Sunday, August 2, 2015


Spent the pre-dawn hours this morning watching the great Andrew Prine going psycho in John Peyser's The Centerfold Girls (1974), which came out locally on blu-ray last week. Part sexploitation, part American giallo, part psycho slasher, it's the kind of scuzzy, seedy grindhouse fodder that early Australian video labels like Star Base, K&C and Media thrived on in the early-eighties. It lays on the three big Bs of exploitation (Babes, Boobs and Blood) in ample doses, has a groovy soundtrack that's both cheesey and sleazy, and a pretty effective and shocking climax, filmed in a section of Canoga Park that had recently been levelled by a fire, leaving a very stark and surreal landscape in its wake.
Interestingly, the movie is almost like an anthology film, with each of the titular centerfolds that Prine's character tracks down and terrorizes having their own insular story (the end credits emphasize the anthology feel, with the cast listed by story). One of the stories has a somewhat Manson-esque/Last House on the Left vibe to it, and the film as a whole wallows in that peculiar and distinct seediness that many of the rougher American exploitation flicks from this period possessed.
The transfer on Glass Doll Films' blu-ray release of The Centerfold Girls isn't as sharp or vibrant as their other great new release, 1973's Bonnie's Kids, but it still the best the film has ever looked and Glass Doll have done a fine job with the packaging and extras.


Chuffed to see a quote from myself on the back cover of Robin Bougie's Graphic Thrills: Volume Two, the follow-up to his classic first collection of poster art from the golden age of erotic cinema (1970 - 1985). Volume Two is due out in October from FAB Press in the UK, both as a softcover and a limited, signed hardback edition.


Satdee night spook show. Watching William Grefe's low-budget Everglades horror Sting of Death (1965), featuring the half-man/half-jellyfish monster, one of the cheapest and most ludicrous celluloid creatures ever created, consisting of nothing more than a guy in a wet suit with an inflated plastic gargabe bag tied over his head, and a few bedraggled loose strands of a beaded door curtain drapped over his shoulders and arms. Great outragoeus stuff!
Have to say the colour palette in Sting of Death is often nice and garish, and I love the inclusion of the big dance number, when a wild pool party whips up a storm to the accompaniment of Neil Sedaka's 'Do the Jellyfish'. I also love how all these partygoers can be dancing around a backyward swimming pool in broad daylight, and not one of them notices the human-sized jellyfish monster swimming around in it.
I think my favourite character in the movie is the young lady who one moment is so traumatised by seeing a boatload of her friends being capsized and stung to death by a school of jellyfish, yet less than five minutes later she "can't wait" to don her scuba gear and start exploring the reefs in the same area!

Saturday, June 27, 2015


Hot on the heels of Mark Alfrey’s stunning volume on the works of 1970's/80's Italian pulp artist Emanuele Taglietti, Sex and Horror (Korero Press, 2015), comes another terrific book devoted to a unique Italian sub-genre of lurid pop entertainment. Authored by Troy Howarth (The Haunted World of Mario Bava and the upcoming Lucio Fulci book Splintered Visions), So Deadly, So Perverse is the first in a planned three-volume examination of the Italian giallo film, that distinct brand of thriller that was usually violent, often  lurid and sexually perverse, yet just as often beautifully surreal and hypnotically sexy, powered along by dark themes, pop-mod interior designs, creative camera work and evocative soundtracks that generated both mood and groove, and more than a fair share of dread.

