Monthly Archives: August 2016

Barbara’s Castles… THREE BARBARA STEELE FILMS on one Severin BD

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Blu-ray. Severin. Regions A/B/C. Unrated.

Also known as Night Of The Doomed, Faceless Monster, Orgasmo and Lovers from Beyond The Tomb (translating the Italian release title, Amanti D’Olretomba) and made in 1965, just before the Italian Gothique cycle abruptly gave way to spaghetti westerns and gialli, this is Mario Caiano’s self declared attempt (albeit under the pseudonym Allen Grunewald) to pay hommage to the creepy monochrome classics of Freda, Bava, Margheriti, et al. Severin’s appropriately gaudy sleeve quotes Monsters At Play (who they?) to the effect that Caiano actually surpasses the achievements of Mario Bava in this endeavour and while that claim is palpably far fetched, Caiano has undoubtedly authored a strong entry in the genre here.

As is traditional, Barbara Steele (her surname misspelled in the film’s poverty row titles) essays a double role, appearing first as Muriel Arrowsmith, whose life at Hampton Castle (supposedly somewhere in England but easily recognisable from a million other Italian fright flicks… its very name suggestive of former Freda glories) is intolerably dreary due to scientist husband Stephen (Paul Muller) spending most of his time in the lab, experimenting on frogs. Muriel spices things up by meeting gardener / stud David (Rik Battaglia) for Lady Chatterley-type trysts in the greenhouse. Betrayed by leper-faced servant Solange (Helga Line), these lovers are chained up in the castle’s dungeon, tortured with pokers and acid and eventually electrocuted. Needless to say, before she pops her delectable clogs, Muriel vows vengeance from beyond the grave and also lets slip that she has willed the castle to her mentally infirm step-sister Jenny.

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Time passes and when we return to Castle Hampton, Stephen has restored Solange’s beauty with his experiments and a pint or eight of Muriel’s blood (further shades of Dr Hichcock) and is now hitched to Jenny (Steele again), whom of course he’s planning to bump off. For a mere step-sister, Jenny bears a remarkable resemblance to Muriel, excepting only her blonde locks (don’t you hate it when dark-haired beauties go blonde? Angelina Jolie, Beatrice Dalle, Penelope Cruz… just don’t do it, girls!) As Jenny’s obsession with a portrait of Muriel propels her to learn the truth about what happened to her sibling, Stephen and Solange’s plans to do do away with her are given added urgency. Jenny’s conundrum (Is she just mad? Are they really out to get her? And is there some kind of supernatural higher power operating?) drive her to the brink of (yet another) breakdown and hunky shrink Dereck Joyce (Lawrence Clift) is called in to restore her rationality, though his self-proclaimed belief in paranormal phenomena hardly qualify him as the ideal candidate for the job.  When Doctor Dereck gets a bit too close to the truth for comfort, Stephen arranges to electrocute him in his bath, though it’s butler Jonathan (Giuseppe Addobbati) who ends up taking the fatal shock. This is just about Jonathan’s only appearance in the picture and his character seems to have been conceived (by Caiano and co-writer Fabio De Agostini) purely to save Joyce’s bacon and supply sinister Stephen with the pretext for one of his best one-liners in the picture: “Ten minutes ago that man was a picture of health… now he’s ready for the worms!”

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Impatient with all this pussy footing around, the vengeful shades of Muriel and David finally put in an appearance… Jenny is rescued from the fatal transfusion that would have topped up the rejuvenation regime of Solange (who consequently crumbles into a skeletal state) and Stephen is trussed up in his burning castle, from which Jenny and Doctor D escape, no doubt to live happily ever after. Defying the meanest of resources, DP Enzo Barboni (who would shoot Sergio Corbucci’s Django the following year and went on to become a spagwest director in his own right) performs chiaroscuro wonders with the contours of Steele’s wonderful face throughout and he and Caiano’s efforts are well rendered in a crisp 1.66:1 / 16×9 HD restoration from the negative that keeps an inevitable degree of frame damage to the barest minimum. The film’s OST is provided by Ennio Morricone but his first horror outing is surprisingly forgettable, given that he had already scored A Fistful Of Dollars.

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In terms of Nightmare Castle-related extras, in addition to UK and UK trailers you get an interview with director Caiano (and assorted pets) which is reasonably engaging but only serves as the appetiser for an audience with Barbaric Steele herself, Baroness Barbara of Birkenhead (complete with snarling eyebrows)… exactly the kind of coup that we’ve come to expect from the Severin boys. Steele has reportedly been reluctant, in the past, to acknowledge her Italian horror credits but shows no such qualms here, reminiscing freely about her reign as the Queen of Italian Gothique, though predictably she has a lot more to say about her relatively brief working relationship with Fellini. Most tantalisingly, she mentions the unrealised horror project in which Antonioni planned to star La Steele alongside his muse, Monica Vitti. Currently clocking in (by my reckoning) at 71 years of age, she still looks beautiful and still comes across in this indispensable featurette as more than a little bonkers… Steele crazy after all these years…

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… and that’s really not the half of it as far as bonus materials go on this disc! As supporting attractions you get no less than two additional gothique Steele vehicles, Massimo Pupillo’s Terror Creatures From The Grave (1965) and Antonio Margheriti’s Danse Macabre (1963), each with their own associated supplementary stuff. Pupillo’s Ibsenesque saga of leprous undead vengeance is at least as good as Nightmare Castle. Margheriti’s effort is even better (generally regarded as the cream of the Bava wannabes… bogus Edgar Allan Poe attribution notwithstanding) and probably would have taken lead billing here if not for the damaged and compromised nature of the only print available, retitled Castle Of Blood for the U.S. market… a tantalising glimpse of the lost original.

You’re probably thinking that those two deserve reviews in their own right and you’d be correct… but I’ve stalled reviewing this essential BD release for too long already. Keep checking here, it’s my intention to revisit and expand this posting. But don’t hold your breath and in the meantime… buy this disc!

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Yodelling In The Canyon Of Death… ATTACK OF THE LEDERHOSEN ZOMBIES Reviewed

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Attack Of The Lederhosen Zombies. 2016. Austria. Starring Gabriela Marcinkova, Laurie Kalvert, Margarete Tiesel, Oscar Dyekjaer Giese, Karl Fischer, Kari Rakkola. Special effects: Tissi Brandhofer, Nikolay Mayer. SFX Make Up and Creature Design: Chris “Creatures” Kunzman. DP: Xiaosu Han, Andreas Thalhammer. Written by Dominik Hartel, Armin Prediger. Produced by Markus Fischer. Directed by Dominik Hartel.

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Romero was right… the zombies have taken over. I remember spending a lot of time writing about these deadfucks back in the late ‘80s, when they were a… er, niche interest, as a result of which I then “enjoyed” a very modest life style. Here we are, a quarter of a Century later, zombies dominate Hollywood horror product and their TV box sets are required viewing for any self-respecting hipster… but I’ve still got little more than the pot I piss in. You’ve got to laugh or you’d cry…

… good job then, that zom-coms were invented. But who precisely did invent this genre? Peter Jackson? Sam Raimi’s probably got a more compelling claim…  but what about John Landis… and arguably Bruno Mattei might just have initiated the whole cadaverous comedy schtick in 198o with Zombie Creeping Flesh, blissfully unaware that this is what he was actually doing. It was probably with Edgar  Wright’s Shaun Of The Dead (2004) that the zom-com attained critical mass at the box office, spawning the subsequent slew of zombie boy scouts, zombie strippers, zombie nerds, zombie ravers, et al… it’s an overcrowded market place and one that I’ve tried to avoid, though Mrs F did persuade me to watch Jordan Rubin’s Zombeavers (2014) which admittedly cracked a smile or two on the finely chiseled Freudstein features. Generally speaking, I tend towards the view that zombies = horror and that comedy should left to the specialists… like Owen Smith! Having said that, Alan Byron of Screenbound Entertainment Group (formerly Odeon) has graciously allowed us a sneak preview of their November DVD / Blu-ray release Attack Of The Lederhosen Zombies…

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Feckless Ski boarding ace Steve (Calvert) blows a corporate event by boarding into the Tyrol, butt naked, to meet what turns out to be a nine year  old fan, terminating his sponsorship deal and seriously pissing off his long suffering girlfriend Branka (Marcinkova.) Surely things can only get better for Steve… in fact they take a distinct turn for the wurst when the local tourist board, their livelihood threatened by global warming, secretly trial a method of generating man-made snow, the by-products of when, when inhaled, turn anyone stupid enough to inhale them into ravenous zombies whose flesh eating rampage can only be stemmed by playing them music. Why any of this should be so is anybody’s guess but to distract us as the plot stretches credibility to point where it almost schnapps, we are treated to an endless succession of gory sight gags, mostly focussing on ever more inventive ways to insert skis, poles and other sporting parephenalia through bodily orifices… heads and limbs piling up in the snow as Paul Gallister’s pulsating score goes through its Goblin emulating paces… pity that Robocop remake already copped Hocus Pocus!

