A transcript of my introduction to last weekend's Bloodsucking Freaks (aka The Incredible Torture Show) screening is now available to read at the Cinemaniacs' website at:
John Harrison - Bloodsucking Freaks Transcript
Monday, June 20, 2016
Director Joel M. Reed and myself introducing the screening of Reed's notorious Bloodsucking Freaks (1976) at the Backlot Studios on Saturday night (Reed's intro was pre-taped in New York). Was great fun with a terrific crowd and my introductory talk seemed to go down really well. I even made up some 'Bloodsucking Freaks Beginner's Kits' to hand out to the crowd, in honour of the original promos handed out when the movie was first released on VHS in Australia, on the famous Palace Explosive label. Watch for a transcript of my intro to be posted soon. Thanks to all those who braved the cold to come out!
Posted by John Harrison at 8:46 PM
Tuesday, May 31, 2016
Subtitled "A New-England Folktale", I found the most unsettling and effective aspect of The Witch (or The VVitch as it is stylized on its poster) was in its puritanical atmosphere and stark locales, as well as in the remarkable performance of young Anya Taylor-Joy. Having visited the New England area in 2014 and soaking in its landscapes, old cemeteries and early settler ambience no doubt helped when it came to The Witch giving me the hebee-gebees. No game changer but a movie filled with some immensely strong images and the odd moment of real horror, along with a couple of genuine scares.
Posted by John Harrison at 3:59 AM
Really enjoyed re-watching 52 Pick-Up last night, John Frankenheimer's 1986 adaptation of Elmore Leonard's 1974 novel of the same name. A story of betrayal, blackmail and murder in 80s L.A., the film is certainly one of the classier productions to come from the infamous Cannon Films Group, and features another standout performance from Roy Schieder, and great supporting turns from John Glover and Clarence Williams III as the main bad guys. Ann Margaret doesn't get a whole lot t...o do with her role but still adds a touch of class to the film, and the late Prince protege Vanity shows up as a stripper/nude model. A party scene also features a lot of famous adult film stars from the day, including Tom Byron, Amber Lynn, Sharon Mitchell, Herschell Savage, Jamie Gillis and others. Let down only by a rather over-the-top climax, Leonard co-wrote the screenplay, and the film does a good job at capturing the seedy 80s LA underbelly, though not as well as William Friedkin's masterful To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)
Posted by John Harrison at 3:55 AM
The Anastasia Killer is a pretty enjoyable 2014 thriller novel written by filmmaker Richard W. Haines (Splatter University, Class of Nuke 'em High, What Really Frightens You, and editor of the classic The Toxic Avenger). Featuring a beautiful Russian femme fatale running loose in New York and seeking revenge on those who wronged her parents, the book is briskly paced and very cinematic in its execution, featuring elements of the slasher genre as well as references to the world of adult f...ilmmakng (there's a veiled reference to the Traci Lords' underaged porn scandal, and one chapter takes place inside an adult film producer's office that is drapped with one-sheets from made-up XXX titles like Eat on the Go and Blow Me Down). Haines' technical knowledge of the filmmaking process certainly shows through in some of the novel's narrative (one of the cahracters is a director of a Law & Order-style cop show), but it thankfully doesn't bog down or halt the flow of the story. Featuring a nice piece of cover art by Kieron Edwards (which reminds me of some of the classic Italian giallo paperbacks of the 1960s and 70s), The Anastasia Killer provides the perfect pulp entertainment to pass the travel to and from work for the week.
Posted by John Harrison at 3:51 AM
Saturday, May 7, 2016
Last night's Late Late Show was this double-bill of classic early Cronenberg, which I watched on the new local blu-ray set released by Madman last week. Was great to revisit both films for the first time after at least a dozen or so years. Both Shivers (1974) and Rabid (1977) remain so vital and effective and the central themes in the films remain as intriguing as they are disturbing and often repulsive, because they deal with the human condition and fears that are still very real today. And both films still pack a heavy punch at the end.
The films are also incredibly well-crafted and composed, especially considering the small budgets the Canadian filmmaker had to work with at the time, and Cronenberg always fills his films with lots of interesting, if often unknown, faces. Casting porn star Marilyn Chambers as the female lead in Rabid was certainly a risky creative decision, though a smart move from a marketing/commercial perspective, but she acquits herself quite well, coming off as not only sexual and terrifying but also effectively sympathetic at times.
