Tuesday, December 12, 2017

THE BAD TWIN


Written and directed by – as well as starring – Finnish-born Saara Lamberg, INNUENDO (2017) is not only a remarkable film on its own merits, but serves as an emphatic calling card, heralding the arrival of an impressive and original filmmaking auteur (while Lamberg has directed a handful of shorts since 2013, INNUENDO is her first feature).

With a complex story structure that takes place not only in different countries but during different periods of time, INNUENDO follows the physical and emotional journey of Tuuli, a disassociated young woman who escapes her stifling childhood in Finland to find a liberated new life as a nude art model in Melbourne, Australia. Strangely disconnected but seemingly at ease with her new life amongst the city’s alternative art culture, Tuuli forms a relationship with Ben, a rather rough-edged stoner artist who creates sculptures with his chainsaw, and is a far cry from her previous boyfriend (for want of a better word), a nerdy university student.

As the relationship develops and Ben prods for more information on the mysterious Tuuli’s life experiences and beliefs, it slowly emerges that she is one very troubled and disturbed young woman. Interwoven throughout the narrative are frequent flashbacks to Tuuli’s childhood in Finland – the verbal, physical and sexual torment she suffers at the hands of her strict, religious parents and the isolation of living in the shadows of her more-loved, identical twin sister Suvi. As Tuuli begins to have strong hallucinatory fantasies that involve killing the various artists who are hiring her to pose for them, it’s only a matter of time before her mental defragmentation begins to dissolve the line between reality and fantasy altogether.

Playing the central roles of the adult Tuuli/Suvi, Lamberg inhabits her characters so completely that its easy to forget that the person we are watching onscreen is the same one who also wrote and directed what we are seeing. It is a true tour de force from Lamberg in all respects, and she is both comfortable enough as an actor and accomplished as a director that she never allows her performance to overshadow the work from those around her. Though Lamberg and her Tuuli character are clearly the centrepiece of the film, she gets fine support from a roster of actors, in particular Brendan Bacon as Ben. Also effective is Saga Tegelberg, making her debut as the young Tuuli/Suvi, who manages to convey the behavioural elements that would go into making the adult Tuuli. And Lamberg really does know how to cast male faces that may not be classically handsome but are unique and very character-defining.

Combining Euro arthouse sensibilities with the psychological horror of early Polanski, as well as a feel for the classic Australia cinema of the 1970s, INNUENDO has a cold dreaminess to its visual style which gives it a continual atmosphere of creeping dread, broken by moments of dark humour and outbursts of jarring violence (both real and imagined). Benefiting the film immensely is the wonderful, often subtle but always haunting and effective score by Charly Harrison, and the stunning cinematography by Michael Liparota (both of whom have worked with Lamberg on her earlier shorts and clearly have a good creative chemistry with her).  

Brave, disturbing and beautiful, with multi-layers and characters with depth, INNUENDO has the power to stay with you long after the final credits have rolled. Images, moments and music from it are still rattling around in my head after several days. That is always the sign of a great movie to me, and INNUENDO makes a strong late play for one of the best of 2017. I am looking forward to Saara Lamberg's next film, WESTERMARCK EFFECT, which she also be wrote, directed and starred-in, and is currently in post-production.




GIRL GANGS, BKER BOYS AND REAL COOL CATS

Looks like I have a bit of a milk moustache but it's part of the appropriately psychedelic-tinged mood lighting used at the launch of GIRL GANGS, BKER BOYS AND REAL COOL CATS at the Grub Street Bookshop last night. I am reading a passage from Ray Stanley's lurid 1970 paperback novel THE HIPPY CULT MURDERS, one of the Charles Manson-influenced titles which I write about in the book.


Getting my first look at the completed book, it looks stunning. A fantastic achievement that I am proud to have contributed to.



A peek at some of my contributions to the book.

MELBOURNE MOVIE MARKET

Hanging out with my lovely helper at the Movie Market at the Astor last Saturday afternoon. Considering I was selling mostly toys, it seemed fitting to take the table by the Christmas Tree. This Movie Market was a little bit quieter than the last few, possibly due to it being so close to Christmas. You can never predict these things. But as always we had a fun afternoon talking to people, and meeting friends old and new. Having Marneen there with me certainly helped make it a lot more fun, and still managed enough sales to make it more than worthwhile. Another great effort from organizer Stuart Simpson.