Attack Of The Lederhosen Zombies isn’t exactly the subtlest film you’ve ever seen  (that particular penny will probably drop when you see the film’s title being literally vomited onto the screen) but writers Hartel and Prediger manage to pack in a few post modern cracks along the way, e.g. the guy who rings his zombie-obsessed cousin for advice and is advised that it all depends on which kind of zombie film he’s in. “We’ve gotta go all Chuck Norris on their asses” insists his friend, only to be reprimanded: “Chuck Norris? How old are you, dude?” My funny bone was lightly tickled by the micro-spectacle of the zombie virus travelling through its victims’ circulatory systems to the tune of The Blue Danube Waltz… and of course the film makers also throw in a herd of animatronic undead reindeer.

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The main thrust of the action though is Steve and Branca’s struggle to resurrect their rocky romance (and suppress the resurrected apres-ski revellers) with the aid of feisty innkeeper Rita (Tiesel), who deploys a snow plough during the final confrontation, in which our snow cross’d lovers sharpen the edges of their skis and boards, all the better to decapitate zombies.

Dialogue is generally lame and the actors delivering it are pretty stiff, but what else did you expect? This is a thigh slapping zom-com that takes the piste for an agreeably chucklesome hour-and-a-half. Snow joke…

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The Undertaker And His Pals… THE COFFIN JOE COLLECTION Reviewed

Strange World Of Jose Mojica Marins.jpgDVD. Region 2. Anchor Bay UK. 18.

Apparently there’s been something or other going on in Brazil… a legalistic coup in which a progressive President with a huge popular mandate has been deposed on a cooked up charge and replaced by neo-liberal goons? Nah… if that had happened, you’d have seen or heard about it on the news or read about it in the paper, right? It certainly wouldn’t have been relegated to journalistic limbo while our media worked themselves into a froth about some stupid sporting events… would it?

Anyway, in our ongoing quest to be topical, we thought it was time to check out  ABUK’s blockbusting Coffin Joe Collection, an admirably ambitious box set comprising 5 discs, 9 films, 754 minutes (over twelve and a half hours!) of bravura Brazilian bonkersness from the undisputed top dog of favela fear flicks, Ze De Caixao himself. After a couple of marathon sessions digesting that little lot, I staggered out of the screening theatre here at The House Of Freudstein, my brain totally fried, an enthusiastic convert to the cult of Coffin Joe, whom the back cover of this box justifiably declares “a horror icon so full of sadism, immorality and brutality that he would undoubtedly make even Jigsaw squirm and send Jason running to Mommy” (they forgot to mention that he makes Seed look like a total twat but then, so does The Brady Bunch!)

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As evidenced in this box, Joe first came to the attention of an astonished world in 1964’s At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul (A Meia-Noite Levarei Sua Alma). The film opens with a demented gypsy crone haranguing us and threatening that if we don’t leave the theatre (or presumably, by extension, eject the disc) we’ll fall victim to the aforementioned soul snatching when the big and little hands meet up at the top of the clock. Having shelled out for this box, you’re unlikely to be put off so early in the proceedings… well, you can’t say you weren’t warned! While the gypsy’s words are still reverberating in our ears, CJ himself appropriates centre screen to start ranting the kind of doggerel (“What is life? It is the beginning of death! What is death? It is the end of life! What is existence? It is the continuity of blood! What is blood? It is the reason to exist!”) that you’ll be hearing over and over again before you’ve worked your way through this box. Our man’s a sinister grave digger who scandalises the townspeople with his wild appearance (top-hat, cape, long curly fingernails), aggressive behaviour (after casually glassing an unfortunate dude during a punch up in his local, he announces that he’ll charge double for burying anybody that he has personally killed) and flagrant disregard for religious observances… chided by his wife for not sticking to the “fish on Friday” rule that will be familiar to our older Catholic readers, he declares his determination to have meat for dinner “even if it means that I have to eat human flesh!” It’s this total inability to keep things in perspective and mount a proportionate response to life’s little setbacks that both defines Joe’s character and brings about his downfall. Most significantly, when he and his wife find it difficult to conceive a child, Joe might consider changing his diet, changing his underpants, scrutinising her menstrual cycle or seeking medical advice. Admittedly IVF research wasn’t too advanced in Brazil during the mid-60s but this really can’t excuse Joe’s subsequent antics…

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… he chloroforms Lenita (Mrs De Caixao, played by Valeria Vasquez), ties her up and empties a bucket of tarantulas over her. Even in Brazil, circa 1964, forensic science is up to detecting that there was something suspicious about  this death, but the coroner’s attempt to write a damning post mortem report is thwarted by CJ gouging his eyes out, soaking him in some flammable liquid and torching him. Keen to restart the quest for an heir, Joe takes a shine to his best friend’s girl Terezinha (Magda Mei) and after bashing matey’s brains out he starts wooing her in earnest… well, he rapes her anyway. The traumatised Terezinha promptly hangs herself, which really sends Joe off the deep end (“You have doomed my blood line to extinction!”) Defying further warnings from that old gypsy bint, he starts desecrating cemeteries and challenging God to put an end to his rampage. On the night of the Day of the Dead, after he’s been menaced by a preposterous prop owl and hallucinated his own funeral cortege, not to mention vengeful visitations by his victims, the deity duly obliges with a thunderbolt to bring matters to a distinctly anti-climactic conclusion.

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The fondness for Universal’s classic horror cycle suggested by endless, Bela Lugosi like close-ups of Joe’s eyes every time he’s about to kill somebody in AMITYS is amplified by the opening to its sequel This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse (Esta Noite Encarnarei No Teu Cadaver)… a caption announces that the action of this film will pick up exactly where its predecessor left off and we’re treated to a generous recap of Joe’s closing moments before some of the most brain-jarringly psychedelic (even in black and white) titles ever committed to celluloid… well, this picture was made in 1967, after all. Predictably, Joe was only stunned by that lightening bolt and has now taken up residence in a new town, at the expense of whose “ignorant” and “inferior” inhabitants he intends to pursue his ill-defined, sub-Nietzscianian mission. Indeed, he intends to make them “cry tears of blood!” Business as usual, then… well, not quite: this time out Joe can call on the services of a deformed, Igor-like henchman named Bruno (Jose Lobo), with whose assistance he renews his search for the perfect mother to his “superior” child but now employing ruthlessly efficient, almost industrialised methods. Sundry local lovelies are abducted and incarcerated in some kind of underground dormitory, where Joe torments them with assorted creepy crawlies, including the inevitable tarantulas… and these are real spiders, none of your pipe cleaner crap like the ones in Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond (Jeez, and people will try and tell you that it was heavy going on a Werner Herzog set!) When the caged cuties complain about their treatment, Joe insists that it’s “not sadism, my dears… but science!” Those who flinch from this insect ordeal are derided as “cowards!” and “fools!” while Joe variously showers them with acid, hands them over to Bruno to be used as sexual playthings and consigns them to a snake pit so that he can enjoy their death throes while canoodling with the “lucky” winner of his bizarre selection procedure. After this there are worrying signs of some kind of plot congealing around the character of a colonel who hires a circus strongman to carry out a hit on Joe but that doesn’t really go anywhere and thankfully we’re soon back to full-on delirium as Joe again defies God to show his hand and is rewarded, as the already variable b/w film stock lurches alarmingly into gaudy technicolour, with an audacious albeit cheapskate rendition of the torments of the damned in Hell.

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This gives Joe momentary pause for thought but he’s soon up to his tricks again, only to drown in a swamp while trying to evade a lynch mob that’s been drummed up by that colonel. Aye caramba! In addition to his Universal fetish, TNIPYC demonstrated that Marins was responsive to more contemporary horror trends, Joe’s arrival in town having more than a touch of Spaghetti Western about it.