Volume One of So Deadly, So Perverse covers the first significant decade of the giallo, the years 1963 - 1973. After an introduction by prolific screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi (Death Walks On High Heels, Torso), film writer Roberto Curti provides a encapsulated history of the giallo paperbacks and pulp magazines, and their transition from cheap yellow ('giallo') paper to electric shadows. Origins and early examples of giallo cinema are looked at, as well as films that almost-but-not-quite fit the genre, before the book settles down into its meat and potatoes: a massive reviews section, comprising nearly 200 of the book’s 234 pages, in which Howarth chronologically covers many of giallo titles released during this period, starting appropriately with Mario Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963) and taking us through to the 1973 Italian/Spanish/French co-production, Special Killers. In between,  of course, are some of the best giallos ever made, including Bava’s Blood and Black Lace, Giulio Questi’s Death Laid an Egg (1968), Dario Argento’s early Cat O’Nine Tails, Lucio Fulci’s uniquely disturbing Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972) and Sergio Martino’s Torso (1973). These titles are just the tip of the stiletto knife, however, and Howarth covers a lot of the more obscure titles, many of which I had not heard of, but have certainly had my interest aroused in after reading about them.

As a reviewer, Howarth doesn’t spend a lot of time breaking down plot, which I really like. A single paragraph synopsis is provided for each film, after which the author gets down to discussing and critiquing the film, its performances and filmmaking merits, and its overall effectiveness as a giallo. Howarth clearly loves and respects these films, but is still able to approach them with a fair critical eye, pointing out a film’s faults without  a sneer or condescension.  

Published by Midnight Marquee Press, So Deadly, So Perverse has a simple but clean interior layout design, and its pages a filled with many eye-popping illustrations, most of them reproduced in color and featuring beautiful poster art, ad mats and rare stills.  The striking cover art was designed by Tim Paxton, editor of Monster!, who really captures that lurid, eye-catching feel of not only the giallo poster art, but the original paperbacks as well.

My only real complaint about the book is that the index only provides the year of production next to each title, and not what page in the book the film is reviewed on. It makes it a tiny bit frustrating having to flip back and forth through the book trying to find a specific title. Fortunately, I believe that page indexes will be included in future volumes. But that is a small gripe in a book which is an essential read for anyone interested in its subject. It provides a near-perfect balance between being a useful reference work for the more knowledgeable giallo fans, and an excellent road map for the more casual viewer who wants to delve a little bit deeper.

I’m already looking forward to Volume Two, which will cover the years 1974 - 2003, while Volume Three will be devoted to giallo-styled films produced outside of Italy.

Order SO DEADLY, SO PERVERSE from Amazon

Sunday, June 21, 2015


Exerpt from my article on carnival/amusement park-themed horror and exploitation films, appearing in the current issue of WENG'S CHOP, now available from Amazon and Createspace. This exerpt looks at the David Friedman production of She-Freak from 1967:


1967/USA/Directed by Byron Mabe

A grimy exploitation retelling of Tod Browning's Freaks (1932), She-Freak is one of the best carnival 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 role, we are treated to a wonderful five minute montage of authentic carnival footage, which Friedman and director Bryon Mabe filmed on a handheld Ariflex 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 snobbing 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 Todd Browning’s classic, 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 many levels. The authentic carnival footage is obviously one of its main assets - it helps give the low-budget ($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 color photography really gives the film a rich and gaudy ambience, and there are certain moments, particularly those between Jade and Sparky 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 Ruse 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.

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). Rumors circulated 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 melodrama 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 color 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 set which also included Brad Grinter’s Blood Freak [1972], Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks [1974], and Basket Case [1982]).

Saturday, June 20, 2015


No dino classic, but a surprisingly fun romp for the duration of the ride. I liked the little nods to the 1993 original (along with Jaws), and the sense of Westworld/Futureworld which director Colin Trevorrow brings to it. Bryce Dallas Howard doesn't hurt the film's visual appeal, either. Nice Saturday afternoon escapism.


