A transcript of my introduction to the Bless the Beasts and Children screening last Saturday night has now been posted over on the Cinemaniacs website at the following link for anyone interested in having a read.
Friday, April 14, 2017
Last night’s viewing was the new Severin Blu-ray release of Franco Prosperi’s delirious nature on the rampage Italian horror from 1984, Wild Beasts. Amazingly, I had never seen this film before, despite being a big fan of the nature amok genre and the fact that it had been released locally on VHS in the 1980s.
Prosperi was considered one of the godfathers of the extreme mondo documentary genre (Mondo Cane, Africa Addio), and his roots certainly show at various points throughout Wild Beasts, particularly during its opening sequence. The film (which looks to have been filmed in Frankfurt but is listed only as an “Eastern European City”) has wild animals from the local zoo, including cheetahs, lions, polar bears and elephants, as well as sewer rats and seeing eye dogs, going beserk after drinking water laced with PCP, rampaging through the city streets mauling, munching and trampling on terrified (and stupid) citizens.
Watching the film, I couldn’t help but feel a little uneasy when thinking of what sort of treatment the animals would have likely received on set (the sewer rats in particular do not look to have fared so well), but as a seedy piece of lurid Euro exploitation it entertains from start to finish, with gore galore, a great soundtrack by Daniele Patucchi, and plenty of crazed WTF? moments that will make even the most hardened horror fan’s jaw drop.
And like all Severin releases, Wild Beasts not only looks stunning but has a great selection of special features that make this a must-have for fans of the genre.
Posted by John Harrison at 3:37 PM
Monday, April 10, 2017
A few pics of me delivering my introduction to the Bless the Beasts and Children screening at the Backlot Studios on Saturday night. Great to see the movie on the big screen with an audience of mostly first-time viewers. The video interview with one of the film's stars, Miles Chapin, was excellent and will hopefully make its way online at some point (it would make a perfect bonus featurette on a Blu-ray release). Thanks to all those who came along - hope you enjoyed it and got something out of it! A transcript of my introduction should go up on the Cinemaniacs website shortly, will post a link once available.
Posted by John Harrison at 1:58 AM
Thursday, March 9, 2017
My wife Marneen and I had a lot of fun seeing Kong: Skull Island in IMAX 3D last night. Fun is certainly the operative word here, as director Jordan Vogt-Roberts delivers a big monster bash that still has little touches of heart amongst all the spectacle and no pretensions to be anything more than a solidly entertaining way to spend a couple of hours in the cinema. And if there ever was one movie monster born for the vast, often overpowering expanse of the IMAX screen, it is Kong.
One of the best aspects of Kong: Skull Island is that it doesn't try to retell a classic tale that simply can't be told any better than it originally was in 1933. Rather it takes the iconic character and his mysterious and dangerous home of Skull Island and fashions its own adventure, one which kick-starts Kong's entry in Warner Brothers' and Legendary's new shared universe of giant monsters (a universe first established with Gareth Edward's Godzilla film from a couple of years ago).
In that respect, Kong: Skull Island is more in line with the Kong offshoot films, like King Kong Lives (1986) and, more specifically, the earlier Japanese Kong adventures King Kong Vs. Godzilla(1962) and King Kong Escapes (1967). The film's setting and time frame (the dying days of the Vietnam War in 1973) helps further connect it to those great 60s Japanese movies (which is why I chose to highlight the film's stunning Japanese poster here).
And like any great movie set during the Vietnam War, the soundtrack is filled with rock and pop classics from the era, and while most of the cast do what is asked of them, I thought only John C. Reilly managed to stand out and create something memorable.
As for the King himself, yeah he is all CGI but what else should we expect in 2017? I thought he came across great - kicked ass, showed a bit of character and emotion, and had a nice sense of mythology built up around him.
Will definitely re-watch the movie at some point to see how it comes across in a non-IMAX, non-3D environment.
Posted by John Harrison at 11:11 AM
Saturday, February 18, 2017
A while ago, I took a look at a collection of vintage 8mm XXX adult film loops directed by the legendary Ed Wood, which had been unearthed and issued on DVD by New York filmmaker Keith Crocker and his Cinefear Video company (click HERE to read the original blog post). As mind-bending a find as that collection was, especially for both Wood fans and early porn historians, it was clearly just an appetizer for the second volume, which Cinefear have just issued on disc under the title of Ed’s Wood Volume II.