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The following year’s The Strange World Of Coffin Joe suggests furthermore that Marins was aware of and enthused by those Amicus portmanteau jobbies, comprising as it does three macabre tales for the price of one. Unfortunately, after delivering the mandatory unhinged opening soliloquy, CJ does not pop up as a Crypt Keeper-type linking character connecting the various vignettes… a seriously wasted opportunity! Story 1, “The Dollmaker”, concerns an old toy maker whose dolls are renowned for their life-like eyes… when his beautiful daughters are threatened by a loutish gang of would-be rapists, we learn the source of his raw materials in the biggest non-surprise twist ending of all time. The second instalment, “Obsession” (a necrophilic take on the Cinderella story) works better and the closer – “Ideology” – best of all: Marins plays a variant on his Ze De Caixao character, now a professor debating his own oddball philosophy of human instincts with a scientific rival on some TV chat show. They agree to differ and indeed, things are so cordial that Ze invites his debating adversary and wife round for dinner, where they are forced to witness, then subjected to all manner of unspeakable tortures, by means of which they are reduced to brutish ghouls, neatly proving our man’s views about the primacy of instinct over rationality and morality. One imagines that this picture played the U.S. grindhouse circuit at some point… its throwaway mix of sadism and philosophy certainly seems to have influenced the likes of Herschell Gordon Lewis’s The Wizard Of Gore (1970) and Joel Reed’s Bloodsucking Freaks aka The Incredible Torture Show (1976) and you could probably make a case for it being the godfather of the dreaded “torture porn” genre (though we shouldn’t hold that against Marins). TSWOCJ also boasts an absolutely corking toe-tapper of a title song, extolling the merits of its eponymous anti-hero.

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Fumetti adaptation of The Strange World Of Coffin Joe

Back in 1970, Marins was still jumping bandwagons with the drugsploitation epic Awakening Of The Beast, his characteristically cheap and cheerless attempt to grab a slice of the Easy Rider action. Here a bunch of mental health professionals (including Marins) debate a series of cautionary drug tales, all of them climaxing in some form of sexual degeneracy, all of them played out for our lip-smacking disapproval. We are introduced to a stoner who gets off on washing women’s underwear, a coke snorting producer who deflowers aspiring starlets on his casting couch, a suburban housewife whose own appreciation of “the magic powder” is best enhanced by watching a black servant bang the arse off her daughter (there is even a suggestion at one point that their pet dog is going to get in on the act!)… even more bizarrely, a love’n’peace espousing schoolgirl visits a hippy commune and, after a couple of token tokes on a “reefer”, is apparently abused with a thick tree branch by a Charles Manson type!

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The second half of the picture concerns a controlled experiment in which willing guinea pigs are dosed with acid after a screening of This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse. Just as in that film, there’s an abrupt switch from b/w to colour as every psychedelic trick in the book is trotted out to depict their various trips, all of which feature the menacing figure of Ze De Caixao… the perfect recipe for an unprecedented bummer, one would have thought. Finally it is revealed that none of the participants actually dropped acid, a placebo having been administered instead. What all of this seems to prove is that there’s a little bit of Coffin Joe inside all of us… well fuck me! Ze himself seems to have been eschewing the hallucinogens in favour of cramming doughnuts during 1970, looking distinctly overfed as he delivers his customary diatribe before the titles of this one. Later Marins, debating with those mental health professionals, reminds them not to mistake him for his celluloid alter ego: “He stayed in the graveyard tonight!” Despite the penny-pinching circumstances in which his films are churned out, such narrative devices testify to a Post-modern intelligence at work approximately two decades before Wes Craven had his nightmare, before even that malevolent moggy troubled the murderous mind of Lucio Fulci…

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… the comparison with Fulci’s Cat In The Brain / Nightmare Concert is even more apt in the light of Marins’ Hallucinations Of A Deranged Mind (Delirious De Um Anormal, 1978) in which Marins is called on to counsel and cure a psychotherapist who has become obsessed with the idea that Coffin Joe has chosen his wife to bear him a superior son. Marins does a creditable job of demonstrating that Joe only exists as a fictional character, though this being a horror film, the proceedings have to conclude with a predictable “or is he?” caveat. Like Fulci’s film, HOADM contains about ten minutes of original material, the balance comprising a mix and mis-matched muddle of footage (colour, tinted and b/w) culled from other films in this set. Fascinating as all this undoubtedly is to semiologically-inclined film critics, it also ensures that the flick is probably the least entertaining one in the box, though it does contain one of the greatest lines of dialogue I’ve recently encountered: Marins becomes unwell while dining out with a bunch of psychiatrists but allays their concern for his well being with the reassuring observation: “Don’t worry, it’s only the effects of a heart attack!” Well, that’s OK then…

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Having already argued elsewhere (possibly while seriously pissed) that Marins deserves to be taken at least as seriously as Jodorowsky, I’m going to pitch my praise even higher and suggest that The End Of Man (Finis Hominis, 1964) deserves serious comparison with Luis Bunuel… here a mysterious derelict (the director himself) emerges naked from the sea and strolls into town making gnomic pronouncements and generally acting like Jesus… saving adulteresses from their enraged relatives, thwarting would-be child molesters, healing cripples, apparently bringing people back from the dead… you know the kind of thing. Hippies and free-loveniks adopt Finis Hominis (as he is dubbed by a priest) as their guru and, when his fame and influence spread, commercial interests attempt to recruit him to their own agendas. The film climaxes with Marins’ messiah delivering his definitive statement to a waiting world. If the fact that the venue for his platitude-laden sermon is a rubbish dump rather than any Mount does not alert you to this film’s satiric intention, the closing scene will… having said his piece, Finis Hominis calmly strolls back to the mental institution from which he has absconded, where his keepers are patiently awaiting his return. Brilliant!

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Marins is back in his Coffin Joe persona (albeit sporting a bowler rather than the more familiar top hat) for 1967’s Strange Hostel Of Naked Pleasures (A Estranha Hospedaria Dos Prazeres, 1967) which demonstrates the continuing influence exerted over him by the Amicus legacy: hippy no-goodniks and corrupt representatives of straight society rub shoulders (and other bits) in the eponymous establishment, getting their sinful rocks off until the not exactly unpredictable twist revelation that their host is none other than… put it this way, the shadow of Dr Terror’s House Of Horrors looms large here.

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Hellish Flesh (Inferno Carnal, 1977) deviates entirely from the Ze mythos, Marins instead essaying the role of a workaholic scientist whose alienated wife conspires with his best friend (her lover) to attack him with acid and set fire to him so that they can abscond with his money. It takes them scant months to blow that, at which point the crippled doc makes the extraordinary declaration that he has forgiven his erring spouse and will take her back. If you think that’s unfeasible, wait till you catch the mind-boggling (and completely senseless) twist that caps off this overblown melodrama.

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As if all that weren’t enough to leave you stunned and gibbering, the final disc in this set contains The Strange World Of Mojica Marins, a 2001 documentary profile of the great man (by Andre Barcinski and Ivan Finotti) that achieved what none of his own prolific output ever came close to achieving, a special prize at the Sundance Film Festival. Barcinski and Finotti capture Marins at home in his modest apartment and hanging out on the mean streets of his home town, reminiscing about his upbringing in, literally, a series of cinemas and his consequent fixation on film. His mother reveals that little Jose was born on Friday the 13th, his bodyguard Satan (!) declares that the director is really a nice bloke (cut to footage of Marins and Satan at a bullfight, laughing their asses off as the matador gets gored). We also learn that the Coffin Joe character emerged from his creator’s nightmares and that JJS is a mentally unstable, amphetamine-fuelled workaholic who really does put his actresses through the kind of auditions that are probably outlawed by the Geneva Conventions. He and his crew are proud of the fact that they kept working during tough economic times by cranking out porn, especially proud that they authored Brazil’s first hard-core cinematic encounter between a dedicated actress and a dog… if all of this seems just too bizarre, bear in mind that the host of a Brazilian answer to CrimeWatch was arraigned for arranging murders to provide content for his programme!

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All of the films are presented in full-screen format, some of them with dodgy sound and / or careless subtitles and at least one of them has a brief outburst of the kind of picture disturbance you only get when mastering from video tape… it is, therefore, a tad disingenuous for the pack to claim “each disc boasts digitally enhanced picture and sound” although, bearing in mind that nobody has ever taken Marins’ stuff seriously enough to archive it properly, the second part of ABUK’s pack boast, declaring this box to be “the definitive celebration” of Marins’ oeuvre, is undoubtedly true and looks likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. The art-work on the box cover is quite beautiful, albeit sufficiently understated (surprisingly so when you considering that its subject matter is maniacs, topless girls, living corpses, skulls and bats!) for the box to run the risk of disappearing into the shelves. Make sure you hunt it down, anyway. Essential stuff for any horror fan whose horizons stretch further than the latest remake / reboot of Hollywood product which probably wasn’t any good in the first place.