With a running time of just over two hours, Mike Malloy’s 2012 documentary Eurocrime! is a mostly excellent and information-packed look at the violent Italian 'poliziotteschi' movies that were immensely popular in their home country and other foreign markets during the 1970's, but were pretty much ignored or scorned at the time in the US (though they started building a cult audience there on VHS in the 80's). Flourishing as an Italian genre after the popularity of the spaghetti westerns had started to die out, the poliziotteschi films were made up of such tough titles as The Italian Connection (1972), High Crime (1973) and Violent Naples (1976).
Eurocrime! traces the roots, rise and eventual fall of the poliziotteschi films, and interviews some of the biggest surviving players from the genre, including director Enzo G. Castellari and actors Franco Nero, John Saxon, Joe Dallesandro, Henry Silva, Fred Williamson and Antonio Sabata (the poliziotteschi films would often import a minor or once-major name from the US to increase their international marketability). Unfortunately there is virtually no female participation in the documentary - certainly the poliziotteschi films were very machismo and male-oriented, and the doco does have a section covering the misogyny inherent in the films, but it would have been nice to have had some input from some more of the female names who appeared in these movies (Nicoletta Machiavelli is the only female interviewee here).
The little moments of animation used do not really suit the style and tone of the subject, and the narration sometimes comes across like a bland high school classroom lecture, but anyone whole loves the poliziotteschi films should be able to overlook any of its little drawbacks and devour it from start to finish.

Thursday, May 14, 2015


He may be 70, but with Mad Max: Fury Road, veteran Australian director George Miller amply demonstrates that he still has a lot of fuel left in the creative tank as he enters the third act of his career, delivering what I can only describe as an audacious ball-tearer of an action movie, the kind that most arrogant young upstarts half his age could only dream of conjuring up, let alone pulling-off.
If you loved the original Mad Max trilogy and are planning to boycott this movie because there’s no Mel Gibson, or think it’s going to be a big CGI video game like most modern blockbusters, then you are really depriving yourself of a potentially great two-hour cinematic ride. Yes, Mad Mel will always be Mad Max, but let’s face it, even if he was keen to do it, Gibson’s name is pretty much box-office poison these days, thanks to nothing else but his own erratic off-screen behaviour. Tom Hardy, a fine actor and strong presence, makes an adequate substitute in a role that is short on dialogue and high on physicality, but it’s Charlize Theron who takes the acting honours here, forming the backbone for what is a surprisingly strong (and effective) female drive at the heart of the film.
As for the look of the film, of course CGI is utilized, but thankfully it is more to embellish and add scope and spectacle to enormous barren vistas, rather than to create entire unrealistic landscapes that lack depth or realism. The thrilling stunts and car chase sequences, for the most part, look real world and are executed with often jaw-dropping precision. There’s also some pretty bizarre yet stunning custom vehicles in action - designs that must have sounded ridiculously over-the-top and/or completely impractical at the development stage, but which are realised so astonishingly.
Mad Max: Fury Road is one of those films which could have so easily been a disaster, but ends up succeeding beyond most expectations (certainly my own - though just to clarify, I really enjoy the original Mad Max trilogy, but they are far from the top of my list of favourite Australian films).
A real gasoline-guzzling rollercoaster ride. Roger Corman is probably already planning his own low-budget take on it.

