Saturday, May 14, 2022

NATALIE PAPAK'S "CHROMESTHESIA"

Checking out Natali Papak's stunning new art exhibition, Chromesthesia, which is running until 21 May at the Alternating Current Art Space at 248 High Street, Windsor. Link for more details below. Absolutely worth checking it out if you are down that way, photos do not do justice to the beautiful colours and textures of the art, and the way it pops and speaks to you in person. A number of pieces have already been sold, not surprisingly, and I was very excited to obtain one of the pieces for myself ("Bloody Eye Scream - My Eyes Are Bleeding"), which I can't wait to put up in the apartment once the exhibition is over.

NATALIE PAPAK'S "CHROMESTHESIA"





MAGNIFICENT CREATURE

Seeing Jack Arnold's classic CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) on the big screen in 3D at ACMI last night was a real treat. The 3D effects were quite stunning at times, and incredibly immersive, much more so than the last time I watched the film in this format, which was via an 8mm print with the old anaglyph 3D glasses with the red and blue lens. The opening moment where the archaeologist uncovers the skeletal claw of a past gillman sticking out from some rocks was particularly effective, and drew audible gasps and wows from the surprisingly large crowd...it felt like the hand was literally going to blanket you! The climactic scene inside the grotto was also stunning, not just for the 3D but for the way in which the big screen space highlighted just how beautiful and moody the production design and lighting of the set was. And of course, the Creature himself looked spectacular in 3D, coming at you dripping wet and gills pulsating.

ACMI are running several more sessions of the film (both 3D and flat) until mid-June, so well worth getting along and checking out. I'm tempted to take in another 3D screening myself!



WE BELONG DEAD!

Enjoying a lunchtime office read of my contributor's copy of the WE BELONG DEAD Anniversary Special, which turned up last week. For this extra-large, glossy special issue, the regular roster of WE BELONG DEAD writers were asked to write about a horror film that is particularly special and important to them. I chose to write about Jeff Lieberman's magnificent, Southern Gothic-infused nature amok horror film, SQUIRM (1976). I'll also be appearing on a panel after the upcoming Cinemaniacs screening of SQUIRM at ACMI in August. I'll be joining Michael Helms, Jarret Gahan, and Adam Ross on the panel, which I believe will be moderated by Lee Gambin. Should be a fun night seeing this movie again on the big screen after so many years!

Anyone interested in ordering the WE BELONG DEAD Anniversary Special, and seeing some more sample pages, can click on the link below. Get in quick, these tend to go very fast!







Saturday, May 7, 2022

"X" MARKS, AND HITS, THE SPOT!

I heard a lot of positive things about Ti West's latest film, X (2022). Not being much of a fan of the filmmaker's previous work, I kept my expectations in check when I sat down to watch it last night. It was pretty good, actually very good at times, with West delivering an excellent balance of homage and original work. Set in 1979, the plot involves a group of young filmmakers heading off to an isolated Texas farmhouse in order to shoot a dirty movie called THE FARMER'S DAUGHTER (sounds like a classic Harry Novak title starring Rene Bond!). Unfortunately for this group of wannabe erotic superstars and serious filmmakers, the elderly couple they have rented the farmhouse from turn out to be quite mad, and bad. X has obvious nods to Tobe Hooper's THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) and EATEN ALIVE (1976), but you can also see elements of PSYCHO (1970), and a multitude of 80s slashers. Of course, there's also the adult film angle to the story, which gives the movie plenty of opportunity to imbue it with a low-rent BOOGIE NIGHTS edge, as well as reference (and recreate) the look and feel of the XXX movies of that era, when porn was still mostly shot on film and had some semblance of a plot (even a script). But there is also a great "psycho-biddy" element to X, and it even manages to raise some intriguing questions and ideas amongst all the carnage, particularly in relation to the sexual frustrations of the very elderly, something we are not confronted with a whole lot in the movies. Some excellent sound design and editing in the film as well, and the cast are terrific, especially Mia Goth. I heard there was an after-credits sequence to X that teased Ti West's follow-up/prequel, PEARL, which was apparently shot at the same time, but sadly this sequence seems to be missing from the Australian release of the film.






CINEMA OF THE 70s #5: BILLY JACK ATTACK!

Received my contributor's copy of CINEMA OF THE 70s #5 last, in time for a nice weekend read. I have a seven page article in this issue, looking at BILLY JACK series of films. Looks like another terrific effort from publishers Dawn Dabell and Jonathon Dabell, not to mention all the other talented writers involved. Available with a Vanessa Redgrave or Ollie Reed cover, 100 full-colour pages. Check Amazon in your region for ordering details and full list of contents.