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God Of Quad… The GRAHAM HUMPHREYS Interview, Part 2

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“So where’s Part 1?”, you might well be asking. Well, the short answer is that it’s in issue 170 of Dark Side magazine where it coincided with the Halloween 2015 launch of Drawing Blood, the coffee table tome of Graham’s collected works. This second instalment was supposed to follow in DS in short order but, for reasons too boring to go into, it didn’t. Read that in conjunction with this for the full effect and I hope you feel it’s been worth the wait…

Graham as we discussed last time, you’ve worked in so many fields but I think your forte, as amply demonstrated in your new book Drawing Blood (https://www.proudonline.co.uk.), has got to be the quad poster. Is that a fair
comment?

Certainly the earlier stuff and yeah, I do love that format. People sometimes ask me, on a private commission or for a very low budget film, what I think would be the best format to use and if you want to create a link with the classic British film poster, then it has to be a quad. People are really fond of them although they’ve now given way to the American One Sheet format… we’ve lost the quad!

That’s one of the things I was going to ask you about, because I never go to the cinema these days but thinking back to the last few times I did go, all I saw was these American One Sheets…

Quads still get designed but they’re becoming increasingly rare, you’re more likely to see them outside of an Arthouse cinema than anything else. It is largely the One Sheet you see now, which is really just a quad turned on its side.

Which is more to do with getting some Hollywood star across in portrait aspect… it’s not the same effect at all, though, is it?

Quads were always 30 by 40 inches. You can spot I’m a designer because I know that the bottom three inches were traditionally left blank… that’s where the
cinemas would paste over the venue information.

… “for one week only”…

… or the screening times or whatever, so you’d always have those bottom three inches left clear, which made it more like 40″ x 27″ which, if you turn it on its side, is the American One Sheet. The other thing that killed it off, of course, was home video; reformatting stuff from a quad for a video cover always presented problems… translating the imagery for The Evil Dead and A Nightmare On Elm Street, for example, into the dimensions of a video box. You’d have to bloody repaint everything, though what you’d do now of course is use photoshop and recomp the whole thing. I’ve done that a few times and it’s not the best way of working but sometimes in those circumstances, you know… what can you do? When you do that you lose whatever it is that made your original image work in the first place. Unusually, with Elm Street 2, I’d already wised up to this idea for the video cover so the image of Freddy over the bus was really the campaign as far as I was concerned, the quad couldn’t be used on the video cover and I didn’t have to rush out another piece of artwork I wasn’t happy with (though conversely I had to rush out the quad, to the detriment of quality!)

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The Evil Dead quad even contains a reference to the film’s video release, doesn’t it? That’s an even more explicit nod as to how things were going… that moment of transition, caught right there, on the poster…

Yeah, it was the first simultaneous theatrical and video release, I believe. It’s funny, I do remember painting that bit of information on the poster and I hadn’t even thought about a video cover, to be honest. I just thought, why not turn it on its side for the box? I don’t understand why people don’t do that more often. Arrow did it with a couple of releases, possibly a few other companies as well… I mean, we’ve produced some classic quads, so what’s the problem? I can explain… at the time, all these videos were displayed in stores and people would browse through them, they obviously had to have their titles at the top because that’s the you read them, if they were at the bottom people would just miss the wording. Putting together video sleeves was all about how they were going to be displayed on shelves.

Nik Powell and Steve Woolley were breaking rules left, right and centre at Palace… was this just your good fairy waving her wand at the right time, that they were the kind of people who would look at an unproven artist like you, whereas many others wouldn’t have?

Absolutely, it’s always about luck and being in the right place at the right time. Had I not wandered into Palace’s office at that particular moment in the ’80s, then I have no idea where things would be now. I would have continued to drag my folio around, I’m sure I would have found work eventually. I would have found my way into horror one way or the other because that was my goal.

That was the dream of the kid who spent all his time sketching skulls and Daleks in his school books…

Ha ha, my real dream was to do Hammer posters!

Some of those were beautiful…

They were and some of them were awful, when they started cheap-skating…

I remember the She double bill quad was really great… and She coupled with One Million Years B.C.

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Yeah, but they got to a point were they could get these visuals from the films and wouldn’t bother with art work. The later posters were often visuals, not finished illustrations, whereas the earlier ones were fantastic because the illustrators who put them together took such care…

But you’ve done work, e.g. Dust Devil or From Dusk Till Dawn, which mostly consists of photoshopped images from the film… I imagine that’s a lot less satisfying than coming up with an original artwork concept.

A defining chapter in the history of the film poster! The moment when photoshop changed everything and people became beholden to comping images together and how easily and cheaply it could be done. So much cheaper that the splicing of large format transparencies and painstaking retouching with dyes. I believe this is when the process of dumbing down posters truly began. It eliminated the artists and put creativity in the hands of keyboard operators. Illustration has become confusing to people. I remember submitting painted artwork for a low budget film and the sales company got back to me, saying they’d taken it to film markets and people were confused, not sure if it was an animation or not… this kind of visual illiteracy saddens me and I’ll shout about it any chance I get. I mean, you can go back to older posters… the example I always use is the Saul Bass design for Vertigo…  particularly distinctive, or The Man With The Golden Arm – it’s abstract, not at all literal, you can’t look at it and simply know the film… you see the star names on it but on the poster for Man With The Golden Arm, there’s no picture of Frank Sinatra…

… shooting up on the poster.

Exactly… exactly…

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And Vertigo… obviously it’s about a man who suffers this fear of heights but it’s about so much more than that, the whole story is so allegorical…

It is…

… how could you actually portray that literally on a poster?

I guess at that time if you had the name Hitchcock on a poster, it was going to get some recognition anyway, but if you could do that then, how come you can’t do it now? There is no mystery, no tease, just rows of plastic looking clones. Well, if it costs so much to make a film these days they want as many bums on seats as possible and everything is reduced to these lowest common denominators… so much poster art is just about pretty faces these days, nothing else.

Yeah, that was the end of my poster boy career, when they started insisting on pretty faces…

Ha ha, there’s always surgery!

Hm, my Dark Side earnings wouldn’t really stretch to that…

There’s a lot of it about at the moment… if it works for them, why not us?

Well, Kim Novak’s looking a bit odd these days…

I’m sure, yeah.

We’ve already talked about some of your influences. Somebody I used to love from back in the old “video nasties” days was the Italian poster artist Enzo Sciotti. Were you familiar with his stuff or at all influenced by it?

It’s a name I saw recently and it might be that it was mentioned in Tom Hodge’s Video cover art book, but no, I can’t say…

His artwork appeared on all those Fulci quads, he did the original artwork for Phenomena… the amazing quad for Demons and so on…

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Humphreys does Fulci, above and below.

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Then I know the work if not the name! And it is amazing stuff. I recall that Mike Lee at Vipco used to release all these Italian films and some of it used to have this beautiful artwork. I don’t know how they did it because I’m sure they had no money…

… pretty much like the films themselves…

… was it cheap to get work done in Italy?  Maybe that’s that’s just the way it was, maybe people didn’t need to earn as much to live well. At some point in the late ‘80s I was doing illustrations for a book and the art director for that was himself an illustrator. He was working on a major project and doing all this stuff in black and white that was being sent to Italy to be worked on by colourists. He said he couldn’t do it here because literally nobody could afford to do that quality of work. So there must be a pool of incredible talent over there. I’ve got a feeling that some of those guys went through special schools devoted to illustration and certainly way back in the day that was what happened here and in America. There’s a book called Film Freak by my friend Christopher Fowler and he talks about a couple of these guys, he’d been to these studios where they had apprenticeships in illustration… essentially a factory where somebody might just handle certain aspects of an illustration then it will get handed on to another guy, he would do maybe the portraiture, or the hands, or the background …

Just like the Italian masters used to do it in The Renaissance…

Yeah, exactly and that’s a practice which has long since finished over here. It’s kind of a shame, it would have been great to go through an apprenticeship with Vic Fair or Tom Chantrell or any of those other great names in British film poster art…. that’s all gone, unfortunately

Another thing I was wondering about was the influence on your work of funfair art…

Yeah? Where does that come from, do you think?

Well, going back to the famous Evil Dead quad, it’s got this kind of… boldness and luridness that you see on funfair rides.