Thursday, April 30, 2015


Andrew Leavold has been enthusiastically spouting off about Weng Weng ever since I first met him, which would be getting close to twenty years. So it was no real surprise to see him dedicate virtually the last decade of his life to trying to solve the riddle of what happened to the diminutive Filipino actor, and chronicling his quest on film. The eventual result of Leavold’s obsession is the recent documentary, The Search for Weng Weng (2014), available on DVD in Australia from Monster Pictures.
For those unfamiliar, Weng Weng was born into poverty and with primordial dwarfism, a rare condition which causes the body to remain small throughout life, yet develop the same relative dimensions and body type as an average-sized adult. With his full height only ever reaching 83 cms (2 ft, 9 in), Weng Weng was adopted (or more accurately, borrowed when commercially convenient) by the low-budget husband and wife filmmaking team of Peter and Cora Caballes, who exploited his physicality for laughs and cheap thrills in a handful of low-budget action adventures and westerns, the best-known of which is undoubtably the delirious Bond-inspired For Y'ur Height Only (1981). Weng Weng’s star shone bright in the Phillipines for a while in the early-eighties, but when it burned-out (after the Caballes left filmmaking for Cora to pursue a political career) he retreated back to his small childhood home, where he suffered a debilitating stroke and died of a heart attack in 1992 at the age of 34.
Almost as much a story about the filmmaker’s personal obsession with the subject as it is a biography of Weng Weng, The Search for Weng Weng sees Leavold (and his producer/writing partner Daniel Palisa) finding an audience with everyone from survivors of Weng’s family (his brother describes him as being “like a Pepsi Cola bottle” when he was born) to Imelda Marcos herself! There’s also plenty of input from many of the important actors, directors, stuntmen and writers who worked with Weng Weng or were from the same period of Filipino exploitation cinema. A visit to Weng Weng’s final resting place towards the end of the film is rather poignant. I hope Weng Weng (not his birth name) at least got some personal enjoyment or fulfillment from his filmmaking years, as he came out of it with no money and was promptly forgotten about by the Caballes, who themselves had made plenty from the Weng Weng films. The one-time national star’s final years seemed to be spent in sad isolation, mostly sitting on the balcony or laying down, rarely saying anything, even prior to his first stroke. It’s a rather sad reality...
Highly recommended viewing for anyone interested in the history of exploitation and low-budget cinema, especially that particularly strange and eclectic brand known as Mondo Macabro (basically any weird or wonderful cinema from countries not known for their genre filmmaking). The Monster Pictures release is a 3 disc set (two DVDs plus soundtrack CD), which features some nice extras, including lots of extended interviews and a Weng Weng feature film, the 1982 western D'Wild Wild Weng.


Got around to watching Michael Winner's Death Wish 3 (1985) last night. The original Death Wish from eleven years earlier had a certain New York grittiness and some sense of heightened realism to it, while the LA-set Death Wish 2 (1982) saw things starting to go over-the-top. But in Death Wish 3, Winner really takes proceeding completely into the territory of violent comic book fantasy, with most of the action taking place in a single New York block that looks more like a street in Beirut, and is completely overrun by cartoonish young thugs who delight in terrorising the local oldies and robbing them of their money and possessions, all of which they seem to get away with with ridiculous ease. All until Paul Kersey (Bronson) returns to New York, and instantly starts dishing out his own special brand of street justice.
Tacky, lurid and stupid but terrific action entertainment from its era, and certainly a fine example of what Cannon Films did best. Like Death Wish 2, it features a great Jimmy Page soundtrack, Bronson mowing-down literally dozens of low-rent crims with a machine gun, and a fine scuzzy villain in Manny Fraker (played by Gavan O'Herlihy). Marina Sirtis, Ed Lauter and Martin Balsam are all fun to watch, as well.


Currently re-visiting Battle Beneath the Earth (1967), a film that seemed to be a perennial Sunday afternoon television matinee when I was growing-up. What a great opening few minutes - stock footage of beautiful vintage Las Vegas, a nut laying on the footpath with his ear to the ground telling bystanders "I can hear them crawling around down there!", and a title sequence featuring a cool, raucous jazz theme. The absurd paranoid plot - about rogue Chinese communists who plan to attack America by using machines to dig large tunnels underneath major cities and plant atomic bombs  - is the stuff of pure comic book pulp. The giant burrowing machines remind me of the mechanical dragon from Dr. No (1962) - early 007 was a clear influence here. A British production, the whole thing has a very low-budget, TV show look and aesthetic to it, but it's colourful and has lots of cool late-60's 'pop', and the film at times feels like it could have been made by Larry Buchanan or Ted V. Mikels. The Oriental make-up on the Western actors looks about as convincing as the Japanese make-over given to Sean Connery in You Only Live Twice (released the same year). Director Montogmery Tully made the crazed Amicus sci-fi flick The Terrornauts the same year.

