Saturday, January 30, 2016

STRIPPED TO KILL

Late Sunday afternoon viewing. Am only five minutes into this Roger Corman-produced erotic thriller from 1987 and so far I have already had a great cheesy 80's rock ballad playing over the opening credits ('Deny the Night' by Larry Steicher), Norman Fell as a cigar-chomping owner of a sleazy L.A. strip club, and such great lines of dialogue as "One nipple's hard, but the other one isn't". I feel like I've already gotten more than my money's worth, and with star Kay Lenz yet to show up, things can only get better.


THE GLITTER DOME

Really glad I decided to re-watch my old VHS of The Glitter Dome (1984) last week, and want a DVD or BR release of it even more now. Forgot what a great seedy little 80s cop noir thriller it is. Set in Hollywood (though filmed in British Columbia) it is a fairly sordid trip through the L.A. gutters filled with murder, child pornography and snuff movies. Great performances from Margot Kidder, John Lithgow and James Garner, who plays a cop that is very much like a more world-weary and beaten Jim Rockford. The similarities to The Rockford Files are compounded by the fact that one of the co-stars in the film is Stuart Margolin, who played Angel on many episodes of that television series. In fact, the whole movie is something of a Stuart Margolin project, as he also directed the film and composed the film's score!

For a made for HBO movie at the time, the film is pretty confronting in some of its themes and language (with Kidder dropping the C-word at one point). I need to track down a copy of the 1981 Joseph Wambaugh novel that it was based on someday.


Monday, January 25, 2016

THE 70's UK HORROR HARDCOVERS

Cool Andy Ross art on the cover of Monster! #25, due out at the end of this month - this issue features my article on the 1970's UK hardcover horror movie books that influenced me and fed my monster addiction when I was growing up.


 


THE HATEFUL EIGHT: THE 70mm ROADSHOW HITS TOWN

Quite enjoyed the 70mm Roadshow screening of The Hateful Eight at the Astor this afternoon. I am not a huge fan of QT but I thought this was his best film for some time, possibly since JACKIE BROWN. I loved the original Ennio Morricone score, what little there actually was of it, and nice to hear the late David Hess - star of Wes Craven's infamous The Last House on the Left (1972) - on the film's soundtrack (Now You're All Alone, which the musician/actor originally wrote and performed for the Last House soundtrack ). Cool to get a free little 12-page Hateful Eight souvenir booklet upon entry. I used to love buying the movie programs they sold at the cinema when I first started going to the movies - in those pre-internet days, they were one of the few ways to get any kind of production info on a movie, even it was often fairly superficial.


SICARIO

I missed seeing Denis Villeneuve's Sicario (2015) during its brief local cinema run, but caught up with it on blu-ray this evening and wasn't disappointed. It's a tense and pretty uncompromising and tough crime thriller set amongst the brutal but almost casual everyday violence of the Mexican drug cartels and the blurring of legal and illegal lines in the government's fight to bring them down. Terrific performances by Emily Blunt and Benicio del Toro, but the real surprise of the film for me was the stunning cinematography by Roger Deakins, who captures some amazing and almost other-wordly Mexican vistas, many of them from high in the sky. A great modern crime flick that I imagine I will find myself watching again soon.


Friday, December 25, 2015

CARTWHEELS & HALOS Excerpt

As a little Christmas treat for readers, Marneen Lynne Fields and I have decided to give you a little sneak peek at what we have been cooking up for Marneen's upcoming autobiography, Cartwheels & Halos, which I am helping her co-write, with an eye to publication in late-2016.

This excerpt deals with the filming of Marneen's hair-raising stunt on The Gauntlet, and also provides a great example of some of the terrific photos the book will contain.

**********
THROWING DOWN THE GAUNTLET

In mid-1977, I packed my travel bags and headed for the dry air and sunny climate of the Arizona desert to film one of the stunts which I became best known for within the industry, getting punched off a moving train by Clint Eastwood in his classic action film, The Gauntlet. I landed the job after receiving a call from Clint’s stunt double and coordinator, Buddy Van Horn. He had been given my number and asked if I would be prepared to do this rather risky stunt. Though I was quite apprehensive about it, it was far too good an opportunity to turn down, and I had about two weeks to get ready before I was due on location in Arizona, so I spent that time practicing in the playground at the local beach, where I would stand up on the moving swings and leap off of them while they were still in motion.

