Friday, December 25, 2015


As a little Christmas treat for readers, Marneen Lynne Fields and I have decided to give you a little sneak peek at what we have been cooking up for Marneen's upcoming autobiography, Cartwheels & Halos, which I am helping her co-write, with an eye to publication in late-2016.

This excerpt deals with the filming of Marneen's hair-raising stunt on The Gauntlet, and also provides a great example of some of the terrific photos the book will contain.


In mid-1977, I packed my travel bags and headed for the dry air and sunny climate of the Arizona desert to film one of the stunts which I became best known for within the industry, getting punched off a moving train by Clint Eastwood in his classic action film, The Gauntlet. I landed the job after receiving a call from Clint’s stunt double and coordinator, Buddy Van Horn. He had been given my number and asked if I would be prepared to do this rather risky stunt. Though I was quite apprehensive about it, it was far too good an opportunity to turn down, and I had about two weeks to get ready before I was due on location in Arizona, so I spent that time practicing in the playground at the local beach, where I would stand up on the moving swings and leap off of them while they were still in motion.

In the movie, Clint – who also directed as well as starred in alongside his future wife Sondra Locke – plays Ben Shockley, an alcoholic and down on his heels cop from Phoenix, who is given the seemingly simple task of travelling to Las Vegas to escort a troublesome female witness named Gus Mally (Locke) back for a court case. Of course, this "nothing witness" for a "nothing trial” ends up instigating a white-knuckle fight for survival, as the cop and his witness are chased across the desert by corrupt officials who are determined to kill them both before they reach their destination.

For my big scene, I doubled for actress Samantha Doane as one of the tough biker chicks who runs into Shockley and Mally when they jump aboard the carriage of a passing goods train. The plot set-up was that the couple had previously stolen a motorcycle from this outlaw bikie gang, which has them out for revenge. After getting rid of the two male bikers (who are busy forcing themselves lasciviously on Mally), Shockley angrily approaches the female biker, who looks at him and asks “You wouldn’t hit a lady, would you?” Shockley replies by slugging her in the face and sending her flying out of the train carriage and onto the hard and hot desert floor. I also doubled for Samantha during the fight with Clint inside the train carriage, and had a small background role as one of the female bikers in an earlier scene. I had tattoos drawn on me by one of the make-up artists for both of my roles – one on my shin for the background scene, and ones on my cheek and upper-arms for my stunt scene, along with a thick black curly wig on my head, which was not only intensely uncomfortable to wear in the Arizona heat, but gave me extra concern about the possibility of it coming loose and disturbing my field of vision during the jump.

For the leap from the moving train carriage, all I had for protection was a small boy’s football girdle and some knee pads strapped to me under the pair of grotty old blue Levis which the character wore. All movie stunts are serious and carry potential risks, but this one filled me with a particularly strong level of anxiety in the lead-up to its execution. The screenplay called for me to be standing with my back to the open train carriage, causing me to exit going off blind. When Clint throws a punch at my jaw, I had to turn to my right and leap from the train, while trying to make it look as if my body had gone limp from the punch. The scary part was, because the train was in motion, until I actually spun around and made the commitment to fall, I had no real idea of exactly where I was going to land. Clint and Van Horn had blocked out my scene with me and gone over the approximate area where I was expected to fall. I was warned by both of them that I must make sure my body moved in the same direction the train at all times (hard to do when you’re going off backwards with a half twist), or I could be thrown back under the train track wheels and squashed to death. I watched in nervous anticipation as the props department prepared the ground for my crash landing. They removed as many rocks as they could, then they rolled in a small wheel barrel of full of sand. They poured the sand around the general area I’d be landing in to help cushion my fall, but there were still a few cactus plants and smaller rocks in the area. I remember them tossing an old rusty Coke can and more cactus plants onto the sand to make it look more authentic.

One thing you have to bear in mind is, when your body leaves an object traveling at a speed like that, the gravitational pull carries you along with the object, even after you have left it. The train was travelling steady at around five miles per hour, which may not sound like much, but seems a whole lot more when you are the one who has to make the leap. As I performed the half twist to align myself with the massive train, and launched myself off the carriage, my body, unexpectedly, popped high up into the air and I flew horizontally at the same speed of the train as I was carried along the side of it. All of this happening within seconds prior to beginning my descent. While mid-air, my arms, legs, and body flailed uncontrollably for what seemed like slow, terrifying minutes rather than the few seconds it actually took to complete the fall. It was very frightening for me at that moment. In those few seconds, I had to try and muster all my strength to regain equilibrium and keep my body moving in the direction of the train as I was free falling and being pulled every which way. At the same time, I was also trying to keep a mindful eye on where I was going to land. I was certainly terrified at that moment, and wondered why the hell I was even here doing this. The noise of the train and its gravitational pull had me feeling as if I might be pulled back against the side of the carriage or, even worse, sucked under its rolling wheels and crushed to death, which added to the incredible anxiety and adrenaline that was charging through my body.