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It’s interesting that you mention that. When I was at college I had this fascination with fair grounds. I was at college in Salisbury and there’s a large market square right in the middle of town, hemmed in by buildings as opposed to in a muddy field or open carpark, it was a very urban funfair. They had the kind of stuff you can now see at Victorian steam fares as well as the strange 1970s stuff with horrible disco
things going on and there’d always be a ghost train, still very much the old fashioned ones… in later years I began to see ghost trains with images from The Evil Dead and Elm Street, or of Jason or Michael Myers, contemporary attempts to update stuff and I found that quite disappointing because once you got inside you’d find it’s still the same old crap anyway, with heavily soiled skeletons dangling from the ceiling and knotted ropes… I remember going to a fair ground at the end of the pier in Weston Super Mare when I was 8 or 9 with my dad and granddad, that was the first time I ever went on a ghost train, I was petrified but they had the weirdest things in there, I’ve never seen anything quite like it ever again…  like Gunther von Hagens’ plastinated corpses. You know the work?

I have and that guy really gets on my nerves… but that’s beside the point, please go on…

…. it had lots of stuff like that, like shrivelled corpses in cages and they made good use of the UV lights as well, it was weird, not the traditional Dracula / Frankenstein stuff that you might expect. It was like going into hell, it was horrible, it’s really stayed with me. It wasn’t just the colours, it was the weirdness of the whole thing, I suppose… slightly psychedelic and yet somehow like a Victorian freak show. In those days, at the end of the pier they still had a lot of those old penny machines where you could watch somebody being hanged or electrocuted, various unpleasant things … all these execution tableaux in wax…. so that probably stayed with me. The fairground thing has had an influence there, a fascination I had when I was at college and it probably has played out a bit in the work, without me being particularly aware.

Graham, do you always watch the films you’re illustrating or do you ever get pushed for time and say: “Just give me a collection of stills and I’ll knock up a little
montage of the greatest hits…”?

Generally I watch the film – and I think traditionally that was always the way… certainly when I worked on The Evil Dead I was invited to watch it at The Scala in a specially arranged screening and I’d actually attended a Scala preview of Elm Street before I was asked to work on it. I know that some illustrators don’t necessarily watch the film but I feel that I have to because I want to know why certain things are in there. I must admit there were a couple of times when I did DVD covers for Tartan when a film would not be available to watch in any form, but I’d be given a whole bunch of stills and end up using the best images for the most dynamic poses… sometime later when I’d get a copy of the film with my cover, I’d watch it and think: “Hang on, that person’s not even in the film!” So I don’t like to do that, it’s quite dangerous…

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You’re in danger of having a Stuart Maconie moment…

Ha, ha… any image that you use has to have some narrative thread and if it doesn’t, it’s all a bit pointless. If you try to encapsulate a film in one single image then what you’re looking for are the most visually appealing elements, but you’re also trying to indicate what’s going on, there has to be some sort of meaning to it. Having a single portrait isn’t enough, there has to be some kind of element in there that conveys something more than a star portrait.

It was quite a change of pace from what you’re normally doing to the “Pervert’s Guide” movies… how do you “find a cinematic identity” for those? That’s a completely different kettle of cinematic fish, isn’t it? It’s not schlock, it’s real high-brow cinema, cinema analysing cinema…

I imagine somebody at Tartan recommended me to Sophie Fiennes because they had distributed her film Hoover Street Revival, which was about Grace Jones’ brother and his pastoral work in New York. Anyway, Sophie wanted somebody she could trust to put something together, something professional with hopefully a little bit extra as well. So we had a meeting, she talked about her project and watched the DVDs. She did have an idea of how it should look, constructivist, maybe using just text, but the Slavoj Zizek character was such an interesting one anyway, he needed to be in there. I was very keen on this image of him in the boat with the seagulls (a pastiche of The Birds, one of the films examined in the series), but I also thought we could create this little graphic, multiple silhouette of him gesticulating – there’s a lot of movement going on and I thought this image of him with his arms flailing around might add some dynamism.

You’ve done some great stuff for Jodorowsky films and I believe that The Jod himself was particularly delighted with what you did for the UK re-release of El Topo…

Yeah, yeah…

.. and you mentioned earlier that Sam Raimi wrote some nice stuff for your book. Is it the norm that you get this kind of positive feedback, or do you wish that this would happen more often?

It really depends on the circumstances, how accessible that person is and how “hands on” they are in the promotion of their film… the Jodorowsky comment I got directly from him, because he was at the BFI for a screening of El Topo, which Tartan had re-released, so I was introduced to him…”Aaah!… This is my favourite poster for this film!” He approved!

I was hoping you’d met him, I mean, what a larger-than-life character… is he as fascinating a guy as he seems?

He is. But there were other people around so it wasn’t an exclusive audience but I did get to sit next to him and get a tarot card reading! Because his English had some limitations he used an interpreter, which made conversation a little stilted. I really wanted to talk to him about our shared interest in Tibet. He’s produced these wonderful graphic novels in the White Lama series and obviously has a fascination with the region, as far back as El Topo in which you can hear Tibetan sacred chanting… El Topo had been described as “the world’s first Buddhist Western”.

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As for Sam Raimi, I got to meet him when he was over here promoting Evil Dead 2 and he told me how much he’d liked my artwork for the first film and he knew the Palace Pictures poster campaign was instrumental in the film being a UK success. We were like a couple of overexcited fan boys  talking about old horror movies! It was great making contact again recently and getting permission to proceed with reproducing the art in Drawing Blood. He remembered meeting me all those years ago and said that he owned all the rights to The Evil Dead so it would be no problem. You don’t always get feedback and there have been times, way back, when it’s not been so positive. People largely know what they are going to get, hopefully a bit more as well. So feedback tends to be positive because there are no surprises. The only times it’s ever been been fraught are perhaps when there’s been no money and you’ve been working with absolutely nothing at all… misunderstandings can happen. There are always jobs that are going to go wrong, it happens to everybody. You just brush yourself down, go on to the next one and try not to worry about it.

I remember doing an album cover years ago, in fact it was about the same time as I was doing The Evil Dead… it was for The Lords Of The New Church, their first album, a big thing for them (and for me!) I considered myself lucky to be working with them because I’d seen them live, loved their records and the imagery. It was great to meet Stiv Bators, a true genius, and he was very enthusiastic about collaborating on the visuals but he really wanted a homage to Salvador Dali – as great an artist as he might be I was disappointed, because in my head the album sleeve was going to be the greatest Hammer poster ever. There had been a photo shoot with The Lords sitting around a decadent, aristocratic banquet… lit with all these fantastic colours, lurid purples, greens and reds – it looked fantastic, but when Stiv said: “I really want THIS!” and showed me a Dali painting with all these muddy greys, browns and stuff… oh god, there goes my palette… so I did the best that I could under those circumstances and ended up relatively happy with the finished painting. When the NME reviewed the album I remember rushing out to buy it, excitedly, wondering if they’d mention the cover and they mentioned virtually nothing else, talking about how awful it was, “cack surrealism” and so on…

“Don’t blame me… Stiv made me do it!”

It’s funny, I met the guy who wrote that review about three months later, when the NME used some of my art work and he told me “I absolutely love it mate, I’ve always loved your work!”, to which I replied: “Strange, you didn’t always seem to like it that much” and reminded him of the LOTNC album cover. He said: ” Oh… was that you? Well it wasn’t THAT crap, I must have been having a bad day…”

… and taking it out on you. Probably the director you’ve worked closest with has been Richard Stanley.

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That all came about through Palace Pictures. I was always going to the office quite late to do bits and pieces for them and one night I was in this Soho pub with Steve and Nik and they said: “We’ve got this low budget horror film we might be doing with a young, first time director… would you be interested in doing the storyboards?” I said that I’d never done storyboards before but they said that’s fine, they couldn’t afford to pay a professional story board artist anyway! The implication being that if I did the job I’d learn soon enough and they’d save their money. So I met Richard at the office of a company called Wicked Films, who were acting as his agent. They produced ads and music videos, so I guess Richard has already been doing music videos for them as the script for Hardware was A Wicked Film Production (with the financing of Palace Pictures, via Miramax). Wicked had their ideas about what the film was going to be and obviously Richard had his own vision… anyway I met him and was immediately intriguing. He’d literally just come back from Afghanistan, where he’d been shooting a documentary.