Sunday, March 27, 2022

EXTRAORDINARY ORDINARY PEOPLE

Seeing ORDINARY PEOPLE (1980) at ACMI last Friday night reminded me of what an emotionally brutal cinematic gut-punch the movie delivers. It also reiterated just how important and essential the big screen experience can be for all genres of film, not just action and effects-laden blockbusters. The sense of spatial vastness which ORDINARY PEOPLE achieves at times, with just one of two of the main characters dwarfed by normal, everyday all-American backdrops, really emphasizes the crushing isolation and helplessness which they feel, and this becomes even more impactful and palpable when watching the movie in a cinema, where the viewers themselves also become overwhelmed by some of its vast emptiness.

But at its core, it is a movie about characters, and you would be hard pressed to find one that has such a perfect, and incredibly potent, cast of actors who are all at the absolute top of their game. Perhaps it shouldn’t be too surprising that the calibre of acting is top-notch, with the film being directed by seventies cinematic superstar Robert Redford, but the fact that it was Redford’s directorial debut makes the achievement even more remarkable. Alvin Sargent also deserves a decent share of the credit, for adapting a terrific and tight screenplay from Judith Guest’s 1976 novel of the same name.
So many powerful moments, few get to me more though than the scene where Timothy Hutton and Mary Tyler Moore are talking out in the yard, and Hutton’s character Connie mentions to his mom that a pigeon who once made itself a home in their garage was the closest thing the family ever came to having a pet. It really just shatters any illusion that this family was ever any kind of happy or connected unit, even before the tragedy struck them. The fact that the scene is played, and played so perfectly, buy such a devoted and well-known animal lover and rights activist in Moore, makes it even more amazing.
Excellent intro to the film by Lee Gambin, who discussed several of the themes inherent in the movie, and how they gelled with other cinema from the same era, as well as the representation of the “better brother syndrome” in previous movies (i.e. – movies where young males feel they are living in the shadows of a more-accomplished, or seemingly more-loved, sibling). Some great clips to accompany the examples as well, and was great to hear Lee give some much-needed love to ODE TO BILLY JOE (1976), a film in desperate need of a good Blu-ray release.
As a special surprise, the screening was preceded by a short video intro from Dinah Manhoff, who has a brief but very important part in the film. Was nice to see her sharing some thoughts and memories of the film, she seems like a real sweetheart. Next up for Cinemaniacs is something completely different, and it isn’t Monty Python, but Wes Craven’s LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972), which will be introduced by author Alexandra Heller-Nicholas on Friday, April 15th.

Friday, February 11, 2022

SPOTLIGHT ON SCIENCE FICTION

Received my contributor’s copy of this magnificent new book from the UK, published by We Belong Dead and edited by Eric McNaughton and Darrell Buxton Over 400 glossy color pages, beautifully designed with many stunning and rare images, SPOTLIGHT ON SCIENCE-FICTION covers sci-fi cinema throughout the decades, from 1902 (A TRIP TO THE MOON) to 2018 (READY PLAYER ONE). I was thrilled to contribute three essays for this volume, looking at IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE (1958), X: THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES (1963), and BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES (1970). Nice to see the mighty General Ursus from BENEATH taking the center spot on Paul Garner Monster Art's great cover illustration. Available from the We Belong Website in both soft and hardcover editions, link below. These books usually sell out pretty quick, so get in fast if you want one!

SPOTLIGHT ON SCIENCE FICTION







CINEMANIACS RETURNS!

Nice catch-up with the Cinemaniacs crew at the Arts Centre last weekend, to discuss their line-up for this year. In terms of both film selection and guest speakers/panelists, it is probably their strongest year yet! I'm looking forward to being part of the SQUIRM panel in August, check out the Cinemaniacs page on the ACMI website at the following link:



SOMETHING WEIRD FROM AGFA

A few of my viewings over the last couple of days, all releases from the AGFA/Something Weird collaboration, which has borne some incredible exploitation fruit so far. Bearing a similar feel and aesthetic as what John Waters would later achieve in his earlier films, SHE MOB (1968) is a jaw-dropping, B&W roughie shot in Waco, Texas, about a vicious lesbian girl gang out of prison and on the rampage. THE MONSTER OF CAMP SUNSHINE (1964) is another bizarre B&W oddity, this one shot in New York, where the gardener at a nudist camp drinks water contaminated by lab rat chemicals, turning him deranged and chasing after all the topless sunbathers! The print on this Blu-ray looks better than the film probably did on the day it first played theatres.

