, but more an indication of how much he simply enjoyed it or found something within its pages to particularly pique his interest). There is the usual selection of New English Library (NEL) biker novels, alongside some surprising inclusions, such as John Godey’s The Taking of Pelham 123 and Malcom Hulke’s Doctor Who adventure Doctor Who and the Green Death, but McIntyre certainly makes a case for warranting their inclusion by tying their themes and ideologies to the spirit of the times.
 
Heavily illustrated (in B&W) with many great covers (both illustrated and photographic), Sticking it to the Man! is an essential purchase for vintage paperback collectors, and anyone with an interest in the social history of the period.
 
 
 
Ian McIntyre Interview:
  
What first piqued your interest in vintage paperbacks?
 
Fiction wise my main interests are hardboiled crime and dystopian sci-fi. Discovering what existed beyond the well-thumbed classics originally got me interested in vintage titles.
 
I’m not generally a collector in terms of owning original items. I tend to read or listen to or watch things and then pass them on to others who I think will enjoy them, hoping they’ll do the same in turn. As the years have gone by I’ve learnt the value of archiving stuff however, not least because it’s a pain when you go back to read a particular novel only to discover it’s no longer available anywhere. Also when I originally became interested in these novels I discovered that, until Creation reissued them, the only way to read a Mick Norman biker book was to track down an original copy, and this remains true for things like Ann Fettaman’s Yippie novel Trashing. The internet is obviously changing this and I’m constantly amazed that obscure hobo novels from the 1920s that were only located in one or two university libraries and previously inaccessible to the public can now be found or purchased online along with rare bootlegs, blues 78s, etc.
 
Regardless of this someone still needs to catalogue, document, scan, etc. the stuff in the first place. With this in mind I started hanging onto novels that covered 1960s and 1970s subcultures because, other than some of the New Wave Sci-Fi stuff, few of them were still in circulation. I also noticed, compared to the music and films of the era or crime novels of the 1930s-50s, that there were no guides and little coverage beyond the Biker books, even amongst academic obscurantists. I thought it might be worthwhile to document these novels at some point, if only so people could see the amazing cover artwork and read about the outré plots and themes.
 
What is it about the counterculture genre that attracts you in particular? Does it stem from an interest in other forms of art from this period (music, cinema, etc.)?
 
I have an abiding fascination for cultural, musical and political troublemakers and oddballs from every era so documenting and celebrating their lives and creations has been a natural focus for my writing and radio shows. I’m not sure why, maybe it’s the sheer volume of activity that was going on then or the particular mix of freakery and radicalism, but the culture of the 1960s and early 1970s has always been of particular interest.
 
In terms of fiction I also find this period intriguing because there are simply so many books that exploit or address seditious, bizarre and rebellious subcultures. This is partially because the social upheaval of this period coincided with the last gasp of the mass paperback. It’s also because the experimentalism of the margins pushed its way into the mainstream as new audiences opened up for books that either pushed the boundaries or exploited and condemned those doing so.
 
Although beatniks, hoboes, etc. had generated a lot of their own novels, or provided grist for pulp hacks to chew on, the influence of psychedelics and radical politics transformed sci-fi and had a major impact on the kind of topics and protagonists that other genres dealt with. Writers like Brautigan, Ellison and Le Guin got the opportunity to produce ground-breaking work that was made widely available via mainstream publishers. Of course you also had low-brow porn, crime, thriller, teen and youthsploitation pulp novelists whose over the top and highly inaccurate takes on the counterculture and drug experiences generally make for hard-hitting and/or hilarious reading today. Even where the writing is execrable, the covers are often fabulous as this was still a period in which as much effort often went into the jackets as the text.
 
One thing that always surprised me is that there was never really a proliferation of Vietnam war themed paperbacks at the time. There were a few softcore sleaze titles like Vietnam Vixen, Viet-Nookie and even the gay title The Killer Queens, and some books had Vietnam vets as their protagonists, but it seemed to be an issue that even the paperback publishers wanted to stay away from.
 
Yes, although there have been plenty of combat novels written by veterans and genre writers since the late 1970s there were probably more novels about anti-war protesters than soldiers during the conflict itself. It may be that a certain period of time has to pass before people start writing novels about particular wars, but from the beginning there was an air of illegitimacy about the Vietnam war that intensified into complete unpopularity by the late 1960s/early 1970s. Unlike the "good" wars of the past there wasn’t much to glorify, particularly as after the Tet Offensive of 1968 it was clear that the US and its allies were not going to win. As you indicate though the figure of the hardened Vietnam-vet was already a fixture in crime novels and thrillers by the early ‘70s, particularly in the Vigilante field that took off around that time.
 
