Monthly Archives: February 2016

“A Literal Tornado Of Teeth”… DEADLIEST WARRIOR: VAMPIRES Vs ZOMBIES reviewed

Jello Man

Many’s the long Winter evening that Mrs F (Tess to her friends… Mrs Freudstein to you) and I have whiled away here at The House Of Freudstein, watching total garbage on Sky TV. Forgive And Forget with Mother Love… My 600-lb Life… 1000 Ways To Die… Ghost Hunting With The Happy Mondays… Beyond Belief: Fact Or Fiction with Jonathan Frakes… Monsters Inside Me… Ru Paul’s Drag Race… the list goes on and on… and on. One of our very favourite ways, though, to waste an hour of our legally conjoined lives, has been Deadliest Warrior, in which a team of over-excited nitwit presenters pit historical characters against each other in hypothetical combat, with modern technology evaluating the relative deadliness of their weaponry and a computer simulator ultimately deciding who’s… well, the deadliest warrior. It’s vicariously violent fantasy football for sedentary sofa spud sadists. Indeed, the deadliest barb we Freudsteins (masters of pedantry) could aim at our screen has been a sneering insistence that, on grammatical grounds, the show should really be known as Deadlier Warrior.

Certainly so for most of the first season, whose episodes bore the self-explanatory titles Apache vs. Gladiator, Viking vs. Samurai, Spartan vs. Ninja, Pirate vs. Knight, Shaolin Monk vs. Maori Warrior and, of course, William Wallace vs. Shaka Zulu. Things got more grammatically correct, if no less ludicrous, as the season progressed and our hysterical hosts got to whoop and wet themselves over tag-team match ups between members of the Yakuza and the Mafia, Green Beret and Russian  Spetznaz forces and, most controversially, the IRA and the Taliban. The late lamented Bravo channel, which aired seasons 1 & 2 of Deadliest Warriror, opted to lose that particular episode in the shuffle (in case you’re wondering, the Paddies shaded it.)

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Season Two continued to alternate two man duels with mob match-ups, its episodes comprising SWAT vs. GSG-9, Attila The Hun vs. Alexander The Great, Jesse James vs. Al Capone, Aztec Jaguar vs. Zande WarriorNazi Waffen-SS vs. Viet Cong, Roman Centurion vs. Rajput Warrior, Somali Pirate vs. Medellin Cartel, Persian Immortal vs. Celt, KGB vs. CIA, Vlad the Impaler vs. Sun Tzu, Ming Warrior vs. Musketeer, Comanche vs. Mongol and Navy Seal vs. Israeli Commando. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Sun Tsu with a pole stuck up his arse… and he hasn‘t lived since it was inserted!

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Things got a little more… er, fanciful in Season Three. Tru TV have been sporadically airing select episodes, including the one under consideration here. Self declared authorities such as Scott Bowen (“author of cult classic The Vampire Survival Guide”) and Matt Mogk (“founder of The Zombie Research Society”) advise the team on what factors to feed into their computer and their sage advice includes the news that vampires are not susceptible to crucifixes, garlic or daylight (since when?), are “approximately 6 times stronger than an elite athlete (sez you!) and boast Freddy Krueger-style kill claws in lieu of fingers (WTF?) Clearly, the fix is in… I mean, nowhere is it mentioned that a zombie took on a great white shark in Zombie Flesh Eaters and whipped the ocean bed with it (program THAT into your fucking stupid computer, I dare you!) The team does concede that a zombie attack would be akin to “a literal tornado of teeth” and to establish the fairest ratio of fast moving vampires against numerically superior zombies, some kung fu doofus is tasked with chopping and kicking a bunch of paper bags on strings, with pictures of zombies drawn on them. By dint of this rigorous scientific methodology, they calculate that it would be appropriate to pit deadheads against bloodsuckers in the ratio of 74 to one.

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“You lookin’ at me?”

