Saturday, April 18, 2015

FLASH GORDON AT CINEMANIACS

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!

Below is a transcript of my introduction:

FLASH GORDON

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 serail 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 issued 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

HAMBURGER HILL

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:


INVASION U.S.A.

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).


AGAINST CONTROL




















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:
www.eightmillimetres.bigcartel.com/product/against-control


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

SUPER 8

A few pics of my little collection of vintage Super 8mm digest film reels and related memorabilia.




Sunday, April 5, 2015

MACHO MANIA

My review of the recent documentary Macho Man: The Randy Savage Story is now up on the Love & Pop website (which I write for under my sometime pseudonym, The Graveyard Tramp).


POWER RECORDS

Digging through the record crates to gather research for an upcoming article...



YOUTH PAPERBACK PIULPS

Cool to see an upcoming book project which I was involved with now up for pre-order on Amazon. Edited by Iain McIntyre and Andrew Nette, Beat Girls, Love Tribes and Real Cool Cats is due for publication later this year, and looks at vintage youth culture paperbacks. Among my contributions to this book are pieces on Charles Manson-inspired paperbacks of the 1970's, and the Hot Rod paperback pulps of the 1950's and 60's.

CASTLE FILMS

New addition to the vintage 8mm collection - a fantastic old cardboard shop counter display sign for Castle Films, advertising their 8mm and 16mm home movie reels. Love that it features Dracula, The Creature Walks Among Us and Woodpecker from Mars on it. This sign looks to have been unused as the cardboard slots at the base have not been punched out. There was no doubt a second part to this display, which would have formed a stand either at the front or back. No date on it, but I'm guessing it to be late-60's/early-70's. Castle Films changed their name to Universal 8 in 1977, so it is certainly older than that. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

MONKEY PLANET

Recently finished re-reading Pierre Boulle's La Planete de Singes/Monkey Planet , the 1963 French novel upon which Planet of the Apes (1968) was based. I last read it as a confused 12 year-old, whom at that point had seen only the first two Apes movies and read the comic book magazine published by Marvel and Curtis. Reading it again as an adult has certainly given me a greater appreciation of Boulle's strange work. Perhaps the most interesting thing was recognizing elements of the novel which made it into not only the original Apes film, but its subsequent sequels, spin-offs and remakes. You can particularly see elements of the book which later ended up in Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971) and Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972), while the novel's ending is actually more in tune with Tim Burton's maligned 2001 remake than those famous final moments of the original film, where Taylor (Charlton Heston) discovers the ruins of the Statue of Liberty half buried in the sand, the stranded astronaut realizing he has come full circle and landed on the nuclear ravaged Earth of the far-distant future (as in the Burton film, the novel does not indicate that the monkey planet is Earth, though it does reveal evidence of a technologically superior race of humans preceding the rise of the apes). Interestingly, the novel doesn't hint at any kind of natural or man-made disaster being responsible for the downfall of human superiority on the planet, but rather points to a gradual deadening of the mental capacity of the human mind coinciding with a rise of intelligence in apes, who (ala Conquest) have been trained as household servants and manual workers until they stage a revolt.

Ending aside, the other main difference between Monkey Planet and Planet of the Apes  is the technology of the age in which the apes are dominant. While the film adaptation had the apes living in a very primitive society of horses and wagons and clay houses (guns and box cameras seemingly as advanced as they got), the apes of Boulle's novel were much more advanced, driving cars, flying planes, playing the stock market (!) and even starting to experiment with sending rockets into space. While the change in the film was an important one both thematically and cinematically, it's interesting that this more advanced civilization of apes was depicted in the short-lived Return to the Planet of the Apes cartoons series from 1975 (of course, a race of advanced apes was a lot more easier to visualize in animation than it would have been in live-action at the time).

Now to move on to Michael Avallone's paperback tie-in novelization of the second film in the series (and my favorite entry), 1970's Beneath the Planet of the Apes .


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

DAZED & CONFUSED

Was 40 years ago this week that stereo speakers in teenage bedrooms across America blasted out the strains of Rock and Roll All Nite for the first time. Dressed to Kill was KISS' third studio LP, and the last one before they hit the big-time with their double live set KISS Alive! later that year (1975). I'm thoroughly sick of Rock and Roll All Nite by now, but between 1975 - 80 it was a genuinely rousing rally cry for KISS and their Army of followers. Co-produced by KISS and Casablanca label owner Neil Bogart, I've always like the crisp production and sound on Dressed to Kill  - where the debut album KISS had a dirty New York glitter rock sound, and HOTTER THAN HELL had a murky, stoner-rock muddiness, Dressed to Kill has a simple, fun rock & roll sheen, which reflects the fact that many of the songs were written on tour during KISS' early US jaunts, resulting in sleazy road gems like Room Service and Ladies in Waiting. Rock Bottom, She (a leftover from Gene and Paul's earlier Wicked Lester days), Two Timer and C'mon and Love Me are other choice cuts on this great classic KISS release. The iconic cover of the band dressed in business suits (Gene wearing clogs that belonged to Neil Bogart's wife!) was taken by renowned rock photographer, Bob Gruen, at the southwest corner of 23rd Street and 8th Avenue in New York City.


Saturday, March 14, 2015

VINTAGE 42nd STREET SLEAZE

42nd STREET PETE'S NIGHT OF PERVERTED PLEASURES
After Hours Cinema

As a lover of both sleazy exploitation films and the seedy underbelly of society in general, one of my biggest regrets is that I never got to experience Times Square during its lurid heyday of the 1960s to early-1980s, when 42nd Street was lined with grotty grindhouse cinemas showing triple-bills comprised of all manner of exploitation and sexploitation films, and where the action in the cinema and on the streets outside was just as colourful, exciting and dangerous as what was happening up on the screen.

While Times Square has long since been cleaned-up and homogenised, you can still relive its glory days via books like Josh Friedman’s Tales of Times Square (1986) and Bill Landis’ Sleazoid Express (2002), as well as on DVD releases such as 42nd Street Pete’s series of vintage grindhouse compilations. We ain’t talking art here. We’re talking about the kind of low-rent, grimy skin-flicks from the very early-seventies, in the days just before the softcore hardened, when 8 & 16mm featurettes (usually running between 45-60 minutes) would screen at tiny storefront theatres – mostly old shops that were gutted, filled with plastic seats, a rickety old  projector and a stained screen (and if a screen wasn’t available, a white wall would suffice). Into these shoebox cinemas would crowd some of New York’s most degenerate perverts, along with brave curiosity seekers, lonely businessmen passing their lunch break, and the odd criminal looking for a place to hide out from the cops.

The three featurettes (all from 1970) included on 42nd Street Pete’s Night of Perverted Pleasures are hardly memorable, either as films or erotica, but they are perfect examples of the kind of dirt cheap productions that would noisily whirr through the teeth of the projector in these (no doubt smoke-filled and cum-stained) storefront cinemas. Our triple feature kicks off with Marriage, American Style, a take-off of the popular American television show Love, American Style. When a newlywed virgin wants to file for divorce, she turns to a law firm run by three demented Marx Brothers impersonators (!), who grin and grope the poor girl and force her husband upon h,er in order to save the marriage. Aside from the kooky lawyers, the film’s saving grace is an appearance by Russ Meyer star Uschi Digard, who gets her mammoth mammaries out for a lesbian couch session with the confused young bride.

Divorce is once again a theme in Love Me or Leave Me, as various people visit the office of a lawyer and share their sexual escapades with him, which are presented in flashback sequences. Naturally, those female clients who can’t afford the lawyer’s fees are encouraged to pay off their bills in other ways. Real bottom of the barrel production values here, including an audible proclamation of “Action!” that you can hear in the background at one point!

In the final feature, Bull’s Market, a struggling investment company who can’t afford to pay out their dividends decides that paying their clients in hot female flesh will be a suitable alternative. The plan is a success until typical Wall Street greed comes into play, and the sexually frustrated wife of one of the partners of the company decides to seduce the other partner and run off with him just when the dollars are starting to roll in again. Lots of lurid 70s décor and fashions, along with a stunning platinum blonde beehive on one of the women, provide the highlights in this one.

After Hour's 2009 DVD release of 42nd Street Pete’s Night of Perverted Pleasure comes nicely packaged with a colour booklet and a...ahem...'wadd' of extras, including two vintage short loops (Terry’s Night In and Oh-h-h!! Doctor), a brief clip of Pete presenting one of his screenings at the (now defunct) Pioneer Theatre in New York, and a whole slew of trailers (for compilations such as 42nd Street Pete's Busty Stag Collection and Skin in the Sixties, as well as more recent camcorder-shot scuzz like Breastford Wives, Dracula's Dirty Daughter, and Topless Tapioca Wrestling). There is also a ‘Grind It’ option, which allows you to play all the features with the loops and trailers interspersed between them, so you can recreate the whole 42nd Street grindhouse experience (perverts, foul smells and sticky floors not supplied).
















Review Copyright John Harrison 2015
(Note: this review originally appeared on the now-defunct DVD Holocaust website)

THE NIGHTMARES OF JOSE MOJICA MARINS

AT MIDNIGHT I'LL TAKE YOUR SOUL
1963/Brazil/Directed by Jose Mojica Marins

The films of Brazilian auteur Jose Mojica Marins are the stuff of genuine nightmares. Downbeat, confronting, and bravely flaunting (for its time) blasphemous themes and ideas, they are filled with images that stay with the viewer long after the film has ended, and often linger in the mind a lot longer than you sometimes wish they would. They are perhaps amongst the best unknown masterpieces of horror that the genre has ever produced.

In At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul, Marins introduced his audience to his most infamous creation, Zé do Caixão - or, in rough English translation, Coffin Joe. Played by Marins himself, Zé is an undertaker in a small, bleak Brazilian town. Looking down with scorn upon religion and people who show emotional weakness, Zé believes that immortality can only be achieved through the “continuity of the blood”, and sets about finding the perfect woman to bear him the male child who will continue his bloodline.

When his own wife Lenita (Valéria Vasquez) is proven to be barren, Zé kills her by having a poisonous spider bite her, then sets about making advances on Teresina (Magda Mei), the fiancée of one of Zé’s few friends, Antonio. When Teresina repels Zé and tells him that Antonio is the only man for her, Zé takes care of this little inconvenience by brutally bludgeoning Antonio and drowning him in a bathtub. Though the townspeople all suspect that Zé is behind the recent deaths, their almost supernatural fear of him prevents them from speaking up, and Zé himself is always careful to cover his tracks and leave no clues behind.

With Antonio out of the way, Zé proceeds with his plan to sire a perfect child, savagely beating and raping Teresina, who later curses Zé, telling him she will commit suicide then return to drag his soul to hell. Zé merely laughs in her face, but Teresina makes good on her threat, hanging herself in her home that night. Though she doesn’t mention Zé in her suicide note, the local doctor suspects his involvement, and ends up getting his eyes gouged out and set on fire as a result.

As Zé’s crimes remain unpunished, he is told by an old gypsy woman that at midnight on the Day of the Dead festival his soul will be taken by the ghosts of those he has murdered. Naturally, Zé scoffs at the gypsy’s curse, but his sins come back to haunt him when he is visited that night by a parade of ghostly apparitions that drive him to the mausoleum where his victims are buried. As the church bells ring in midnight, the villagers converge on the mausoleum after hearing a blood-curdling scream pierce the air, and are confronted by the sight of a horribly disfigured Zé do Caixão, his eyes bulging wide open as if they have been exposed to some unknown horror….

At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul is truly a remarkable film, filled with tremendously disturbing imagery and exuding a sense of genuine evil that pervades almost every frame. The rudimentary sets, which often resemble little more than a high school stage play, only add to the film’s nightmarish quality. The film is also an aural assault on the senses as much as it is a visual one, with a harrowing melange of sound effects combining well with Salatiel Coelho’s score. The film lets you know from the very beginning that you are in for something quite unlike anything you have seen before, as the aged gypsy lady tells the audience that we should go home while we still have a chance, before eventually pushing a human skull up into the camera and telling us it is now too late to save ourselves.

Of course, it is the work of Jose Mojica Marins - both in front of and behind the camera - that truly make the film the potent piece of work that it is. As Zé do Caixão/Coffin Joe, Marins looks every bit the TV horror movie host, with his black cape, top hat, long sharp fingernails and medallion around his neck. But there is something about his demeanour, his eyes (and the way they fill up with blood when he is enraged), and the way he spits out his dialogue that elevates him above potential kitsch and into something iconic and truly terrifying. But there is also a degree of humour to be found in his character as well, with his face often breaking out into an almost child-like sense of mischievous glee whenever he traumatises or offends the local townspeople. And as co-writer Marins comes up with some memorable dialogue that pokes ridicule and contempt at religion (there’s a great scene where Zé brazenly eats meat in front of a priest on Holy Friday), while as a director he paces the film quite well, makes great use of faces, and certainly knows how to get a genuine reaction from his cast (often resorting to the use of live spiders and snakes to do so). 

Though the print quality of the Australian Umbrella DVD release is at times a little rough, it is generally clean and sharp and thankfully doesn’t suffer from the multitude of problems that supposedly befell the print included on the UK box set released from Anchor Bay. Extras comprise of the original trailer and The Making of At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul, a brief (10 mins) but enjoyable interview with Marins, who recounts the genesis and production of the film in his usual entertaining and laconic style.

























AWAKENING OF THE BEAST
1969/Brazil/Directed by Jose Mojica Marins

Originally titled Ritual of the Sadists, Awakening of the Beast would not only prove to be the most controversial work of Jose Mojica Marins’ career, but also signaled the end of his most important period as a filmmaker. The film ran into major censorship problems and was effectively shelved for three decades, a disaster for Marins, who relied on the money earned from new film rentals to finance his next work. With his new film effectively sitting unscreened in metal cans, Marins was forced to scrape by on even smaller budgets than usual, eventually resorting to hardcore pornography to eek out a living from the filmmaking medium which he so dearly loved.

Despite the fate which initially befell it, Marins calls Awakening of the Beast his “biggest achievement”, and it’s not hard to see why the film fell afoul of censors and Brazilian law back in 1969 (despite Marins ironically receiving help from the police during production, when they let the filmmaker spend time visiting drug addicts in jail while he was researching the project). Where Marins’ earlier Coffin Joe films were firmly planted in the escapist horror genre (even as they tackled delicate subjects like religion and faith), in Awakening of the Beast he paints a decidedly more grim and realistic portrait of a modern society being corrupted and crumbling under the scourge of widespread drug addiction and loose morality. An inviting postcard of life in Brazil, this isn't.

After Zé do Caixão/Coffin Joe (Marins) bursts forth from his casket amid screams, animal noises and claps of thunder, the opening titles come at us superimposed over pages of the Coffin Joe comic books that were published in the sixties. But any idea that this is going to settle into a standard Marins horror movie goes out the door when the first scene of the film proper depicts a blonde shooting herself up in the foot in the middle of a grotty crash pad, surrounded by a room full of sweaty men who leer on as she strips to a Brazilian anti-war folk song (“War, a word I despise, it cuts deep inside”), and finishes her act off by plonking her bare ass down on a chamber pot!

From here on, Awakening of the Beast becomes almost like an anthology film, as a respected scientist, Dr. Sergio, sits around in a dark, smoky room with several other men (including Marins, playing himself), relating case studies which illustrate the lack of morality amongst the younger generation, with illegal drugs usually shown to be the underlying cause. Often abstract and surreal, one vignette depicts a young girl leaving school and being picked-up by two young men in a VW bug, who bring her back to their flat, where she takes a toke and in true Reefer Madness-style, she instantly goes wild and lets a bunch of strange men stick their fingers up her skirt while they all whistle the theme from The Bridge on the River Kwai! And just when you think the segment couldn’t get any stranger, a Jesus-like figure in robes enters the room and kills the girl in a manner that made me wonder whether Sam Raimi had seen this film prior to writing the ‘tree rape’ scene in Evil Dead (1981). Other segments depict a rich middle-aged lady snorting cocaine and spying on the big black butler as he has his way with her young daughter, and a married woman who commits suicide after having an affair, before the film climaxes with a rather stunning colour sequence as four drug addicted volunteers (all faces from the earlier segments) are given LSD and instructed to stare at a poster for Marin’s The Strange World of Coffin Joe (1968), with each of them having a series of surreal hallucinations.

While it’s always interesting, frequently creative and occasionally confronting and disturbing, Awakening of the Beast sadly lacks the same type of frisson which previous films like At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul and The Strange World of Coffin Joe delivered in spades. It’s too disjointed to allow you to become completely involved, and Marin’s Coffin Joe character lacks the menace and charisma of his earlier incarnations (by showing him to be a mere character played by Marins, the film takes away some of his menace and demystifies him to a degree). While he may have been a master at conjuring up nightmares, Marins’ seems to possess a rather limited knowledge and understanding of drug addiction, though he is certainly able to make that world look suitably grotty and beautifully ugly (he once again populates his film with an amazing array of unique faces), and much like the ‘Hell’ sequence in This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse (1967), the colour LSD trip arrives like a psychedelic shock, its lurid gaudiness at complete odds to the stark B&W of the rest of the film, and a perfect example of imagination and creativity triumphing over budget. And it’s certainly intriguing to see the way Marins depicts himself on screen, and the way he ties the Zé do Caixão/Coffin Joe character to the social problems examined in the film, and his cultural impact on the Brazilian psyche.

Not a recommended introduction to the unique world of Jose Mojica Marins, but one which the already converted will certainly want to visit. Umbrella’s release of Awakening of the Beast includes an eight minute interview with Marins, who discusses the origins and making of the film, along with its censorship troubles, and a trailer cheaply put together (primarily with shots of newspaper clippings) for its eventual release after 30 years in the dark.

Both At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul and Awakening of the Beast are available in Australia as part of Umbrella's 4 disc Coffin Joe DVD box set. For the definitive word on Jose Mojica Marins, a copy of Tim Paxton's Monster! International #3 (1993 Kronos Productions) is highly recommended.




















