Tuesday, January 21, 2014


The first issue of the new A5 digest zine Sleaze Fiend showed up in my mailbox yesterday, and having had a chance to go through it I found it quite an enjoyable and entertaining read, written with genuine enthusiasm and appreciation for the topics at hand. Featuring some original art by Mischka Ann and lots of great old exploitation ad mats and poster art, the debut issue of Sleaze Fiend traverses such subjects as the birth of VHS, a tribute to David (Last House on the Left) Hess, a six-page review of the 2012 Maniac remake, kung-fu grindhouse cinema, David Cronenberg, Brazillian XXX films, a look at the films of Charles Manson follower Bobby Beausoleil, and the infamous 1976 sex/horror roughie Hardgore.

It’s always nice to see a new old-school print zine appear, and with John Walter Szpunar’s recent tome Xerox Ferox rekindling an interest in the subject amongst many, Sleaze Fiend should hopefully find enough of an audience to keep it going for a while. If you like Robin Bougie’s Cinema Sewer you will probably dig this.

For ordering details visit the Sleaze Fiend Facebook page at:


Sunday, January 19, 2014


Had forgotten what a strange piece of surreal sexploitation Ron Garcia’s The Toy Box (1971) is. It’s one of the most (deliberately) mind-bending films to emerge from the skin flick genre at the time, with it’s mix of classic Old Dark House horror elements with late-sixties psychedelia, a couple of wacky sci-fi angles that seem to just jump up out of nowhere, and the aesthetic of a really creative underground student film. The movie is genuinely unnerving in a couple of spots (including one hallucinatory sequence that hints at necrophilia), and the sex scenes don’t drag on endlessly like they do in many softcore films from this era (although for a softcore film The Toy Box  certainly pushes the limit into very hard R-rated territory). 

The plot, coming on like an adults-only episode of The Twilight Zone, has a young couple heading to a swingers’ orgy at the large home of a mysterious figure they call ‘Uncle’, who appears to be dead and rewards his visitors with items from his magic toy box whenever they share their erotic fantasies with him. Some of the women who arrive to pay their respects to Uncle include Russ Meyer fave Uschi Digart (who gets seduced by her own bedsheets) and Marsha Jordan (a buxom blonde with great hair and a full but curvy figure who was slightly older than most of her contemporaries, which often saw her cast in the role of the bored and frustrated housewife). 

Writer/director Ron Garcia later went on to have a prolific career as a cinematographer, mostly in television and highlighted by his work as the photographer of the Twin Peaks pilot movie from 1990, as well as the 1992 cinematic offshoot Fire Walk With Me. Interestingly, The Toy Box  is the sort of film you could imagine Twin Peaks creator David Lynch making, had he been cutting his cinematic teeth in the sexploitation genre at the time.

One of the best movies that was ever picked up for distribution by low-budget movie mogul Harry Novak and his Boxoffice International company, The Toy Box was released on VHS in the 1990s by Something Weird Video, and on DVD in 2006 (where it was paired with another Novak acquisition, the bleak 1973 Freudian exploitation thriller Toys Are Not for Children).

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


Spent the afternoon watching this double-bill of vintage UK genre cinema, both of which I have read about over the years but had never actually had the chance to sit down and watch. Blood of the Vampire (1958) was often mistaken for a Hammer production, chiefly because it’s a gothic, colour UK horror film from that period, has a screenplay by veteran Hammer scribe Jimmy Sangster, and stars Barbara Shelly, one of Hammer’s favourite leading ladies. Despite it’s title, it’s not your usual vampire yarn, but rather the strange tale of a prison warden in the 1880's (played by Donald Wolfit, who reminded me of a stockier Bela Lugosi) who is executed for being a vampire, but is kept alive through a primitive heart transplant while he experiments on his prisoners until he can discover a cure for his bizarre blood condition. It has a much seedier feel than the Hammer horror films of the day, and is very atmospheric with some nice sets. The angle of the disfigured assistant who falls in love with the photo of a beautiful woman kept in a locket, which has been confiscated from a prisoner (the male lead, played by Australian Vincent Ball), was later used by Anthony Hinds in his screenplay for Hammer’s Scars of Dracula (1970). 

