Tuesday, January 26, 2021


My review of American filmmaker Jeff Lieberman's highly entertaining new book, DAY OF THE LIVING ME, has now been posted over at the FilmInk website. Grab a copy now! (Amazon Australia link is included at the bottom of the review).

DAY OF THE LIVING ME: FilmInk Review by John Harrison


What a treat to see this excellent 1976 exploitation film finally get the release it deserves. Like I MARRIED A MONSTER FROM OUTER SPACE (1958), MASSACRE AT CENTRAL HIGH has some very clever ideas and subtext hiding beneath its memorably exploitative title, and superficially simple plot. Yet it also delivers satisfying helpings of all the popular drive-in staples of the time. The background of Dutch writer/director Renee Daalder clearly helped provide him with a unique take on the American teen, and it's easy to see its influence over the later, and still much better known, HEATHERS (1988). The new Synapse Blu-ray release of MASSACRE AT CENTRAL HIGH retains some grain but is lush and absolutely pops in places, it's the best the film has looked since its original theatrical release, without a doubt. I'll keep my original Australian Merlin Video VHS release for nostalgia, but glad I can finally ditch my dodgy UK DVD release, which was just a sub-standard VHS rip. Severin has put some nice touches to their Blu-ray, presenting it in a steelbook format and sheathing it in a cardboard slip. There's also a booklet with liner notes on the film by Michael Gringold (who first saw the movie on a New York double-bill with THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE!), and the disc has all the usual trailers, TV and radio spots, and other promo material, along with audio interviews with the late Daalder and various cast members, and an enjoyable 45-minute making-of featurette. My only minor complaint is that it doesn't include the alternate Italian cut of the film, which was re-titled SEXY JEANS and had hardcore XXX shots edited into it (they do touch upon it in the making-of featurette, however, with cast members expressing their bemusement over the odd retitling).


Recent Saturday afternoon movie. A Mexican killer shark movie directed by the notorious RenĂ© Cardona Jr., TINTORERA (1977) enjoyed a decent box-office run thanks mainly to two things: the phenomenal popularity of JAWS (1975) and the interest in all things shark-related that it brought with it, and an effectively lurid publicity campaign. The plentiful flesh that is on display throughout also likely had something to do with its appeal. Sadly for horror buffs, there's a lot more focus on titillation, menage a trois action, and bad disco music in the movie than there is on tension or terror, though Cardona Jr. does come through with a couple of grisly shark attack sequences, and there's no doubting the attractiveness of the cast and the lovely East Mexican beach locations, both of which look quite stunning on Kino Lorber's new Blu-ray release. The authentic shark hunting sequences, as well as the killing of a beautiful large turtle and manta ray, are a bit tough to watch though, and the HD transfer enables you to clearly see the wires attached (likely by hook) to the mouths of the shark and several other large fish, used no doubt to pull the poor creatures in the direction the camera wanted them to. It definitely give the film an unpleasant edge that is hard to ignore.


Two newer true-crime documentary shows that I have watched recently.

NIGHT STALKER is a pretty brutal, slick, and exploitative examination of the horrendous crimes of Richard Ramirez, who terrified the L.A. area in the mid-80s. As a police procedural and document of the police investigation into the case, it is very good. Where it lacks is in the background examination of Ramirez himself, and what turned him into such a true monster of a human being. His story is mostly relegated to the final episode. I am certainly fine with the series putting an emphasis on the police manhunt and the impact the crimes had on the surviving victims and relatives, but I do feel an additional episode, devoted to the further exploration of Ramirez himself, would have given the series a bit more balance and made it more definitive. NIGHT STALKER features some pretty grisly (though still censored) crime scene evidence, and does a good job of capturing the overall sense of fear that Ramirez spread across the city, a panic no doubt exacerbated by the extreme heatwave that accompanied the arrival of his murder spree. The truly terrifying aspect of Ramirez's crimes is that, while he clearly harboured sexual deviances, he never favoured a particular "type" - male, female, young, old, together or in pairs, everyone in the city thought of themselves as a potential target.

HEAVEN'S GATE: THE CULT OF CULTS is an engrossing, and ultimately rather sad, four-part investigation into the suicide of 39 people outside of San Diego in 1997. Members of a UFO religious sect headed by Marshall Applewhite, the cultists believed that by killing themselves they would gain admission to a giant alien spacecraft which they believed was travelling unseen within the flaming tail of Hale-Bop, a comet that was flying closer to Earth than it ever had. I watched and read all the news items about Heaven's Gate when it occurred, and bought a VHS of the infamous 'recruitment video' from Polyester Books, but hadn't really done a deep dive into the story (the only book I have read on the case was a quickie paperback rushed-out by The New York Post). So a lot of the details of the story were unknown to me, which this series does a terrific job of documenting.

Though the media tied the Heaven's Gate cult to the internet age, the group actually had a history dating back to the early-70s, when former hippies were exploring New Age ideas and philosophies, and books like CHARIOTS OF THE GODS, and TV shows like STAR TREK, had people seriously contemplating the existence of UFOs and their role in our life and creation. By the mid-nineties, however, co-founder Bonnie Nettles had been dead for a decade, and Applewhite was also failing physically, and desperate to find a way to fulfill his teachings and promises.

It's fascinating watching the Heaven's Gate cult develop and change between the 1970s and their eventual 1997 mass suicide. There's a ton of great, rare archival footage of the group and their town recruitment meetings, news reports, etc., along with some very effective, whimsical animation sequences. There was nothing violent or salacious about this cult, they were all clean-cut, polite, and well educated, and lived a life of celibacy. In a way, it makes their final act even more strange and fascinating to ponder.