Once the centrifugal pull of the train dissipated, my body fell like a sack of potatoes, hitting the harsh Arizona floor with a force equal to the weight of my body times the speed of the object. In other words, pretty darn hard. I flipped over wildly about ten times before slamming into a cactus of all things, which halted my roll. I was rattled and bruised, but miraculously came away without a scratch on my bare arms and face. I went from incredible apprehension to feeling like a complete champion in seconds! I had conquered the jump off the moving train, and got to walk away without any broken or fractured bones, only a badly bruised left heel. It could have so easily gone the other way, though. When you watch the stunt in the film, you can see how close I came to landing on that rusty old Coke can. To think we all stood around watching the props department nonchalantly toss it into the sand, presumably to give a bit of variety to the barren landscape, my youth and inexperience making me ignorant to the damage it might have caused had I connected with it upon landing. This was still the days of the old hard tin Coke cans, not the easily-crushable aluminum ones which became the mainstay not long after. I hate to think of what might have happened if my face landed on it, or if I had hit the back of my head on it while rolling over upon landing. As I always did upon completing a successful stunt, I thanked the angel on my shoulder.

Despite the incredible risks and the immense terror which gripped me during its execution, it remains a stunt which I am incredibly proud of, and is certainly one of the defining moments of my stunt career, which was launched virtually overnight because of it. They put my jump in the trailer, a still photo of it was sent out to all the newspapers and entertainment magazines, and the Hollywood stunt community began taking real notice of me. It was one of the most dangerous stunts which a female had ever attempted on film to that point, and it looked amazing and startlingly authentic when it was seen on the big screen for the first time, and it still holds up incredibly well on home video today. People still gasp when they see that stunt for the first time, because they can see that it is real. No matter how advanced cinema special effects might look today, thanks primarily to computer technology, nothing will ever match the genuine excitement of a girl with little more than knee pads, a football girdle and a lot of heart and spirit, taking a great leap into the unknown and doing stunt people worldwide proud.

About a week after I got back from filming in Arizona, I received a personal phone call from Fritz Manes, who was Clint Eastwood's childhood friend and producer at the time. Fritz told me to come by the office at Warners to pick up some photographs he had for me. When I arrived at the studio and opened the door to Malpaso Productions, there was Clint Eastwood, standing alone in the reception area of the outer office. I kid you not, he was in a state of complete calm and deep thought, and I imagined he was either meditating or if it was his way of running and remembering lines. I wondered how he was going to react, since I had entered without knocking first, but he was fine as he shook my hand and I reminded him that I was the girl he had punched off the train. “Yes, Fritz isn't here right now”, Clint replied. “But he has some photos for you. Come in here, Fritz left them on his desk." He handed me a huge manilla envelope with my name written in black swastick pen on it. Once again, he shook my hand and complimented me on the great stunt I did, as he opened the envelope and showed me the still photos, which captured my entire sequence in a set of 8X10 shots, which I still possess and treasure to this day. Clint Eastwood was the most talented director and producer I ever worked with, no doubt. After my stunt had been completed, and I lay winded and nearly knocked-out on the hot desert floor, pain tearing at my left heel, Clint hauled himself off the train as soon as it came to a halt, ran over to me and picked me up in a giant hug. “I LOVED IT!”, he exclaimed. In 2010, Clint actually contacted me via Facebook, and was nice enough to send me a copy of a 1988 issue of Star Magazine, which ran an article on me with the headline 'Clint Eastwood’s Hug Changed My Life'.

Released in December of 1977, The Gauntlet proved to be another popular box-office hit for Clint, who could really do no wrong at this point in his career. With a production budget of US $5.5 million, the film would earn a tidy US $35.4 million during its initial theatrical run in America, which at the time was a pretty impressive figure (even more so considering Star Wars was still dominating the box-office at the time). It felt good to be involved in a project that was proving to be a hit with the public, it meant all the hard work and risks I had put myself through was being seen and hopefully appreciated by lots of people. It made the ordeal more than worthwhile.

But I have to tell you, going out that train blind and backwards with a half twist, not knowing if I I was going to end up safely on the sand or crushed under metal wheels, was absolutely terrifying. It still makes me shake just to think and write about it.

Excerpt from Cartwheels & Halos
By Marneen L. Fields with John Harrison
Copyright 2015

Sunday, December 13, 2015


Work continues on with my collaboration on Cartwheels & Halos, the autobiography of pioneering stunt woman, actress and singer-songwriter Marneen Lynne Fields, which I am currently cowriting along with Marneen. It is hard work and there have certainly been some challenges, with many more to come no doubt as we progress, but the collaborative process I am experiencing and enjoying with Marneen has provided a wonderful synchronicity that I never thought I would find, especially in a project of this size. Getting to know Marneen through the initial development, and now the actual writing, of this book has provided me not only with a tremedously interesting writing project, but an enrichment of my own self that I will always appreciate. She is a true muse and a soul mate who never fails to make me smile.

Here's a low-res sneak peek at the proposed cover for our book. The back cover blurb will eventually change prior to publication, for now we are keeping some of the stories and surprising developments in the book under wraps.