Filmed between 1973 and 1975, these grainy and grotty short porn loops represent some of the final completed works of Ed Wood, who would die of alcoholism and heart failure in 1978. The fact that you are watching loops directed by the man who gave us Glen or Glenda (1953) and Plan Nine from Outer Space (1956), and whose life and career took place on a fascinating edge of fringe cultures, automatically makes shorts a lot more interesting than the majority of the thousands upon thousands of other similar loops that were produced at the same time. And with a young John (“Johnny Wadd”) Holmes being the featured performer in many of the loops on this latest collection (in fact the only recognizable name amongst a procession of anonymous hippie chicks and hairy male genitalia), the imagination once again gets fired up by thoughts of Wood and Wadd meeting at this intersection while traveling through their own unique cinema netherworlds.
Though it is not one of the loops that features Holmes, Morning Walk is the most interesting title on this 90-minute compilation, its depiction of forceful coercion giving it a much rougher edge than the others. I have to say I breathed a sigh of relief when the big dog walking around at the beginning is safely shut away in another room before the action begins! This loop in particular seems reflective of Ed Wood’s handiwork, especially thematically with its premise (a young girl on her morning walk invites a strange man and his girlfriend into her house after seemingly knowing them for all of five seconds, and is then shocked and outraged when the couple make a pass at her!). Other titles on this collection include Park Lovers, Big John Parts 1 & 2, the strange 15” Commercial (in which Holmes has sex with a lady atop her broken TV set), Wives at Play, Camper Pick-Up and Garter Girl.
Perfectly complementing this collection of loops (which were originally filmed silent and had minimal subtitles added to accompany the hot action) is the choice of music laid over them, a wholly suitable and enjoyable mix of cheesy lounge music, funky bass guitar and pulsating disco (the music on Park Lovers sounds like it could have been lifted from Meco’s Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk LP!). There is also a smooth pop love ballad and a couple of pieces of muzak that sound like they would have made excellent background music to a television commercial for a swinging airline company.
Ed’s Wood Volume II (along with all other manner of weird and wonderfully demented cinema, and not just of the XXX variety) is available from the Cinefear website at Cinefear Video Vintage Adult Titles. Along with Something Weird Video, Cinefear are an important independent company that are doing an amazing job at rescuing and preserving titles that might otherwise be lost permanently, and offering them up to appreciative outré film lovers like myself. They deserve our support.
Posted by John Harrison at 1:30 AM
Thursday, February 16, 2017
After re-watching it early this morning (my third viewing of the film in total), I think Frank Darabont's The Mist (2007) has earned its place near the top of my list of best Stephen Kind film adaptations. It's up there with Kubrick's The Shining and Cronenberg's The Dead Zone for me. I love the film's plot - a pure 1950s sci-fi pulp story crossed with a classic Twilight Zone episode and filled with cool Lovecraftian monsters, moments of patented King horror, and an ending that is devastating and tears me apart each time I see it. A mostly great cast (headed by Thomas Jane and Marcia Gay Harden) brings some very interesting dynamics between the characters who are trapped by the mysterious titular mist in the supermarket, and the screenplay manages to effectively touch on topics like fear and denial, the wildfire way in which a mob mentality can spread, and blind religious devotion (and using religion and the Bible as an easy crutch against a horror you just can't understand enough to face rationally). Very evocative use of "The Host of Seraphim" by Dead Can Dance on the film's otherwise very minimal soundtrack.
Darabont also wrote the screenplay for The Mist, adapting King's 1980 novella. And it's interesting to see a few actors who would later turn up in Darabont's The Walking Dead(Laurie Holden, Jeffrey DeMunn and Melissa McBride interacting as different characters). Darabont's other Stephen King adaptations The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile get a lot more accolades and TV runs than The Mist, but it absolutely holds its own and is easily the best of the three if you are looking for something that gives a good modern take on an earlier and more traditionally scary Stephen King tale.
Posted by John Harrison at 9:59 PM
In late-1981, KISS tried to make one for the critics and released (Music From) The Elder, a medieval concept album – and a supposed soundtrack for a film that didn’t exist - produced by Bob Ezrin and featuring songs co-written by Lou Reed. I personally have loved the album from the day it came out and found it quite adventurous with some of the best musicianship the band has ever produced. But I was certainly in the tiny minority, as The Elder bombed spectacularly, and within the space of two years KISS had gone from playing Madison Square Gardens to an act that would barely be able to fill school auditoriums – a popularity slump that would only start improving when the band finally decided to ditch the make-up and costumes two years later.
