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.

NATURE STRIKES BACK!




















Adam Roarke, Lynn Borden and a young Sam Elliott sign autographs for a young fan at a preview screening of Frogs (1972) in Panama City, Florida, near the locations where the film was shot. Re-watched this eco-horror yesterday in honour of co-star Lynn Borden, who passed away om March the 3rd. Love it's swampy atmosphere and locations, Ray Milland's performance as a cranky, pig-headed Southern patriarch, and its overall atmosphere of strangeness. Borden looks beautiful on screen, as does Joan Van Ark, and strange to see Sam Elliott with no facial hair or grey streaks! He makes a solid eco-horror action hero, though.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

SIN STREET SLEAZE RONDO NOMINATED!

Honored to learn today that Sin Street Sleaze has been nominated for a Rondo award this year, in the Best Blog or Online Column category! Named after 1930's and 40's actor Rondo Hatton, the Rondos are the Oscars of the horror, science-fiction and fantasy film fields. This nomination will hopefully encourage me to actually update this blog a bit more regularly.
Rondo votes can be emailed to taraco@aol.com


MONSTER! #13

Contributor's copy of Monster! #13 slithered its way into my PO box recently, and is another 100+ pages of gruesome goodness. Apart from my article on the 1988 Dinosaurs Attack! bubble gum cards by Topps, and reviews of Mars Attacks!, The Giant Gila Monster and Snowbeatsthis issue also contains Stephen Bissette's examination of the filmic adaptations of Richard Matheson's novel I Am Legend, as well as a look at the series of Dracula and Frankenstein films produced by Hammer, making it a must-read for any fans of the legendary British studio.

https://www.createspace.com/5213838





Monday, March 2, 2015

SANCTUARY

Organised clutter and chaos of the office writing desk.


RIP DICK BAKALYAN

With all the news and post regarding Leonard Nimoy, the passing of Richard 'Dick' Bakalyan over the weekend - one year older than Nimoy at 84 - has gone largely unnoticed, though it's a name that unfortunately would probably not have gained much ink space anyhow. But Dick Bakalyan was great as a tough-guy teenager in such 1950's juvenile delinquency films as THE DELINQUENTS, THE COOL & THE CRAZY, JUVENILE JUNGLE and more. He was also in lots of western and war TV shows, episodes of BATMAN and THE MOD SQUAD, the classic war actioner VON RYAN'S EXPRESS, the post-apocalyptic PANIC IN THE YEAR ZERO!, and played a cop in Polanski's CHINATOWN.

When I was writing a film screenplay on spec some years back, the female lead, Laura, was a platinum-blonde, leopard print wearing hellcat with a fixation for all things 1950's, especially Dick Bakalyan. This was an exchange I wrote between Laura and her boyfriend, Jake, taking place in a desert motel while Laura is watching television.
JAKE
What’s on?
LAURA
Not sure, but I think it stars Dick Bakalyan.
JAKE
Who’s he?
LAURA
(genuinely surprised)
You never heard of Dick Bakalyan?
JAKE
Sorry. The real world always kept me too
busy to become much of a film buff.
LAURA
Well, he was in stacks of these movies in
the fifties. Juvenile Jungle....The Cool
and the Crazy....Hot Car Girl, which I
think this is. He was like a role model for
a whole generation of rebel wannabes.
JAKE
I thought that privilege belonged to
Mister James Dean?
LAURA
Nah, I always thought Dean was a bit
overrated. Too much of a poser, even
though he did at least die young.
(after a beat)
I don’t know. Dean was okay, I guess.
But I always thought Dick Bakalyan was
it and a bit. He had the real thing. Just
like you.
JAKE
Me? I’ve never watched one of those
films in my life.
LAURA
I know. That’s what makes you so great.
You’re not trying to be some phony clone.
You just are who you are.

LOVE GUN DELUXE

Have been spinning the recent 2-disc Deluxe Edition of Love Gun for the first time. Originally released in June 1977, with Star Wars fever fresh in the air, Love Gun has always been my least favourite of that initial run of six classic KISS studio LPs released between 1974 - 77. But even while I find it the weakest of the six, it's the one that captures KISS at the height of their popularity and power in the US, before things started going pear-shape for them the following year. The production (by KISS and Eddie Kramer) was a bit thin and lacked beef - it was the beginning of the band starting to lean away from hard rock and more towards pop rock.