He always reminds me of that old TV series, if you remember it, Kung Fu… with the David Carradine character wandering the globe with just this pack on his back…

Ha ha, yeah. I gather that some of the stuff in Hardware was drawn from his own experience and of course what we didn’t realise at the time was that he’d been holed up with the Mujahideen, in their fight against the invading Russians. Well those guys became the Taliban and of course things took a drastic turn after that. We hit it off once he realised that I’d painted the UK art work for Phenomena, or Creepers as it was known over here! That was his favourite poster…

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… it’s one of my favourites, too…

… thank you! Anyway he was very excited that I might get involved and the other favourable thing in his eyes was that I’d already read the script and produced some sketches of how I thought the robot should look. So that was signed and sealed, we started storyboarding probably a week later but the thing was, I was quite busy in the daytime working on other stuff and Richard was doing music videos in the day, working on a rewrite of the script as well and trying to cast people, so the only time we had to storyboard was in the evening. I’d go to the office at about 7 pm and we’d both need something to eat so we’d go to this pizzeria next door to Wicked Films, have dinner and beers then go to the office about 10 o’clock. Then Richard would talk at length, discussing the scenes and we’d get to storyboard for an hour. Then I’d get a night bus home, get up in the morning and do it all over again – for three weeks, so it was a slow process and I didn’t get much sleep. Richard was living in the office at the time – his laundry was all over the place, but also an extensive collection of soundtrack LPs and videos – plenty of fuel!

At what stage did it become apparent that there was going to be a problem with the script’s similarity to a story in 2000 AD comic?

I guess it must have been when the film was in the process of being released, I think somebody at Palace had mentioned it but I was oblivious to the whole thing. The film contained elements from Richard’s film student days in South Africa, he’s well read and he’s a big fan of Moebius, obsessed with Herzog’s films … there are many, many other influences in there and I guess he could have seen that comic at some point and it could all have become part of the mix. I’ve never seen the comic myself so can’t really pass comment…

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It looks pretty close, whether it’s plagiarism or something more subtle than that…

It almost goes back to something I said earlier in that you might find some of the same story even further back in some old science fiction magazines like Fantastic or Amazing Stories and it’s difficult to pinpoint when an idea is completely original or where, maybe, it’s a mixture of different influences… or a common source.

It’s all been settled, anyway…

Yeah, it was settled.

I was going to ask you how you took to storyboarding but I guess the answer is readily discernible from the fact that you storyboarded two more films for Richard…

We found our pace working together, certainly in terms of our mutual interest in horror and other films and I think he knew that I understood the kind of things he was trying to do. He obviously felt comfortable working with me so when Dust Devil was green lit, he wanted me to storyboard and of course that led on to The Island of Dr Moreau. He requested my appointment as story board artist rather than New Line’s regular guy who was obviously a better story board artist than I could ever be, but apparently it didn’t gel creatively with Richard at all. He’d obviously expressed his misgivings, that’s when the producer of Dr Moreau got in touch with me and said: “Look, Richard would like to work with you, are you available to fly out to America?” He said that New Line were happy with the original artist but this was very much about keeping Richard happy. It wasn’t to do with the ability of the other, guy it was to do with personalities and making sure that Richard was content with the process.

So you were actually on the Dr Moreau set?

I went to LA for 3 weeks and we were staying at a little hotel together, just off Sunset Strip, near the New Line office. He was involved in the casting process and getting all these people together, in meetings all day long, but also preparing this one scene with Barbara Steele in a hospital location… I ended up doing some minor pieces of work that were intended to appear in the sequence, cognitive recognition cards that she would hold up to the orang utan but of course, none of that ever made it into the final film. I did go along to meet Richard on location with these cards, freshly painted that morning and I saw Barbara disappearing into a trailer… and I met the orang utan, briefly!

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So that was the only time I was ever actually involved in any kind of filming.  We got to hang out with Fairuza Balk, she was filming The Craft at that time and heavily involved in playing a witch, she’d completely immersed herself in this character, both on and off set. That was quite extraordinary and – I’ve already mentioned the Tibetan thing – she had a Tibetan mantra tattooed on her back – which she showed me. I really liked her a lot, she was great, scary fun but she had a terrible time in Australia when they were shooting.

So you just missed Barbara and you met the orang utan… but were you granted an audience with Marlon?

Not at all, no. At a later point I went to Cairns in Australia and did three weeks there. Again, Richard and I were put up in this luxurious jungle house… it was interesting to just be part of… something that you knew was probably going to fall apart quickly. I’d met the art director and the costume designer Norma who, it turned out, was very good friends with Barbara Steele and I think had introduced Richard to her. Norma was someone I really got on well with, in fact she was the first person to contact me when things started going belly up. I got this letter saying that things were going very badly, they were having a terrible time…  all these concepts Richard had about how the dog men should look had been thrown out the window – the Hawaiian shirts, the loud ties and stuff… she actually sent me me one of the bad taste ties – which I’ve fallen in love with… it’s horrible! When the ties went I knew things were going really wrong!

And of course legend has it that when John Frankenheimer ousted Richard as director, he burned all your storyboards… is that true?

0IOLS.jpgWell, this is what I was told. Richard has since said that he’s got them. The thing is, we would do them and they’d be photocopied so I don’t know whether he destroyed the originals and Richard had photo copies, or what. Certainly Richard had a number of them in the documentary Lost Soul, I don’t know how many he’s got. We never actually finished storyboarding the whole film anyway because there wasn’t enough time. What we did storyboard were all the key scenes, anything involving effects and other key moments … including Brando’s death scene, which of course went out the window and became something else. Anyway, it was a fantastic opportunity for me to go to L.A. and to Cairns, a shame that all these things never came to pass. William Hootkins, whom I’d met when we were were shooting Hardware, also got in touch when he’d come back from Australia, talking about the horrors that went on there, how his character had been sidelined…

That film has become the horror equivalent of one of those unmade Orson Welles projects or something …

Ha ha, yeah.

… legendary stuff. What would the prospects be for somebody like you starting off today, doing art work and hoping to make a living out of it? Presumably the opportunities have been significantly reduced…

I don’t know how to approach this as a subject any more because I have absolutely no idea how this would work now. For me it was a whole different world and a whole different way of being. Obviously there was no internet, I had all my work in a little folio that I could drag around with me and the only way you could see people was to phone them up to arrange a meeting, it was the only way it would ever happen. So I spent a lot of time on the phone, just going through the directory, you know, trying to find out who people where. You could buy a magazine and look through the list of editors and contributors and find the art directors and that’s how you know who to ring and ask for, so it was a very lengthy process. Nowadays you can put art on a disc and send it, e-mail it, send people a link, it’s easy and you can be seen all over the world in a matter of seconds. For myself I’ve found Facebook to be absolutely brilliant and that has certainly been a huge factor in my work over the last couple of years, just getting stuff to the right audience.

Do you see any new talent coming through via these new forums?

Well there’s a lot of illustration work going on out there, all over the place! and I find it really hard to judge now because I don’t know whether it’s going to be used… a lot of it is stuff that people do for themselves and maybe they’ll get a commission out of it. It just doesn’t work like it did when I was setting out. It’s probably more organic now in a lot of ways but the difficulty is in actually making a living out of it. I have an agent who represents me and I used to get about half of my work through him… now it’s less, I get my work largely through contacts and knowing people, friends of friends, that kind of thing… but my agent will not take on an illustrator unless they have a guaranteed income already in place, he cannot guarantee anyone a living through illustration anymore. 10 years ago that would be different, 20 years ago you’d go to an agency and if they thought they could sell your work, they’d take you on and you’d earn a living through that agency. That doesn’t happen now. I think people are either working from home, or their parents’ home, or they have a partner who can support them… maybe they’re independently wealthy…

Or maybe they’re hacking it at the day job then coming home and getting the brushes out…

There is that but when you’re working to a tight brief, to a tight deadline, it’s difficult to do that and another job. For myself, I know that the pay for this work is basically the same as it was 20 years ago, so in real terms that’s gone right down…

… a situation that’s all too familiar to me…

It’s a shame because there is a lot of talent out there…. I say that people aren’t visually literate anymore and in terms of film campaigns, that seems to be the case. Certainly in terms of the executives and the people commissioning the work, that seems to be the case but there are other outlets now that weren’t around back in the day so everything’s changed. You have the internet if you know how to use it and there are people like Mondo. There are means and outlets now but DVD and Blu-ray covers… that work’s not going to be around for ever.

That’s really on the way out, isn’t it?

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It’s the same with book covers, I used to do a lot of those but not anymore. More prevalent are the private commissions, that’s ultimately where it’s going to be because there are people of my age who have grown up through the VHS period and like the same things, that have now the income to commission or simply buy prints. That’s the way it’s going but at the same time, you’ll always get young film makers who can look back and get the nuts and bolts of painted imagery, understand that there is so much more to a poster than just using photographs, so who knows?

It does mean that if anyone comes to me for advice I’ll always, always take the time to help out because I think it’s very important to pass stuff on. I don’t want people to make the mistakes I’ve made in the past and if at the same time I can help anybody in the way they approach their work, I’ll always do that. I’ve visited colleges and delivered talks on story boarding and illustration – anything like that
which I’m asked to do, I always will, because it’s very important that people get this information first hand.