Friday, December 1, 2017

MANSON MEETS HIS MAKER

“CHARLES MANSON DEAD”


In recent years, I started wondering if I would ever live long enough to actually read those words. After cheating the executioner when the death penalty was revoked in California in 1972, Charles Manson would go on to outlive not only the man who first walked on the Moon just a couple of weeks before he sent his “Family” out on their unbelievably vicious killing spree, but the prosecutor who successfully had him sentenced to death in the first place. Manson the man was starting to appear as in-killable as the myth.

I was too young in 1969 to remember or have even been aware of the case, but I was at exactly the right age to be terrified and haunted by it when the HELTER SKELTER TV mini-series first aired in Australia in 1976. The mini-series of course was accompanied by ample TV and newspaper coverage looking back at the real-life case which it was based on, and though I was already a burgeoning film buff it was the first time in my young life that the lines between reel horror and real horror became intertwined and blurred. To a twelve-year-old boy, it was absolutely a horror story and a true nightmare that stuck with me and kept me awake at night for a long time.


Over the ensuing years I have read (and collected) more Manson-related books and magazines and watched more movies and documentaries on the subject than I could ever possibly remember, and have also written several published pieces relating to the case (mostly regarding the movies influenced by it). Though I am fascinated with the case mostly from its psychological angle and the impact it has had on history’s perception of the 1960s, I still grapple with understanding that fear that was ingrained in me while sitting in front of the family TV set back in 1976.

Though Manson himself was never actually convicted of murdering anybody, he was just as responsible and guilty as the people who actually drew blood on his command. I can never celebrate anyone’s death, but I hold no sympathy for Manson upon his passing. He not only enjoyed a bizarre celebrity status behind bars but got to live decades longer than all of those who were killed in his name, and he got to die in a lot more peaceful and compassionate manner also. Most would say that was a lot better than he deserved.



FANATICAL FANDOM


Eckhart Schmidt’s 1982 West German thriller DER FAN (THE FAN) would have to rate as one of the unsung European genre masterpieces from the eighties. The film does have it supporters, and it has recently received a lovely Blu-ray/DVD release from Mondo Macabro, so it is not a total obscurity, but nor is it as anywhere near as well-known as it deserves to be. I myself was pretty much unaware of the movie until I read a compelling review of it by Michelle Alexander, who was kind enough to lend me the Mondo Macabro disc, which I sat down to watch last night and was instantly drawn into and mesmerized by.
Starring Désirée Nosbusch in a compelling and beautifully detached performance, DER FAN tells the story of Simone, a teenage girl obsessed by the idea of meeting and falling in love with her idol, a mysterious and somber experimental new wave/pop singer known only as R (played by Bodo Steiger). Failing at school because her thoughts are dominated completely by R, when her continual stream of love letters to R go unanswered, Simone’s intense fan-ish obsession begins to tilt over into stalker territory, as she leaves home and hitches to Munich, where R is scheduled to appear on a pop music television show. When Simone finally comes face to face with her true love, she is brought into R’s inner circle but soon learns the old lesson that it’s sometimes better to keep your idols at arm’s length, as things take an unexpectedly dark and very twisted turn in the final act.
From the moment the opening credits appear against  bright red background, the first two acts of DER FAN pops with a beautifully slick early-eighties style that clearly reflects the burgeoning music video landscape of the day, and the soundtrack (provided by German group Rheingold) makes for some excellent Euro new wave listening. As the themes of the film turn darker in it’s final third, so too does the colour palette diminish and things become more stark and shadowy, and the music more unnerving. On paper the sudden tonal shift would sound jarring but under Schmidt’s assured direction the transition works beautifully, making the climax of the film a true surprise.
DER FAN works on so many levels – as a thriller, a horror film, a musical document and a compelling look at the dangerous extremes of fandom. It’s an ultimately sick but oddly moving gem, and one which is absolutely worth unearthing and admiring.

Friday, October 20, 2017

STANDING OVATION! YOU'RE THE STAR!

My lovely and very talented and creative wife Marneen has just made her fantastic new song "Standing Ovation! You're the Star!" available to listen to on You Tube, and I couldn't be prouder of her work here. A catchy tune with a cool and crisp 1980s Euro new wave techno-pop feel, it should have no trouble getting people in the clubs up and movin' it on the dance floor. Sounds especially awesome played loud through a pair of good headphones...the perfect way to shake out some cobwebs.