In the movie, Clint – who also directed as well as starred in alongside his future wife Sondra Locke – plays Ben Shockley, an alcoholic and down on his heels cop from Phoenix, who is given the seemingly simple task of travelling to Las Vegas to escort a troublesome female witness named Gus Mally (Locke) back for a court case. Of course, this "nothing witness" for a "nothing trial” ends up instigating a white-knuckle fight for survival, as the cop and his witness are chased across the desert by corrupt officials who are determined to kill them both before they reach their destination.

For my big scene, I doubled for actress Samantha Doane as one of the tough biker chicks who runs into Shockley and Mally when they jump aboard the carriage of a passing goods train. The plot set-up was that the couple had previously stolen a motorcycle from this outlaw bikie gang, which has them out for revenge. After getting rid of the two male bikers (who are busy forcing themselves lasciviously on Mally), Shockley angrily approaches the female biker, who looks at him and asks “You wouldn’t hit a lady, would you?” Shockley replies by slugging her in the face and sending her flying out of the train carriage and onto the hard and hot desert floor. I also doubled for Samantha during the fight with Clint inside the train carriage, and had a small background role as one of the female bikers in an earlier scene. I had tattoos drawn on me by one of the make-up artists for both of my roles – one on my shin for the background scene, and ones on my cheek and upper-arms for my stunt scene, along with a thick black curly wig on my head, which was not only intensely uncomfortable to wear in the Arizona heat, but gave me extra concern about the possibility of it coming loose and disturbing my field of vision during the jump.

For the leap from the moving train carriage, all I had for protection was a small boy’s football girdle and some knee pads strapped to me under the pair of grotty old blue Levis which the character wore. All movie stunts are serious and carry potential risks, but this one filled me with a particularly strong level of anxiety in the lead-up to its execution. The screenplay called for me to be standing with my back to the open train carriage, causing me to exit going off blind. When Clint throws a punch at my jaw, I had to turn to my right and leap from the train, while trying to make it look as if my body had gone limp from the punch. The scary part was, because the train was in motion, until I actually spun around and made the commitment to fall, I had no real idea of exactly where I was going to land. Clint and Van Horn had blocked out my scene with me and gone over the approximate area where I was expected to fall. I was warned by both of them that I must make sure my body moved in the same direction the train at all times (hard to do when you’re going off backwards with a half twist), or I could be thrown back under the train track wheels and squashed to death. I watched in nervous anticipation as the props department prepared the ground for my crash landing. They removed as many rocks as they could, then they rolled in a small wheel barrel of full of sand. They poured the sand around the general area I’d be landing in to help cushion my fall, but there were still a few cactus plants and smaller rocks in the area. I remember them tossing an old rusty Coke can and more cactus plants onto the sand to make it look more authentic.

One thing you have to bear in mind is, when your body leaves an object traveling at a speed like that, the gravitational pull carries you along with the object, even after you have left it. The train was travelling steady at around five miles per hour, which may not sound like much, but seems a whole lot more when you are the one who has to make the leap. As I performed the half twist to align myself with the massive train, and launched myself off the carriage, my body, unexpectedly, popped high up into the air and I flew horizontally at the same speed of the train as I was carried along the side of it. All of this happening within seconds prior to beginning my descent. While mid-air, my arms, legs, and body flailed uncontrollably for what seemed like slow, terrifying minutes rather than the few seconds it actually took to complete the fall. It was very frightening for me at that moment. In those few seconds, I had to try and muster all my strength to regain equilibrium and keep my body moving in the direction of the train as I was free falling and being pulled every which way. At the same time, I was also trying to keep a mindful eye on where I was going to land. I was certainly terrified at that moment, and wondered why the hell I was even here doing this. The noise of the train and its gravitational pull had me feeling as if I might be pulled back against the side of the carriage or, even worse, sucked under its rolling wheels and crushed to death, which added to the incredible anxiety and adrenaline that was charging through my body.

Once the centrifugal pull of the train dissipated, my body fell like a sack of potatoes, hitting the harsh Arizona floor with a force equal to the weight of my body times the speed of the object. In other words, pretty darn hard. I flipped over wildly about ten times before slamming into a cactus of all things, which halted my roll. I was rattled and bruised, but miraculously came away without a scratch on my bare arms and face. I went from incredible apprehension to feeling like a complete champion in seconds! I had conquered the jump off the moving train, and got to walk away without any broken or fractured bones, only a badly bruised left heel. It could have so easily gone the other way, though. When you watch the stunt in the film, you can see how close I came to landing on that rusty old Coke can. To think we all stood around watching the props department nonchalantly toss it into the sand, presumably to give a bit of variety to the barren landscape, my youth and inexperience making me ignorant to the damage it might have caused had I connected with it upon landing. This was still the days of the old hard tin Coke cans, not the easily-crushable aluminum ones which became the mainstay not long after. I hate to think of what might have happened if my face landed on it, or if I had hit the back of my head on it while rolling over upon landing. As I always did upon completing a successful stunt, I thanked the angel on my shoulder.

