Monday, December 17, 2012


by Lee Gambin
The ‘nature amok’ movie has always been one of my favourite genres of horror cinema (ever since I ventured into the city as a kid and saw a double-bill of Squirm and Food of the Gods at the old Dendy cinema in Collins St), and considering its popularity amongst fans, it’s surprising that there hasn’t been a book exclusively devoted to it until now.

Authored by Melbourne based writer (and regular Fangoria contributor) Lee Gambin, Massacred by Mother Nature is an exploration of the natural horror film, tracing its roots through King Kong and such 1950s gems as Tarantula, Them!, Godzilla and Earth Vs. the Spider – where nature usually had a helping hand from human experimentation or atomic test fallout – and on into the 60s (The Birds, The Deadly Bees), before the genre really exploded in the 1970s, which was definitely the decade when nature ran berserk on cinema and drive-in screens across America (and many other parts of the world, Australia included).

In the first half of the seventies, it was the smaller forms of life like frogs (Frogs), spiders (Kiss of the Tarantula), rodents (Willard and it’s sequel, Ben ) and worms (Squirm) that were causing the most mischief onscreen, before a little movie called Jaws came along in 1975 and – along with The Exorcist a year earlier – helped to redefine modern horror cinema and brought the genre (for better or worse) into the realm of reputable studio prestige productions. Exploitation producers followed suit, and the phenomenal success of Jaws resulted in films like Grizzly, Orca, Day of the Animals and Piranha. The 50s trend of insects and wildlife enlarged by the meddling hands of man continued in films such as Night of the Lepus, Prophecy and Food of the Goods, while even the Italians got into the act with Killer Fish and the blatant Jaws inspired Great White (which Universal successfully took action against to prevent it’s US release).

Nature horror films continued into the 1980s and beyond (remember Cujo and the down under terror of Razorback?), but the seventies were clearly the golden years for the genre.

Eschewing the A-Z formula of most film books of this type, Massacred by Mother Nature is written in an entertaining, breezy but informative and knowledgeable style which reflects Gambin’s genuine love for – and unique take on - the genre. Chapters are divided into themes (such as The Bad Doggies of Cinema, The Discreet Charm of the Creepy Crawly and – one of my favourite sections – Stock Characters of the Ecological Horror Film). The book concludes with a series of brief interviews with various actors/composers/writers/directors (Dee Wallace, Jeff Lieberman, Charles Bernstein, Belinda Balaski, Joe Dante, etc.), who discuss their work in the ecological horror field.

Heavily illustrated throughout with black & white stills and often lurid poster art, and featuring introductions by Fangoria editor Chris Alexander, Dee Wallace, Veronica Cartwright and director Bert I. Gordon, Massacred by Mother Nature is a highly recommended and thoroughly welcome addition to any horror fan’s library.
(Midnight Marquee Press/USA/2012/220 pages)
Review copyright John Harrison 2012

Massacred by Mother Nature is avaialble from Amazon or direct from the publisher (Mdnight Marque Press) at Also check out the Facebook page devoted to the book at

Sunday, December 9, 2012


The Epic! exhibition  (100 years of film and the Bible) was small but impressive - a stunning collection of Bible-themed movie memorabilia, including stills, promo items, press kits and original posters (from all countries) that showcase some truly beautiful and visually arresting artwork.

Highlight of the exhibition for me was a set of original lobby cards from the 1960 exploitation/comedy The Private Lives of Adam & Eve starring the fabulous screen siren Mamie Van Doren. Was also amusing to see the Jewish Museum's gift shop selling reproduction posters from the Mitchell Brothers' Sodom & Gomorrah (1975), the two ladies at the counter totally oblivious to the fact that they are selling the poster for a XXX hardcore porno film.

Epic! runs at the Jewish Museum of Australia in Melbourne (26 Alma Rd., St. Kilda) until 3rd February 2013.