This is partly the point of ‘Drawing Blood’, it’s not an ego trip, it’s all about examining a short history of illustration work from a certain point in time that has actually survived. I want it to inspire other people to paint, to think: “I could do that!” … because that’s where I began, looking at poster art and thinking: “I want to do that… Yeah, I COULD do that.”

Thanks a lot for your time, Graham and I’m sure the book will do very well for you.

Thanks… you’re very welcome.

https://www.proudonline.co.uk
http://www.grahamhumphreys.com

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Jodrophenia… THE FILMS OF ALEJANDRO JODOROWSKY Box Set Reviewed

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DVD. Region 1. Anchor Bay. Unrated.

There is a particularly florid and debilitating ( only eight features and ten shorts completed in fifty years) psychiatric condition, characterised by sexual mania…

“Imagine Superman with a woman… his ejaculate is so great it would explode her brain and eat through the building!”

… body dysmorphia…

“Most directors make films with their eyes… I make films with my testicles!”

… and associated delusions of grandeur…

“Godard has only one testicle, whereas I have three!”

This is the condition to which medical science has given the name… Jodrophenia.

Now assembled alienists will be able pore over much of the cinematic evidence in the most celebrated case history, collected by Anchor Bay in a R1 DVD box set. Made possible when Jodorowsky patched up his long running differences with financier Allen Klein (who famously had a hand in the break up of The Beatles), this cornucopia of Jodsploitation comprises various interesting rarities but its appeal resides chiefly in supplying, at long last, definitive editions (in the correct aspect ratios, minus the prurient pixillations that marred the Japanese editions that were for so long the best available ones) of the ultimate cult movie El Topo (1970) and its 1973 follow up, The Holy Mountain.

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El Topo, which kick-started the whole Midnight Movie phenomenon after an enthusiastic endorsement from the acid-addled John Lennon (that’s two Beatles references down, one to go, pop pickers) is the everyday story of a gun slinger who goes by that name (and is played by the director himself), who abandons his son in the desert to take up with some femme fatale. She encourages him to prove his love for her by fighting a series of duels with four mystically-inclined martial arts masters. Three of those are satisfactorily dispatched but when the fourth pre-empts El Topo by topping himself and the woman runs off with a lesbian, it’s too much for our hero and he descends into madness. Given shelter and worshipped by a cave-dwelling bunch of cripples and amputees, El Topo vows to facilitate their social rehabilitation by digging a tunnel that will enable them to surface in the nearest town. To finance this, he shaves his head and, together with his new midget girlfriend, performs street theatre for the people of the town, which is run by a puritanical, Russian roulette playing religious cult (so far… what the fuck?) Mission accomplished (with the aid of his abandoned son, who has meanwhile grown up into a pistol packin’ monk) El Topo watches as the intolerant townspeople shoot down the incoming cripples. After his own vengeful gun spree, El Topo lays down his arms and immolates himself in the manner of a Buddhist monk protesting the Vietnam War. Like… cor baby, that’s really free!

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To enhance your appreciation of this ultimate cinematic trip (Jodorowsky insists that cinema, deployed properly, should be more mind altering than LSD) the director supplies a commentary track in Spanish (with English subtitles) where he claims El Topo “was inspired by rabbis, by Zorro, by Elvis Presley” and on a more banal level, admits that it was shot on the sets of The Wild Bunch (other sources insist it was Jerry Thorpe’s Day Of The Evil Gun, 1968.) He explains that the film was broken down into chapters (based, with characteristic modesty, on sections of The Bible) so that it could be passed off as a collection of shorts, because restrictive practices in the Mexican film industry prevented him from openly directing a feature. When it was released, he complains… “People literally waned to kill me! Critics literally vomited on me!” Well, fuck them if they can’t take a cosmic joke. Me, I can’t find fault with any movie that boasts lines of dialogue like “We are all hideously deformed due to constant incest!”

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Although somewhat overshadowed by its predecessor, The Holy Mountain is, if anything, even wilder stuff. After Jod himself (as “The Alchemist”) has presided over some weird ritual involving two blondes, when the Spanish conquest of Mexico has been re-enacted by frogs and lizards, following a prolonged meditation on the image of Christ… the plot kicks off in earnest and things start getting really wiggy!  “The Thief” (Hector Salinas) makes his way to The Alchemist’s tarot-decorated inner sanctum and, to begin his spiritual purification, a woman tattooed in kabbalistic symbols washes his arse for him… Jodorowsky claims on the commentary track that George Harrison was keen to play The Thief’s part but wimped out on account of this scene. We can only conjecture what George made of the sequence in which one of The Thief’s jobbies is melted in a casserole dish while The Alchemist intones “You are excrement… you can convert yourself into gold.”

The Thief is joined by seven of the richest and most powerful people in the world (all identified by their astrological characteristics and introduced with potty potted biographies) who have renounced all their worldly goods in return for a shot at the one thing money can’t buy… immortality! Together they will storm The Holy Mountain and supplant the nine immortals who direct human affairs from its summit…

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After plenty more bizarre preparations they scale that Holy Mountain but there’s a predictable twist at the conclusion of their endeavours. “Farewell to immortality… reality awaits us!” pronounces The Alchemist, and everybody seems improbably satisfied with this outcome. But do the aspirant immortals return to normal life as better people than they previously were? More importantly, did Jodorowsky ever get that casserole dish clean again? In case I ever get invited around for dinner, you understand…

The inclusion of El Topo and The Holy Mountain will probably provide sufficient motivation for many people to splash out on this box. One could quibble about some of the other contents, but Louis Mouchet’s feature length documentary La Constellation Jodorowsky (1994) also constitutes essential viewing. At the onset Jodorowsky pronounces himself unable to provide an answer to the question “Who are you?”, so it’s a good job that admirers like Peter Gabriel (who admits that the Genesis album and show The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway were greatly influenced by El Jodo… a major non-surprise) and collaborators such as Marcel Marceau (with whom Jodorowsky invented the “caged man” mime, as popularised by David Bowie) and legendary comic book artist Jean “Moebius” Giraud (“Jodorowsky’s brain works like three thousand crazy computers!”) are along for the ride.

We learn how Jodorowsky, a Chilean of Russian descent, founded the Panic Theatre after becoming disenchanted with Surrealism (Andre Breton disapproved of Jod’s massive porn collection); of the difficult circumstances under which he was obliged to make The Rainbow Thief (1990); and of his abortive big  screen adaptation of Dune, in which Salvador Dali would have played The Emperor, with an OST supplied by Magma and The Pink Floyd.

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When Jodorowsky does manage to get a fix on himself, he characterises himself as “not a mystic… I’m a gambler, somebody who plays games.” It’s disorientating and disarming to hear the man who made his name via films that are simply loaded with self-consciously metaphysical trappings, declaring categorically  “It’s all bollocks… enlightenment doesn’t exist!” This is, however, in tune with what happens in both El Topo and The Holy Mountain, in which protagonists ultimately renounce their self-seeking inner journeys in favour of taking action in the material world. Jodorowsky believes the world is sick (no shit!) and with characteristic modestly, the medicine he prescribes is viewings of his films! On a more practical and immediate level, we see him conducting one of his regular group therapy sessions, into which Mouchet is drawn from behind his camera and from which he seems to derive great benefit…. compelling stuff. Jodorowsky remains the magus / guru / charlatan / visionary / hyperbolic fantabulist / shaman / con man / contradiction that we always knew he was, but Mouchet establishes beyond doubt that effective method resides within the conspicuous madness of King Jod.

I could quibble over some of the other stuff on this set… OK, so finally we get to see Jod’s 1968 feature debut Fando Y Lis (an unsatisfying b/w dry run for El Topo) and, improbably, his 1957 mime-flavoured short La Cravate (which was previously believed lost) but I doubt that too many purchasers of this box will return for too many repeat viewings of those.

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One third of the box is taken up with soundtrack CDs of El Topo and The Holy mountain, guaranteed to clear any dance floor between here and Santiago. Ideally, those could have been jettisoned in favour of a definitive edition of Santa Sangre (1989) and any edition at all of  The Rainbow Thief, which at the time this box was released seemed to have disappeared off the face of the Earth. Still, that’s just my opinion, and as Jodorowsky insists: “Everybody shits faeces and opinions… you must ignore them” (note to the reader: Don’t, under any circumstances, ignore my opinions, alright?) As well as the R1 box reviewed here, there’s an identical R2 set from Tartan which boasts nicer packaging but, due to the vagaries of internet shopping,  would actually have cost me significantly more than the Anchor Bay version.