Wednesday, October 18, 2017

MAGNIFICENT MINDHUNT

This new Netflix drama produced by David Fincher (who also directed four of the first ten episodes) is just superb and compelling filmmaking all-round. Based on the life and career of legendary FBI agent John Douglas - who in the 1970s was the first person to believe that interviewing incarcerated serial killers could help predict behavior patterns, break unsolved murder cases and identify potential offenders before they have the chance to act - everything from the performances to the writing, music and unobtrusive 70s detail is so succinctly constructed here. It's a slow-burn for sure, more ZODIAC than SE7EN, but I am perfectly fine with that, especially since ZODIAC is my favourite Fincher film. The scenes where the two lead FBI agents interview Ed Kemper and Richard Speck in their prisons have moments of nuance to them that are absolutely chilling.

Already eager for the second season.



Sunday, October 1, 2017

DEADLY GAME


For my Sunday evening viewing I decided to check out the new Netflix original movie GERALD'S GAME, an adaptation of the 1992 Stephen King novel. Directed by Mike Flanagan, the film has a deceptively simple premise: a woman and her somewhat older husband (played by Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood respectively) take off for a retreat at their isolated holiday home, where they hope to work on their relationship and spice up their sex life a little. Unfortunately, not long after arriving, the husband handcuffs his wife to the bed, pops a Viagra, and attempts to act out his secret rape fantasy, only to keel over from a heart attack and die. Left alone, tied to the bed and with no phone or handcuff key within reach, and no hope of anyone stopping by for days, the wife’s mind starts to defragment in a wave of hallucinations and haunting flashbacks, while also having to deal with a hungry wild dog who makes periodical visits to chew on the remains of her husband (while the wife has to watch on, knowing she will be next unless she finds a way out of her predicament).
Good performances and a nice atmosphere of claustrophobia and mounting dread, along with a few moments that really made me squirm and cringe, make this a pretty decent adaptation that should please King devotees.



Tuesday, September 26, 2017

THE BUZZ RETURNS - IN 35mm

What an absolute “buzz” getting to see Tobe Hooper’s THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) in 35mm again at The Astor last night, especially with a huge and respectful turn-out. The print screened was apparently one of the original prints that did the rounds in Australia thirty years ago, after the ban on the film was finally lifted in this country in 1983. So chances are that it was the same print I saw at the Astor several times in the mid-80s, when it would play regularly on ...a popular double-bill with EVIL DEAD (this was back at a time when, after the screening, you could go to the Astor’s ticket booth and purchase the original daybill posters for that evening’s screening for only $5.00!).

For its age and roadwear, the 35mm print was in surprisingly good shape. It was a little washed-out and scratchy in parts, and the overexposure during the first gas station sequence was present, but it certainly didn’t detract from the experience and in fact it only added to the authentic grindhouse feel of the screening. You can feel the Texas heat and dust and smell the dried blood coming from the old slaughterhouse. I have watched this film dozens of times since 1983, and it still stands as an absolute peak of modern horror cinema for me, the perfect illustration of a waking nightmare and being caught in the middle of complete random madness. The scene where Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen) grabs Pam (Teri McMinn) and drags the poor young women through his house to her doom - while she is squealing and flailing about like a terrified animal - still sends shivers up my spine and delivers an almighty punch to my stomach.

Was also nice to see the Astor put up a tribute slide to Hooper before the screening, as well playing as a few trailers for some of Hooper’s other movies (mostly his mid-80s Cannon titles like LIFEFORCE, INVADERS FROM MARS and TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2).
Well done to Zak Hepburn and the Astor for putting on a fitting tribute screening to the late filmmaker. And cool to see Cooper and Dougie from TWIN PEAKS guarding the old ticket booth in the downstairs lobby (in the shape of life-sized cardboard standees).




Friday, September 22, 2017

THE SLAYER

J.S. Cardone's THE SLAYER (1982) is one of those curious, almost-but-not-quite cult horror movies from the early-eighties which found a bit of local popularity thanks to its release on the infamous Palace Explosive label, though it didn't attain the same notoriety of some of the other PE titles like I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, BLOODSUCKING FREAKS, THE KILLING OF AMERICA and CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE. I only ever hired THE SLAYER out once or twice at most at the time, my main familiarity with it being the trailer which appeared on many of the other Palace Explosive releases.