Saturday, April 18, 2015


Was nice to see a decent crowd brave a rather cold and windy night in Melbourne to turn-up to the Cinemaniacs screening of Flash Gordon last night. Had fun doing my introduction talk, and happily no one threw any rotten fruit at me during it. Anthony Biancofiore also delivered an entertaining talk about the film as well. The costumes, colour, sets and special-effects looked mostly great on the big screen, where they deserved to be seen, especially with the Queen soundtrack blasting out of the cinema sound system (I love how The Backlot Studios have old drive-in speakers installed in the bathrooms and the bar area, so you can still hear what is going on should you need to quickly duck-out). Some great prizes were given away as well - highlighted by a copy of the original vinyl pressing of the soundtrack! Patrons were also given a complimentary copy of the special new Flash Gordon issue of Miss Glamour Puss' cool local fanzine Glamour (which is filled with info and pics relating to the various live-action interpretations of the character). 

Below is a transcript of my introduction:


Thank you for that introduction, and very honored to be asked back to introduce another of the wonderful Cinemaniacs screenings. Tonight’s treat, part of Cinemaniacs’ season devoted to Dino De Laurentis, is Dino’s entry into the post-Star Wars sci-fi space opera genre, the 1980 adaptation of the classic comic strip character, Flash Gordon.

Of course, while Flash Gordon may not have made it onto the screens in such a lavish way in late-1980 were it not for the success of Star Wars three years earlier, it can also be argued that Star Wars itself would not have even existed had it not been for the influence which the Flash Gordon character and universe had on a young George Lucas, who has often stated that the germ of Star Wars evolved from his original intention to remake the Flash Gordon movie serials of the 1930s as a feature film.

The character of Flash Gordon was created by New York born cartoonist Alex Raymond, and first published in black & white Sunday newspaper comic strip form on January 7, 1934, just over 80 years ago. Created primarily to compete with the success of the Buck Rogers newspaper strip, which had first appeared five years earlier, Flash Gordon soon became a heroic phenomenon of his own, both in his home country of America and abroad, including Australia, where for a time his name was changed to Speed Gordon, to avoid any connotation with what the Aussie slang for ‘Flash’ translated to. Of course, these days ‘Speed’ doesn’t exactly sound that wholesome a nickname either.

Flash Gordon was the stuff of classic pulp science-fiction, which at the time was just starting to dominate the newsstand racks, thanks to magazines like Amazing Stories, Wonder Stories and Astounding Stories of Super Science. Though he was initially depicted as a polo player from Yale University, Flash was later changed to a star college footballer, no doubt to make him appear more rugged and less of a toff. When Earth starts getting bombarded by fiery meteor storms, Flash and his girlfriend Dale Arden are kidnaped by the eccentric scientist Dr. Hans Zarkov, who requires the duo's help to pilot a rocket ship he has built in order to investigate the source of the meteors, which of course end up originating from Mongo, a distant planet ruled over by emperor Ming the Merciless, a Fu Manchu-esque character who would become one of the great fictional villains of the day.

After making a successful jump from comic book strip to dramatised radio in 1935, Flash Gordon found an even greater audience as the star of three very popular movie serials, featuring former Olympic swimmer Buster Crabbe as the titular character - 1936's Flash Gordon was followed by Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars two years later, and finally Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe in 1940. These were part of the classic run of cliffhanger serials from that period, short episodic adventures that would play before the feature film, and always ending with the hero in some sort of dire predicament, to help ensure the audience returned next week to catch the following installment and find out what happened (the Batman television show of the 1960s brilliantly parodied these cliffhanger endings of decades earlier). It was in these serials that some of the most popular and iconic images of Flash Gordon were formed, at least in the minds of the mass audience. Interestingly, at the same time he was depicting Flash, Buster Crabbe also played his main fictional rival, Buck Rogers, when his own serial adventures debuted on the screen in 1939. In today’s parlance, it would kinda be like the same actor playing both Batman and Iron Man at the same time in their respective movies.

The 1950's brought a live-action Flash Gordon television series, which starred Steve Holland, a former paperback cover model, as Flash, and ran for 39 episodes between 1954 and 1955. While the television show is fascinating for having been filmed primarily in Germany less that a decade after the end of World War 2, with glimpses of the real-life lingering destructing seeping its way into some episodes, Flash in the fifties was starting to get overshadowed by some of the more extravagant Technicolor science-fiction epics which studios were starting to produce that decade, classics like War of the Worlds, This Island Earth and Forbidden Planet.