Lastly, SMUT WITHOUT SMUT: SATANIC HORROR NIGHT is a “mixtape”, compiling the non-sex highlights from half a dozen grimy, occult-themed XXX films from the early-to-mid seventies. Lots of fun, with some great lines of dialogue (“I’ll eat shit before I renounce Satan!”), and there are lots of old drive-in snack bar and local business commercials included to give it that extra vintage appeal. Beyond simple enjoyment, they are also intriguing artifacts from that particular era of guerrilla porn, and one of the films which they source for the compilation is THE DEVIL INSIDE HER from 1977, which features an occult Satanist character who wanders around the New England woods wearing make-up that is very reminiscent of (and clearly inspired by) Gene Simmons of KISS (in fact, this guy surpasses Gene in some areas, as anyone who has seen Gene's sex tape might understand)! The Blu-ray also contains the option to watch the full, uncut versions of some of the films which they used, including THE DEVIL INSIDER HER.


Monday, December 13, 2021

TONI BASIL: WOWS & WHAMS!

Amazingly, it was 39 years ago last week since Toni Basil hit the number one spot on the American pop charts with her classic signature hit, "Mickey". It was just one of the many accomplishments achieved by this very multi-talented artist. In Australia, the song became a big hit much earlier in the year, hitting top spot in April of 1982 and ending up the sixth-biggest selling single in the country for that year. The music video for the song, with the cheerleaders, is well known, but I also love this performance of it from Toni's 1981 BBC special, which also features dancers Shabba Doo and Spazz Attack. Quicky, creative, and 100% Toni Basil!


Toni has also been appearing as a guest on several prominent podcasts this past week, as she promotes her hot new single, "Wham (Re-Bop-Boom-Bam"), the classic Eddie Durham/Taps Miller swing jazz number which Toni has performed on TV in the past (including a truly sizzling rendition of it on the 1978 JERRY LEWIS TELETHON). Visit the links below to watch and listen to Toni's latest podcast appearances, it is always terrific to hear her speak about the many varied facets of her remarkable career, always lots of fun listening to her on Sid Kroft's Instagram live installments. Her knowledge of dance and choreography are second-to-none.


And don't forget, you can read my five-plus page exclusive interview with Toni in the current issue of the US film magazine SHOCK CINEMA, which is available on newsstands, specialty shops, or via mail-order from the publisher direct. While Toni (still incredibly stylish, beautiful, and energetic) has had a career that encompasses many fields, in SHICK CINEMA the discussion is mostly about her extensive film career, both as an actress, choreographer, and dancer, working on such classics and cult gems as VILLAGE OF THE GIANTS (1965), HEAD (1968), EASY RIDER (1976), MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED (1976), ROCKULA (1990), and ONCE UPON A TIME...IN HOLLYWOOD (2019).

You can also visit Toni's website for more info, clips, and cool swag including an array of great TB t-shirts!

TONI BASIL: OFFICIAL WEBSITE 'SHOCK CINEMA' MAGAZINE


SPOTLIGHT ON SCIENCE FICTION

Final cover by Paul Garner Monster Art for SPOTLIGHT ON SCIENCE FICTION, an upcoming book from WE BELONG DEAD, for which I contributed essays on IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE (1958), X-THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES (1963), and BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES (1970). Now up for pre-order, available in both soft and hardcover editions, and due for publication by Christmas! Clink link below for details. SPOTLIGHT ON SCI-FI: PRE-ORDER LINK

CINEMA OF THE 70s GOES APE!

Happy to receive my contributor's copy of CINEMA OF THE 70's #4 in time for a late-afternoon sunshine read. For this issue, I was thrilled to contribute the ten-page cover feature on the 1970s PLANET OF THE APES films, and the overall APES phenomenon of that decade (taking in the TV live-action and animated shows, comic books, merchandise, and more).

Other 70s cinema covered in this 100-page full-colour issue include THE DEEP (1977), HOOPER (1978), THE BROOD (1979), THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH (1970), BUG (1975), and many more, along with articles on cops in 70s British horror, and what looks to be an excellent piece on the 70s CARRY ON movies, written by David Michael Brown, which I intend to dig into straight away (I have also dug out my CARRY ON DVD box set, as I am sure I will be wanting to revisit some of them afterward).
Available now from Amazon in most countries.