I've never owned a copy of THE SLAYER on VHS, so the recent Arrow Video Blu-ray release of the film has given me a perfect chance to give it another watch. It's a strange film and it has a lot of problems but it also has a few very positive things going for it. It can't decide if it wants to be a straight slasher or a more surreal, Lovecraft-esque horror, but this schizophrenic tone actually helps enhance the dreamy subtexts which the film's narrative explores, as do the desolate and highly atmospheric locales where it takes place (the movie was filmed on Tybee Island in Georgia). Slasher die-hards might find the pace of the film to be a bit lacking, but it does offer up a couple of pretty inventive killings, and lead actress Sarah Kendall has a strange, haunted look to her that makes her character unusual and interesting to watch.

A pretty good Blu-ray release from Arrow, with the 4K scan retaining quite a bit of film grain in many of the darker shots. Extras include a making-of documentary that runs for almost an hour, a visit to the Tybee Island locations today, trailer, audio commentary (with writer/director J.S. Cardone, actress Carol Kottenbrook and production executive Eric Weston) and an illustrated booklet featuring writings on the film by Lee Gambin and Ewan Cant.


Tuesday, September 12, 2017

CASTING A SPELL WITH MARNEEN FIELDS




First aired on the NBC network on 20 February 1977, The Spell was a TV movie that was clearly inspired by the rash of supernatural horror films that were popular at the time, most notably Brian De Palma’s 1976 adaptation of the Stephen King novel Carrie. Written by Brian Taggert (Visiting Hours) and directed by Lee Phillips, a television veteran with a number of telemovies under his belt as well as a slew of episodic TV shows like The Partridge Family, Kung Fu, The Rookies, The Waltons, M*A*S*H and many others, The Spell starred Susan Myers as Rita, the overweight and unpopular teenager who uses her psychic powers to get back at her enemies – both real and perceived – such as the high school classmates who mercilessly taunt and tease her. Headlining the cast of The Spell was Lee Grant, who is great in her role as Rita’s mother, while Helen Hunt made one of her early film appearances playing Rita’s sister Kristina.

With The Spell finally making its hi-definition debut thanks to a new Blu-ray release from the folks at Scream Factory, I decided to take the opportunity to sit down and talk about the film with Marneen Fields, who worked on the movie as both an actress and stuntwoman, and as such got to observe the making of the film from two different perspectives. As an actress, Marneen appears in The Spell as one of the clique of good-looking high school girls whom we meet in the opening sequence, teasing poor Rita and imitating her with exaggerated “fat girl” walks. Moving into the school gym, the tormenting of Rita continues, culminating in her using her psychic powers to cause one of the girls to fall to her death while climbing a rope and performing a gymnastic twirl from it. A Class One advanced all-round gymnast, Marneen’s skills were called upon to perform this stunt.

Marneen Fields (on the left) as one of the mean pretty girls in The Spell.

Marneen, I believe The Spell was one of the first films that you worked on. Can you tell us briefly about how you wound up in Hollywood, and how you specifically landed the job on The Spell?

I was initially brought in to audition for The Spell purely to be a stunt performer. During the opening scene of the film, set in the high school gym, the girls mercilessly tease Rita because she is unable to hoist herself up the rope suspended from the ceiling. My job was to perform the backward high fall from the top of the rope while doubling one of the other mean girls who, while at the top of the rope performing some dizzying aerial acrobatic swirls loses her grip and plummets to the hard gym floor in front of her horrified classmates. Rita looks on unemotionally, her supernatural powers obviously having caused the tragedy. I had been asked over the phone, “Can you climb a rope without using your legs and fall backwards from the top of a rope?” "Yes, I can do it." I said. I was hired on the spot, over the phone to perform the dangerous backwards fall from the top of the rope, and given my call time and directions for another audition they wanted me for.