Despite the incredible risks and the immense terror which gripped me during its execution, it remains a stunt which I am incredibly proud of, and is certainly one of the defining moments of my stunt career, which was launched virtually overnight because of it. They put my jump in the trailer, a still photo of it was sent out to all the newspapers and entertainment magazines, and the Hollywood stunt community began taking real notice of me. It was one of the most dangerous stunts which a female had ever attempted on film to that point, and it looked amazing and startlingly authentic when it was seen on the big screen for the first time, and it still holds up incredibly well on home video today. People still gasp when they see that stunt for the first time, because they can see that it is real. No matter how advanced cinema special effects might look today, thanks primarily to computer technology, nothing will ever match the genuine excitement of a girl with little more than knee pads, a football girdle and a lot of heart and spirit, taking a great leap into the unknown and doing stunt people worldwide proud.

About a week after I got back from filming in Arizona, I received a personal phone call from Fritz Manes, who was Clint Eastwood's childhood friend and producer at the time. Fritz told me to come by the office at Warners to pick up some photographs he had for me. When I arrived at the studio and opened the door to Malpaso Productions, there was Clint Eastwood, standing alone in the reception area of the outer office. I kid you not, he was in a state of complete calm and deep thought, and I imagined he was either meditating or if it was his way of running and remembering lines. I wondered how he was going to react, since I had entered without knocking first, but he was fine as he shook my hand and I reminded him that I was the girl he had punched off the train. “Yes, Fritz isn't here right now”, Clint replied. “But he has some photos for you. Come in here, Fritz left them on his desk." He handed me a huge manilla envelope with my name written in black swastick pen on it. Once again, he shook my hand and complimented me on the great stunt I did, as he opened the envelope and showed me the still photos, which captured my entire sequence in a set of 8X10 shots, which I still possess and treasure to this day. Clint Eastwood was the most talented director and producer I ever worked with, no doubt. After my stunt had been completed, and I lay winded and nearly knocked-out on the hot desert floor, pain tearing at my left heel, Clint hauled himself off the train as soon as it came to a halt, ran over to me and picked me up in a giant hug. “I LOVED IT!”, he exclaimed. In 2010, Clint actually contacted me via Facebook, and was nice enough to send me a copy of a 1988 issue of Star Magazine, which ran an article on me with the headline 'Clint Eastwood’s Hug Changed My Life'.

Released in December of 1977, The Gauntlet proved to be another popular box-office hit for Clint, who could really do no wrong at this point in his career. With a production budget of US $5.5 million, the film would earn a tidy US $35.4 million during its initial theatrical run in America, which at the time was a pretty impressive figure (even more so considering Star Wars was still dominating the box-office at the time). It felt good to be involved in a project that was proving to be a hit with the public, it meant all the hard work and risks I had put myself through was being seen and hopefully appreciated by lots of people. It made the ordeal more than worthwhile.

But I have to tell you, going out that train blind and backwards with a half twist, not knowing if I I was going to end up safely on the sand or crushed under metal wheels, was absolutely terrifying. It still makes me shake just to think and write about it.

********
Excerpt from Cartwheels & Halos
By Marneen L. Fields with John Harrison
Copyright 2015


Sunday, December 13, 2015

CARTWHEELS & HALOS UPDATE

Work continues on with my collaboration on Cartwheels & Halos, the autobiography of pioneering stunt woman, actress and singer-songwriter Marneen Lynne Fields, which I am currently cowriting along with Marneen. It is hard work and there have certainly been some challenges, with many more to come no doubt as we progress, but the collaborative process I am experiencing and enjoying with Marneen has provided a wonderful synchronicity that I never thought I would find, especially in a project of this size. Getting to know Marneen through the initial development, and now the actual writing, of this book has provided me not only with a tremedously interesting writing project, but an enrichment of my own self that I will always appreciate. She is a true muse and a soul mate who never fails to make me smile.

Here's a low-res sneak peek at the proposed cover for our book. The back cover blurb will eventually change prior to publication, for now we are keeping some of the stories and surprising developments in the book under wraps.

















