Saturday, December 28, 2013

FOLLOWING DREAMS

Recently caught-up with a couple of old CBC St. Kilda school mates Thanis Akritidis and Richard Reynolds for a pre-Christmas Malaysian meal at Chinta Ria Soul in Acland St. Was great to chat about simpler days and all that has happened since. Thanis and I were the big KISS fans at school, even when the band’s popularity was starting to wane in this country and we copped a lot of crap from classmates (Richard was more the studly Disco Stu of CBC rather than a hard rocker). Thanis took his love of hard rock very seriously, going on to write the regular Hard & Heavy column for Melbourne’s Beat newspaper, and fronting several bands, including Knight in the mid-eighties and Frozen Tears in the 90s. 

Listening to Frozen Tears’ 1997 album, Silence of the Night, and you can see Thanis has taken his teenage influences into his music. Silence of the Night is a slickly-produced slice of mostly original melodic hard rock numbers, with a cover of the KISS classic Strutter thrown in. There’s some nice guitar work from John Powers to complement Thanis’ enthusiastic vocals, and some synth thrown in to give it all a bit of a classic 1980s feel. I’d personally like to hear the songs with a bit more meat on the guitar licks and less reverb on some of the vocals, but listening to Silence of the Night made me smile, and it’s always heartening when I see an old friend following their dreams and passions.



TERROR IN THE AISLES

Have been watching Terror in the Aisles, a 1984 documentary on horror/thriller cinema hosted by Donald Pleasence and Nancy Allen (it's included as a bonus on the US 30th anniversary Blu-ray of Halloween II). It features a nice (and nicely edited) collection of clips, mostly from 1970s/early-80s genre cinema, and pretty much all American titles (though I did spot a brief clip from Suspiria towards the end). Some of the interconnecting scenes of the cinema audience are amusing - I like the sweaty guy in the leather jacket, three day growth and wearing his sunglasses inside the theatre, and the two seedy Chicanos who yell at the screen while watching Jamie Lee Curtis being terrorised in Halloween ("No, no, baby! Get out of there babeeeeeeyyyyy!"). Now I want to re-watch Ms. 45, Alone in the Dark and Vice Squad (and predictably, I don't have any of these films at hand). 


THE FACE OF HORROR

One of the most haunting and nightmare-inducing faces I have ever seen in all of horror cinema - the deceased clairvoyant from Mario Bava’s 1963 compendium horror Black Sabbath (aka The Three Faces of Fear). I can only imagine how disturbed I would have been by this face if I had first seen the movie as a kid (I was in my twenties before I obtained a VHS of Black Sabbath - and even then, that face was horrific enough to me). It’s a superb piece of cinematic make-up for its time, but it’s just one of the many elements that make Black Sabbath such a masterpiece of terror. 

Watching it again at 2am on Boxing Day (filled with more than a little Christmas cheer), the film remains as seductive an experience as ever - dripping with atmosphere, boasting a most beautiful colour palette, and featuring a trio of stories (based on tales by Tolstoi, Snyder and Chekov) that are so tightly constructed and packed with giallo tension (the first segment, The Telephone), gothic horror (The Wurdalak, featuring Boris Karloff in superbly scary form) and outright terror (The Drop of Water, as much a psychological horror story as it is a supernatural one). It’s as effective aurally as it is visually, and even the little gag ending with Karloff adds to the unique charm of the film - it doesn’t diminish the horror of what has preceeded it, but it does help remind us that what we are watching are just dark fairy tales, and for his fans it provides a wonderful little glimpse into how Mario Bava was able to utilise ideas and creativity to achieve so much using so little. One of those rare anthology horror films where there is no weak link.


Monday, December 23, 2013

BAVA'S BOW

Had a watch of Blue Underground’s 2007 DVD release of Mario Bava’s Shock (1977) in the wee hours this morning. This is another one of those films I have previously only ever seen on VHS (I still have my Aussie ex-rental of it on the K&C label, under its alternate title of Beyond the Door II). I believe this was Bava’s last completed film (he died in 1980), and while it may not be the perfect genre epitaph from a man whose unique style, amazing visual flair and re-defining of horror/fantasy conventions resulted in such classics as Black Sunday (1960), Blood & Black Lace (1964), Planet of the Vampires (1965), Danger: Diabolik (1968) and many more, Shock still has more than enough moments to remind you that a master is at work. 


A paranormal horror in the Stephen King mould, but with a clear psychological edge and a few giallo-esque touches thrown in, Shock seems less like a classic Bava film and more an indication of the style that lay ahead for Italian genre films of the late-seventies/early-eighties. This could be partly due to the fact that Mario Bava’s son, Lamberto, co-wrote the screenplay and directed a number of the film’s scenes for his father (Lamberto would go on to helm such 80s giallo and horror flicks as A Blade in the Dark, Demons, Demons 2 and Delirium). Shock has moments of intense atmosphere, a couple of gruesome killings that still made me wince, and some typically clever (yet simply executed) in-camera tricks which really help elevate the film in terms of style and class. The Bava father/son combination seems to have lent the film a nice mixture of bloody modern horror with old-school ambience and menace.

Daria Nicolodi is wonderful as the female lead, I’ve rarely seen her looking more beautiful and her mental disintegration over the course of the film is handled quite well. As the young boy Marco, David Colin Jr. manages to convey a sense of genuine evil at times, he has a very disturbing, creepy stare, and the scenes of him spying on his mother while she is taking a shower, pinning her down playfully on the lawn then staring at her with a clear sense of sexual menace, and stealing her panties and slicing them up, all help give the film a rather dark sexual kink that adds to its downbeat feel.

The back of the Blue Underground DVD says the soundtrack is by Goblin, but it’s actually by I Libra. It’s terrific though, and certainly sounds a lot like Goblin, and I believe there are some connections between Goblin and I Libra (Italian soundtrack enthusiasts feel free to enlighten). Unfortunately the DVD doesn’t offer English subtitles for the Italian language print, so I had to watch the English dubbed version. Doesn't seem to be on Blu-ray as yet, from what I can see...