While Flash was starting to seem a little passe, his initial impact on American culture was strong enough to keep the character alive through the remainder of the 1950's and into the early-70's, primarily through comic book appearances, original paperback adventures, and the issuing of the original 1930's radio broadcasts on record albums by various different labels. The success of the Batman television series of the mid-60's sparked a mini-revival of interest in the old movie serials, and several of them, including the Flash Gordon ones, became popular campus cult viewing for hip, pot-smoking students.

Flash Gordon was also one of the first heavily merchandised fictional characters, with colourful friction powered, tin litho ray guns and spaceships produced in the 1940's, which are today highly collectable and valuable. In the mid-1960's, Flash found himself chosen as one of the characters to represent Captain Action, a toy put out by Ideal to try and capture some of the success which Hasbro were having with their G. I. Joe line. Captain Action was a 12" poseable action figure that came in a generic blue and black uniform, which you could then buy separate costume accessory packs to dress him up as a range of superhero and pulp action characters, such as Superman, Aquaman, Captain America, The Lone Ranger, The Green Hornet, The Phantom and, of course Flash Gordon. You could imagine the licensing nightmare it would be today, trying to get permission and rights to cross-pollinate characters belonging to so many rival publishers. Despite the novelty and the detail put into the costumes, Captain Action never really gave G. I. Joe a run for his money, and Ideal cancelled the line after only two years. In 1998, retro toy company Playing Mantis briefly resurrected the Captain Action brand, reissuing the action figure and most of the non-superhero outfits, including the Flash one. In addition, they also produced a Ming the Merciless outfit to go on Captain Action’s main foe, Dr. Evil (named so a fully 30 years before Michael Myers came up with it). And of course in the 70's, the famed Mego toy company manufactured a great range of Flash Gordon figures.

Flash achieved new levels on notoriety in 1974, when the sci-fi sex spoof Flesh Gordon hit the grindhouse adult cinemas and drive-in screens, in varying degrees of explicit cuts which ranged from R to XXX in rating. Sending up the style and tone of the 1930's serials, as a sex film Flesh Gordon is disappointingly sub-par, the performances stiffer than most of the male cast, and the screenplay is juvenile - instead of Ming there’s Wang, the planet Mongo becomes Porno and Dr. Hans Zarkov is now Dr. Flexi Jerkoff. Where the film excelled was in its production values, which despite the low budget exhibited a genuine creativity and aptitude for miniature work, costuming, special effects and some pretty darn cool stop-motion animation, provided by the well-known Jim Danforth and Dave Allen. Future Oscar-winning make-up genuis Rick Baker also served on the crew.  Flesh Gordon was one of the early adult films to send-up a popular film or iconic character, something which became a familiar site once the days of VHS porn of the eighties kicked-in, but at the time it was still a genuine novelty, and it helped the film enjoy a pretty successful run, both initially and on subsequent re-release. In Melbourne, Australia, Flesh Gordon played for an unbelievable 33 straight weeks at the (sadly long gone) Roma Cinema in Bourke Street. A belated sequel, Flesh Gordon Meets the Cosmic Cheerleaders, was released in 1989 and quickly forgotten about.

By the late-seventies, major studios were riding the phenomenal surprise success of Star Wars and spending big on space - there was Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Alien, Roger Moore’s Bond was going into orbit in Moonraker, Farrah Fawcett-Majors and Kirk Douglas were rocking the intergalactic hammock in Saturn 3, and Disney took us on a (rather unexciting) journey into The Black Hole. Even the Italians were turning out their eccentric low-budget sc-fi adventures, such as Luigi Cozzi’s psychedelic and sexy Starcrash and Aldo Lado’s The Humanoid. Flash Gordon’s first sign of re-emergence amongst this new influx of space adventures was an animated television series, The New Adventures of Flash Gordon, which debuted in 1979 and was produced by the famed and prolific Filmation studios, who were behind such fondly remembered cartoon shows of the 1960's and early-70's as The New Adventures of Superman, The Archie Show, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, Star Trek: The Animated Series, The Brady Kids and far too many more to mention. Interestingly, before the series debuted, Filmation produced an animated television movie titled Flash Gordon: The Greatest Adventure of All, though for reasons unknown it was not televised until 1982, and has never been rebroadcast or released on home video outside of Japan and Bulgaria. Which is somewhat disappointing because bootleg copies that circulate amongst fans and online prove it to be one of the best interpretations of the Flash Gordon character and universe.