Facebook users can follow the progress of the book over on the dedicated FB page at:
https://www.facebook.com/Cartwheels-Halos-The-True-Marneen-Lynne-Fields-Story-755807461197522/?ref=hi

Saturday, December 12, 2015

OZPLOITATION MASTERMIND

Was great to catch-up with legendary Australian exploitation film producer Antony I. Ginnane for a coffee and a lengthy chat on a fine sunny afternoon in South Melbourne last week. Regarded by many as the Australian Roger Corman, Ginnane produced a string of 'Ozploitation' classics during the 1970s and 80s, such as Fantasm (1976), Patrick (1978), Snapshot (aka The Day After Halloween, 1979), The Survivor (1981), Mesmerized (1985) and Dark Age (1987), along with of course his infamous Turkey Shoot (1982).
I am thrilled to announce that I have been contracted by Glass Doll Films to write the booklet essays for their upcoming blu-ray releases of two classic Antony Ginnane films: the cold, modern urban vampire thriller Thirst (1979) and the often bizarre Dead Kids  (aka Strange Behavior, 1981), which was a strange but highly enjoyable and intriguing mix of 80s new wave and 50s B-horror and paranoia cinema. Hopefully the two blu-ray releases will be out in Australia early next year.
Also took the opportunity to have Antony sign a couple of my original lobby cards for his two raunchy epics, Fantasm and Fantasm Come Again (1977), the sex films which were partly filmed in Hollywood with big name adult stars like John Holmes (seen on the lobby card to the right), Rene Bond, Uschi Digart, Serena, Candy Samples and Cheryl 'Rainbeaux' Smith. Interconnecting scenes were then filmed back in Australia to tie the sequences together.



ANT-MAN

Before the power blackout hit the area last night, I sat down to watch the blu-ray of the recent Ant-Man. Enjoyed it a helluva lot more than Whedon's recent bloated and unexciting Avengers: Age of UltronAnt-Man has a nice sense of cheeky fun that seems all too rare in a comic book movie these days, and though it is tied-up in the overall 'Marvel Universe', it still exists mostly as it's own entity that can be enjoyed and understood without having seen all of the previous Marvel flicks. You can clearly see the style and humor that original writer/director Edgar Wright planed for his vision of the film (he quit as director at virtually the last minute, replaced by Peyton Reed), and I felt it had a charm that reminded me of both The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) and Honey I SHrink the Kids (1989). The climactic fight on the kid's Thomas the Tank Engine train set was a great idea and excecuted really well.


MEYER'S KITTEN

"Wow, do you always dress so stylish?" Lovely words to be greeted with by the fabulous Francesca 'Kitten' Natividad at the LuWow tiki bar in Melbourne last weekend. The famous exotic dancer and Russ Meyer superstar was as lovely as could be. "Love your laugh", she wrote on one of the pics I had her sign.



Friday, November 6, 2015

MARNEEN FIELDS: ROCKING & ROLLING (WITH THE PUNCHES)


Hailing from the small town of Minot, North Dakota, Marneen Lynne Fields - often credited just as Marneen Fields - is today forging a career as a singer-songwriter and CEO of her own song publishing company, Heavenly Waterfall (her composition ‘Shadows’ is a great piece of smoky, blues-tinged nightclub pomp and pop that conjurs up images as diverse as vintage James Bond cool and dark David Lynch perversity). While music is her clear and driving passion, Fields also has to her name an impressive list of credits in front of the movie and television cameras dating back to the mid-1970's, both as an actress and, until the early-1990's, as a trail-blazing stunt woman working in a very tough and physically demanding field.

Aside from working on films such as The Gauntlet (1977) with Clint Eastwood and Joe Dante’s lycanthropy classic The Howling (1981), Marneen Fields performed stunts on a string of classic and fondly-remembered television shows like Wonder Woman, Fantasy Island, Battlestar Galactica and The Fall Guy. She also worked on a number of big screen disaster movies during the last few years of the genre’s great 1970's era. Exploitation fans might recognize her from the enjoyably seedy grindhouse flick Hellhole (1985), where she worked alongside an amazing list of cult and fringe favourites, including Marjoe Gortner, Ray Sharkey, Edy Williams, Mary Woronov, Robert Z’Dar and more!