Friday, December 20, 2013

PROPHECHY: THE MONSTER MOVIE

When I first saw John Frankenheimer’s Prophecy (1979), I was probably a little too young to really grasp the film’s environmental themes, or even find them of much interest or significance. I was a Monster Kid, and I wanted monsters, not preaching. Rewatching it for the first time as an adult, I find the film’s ecological aspects - along with the major sub-plot involving Native American land rights - to be the most engrossing thing about it, which is good as its moments of horror and scares are pretty scarce during the first hour, and are not always memorable or effective. There is however, a classic over-the-top sleeping bag death, and a genuinely tense sequence where the main protagonists are hiding in a dirt tunnel, listening to the monster’s rampage, and the screams of the people it is killing just on top of them.

The monster in question, an angry giant bear mutated by mercury leaking into the water from a large milling plant, is certainly a gruesome looking creature, though it has no real character to it, and moves a little silly and unrealistically to be genuinely menacing. One of those monsters which is most effective when shown the least. Not one of Tom Burman’s best creations, although the baby mutant bear is great - I felt some genuine sympathy for it.

Robert Foxworth puts in a great, deadly serious and highly watchable performance as the earnest, big city doctor investigation the mutations in the forests of Maine - he’s like a super-intense Robert (Mike Brady) Reed. Providing good support are Armand Assante, Talia Shire and the terrific Richard A. Dysart. The screenplay, and accompanying paperback tie-in, were written by The Omen’s David Seltzer. Filmed in British Columbia, Canada, the film also looks beautiful, capturing some spectacular natural scenery. Would love to see a Blu-ray upgrade of this someday.

The Simpsons paid homage to the atmospheric scene in Prophecy where the monster crosses a river and appears to drown, only to slowly emerge on the other side, much to the horror of the main characters (in The Simpsons, it is Bart who watches in horror as Principal Skinner crosses a river in the same way, while trying to catch Bart playing hooky).

Now I feel like rewatching the other Native American-themed horror movie from 1979, Arthur Hiller’s Nightwing (another film I haven’t seen since its release).


THE NIGHT HE CAME BACK HOME

Universal’s 30th anniversary Blu-ray of Rick Rosenthal’s Halloween II (1981) certainly looks wonderful, but the improvement in picture and sound quality haven’t done much to improve my overall view of the film as a pretty lackluster and unexciting follow-up to John Carpenter’s original 1978 classic. It’s good that original stars Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasence returned, but Curtis is virtually wasted as she spends nearly the first hour of the film lying almost comatose in bed, while the indestructible Michael Myers embarks on a killing spree through the halls of the most under-staffed (and under-lit) three-story hospital I have ever seen. Only during the final ten minutes does the film really display and genuine style, tension or mood.

I recall this film getting a lot of negative flack when it was released. I’m sure there were people who had already decided to hate it as soon as they fund out that Carpenter was not returning to direct (he does take co-writer, co-producer and music credits). I think one of the main problems with Halloween II is that there is really nothing, apart from it’s name and established characters, that distinguishes it from the glut of slasher films that had come out during 1980/81. It helps reinforce just how exceptional Halloween was, and how hard it was going to be for any sequel to measure up (though personally I always preferred the trashy fun of the Friday the 13th series to the Halloween and Elm St. films when I was growing-up).
 
 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Saturday, December 7, 2013

CELLULOID HORROR

 
Over the past decade, Canadian Kier-La Janisse has emerged as one of the most interesting and insightful genre writers going around. From her contributions to publications like Fangoria and Rue Morgue to her outstanding book House of Psychotic Women: An Autobiographical Topography of Female Neurosis in Horror and Exploitation Films (FAB Press/2012), Janisse writes with an authority, honesty and freshness that is hard not to get swept-up in.
 
Directed by Ashley Fester, Celluloid Horror is a 2004 documentary which captures Janisse’s crusade to expose the filmgoers of Canada to some of the more obscure, subversive, arty and just plain confrontational extremes of horror cinema, via her CineMuerte (‘Cinema of Death’) film festivals, which she programmed and ran between 1999 & 2005. From Andrzej Zulawski's disturbing 1981 arthouse classic Possession to crowd pleasers like the riotous 1982 Spanish splatterfest Pieces, CineMuerte often challenged its audience into expanding their concepts of what a horror movie is, and garnering a mix of extreme reactions in the process (from verbal abusiveness over choice of films to people fainting over the - admittedly very hard to take - animal footage from Cannibal Holocaust).
 
Barely scrapping by financially, and fighting a lack of interest from much of the local press, CineMuerte nevertheless expands in subsequent years, bringing in guests like cult Eurotrash actor Udo Kier, French surrealist horror filmmaker Jean Rollin, Jorge (Nekromantik) Buttgereit, Buddy (Combat Shock) Giovinazzo, and Jeff Leiberman, director of two of my favourite mid-70s genre films, Squirm and Blue Sunshine. The sequences with Udo Kier are great fun, particularly when he agrees to help doing a live spontaneous voice-over for a film when the subtitles don’t work. The stresses of running a film festival are also clearly evident, from worries that the ailing Rollin might die while in attendance to the usual frantic dealing with sudden sound drop-outs during screenings. Janisse tackles any setbacks or issues the way she approaches the festival itself, with an energy and dogged determination that the viewer can’t help but admire.
 