So this is where the Flash Gordon character was up to in his history and development when Dino De Laurentis decided to bring him back to the big screen in a lavish and epic way. And now to tell us about the actual Flash Gordon film, please welcome fellow Cinemaniac, and drummer extraordinaire for The Tarantinos,  Anthony Biancofiore to the podium...

Monday, April 13, 2015


No, this isn't a haunting scene from a Lucio Fulci zombie film. Rather, it's an evocative frame grab from John Irvin's 1987 Vietnam War drama/actioner Hamburger Hill, my review of which has now been posted over at the Love & Pop website:


Monday night - pizza, a cool beer and some Chuck Norris, a perfect combo! Invasion U.S.A. (1985) is quintessential Chuck at his 80's best, the kind of hyper comic book ultra-violent actioner which only that decade could have produced. One of Cannon’s better-looking action films, it achieves a nice epic scope, thanks in part to the filmmakers being able to literally destroy and blow-up an entire suburban neighborhood and part of the Dadeland Mall in Florida, both of which were due to be bulldozed. Solid direction by Joseph (The Prowler, Missing In Action) Zito, some impressive stunt work, and an entertainingly psychotic performance by the late Richard Lynch as the chief bad guy (though the great Billy Drago’s villain character is killed off far too quickly). AND it’s got a scene where Chuck lies on his seedy hotel room bed watching Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers (1956) on TV! The plot, about boatloads of terrorists storming ashore in Florida and fanning out across the state to spread random destruction and mayhem, is pretty ludicrous, but if the events of 9/11 had been depicted in an action movie in 1985, they probably would have seemed just as far-fetched.
This is the cover for paperback novelization tie-in, published by Pinnacle Books and written by ‘Jason Frost’ (an in-house pseudonym usually used by two authors, Raymond Obstfeld and Rich Rainey).


Enjoyed catching up over the weekend with English-born, Sydney-based author, lecturer and film festival curator Jack Sargeant at the launch of his new book, Against Control (published, in English language, by Swedish imprint Eight Millimetres). Sargeant’s fascination with - and studies of - the works and philosophies of William Burroughs are well known to those who move in such circles, and in Against Control the author has gathered together a selection of some of the best pieces he has written on Burroughs over the years, some of which have seen publication in magazines like The Fortean Times and The Wire, others transcripts of lectures which Sargeant has presented on the topic. 

Because I feel a closer connection to their subjects, I’ve always preferred reading Sargeant’s true crime and film-related books (such as No Focus, Lost Highways and his cult classic 1995 study of the Cinema of Transgression, Deathtripping). But even as someone who has never been completely seduced by the Cult of Burroughs, I still found Against Control to be an interesting and engaging read, well-written, intellectual without being head-scratching, and binded together by the author’s ideas, ruminations and interpretations on a variety of Burroughs-related subjects. 

Against Control traverses such touch-points as Naked Lunch at 50, the infamous flicker and dream machines,  a look at some Burroughs-related music/spoken word releases, and his work with the Master Musicians of Joujouka in Morocco (the Master Musicians later famously collaborated with Rolling Stone Brian Jones in 1968). A slim hardcover volume doted with some black & white photographs, it should be appreciated by scholars and admirers of its subject, while also offering the uninitiated several interesting drop-off points for themselves to further investigate and lose themselves in.

Available from Eight Millimetres: