Saturday, July 28, 2018


Caught up with the first three episodes of the new CASTLE ROCK series, which weaves many of the people, places and situations from the writings of Stephen King into its own fictional narrative. Part murder mystery, part supernatural horror and part TWIN PEAKS, it's very Shawshank-heavy so far but I have found it intriguing and effective enough to keep watching for the moment. It thankfully isn't as "gimmicky" with all the King references as I feared it might have been (at least so far) and there's some nice performances from Sissy Spacek, Scott Glenn and Bill SkarsgÄrd (proving he can be as disturbing without the Pennywise get-up as he can be when he is inside it).


Last night's movie. An enjoyably odd little horror thriller from 1963 starring Michael Gough in another deliriously over-the-top performance as the haughty British owner of a private zoo in Los Angeles, who not only treats his collection of big cats to private organ recitals in his own living room, but uses them to dispense of anyone who threatens him or tries to stick their noses into his business. BLACK ZOO is a quite lurid and seedy film in many ways, a lot more continental in look and style than an American production, and passages of Paul Dunlap's score contains the type of sleazy jazz more suited to a stag film loop. I had this souvenir photo magazine, published in 1963 by Charlton, long before I ever got to see the movie.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018


Written by Tim Lucas
Midnight Movie Monographs
Published by Electric Dreamhouse/236 Pages
‘To me, Spirits of the Dead is not only that occasion of homecoming— the occasion of art returning to its birthplace in a necessarily evolved form—but an advancement of the Poe film comparable to the Beatles’ summit of artistic expression with Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The music from that album, first released in June 1967, was influencing the arts across the board at the time Histoires Extraordinaires was in production—as can be seen in the “Rocking Horse People” of “Metzengerstein,” the “Within You Without You” of “William Wilson,” and in “Toby Dammit,” who “blew his mind out in a car.”’ – Tim Lucas

I first read about SPIRITS OF THE DEAD – the 1968 Italian/French anthology film based on three short stories by Edgar Allan Poe - in the pages of Michael J. Weldon’s The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film (Ballantine, 1983). It was one of literally dozens upon dozens of titles which I eagerly jotted down into a notebook as Weldon’s amazing tome opened my eyes to a range of cinema I had never known existed before (and if I did, had never paid much attention to until reading the author’s unique spin on it). I have to admit that, as a teenaged boy who hotly anticipated every late-night Saturday TV screening of BARBARELLA (1968), my main impetus for initially wanting to see SPIRITS OF THE DEAD was the thought of watching more late-sixties-era Jane Fonda parading around in skimpy, fetishistic outfits. 
When I finally did get to see SPIRITS OF THE DEAD almost 15 years later (thanks to a grainy bootleg VHS sourced from an Australian grey-market company called Psycho Voodoo Video), my film appreciation had thankfully developed and matured substantially, and even with the tape’s dubious quality (third generation dub at least), the film seduced me and overwhelmed me from the get-go. That doesn’t mean that Jane Fonda didn’t look as stunning as I had imagined, but she was just one part of the film’s phantasmagorical collision of visuals, sounds and ideas which penetrated my senses like an unstoppable surrealistic hurricane. 

For those who are unfamiliar with SPIRITS OF THE DEAD (or HISTOIRES EXTRAORDINAIRES, as it was known in France), the three Poe stories adapted for the movie (in order of appearance) were: "Metzengerstein" (directed by Roger Vadim with Jane and Peter Fonda), “William Wilson” (directed by Louis Malle with Alain Delon) and “Never Bet the Devil Your Head” (filmed as “Toby Dammit”, directed by Federico Fellini with Terence Stamp). While the first two segments are works of frequent visual beauty and compelling abstract themes (the opening sequence of Malle’s segment in particular never fails to induce overwhelming anxiety in me), they are pretty much curtain raisers to Fellini’s “Toby Dammit”. A portrait of an alcoholic Shakespearean actor (Stamp) slowly losing his mind (and ultimately his head) in one of the most terrifying yet hauntingly beautiful descents into madness ever depicted on film, “Toby Dammit” was initially considered almost two good to be included as part of the trilogy. There was some discussion around Fellini adapting another Poe story and releasing that and “Toby Dammit” as its own anthology film, but as tempting as that idea is it never eventuated and “Toby Dammit” was included as the final story in SPIRITS OF THE DEAD as planned.

Written by Tim Lucas and published by Electric Dreamhouse as part of their excellent Midnight Movie Monographs series, Spirits of the Dead (Histoires Extraordinaires) is an engrossing read which serves as both an in-depth history of its production, critical reception and complex release history, as well as providing a virtual shot-by-shot analysis of the film. As someone who has long studied and championed European genre cinema (through the pages of his seminal Video Watchdog magazine and more recently via his audio commentary work), Lucas is certainly the one qualified to take on SPIRITS OF THE DEAD, and I personally have always enjoyed his writing style so it’s comforting to see him return to the page with a substantial written piece, now that Video Watchdog is sadly defunct.
Sensibly, after an entertaining and nostalgic recollection of his own introduction to SPIRITS OF THE DEAD at the Plaza Theatre in Norwood, Ohio in 1970, Lucas approaches each of the three segments as their own individual films, which of course is what they actually are. And just to ensure you are getting a complete overview of SPIRITS OF THE DEAD, and to help understand a lot of the points being made by Lucas’ text, Spirits of the Dead (Histoires Extraordinaires) even reprints the three Poe stories which inspired the film. I personally love production info above analysis, so my favourite parts of the book are those which deal with the history of the film, both as a whole and its individual parts – from a germ of an idea in the mind of French producer Raymond Eger and the recruiting of the talent (Orson Welles was originally tapped to direct an adaptation of “The Masque of the Red Death”) to its somewhat underwhelming premiere at Cannes and subsequent editing for its 1969 US release by AIP (American International Pictures). It was AIP who changed its title to SPIRITS OF THE DEAD for the American market, where it had the distinction of being the first horror film to be slapped with the R rating in that country. Also included is an overview of previous filmic and TV adaptations of Poe stories (including, of course, the classic run of Poe films made at AIP by Roger Corman), and a chronology of some of the more notable home video and disc releases (the one to beat currently being the 2010 Blu-ray released by Arrow Academy).

Though substantially smaller (in both word count and sheer size) than Lucas’ last book devoted to European genre cinema – his mammoth 2007 book on Italian filmmaker Mario Bava, All the Colors of the Dark – the Midnight Movie Monographs series are the perfect size for an in-depth examination of an individual film, providing enough room for details while trimming off any unnecessary fat. They are shaping up into a nice library of books which share the same format but highlight a diverse range of writing styles from various fine authors, and encompass a good range of cult cinema that includes both well-known films along with some more slightly obscure or unexpected titles. Future announced entries in the series include such films as From Beyond the Grave (1974), Eyes Without a Face (1960), Hammer’s masterful Frankenstein Must be Destroyed (1969), De Palma’s The Fury (1978), the beautifully hypnotic Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971), Cronenberg’s The Brood (1979) and Herk Harvey’s surrealist classic Carnival of Souls (1962), the latter two authored by noted comic book artist and film writer Stephen R. Bissette.

Because I had not seen it in quite a while, I gave SPIRITS OF THE DEAD a rewatch before plunging into the book. Immediately upon finishing the text I watched the film again, appreciating many of its textures in a new and re-invigorated way. To me, that marks the sign of a good book that has done its job well. Illustrated throughout with B&W photos, Spirits of the Dead (Histoires Extraordinaires) is due for publication (in hardcover) around the end of July, with a cover price of UK 20 pounds. For more information keep track of the publisher’s website at: ELECTRIC DREAMHOUSE
Review by and Copyright 2018 John Harrison

Friday, July 20, 2018


Getting some work done on the slideshow presentation to accompany my upcoming introduction to the screening of the remarkably sleazy and vicious 1983 Cannon Films production 10 TO MIDNIGHT at The Backlot cinema in Melbourne on September 13.

Thursday, July 19, 2018


Received my contributor's copy of MONSTER! #33 last week and can't wait to dive in. At 370 pages this beast will keep you absorbed for hours. Dedicated to the late artist Heather Paxton and featuring wonderful front and back cover art by Mike Hall, my contribution to this issue is an 18-page article on classic horror and sci-fi poster magazines of the 1970s & 80s, including an interview with Dez Skinn, inspirational editor of MONSTER MAG and THE HOUSE OF HAMMER.


Just submitted my first completed piece for Lee Gambin's upcoming book TONIGHT, ON A VERY SPECIAL EPISODE, which examines episodes of American sit-coms (mostly from the 1960s-90s) that tackled serious and controversial topics. I will be writing about several episodes of THE BRADY BUNCH for the book, my first completed piece being for the second season episode "Where There's Smoke", where Greg gets busted smoking a cigarette while trying to impress the local hot high school rock band, The Banana Convention. This was also the famous "Clowns never laughed before, and beanstalks never grew" episode, where Greg's inner singer/songwriter began to emerge.


Was a real treat getting to see STUNT ROCK (1979) on the big screen at the Astor this evening, my first time cinema viewing of this bizarre meld of theatrical rock and daring stuntwork, conceived as an attempt to make an international star out of acclaimed Australian stuntman Grant Page. The 35mm print screened was in exceptional shape and some of those old-school stunts looked even more exhilarating and hair-raising on the big screen. I have to say I quite dig the music of Sorcery, the theatrical rock band featured in the movie, who are reminiscent of Stonehenge-era Spinal Tap and unfortunately split-up soon after the movie was finished.
The screening was followed by a highly entertaining Q&A with the director and co-writer of the movie, Brian Trenchard-Smith, who gave some interesting insights into not only STUNT ROCK but many of his other films, which include such beloved Australian exploitation classics as THE MAN FROM HONG KONG (1975), TURKEY SHOOT (1982), BMX BANDITS (1983) and DEAD END DRIVE-IN (1986). I wish I had thought to ask him about his work on one of my fave 90s TV shows, SILK STALKINGS. I got to have a chat with him afterwards and told him about my wife Marneen's own career as a Hollywood stunt performer, which he asked about with a genuine interest. I also had him sign my DVD of NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD, the 2008 documentary on Australian exploitation cinema which he was interviewed and heavily featured in (his signature joins that of fellow interview, the fabulous John Michael Howson, and the director of the documentary, Mark Hartley).