Like her book House of Psychotic Women, Celluloid Horror is almost as much an insight into Janisse’s personal life and sometimes troubled upbringing as it is a testament to her devotion and love of genre cinema, and the film is all the more involving because of it. Spending her time between two fathers (whom she dubs ‘George C. Scott dad’ and ‘Warren Oates dad’), Kier-La talks of her teenage days spent in reform school (where she was deemed "not crazy but dangerous"), and goes through a marriage and subsequent separation during the course of the filming, leading to some uncomfortable moments being captured on camera (Celluloid Horror is a very personal film in many ways - at her introduction to the recent Melbourne screening Janisse admitted that it’s only been since the publication of her book that she has become comfortable with watching and publicly screening the documentary again).
 
There’s an ample amount of choice film clips included throughout Celluloid Horror - all great clips without doubt, but I found they actually took the pace out of the film and become the least interesting thing about it (I guess it also doesn’t help that we are now much more familiar with the films in question than we might have been at the time CineMuerte were screening them).
 
Celluloid Horror is available on DVD from Breed Productions, in a release that contains a nice selection of extras, including an audio commentary from the director, extended scenes (I love Kier-La’s amusing Sleepaway Camp Vs. Screwballs story), a 30 minute Q&A with Udo Kier, an episode of Urban Rush featuring Kier and Kier-La, Jeff Lieberman’s post-Squirm Q&A, photo gallery and more. The copy I purchased after the Melbourne screening also contained a series of postcards featuring the poster art for the CineMuerte events over the years, and best of all, a cool little microchip installed, so that when you open the cover you hear the voice of Udo saying "Where is Keir-La/ I’m going to kill her!", as well as a couple of other snippets of dialogue from the film. The spirit of William Castle lives...
 
 
Above: Meeting Kier-La after the Melbourne screening of Celluloid Horror on Wednesday, Dec. 4th 2013.

ZOMBIE'S LORDS

Finally making its Australian debut (straight to Blu-ray/DVD in an absolutely bare bones release), it would be hard to recommend The Lords of Salem(2012) to anyone but the most completest horror buff or die-hard Rob Zombie fan. Zombie’s first original live-action feature since The Devil's Rejects (2005), The Lords of Salem contains very little of the violent grindhouse frisson or outrageous comic book characterisations that made Rejects (and Zombie’s first feature, 2003's House of 1000 Corpses) so much fun. Not that I want Zombie to keep making the same type of film - far from it - but this tale of a female radio DJ (Sheri Moon Zombie) caught up in witchcraft in modern day Salem has plenty of visual flair and atmosphere but an uninvolving (and paper-thin) plot, flat characters and a decided lack of scares. Only during the film’s final 15 or so minutes does it really gel and come alive, with a pretentiously cerebral but effectively trippy montage that contains some of the disturbing imagery which the rest of the film lacked.
 
As usual, Zombie fills The Lords of Salem with cameos and bit parts from a number of familiar exploitation/horror faces from the 1970s and 80s, including Dee Wallace (Cujo, The Howling), Ken Foree (Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, From Beyond), Patricia Quinn (Rocky Horror Picture Show), Judy Geeson (Inseminoid), Bruce Davison (Willard, X-Men) and Meg Foster (They Live).
 
Ultimately, The Lords of Salem comes off as an interesting but misguided attempt at experimental/art house horror, and does very little to change my thoughts about Zombie as a filmmaker. He clearly has a genuine love for the horror/exploitation genres, has a decent amount of visual flair, and knows how to dream-up some wild plots and memorably crazed characters. But he desperately needs a good co-writer to help make his plots tighter and his characters more defined (and restrained in places). And I think it’s time for him to ditch casting his wife Sheri Moon in the leading female role in his movies. No offense to Sheri Moon, she looks great and is usually fine when she has help from an ensemble cast, but in The Lords of Salem the film hinges quite a bit on her performance, and she doesn’t seem strong enough to carry a film on her own. Of course, her thinly written character would not have been much help to her - Caroline Williams in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and Adrienne Barbeau in The Fog did the horror movie late-night disc jockey thing much, much better.
 

Friday, November 29, 2013

NEL PAPERBACK NASTIES

Any lovers of Hip Pocket Sleaze, especially the vintage UK variety, should enjoy this terrific BBC documentary from 1996, which looks at the lurid pulps published in the early-seventies by New English Library (NEL), with particular emphasis on their infamous line of skinhead and biker titles. Apart from interviewing anthology editor Peter Haining and author Peter Cave (Mumma, Speed Freaks, Chopper), the documentary also serves as a biography of sorts of the late James Moffat, who under the name Richard Allen authored some of NEL’s most famous and collectable titles, including Skinhead, Knuckle Girls, Boot Boys, Mod Rule, Glam and Punk Rock (he also penned the paperback tie-in of 1976’ Queen Kong under his real name). Moffat’s widow is interviewed (I love that she has his last half-empty pack of Dorchester cigarettes still sitting next to his ashes on her mantlepiece), and there’s some great archival footage of the hard-drinking, prolific jobbing writer from a 1972 television interview.
 
 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

MONSTER ART

 
 
Couple of stunning pieces of original Dave Warren art that showed up earlier this week as thanks for featuring him on my blog a while ago. Will be framing these and finding a prime spot to display them asap...My piece on Dave's art and obsessions can be found here:
 

40 YEARS OF TURNING HEADS

Was great to be in the front row at the Nova for the screening of The Exorcist (1973) to open Monsterfest 2013 last Thursday night. Linda Blair did an energetic and entertaining introduction, though she had to put up with the usual inane questions from the audience ("What star sign are you?"). The film itself looked (and sounded) stunning on the big screen, though I wish it had been the original theatrical version and not the extended Director's Cut. I haven't seen the original cut in a cinema since 1982, when the Capitol in Swanston St paired it with Friday the13th (1980) for a couple of weeks run. It was the first time I was old enough to see either of them, so it was a great introduction to two completely differing styles of popular modern horror cinema...I came back to see that double another three times before it finished its brief run.
 
Earlier that day, I was lucky enough to meet Linda Blair and have her sign a few pieces of memorabilia for me.
 