While the films themselves are as powerful as ever, the transfers on Madman's blu-ray set are rather grainy at times (a complaint I have also heard about overseas blu-ray releases of the same films). Ironically, clips from both films that appear on the documentary featurettes seem to be of higher quality than the film themselves. I haven't watched the third film on this set (Cronenber's 1983 adpatation of Stephen King's The Dead Zone) as yet.
Posted by John Harrison at 4:03 PM
Thursday, April 21, 2016
Las Vegas. Lost Wages. The Lady. Disneyland for Adults. Sin City. Everyone who visits seems to have their own name for the gambling capital of the world. Depending on their luck, some simply call it Heaven (or Hell) on Earth.
I have been to Vegas a number of times since my first visit there as a young teenager on a family vacation in May of 1980. Too young to gamble or enter many of the famed establishments which the city had to offer at that time, I contented myself with wandering the streets and exploring the place from the outside, collecting match-books from all the hotels and restaurants and finding myself fascinated with the relics of the classic Rat Pack-era Vegas which was already fading fast into history at that point. It was a city clearly in transition, though It would still be a few more years before it really started to undergo its radical facelift and metamorphosis into its current playground of gleaming skyscrapers and casino motels encircled by roller coasters and designed like replicas of New York and the Eiffel Tower (thank goodness Circus Circus and the Flamingo still stand to retain a touch of old-school Vegas).
My most recent visit to Vegas was in March of 2016, my first time there in ten years, and I was surprised at how much the city had changed in the decade since. The baby boomers and kids of the 1960s, 70s and 80s are adults and well into middle-age now, so childhood obsessions from those eras are reflected in the range of flashing, incessantly beeping slot and gaming machines that fill most of the casino floors. Pop culture heroes and icons, everything from comic book heroes Batman and Wonder Woman to movie and television shows like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Friends and – most appropriately –The Godfather, are there to swallow your dollars and maybe spit out a few dimes as a reward.
The streets of Las Vegas are not paved with gold, but rather littered with cigarette butts, the stale odor of sticky, spilled alcohol and the depressing sight of young combat veterans sleeping on the pavement or pushing themselves around in a wheelchair while seemingly lost in a drunken or pharmacologically-induced stupor. Unfortunately, you can never be sure who is genuine or who is just playing you for an out-of-town sucker, and you never want to stop or even make eye contact with anyone on the street whom you do not know. Smile at a stranger and you find yourself getting a handful of business cards for local hookers thrust into your palm. Stop for a quick selfie with a guy dressed as Batman and get hit up for a $5 donation for their time. I stupidly stuck out my hand to accept a ‘free’ demo CD from a trio of black rap artists and found myself $20 lighter for the effort. They didn’t reach in and lift the bills right out of my wallet, but by the way they moved in and intimidated me like a pack of hungry sharks, they might as well have. I continued walking with the CD in my hand, the white label crudely marked in messy black marker, feeling like a complete pigeon but hopefully a bit wiser for the experience. On the streets of Vegas, keep your eyes straight, your wits about you, and your valuables secure.
However, I wasn’t in Vegas this time to wallow in its magnificent seediness. I was there with a much greater - and dare I say more wholesome? - purpose. One of the things that most fascinated me on my first visits to the city was the abundance of small wedding chapels which lined the strip, most of them open 24/7 and some even offering drive-up windows for those lovebirds who just don’t have time to get out of their car to tie the knot. While some had a colourful Mills & Boon gaudiness about them, others were decidedly nondescript. Apart from the heart shaped wrought-iron entrance, the exterior of the Hollywood Wedding Chapel (“Ceremonies from $99") looks about as inviting and romantic as a second-hand adult book shop.From the moment I first saw them, I told myself that if I ever got married, it would have to be in a Vegas wedding chapel. And now, here I was thirty-six years later after that first visit, finally getting to realize this admittedly rather strange desire. I had finally met my soul mate and love of my life, Los Angeles-based singer/composer/actress, Marneen Fields, when I interviewed her about her days as a pioneering Hollywood stunt lady in the 1970s and 80s. Before we knew it, we had slipped and fallen madly in love thanks to a chemistry and psychic compatibility that was undeniable and instant despite us being countries apart. These things often happen just like that, mostly in the movies, but occasionally in real life as well. I felt like I was caught somewhere in between. It was a whirlwind, alright, but what is the point of life if you can’t trust your heart and take a little leap of faith - not to mention a sixteen hour flight across the Pacific Ocean - from time to time to be in the arms of the one you love?