When I stepped inside the gymnasium where the audition was taking place I saw there were two ropes dangling from the ceiling at the far end. I watched as a procession of girls tried and failed to climb the ropes without the aid of their legs. I heard Eddie Foy III, the casting director, call out, "Is there anyone here who can climb the rope without their legs?" Then I heard him say, "Stunt coordinator Paul Stader has sent over a Marneen Fields to do this. Is Marneen Fields in the room?" I could barely hear him being at the end of the long line of girls, and only heard what he said because other  girls turned around and repeated what he said to those of us at the end of the line. I heard my name being called out loud, and I realized Eddie was calling me to come down to the ropes. "Are you Marneen Fields?" "Yes, I am." "Can you climb the rope without your legs?" "Yes, I can." "Show me, climb the rope without your legs." I climbed the rope without my legs and he said, "Good." Eddie then handed me a page of the script with some lines of dialogue on it and told me to learn the following lines and wait off to the side with a group of about twenty-five other girls. He wanted me to read for the role of one of the mean girls that taunts Rita and provokes her to cast the first spell, the backward high fall from the top of the rope.

About an hour went by, then Eddie came and got me and took me into another area to read for him. After I read for him he told me that I was cast in the role of one of mischievous schoolmates. She was one of the leaders of the clique that would continually taunt and make fun of poor Rita. He told me I‘d be climbing the rope without my legs in the scene, and that I'd change wardrobe and also perform the backward high fall from the rope doubling the aerial acrobat as well.

My first job in the film industry and not only was I getting to show off my gymnastic skills and perform an impressive stunt, but I'd also be appearing on-screen in an acting role as well! I was twenty-one at the time and could still easily pass as a teenager, and I'd been minoring in Theater Arts in college at Utah State University so I was I was thrilled I landed the acting role too. Like the other actresses playing my classmates, I was given a form-fitting leotard to slide myself into (while most of the other girls were given brightly colored leotards to wear, mine was two shades of dark brown one being a stripe up the side, which helped me stand out from the pack).

Unfortunately, while my lines of dialogue, one of which was, “Who’d want to take out that tubbo?" can be heard in the film, they were featured with my character off-screen while the camera was on Rita. The audience doesn't get to see my character speak, you only hear my voice, and Rita's reaction to what I'm saying, but I'm on camera the rest of the time in the scene acting and laughing and making mischief. Aside from the gymnasium scene, I also appeared on screen a couple of more times during the movie. During the opening credits, I can be seen crossing the school grounds and doing a funny lumbering walk in mock imitation of Rita being fat, while later in the film I am playing a game of volleyball with the other girls.


It’s interesting that right from the start you were doing both acting and stunt work, which must have been a pretty unique situation to be in. Did you feel that this separated you somewhat from the other stunt performers who were around at the time, most of whom probably had little interest in branching out into acting?

I had aspirations to act before I became a Hollywood stunt woman minoring in Theater Arts at Utah State University. I don’t know how many stunt people also had desires to act, not many of my stunt friends wanted to act as badly as I did. In fact, almost from the moment I started doing stunts, I wanted to stop doing stunts and only focus on my goals to become a famous actress. While training at Paul Stader’s Stunt School, my favorite part of the training was when his wife, Marilyn Stader would pull me aside and coach me in how to sell a high fall by screaming, and tell me secrets like how important it was to study the actresses I’d be doubling to learn how they walk, gesture, and move. By the time I started studying acting with celebrity acting coachesVi ctor French (Highway to Heaven and Little House on the Prairie) and Jeff Corey (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), there was no turning back, I only wanted to act.

The Spell also allowed you to get your SAG card thanks to a special clause they have in their eligibility criteria. Can you tell us a little about that?

Looking back, The Spell may not have been one of the biggest or best films that I was lucky enough to work on, but it was certainly one of the most important. It set the template for my future career as an actress, stuntwoman and stunt-actress. It enabled me to display a range of my talents, and it paved the way for me to join the Screen Actors Guild (SAG). I got into the guild on the Taft Hartley Law which stated that no young woman in the guild at the time of the filming of The Spell could perform the highly dangerous backwards fall from the top of the rope. I’ve retained my SAG membership proudly and kept up with it since 1976. In many ways, it was the luckiest day of my career. I’d have probably ended up with a  career like Meryl Streep’s if every day had been so lucky and fruitful. A career like hers wasn’t meant to be for me, but my being cast in The Spell was still a great start to an amazing and varied career in the industry. I was on my way.

What do you recall about being on set for the first time?