In their deliberations about the deadliness of “zombie virus” the team digresses into a discussion of swine flu, before concluding that vampires won’t be affected by it because “it’s already been proven that they can overcome bubonic plague” (did I fall asleep during that bit?) Elsewhere volunteers rip apart a jello torso with their “zombie hands” (which look exactly like regular hands) and some fool dices with death by annoying an alligator (don’t ask me!) When all this nonsense is fed into the computer it generates a short film in which 3 vampires and 216 zombies wage a battle of attrition which concludes with the final vampire seeing off the ultimate zombie, only to succumb to its bite and become a zombie himself. Some will see this as a fudged result right up there with the scandalous King Kong Vs Godzilla draw that shamed the manly / monsterly sport of mortal combat in 1962. Others may detect an allusion to the identity transfer that concludes Roeg and Cammell’s Performance (1970.) Either way, the final screen credit promises that this particular tussle is “… to be continued!”

If only t’were so… Deadliest Warrior was pulled in 2011. It didn’t exactly help that one of its Green Beret advisors turned out to have only served in a backroom capacity. Pity… if the show had gone on long enough, it might well have solved a long running dispute me and my mate Tony, over who would come out on top in an altercation between Judge Dredd and Captain Scarlet.

Reggie

“Did you call my pint a puff, like?”

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“All That Glitters…” DR GOLDFOOT & THE GIRL BOMBS reviewed

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Blu-ray. Region B. 101 Films. 12.

Opportunities to plug the gaps in your Mario Bava collection are always welcome… but some are decidedly less welcome than others. Dr Goldfoot & The Girl Bombs (1966) is a typical example of the Superspy craze that briefly gripped Italian studios in the wake of James Bond’s brisk box office business… so very typical that the signal baroque visual flair and black wit that lit up Bava’s sorties into so many other genres are totally submerged in the desperate zaniness of this uninspired yarn. “Meet the girls with the thermo-nuclear navels”? Ah well, if we have to…

Vincent Price is the eponymous doc, an evil (albeit camp-as-a-row-of-tents) genius whose explosive dolly bird androids are copping off with, then blowing up, a series of high ranking Nato generals. This leaves only General Willis, who’s a dead ringer for Goldfoot (i.e. also played by Price.) When the latter kidnaps this guy and assumes his identity, it leaves him in charge of an H-bomb that he intends to drop on Moscow, kickstarting a nuclear dust-up that will eliminate the US and USSR, leaving Goldfoot free to divide up what remains of the world with his Chinese backers. None of which is remotely as interesting as it sounds…

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This US / Italian co-production manages to kill two birds (along with 82 minutes of your life and several million of your brain cells) with one stone. AIP released it in The States (under the DG&TGB handle) as a sequel to Norman Taurog’s Dr Goldfoot And The Bikini Machine from the previous year, in which  Frankie Avalon thwarted Price in the execution of a similarly nefarious masterplan. The budget of Girl Bombs doesn’t even extend to re-emplying Avalon so here we get the low-rent pretender to his crooning beach beefcake crown, Fabian, aided and abetted by lovely Laura Antonelli (in her first credited screen appearance) and “The Two Idiots”, Franco & Ciccio. To 21st Century British sensibilities, this Sicilian double act’s comedy stylings are… er, broad enough to make On The Buses look like Seinfeld. But they were such a big deal in the land of the big boot that this film was released over there as Le Spie Vengono Dal Semifreddo (“The Spies Who Came In From The Frozen Custard”) and marketed as a sequel to their antics in Giorgio Simonelli’s 1965 Goldfinger Spoof, Due Mafioso Contro Goldfinger. Bava allegedly had more control over the Italian cut but as this means several more minutes of Franco & Ciccio, I’m happy to leave it to Tim Lucas to do the “compare and contrast” duties.

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Although he puts in an amusing saintly cameo, Bava’s heart isn’t sufficiently invested in the proceedings for him to rein in Price’s thespian excesses (and why should he even attempt to do so… this is Dr Goldfoot & The frickin’Girl Bombs, after all, not Witchfinder General) and I don’t imagine anything (short of a judicious tasering or two) could ever have induced Franco and Ciccio to cool it. In fact by the end of film they’re confined to some sub-zero Siberian gulag, which is probably the best place for them. Antonelli prettifies the proceedings with a fresh faced charm and lightness of touch that’s a far cry from the controversial roles for which she would subsequently be noted (though her briefly glimpsed, libidinous robotic doppelgänger foreshadows the manipulative sex-pot unveiled in Salvatore Samperi’s Malizia, 1973.)