Sticking it to the Man! focuses primarily on fiction paperbacks, did you ever consider incorporating some of the many non-fiction titles from that period which purported to lift the lid on the counterculture (and were often little more than works of fiction themselves)?
 
Given that Sticking it to the Man! is as much about the book jackets as the writing I certainly did as some of the non-fiction publications have the most eye-popping covers of all. This is true of both the stuff that was written by people actively involved in radical politics, the counterculture and the "permissive society" as well as those writing exposes about them. I decided in the end though that I also wanted to discuss the plots and writers that non-fiction should be left out and maybe covered in a separate project one day.
 
I’ve often wondered what a future generation would make of the sixties if all they had to go on was mass market paperbacks and exploitation movies from the period…
 
Probably a more outré version of the mainstream version that has been pushed since the 1980s- a shallow focus on the colourful clothes, music and drugs with most of the ethnic, political and internal diversity and conflict stripped out.
 
What is your favourite sub-genre of the counterculture paperacks? Are there other genres of paperbacks that you have an interest in beyond those covered in Sticking it to the Man!?
 
I have to say that all the books and sub-genres covered in Sticking it to the Man! appeal to me in some way, even just for the covers. The cringe-worthiness of some of the teen novels and the misogyny of many of the Biker novels can make them somewhat hard to plough through however. Although the writing is bad, but generally not quite bad enough to make it funny, the amazing covers, and the fact that there was enough of an audience to enable him to produce ten surfing secret agent novels, make Patrick Morgan’s Operation Hang Ten series a fave.
 
As mentioned earlier I enjoy a lot of Crime Noir and thanks to various websites and online sellers it’s now possible to track down some of the more obscure writers and titles from the 1930s-60s. I tend to pick up anything that relates to subcultures so I have a few punk and beatnik related novels. Over the last decade I’ve also been tracking down fiction and articles about Hoboes from the 1880s to 1940s. Although non-fiction and academic works are published regularly very little of the original writing they reference is available. To help remedy this I’m currently in the process of finishing an anthology of pieces from the classic era that will come out through Verse Chorus Press in the next year or two.
 
In your introduction, you talk about having amassed a collection of around 300 paperbacks, mainly through trawling used bookstores and car boot sales, etc. Is this still your preferred method for seeking out these books? I have to admit, as much as I love eBay and the like when I am trying to obtain a particular title, I still find something special in the simple act of scouring through the shelves of op shops and used bookstores, waiting for that previously unheard-of title to leap out at you. The distinctive smell of a sed bookstore is still one of my favourite aromas.
 
I’ve picked up the odd book via online sellers as the pickings are getting thinner with the passage of time, but I still prefer to discover titles at random or have friends surprise me with things they pass on. Book exchanges are long gone and second-hand bookstores are disappearing in Australia and elsewhere, but there are still plenty of op shops, school fetes, market stalls, etc. to hunt around.
 
Any plans to write a follow-up volume?
 
Yes, depending on how much interest people show in this one. Sticking it to the Man! originally began as a website in the early 2000s. After an initial flurry of reviewing and scanning I got side-tracked with other projects. I’d always wanted to do a print publication about this stuff so when Simon from Ledatape talked to me about doing a book together it gave me the impetus to scan my favourite covers and finish all the half written reviews. I had considered including more reviews and covers, but as the Melbourne anarchist bookfair was coming up, and I didn’t want to drag it out any longer, we made that event the deadline and just got the thing done.
 
As a result this volume only covers120-130 books and barely scrapes the surface of what’s out there. I’ve caught the reviewing bug again and if there is a second volume I’d like to include some interviews and in-depth profiles covering the writers, publishers and cover artists, as you’ve done with Hip Pocket Sleaze. Alternatively I might do a bunch of interviews as a summer series for Community Radio 3CR.
 
What is the one vintage paperback title that you think belongs on everyone’s shelf?
 
Too hard to pick one, but if I was reading this stuff for the first time then I’d start with Mick Norman’s collected Angel Chronicles, Hunter S Thompson’s Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas (supposedly auto-biographical I know, but more fiction than not), any of Richard Brautigan’s books, John Brunner’s The Sheep Look Up, Robert Stone’s Dog Soldiers and Sam Greenlee’s The Spook Who Sat By The Door. Oh, and of course, Malcolm Hulke’s Doctor Who and the Green Death.
 
Barring those already adapted, what book covered in Sticking it to the Man! would you most like to see as a feature film?
 
With today’s effects and budgets I think Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War would make an amazing film. In terms of sci-fi it’s the anti-Starship Troopers (although Verhoeven’s film version of Heinlein’s book did a good of filling that role itself). If we could back in time to the era of the Peacekillers and Psychomania then Mick Norman’s Guardian Angels -- in which standard issue Hell’s Angels duke it out with an ultra-camp, satin attired glam biker gang -- would make a great Z-grade flick.
 