The Hellfire Club (1961) features another Sangster screenplay, and is more of a swashbuckling adventure than a horror film or an expose of the notorious British society clubs that started sprouting up in the 1700's and preached a ‘do whatever pleases you’ philosophy that only the rich and influential were able to get away with at the time (the name was later used for several bondage and S&M clubs, including one here in Melbourne in the 1990s). Directed by Robert S. Baker and Monty Berman, The Hellfire Club is a tad long but rather entertaining, with some rousing sword fights (despite the unconvincing choreography), more nice sets and matte work, an almost comedic cameo role from Peter Cushing, the beautiful Adrienne Corri (later in A Clockwork Orange and the 1972 Hammer classic Vampire Circus), and lovely Czechoslovakian actress Kai Fischer.

Unfortunately, the prints of these films contained on Dark Sky’s 2006 DVD do not feature any of the additional nudity or gore that was apparently included in the continental versions of these films (though even as it is, the print of The Hellfire Club featured still contains some rather risque near-nudity scenes for its time). And the anamorphic widescreen print of  The Hellfire Club has some dizzying lens distortion at the sides, particularly during any panning shots.

Despite the prints being less than perfect, this was still a solidly entertaining double, and I’m keen to seek out better versions of both films now. The DVD is also nicely presented as an old-fashioned drive-in double feature, complete with vintage intermission snack food ads and trailers for several ‘coming attractions’ (including Del Tenney’s The Horror of Party Beach and Mario Bava’s Kill, Baby, Kill).

Sunday, January 12, 2014


R. H. Greene’s 2012 documentary Vampira and Me takes its subject a bit too self-importantly at times, with the narration occasionally veering off into psychobabble, and suffers visually from the lack of archival footage (sadly, only mere minutes of Vampira’s televised career has been preserved). But it’s still a lovely portrait of this icon of 1950s style and the woman who portrayed her, actress Maila Nurmi It’s a virtual love letter from writer/director/narrator Greene, a Vampira obsessive who befriended Nurmi in the mid-90s, and uses an extended interview he filmed with her as the basis for the documentary. 

Getting inspiration for her character from the illustrations of Charles Addams, Nurmi found instant fame in 1954 as Vampira, a television horror movie host with amazingly arched eyebrows and an impossibly thin waist. But her fame was fleeting and she spent the next several decades living in near destitution and often working in restaurants just to pay for her dinner, though in the few years prior to hear death in 2008 she seemed to have found a semblance of peace and security. Vampira and Me covers Nurmi’s early years, her time as Vampira, her relationship with James Dean, working with Ed Wood on Plan 9 from Outer Space, her frightening incidents with stalkers (and the comical way in which these events were often reported by the press), the resurgence of Vampira in the 80s as a goth style icon, and her long-running legal actions against the Elvira character played by Cassandra Peterson.

What old footage is included here is lovely to see, including old home movies and Maila/Vampira’s appearances on various American variety and game shows, and there’s lots of great promotional and candid photos included. It’s sad to hear Nurmi talk about how she fought to keep her waist rake-thin for twenty years after the Vampira show was cancelled, just in case she got the call that never came to resurrect her character on television, but her enduring contribution to mid-20th century style is beyond doubt, and the mystique and allure of her creation lives on...

Above: stunning piece of Vampira art by Melbourne (Australia) artist Robert Rechter.

Friday, January 10, 2014


A blast from the past. During 1997/98 I was one of the reviewers for Video in Focus, a weekly 30 minute film review program that ran on the emerging Optus cable TV network in Melbourne. It was a fun show to do because we were still reviewing VHS titles and the video store culture was still relatively alive (though the warning signs were clearly there). We reviewed a lot of the newer releases and I had to sit through a fair bit of dreck but I also got to do a regular ‘one you may have missed’ segment, where I would review and discuss some older favourites. Some of the films I recall reviewing were Horror of Dracula, The Silent Partner, Mars Attacks!, Bloodsucking Freaks, Chopper Chicks in Zombie Town and Blue Sunshine. This would have been not long after I started shaving my head (I first shaved it just after my father had passed away earlier that year). One day I need to edit together a few selected highlights and get them uploaded...