To coincide with the release of The Elder, KISS filmed a music video for the closing song from the album, “I” (one of only two or three songs on the LP that sounded traditionally KISS-like). The video was ultimately never released and for over 35 years has been a holy grail for KISS video collectors.
Now, a heavily watermarked, time-coded and somewhat grainy copy of the “I” video has finally surfaced, and it is not too hard to see why the video was ultimately buried! Filmed on a set that looks like leftovers from Superman’s Fortress of Solitude and featuring the band performing the song in front of what look like a bunch of blow-ins from a Solid Gold or Soul Train audience, this video rivals their infamous 1978 TV movie KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park for goofiness…the shot of Gene singing part of the song while bopping up and down on the shoulders of a lucky audience member is one of many fun highlights.
Still good to finally get to see it after all these years. Check it out now in case Gene gets it taken down!
Posted by John Harrison at 9:53 PM
I was happy and honoured to have been recently interviewed by fellow Melbourne based writer, the very talented Michelle Alexander. You can read the piece on her great blog at the following link. Thanks Michelle!
Posted by John Harrison at 9:47 PM
I always love seeing candid photos of KISS taken during their huge Australian tour of November 1980. Probably because it was the first concert I ever attended (at VFL Park in Melbourne) then the nostalgia and interest will always be there.
I've never seen these three great pics from that period before. After the band filmed their two shows at the Sydney Show Grounds, they went into a local studio to record some overdubs to fix up some of the mistakes made during the live performances. These photos show the band (Paul Stanley in the solo shots) recording the overdubs at the (unknown) Sydney studio. The two concerts and the overdubs were eventually edited into a single concert film, that was first shown as part of the KISS: The Inner Sanctum Australian TV special from 1981, and was later included on the KISSology 2 DVD set. Along with the Tokyo 1977 TV special, the Sydney 1980 concert film is one of the best visual records of the band's live performances during their peak years (though in the US the band had already peaked by 1980, but their fame was Beatles-like in Australia that year).
Posted by John Harrison at 9:41 PM
Friday, January 13, 2017
It has been in the planning for a little while, but I can now officially announce that I am currently in the midst of writing a book on the films of Marjoe Gortner, which aims to be completed by the end of this year and published by Bear Manor Media. A former child preacher and charismatic evangelist, Marjoe has long been one of my favourite actors, and a personality I have been intrigued by ever since I was mesmerised by his potent performance in 1979's When You Comin' Back, Red Ryder (though I had seen and enjoyed him in exploitation films like Food of the Gods and Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw for some years prior).
Wildcat! The Films of Marjoe Gortner will not be a biography of Marjoe Gortner per se (though sections of the book will obviously touch on his childhood and upbringing), but rather an examination and celebration of his varied film and television career, which began in 1972 with the Oscar-winning documentary Marjoe and culminated in 1995 with a role as - appropriately enough - a preacher in Walter Hill's Wild Bill.
Below is the first publicity blurb for Wildcat! The Films of Marjoe Gortner, as well as a promotional draft cover design.
FROM REAL-LIFE CHILD EVANGELIST TO ON-SCREEN PSYCHO HIPPY!
Born in sunny Long Beach, California, Marjoe Gortner found early fame as a child evangelist, ordained at the age of four and travelling the revival circuit across America, where his Pentecostal preachings helped bring him to national recognition as something of an infant freakshow. After a period of inactivity throughout his teenage years, Gortner returned to the pulpit in his mid-twenties, using his name and past fame to expose the fraudulent side of preaching, via the Oscar-winning 1972 documentary MARJOE.
Gortner used the publicity and notoriety generated by MARJOE as his springboard to Hollywood, launching a new career as an actor, which saw his charismatic good looks put to work in a string of cult exploitation, disaster, sci-fi, horror and drive-in action films, including EARTHQUAKE(1974), BOBBIE JO AND THE OUTLAW (1976), FOOD OF THE GODS (1976) and the galvanising psychological thriller WHEN YOU COMIN' BACK, RED RYDER (1976), where he excelled in the role of Teddy, an angry Vietnam vet out to show the inhabitants of a small New Mexico diner that not all perceived hippies chose to live by a credo of peace and love.
Filed with rare photos, stunning movie poster art and interviews with those who worked alongside him, WILDCAT! THE FILMS OF MARJOE GORTNER takes the reader on a celluloid journey through the career of a man whose childhood was often as strange and outrageous as the films he appeared in.