Saturday, October 9, 2021

BLOODY BIRTHDAY

Recently had a first-time viewing of this low-budget, semi-obscure horror flick from 1981. I was expecting a generic slasher, but it is more of a killer kids movie, about two boys and a girl who were all born during a solar eclipse, and ten years later run rampant around their town, killing off people for seemingly no other reason than the fun of it. Lots of great, crazy fun and a few creepy moments, and Elizabeth Hoy is certainly well cast as the evil little girl, she certainly has a perfect face to portray tiny tot terror. It's very silly, and the cops (and adults) in this town must be amongst the dumbest ever depicted on celluloid, but there's plenty of over-the-top hijinks and some gore, not to mention scenes of ten-year-old boys peeking through a hole in the wardrobe to perv on a naked Julie Brown. Started watching this primarily as research for a piece on Susan Strasberg that I am currently writing, sadly Susan's character doesn't last too long, but the entertainment certainly doesn't stop with her demise. BLOODY BIRTHDAY is on Blu-ray (from Arrow) but also available to watch on Tubi.



THE DRY

Tonight's movie. Been waiting for a chance to watch this 2020 Australian thriller, and it was certainly worth it. It's a slow-burn, but it absolutely succeeds in seducing you into its story, its characters, and its mystery. Eric Bana is probably the best he has been since he played Chopper, cast here as a big city cop who returns to his home country town, now parched by drought, to investigate the apparent murder/suicide involving his childhood friend. At the same time, he needs to confront a secret of his own, which has been tormenting him for decades. I haven't read Jane Harper's 2016 book that the film is adapted from, and I think that certainly helped the impact it had on me. The less you know about the plot going in, the better. Having now seen the movie, I am intrigued enough to seek out the novel. The locations are as much a central character in the film as anything else, Stefan Duscio's camera capturing just the right angles and glints of sunlight reflecting off tin to make the harsh, bone dry environment (it was filmed in rural Melbourne, around the Horsham area).


Saturday, September 25, 2021

SHE FREAK LIVES!

‘FILMED ON ACTUAL LOCATIONS WHERE IT COULD HAVE HAPPENED!’

 

A grimy exploitation retelling of Tod Browning's Freaks (1932), She Freak (1967) is one of the best carnival-centric 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 to She Freak roll, we are treated to a wonderful five-minute montage of authentic carnival footage, which Friedman and director Bryon Mabe filmed on a handheld Arriflex 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 snubbing 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 Freaks, 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 so many levels. The authentic carnival footage is obviously one of its main assets - it helps give the low-budget (around US $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 colour photography really gives the film a rich and gaudy ambience, and there are certain moments, particularly those between Jade and Blackie 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 Russ 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. Her last known appearance was as Carolina Moon in Robert Aldrich’s The Choirboys (1977).



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). Rumours circulated for years 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 drama 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 colour 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 release which also included Brad Grinter’s Blood Freak (1972), Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks (1974), and Basket Case (1982).

 

And now, somewhat unbelievably, She Freak has arrived on Blu-ray, in a stunning release from AGFA (American Genre Film Archive) and Something Weird. While the film already looked amazing on DVD, the 4K restoration on the Blu-ray, struck from the original 35mm camera negative, gives the film a whole new level of lurid lushness. Simply put, the movie pops as never before, and the image so clear and immersive that you can almost smell the axle grease on the ferris wheel during its opening moments. Apart from its visual sharpness, the Blu-ray print also helps to highlight the film’s interesting (and at times very ambient) score, composed by Friedman regular William Allen Castleman under his Billy Allen pseudonym.

 

Special Features on the Blu-ray include an archival commentary from producer Friedman and Something Weird founder Mike Vraney (both now sadly deceased, the commentary is ported over from the old DVD release). There is also a feature-length compilation of classic Friedman trailers, the inserts shots filmed for the Asylum of the Insane version, some vintage archival sideshow/carnival footage, and an excellent 16 page illustrated booklet with rare photos and very informative liner notes written by Lisa Petrucci (current holder of the keys to the Something Weird vault). The Blu-ray also comes with a reversible sleeve, and there’s a limited (2,500) edition available direct from Vinegar Syndrome, which come housed in a nicely designed, embossed cardboard slipcase.


 

As with Something Weird and AGFA’s release of The Curious Dr. Humpp, She Freak is sure to rank high on the list for my favourite Blu-rays of 2021. It is available from several online sources, including direct from the Something Weird website, while the limited slipcover edition is still in stock at Vinegar Syndrome. Click on the relevant links below, and prepare to get your (she) freak on!

Buy SHE FREAK from Something Weird Video!

SHE FREAK with Limited Slipcover