 


CORRUPT CUSHING

What a sleazy little slice of swingin’ 60s pop madness Robert Hartford-Davis’ Corruption (1968) is. Like Jess Franco’s later Faceless (1987), Corruption is a lurid and seedy riff on Georges Franju’s beautifully haunting and atmospheric Les Yeux Sans Visage/Eyes Without a Face (1960). As the brilliant surgeon pushed to the extremes of violent obsession in his effort to restore the horribly burned face of his beautiful young wife, Peter Cushing gives an incredible, sweaty performance that would have to rank as one of the most intense and off-beat of his career. When he is eyeing-up a potential victim sitting in front of him on the train, his face generates genuine unnerve and menace. After a chase across white seaside cliffs, the plot escalates wildly, with a home invasion by a group of New English Library-style counterculture bullies and an out of control surgery laser. The cool jazzy lounge soundtrack by Bill McGuffie, under-lit interiors and distorted camera lens techniques, along with much of its general ambience, helps give Corruption a more European feel than many British genre films of that period. Surrounding Cushing are Sue Lloyd, Wendy Varnals, New Zealand-born Noel Trevarthen, and a couple of future Hammer starlets, Kate O’Mara (Horror of Frankenstein, The Vampire Lovers) and Valerie Van Ost (The Satanic Rites of Dracula). The director’s son, Scott Hartford-Davis, works in Australia and has directed over 350 episodes of the popular night time soapie Home & Away over the last ten years.
 
The new Grindhouse Blu-ray/DVD set of Corruption is a treat, offering both the uncut UK/US version and an International version, which I haven’t yet watched but I believe it ups the nastiness and nudity a little. The restoration and transfer look spectacular and really do justice to Peter Newbrook’s lovely cinematography (which captures both cramped tension and beautiful countryside), and there’s a nice range of extras included that make this a worthy release to celebrate a memorable but rather obscure and under-discussed performance by a great actor in what would have been the year of his one hundredth birthday.
 
I need to hunt down a copy of the film tie-in paperback of Peter Saxon's novel to add to the library...
 
 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

COUNTERCULTURE PULPS



STICKING IT TO THE MAN!
By Iain McIntyre
(2012/The Leda Tape Organisation/Aus/80 pages)
 
Compiled by Western Australian born (now Melbourne based) writer/musician/radio host Iain McIntyre, Sticking it to the Man! takes a look at some of the best (and worst) vintage paperback pulp that was inspired by the counterculture period of 1964-75. One of the most sweeping periods of political, sexual, cultural and racial unrest during the 20th century, the counterculture created a melting pot of ingredients which many of the more salubrious publishers (along with filmmakers) found ripe for exploitation - from marijuana and LSD to psychotic hippies and their freelovin’ chicks, from campus protests and Hells Angels on wheels to the Black Panthers and riots on Sunset Strip, there was plenty happening for youth to get aroused over, and plenty for the older generations to get scared shitless about.
 
Broken up into general subcategories (Power to the People!, Better Living Trough Chemistry, Freaksploitation, Ghetto Blues, etc.), Sticking it to the Man! reviews over 120 paperback titles from this period. Some highlights include BB Johnson’s series of Superspade adventures, Patrick Morgan’s surf thrillers (Girl in the Telltale Bikini, Beach Queen Blowout, Cute and Deadly Surf Twins) and Ann Fettaman’s Trashing (which McIntyre tried to organise a reprinting of back in the 2000s, only to discover it was a dying wish of Fettaman’s that the book never see print again). Many of the reviews are presented as a single short paragraph, but there are also a number of titles which are looked at more in-depth (with McIntyre clarifying in his introduction that the longer reviews are not so much a sign of a book’s importance or quality, but more an indication of how much he simply enjoyed it or found something within its pages to particularly pique his interest). There is the usual selection of New English Library (NEL) biker novels, alongside some surprising inclusions, such as John Godey’s The Taking of Pelham 123 and Malcom Hulke’s Doctor Who adventure Doctor Who and the Green Death, but McIntyre certainly makes a case for warranting their inclusion by tying their themes and ideologies to the spirit of the times.
 
Heavily illustrated (in B&W) with many great covers (both illustrated and photographic), Sticking it to the Man! is an essential purchase for vintage paperback collectors, and anyone with an interest in the social history of the period.
 
 
 
Ian McIntyre Interview:
  
What first piqued your interest in vintage paperbacks?
 
Fiction wise my main interests are hardboiled crime and dystopian sci-fi. Discovering what existed beyond the well-thumbed classics originally got me interested in vintage titles.
 
I’m not generally a collector in terms of owning original items. I tend to read or listen to or watch things and then pass them on to others who I think will enjoy them, hoping they’ll do the same in turn. As the years have gone by I’ve learnt the value of archiving stuff however, not least because it’s a pain when you go back to read a particular novel only to discover it’s no longer available anywhere. Also when I originally became interested in these novels I discovered that, until Creation reissued them, the only way to read a Mick Norman biker book was to track down an original copy, and this remains true for things like Ann Fettaman’s Yippie novel Trashing. The internet is obviously changing this and I’m constantly amazed that obscure hobo novels from the 1920s that were only located in one or two university libraries and previously inaccessible to the public can now be found or purchased online along with rare bootlegs, blues 78s, etc.
 
Regardless of this someone still needs to catalogue, document, scan, etc. the stuff in the first place. With this in mind I started hanging onto novels that covered 1960s and 1970s subcultures because, other than some of the New Wave Sci-Fi stuff, few of them were still in circulation. I also noticed, compared to the music and films of the era or crime novels of the 1930s-50s, that there were no guides and little coverage beyond the Biker books, even amongst academic obscurantists. I thought it might be worthwhile to document these novels at some point, if only so people could see the amazing cover artwork and read about the outré plots and themes.
 
What is it about the counterculture genre that attracts you in particular? Does it stem from an interest in other forms of art from this period (music, cinema, etc.)?
 