*******
 
Other books by Iain McIntyre include Wild About You: The Sixties Beat Explosion in Australia and New Zealand (Verse Chrous Press, 2009) and Tomorrow Is Today: Australia In The Psychedelic Era, 1966-70 (Wakefield Press, 2006).
 
 

HAMMER'S PRIMAL PAST & SWINGIN' FUTURE

 
Had an afternoon going from the past to the future with this double-bill from Hammer Films. Adapted from a treatment by J. G. Ballard, When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1970) isn’t as entertaining or well-made as Hammer’s earlier prehistoric epic, One Million Years, B.C. (1966), but Victoria Vetri makes an impressive cave gal (or hut gal, as is the case here), there’s some nice stop-motion animation from Jim Danforth, and an effectively rousing climax featuring attack by giant crab and a destructive luna tidal wave.
 
Roy Ward Baker’s Moon Zero Two (1969) is a strange film - a swingin’ sixties sci-fi adventure satire with classic western motifs. I like the animated opening titles and Julie Driscoll’s theme song, and there’s some great pop designs and style on display, along with the lovely Catherine Schell and Adrienne Corri from Vampire Circus (1972), but the film’s tonal shifts are too severe for the film to work as a whole. The Green Slime (1968) was a much more effective dose of 60s sci-fi pop. A Carry On performer appeared in both of the films on this disc - Imogen Hassall in Dinosaurs and Bernard Bresslaw in Moon Zero Two.
 
 

Friday, November 15, 2013

THE THRILL OF THE THROWAWAY

This piece by Andrew Netter on vintage Australian paperback pulps, for which I was interviewed, appeared in the Life and Style section of the Melbourne Age newspaper last Saturday (the 9th of November) .
 
 

RECENT HAMMER: THE WOMAN IN BLACK (2012)

I didn’t read that many good things about James Watkins' The Woman in Black, the 2012 horror movie from the ‘new’ Hammer Films, that made me want to rush to see it when it was first released. Finally watched the blu-ray of it late last night, and while I appreciate the attempt at doing an old-fashioned gothic ghost story, I found the results were rather hit and miss.
 
The film certainly looks beautiful - it doesn’t share the lurid gaudy colour palate of many of the classic old Hammer Horrors, but instead has a very bleak, muted look, a style which has become overly used today, but certainly suits the story and locations in this instance (the Osea Island causeway in Essex makes for a stunningly stark and haunting locale) . There’s plenty of ambience and spooky atmosphere but very little in Jane Goldman’s screenplay to really draw you into the plot, or even care a whole lot about the mystery that is at the centre of things (Goldman was much more effective as Matthew Vaughn’s co-writer on Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class). Likewise, the film is mostly well-acted but the characters just not very interesting. There are a handful of effective frights, but most of them are of the ‘quick shock’ variety and have very little impact on the characters or story.
 
One of the film’s biggest problems for me was Daniel Radcliffe - I have nothing against him particularly, I just don’t think he has grown into suitable leading man material. I feel he would be more likely to make an impact as an adult with some more off the wall supporting characters. Still, The Woman in Black did very well for Hammer, grossing over US $127 million worldwide on a budget of just $15 million, so the decision to cast Radcliffe certainly paid-off in a commercial sense.
 
A sequel, The Woman in Black: Angels of Death is currently in production, with Susan Hill (author of the original 1983 novel of The Woman in Black) helping on the story, which takes place in a military mental hospital during World War II. The Woman in Blackwas earlier adapted as a UK television drama in 1989, with a script by Quatermass creator Nigel Kneale, which I would like to see.
 
 

Saturday, November 2, 2013

BAVA GOES RABID

Having just watched Mario Bava’s RABID DOGS for the very first time, I am wondering what the hell took me so long. Filmed in 1974 but left unedited on the shelf until 1998, it is an amazing film. Often, when a lost or uncompleted work by a director is uncovered, the excitement of the actual payoff is less satisfying that the anticipation. That is certainly not the case here, with RABID DOGS  showing Bava in fine late-career form and more than able to hold his own against any up-and-coming young exploitation turk.

Built on the simple premise of a robbery gone bad and the desperate getaway in the hijacked car filled with hostages, RABID DOGS comes off like a fusion of the tough Euro-crime thriller with LAST HOUSE OF THE LEFT (1972), in that it shares a similar oppressive atmosphere and level of violence and depravity as Wes Craven’s confrontational classic (not to mention Don Backy’s Bisturi character is very Krug-like in his appearance and knife-edge temper, and there’s a sequence where he and one of his padres in crime - played by Eurotrash fave George Eastman - force their female kidnap victim to urinate in front of them, which is very reminiscent of a similar moment in LAST HOUSE).