Richard Raaphorst’s Frankenstein's Army (2013) is yet another in the long line of post-Blair With Project POV found footage/faux documentary horror films. Taking a different approach from the usual modern settings for this style of film, Frankenstein's Army takes place on the eastern front during the dying days of World War II in Germany, and has a Russian combat cameraman capturing the carnage as his unit is decimated by an assortment of bizarre man/machine-meld monsters, the nightmarish product of the crazed great-great-grandson of the famous Baron von. 

I struggled to get into it for the first 20 minutes or so, but Frankenstein's Army eventually won me over with its ambition and intriguing strangeness. While the film reflects its low budget in many ways, the make-up and various creature designs are terrific and effectively creepy (I guess I would describe the creatures as a mix of H. R. Giger and Clive Barker with an industrial/’steam punk’ overhaul). Thankfully there is very little reliance on cheap and obvious CGI, with most of the effects and stunts looking to have been done in-camera, and the set designers have done a decent enough job of bringing the period to life (though some of the hairstyles and mannerisms of the characters seem very un-1945).   Ultimately, I think the film would have worked much better if they had ditched the whole found-footage approach and just told the story as a straight narrative. It’s a bit hard to swallow the idea of some beat-up, hand-cranked 16mm camera being able to capture such hi-def images nearly seventy years ago!

Saturday, January 4, 2014


Was terribly saddened to hear the news that Mike Vraney has passed-away at the age of 56 following an 18 month battle with lung cancer. Through his Seattle-based Something Weird Video company, founded in 1990, Mike helped expose myself and countless others to the films of exploitation pioneers like David Friedman, Herschell Gordon Lewis, Joe Sarno, Harry Novak, Doris Wishman and so many, many others. Mike rescued literally hundreds of films (as well as shorts and trailers) from the scrapheap of obscurity, and I can honestly say that without Something Weird Video my knowledge, appreciation and enjoyment of cinema would be nowhere near as diverse, interesting and complete as it is today.

I started out as a customer of Something Weird Video, and in the late-90s I started writing for them, contributing reviews/synopsis' for their printed catalogues as well as their VHS sleeves, and then of course online and DVD-R covers. It was always exciting getting the latest lot of videos to review for them - usually they would turn up in lots of five and, apart from the odd occasion where I might have requested something specific, I had no idea what titles I was in store for. It was often just a random assortment of gloriously gaudy titles, some I may have heard of but many I had absolutely no idea about. One parcel might have had Shanty Tramp, The Seducers, Suburban Pagans, Campus Swingers and G.I. Scare Films, Vol. 4. That's what made Something Weird Video so much fun, and such a joy and privilege to work with - every time you slid one of their tapes into the VCR for the first time, it was always a new adventure in discovery (not always an entertaining or satisfying one, but usually at the very least unique).

I probably reviewed over 100 releases for Something Weird Video, and though I never worked with or talked directly to Mike (usually I would work with his incredibly lovely and wonderfully talented wife Lisa Petrucci), his vision and guidance and passion for what he was doing was always evident. Though he seemed to be somewhat of a private person, he provided some terrific interviews over the years, he was in documentaries like Hell's Highway (2002), and shows up on the special features of some of the Something Weird DVDs (including a great extended tour of Harry Novak's Hollywood office, screening room and film vaults).

I feel terribly saddened by the way-too-early passing of Mike Vraney, and my thoughts are with Lisa along with their family and friends and loved ones. As a respected and passionate archivist with a clear love for good old-fashioned carnival ballyhoo, his presence will be much missed, but his accomplishments always appreciated and celebrated by those who love to trawl that curious netherworld of vintage exploitation cinema.

December 29, 1957 to January 2, 2014

"I'm the only guy I know whose wife cheers every time I bring home a big box of men's magazines". A nice little profile on Mike Vraney, Lisa Petrucci and Something Weird Video, which aired in 2006 on Seattle's Evening Magazine program.