Fabian : Laura

With Bava’s personal and formidable bag of cinematic tricks reduced to such cliches as speeded-up fight scenes and hall-of-mirror dance routines (Les Baxter’s feeble sub-Bacharach score failing to punch up the “action”), this is strictly kiddy matinee fare and I assume that’s where the young Mike Myers saw this clinker and was sufficiently impressed by it to later nick the ideas for fembots and a super-villain named Goldmember for his Austin Powers trilogy. If you want to see what Bava is really capable of in a shagadelic 60’s comic book context, you obviously need to be checking out the brilliant Diabolik (1968.) I’m amazed that the BBFC have handed DG&TGB a ’12’ certificate, attributed on the packaging to “dangerous behaviour” (sure, I’d hate for some impressionable 11 year old to watch this and then nuke Moscow!)

101 have simultaneously released The Lou Ferrigno Collection in a great VFM Blu-ray pack, affording you all the opportunity to gawp incredulously at Luigi Cozzi’s Hercules 1 and 2 and Sinbad Of The Seven Seas, for which Cozzi and Enzo Castellari persist in blaming each other. Mrs Freudstein (Tess to her friends) and I are currently enjoying Lou’s antics in the Donald Trump version of Celebrity Apprentice… I’ll try and post a review of this impressive package before Trump gets into The White House, at which point girls with thermo-nuclear navels might prove to be the least of our worries!

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Green Goblins… CHERRY FIVE reviewed

CD. Cinevox. CD MDF 349.

In 1972-73, future Goblins Claudio Simonetti (keys), Massimo Morante (guitar), Fabio Pignatelli (bass) and Walter Martino (drums) were recording demos under the group name Oliver. Simonetti and Morante made the Prog pilgrimage to still-swinging London and managed to wangle an audience with legendary Yes and ELP producer / engineer Eddie Offord, who expressed an interest in producing them. Unfortunately this came to nothing, though when the band finally made it into a Roman studio in 1974 to record their debut album, it’s difficult to see how Offord’s participation could have made it sound any more like Yes than it ultimately did. By this point, Carlo Bordini had (temporarily) replaced Martino on drums and Brit Clive Haynes had recently been supplanted on vocals by one Tony Tartarini. When Cinevox released the album it came as news to the band that they, as well as their record, were now called Cherry Five. Possibly (and quite understandably) the record company were keen to differentiate their efforts from the bubble gum soundtrack offerings of Maurizio and Guido de Angelis, trading under the name Oliver Onions.

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If the title of album opener Country Grave-Yard is perhaps trying too hard to generate atmosphere, the track itself manages plenty of it, beginning with a hypnotic looping guitar riff that alternates for the duration with doomy verses and fluid, jazzy keyboard runs courtesy of Simonetti, who tackles hammond, synthesiser and mellotron with equal alacrity. When he and Morante are not doubling lines they are chasing each other’s in a pleasing facsimile of Steve Howe and Rick Wakeman’s trade-offs. Predictably, Pignatelli favours the busy, trebly bass sound of Chris Squire and Bordini’s crisp snare attack is all-too reminiscent of the work of Bill Bruford. The band’s vocal harmonies don’t quite attain the Yes standard and Tartarini is no Jon Anderson but then again, Anderson soundy-likeys aren’t exactly thick on the ground.