I have an abiding fascination for cultural, musical and political troublemakers and oddballs from every era so documenting and celebrating their lives and creations has been a natural focus for my writing and radio shows. I’m not sure why, maybe it’s the sheer volume of activity that was going on then or the particular mix of freakery and radicalism, but the culture of the 1960s and early 1970s has always been of particular interest.
 
In terms of fiction I also find this period intriguing because there are simply so many books that exploit or address seditious, bizarre and rebellious subcultures. This is partially because the social upheaval of this period coincided with the last gasp of the mass paperback. It’s also because the experimentalism of the margins pushed its way into the mainstream as new audiences opened up for books that either pushed the boundaries or exploited and condemned those doing so.
 
Although beatniks, hoboes, etc. had generated a lot of their own novels, or provided grist for pulp hacks to chew on, the influence of psychedelics and radical politics transformed sci-fi and had a major impact on the kind of topics and protagonists that other genres dealt with. Writers like Brautigan, Ellison and Le Guin got the opportunity to produce ground-breaking work that was made widely available via mainstream publishers. Of course you also had low-brow porn, crime, thriller, teen and youthsploitation pulp novelists whose over the top and highly inaccurate takes on the counterculture and drug experiences generally make for hard-hitting and/or hilarious reading today. Even where the writing is execrable, the covers are often fabulous as this was still a period in which as much effort often went into the jackets as the text.
 
One thing that always surprised me is that there was never really a proliferation of Vietnam war themed paperbacks at the time. There were a few softcore sleaze titles like Vietnam Vixen, Viet-Nookie and even the gay title The Killer Queens, and some books had Vietnam vets as their protagonists, but it seemed to be an issue that even the paperback publishers wanted to stay away from.
 
Yes, although there have been plenty of combat novels written by veterans and genre writers since the late 1970s there were probably more novels about anti-war protesters than soldiers during the conflict itself. It may be that a certain period of time has to pass before people start writing novels about particular wars, but from the beginning there was an air of illegitimacy about the Vietnam war that intensified into complete unpopularity by the late 1960s/early 1970s. Unlike the "good" wars of the past there wasn’t much to glorify, particularly as after the Tet Offensive of 1968 it was clear that the US and its allies were not going to win. As you indicate though the figure of the hardened Vietnam-vet was already a fixture in crime novels and thrillers by the early ‘70s, particularly in the Vigilante field that took off around that time.
 
Sticking it to the Man! focuses primarily on fiction paperbacks, did you ever consider incorporating some of the many non-fiction titles from that period which purported to lift the lid on the counterculture (and were often little more than works of fiction themselves)?
 
Given that Sticking it to the Man! is as much about the book jackets as the writing I certainly did as some of the non-fiction publications have the most eye-popping covers of all. This is true of both the stuff that was written by people actively involved in radical politics, the counterculture and the "permissive society" as well as those writing exposes about them. I decided in the end though that I also wanted to discuss the plots and writers that non-fiction should be left out and maybe covered in a separate project one day.
 
I’ve often wondered what a future generation would make of the sixties if all they had to go on was mass market paperbacks and exploitation movies from the period…
 
Probably a more outré version of the mainstream version that has been pushed since the 1980s- a shallow focus on the colourful clothes, music and drugs with most of the ethnic, political and internal diversity and conflict stripped out.
 
What is your favourite sub-genre of the counterculture paperacks? Are there other genres of paperbacks that you have an interest in beyond those covered in Sticking it to the Man!?
 
I have to say that all the books and sub-genres covered in Sticking it to the Man! appeal to me in some way, even just for the covers. The cringe-worthiness of some of the teen novels and the misogyny of many of the Biker novels can make them somewhat hard to plough through however. Although the writing is bad, but generally not quite bad enough to make it funny, the amazing covers, and the fact that there was enough of an audience to enable him to produce ten surfing secret agent novels, make Patrick Morgan’s Operation Hang Ten series a fave.
 
As mentioned earlier I enjoy a lot of Crime Noir and thanks to various websites and online sellers it’s now possible to track down some of the more obscure writers and titles from the 1930s-60s. I tend to pick up anything that relates to subcultures so I have a few punk and beatnik related novels. Over the last decade I’ve also been tracking down fiction and articles about Hoboes from the 1880s to 1940s. Although non-fiction and academic works are published regularly very little of the original writing they reference is available. To help remedy this I’m currently in the process of finishing an anthology of pieces from the classic era that will come out through Verse Chorus Press in the next year or two.
 
In your introduction, you talk about having amassed a collection of around 300 paperbacks, mainly through trawling used bookstores and car boot sales, etc. Is this still your preferred method for seeking out these books? I have to admit, as much as I love eBay and the like when I am trying to obtain a particular title, I still find something special in the simple act of scouring through the shelves of op shops and used bookstores, waiting for that previously unheard-of title to leap out at you. The distinctive smell of a sed bookstore is still one of my favourite aromas.
 
I’ve picked up the odd book via online sellers as the pickings are getting thinner with the passage of time, but I still prefer to discover titles at random or have friends surprise me with things they pass on. Book exchanges are long gone and second-hand bookstores are disappearing in Australia and elsewhere, but there are still plenty of op shops, school fetes, market stalls, etc. to hunt around.
 
Any plans to write a follow-up volume?
 
Yes, depending on how much interest people show in this one. Sticking it to the Man! originally began as a website in the early 2000s. After an initial flurry of reviewing and scanning I got side-tracked with other projects. I’d always wanted to do a print publication about this stuff so when Simon from Ledatape talked to me about doing a book together it gave me the impetus to scan my favourite covers and finish all the half written reviews. I had considered including more reviews and covers, but as the Melbourne anarchist bookfair was coming up, and I didn’t want to drag it out any longer, we made that event the deadline and just got the thing done.
 