Facebook users can follow the progress of the book over on the dedicated FB page at:

Saturday, December 12, 2015


Was great to catch-up with legendary Australian exploitation film producer Antony I. Ginnane for a coffee and a lengthy chat on a fine sunny afternoon in South Melbourne last week. Regarded by many as the Australian Roger Corman, Ginnane produced a string of 'Ozploitation' classics during the 1970s and 80s, such as Fantasm (1976), Patrick (1978), Snapshot (aka The Day After Halloween, 1979), The Survivor (1981), Mesmerized (1985) and Dark Age (1987), along with of course his infamous Turkey Shoot (1982).
I am thrilled to announce that I have been contracted by Glass Doll Films to write the booklet essays for their upcoming blu-ray releases of two classic Antony Ginnane films: the cold, modern urban vampire thriller Thirst (1979) and the often bizarre Dead Kids  (aka Strange Behavior, 1981), which was a strange but highly enjoyable and intriguing mix of 80s new wave and 50s B-horror and paranoia cinema. Hopefully the two blu-ray releases will be out in Australia early next year.
Also took the opportunity to have Antony sign a couple of my original lobby cards for his two raunchy epics, Fantasm and Fantasm Come Again (1977), the sex films which were partly filmed in Hollywood with big name adult stars like John Holmes (seen on the lobby card to the right), Rene Bond, Uschi Digart, Serena, Candy Samples and Cheryl 'Rainbeaux' Smith. Interconnecting scenes were then filmed back in Australia to tie the sequences together.


Before the power blackout hit the area last night, I sat down to watch the blu-ray of the recent Ant-Man. Enjoyed it a helluva lot more than Whedon's recent bloated and unexciting Avengers: Age of UltronAnt-Man has a nice sense of cheeky fun that seems all too rare in a comic book movie these days, and though it is tied-up in the overall 'Marvel Universe', it still exists mostly as it's own entity that can be enjoyed and understood without having seen all of the previous Marvel flicks. You can clearly see the style and humor that original writer/director Edgar Wright planed for his vision of the film (he quit as director at virtually the last minute, replaced by Peyton Reed), and I felt it had a charm that reminded me of both The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) and Honey I SHrink the Kids (1989). The climactic fight on the kid's Thomas the Tank Engine train set was a great idea and excecuted really well.


"Wow, do you always dress so stylish?" Lovely words to be greeted with by the fabulous Francesca 'Kitten' Natividad at the LuWow tiki bar in Melbourne last weekend. The famous exotic dancer and Russ Meyer superstar was as lovely as could be. "Love your laugh", she wrote on one of the pics I had her sign.

Friday, November 6, 2015


Hailing from the small town of Minot, North Dakota, Marneen Lynne Fields - often credited just as Marneen Fields - is today forging a career as a singer-songwriter and CEO of her own song publishing company, Heavenly Waterfall (her composition ‘Shadows’ is a great piece of smoky, blues-tinged nightclub pomp and pop that conjurs up images as diverse as vintage James Bond cool and dark David Lynch perversity). While music is her clear and driving passion, Fields also has to her name an impressive list of credits in front of the movie and television cameras dating back to the mid-1970's, both as an actress and, until the early-1990's, as a trail-blazing stunt woman working in a very tough and physically demanding field.

Aside from working on films such as The Gauntlet (1977) with Clint Eastwood and Joe Dante’s lycanthropy classic The Howling (1981), Marneen Fields performed stunts on a string of classic and fondly-remembered television shows like Wonder Woman, Fantasy Island, Battlestar Galactica and The Fall Guy. She also worked on a number of big screen disaster movies during the last few years of the genre’s great 1970's era. Exploitation fans might recognize her from the enjoyably seedy grindhouse flick Hellhole (1985), where she worked alongside an amazing list of cult and fringe favourites, including Marjoe Gortner, Ray Sharkey, Edy Williams, Mary Woronov, Robert Z’Dar and more!

While working on an upcoming article on 1970's disaster movies (which is due to appear in a futire issue of Weng's Chop), I recently had the chance to ask Marneen a few questions about her career as a stunt woman, actress and working on The Swarm, Airport '79: The Concorde, Beyond the Poseidon Adventure and more. The interview will run alongside the article, but as a little sneak peek, here is Marneen's recollections of working on one of the most-loved television shows of the 1970's, Wonder Woman (I imagine a turkey baked by Lynda Carter would be pretty tasty, as well):

"In Wonder Woman, during the 'Mind Stealer’s from Outer Space' episode I got beat up by Wonder Woman herself, Linda Carter. Linda threw me straight onto my back onto the hard wood floor as I performed front flips and falls all over her apartment in that scene. As a gymnast you always perform on mats and pads, and they’re there to cushion your landing if you fall off the balance beam. Being one of the first pioneer women of stunts, I did a hundred falls straight onto my back and stomach. I hit and roll across hard wood floors, cement sidewalks, and hard dirt fields in the name of film making wearing only a small child’s football girdle and some knees pads and elbow pads. The impact hurt like hell, and there were always bruises or some kind of minor injury! I worked on the Wonder Woman series close to Thanksgiving, and I remember Linda Carter carrying in a turkey she had baked for the entire cast and crew. That was the best turkey I’d ever tasted."

(Above: Marneen Fields in character on the Universal lot during filming of Airport '79: The Concorde. One of several great candid photos that will be featured in the article).