Entertainment in Vegas runs the gamut from the raunchy to the saccharine, though it all comes with a large dollop of cheese. The newly remodeled Flamingo Hotel, where we stayed (in the luxurious High Roller suite, ten floors up with a spectacular view) offered the extremes of X Burlesque in one showroom ("Sexy, Topless Revue!”) and the wholesome goodness of Donny and Marie Osmond in the other (“Voted #1 Three Years in a Row!”). While the idea of seeing squeaky clean former 70s teen idols Donny and Marie strutting their stuff onstage in Sin City had a strange allure to us, we decided instead to head for one of the smaller theaters situated inside Planet Hollywood to experience the more off-beat delights of Zombie Burlesque. We found it inventive, cheeky and a highly enjoyable show which paid tribute to the great old B-grade horror and science-fiction movies of the atomic fifties. With free zombie green vodka and jelly shots given out to the audience, it provided a rollicking way to spend the eve before our wedding, my bachelor party so to speak, sitting with a couple of hundred strangers watching half-naked zombie gals bumping and grinding and lusting for brains (and other male body parts).
The chapel we chose to exchange our vows in was the Little White Wedding Chapel at 1301 Las Vegas Blvd. It was an obvious and easy choice that appealed to our sense of adventure, romance and history. The chapel first opened its doors in 1951 and has played host to numerous celebrity couplings, including Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward in 1958, Frank Sinatra and Mia Farrow (1966), Joan Collins and Peter Holm (1985) and Bruce Willis and Demi Moore (1987). Not to mention the likes of wrestler ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin, former Married...with Children star David Faustino, Britney Spears and Pamela Anderson. How could you not want to bask in the atmosphere of such famous – and infamous - past marriages?
Chauffeured there in a white stretch limousine with the chapel’s logo emblazoned boldly on the side - everything in Vegas is about the sell - the ambience inside the Little White Wedding Chapel is very strange and surreal (let’s face it, it would have been a bitter disappointment had it felt normal). As my fiancee and I sat around in the small waiting area, trembling hands clasped tightly together and decked out in all our marital finery (Marneen in a beautiful ivory dress with billowing silk sleeves and silver, pearl-encrusted tiara, me in paisley shirt with black vest and faux snakeskin shoes), it gave us a good chance to savor the moment and drink in our surroundings. In many ways, it wasn’t unlike walking into a bank or a post office. Inside there was a row of uniformed staff standing behind glass cabinets, trying their best to put on a smile and sell us an array of extras, everything from $150-plus bouquets of flowers to cheesy tuxedo t-shirts (I guess this is the Vegas wedding chapel equivalent of a Happy Meal upgrade at McDonalds). We did, however, receive a complimentary copy of Charolotte’s Love Recipe, delightful words of wisdom from Charolotte Richards, a petite little blonde lady with a touch of Tammy Faye Baker about her, who has been in the Vegas wedding biz for over 50 years. And in love-struck Las Vegas, the marriage business is always booming.
My lovely bride to be and I came armed with a matching pair of emerald, sapphire, and opal wedding bands (laced in beveled silver) which we held on tightly too as we waited, terrified we were going to lose them before we had a chance to slide them onto each other’s finger. Although we didn’t choose to exchange our vows in the Elvis Chapel (otherwise known as the Little White Wedding Chapel from which the establishment takes its name), we did watch as a young couple (who looked like they had come straight from a trailer park in Nebraska) were greeted by a rather short and quite fittingly rotund Elvis impersonator. The makeshift King led the couple and their small party through a set of ornate doors, from behind which the muffled strains of “Fools Rush In” could soon be heard floating through into the waiting room. I couldn’t help but smile to myself and feel somewhat lost within the cool strangeness of it all. It wasn’t hard to tell when the nuptials had been pronounced man and wife, as a brief period of quiet was followed by the rousing brass blare of "C.C. Rider,” the King’s legendary entrance and exit music.