While working on an upcoming article on 1970's disaster movies (which is due to appear in a futire issue of Weng's Chop), I recently had the chance to ask Marneen a few questions about her career as a stunt woman, actress and working on The Swarm, Airport '79: The Concorde, Beyond the Poseidon Adventure and more. The interview will run alongside the article, but as a little sneak peek, here is Marneen's recollections of working on one of the most-loved television shows of the 1970's, Wonder Woman (I imagine a turkey baked by Lynda Carter would be pretty tasty, as well):

"In Wonder Woman, during the 'Mind Stealer’s from Outer Space' episode I got beat up by Wonder Woman herself, Linda Carter. Linda threw me straight onto my back onto the hard wood floor as I performed front flips and falls all over her apartment in that scene. As a gymnast you always perform on mats and pads, and they’re there to cushion your landing if you fall off the balance beam. Being one of the first pioneer women of stunts, I did a hundred falls straight onto my back and stomach. I hit and roll across hard wood floors, cement sidewalks, and hard dirt fields in the name of film making wearing only a small child’s football girdle and some knees pads and elbow pads. The impact hurt like hell, and there were always bruises or some kind of minor injury! I worked on the Wonder Woman series close to Thanksgiving, and I remember Linda Carter carrying in a turkey she had baked for the entire cast and crew. That was the best turkey I’d ever tasted."



(Above: Marneen Fields in character on the Universal lot during filming of Airport '79: The Concorde. One of several great candid photos that will be featured in the article).




(Above: Marneen in a scene alongside Marjoe Gortner and Mary Woronov from 1985's Hellhole, an exploitation gem that sadly is not widely available. It was released on VHS but only seems to have made it to DVD on public domain labels in analog quality).


www.imdb.com/name/nm0276312/
(Marneen Fields at the IMDB)



Sunday, November 1, 2015

SATANIC PANIC IN 80s SUBURBIA

Shout at the Devil. 
Looking forward to diving into Kier-La Janisse's latest work, Satanic Panic, which she co-edits and contributes to along with a number of other writers, including David Flint and Melbourne's own Alexandra Heller-Nicholas.
Attended the local book launch for Satanic Panic last night at The Backlot Studios. Kier-La gave a great little talk around the book's subject, accompanied by some slides and interesting clips (a few scary, a few hilariously entertaining - some of the them both at once). Satanic Panic looks at the presence and influence of Satan in 1980's pop-culture, everything from Dungeons & Dragons and horror movies to pulp paperback novels and The Smurfs. Not to mention The Parents' Music Resource Center (PMRC) and their campaign against the satanic presence in music, particularly heavy metal. There's also the much more real and darker side, with several gruesome and tragic murder and suicide cases, which at the time were played up as being highly satanic in motivation, rather than looking for any true underliying cause that lay much closer to home.
Following the talk, the audience was treated to a screening of Charles Martin Smith's Trick Or Treat (1986), a horror movie/heavy metal hybrid that was clearly inspired by the backwards masking and hidden messages in music controversy which was then very much in the public eye.
Another cool event by Lee Gambin and the Cinemaniacs gang, and a fitting way to kick-off Halloween weekend.





Monday, October 26, 2015

BUZZ OFF

Last night's late late movie. I had forgotten just how deliriously entertaining this big-budget disaster flick from 1978 was, though perhaps not in the way that producer/director Irwin Allen had originaly planned. Of course, melodrama was a big, integral part of the classic 70s disaster movies, but The Swarm is so over the top, yet played so straight down the line by the big-name cast, I was expecting Leslie Nielson to walk in at any moment and tell someone to stop calling him Shirley.
Unlike his previous big disaster hits, The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno, where Irwin Allen directed the action sequences but handed over the drama to a seasoned director, in The Swarm Allen decided to handle all the direction himself, which was probably the wrong decision as he doesn't seem to handle an all-star cast as well as he handles the flipping of an ocean liner or the burning of a skyscraper.
Though The Swarm signalled the start of the decline of the 70s disaster film genre, it's still a lot of fun and rarely boring. Apart from wondering what must have been going through the actors' minds, my favourite moments are when the bratty kid and his two friends throw molotov cocktails at the beehive and then take cover under garbage cans, the sight of Olivia De Havilland looking on in horror as small kids are stung to death in the schoolyard (in slow-motion, no less), the hilarious giant bee hallucinations that some of the survivors of the sting experience, and the bee attack on the mountain train (in which Irwin Allen finds the perfect way to solve a love triangle between three mature age singles).


CHARLES MANSON: MOVIE STAR

Sneek peak at a few pages from my article on Manson cinema, appearing in the just-published Weng's Chop #8 (now available in black & white and optional blinding color!).




MONSTER! IN SPACE

Peek at the front cover for the upcoming issue of Monster! (#22), featuring my article on the monsters of Lost in Space. My sensors indicate it should be out around the end of the month.