(Above: Marneen in a scene alongside Marjoe Gortner and Mary Woronov from 1985's Hellhole, an exploitation gem that sadly is not widely available. It was released on VHS but only seems to have made it to DVD on public domain labels in analog quality).
(Marneen Fields at the IMDB)

Sunday, November 1, 2015


Shout at the Devil. 
Looking forward to diving into Kier-La Janisse's latest work, Satanic Panic, which she co-edits and contributes to along with a number of other writers, including David Flint and Melbourne's own Alexandra Heller-Nicholas.
Attended the local book launch for Satanic Panic last night at The Backlot Studios. Kier-La gave a great little talk around the book's subject, accompanied by some slides and interesting clips (a few scary, a few hilariously entertaining - some of the them both at once). Satanic Panic looks at the presence and influence of Satan in 1980's pop-culture, everything from Dungeons & Dragons and horror movies to pulp paperback novels and The Smurfs. Not to mention The Parents' Music Resource Center (PMRC) and their campaign against the satanic presence in music, particularly heavy metal. There's also the much more real and darker side, with several gruesome and tragic murder and suicide cases, which at the time were played up as being highly satanic in motivation, rather than looking for any true underliying cause that lay much closer to home.
Following the talk, the audience was treated to a screening of Charles Martin Smith's Trick Or Treat (1986), a horror movie/heavy metal hybrid that was clearly inspired by the backwards masking and hidden messages in music controversy which was then very much in the public eye.
Another cool event by Lee Gambin and the Cinemaniacs gang, and a fitting way to kick-off Halloween weekend.

Monday, October 26, 2015


Last night's late late movie. I had forgotten just how deliriously entertaining this big-budget disaster flick from 1978 was, though perhaps not in the way that producer/director Irwin Allen had originaly planned. Of course, melodrama was a big, integral part of the classic 70s disaster movies, but The Swarm is so over the top, yet played so straight down the line by the big-name cast, I was expecting Leslie Nielson to walk in at any moment and tell someone to stop calling him Shirley.
Unlike his previous big disaster hits, The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno, where Irwin Allen directed the action sequences but handed over the drama to a seasoned director, in The Swarm Allen decided to handle all the direction himself, which was probably the wrong decision as he doesn't seem to handle an all-star cast as well as he handles the flipping of an ocean liner or the burning of a skyscraper.
Though The Swarm signalled the start of the decline of the 70s disaster film genre, it's still a lot of fun and rarely boring. Apart from wondering what must have been going through the actors' minds, my favourite moments are when the bratty kid and his two friends throw molotov cocktails at the beehive and then take cover under garbage cans, the sight of Olivia De Havilland looking on in horror as small kids are stung to death in the schoolyard (in slow-motion, no less), the hilarious giant bee hallucinations that some of the survivors of the sting experience, and the bee attack on the mountain train (in which Irwin Allen finds the perfect way to solve a love triangle between three mature age singles).


Sneek peak at a few pages from my article on Manson cinema, appearing in the just-published Weng's Chop #8 (now available in black & white and optional blinding color!).


Peek at the front cover for the upcoming issue of Monster! (#22), featuring my article on the monsters of Lost in Space. My sensors indicate it should be out around the end of the month.

Saturday, September 12, 2015


My interview with Melbourne writer (and Fangoria scribe) Lee Gambin, discussing his new book on movie musicals of the 1970s (We Can Be Who We Are) has now been posted over at the Love and Pop website.


Directed by Paul Goodwin, Future Shock! is a terrific new documentary which looks at the history and influence of the long-running weekly British comic book magazine 2000 AD (still being published after nearly forty years).
The film takes us back to the England of the mid-70s, a period of bleak prospects for the young, ‘Iron Lady’ Thatcher in office, crippling garbage strikes, a modern day Jack the Ripper on the loose in Yorkshire, and punk rock just waiting to explode. It was within this simmering cauldron that the controversial weekly comic book magazine Action was first born out of in 1976. Withdrawn from sale not long after its debut due to concerns over its strong depiction of violence (particularly in a youth gang story called ‘Kids Rule, O.K.!'), editor Pat Mills retreated (by his own admission and lingering regret) to the relative safety of science-fiction, where violence could be more tolerated since it was depicted in a fantasy setting.
2000 AD was a hit, mostly with its prime target audience of younger males, from the moment it appeared on the UK newsstands in February of 1977. The popularity of Star Wars later that year only helped its cause. Soon, older teenagers and even young adults started digging the combination of futuristic ultra-violence with stories containing clear and often clever observations and commentary on the social, political and moral climates of the times. This was particularly evident in 2000 AD’s most popular creation, Judge Dredd, who dishes out tough and merciless justice (“I am the Law”) in the futuristic dystopian American metropolis of Mega-City One. It was the curious and unique mix that came from English writers and artists doing their take on American culture and society, which made the Judge Dredd stories so fascinating.
Featuring interviews with Brian Bolland, Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, Mills and many more artists, writers and creators, Future Shock! celebrates the history and success and great times of 2000 AD, but the downsides of the industry and working with the publisher (Fleetway Publications) are not left untouched. A familiar story within the comics industry, artists and writers had to sign the rights to their work away if they wanted to cash the check, and editor Pat Mills had to guide the comic’s survival through the wholesale poaching of much of its best talent by DC/Vertigo in the US.
Also discussed are the clear influences which Judge Dredd had on Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop (1987), as well as the two official live-action Dredd films: Danny Cannon’s awful Judge Dredd (1995) starring Sylvester Stallone (which flopped both creatively and commercially) and Pete Travis’ Dredd (2012) starring Karl Urban (which made even less money at the box-office than Stallone’s version, but was a terrific, violent and much more faithful adaptation of the character and his environment. One of the best and certainly most underrated comic book adaptations of recent years, and an amazingly trippy experience in IMAX 3D).
An informative and entertaining look at a comic book title that's been as highly influential as it has been maligned.