Posted by John Harrison at 4:26 PM
My Friday the 13th viewing of choice turned out to be Jackson Stewart’s recent horror film Beyond the Gates (2016), which received a screening at Monster Fest in Melbourne late last year and has now been released on DVD in Australia by Umbrella Entertainment. I’m not sure why Umbrella have chosen to release the movie only on DVD and not Blu-ray, but considering the movie itself, VHS would have been the most suitable home viewing format for it.
Beyond the Gates is a fun throwback to home video horror of the 1980s and early-90s, as well as a homage to those VCR interactive horror board games like Nightmare, which were popular for a while with a generation of kids and horror hounds. The film has two estranged brothers (and one of the girlfriends) reuniting at the old mom & pop video store that belonged to their father, who has been mysteriously missing without a trace for the past seven months. As the brothers dig through the store, packing up tapes and reminiscing uncomfortably about old times, they come across an old interactive board game called Beyond the Gates, which looks to have been the last thing their father was watching in the office before he vanished. The game, purchased from a bizarre curio shop, turns out to be a portal to another dimension, one filled with all manner of scary scenarios, and the trio, guessing the game has something to do with the father’s disappearance, have to follow the steps through to the very end if they want to save his soul, as well as their own very lives.
What I really enjoyed about Beyond the Gates is that, apart from its obvious echoing of 80s horror films like The Gate and Hellraiser (as well as a touch of the Robin Williams adventure fantasy Jumanji), there is a genuine sense of relationship and development between the two brothers (played by Matt Mercer and Graham Skipper) that is well-written by screenwriters Stephen Scarlata and Jackson Stewart. There are also a number of moments of gory frisson in the horror department, and a nice genuine tie to the films it pays homage to is established by the casting of the wonderful Barbara Crampton, star of such beloved cult classics like Re-Animator (1985), From Beyond (1986) and Chopping Mall(1986), who is cast here as Evelyn, the beautiful and bewitching hostess of the Beyond the Gates video board game. Crampton always brings a dose of style and class to anything she appears in, and her appearance in Beyond the Gates should only help endear the movie to fans of 80s horror, while the film has enough going for it that is should also appeal to a more general horror audience.
Posted by John Harrison at 4:15 PM
Friday, December 9, 2016
I have to admit that I don’t read a lot of new fiction these days. Non-fiction (mostly true crime and music and movie bios) provide the bulk of my printed nourishment, along with a plethora of magazines and the odd comic book of course (online blogs and articles can be great and rewarding, but I still love the process of going to a newsstand and picking out a stack of public transport reading for the week). When I do decide to read fiction, I usually scan through my library or the shelves of a second-hand bookstore and pick out a thin old vintage horror or crime paperback, or film tie-in novelization, to keep me occupied for a weekend.
Having said that, I ordered a copy of Eric Red’s White Knuckle (2015 Samhain Publishing) from Amazon after reading a few rave notices from people whose opinions I usually respect and find reliable, and after diving just a few pages into the book I had become seduced and lost within its pages. White Knuckle is a gripping thriller about a prolific, truck driving serial killer who has spent over forty years criss-crossing the United States, abducting his victims and keeping them bound, helpless and terrified within a secret steel chamber installed underneath his big rig. A young, novice female FBI agent teams up with a seasoned, ex-con trucker to cruise the interstates in the hope of finding the maniac who has been leaving bodies all across the country. It quickly turns into a personal game of cat and mouse for both agent and killer, with each of them seemingly gaining the upper hand in turn, until the story reaches its frenzied climax.
Fast-paced, violent and gruesome, but with a true sense of character and a remarkable detail for life on the open road, White Knuckle is a cracking good read, with a few moments of genuine tension that help the book live up to its title (White Knuckle is the CB handle for the killer). The book has a real cinematic feel to it, not surprising as author Red has penned a number of excellent screenplays over the years, including The Hitcher (1986), Near Dark (1987), Blue Steel (1990) and Body Parts (1991, which he also directed).
I had a few minor quibbles with the story, mostly some moments of convenience and the odd detour into territory that seemed a bit far-fetched and over-the-top compared to what the bulk of the book delivers, but they did nothing to diminish my enjoyment of White Knuckle. Highly recommended if you feel like reading a gritty, pulpy thriller that contains elements of movies like Duel (1971), Breakdown (1997), Silence of the Lambs (1991) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), yet combines them into something wholly of its own. I’ll definitely be checking out more of Eric Red’s horror fiction in the near future.