Other chapels available include the Tunnel of Love (a romantic name for what is essentially a drive-through wedding that takes place under a pastel blue carport ceiling that is adorned with paintings of Cupids and angels), the Chapel of Promises (for slightly larger wedding parties) and the outdoor gazebo. Since we decided to elope and embark on a road trip across the Nevada desert like young a couple of love-struck teenagers in some John Hughes movie, our ceremony was rather intimate and private (i.e. – just the two of us), so we decided the small but cosy Crystal Chapel would be perfect for us. Taking up a small corner of an upstairs floor, its entrance adorned with two big stone columns, the Crystal Chapel is draped in deep red velvet with a large chandelier dangling from the ceiling. It has a nice simple elegance to it, which is somewhat spoiled by the large deck of antiquated audio visual equipment set up beside the minister’s pulpit, which the elderly photographer fumbled around with awkwardly in order to set up the video camera to automatically record our ceremony for an unfortunately rather static and visually flat DVD souvenir (an optional trimming that adds an extra $99 to the wedding fee). The minister assigned to us tried to pass the time by giving us a quick rundown of the formal Christian vows he would be reciting, and showing Marneen how to cradle her bouquet of three red roses in her arm like a newborn baby.
After a wait that only served to fuel our nerves and the butterflies going haywire in our stomachs, the video camera was finally fixed and the recorded organ strains of "Here Comes the Bride” signaled our moment to start walking down the very short aisle. Our photographer clicked away and the minister was all wide happy smiles, though he saved the biggest grin of all for the end of the ceremony, when he presented us with an empty envelope with his preferred tipping amounts clearly indicated on the front of it. Like a strange fever dream, the whole thing seemed to last forever but was in reality over so quickly. I looked deep into the eyes of my beautiful bride, we exchanged our vows and slid our wedding bands onto each other’s finger with trembling hands, embraced and exchanged a long and heated kiss that made us feel like Bogie and Bacall, and before I knew it we were husband and wife. My dream of a Vegas wedding to my American princess had finally been made real. We had a few quick photos snapped out on the balcony (with Elvis looking on approvingly from the roadside sign in front of the chapel), before we were whisked into our waiting limo (one of the chapel employees clearly not happy that we were behind schedule). The passion continued in the back seat of the limo on the ride back to the motel, but that is a story that is best kept to ourselves (or at least saved for a more salubrious publication).
Reality set in rather quickly as we returned to our suite at sunset to discover room service had not yet been in to clean up our room and make our bed. We spent the next morning enjoying a complimentary steak breakfast the Flamingo treated us to for the inconvenience, then headed downtown to explore and photograph the old motels that are still standing (some of them only just) from the glory days of the 1950s and 60s. With the sun in the sky, my beautiful wife on my arm and the smell of vintage Vegas in the air, it couldn’t have been a better day.
Las Vegas. So much of the dream and wonder of it is as much an illusion as a Siegfried and Roy stage show. Fortunately, the love and the marriage I found there was completely real. To paraphrase a popular saying, what happens in Vegas doesn’t always have to stay there.
Copyright John Harrison 2016
Charolette's Love Recipe
2 Hearts Full of Love
1 Heaping Cup of Kindness
2 Armfuls of Gentleness
6 Cups of Friendship
1000 Cups of Joy
2 Big Hearts Full of Forgiveness
1 Lifetime of Togetherness
2 Lives Full of Tenderness
Stir daily with Happiness, Humor and Patience.
Serve with Warmth and Compassion, Respect and Loyalty.
Posted by John Harrison at 5:06 AM
Sunday, March 6, 2016
A few photos of my Rondo Award-nominated article When Famous Monsters Gave In To The Force: Star Wars & The End Of The Classic Monster Magazine, which appeared in issue #23 (December 2015) of Monster! This article looked at that period between 1977-78 when the highly influential Famous Monsters Of Filmland magazine kicked the actual monsters to the backseat and became a virtual Star Wars fan magazine, reaching such a saturation point that even interior ads hawking new Star Wars products for sale received their own front cover headlines! Still stunned and surprised but very honored and excited by the nomination (as well as this blog receiving a nomination in the Best Website/Blog category for the second year running!
Visit the Rondo website for all the nominees and details on how to vote:
Posted by John Harrison at 1:24 AM
Saturday, March 5, 2016
Currently writing a review for Weng's Chop of this magnificent new 400 page full-colour UK softcover which is pretty much like a time capsule of everything that made being a horror and monster movie fan growing up in the 70s so much fun. An expensive volume but well worth every cent.