The Picture of Dorian Gray (which was itself another fledgling name for these pasta proggers) continues the Yes obsession (if you’re equally obsessed you’ll easily spot quotations from Perpetual Change, I’ve Seen All Good People and Yours Is No Disgrace) but also manages to pack in plenty of Genesis quotes, e.g. the juxtaposition of ostinato bass with swelling organ / mellotron passages, also Hackett-like guitar tweaks, encompassing violining and other textural techniques. The debt owed by this track’s climax to that of Genesis’s Fountain Of Salamis is unarguable. The Swan Is A Murderer (Parts 1 and 2, if you please) channels Squire’s bass showcase The Fish while its title suggets that the band’s eventual branding as Goblin, go-to giallo scorers for Dario Argento, was somehow pre-ordained.

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The 1982 Frank Zappa lookalike contest wasn’t even close…

Penultimate offering Oliver sounds like something off one of the first two Yes albums… implying greater things in prospect but not in itself anything to write home about. Its middle section has piano / guitar passages that suggest (to these ears, anyhow) one of the main themes that later Goblin offshoot Libra would supply for the score of Mario Bava’s Shock. My Little Cloud Land closes the proceedings in anti-climactic style and with a jokey little play out. No matter, the earlier tracks execute Simonetti and co’s Yes-emulating brief with aplomb… indeed, much of Cherry Five evokes the era of classic Yes more effectively than anything its avatars have achieved since Going For The One became one of the UK’s best selling albums in 1977, erroneously claimed by opportunist, revisionist cultural historians as “punk’s year zero.”

In a final, ironic parallel, just as Goblin’s subsequent succession of split-ups and kaleidoscopic regroupings have matched those of Yes, the 21st Century relaunch of Yes precursors The Syn has found an echo now that Tartarini and Bordini have recruited new players to tour and record under the Cherry Five banner.

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COMING SOON: If you enjoy Prog / Psyche / Fusion music, you’ll enjoy my upcoming blog The Ozymandias Progject (http://theozymandiasprogject.wordpress.com) Watch this space for further announcements.

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“A Pile Of Shit Out Of Somebody’s Ass”… BRONX WARRIORS reviewed

BWQuad

DVD. RO. Shameless. 15.

Having failed to sign Enzo Castellari to direct his projected Dawn Of The Dead cash-in Zombi 2 (whatever became of that one?), indefatigable spaghetti exploitation producer Fabrizio De Angelis managed to bag his man for this delirious 1982 concoction (by prolific scripters Dardano Sacchetti & Elisa Briganti) of Escape From New York (from which Castellari also adopted John Carpenter’s penchant for daftly-named characters), Mad Max and The Warriors, sprinkled with quotations from a hatful of other schlock standbys and even A Clockwork Orange… precisely the kind of cartoon actioner at which Castellari has always excelled. The result was “the film that established video rental as a major entertainment activity…” (in the U.S.) “… a true action classic” in the words of Video Home Entertainment scribe John Hayward. It obviously made a big impression on one video store clerk… Quentin Tarantino, who still (rightly) acknowledges Castellari as the superior film maker.

In 1990 the forces of law and order have given up on the The Bronx, where a kaleidoscope of feuding gangs vie for territory and influence. Meanwhile the evil Manhattan Corporation formulates its plans for the redevelopment of the beleaguered New York borough… plans that amount to gentrification by genocide. Ann (Castellari’s real life daughter Stefania Girolami), troubled daughter of the Corporation’s president (played by her actual Uncle Enio… getting all this?) seeks refuge from her dysfunctional family (an upmarket gang in its own right) in this daunting no-man’s land and hooks up with hulking Stallone-clone Trash (Mark Gregory, on his way from being a gym bunny to becoming a waiter), a guy whose pectorals make Dolly Parton look positively flat chested. “Nothing is worse than this hell-hole” he warns Ann in the… er, rugged way he has of announcing such things.

Nevertheless, love flowers among the ruins of The Bronx, where Trash’s gang The Riders (instantly recognisable by the luminous plastic skulls mounted on the front of their bikes) fight endless turf wars with their rivals. I’m reminded of a much earlier Castellari film, 1972’s The Mighty Hector (co-scripted by Lucio Fulci) in which he restaged Homer’s Iliad, believe it or not, as a contemporary gangster flick … check that one out if you get the chance.