Posted by John Harrison at 2:35 AM
Friday, November 25, 2016
Had a late-night screening of the new Grindhouse Blu-ray release of David Durston's infamous hippie horror film I Drink Your Blood (1971) last night, and what a magnificent job they have done on it! The beautiful, lurid seediness of the film has never looked clearer than on Grindhouse's HD transfer of the original X-rated cut of the film, and they have packed this two disc release with a stunning array of special features, including the original theatrical cut, deleted scenes (including the original and more downbeat ending), trailer and radio spot, the German Super 8mm digest home movie editions, interviews and footage from recent drive-in and grindhouse screenings, and so much more, including HD bonus feature films of I Eat Your Skin (a B&W 1964 Del Tenney film which was picked-up and retitled as a co-feature to I Drink Your Blood) and Blue Sextet, David Durston's rare psychedelic shocker from 1969.
The first 3000 copies of the Blu-ray also include a cool, carded I Drink Your Blood horror hypo syringe, so you can play your own version of "Let's give rabies to the dirty hippies" in your own home!
This is the definitive release of this remakable exploitation film, a true product of its era and not just a great counterculture horror but the best grindhouse film the capture the vibe of the Manson Family killings, which had occured two years earlier and was still very fresh in the public's mind (and fears). Looking forward to the upcoming local release of the disc from Ex Film, who will also be putting it out as a limited edition VHS in tribute to the original early-eighties home video release of the movie on the Media label.
Posted by John Harrison at 4:59 PM
Thursday, November 24, 2016
Super 8mm German home movie digest versions of I Drink Your Blood(1971), released in that country by Rex Films. Great to see these included as an extra on the amazing new two-disc Blu-ray release of this hippie horror classic from Grindhouse Releasing, which I am currently wading through.
Above photos: Some of my memorabilia from I DRINK YOUR BLOOD
and I EAT YOUR SKIN, possibly the greatest double-bill title in
grinhouse horror movie history!
Posted by John Harrison at 3:28 PM
“WHEN THE MOON TURNS RED THE DEAD SHALL RISE"
So reads the poster tagline for Andrea Bianchi’s 1981 Italian zombie film Burial Ground. Gee, I wonder if that tagline was inspired by the memorable poster blurb for a certain 1978 George A. Romero zombie classic? Alternately known as The Nights of Terror, Zombi Horror, The Zombie Dead and Zombie 3, so much of Burial Ground seems to borrow from other, better known (and just plain better) movies, including Lucio Fulci’s 1979 masterpiece Zombie/Zombie Flesh Eaters (to which this was peddled as an official sequel in some parts of the world). Despite this, Burial Ground winds up being something completely unique and of its own, an utterly delirious, wacky and gory movie that roars along at a great pace and never fails to entertain, containing pretty much everything you could possibly want from an Italian grindhouse zombie flick from this era.
Amazingly, I had never sat down to watch this film before, so experiencing it for the first time via the new Blu-ray release from Severin Films was a complete treat and a real eye-opener. The 2K scan and restoration makes the mud-bleeding zombies look suitably slimy and gross while the film often looks quite stunning thanks to it being filmed at the beautiful old Villa Parisi (a location used in quite a number of Italian genre flicks since the 1960s). The film pretty much dispenses with any plot establishment or character development and gets stuck into the gut-munching zombie action almost from the get-go, and rarely lets up from there. As if the film isn’t jaw-dropping enough as it is, Bianchi and screenwriter Piero Regnoli take things even further by casting the strange-looking Peter Bark, then 25 but playing a 15 year-old kid who has a sexual attraction to his mother (played by the voluptuous Mariangela Giordano) and at one point even kisses her on the lips and fondles her bare breast while she is trying to comfort him in the midst of all the chaos and horror taking place around them!
Burial Ground also benefits from a great synth/electronica score by Elsio Mancuso and Burt Rexon, which really adds to the film’s ambience and helps give it a unique feel. The print on the new Severin Blu-ray actually contains the title of The Nights of Terror. Extras include several featurette interviews with producer Gabriele Crisanti and a number of actors involved with the film, a modern tour of Villa Parisi, trailer and some deleted and extended scenes. Audio has English dubbed or Italian language tracks (with English subtitle options).
Another winner from Severin Films.
Posted by John Harrison at 7:37 AM