Caught up with this amazing documentary a few night back. Directed by David Gregory, Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley's Island of Dr. Moreau is a riveting account of the attempt by visionary South African director Richard Stanley (Hardware, Dust Devil) to write and direct a radical new version of H. G. Wells' classic novel The Island of Dr. Moreau . What was initially to be a relatively small budget feature quickly mushroomed out of hand with the signing of Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer, and after only a tumultuous few days of filming in North Queensland, the enigmatic and sensitive Stanley found himself unceremoniously dumped from his dream project, the producers and studio (New Line Cinema) fearing he was ill-prepared for the realities of a big-budget shoot, not to mention working with the notoriously difficult Brando and Kilmer. John Frankenheimer was bought in to take over directorial duties on the film, which was universally panned when it finally hit the screen. Stanley's once-promising filmmaking career never really recovered, and the experience virtually sent him into hiding for a long time.
There's a lot more to the story, but best to see and hear it for yourself. If you love docos about filmmaking, and particularly about the chaos and uncertainty of filmmaking, and an artist's struggle to get his unique vision across in a big studio film, you will love Lost Soul. It's out in Australia from Monster Pictures, though I'm now keen to obtain a copy of the US release from Severin Films, which looks to have a lot of bonus material that is unfortunately missing from the local release (which only has the trailer as an extra).

Wednesday, August 12, 2015


Out now on blu-ray through Kino Lorber, The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein (1972) is a real hoot, one of the wildest riffs on the Frankenstein legend and the best pairing of Frankenstein’s Monster and naked women since Kiss Me Quick!(1964). Filmed in Portugal, the movie is wonderfully evocative of those delirious European horror pulps of the 1960's and early-70's, whose cover art promised lurid adventures of monsters and sex. Jess Franco captures some stunning individual shots in The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein, often using his favoured wide angle lens to create an even more disorienting and dream-like ambience. The movie is also an aural trip, the soundtrack full of jazzy drumrolls and complemented by the strange squawks with which blind bird woman Melissa (Anne Libert) communicates. Cast members include such Franco regulars as Howard Vernon and Denis Price (whom I always loved as the graverobber in Hammer’s Horror of Frankenstein), and of course the director himself shows up, playing Morpho the lab assistant.
The muscle-bound, silver/metallic blue-coloured Frankenstein Monster in the movie is an inspired creation...I’m tempted to customize one of my existing Frankenstein figures or kits to pay tribute to it.
At only 72 minutes, I was easily able to sit through the movie twice in a row, the second time listening to the audio commentary (from Video Watchdog editor Tim Lucas), which expounds a bit on the film’s roots in European pulp, and the controversy around Frankenstein’s Monster seeming to be partly mechanical (and tracing the roots of this idea back to the original Universal series of the 1930's).


Published in hardcover by Two-Morrows, Monster Mash by Mark Voger does not contain a lot that is new in regards to the monster movie craze that swept across America between 1957 - 1972. It’s an area that has been covered in many books, magazine articles and documentaries over recent years, that there is not a whole lot more to tell, at least seemingly on a surface level (though some fascinating individual tales may still be there to be discovered and told). Fortunately, author Voger realises this and concentrates on making Monster Mash as much of a visual feast as possible, and on this level the book succeeds wonderfully, with many large colour and B&W photos that should bring the era back to life for any nostalgic Monster Kid, and will help show the younger generations of horror movie fans some of the fun they missed out on.
It’s all here - the monster magazines, the fantastic television of the day, 8mm home movie reels, Aurora kits, bubble gum cards, Don Post masks, horror TV hosts, Boris Karloff, Ed ‘Big Daddy’ Roth, horror comic books and more. If it was monster related and kids spent their pocket money on it in the sixties, it’s bound to be in here somewhere, along with a few new interviews with people like horror host Zacherly, Famous Monsters publisher James Warren, Aurora monster kit box artist James Bama, and several cast members from The Munsters and The Addams Family.
Monster Mash takes you on a rather brief but enjoyable journey down a dark and stormy old memory lane.


Planning to see Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation later this week, so decided to binge-watch my way through the first four films in the series so far. That’s a lot of Tom Cruise, but fortunately Ethan Hunt remains one of his better and more bearable roles, and you can’t argue that he consistently manages to bring it when it comes to delivering a big action set-piece in these movies (usually doing a vast majority of the stunt work himself).
The really cool thing about Brian De Palma’s Mission: Impossible (1996) is that it is as much a De Palma film as it is an effective updating of a 1960's television favourite. De Palma’s infamous Hitchcock homages and camera tricks actually serve the film really well here, and the screenplay by Robert (Chinatown) Towne delivers a few genuine twists along the way. John Woo’s follow-up, Mission: Impossible 2 (2000) has lots of visual flash but very little substance. It was probably one of the last of the big action movies done in the style that had been so popular during the nineties, before everything started becoming more gritty and grounded post-9/11. M: I 2 does have a pretty jaw-dropping opening sequence of Cruise climbing the treacherous Dead Horse Point in Utah.
J.J. Abrams, who rebooted the Star Trek franchise recently and hopes to successfully do the same with Star Wars later this year, made his feature directorial debut with Mission: Impossible 3 (2006), which tried to focus as much on Ethan Hunt’s life away from the job as when he was on it. From the rapid editing to the more washed-out colour palette, you can tell this film was made in the immediate post-Bourne Identity years, and it’s my least favourite of the M:I films, though Philip Seymour Hoffman makes an interesting villain. I saw Brad Bird’s Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011) on the Melbourne IMAX screen and those shots of Cruise mountaineering about on Burj Khalifa tower in Mumbai, the world’s tallest building, were dizzying indeed, and the sequence still manages to produce white knuckles in the living room. A few other great action sequences and a couple of tense situations make Ghost Protocol my favourite of the sequels so far.
Unfortunately, none of the Mission: Impossible films play the classic Lalo Schifrin theme as well as the man himself did in the original 1966 - 1973 television series.