Love Gun still has its highlights for sure. The title track has been overplayed in the ensuing years, but Paul Stanley’s album opener ‘I Stole Your Love’ is a masterpiece of swaggering seventies cock rock, and Ace Frehley finally gets his chance to sing a lead vocal, on what would become his signature tune, ‘Shock Me’. In fact, while Frehley would become more prominent as a singer songwriter on the next two KISS LPs - 1979's Dynasty and 1980's UnmaskedLove Gun is probably his best overall album performance as a lead guitarist. His guitar certainly helps lift filler tracks like ‘Got Love for Sale’, ‘Tomorrow and Tonight’ and ‘Hooligan’ out of the doldrums. Gene Simmons’ best known contribution to Love Gun was the sleazy pop smut of ‘Christine Sixteen’, which I’ve never been much a fan of. His sleazy side is much better projected in ‘Plaster Caster’, his ode to the notorious Chicago groupie/artist Cynthia Plaster Caster (who found infamy in the rock underworld by making plaster casts of the genitals of visiting musicians). Simmons also contributes a true underrated gem in ‘Almost Human’, projecting his demonic persona in a track full of funky bass and drums, a blazing sawmill lead from Frehley, and those distinct, high female-esque backing vocals during the chorus and fade-out. No wonder it brought the house down when the band finally performed it live for the first time on the KISS Kruise in 2013.

The re-mastering on this deluxe CD keeps the integrity and sound of the original recording intact, yet it also adds a subtle enhancement to the backing rhythm guitar tracks, adding another interesting layer to some of the cuts (particularly ‘Almost Human’). I can't imagine the album ever sounding better or crisper than this. The 2nd CD in this set features a mixture of unused Gene Simmons demos (the best of which is ‘Much Too Soon’), original demos of several songs that ended up on the album, a radio interview with Simmons recorded in Montreal on the Love Gun Can-Am Tour, the almost laughingly unnecessary ‘Love Gun Teaching Demo’, and vintage live recordings of ‘Love Gun’, 'Christine Sixteen’ and ‘Shock Me’, all from a Maryland show in December 1977. Cool stuff for the fan to have, but hardly something to keep on regular rotation.

Completing the package is a nice booklet filled with some rare pics from the era, a sketch of the original proposed album cover (the iconic completed art was contributed by Ken Kelly), and an introduction by Def Leppard frontman Joe Elliott (a strange choice to me, as neither Elliott or Lep have ever cited KISS as any kind of real inspiration or influence on them). It seems to be more a convenient commercial tie-in for the recent KISS/Leppard American tour, rather than any genuine tribute.

The only thing this re-issue is really missing is a replica of the original firing cardboard pop-gun which was included in the original 1977 LP pressings (there was in fact supposed to be a small fridge magnet replica of said gun included in this set, but most people - myself included - have found it to be missing).

SPOOKY SPROCKETS

Setting up the old Royal Sound projector on the tiki bar, so I can watch a few of my vintage Super 8 horror movie digest reels - researching the subject for an upcoming article in Monster!


NOREM'S MONKEY BUSINESS

Recently, I had the pleasure of handling and examining up close some original Earl Norem pencil sketches, which the great artist did in the mid-1970's for Marvel's Planet of the Apes comic magazine. Done on incredibly thin tracing paper, it's wonderful to see these delicate pieces preserved and have the opportunity to study the artist's dynamic pencil work in person. My favorite of the pieces I saw today were these two - sketch for the cover of issue #28 (depicting a dynamic showdown between General Ursus and a mutant/Terminator-like hybrid), and an original sketch idea for issue #8, which was eventually dropped in favour of an illustration depicting a tense scene taking place outside the decayed subway train, rather than inside it. Though the original sketch idea was later used as the template for the cover of Marvel's color reprint comic, Adventures on the Planet of the Apes , it's a pity that Norem never got to actually paint this scene for the intended magazine, as I find it a really striking composition, and I would have loved to have seen it done in Norem's lovely and lurid, gaudy pulp magazine style.






Monday, December 29, 2014

HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD

Mean zombie kid wakes-up hungry for lunch in Bruno Mattei’s Hell of the Living Dead (aka Virus aka Night of the Zombies). I love this 1980 Dawn of the Dead knock-off from Italy (it even uses Goblin’s classic Dawn score, and apes the opening SWAT segment from Romero’s classic). Lots of gory, kooky fun but also has a real grotty, oppressive atmosphere to it. Great cast of sweaty faces, though Margit Evelyn Newton certainly pretties up the Papua New Guinea jungle setting (the film was actually shot on the outskirts of Barcelona, with obvious stock footage used to create the jungle ambience). I love how Newton’s reporter character, and her male cameraman, both figure that knee-high leather boots make suitable attire to go prancing around the hostile jungle in, and no one is spared a grisly death (Newton’s death being particularly gruesome). Like Fulci’s Zombie (1979), the film ends with the living dead infecting major cities, seemingly sealing humanity’s faith (or at least leaving the door open for a sequel).

Some brilliant lines of dialogue as well (“Buildings have people in them, I think we’ll go and investigate”), my favourite being this exchange between two technicians checking the safety dials at a chemical plant:

Tech 1: “She may not know much about chemistry, but in bed her reactions are terrific.”
Tech 2: “I’m not surprised, with that cute little ass of hers.”
Tech 1: “I’m a tit man, myself.”