With so much of the film taking place within the confines of a moving vehicle, Bava turns a potential limitation into one of the film’s strongest elements, giving it a stifling sense of claustrophobia and filming the actors in such extreme close-ups that they have no place to hide, exposing every detail in their faces and causing the audience to feel every bead of sweat that rolls down their brows and sense every grimy odour that must be radiating from their bodies. The violence is brutal and jarring, and the clever way in which it is filmed and edited is a nice demonstration of how the filmmaker was able to effectively compensate for not having the money to over-indulge in make-up effects. Likewise, the opening robbery is economical but exciting, and the ending is bleak and cynical and beautifully set-up.

I’m looking forward to watching the alternate cut of the film, titled KIDNAPPED, which includes additional scenes directed by Mario Bava’s son Lamberto in 1996, along with a new soundtrack (though I have to say that Stelvio Cipriani’s musical score in RABID DOGS - sparse and hypnotic - would be very hard to improve upon).
 
 


XEROX FEROX

Xerox Ferox has arrived! This massive new Headpress tome by John Walter Szpunar looks to be the definitive account of the horror/exploitation film fanzine movement of the 1980s/90s. Can't wait to get stuck into it...review to follow.
 

 

PRE-CODE COMIC BOOK DAMES

New ish of the cool Bachelor Pad magazine (#25) is now out, featuring my article on the good (and bad) girls of pre-code comic books.
 

 

REMEMBERING CINEFANTASTIQUE



The new issue (#31) of Richard Klemensen’s long-running magazine Little Shoppe of Horrors filed through my PO box today. Devoted primarily to classic British horror cinema (and the films of Hammer in particular), I spent the tram ride home ...being thoroughly absorbed in Tim Lucas’ wonderful piece on his time spent writing for the late Frederick S. Clarke’s highly influential Cinefantastique magazine. Writing his first piece for the magazine at the age of 15 (initially as a way to deal with a close friend’s suicide), Lucas, like many of his fellow contributors, had a lengthy (10 years) but sometimes rocky working relationship with Clarke which ended on a bitter note, but like most other people who also had run-ins with the publisher, he is never hesitant to give the magazine its fair share of praise and due credit. To many of that era (the early 1970s), Cinefantastique was the first pro-zine publication which treated genre cinema with the depth and respect it deserved (even if it was trashing a film as it did so). As a kid, I used to buy Cinefantastique from Space Age Books in Melbourne, and often imagined what exciting lives the people who put out magazines like that must have led. Decades later, it’s sobering but fascinating to learn the truth. Fred Clarke, who committed suicide in 2000 at the age of 52, was a troubled and difficult man, but the legacy he left behind continues to exert an influence - directly and indirectly - on the genre film writers and journalists of today.

Haven’t had a chance to look at the rest of the issue as yet (which includes pieces on the making of Hammer’s DEMONS OF THE MIND and the delirious 1970 monster schlock classic TROG), but the Cinefantastique piece is worth the cover price alone. And as is usual with Little Shoppe of Horrorsthese days, it is beautifully illustrated and has some gorgeous original art by the likes of Mark Maddox, Steve Karchin and Paul Watts.

www.littleshoppeofhorrors.com
 

 

KISS: THE EARLY (GOOD) YEARS

Started reading the new KISS bio Nothin' to Lose earlier this week. I give most new books on the band a miss, but was drawn to this one by the name Ken Sharp, who wrote the excellent Behind the Mask (a book that was originally written as a ...quickie mass-market paperback in 1979, then shelved when KISS’ popularity took a dive in the US that year, before being dusted off and tidied-up in 2003). Presented in the (overly?) familiar oral history format, Nothin' to Lose only covers the band’s classic formative years of 1972 - 1975, from their early days playing grimy dives in Queens to an audience of none, through constant tours in support of albums that barely sold, to the surprise multi-platinum success of KISS Alive! (their double-live album that was hardly live at all). Looking back, it’s amazing to think the band were able to pump out three studio albums and a double-live album, while barely staying off the road, within a space of just two years (though they were certainly far from being the only band who were prolific at putting out new material during the 1960s/70s).

A good read so far, with lots of input from former roadies, concert promoters, club owners, contemporaries and collaborators, and of course, the original band members themselves. Throw in lots of colour/B&W photos I can’t recall ever seeing before, and Nothin' to Lose already becomes a much-recommended book for fans of old-school KISS, even those who have become thoroughly jaded by the band over the two decades.

I do have to call Gene Simmons out, though, on his claim that the band’s signature breakthrough hit, Rock & Roll All Nite, was adapted from an earlier song he’d written called Drive My Car, which Simmons claims was inspired by the Stephen King novel CHRISTINE. Nice story - except Rock & Roll All Nite came out in 1975, and CHRISTINE wasn’t published until 1983! Gene never lets little things like facts get in the way of a good story...