Caught up with Paul Thomas Anderson's 2014 film Inherent Vice last evening, and was seduced by it's strangeness and terrific ensemble cast (including Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Reese Witherspoon, Katherine Waterston and Benicio del Toro). Based on the 2009 novel by Thomas Pynchon, the movie is certainly in a genre of its own - a free-form stoner comedy noir set within the immediate paranoia of post-Manson LA in 1970 (where police were treating the gathering of more than three youths in one spot as a potential cult). It's one of those movies that will frustrate viewers looking for a easy narrative plot, but if you let yourself just get drawn into it, and lost within its familiar but off-kilt world, you can come out the end feeling rewarded for having stayed the two-and-a-half hour distance.
For me, Anderson has never come close to matching the brilliance of this sophomore film, Boogie Nights (1997), but Inherent Vice is certainly another worthy addition to the director's solid filmography.

Sunday, August 9, 2015


By Simon Strong

In the world of European genre cinema of the 1970's, few filmmakers trod the line between exploitation and art more finely than Polish-born director Walerian Borowczyk, whose work in the erotic horror field was best illustrated by the films he made in France during that decade and into the eighties, such as the portmanteau Immoral Tales (1974), Dr. Jekyll and the Women (1981) and Emmanuelle 5 (1987). His most controversial film, however, undoubtably remains La Bête/The Beast (1975), an erotic and dark fairy tale based loosely on the 1869 novel Lokis by Prosper Mérimée, and depicting the sexual relationship between a young woman and a particularly randy and well-endowed hairy beast who is prowling the countryside. While the sexual copulation between girl and beast is only one of sexual fantasy and imagination within the narrative, Borowczyk depicted it with near XXX realism, resulting in many people branding the film both beautiful and obscene. Naturally, it was banned in many countries, including Australia for several decades (it was another of those infamous films I had to contend with seeing via a fuzzy VHS dub bought off the shelves from Polyester Books. Umbrella Entertainment finally released the film legally on DVD in Australia in 2008).

Written by Melbourne-based, North England-born Simon Strong, Unquiet Dreams isn’t the definitive biography of Borowczyk, or the most in-depth study of his work, which the author freely admits to in his introduction. Rather, it comes across as a greatly-expanded idea similar to those souvenir program booklets which I used to religiously buy whenever I went to the movies when I was a kid, where each booklet was devoted to the one particular film, and featured photos, synopsis and production photos. The classy and classical front cover (featuring Polish artist Wladyslaw Podkowinski’s Frenzy of Exultations) hides an interior that is influenced in design by the arty smut film magazines of the period, such as Continental Film Review and Adam Film World. Within the contents of the book, Strong offers up the expected filmograpy of Borowczyk’s work (including his early shorts), as well as profiling several of the filmmaker’s leading ladies (such as Marina Pierro and La Bête’s Sirpa Lane), and takes a look at Argus Films, the company which distributed a lot of Borowczyk’s films.

One of my favourite aspects of Unquiet Dreams, and one which will no doubt help broaden the book’s appeal beyond those interested specifically in Borowczyk, is the way Strong includes little follow-up chapters that expand to investigate a particular topic’s depiction in the wider exploitation film market. For example, the book contains a ‘Zoophilmography’, in which films that broach the subject of bestiality are looked at (including titles like Tarzan and the Ape Man [1932], Tanya’s Island [1980] and Rinse Dream’s cult XXX film Café Flesh [1983]). Another chapter of the book, after examining  Dr. Jekyll and the Women, then goes on to cover other ‘Jeksploitation’ films, such as Hammer’s gender-bending Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971) and the David F. Friedman produced sexploitation quickie The Adult Verison of Jekyll and Hyde (1972), starring Rene Bond.

Published by the LedaTape Organisation, Unquiet Dreams features an abundance of colour and black & white photos and poster art within its 136 pages. A worthy and recommended addition to your euro-trash cinema bookshelf.

Sunday, August 2, 2015


Spent the pre-dawn hours this morning watching the great Andrew Prine going psycho in John Peyser's The Centerfold Girls (1974), which came out locally on blu-ray last week. Part sexploitation, part American giallo, part psycho slasher, it's the kind of scuzzy, seedy grindhouse fodder that early Australian video labels like Star Base, K&C and Media thrived on in the early-eighties. It lays on the three big Bs of exploitation (Babes, Boobs and Blood) in ample doses, has a groovy soundtrack that's both cheesey and sleazy, and a pretty effective and shocking climax, filmed in a section of Canoga Park that had recently been levelled by a fire, leaving a very stark and surreal landscape in its wake.
Interestingly, the movie is almost like an anthology film, with each of the titular centerfolds that Prine's character tracks down and terrorizes having their own insular story (the end credits emphasize the anthology feel, with the cast listed by story). One of the stories has a somewhat Manson-esque/Last House on the Left vibe to it, and the film as a whole wallows in that peculiar and distinct seediness that many of the rougher American exploitation flicks from this period possessed.
The transfer on Glass Doll Films' blu-ray release of The Centerfold Girls isn't as sharp or vibrant as their other great new release, 1973's Bonnie's Kids, but it still the best the film has ever looked and Glass Doll have done a fine job with the packaging and extras.