The main thing I recall about being on the set for the first time was how organized everything was. Everyone was brought into a waiting room and given their contracts to sign before anything else began. Then one at a time people were taken to wardrobe to get fitted for the roles they were playing for that day. When it was time for my scenes I was escorted almost single file with the other girls to stand together to hear instructions from the director of what we were supposed to do in each scene. Then were stood on our marks for lighting while waiting for the director’s cues for lighting. I worked on The Spell for a week and each day for each scene I was in was handled in the same organized and efficient way. And believe me, it’s always “Quiet on the Set.” You don’t speak or make any noises at all unless you’re told to.

Marneen Fields stunt doubling for Doney Oatman, about to hit the floor
with a fatal thud in The Spell.
                   
Tell us about the main stunt you performed in the film, falling from the rope in the high school gym. How much rehearsal and preparation went into it? Did you only perform it once for the camera, or was there multiple takes?

When I landed the job on The Spell I had been a student at Paul Stader’s Stunt School for almost exactly six months. I remember this because I told myself I would give my stunt woman career six months, if I hadn’t gotten my SAG card within six months I was going to return to college at Utah State University and continue being a gymnastics coach in life. Within almost six months to the day I landed The Spell, and remained in Hollywood doing stunts and studying acting. At Paul Stader’s Stunt School I was trained in how to do backwards high falls from the rungs of ladders and platforms, but not from a swinging, hanging, dangling, slippery rope. My job was to stunt double the aerial acrobat who was doing twirls from the top of the rope with a harness, then loses her grasp and falls. She did her twirls, in a couple of takes, we brought in a small mattress pad for me to land on my back on. I climbed the rope got into the same position on the rope that she was in without the harness, spun myself around a few time, then fell backwards from the rope letting go with my hands. When falling backwards from any high surface the main thing to remember is to keep your eyes on your feet so your head is in the correct position for the landing. The body follows the head when flipping or falling and if you look back and not down at your feet you can land on your neck and break it. Being a Class One advanced all-around gymnast, I was known for getting my stunts in one take without injury. This job was no exception, the fall was executed perfectly. However, I always like to joke, “Anyone can fall backwards from a swinging, dangling, slippery, hanging rope.

Thanks to some clever editing, you effectively get to watch your own self falling to your doom in this sequence, since you play not only the victim falling from the rope but one of the girls who looks on screaming and horrified as it happens in front of them. I imagine that even in the world of movie magic that is a pretty unique thing.

Yes, that’s true. I can’t imagine it happening very often for any actor. After I perform the stunt falling from the top of the rope, my character can be seen screaming at the grisly scene unfolding in front of her. I did the fall, and then I also played the other role of one of the schoolmates witnessing the aerial acrobat falling from the top of the rope when I was the one who did the fall. The way they accomplished this is after I did my backward fall from the top of the rope, they moved the mattress pad that I had fallen into out of the scene. While they prepared for the next scene I went and changed into the other wardrobe my main character was wearing (the brown leotard), and the hairdresser re-did my real hair to match my character and not that of the aerial acrobats. The girl playing the aerial acrobat was positioned onto the hard wood floor as if she had fallen onto it. Then they brought in all the schoolmates and directed us to scream as if we’d seen her fall, and then we were told to rush over to the her body laying on the floor. Thanks to clever editing and the magic of moviemaking I was able to witness my own demise in an imaginative way.

Did you sit down to watch The Spell when it first aired on television?

At the time The Spell aired I was living in a small studio apartment in Ventura, California with three of my girlfriends, I waitressed part-time at Carrows Restaurant in Ventura, California with one of them, and taught gymnastics full time in Simi Valley, California with the other one. I remember arriving home to watch The Spell, and Connie and Penny had surprised me having my first movie premier with balloons, gifts, friends, cards, and signs. Connie’s mom even put a star on my small bathroom door.

That's a nice memory! For a long time a lot of your film work, such as The Spell and Hellhole (1985) were pretty hard to track down, especially in any kind of decent quality. How do you feel now that they are finally being made available to the world in beautiful hi-definition?

To be honest with you, I can’t help wondering why someone wasn’t more on top of getting these productions seen way before now. Sure, it’s great they’re out now, but forty years in the case of The Spell, and thirty-two years in the case of Hellhole is just bizarre.

For a showcase listing of the 150-plus productions Marneen has appeared in please visit her imdb page at: Marneen Fields IMDB.