As a result this volume only covers120-130 books and barely scrapes the surface of what’s out there. I’ve caught the reviewing bug again and if there is a second volume I’d like to include some interviews and in-depth profiles covering the writers, publishers and cover artists, as you’ve done with Hip Pocket Sleaze. Alternatively I might do a bunch of interviews as a summer series for Community Radio 3CR.
 
What is the one vintage paperback title that you think belongs on everyone’s shelf?
 
Too hard to pick one, but if I was reading this stuff for the first time then I’d start with Mick Norman’s collected Angel Chronicles, Hunter S Thompson’s Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas (supposedly auto-biographical I know, but more fiction than not), any of Richard Brautigan’s books, John Brunner’s The Sheep Look Up, Robert Stone’s Dog Soldiers and Sam Greenlee’s The Spook Who Sat By The Door. Oh, and of course, Malcolm Hulke’s Doctor Who and the Green Death.
 
Barring those already adapted, what book covered in Sticking it to the Man! would you most like to see as a feature film?
 
With today’s effects and budgets I think Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War would make an amazing film. In terms of sci-fi it’s the anti-Starship Troopers (although Verhoeven’s film version of Heinlein’s book did a good of filling that role itself). If we could back in time to the era of the Peacekillers and Psychomania then Mick Norman’s Guardian Angels -- in which standard issue Hell’s Angels duke it out with an ultra-camp, satin attired glam biker gang -- would make a great Z-grade flick.
 
*******
 
Other books by Iain McIntyre include Wild About You: The Sixties Beat Explosion in Australia and New Zealand (Verse Chrous Press, 2009) and Tomorrow Is Today: Australia In The Psychedelic Era, 1966-70 (Wakefield Press, 2006).
 
 

HAMMER'S PRIMAL PAST & SWINGIN' FUTURE

 
Had an afternoon going from the past to the future with this double-bill from Hammer Films. Adapted from a treatment by J. G. Ballard, When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1970) isn’t as entertaining or well-made as Hammer’s earlier prehistoric epic, One Million Years, B.C. (1966), but Victoria Vetri makes an impressive cave gal (or hut gal, as is the case here), there’s some nice stop-motion animation from Jim Danforth, and an effectively rousing climax featuring attack by giant crab and a destructive luna tidal wave.
 
Roy Ward Baker’s Moon Zero Two (1969) is a strange film - a swingin’ sixties sci-fi adventure satire with classic western motifs. I like the animated opening titles and Julie Driscoll’s theme song, and there’s some great pop designs and style on display, along with the lovely Catherine Schell and Adrienne Corri from Vampire Circus (1972), but the film’s tonal shifts are too severe for the film to work as a whole. The Green Slime (1968) was a much more effective dose of 60s sci-fi pop. A Carry On performer appeared in both of the films on this disc - Imogen Hassall in Dinosaurs and Bernard Bresslaw in Moon Zero Two.
 
 

Friday, November 15, 2013

THE THRILL OF THE THROWAWAY

This piece by Andrew Netter on vintage Australian paperback pulps, for which I was interviewed, appeared in the Life and Style section of the Melbourne Age newspaper last Saturday (the 9th of November) .
 
 

RECENT HAMMER: THE WOMAN IN BLACK (2012)

I didn’t read that many good things about James Watkins' The Woman in Black, the 2012 horror movie from the ‘new’ Hammer Films, that made me want to rush to see it when it was first released. Finally watched the blu-ray of it late last night, and while I appreciate the attempt at doing an old-fashioned gothic ghost story, I found the results were rather hit and miss.
 
The film certainly looks beautiful - it doesn’t share the lurid gaudy colour palate of many of the classic old Hammer Horrors, but instead has a very bleak, muted look, a style which has become overly used today, but certainly suits the story and locations in this instance (the Osea Island causeway in Essex makes for a stunningly stark and haunting locale) . There’s plenty of ambience and spooky atmosphere but very little in Jane Goldman’s screenplay to really draw you into the plot, or even care a whole lot about the mystery that is at the centre of things (Goldman was much more effective as Matthew Vaughn’s co-writer on Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class). Likewise, the film is mostly well-acted but the characters just not very interesting. There are a handful of effective frights, but most of them are of the ‘quick shock’ variety and have very little impact on the characters or story.
 
One of the film’s biggest problems for me was Daniel Radcliffe - I have nothing against him particularly, I just don’t think he has grown into suitable leading man material. I feel he would be more likely to make an impact as an adult with some more off the wall supporting characters. Still, The Woman in Black did very well for Hammer, grossing over US $127 million worldwide on a budget of just $15 million, so the decision to cast Radcliffe certainly paid-off in a commercial sense.
 
A sequel, The Woman in Black: Angels of Death is currently in production, with Susan Hill (author of the original 1983 novel of The Woman in Black) helping on the story, which takes place in a military mental hospital during World War II. The Woman in Blackwas earlier adapted as a UK television drama in 1989, with a script by Quatermass creator Nigel Kneale, which I would like to see.
 
 

Saturday, November 2, 2013

BAVA GOES RABID

Having just watched Mario Bava’s RABID DOGS for the very first time, I am wondering what the hell took me so long. Filmed in 1974 but left unedited on the shelf until 1998, it is an amazing film. Often, when a lost or uncompleted work by a director is uncovered, the excitement of the actual payoff is less satisfying that the anticipation. That is certainly not the case here, with RABID DOGS  showing Bava in fine late-career form and more than able to hold his own against any up-and-coming young exploitation turk.

Built on the simple premise of a robbery gone bad and the desperate getaway in the hijacked car filled with hostages, RABID DOGS comes off like a fusion of the tough Euro-crime thriller with LAST HOUSE OF THE LEFT (1972), in that it shares a similar oppressive atmosphere and level of violence and depravity as Wes Craven’s confrontational classic (not to mention Don Backy’s Bisturi character is very Krug-like in his appearance and knife-edge temper, and there’s a sequence where he and one of his padres in crime - played by Eurotrash fave George Eastman - force their female kidnap victim to urinate in front of them, which is very reminiscent of a similar moment in LAST HOUSE).