Chuffed to see a quote from myself on the back cover of Robin Bougie's Graphic Thrills: Volume Two, the follow-up to his classic first collection of poster art from the golden age of erotic cinema (1970 - 1985). Volume Two is due out in October from FAB Press in the UK, both as a softcover and a limited, signed hardback edition.


Satdee night spook show. Watching William Grefe's low-budget Everglades horror Sting of Death (1965), featuring the half-man/half-jellyfish monster, one of the cheapest and most ludicrous celluloid creatures ever created, consisting of nothing more than a guy in a wet suit with an inflated plastic gargabe bag tied over his head, and a few bedraggled loose strands of a beaded door curtain drapped over his shoulders and arms. Great outragoeus stuff!
Have to say the colour palette in Sting of Death is often nice and garish, and I love the inclusion of the big dance number, when a wild pool party whips up a storm to the accompaniment of Neil Sedaka's 'Do the Jellyfish'. I also love how all these partygoers can be dancing around a backyward swimming pool in broad daylight, and not one of them notices the human-sized jellyfish monster swimming around in it.
I think my favourite character in the movie is the young lady who one moment is so traumatised by seeing a boatload of her friends being capsized and stung to death by a school of jellyfish, yet less than five minutes later she "can't wait" to don her scuba gear and start exploring the reefs in the same area!

Saturday, June 27, 2015


Hot on the heels of Mark Alfrey’s stunning volume on the works of 1970's/80's Italian pulp artist Emanuele Taglietti, Sex and Horror (Korero Press, 2015), comes another terrific book devoted to a unique Italian sub-genre of lurid pop entertainment. Authored by Troy Howarth (The Haunted World of Mario Bava and the upcoming Lucio Fulci book Splintered Visions), So Deadly, So Perverse is the first in a planned three-volume examination of the Italian giallo film, that distinct brand of thriller that was usually violent, often  lurid and sexually perverse, yet just as often beautifully surreal and hypnotically sexy, powered along by dark themes, pop-mod interior designs, creative camera work and evocative soundtracks that generated both mood and groove, and more than a fair share of dread.

Volume One of So Deadly, So Perverse covers the first significant decade of the giallo, the years 1963 - 1973. After an introduction by prolific screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi (Death Walks On High Heels, Torso), film writer Roberto Curti provides a encapsulated history of the giallo paperbacks and pulp magazines, and their transition from cheap yellow ('giallo') paper to electric shadows. Origins and early examples of giallo cinema are looked at, as well as films that almost-but-not-quite fit the genre, before the book settles down into its meat and potatoes: a massive reviews section, comprising nearly 200 of the book’s 234 pages, in which Howarth chronologically covers many of giallo titles released during this period, starting appropriately with Mario Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963) and taking us through to the 1973 Italian/Spanish/French co-production, Special Killers. In between,  of course, are some of the best giallos ever made, including Bava’s Blood and Black Lace, Giulio Questi’s Death Laid an Egg (1968), Dario Argento’s early Cat O’Nine Tails, Lucio Fulci’s uniquely disturbing Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972) and Sergio Martino’s Torso (1973). These titles are just the tip of the stiletto knife, however, and Howarth covers a lot of the more obscure titles, many of which I had not heard of, but have certainly had my interest aroused in after reading about them.

As a reviewer, Howarth doesn’t spend a lot of time breaking down plot, which I really like. A single paragraph synopsis is provided for each film, after which the author gets down to discussing and critiquing the film, its performances and filmmaking merits, and its overall effectiveness as a giallo. Howarth clearly loves and respects these films, but is still able to approach them with a fair critical eye, pointing out a film’s faults without  a sneer or condescension.  

Published by Midnight Marquee Press, So Deadly, So Perverse has a simple but clean interior layout design, and its pages a filled with many eye-popping illustrations, most of them reproduced in color and featuring beautiful poster art, ad mats and rare stills.  The striking cover art was designed by Tim Paxton, editor of Monster!, who really captures that lurid, eye-catching feel of not only the giallo poster art, but the original paperbacks as well.

My only real complaint about the book is that the index only provides the year of production next to each title, and not what page in the book the film is reviewed on. It makes it a tiny bit frustrating having to flip back and forth through the book trying to find a specific title. Fortunately, I believe that page indexes will be included in future volumes. But that is a small gripe in a book which is an essential read for anyone interested in its subject. It provides a near-perfect balance between being a useful reference work for the more knowledgeable giallo fans, and an excellent road map for the more casual viewer who wants to delve a little bit deeper.

I’m already looking forward to Volume Two, which will cover the years 1974 - 2003, while Volume Three will be devoted to giallo-styled films produced outside of Italy.

Order SO DEADLY, SO PERVERSE from Amazon

Sunday, June 21, 2015


Exerpt from my article on carnival/amusement park-themed horror and exploitation films, appearing in the current issue of WENG'S CHOP, now available from Amazon and Createspace. This exerpt looks at the David Friedman production of She-Freak from 1967:


1967/USA/Directed by Byron Mabe

A grimy exploitation retelling of Tod Browning's Freaks (1932), She-Freak is one of the best carnival films ever made, and in my view the best film which producer David F. Friedman attached his name to after his split with legendary gore pioneer Herschell Gordon Lewis. While Lewis hailed from a Chicago advertising background, Friedman had gained his experience in a genuine carnival environment, and his affection for the carnie lifestyle clearly shows in this film (which he both produced and wrote, as well as briefly appearing as a carnival barker/ticket seller).