Posted by John Harrison at 5:48 PM
Saturday matinee viewing. Been an age since I watched this 1979 movie from James Bridges all the way through. It's a pretty taut and nicely constructed conspiracy/thriller which also dances on the outskirts of the disaster genre so popular that decade. Great performances from Jane Fonda and Jack Lemmon (both Oscar-nominated) and Michael Douglas (who also produced). Fonda's role, as TV newswoman who investigates the cover-up of a near-disaster at a nuclear power plant in California, certainly suited the actress during her years of political activism, and the film received a huge profile boost being released only a week before the infamous near-nuclear meltdown at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Some parallels to the mysterious 1974 death of nuclear facility health activist Karen Silkwood can be seen in the screenplay (in fact, this and Mike Nichols' 1983 film Silkwood would make a great double-bill).
Posted by John Harrison at 5:15 PM
Thursday, February 25, 2016
Decided to take another look at John Carpenter's Starman (1984) last night. Never one of my favourite Carpenter films but not having seen it for many years I have to say I really enjoyed it. A movie that had been in development for some years, apparently John Badham was originally slated to direct but left the project after he saw E.T. and decided the stories were too similar, leaving the door open for Carpenter to come in and direct a somewhat different film than he was known for at the time (after helming the likes of Halloween, The Fog, Christine and The Thing). It's certainly a simplistic story, but works wonderfully due to its lead performances. Jeff Bridges earned a deserved Oscar nomination for his role as an alien visitor who comes to Earth and assumes the form of a deceased person and slowly discovers what it is like to be human, but he is matched by Karen Allen, who is also terrific as the young widow coming to grips with seeing the form of her recently-killed husband suddenly walking around and talking again, and learning how to fall in love once more. Great performance also by Charles Martin Smith as a government scientist trying to help the Starman avoid capture and probable vivisection. One of Carpenter's last really great films before things started to slowly go south for him.
Posted by John Harrison at 11:23 PM
Saturday, February 20, 2016
A great old true crime magazine I was happy to find the other day for a couple of dollars. Put out in April of 1978 by exploitation publisher Myron Fass, it covers the notorious Hillside Strangler case which had been terrorising women in the Los Angeles area throughout the previous six months. At the time of its publication, it was still assumed that a lone killer was responsible, but when the case was finally cracked in early 1979 it was revealed that it was a pair of cousins, Angelo Buono and Kenneth BIanchi, who had been abducting and murdering the women while presenting themselves as undercover cops. This magazine is fairly typical of the lurid true crime tabloid magazines that were popular on the newsstands for decades.
The Hillside Stranglers case was the subject of several movies, one of which, the 1989 telemovie The Case of the Hillside Stranglers (starring Dennis Farina, Billy Zane and Richard Crenna) I have reviewed as one of my contributions to the upcoming Headpress book on American TV movies of the 1970's - 90's, which should hopefully appear later this year.
Posted by John Harrison at 7:21 PM
As work continues at a good pace on the Marneen L. Fields autobiography which I am helping her to write and design (Cartwheels & Halos), a terrific and in-depth interview with Marneen has just been published in the London-based CVH 1st Class Magazine, in which Marneen discusses her life, career and work, as well as the forthcoming book. The interview ends with a little contribution from myself, discussing what initially drew me into the project. You can access the article/interview, which starts on page 46, at the following link:
Posted by John Harrison at 7:09 PM
Wednesday, February 17, 2016
Last night's viewing was Calum Waddell's 2015 documentary 42nd Street Memories: The Rise and Fall of America's Most Notorious Street, which is included as one of the special features on the new Grindhouse blu-ray release of Pieces. I'd love to see a documentary someday that actually focuses on the people who ran and supplied films to those great 42nd street cinemas, but 42nd Street Memories was a fine and entertaining 80 minute documentary that has various notables sharing their stories of visiting the area and the movie palaces there during its seedy heyday of the late-1960's to mid-1980's, with lots of great photos and vintage film clips (mostly sourced from old exploitation films that were shot in the area). Some of the talking heads sharing their amusing and/or interesting memories and observations include Richard W. Haines, Greydon Clark, Joe Dante, Jeff Lieberman, Frank Henenlotter, Lynn Lowry, Debbie Rochon, Veronica Hart, Roy Frumkes, Buddy Giovinazzo and others. I felt like taking a long cleansing bath after watching it, so I guess the documentary did its job.
Posted by John Harrison at 1:44 AM