The Sons Of El Topo has been announced as many times as the closing instalment in Dario Argento’s Three Mothers trilogy. When this box first emerged, Jodorowsky’s next announced, believe-it-when-you-see-it project was King Shot, which would have starred (gulp!) David Hess and Marilyn Manson, whose wedding to Dita Von Teese was apparently conducted by the reverend Jod himself (and turns out to have been as ill-starred as most of his pictures.) Still crazy after all these years, Jodorowsky’s most recent completed feature, Endless Poetry, drew predictable rave reviews at Cannes earlier this year.

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“Ungoregettable”… PAURA: LUCIO FULCI REMEMBERED, VOLUME 1 Reviewed

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DVD. Region 1. Paura Productions. Unrated.

Apparently, while taping interviews for the bonus featurettes on many Eurotrash releases by the Shriek Show label, Mike Baronas moonlighted by filming pertinent interviewees’ recollections of Lucio Fulci in support of a book he was writing about Italy’s Godfather of Gore. With that project consigned to publishing purgatory (a very familiar location to me, Mike) he put out this compilation of those recollections to keep the kettle boiling.

I don’t know if Baronas wasted much time agonising over the best way to frame these clips but ultimately he’s opted for the simple expedient of letting his talking heads speak for themselves, merely splitting them into “victims” (actors and actresses), “accomplices” (Fulci’s technical collaborators) and “peers” (other Italian genre directors)… Michele Soavi appears in both the “Victims” and “Peers” categories and could, if Baronas had so chosen, have completed the hat-trick as he started working behind the camera on Fulci’s City Of The Living Dead / Gates Of Hell (1980). This unfussy arrangement suffices perfectly well, as it is the testimony of the participants that will really matter to the Fulci-lovin’ target audience of Paura.

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Baronas’ declared aim is that these off-the-cuff remembrances will go some way towards capturing the elusive essence of Fulci the man.  Naturally a wide variety of impressions are encompassed herein but themes that resurface again and again are his troubled private life (including the suicide of his wife and certain family members going off the rails) … his rejection  by the Italian film establishment and a posthumous fall into obscurity in his home country that stands in stark contrast to his ever growing cult status in other European countries, Japan and The States… his dedication to and mastery of the art and craft of film-making… and of course his fabled eccentricity. Interestingly, the popular notions of Fulci’s aggressiveness on set towards cast and crew and of the particularly sadistic treatment supposedly meted out by him to actresses take a bit of a knock, with many of his alleged victims clearly all too wise to the fact that Fulci needed to engineer these meaningless little bits of theatre to get himself into the proper working groove. Even Luca Venantini (“Jon Jon” in City Of The Living dead) seems quite chuffed about the slap he got from Fulci (of which his papa Venantino wholeheartedly approved, incidentally) and Catriona MacColl, who took Fulci’s misogynistic persona at face value, clearly has a grudging affection for him and provides an incisive interpretation of the oft-seen photo in which a grumpy looking Fulci sits on a chair in the middle of the road during the making of The Beyond…

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“It’s a very symbolic photo in more ways than one… it’s a rather isolated man and this bridge is a link between this world and another, between his world and ours… whatever you’d like to think of it as… somebody who’s on this road, his destiny, and he’s definitely defying it with the posture he’s taken and that’s very Lucio… a man who defied a lot of things!”

Many of the actresses interviewed here declare themselves pleasantly surprised at Fulci’s gentlemanly demeanour towards them, and frankly it’s not hard to see why the old fox (described as “an accomplished seducer of women” by scripting stalwart Dardanno Sacchetti) would go out of his way to be nice to them: one of the incidental pleasures to be had from viewing this documentary is assessing how many of these actresses still look hot after all this time…. take your bows Ms MacColl, Florinda Bolkan, Eleanora Brigliadori, Corinne Clery and Adrienne La Russ (Beatrice Cenci herself), among others. A special mention here for the totally scrumptious Barbara Cupisti, whose experience with Fulci was so positive it convinced her to carry on pursuing her thespian activities (that’s “thespian”, you lot… calm down, calm down). Adelaide Aste (Theresa the medium in COTLD) promises to meet Fulci beyond the grave, but is she ever going to die? She actually looks younger than she did 25 years ago… clearly their encounters with Fulci had invigorating effects for many of these girls. Barbara Bouchet only appears as a voice over (“Lucio led a big life and I’m happy to have been part of it”) accompanying some choice shots from her glamorous heyday but trust me, she’s also keeping it together nicely together.

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Not everybody is here to praise Fulci… George Hilton remembers him as “an odd man with a strange personality… quite unstable” and Beatrice Ring contends that “his unhappiness could not justify his cruelty on set… I have a hard time forgiving him.”  Jean Christophe Bretigniere from Sweet House Of Horrors concedes that Fulci was a “genius” but recalls with distaste his habit of “eating onions like other people  eat apples” and deplores his “disgusting” finger nails. I’d always understood that there was some personal animosity between Fulci and Enzo Castellari so was surprised to see the latter wheeled on to pay “hommage”, which descends (after Castellari has related once again the anecdote of how he got Fulci the gig directing Zombie Flesh Eaters) into compliments of a distinctly back-handed variety… Castellari seems determined to infer from Fulci’s slap-dash approach to his personal appearance that he “did not like much the bath” but I have to say that personal hygiene was not an  issue during the three days I spent with Fulci in London during 1994. Can’t remember if I actually managed a bath that weekend, but Fulci smelled just fine.

Other heavyweight Italian contemporaries offer kinder recollections…
Sergio Martino rates Fulci “one of the top or maybe the top giallo director” (high praise indeed from the man who made The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh and Torso) and Ruggero Deodato offers “a big hug to Lucio, I know he’s doing well up there, too!” Another renowned cantankerous eccentric, Umberto Lenzi, praises Fulci as a “genius”, “maestro”, etc, before concluding, characteristically, with a casual “… and I was, too!” The reminiscences from Fulci’s magic inner circle are particularly poignant:  Dardanno Sacchetti confesses “I miss him more than Bava” and his script collaborator / spouse Elisa Briganti remembers Fulci as a lonely man searching for love. Another husband and wife team, make up FX aces Giannetto and Mirella Sforza de Rossi, come to a similar conclusion (“He hid in the fantasies of film making because the world was very bad to him”) while offering their own fondest Fulci memories. Scorer Fabio Frizzi remembers Fulci’s iconoclasm and casual blasphemy, even producer Fabrizio De Angelis (from whom Fulci became comprehensively estranged) speaks about him with great warmth and DP Sergio Salvati remembers “a film making great… a volcano who consumed us all!”

And the plaudits keep on coming… “a master, a great teacher, a bohemian, a real artist” (Gianni Garko)… “a director and human being of the highest standards” (Cosimo Cinieri)… “I miss the naughty boy more than I miss than I miss the great director” (Paolo Malco) and a moving testimonial from Fabrizio (Father Thomas) Jovine: “They are discovering now that he was a great director but to me, he was more than that, he was a life teacher… without him, I feel much more lonely.”

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We also learn what Fulci found in Giovanni Lombardo Radice’s toilet, witness Ivana Monti’s amusing impersonation of him and discover, during Tonino Valerii’s remembrance of Fulci things past, that this “extraordinary character” was a renowned expert on Marcel Proust! The contribution of  Dakar (“Lucas”) does not comply remotely with Baronas’ brief for his interviewees but confirms that Fulci wasn’t the only raving nut case on the set of Zombie Flesh Eaters… It’s left to Venantino Venantini (himself evidently no great conformist) to lay the final laurel “in memory of the unique, lonesome, absurd, schizophrenic and great Lucio Fulci… the wildest cat I ever met in the movie business.” Yeah, me too.

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The standard release of this disc came in a limited edition of 2,500 pieces. There was also a very limited double disc edition that included Dave Neabore’s soundtrack music (basically a rehashing of themes from various Fulci flicks) and the autographs of various participants… both no doubt sold out by the time you read this. Still, sadly, no sign of Volume 2. As Paura stands, you do find yourself wishing that certain people had gotten more of a say at the expense of some of the more marginal figures who acted in Fulci’s decreasingly impressive efforts from the mind ‘80s onwards. It’s a particular pity that the grim reaper denied Baronas the opportunity to have David Warbeck relate any of the wonderful and scandalous anecdotes about Fulci with which he regularly regaled me, and I personally witnessed many Fulcisms that I’ll always cherish. This release is a fitting testament to the fact that a lot of people want to remember Fulci and celebrate the life of this ol’ wild cat.

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Rest In Peace.

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