Review Copyright John Harrison 2015
(Note: these reviews originally appeared on the now-defunct DVD Holocaust website)



HAMMER'S FROSTY

THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN
1957/UK/Directed by Val Guest

Based on a BBC television play written by Quatermass creator Nigel Kneale, The Abominable Snowman has always lived the shadow of the two Hammer produced Quatermass films which proceeded it – The Quatermass Experiment (1953) and Quatermass 2 (1955) – which were also directed by Val Guest and based on Kneale-penned scripts. While it is not in the same league as either of those two earlier science-fiction films (or indeed Hammer’s 1967 Quatermass classic Quatermass and the Pit aka Five Million Years to Earth), The Abominable Snowman is still an intriguing and worthy little film in its own right, which radiates an eerie, pervading atmosphere of impending doom which makes up for its rather measured pace and dialogue heavy screenplay.

Also known as The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas, the plot essentially centres on a battle of ideals between kindly British anthropologist Dr John Rollason (Peter Cushing) and aggressive American scientist Dr Tom Friend (Forrest Tucker) as they take off on an expedition to find evidence of the existence of the legendary Yeti. While Rollason’s prime objective is to study the creature and see what mankind can learn from it, Friend just wants to capture one to bring back home, dead or alive. The higher into the snow-capped Himalayan mountains the small group travels, the more tensions between them are strained, before cabin fever, the icy cold, and the omnipresent feeling that they are being watched push the group to breaking point.

Shot at both the Bray and Pinewood studios, as well as on location in the French Pyrenees, one of the most impressive aspects of The Abominable Snowman is how claustrophobic the film feels, despite the wide-open expanses of its setting. Lacking the lurid color and settings of Hammer’s gothic horror classics, the film relies heavily on sound to create frisson, with even the moments of dead silence bringing tension to the proceedings. The black & white cinematography of Arthur Grant (an underrated Hammer vet) gives the film a very stark and baroque look, with the aerial location shots lending it an epic sense that belies the production’s budget.

As usual, Peter Cushing contributes yet another reliable performance. While many people argue that, in his genre roles at least, Cushing merely played basic variations on the same two or three characters, the actor never failed to attack each role with enthusiasm and dignity, along with a great physical presence and an ability to inject subtle traits into even the blandest and loosely written of characters. Even the gruff, overly dramatic turn put in by Forrest Tucker (hired apparently at the insistence of the film’s US distributors) fails to overshadow the strength of Cushing’s mild-mannered Dr Rollason.

Those who come into this film expecting another Hammer monster fest may come away disappointed, as for most of its running time the titular creature is kept hidden from the audience, presented only as close-ups of large hairy paws reaching under tent flaps and sounds which echo through cavernous mountains (sounds which are strangely almost as sad as they are savage, which highlights part of the film’s clear theme about human interference on ecology). Even when Dr Rollason does come across a duo of Yetis in a cave, the creatures are glimpsed mostly in half shadow, making their features hard to discern (while this may have been partly due to budget constraints, it actually succeeds in keeping the film’s sombre atmosphere intact, as it leaves the bulk of the humanoid looking Yetis to our imagination, rather than having the tension possibly destroyed by showing them in full light).

The Australian DVD release of The Abominable Snowman - on the Umbrella label - utilizes a very clean and sharp widescreen print which really captures the harshness of the film’s locations. The release also features a nice, fairly recent interview with director Val Guest (who died in 2006) about the making of the film, as well as the original theatrical trailer and a selection of mostly cool Peter Cushing trailers.



















Review Copyright John Harrison 2015
(Note: this review originally appeared on the now-defunct DVD Holocaust website)

Saturday, March 7, 2015

BOB LARKIN APES VARIATION

Interesting to compare the variations in Bob Larkin’s striking piece of art which was initially used for the cover of Marvel’s Planet of the Apes comic book magazine (Number 7, April 1975) and the later Australian version by Newton Comics, used as the cover for their issue #9 (September 1975). While the Newton printing (on the right) is not as sharp or color-refined, it does reveal a lot more going on within the painting - the gloved ape hand and M-16 at the top, and the big outcrop of rocks behind the Statue of Liberty. The sky is also noticeably lighter. It would seem likely that when the art was originally used by Marvel, their graphic designers thought Larkin’s painting was a bit too busy, taking out the gun and rocks, and darkening the sky to make it seem a bit more foreboding and help the comic’s title stand out more boldly. When Maxwell Newton purchased the rights from Marvel to reprint the stories in Australia later that year, they probably received Larkin’s original cover art to use, and simply ran it as is, and how the artist originally intended it to be.