Marneen's stunt from The Spell can be seen along with some of her other TV movie work in this terrific showcase reel, which was initially edited together by Marneen for her appearance on a TV movie panel at the 2016 Monster Fest film festival in Melbourne:




(The Spell is out now on Blu-ray from Scream Factory. Special features on the disc include an interview with screenwriter Brian Taggert and an audio commentary by Amanda Reyes, a noted authority on TV movies and editor of the 2016 Headpress book on the subject Are You in the House Alone: A TV Movie Compendium 1964-1999).


Saturday, September 9, 2017

THE SURVIVOR BLU-RAY LANDS

After a bit of a delay, the local Blu-ray release of the 1981 Australian shocker THE SURVIVOR (based on the novel by UK horror writer James Herbert) finally hit the shelves a couple of weeks back, and looks like another great, extras-packed treat from the folks at Glass Doll Films. I was thrilled to be asked to write the booklet essay for this release (as I have done for several other releases from Glass Doll) and it turned out great. 28 pages packed with some fantastic rare photos from this Antony I. Ginnane production. Other extras that are exclusive to this local release are some rare behind-the-scenes Super 8 footage shot by stuntman Dean Bennett when he was still a young student lucky enough to be doing some work experience on the set of the film. An Ozploitation essential.









SCARED IT-LESS

*Spoiler Free*

Cleverly hyped and marketed in a fashion that would make the old exploitation pioneers proud (scary clown murals painted around town, red balloons tied to sewer grates, etc.), the first instalment of Andy Muschietti’s new adaptation of Stephen King’s epic tome IT may not work on every level but it still succeeds as not only a very good and well-crafted ride through a cinematic haunted house, but as a surprisingly strong piece of characterization and storytelling.

The first adaptation of IT was produced in 1990 as a two-part TV movie, and while enjoyable the trappings of network television at the time were clearly evident in its production values and rather flat look. But New Line Cinema and Warner Brothers have clearly thrown a lot of money at this new version, and the expense seems justified as the film looks spectacular and feels like the kind of horror cinema we enjoyed back in the 1980s, when this version of IT is set, although there is a definite injection of a more modern, STRANGER THINGS vibe, which you will either love or hate depending on how you felt about that Netflix series. This is well worth seeing on the biggest screen possible, and in a theatre with a good sound system as the film’s aural soundscape definitely enhances its impact.

I was initially unimpressed with the first images released of Bill Skarsgård in character as IT’s iconic face of evil, Pennywise the Dancing Clown, but seeing him perform on screen I was completely sold on him within a few seconds of him making his first appearance. Skarsgård is not as showy as Tim Curry’s beloved Pennywise from the 1990 version, nor does he get as much screen time, but whenever he does appear he makes for a truly nightmarish visage, not just frightening but creepy and often doing things with his body and eyes that impressed me as much as they disturbed me. And it was good to see the film explore It’s shapeshifting abilities and alternate visages in a bit more depth.

While the film has some good scares (which will probably be more effective to those unfamiliar with the story), where IT really succeeds is in the terrific casting and the creation of young characters with some depth that we come to really care about, which helps make the tension even more palpable when they are being threatened. I have heard some people compare IT to THE GOONIES (1985), but as someone who doesn’t care one bit for that Richard Donner film I was very happy and much relieved to discover it was much less THE GOONIES and much more STAND BY ME with monsters.

With strong reviews and predictions of big box-office, it seems a certainty that Muschietti will get the green light to proceed with the second half of his adaption of the King novel (which has the young characters reuniting as adults to combat It when the entity reappears 27 years later). I’m looking forward to it already.



Saturday, July 29, 2017

THIS MEANS WAR!

Now that I have finally gotten to see it (thanks to an annoyingly delayed local release date), I can understand why, despite mostly stellar reviews, Matt Reeves' WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES has been met with a more tepid box-office reception in the US than its 2014 predecessor, DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. WAR is a much more downbeat film, and though it doesn't really have a whole lot of actual combat, there's plenty of tension and a few truly beautiful and touching moments to be found.

I thought some of the sentiment was a bit over-wrought and, though I found him very endearing and remarkably well-realised, I was worried a couple of times that the "Bad Ape" character was taking the film into a realm of forced humour, something which the first two films in this trilogy had admiringly avoided. But there is still a lot of intelligence and food for thought to be found here, along with spectacle and pure entertainment. A true blockbuster with a heart and a brain.

2017 has been something of a banner year for combining war with fantasy, with KONG: SKULL ISLAND, WONDER WOMAN and now WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES, which has more than a few nods to APOCALYPSE NOW (none more prominent than Woody Harrelson's great performance as a crazed, rogue military leader known as "The Colonel").

My initial thoughts are that WAR doesn't quite measure up to DAWN or RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2011), but the gap between them all is very small and as a trilogy they have succeeded in doing justice to the original 1968-1973 series of films while creating a unique mythology of their own. Something I honestly thought I would never live to see as I exited the cinema after first watching Tim Burton's 2001 attempt at retooling the concept.




Saturday, July 22, 2017

DUNKIRK

(Non-spoiler post)

Experiencing DUNKIRK on 1570 (15perf 70mm) film from the front row of the Melbourne IMAX cinema was both exhilarating and overwhelming, perhaps a little too much at times...thus mammoth film just swallows you whole.

It's a staggering achievement on so many levels, a great British war film that tells it simple but engrossing story from three separate viewpoints taking place over three different timespans, turning the film into something of a clever cinematic puzzle that is neat to watch come together without distracting you or taking you out of the narrative. It is both epic and intimate, certainly the most genuinely moving and emotional of Christopher Nolan's films to date, and it succeeds in creating characters to care for without us having to know anything about them, other than the dire predicament they are in. The film also manages to emphatically convey the horror, brutality, and wholesale sudden violent death of war without having to go the ultra-visceral graphic route of other modern war classics like SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and HACKSAW RIDGE.

The sound design is also incredible, as is Hans Zimmer's score, both of which combine to provide an often nerve-wracking pulse to the film, the bass and the bombs literally rattling your internal organs. It's well-cast with some nice performances, with Tom Hardy being particularly effective as a Spitfire pilot, having to create his character mostly through his eyes and actions, and the odd line of fighter pilot dialogue.

Absolutely worth experiencing in a cinema, preferably in 70mm. Images and sounds from this movie are bound to be bouncing around inside my head for some time.



Sunday, July 16, 2017

REMOTE CONTROL

This afternoon's viewing was Jeff Lieberman's REMOTE CONTROL (1988), another effective and creative oddity from the writer/director of SQUIRM (1976), BLUE SUNSHINE (1978) and JUST BEFORE DAWN (1981). Where the masterful BLUE SUNSHINE had people facing the horrific consequences of indulging in the LSD craze of a decade earlier, REMOTE CONTROL also has its characters paying the price for indulging in a popular cultural movement, in this instance the home video phenomena of the ...1980s. Befitting of the era in which it was made, REMOTE CONTROL tells its story in a very flashy and much more abstract style than BLUE SUNSHINE, full of MTV pop and exaggerated 80s fashion and materialism. And yet, thanks to the use of film within a film, it is also serves as a cool homage to the classic black & white B horror and science-fiction movies of the 1950s.

As he was in the remake of THE BLOB later that same year, Kevin Dillion is pretty solid in his familiar role of a rebel with a bit of past but ultimately a decent and reliable guy (here, he plays a video store clerk who gets embroiled in an alien plot to take over the world by using the VHS release of a low-budget 50s sci-fi film called REMOTE CONTROL to brainwash viewers and program them to kill). It’s also nice to see Jennifer Tilly show up in one of her earlier roles (her exotic looks and character quirks make her a natural for a film like this), and of course for any fan of vintage VHS like myself there’s plenty of fun to be had spotting the various individual titles on the shelves and the promo displays on the counter and walls of the (fictitious) Village Video store where a good deal of the movie takes place (JAKE SPEED and the Jane fond workout tapes seem to have been particularly popular at this time). And cool to see Lieberman giving nods to his previous films, with a poster for SQUIRM hanging on one wall and a clip from BLUE SUNSHINE playing on the video store’s huge TV set. The movie also benefits from a neat and very atmospheric electronica score by Peter (Son of Elmer) Bernstein.

While an old VHS copy might seem like the most appropriate way to watch REMOTE CONTROL (it was released on tape in Australia by Village Roadshow) I would love to see it in a cinema on a double-bill with Ted Nicolaou’s TERRORVISION (1986), another colourful and gaudy genre satire of 80s junk culture and American obsession with home entertainment (and both movies feature a performance from Bert Remsen, providing a nice symbiotic bridge between the two).