Even before the opening credits role, we are treated to a wonderful five minute montage of authentic carnival footage, which Friedman and director Bryon Mabe filmed on a handheld Ariflex during a day trip to the California State Fair in Sacramento. This footage really sets the ambience for She-Freak’s sleazy tale of beautiful but bored white trash princess Jade Cochran (played so convincingly by Claire Brennan), who quits her job at a greasy middle-of-nowhere diner and runs off with the carnival that comes traveling through town. Making friends with the carnival’s sexy stripper, Pat Mullins (Lynn Courtney), Jade quickly works her way up from serving hot dogs at the food stand to walking down the aisle with Steve St. John, the well-off but rather boring owner of the sideshow attraction (played by Bill McKinney, who later made Ned Beatty squeal like a pig in 1972's Deliverance). 

Jade doesn’t let a little thing like marriage stop her from continuing a torrid affair with Blackie (Lee Raymond), the ruggedly handsome Ferris wheel operator. Her spiteful side starts to show itself in the way she treats Shorty, the carnival’s little person who knows the secret of her late-night trysts in Blackie’s trailer. When Steve catches his wife and Blackie in the act, he is taken out by a knife to the stomach, leaving Jade to inherit the sideshow. She starts snobbing former close co-workers and immediately begins to instigate unwanted changes, such of the sacking of the much-loved Shorty. Just like the climax of Todd Browning’s classic, Jade ends up paying dearly for her treatment of those around her, as a shiv-wielding Shorty and the sideshow freaks, toward whom Jade had always shown revulsion, converge on her and transform her into the show’s latest attraction, a hideous beast woman put on display in a pit of snakes.

She-Freak is a remarkable film on many levels. The authentic carnival footage is obviously one of its main assets - it helps give the low-budget ($65,000) movie a sense of scope and scale, and serves as a wonderful and important time capsule of the American traveling carnival and sideshow as it was at that particular moment in time (footage from She-Freak has turned up in numerous documentaries on the subject). The color photography really gives the film a rich and gaudy ambience, and there are certain moments, particularly those between Jade and Sparky in his grotty trailer, which look like the cover art of a vintage adult paperback come to life. There’s no nudity and only a small smattering of blood, but it’s still one of the classic exploitation flicks of its era, and it enjoyed a solid run of the grindhouse and drive-in circuits, where it did the rounds for several years. 

Despite the film’s lack of skin, Claire Brennan still manages to project a teasing and raw sensuality. There are a some terrifically framed shots which capture her at various times throughout the movie - particularly effective are an early shot of her standing at the door of the diner she works for, the sunlight providing a clear suggestion of the form which lies under her uniform, and a very Ruse Meyer-esque shot of her framed in a low angle shot between the tight-jeaned crotch of Blackie.  Brennan was in her early-thirties when she played the role of Jade, something which I think helped project the character’s sense of wanting something a bit better from life before it’s too late. Tragically, she died of cancer not long after the film was released, at the age of only 43. She looks amazing in She-Freak, strutting about the carnival in pink tights and matching sleeveless blouse. Among her other credits were the 1961 prohibition-set sexploitation flick The Touchables, appearances on numerous episodic television shows (including Gunsmoke, S.W.A.T. and The Streets of San Francisco), and a bit part in the 1977 Gene Hackman film The Domino Principle.

Elsewhere in the film’s cast we have Felix Silla as Shorty, and Ben Moore as a carnival advance man. Silla’s most famous role was as Cousin Itt in the original Addams Family television show (1964 - 1966), as well as Twiki the robot (voiced by Mel Blanc) on Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979 - 1981). He was also an Ewok, and played the child ape who spots Carlton Heston sneaking through a simian funeral in Planet of the Apes (1968). Rumors circulated that Silla and Brennan had a love affair in real-life, and that she had even fathered his child! Fans of Herschell Gordon Lewis will recognize Ben Moore from the classic Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964) and the lurid partner-swapping melodrama Suburban Roulette (1968). No genuine human oddities were featured in the movie - the freaks were all created with make-up that is rather minimal, but made effective by mood and some creative color filters. The final make-up used to transform Jade into a freak is a classic piece of exploitation design (courtesy of low-budget make-up artist extraordinaire, Harry Thomas), and made for a memorable image on the film’s poster and publicity material (it also graced the front cover of issue number 34 [June 1974] of the classic newspaper-format monster magazine The Monster Times).

Also released, briefly and without Friedman’s permission, as Asylum of the Insane (with unrelated 3D footage attached), She-Freak appeared on VHS through several labels during the 1980s and 90s, including Magnum and Something Weird, before the later issued it on DVD in 2000, in a nice special edition which featured an audio commentary from Friedman, along with the original trailer and a collection of rare archival black & white carnival footage from the 1930s (with sound). The DVD was also included in Something Weird’s four-pack ‘Freak Show’ box set from 2004 (a set which also included Brad Grinter’s Blood Freak [1972], Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks [1974], and Basket Case [1982]).