With so much of the film taking place within the confines of a moving vehicle, Bava turns a potential limitation into one of the film’s strongest elements, giving it a stifling sense of claustrophobia and filming the actors in such extreme close-ups that they have no place to hide, exposing every detail in their faces and causing the audience to feel every bead of sweat that rolls down their brows and sense every grimy odour that must be radiating from their bodies. The violence is brutal and jarring, and the clever way in which it is filmed and edited is a nice demonstration of how the filmmaker was able to effectively compensate for not having the money to over-indulge in make-up effects. Likewise, the opening robbery is economical but exciting, and the ending is bleak and cynical and beautifully set-up.

I’m looking forward to watching the alternate cut of the film, titled KIDNAPPED, which includes additional scenes directed by Mario Bava’s son Lamberto in 1996, along with a new soundtrack (though I have to say that Stelvio Cipriani’s musical score in RABID DOGS - sparse and hypnotic - would be very hard to improve upon).
 
 


XEROX FEROX

Xerox Ferox has arrived! This massive new Headpress tome by John Walter Szpunar looks to be the definitive account of the horror/exploitation film fanzine movement of the 1980s/90s. Can't wait to get stuck into it...review to follow.
 

 

PRE-CODE COMIC BOOK DAMES

New ish of the cool Bachelor Pad magazine (#25) is now out, featuring my article on the good (and bad) girls of pre-code comic books.
 

 

REMEMBERING CINEFANTASTIQUE



The new issue (#31) of Richard Klemensen’s long-running magazine Little Shoppe of Horrors filed through my PO box today. Devoted primarily to classic British horror cinema (and the films of Hammer in particular), I spent the tram ride home ...being thoroughly absorbed in Tim Lucas’ wonderful piece on his time spent writing for the late Frederick S. Clarke’s highly influential Cinefantastique magazine. Writing his first piece for the magazine at the age of 15 (initially as a way to deal with a close friend’s suicide), Lucas, like many of his fellow contributors, had a lengthy (10 years) but sometimes rocky working relationship with Clarke which ended on a bitter note, but like most other people who also had run-ins with the publisher, he is never hesitant to give the magazine its fair share of praise and due credit. To many of that era (the early 1970s), Cinefantastique was the first pro-zine publication which treated genre cinema with the depth and respect it deserved (even if it was trashing a film as it did so). As a kid, I used to buy Cinefantastique from Space Age Books in Melbourne, and often imagined what exciting lives the people who put out magazines like that must have led. Decades later, it’s sobering but fascinating to learn the truth. Fred Clarke, who committed suicide in 2000 at the age of 52, was a troubled and difficult man, but the legacy he left behind continues to exert an influence - directly and indirectly - on the genre film writers and journalists of today.

Haven’t had a chance to look at the rest of the issue as yet (which includes pieces on the making of Hammer’s DEMONS OF THE MIND and the delirious 1970 monster schlock classic TROG), but the Cinefantastique piece is worth the cover price alone. And as is usual with Little Shoppe of Horrorsthese days, it is beautifully illustrated and has some gorgeous original art by the likes of Mark Maddox, Steve Karchin and Paul Watts.

www.littleshoppeofhorrors.com
 

 

KISS: THE EARLY (GOOD) YEARS

Started reading the new KISS bio Nothin' to Lose earlier this week. I give most new books on the band a miss, but was drawn to this one by the name Ken Sharp, who wrote the excellent Behind the Mask (a book that was originally written as a ...quickie mass-market paperback in 1979, then shelved when KISS’ popularity took a dive in the US that year, before being dusted off and tidied-up in 2003). Presented in the (overly?) familiar oral history format, Nothin' to Lose only covers the band’s classic formative years of 1972 - 1975, from their early days playing grimy dives in Queens to an audience of none, through constant tours in support of albums that barely sold, to the surprise multi-platinum success of KISS Alive! (their double-live album that was hardly live at all). Looking back, it’s amazing to think the band were able to pump out three studio albums and a double-live album, while barely staying off the road, within a space of just two years (though they were certainly far from being the only band who were prolific at putting out new material during the 1960s/70s).

A good read so far, with lots of input from former roadies, concert promoters, club owners, contemporaries and collaborators, and of course, the original band members themselves. Throw in lots of colour/B&W photos I can’t recall ever seeing before, and Nothin' to Lose already becomes a much-recommended book for fans of old-school KISS, even those who have become thoroughly jaded by the band over the two decades.

I do have to call Gene Simmons out, though, on his claim that the band’s signature breakthrough hit, Rock & Roll All Nite, was adapted from an earlier song he’d written called Drive My Car, which Simmons claims was inspired by the Stephen King novel CHRISTINE. Nice story - except Rock & Roll All Nite came out in 1975, and CHRISTINE wasn’t published until 1983! Gene never lets little things like facts get in the way of a good story...
 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

CROCKER SHOCKERS



Since the mid-1980s, New York denizen Keith J. Crocker has expressed his love of exploitation cinema in several different ways - as an editor/writer of The Exploitation Journal, as a lecturer and presenter of film screenings and retrospectives, as a distributor of rare movie titles through his Cinefear Video label, and as a producer, co-writer and director of his own low-budget feature films. While I have read (and admired) Crocker’s writings on the genre for some time, I have never had the chance to watch one of his features, until a couple of them filed through the mail box earlier this week, direct from the man himself in the US. I decided that 2am on a Saturday morning was a suitable time to sit-down and (hopefully) enjoy a double-feature of Crocker craziness. On the bill: The Bloody Ape (1997) and Blitzkrieg: Escape from Stalag 69 (2007).