BW Bike Convoy

Anyway, these Bronx gangs include a squadron of roller-skating Rollerball refugees led by one “Golem” (a pony-tailed Luigi  Montefiori), a detachment of dorky droog wannabes, a New Age traveller convoy named The Zombies, a bad ass tap dancing (!) troupe and Fred Williamson (“The Ogre”)’s Tigers, appropriately enough a pack of blackspolitation brothers plus one ballsy, whiplash-wielding honky super-bitch (Betty Dessy as “Witch”.) There’s a particularly hilarious moment, in a picture bursting at the seams with them, where delegates from all the gangs settle down on Fred’s leopard-skin couches to listen to a piano recital from Ann, her sweet music soothing their savage breasts.

But the fragile truce is soon under threat. An agent provocateur  is encouraging and exploiting divisions, striving to stir up conflict between the clans. Trash dismisses the threat, eloquently (“Ah, it’s just be a pile of shit out of somebody’s ass”)  but the Manhattan Corporation, pursuing their ambitious and murderous slum clearance programme, have employed the megalomaniacal Hammer (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh’s dad, the late Vic Morow), to set the gangs at each other’s throats. Can anyone foil these sinister machinations? Well, if anyone can … Trash can!

In his efforts to do so, though, he’s thwarted by ambitious factions in his own ranks, principally ambitious lieutenant Ice, playing the Harry Dean Stanton role from EFNY. Ice conspires, through the medium of surgically-booted gimp Hot Dog (Christopher Connelly)’s CB rig, with Ogre, unaware that Hot Dog is working for Hammer, if not exactly in his pay  …  “Don’t you ever  talk to me like that!” snaps Hammer when Hot Dog raises the subject of financial remuneration (Hm, reminds me of a few magazine editors I know.)

Hammer’s having an equally tough time with his boss. “If you don’t have the girl by 11 o’clock tonight”, rages the president: “I’ll have your head !” (Oops – Morrow’s next – and last – screen appearance would be in Twilight Zone – The Movie). Hammer responds by sending in the cavalry, armed with flamethrowers, as a final solution to the gang problem. “I’m Hammer – the exterminator!” he rants. “You’re the biggest bastard in the world” retorts Trash. “He’s doing this just so he can get his sadistic rocks off” observes Ogre, coolly lighting his big cigar from an arc of flame aimed in his direction, before sitting down on his leopard-trim throne to enjoy a good smoke as his kingdom crumbles around him… made in the shade or what?

“Let the enemy have no survivors this day … horsemen … horsemen! “ raves Hammer, playing up the fascistic overtones in a manner reminiscent of Castellari’s own potrayal of Mussolini in The Winds Of War. “Hammer is God !” he modestly declares, before Trash pulls him down off his perch and drags him out of town behind his bike, Western-style.

Western Style

From its ludicrous title sequence to this totally arbitary ending, Bronx Warriors is an unalloyed action film delight. Never mind that, thematically, it’s just a comic-book retread of Enzo’s usual gonzoid vision, best displayed in his 1976 masterpiece Keoma… witness the shared sympathetic treatment of society’s maginals, likewise the undercurrent of heroic homeroticism, as when Trash mercifully breaks the neck of a tortured lieutenant while hugging him to those pulsating pecs. I don’t want to pursue this angle too far but it does state on IMDB that Gregory “beat off 2000 other hopefuls for the role of Trash”…. wow, I wonder how many cameras Castellari would have to deploy simultaneously to capture that kind of action!

Nobody ever put it better than that eminent Castellarologist, Quentin Tarantino, to wit: “He’s a hack, but a hack who really knows what he’s doing … you’re in good hands, and you’ll have great fun.” Additional helping hands here include ace cinematographer Sergio Salvati, production designer Massimo Lentini and editor Gianfranco Amicucci. Walter Rizzati’s score is rather more coherent than the one for his notable other credit, Fulci’s House By The Cemetery (though I guess. if you’re reading a blog entitled House Of Freudstein, that you probably already knew that…)