Saturday, December 8, 2012



Having finished the Peter Criss book (Make-Up to Break-Up: My Life In and Out of Kiss), I think it’s easily the most entertaining (and scandalous) of the three Kiss autobios released so far from the original members. While Gene’s book was just typical Gene and Ace’s was disappointingly short on Rock & Roll road stories, Criss comes out with all guns blazing, with his former bandmates, managers, accountants and an ex-wife (former Playboy playmate Debra Jensen) firmly in his sights.
Peter Criss is clearly a bitter man and I dare say more than a little paranoid and delusional about his own talents and achievements (his already huge ego was even further inflated by his co-writing and singing of Kiss’ surprise hit ballad Beth in 1976). When his early solo albums fail, it’s because Kiss and their management pressured the label into blackballing them, not because of their weak middle of the road material. When he continually gets screwed by the contracts during the reunion years (1996-2004), it’s always the fault of the lawyers and not his bad decision making. Criss wants us to empathise with him but it’s a little hard when he mostly refuses to take ownership of his own role in things always turning sour (though he does admit to being an asshole at times and having his mind clouded by a copious consumption of blow).
I’m sure that this is the truth as Peter Criss sees it, but any book in which the author admits to wanting to stick a knife in the neck of his former Kiss bandmates, and fantasises about flying to L.A. and shooting them, is surely going to have his thoughts and perspective somewhat clouded. Still, Make-Up to Break-Up is a rousing, angry, at times sleazy and very entertaining rock & roll memoir, written (with Larry ‘Ratso’ Sloman) by the original drummer from one of the biggest American bands of the seventies. From Ace Frehley’s chronic masturbation and the groupie who kept Criss awake all night as she screamed at Frehley to "Fuck me like a truck driver!" to Gene Simmons making everyone sick by refusing to wash the menstrual blood from the previous night’s conquest off his teeth, all those lurid moments that teen magazines like 16 and Tiger Beat never quite got around to covering back in the day are laid bare for all to wallow in.
One wonders how Paul Stanley might respond, with his own autobiography (and the last from the original line-up) due next year. 



I remember as a younger man in the late-eighties, I would finish up my shift at St. Kilda Video at 10pm then head across the road for a few drinks at the Doulton Bar, often ending up the night either dancing with drag queens at Bojangles on the Lower Esplanade, hanging with the stoned and drunken flotsam that filled The Lindentree on Fitzroy St, or watching the smacked-out strippers gyrating for drug money at the long passed its prime Casablanca disco in the next block up.

On a few of these occasions, making our way home at three and four in the morning, my friends and I - galvanized by booze, pot and the odd stupefying sniff of amyl nitrate (then still being sold over the counter at the Acland St sex shop) - would climb the fence into Luna Park and spend a few hours walking around in the dark, exploring all the rides and amusements by moonlight and feeling as if I was trapped within my own surreal horror movie. One time, we scampered up the Scenic Railway rollercoaster track and sat atop the iconic big mouth entrance, smoking joints and soaking in the view that, as passengers on the ride, we had only ever had a few seconds to enjoy. Another time, we climbed up the cold metal cobwebs of the giant ferris wheel, sitting ourselves in the top cars while we downed a six-pack and looked out across the blackened Port Phillip Bay, enjoying the silence and the salty air as it hit us in the face. It was an idiotic thing to do in retrospect - one slip of my drunken or stoned foot and that could have been it - but the experience and sense of secret wonder it filled me with was more than worth it.

We never tried it again after we finally got busted by a security patrol one night, who thankfully let us go with just a warning (after taking down our well-rehearsed fake names and addresses). I think the security guy could sense that we weren’t in there for theft or vandalism, but purely to experience Luna Park in a wholly unique way (and yes, the element of ‘danger’ certainly added to it all).

I had the utmost respect for the property and its iconic history, but looking back now, I kind of regret that I never helped myself to at least one small unique memento as something tangible to remember these increasingly distant nights with (especially considering that most things I could have taken have no doubt long since been consigned to the trash heaps of time and ‘progress’).

Copyright John Harrison 2012