Crocker’s first feature (after several years of making 16mm and Super 8 shorts), The Bloody Ape was filmed during 1992/93 but not edited and released until four years later, and is a sleazy adaptation of Poe’s Murders in the Rue Morgue, captured in a way which recalls the feel of the old poverty-row horror films produced by companies like Monogram and Republic in the 1940s, but with a more lurid and blatantly titillating edge. In Croker’s film, a carnival barker’s main attraction - a 400 pound male gorilla named Gorto - is set free from his chains to embark on a frenzied killing spree, unleashing his pent-up sexual aggression along the way. It takes a while for the story to really kick-in, but once Gorto claims his first victim (a hippie protestor who has his dick pulled off while taking a pee break) The Bloody Ape becomes an entertaining orgy of gory kills, sexy thrills, stupid cops, and racial stereotypes that might seem offensive to anyone who isn’t in on the whole gag.


As someone who loves both ‘men in gorilla suit’ movies and old carnivals/side-shows, it would be pretty hard for me not to dig The Bloody Ape. Throw in some Herschel Gordon Lewis-like gore, some nude girls and I’m sold. One of the things I like most about the film is the way Crocker captures a genuine early-70s 8mm porn/grindhouse seediness, without relying on the fake scratches and other cheap optical effects which many of the more recent homages to the genre fall back on (although these effect are used in the DVD’s making-of featurette). Crocker’s choice to film on out-of-date Super 8mm film stock, rather than the popular VHS of the day, was a wise one indeed, as the look of The Bloody Ape is one of its primary assets. The scenes filmed at a Nassau (New York) carnival help give the film a bit of scale and atmosphere, while also providing a great filmic record of some of the wonderfully gaudy attractions the carnival offered at the time. They also provide a nice nod to two of my own favourite carnival-set exploitation films: Ray Dennis Steckler’s The Incredibly Strange Craetures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies (1964) and Dave Friedman’s She-Freak (1967).

Blitzkrieg: Escape from Stalag 69 is a homage to classic prisoner of war camp films like Stalag 17 (1953), as well as yet another much-loved genre of low-budget cinema: the notorious Nazi-ploitation films of the 1970s, characterised by the likes of Lee Frost’s Love Camp 7 (1969), Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS (1975) and Italian productions such as Gestapo’s Last Orgy (1977). Set during the dying days of World War II in Germany, the film tells of a notorious POW camp run by Commandant Helmet Schultz and the twisted experiments he subjected his American, British and Russian prisoners to within its walls, all while the Third Reich crumbles around them.


Shot digitally, the film lacks the great grimy look of The Bloody Ape, and is not as overall enjoyable as that film, but it is certainly more impressively mounted and an ambitious film for Crocker, running at 135 minutes with lots of story and character, and a scope that you don’t always see in films of this budget (helped by the participation of 50 World War II recreationists). Apart from writing, producing and directing, Crocker also takes a role in front of the camera, playing an American POW with a New York attitude and actually doing it quite well. Despite the abundance of dialogue and exposition, there is still plenty of the grimy sort of tasteless torture and gratuitous sex & gore that fans specifically seek out this genre of film for. One of the most important elements of the Nazi-ploitation films was the women, and Croker doesn’t disappoint with his casting here, using some great faces (and bodies), including Natasa Warasch, Gordana Jenell, Tammy Dalton (as a cabaret dancer) and, especially, Tatyana Kott as Natasha, a sexy Russian freedom fighter who spends a lot of time tied-up or naked (often both at once) and at one point delivers a nice little nod to Meir Zarchi’s I Spit on Your Grave (1977). In fact, Kott reminds me quite a bit of Camille Keaton, the lead actress from Zarchi’s infamous rape-revenge film.

An entertaining double that suitably finished just as the first faint light of dawn started to show through the venetions, when reality seems blurred and you feel like you are one of those ‘twilight people’ that Ed Wood talked about in his screenplay for Orgy of the Dead.

The Bloody Ape and Blitzkrieg: Escape from Stalag 69 are both available on DVD from Wild Eye in the US, with each release carrying a nice range of extras, including commentaries, making-of featurettes, Q&A’s, short films, trailers and more. For more info visit the Cinefear website:

http://www.cinefear.com/home.html

 
 
 


 

COLLECTING JAWS

My latest article for Australia's Collectables Trader magazine is a look at JAWS memorabilia, to be published in their Nov/Dec issue.
 



 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

MANIAC (2012)

Franck Khalfoun's 2012 remake of William Lustig's 1980 grindhouse classic Maniac is a terrific example of a horror movie being successfully reimagined and not requiring a big studio budget to do so.
 
Possibly realising that it would be impossible to recapture the grimy Times Square seediness of the original, Khalfoun sets the remake in Los Angeles and gives the film a more digitally clean sheen, but the oppressive world of the lead character Frank Zito (Elijah Wood) and his rapid descent into psychosis is effectively captured by filming the majority of the movie from his point of view, so the only times we actually get to see the lead character on screen - a apart from a few brief isolated sequences - is when we catch his reflection in a mirror or on a television monitor. This POV style gives the film something of an early De Palma feel. The violence is brutal and startling, just as make-up maestro Tom Savini's notorious scalping effects shocked and outraged in the original.
 
Elijah Wood, so creepy in Sin City, is not as physically repulsive or intimidating as the late Joe Spinell, making his Zito more of a Ted Bundy type, in that females seem to find him attractive and safe to be around. And the relationship between Zito and young photographer Anna (Nora Arnezeder) is certainly more fleshed-out and believable than that between Spinell and Caroline Munro. Nice ambient score by Raphaël Hamburger, though not as memorable as Jay Chattaway's 1980 score. I liked the clever visual reference to the lurid and controversial poster art used to promote the original film. Lost its way a little bit towards the end, but overall I found this to be a rare remake that pays due tribute to the original while still managing to stand creatively and dramatically on its own.