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The Shameless DVD edition presents Bronx Warriors in all its anamorphic glory, revealing Castellari to be far more of a film-maker than you’d suspect on the evidence of previously released pan-and-scan travesties (I’m old enough to remember seeing these things in double bills at my local flea-pit when they first came out, over … shit, over thirty years ago!) Bonus materials comprise a Castellari introduction to the picture, an optional smart Alec “Fact Track” courtesy of Paul Alaoui, trailers and alternative credits sequence, plus the 25 minute featurette Warriors, Barbarians and Basterds, in which Castellari and Amicucci spill the fava beans on how to get more bang for your buck with multiple camera set-ups, slow motion, trick pans and by intercutting genuine Bronx exteriors with Italian lots and locations. Castrellari talks about employing the Hell’s Angels, how his friendship with middle weight boxing legend Rocky (Somebody Up There Likes Me) Graziano facilitated the Bronx shoot and, inevitably, the Tarantino connection.

Alternatively, if you think you’re man enough, you cold opt for the “Bronx Warriors Trilogy” steelbox, which also includes the 1983 sequel Escape From The Bronx (“Henry Silva was a nice guy…” opines Castellari in Warriors, Barbarians and Basterds: “… always talking about women and sex!”) and The New Barbarians (also 1983), with which Castellari opened a whole new can of  Italian post-Atomic worms.

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Coffee With Scream… MONSTERS IN THE MOVIES reviewed

Landis Monsters Book

Monsters In The Movies: 100 Years of Cinematic Nightmares by John Landis. Dorling Kindersley / Penguin Random House. P/B. ISBN 978-0-2412-4624-5 320

When I interviewed Harvey Fenton for Dark Side recently, we reminisced about coffee table books by the likes of Alan Frank and Dennis Gifford, from which he has derived much of the inspiration for what he’s achieved at FAB Press. Coffee table books surveying Horror film history have dwindled since the 1980s (when I remember WHS and even M&S having a crack at this market), increasingly so since the advent of the internet, so it’s nice to see D&K attempting to revive the format with John Landis’s Monsters In The Movies: 100 Years Of Cinematic Monster (originally published in 2011, this edition dating back to last year.)

Like many of its predecessors, MITM is more of a picture collection than anything else, with over 1,000 stills and posters from the Kobal Collection (many of them in full colour) beautifully reproduced within its 320 glossy pages and organised into such self-explanatory sections as “Vampires”, “Werewolves”, “Mad Scientists”, “Zombies”, “Mummies” and so on. What strikes you immediately is just how many Horror movies have been made (this is the one cinematic genre, after all, that’s never gone out of fashion) since the heyday of Messrs Frank and Gifford. Indeed, you’ve got to give credit to Landis and / or the people who put this volume together for casting their net so wide and unsnobbishly, despite the odd nits that you inevitably find yourself picking (for instance the fact that Suspiria is represented by one small b/w still, indeed for the fact that Italian offerings in general are a little under represented… but I would say that, wouldn’t I?)

Landis makes no, er, bones in his introduction or any of the micro-essays that preface each section, about the fannish rather than academic orientation he brought to the text of this visual treasure trove. Any suggestion of profundity is defiantly absent from his commentary, though his (?) captions to many of the illustrations are equal parts witty and opinionated. His biggest contributions to the book though are the interviews that he conducts with a coterie of genre luminaries, comprising the late Sir Christopher Lee, Joe Dante, David Cronenberg, Sam Raimi, Guillermo Del Toro, Ray Harryhausen, Rick Baker and John Carpenter. Obviously at ease with his peers, Landis gets some fascinating stuff out of these guys, many of whom (notably Dell Toro) have very precise ideas about what constitutes a Monster Movie or indeed a Movie Monster. Harryhausen, whom many would nominate as Mr “Monster Movie” Incarnate, confides that he doesn’t care for the term at all.

MITM is available for 20 quid on Amazon, where you can also get a skinny-assed “Bookazine” digest of it for nearly a tenner. Save that tenner for the full monty version, available for that price (or less if they’ve currently got a voucher thing running) here. Jeez, Martin Lewis has got nothing on me…

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