Monthly Archives: September 2016

SCALARAMA 2016… It’s A Wrap!

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So that was Scalarama 2016 at The House Of Freudstein… and what have we learned? That “a fruity surprise screening” isn’t the most cryptic of clues… oh, and that it was probably unwise of me to announce, in advance, certain postings that were subsequently bumped by the emergence of other contenders for blogroom. Don’t worry, the promised reviews of Salo and Caligula will be posted soon… or possibly do worry.

I was discussing the nature and value of nostalgia recently with somebody who said that he wouldn’t want to go back to the days of scuzzy VHS dubs but I think he was missing the point. Nostalgia isn’t about trying to go back, its bitter-sweetness derives largely from an acceptance that there is no going back. I don’t want to exchange my beautiful Blu-ray editions for scuzzy VHS any more than I want to spend hours on trains and sitting up all night in a dingy cinema to catch something (up to and including A Clockwork Orange) of which I can now pull an HD copy off my shelf and watch in the comfort of my own lounge (where cats are banned, all the rats are in cages and the carpets get hoovered once a year whether they need it or not!)

With such a brave new world of home entertainment just around the corner, it’s doubtful that The Scala could have gone on much longer even if it had won its case (as if!) or not been reckless enought to provoke it in the first place. Our beloved cinema club might have staggered on for another year or two longer but was, in hindsight, always going to give way to a hot-and-happening night club (I’m reliably informed that they, in their turn, are all closing now… and regular readers can readily imagine how inconsolable I am about that!)

Nevertheless, in the last words of Louis XVI (as interpreted by Mel Brooks) on the scaffold… “It was great while it lasted!”

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Blood, Shit & Sperm… The DARIO ARGENTO Interview

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“Where’s Sperm?”

Dario Argento visited The Scala in 1991 for the launch of Maitland McDonagh’s Broken Mirrors / Broken Minds tome (first published in the UK by Sun Tavern Fields.) I got the job of showing him around and introducing him to various folks. If you remember how people gawped, gobsmacked, at The Fab Four in the 1966 concert film Beatles At Shea Stadium (or indeed at Adolf Hitler in Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph Of The Will, 1935) then you’ll have some idea of how they reacted to the presence of Dario Argento. I was virtually foaming at the mouth myself… bear in mind, though, that this was 1991.

While Inferno or Opera or whatever was screening I taped the following interview with Argento. The interview was also filmed, with some pretty nifty Suspiria-esque lighting. My subsequent efforts to turn this footage into a documentary met with enough fuck-ups, fuck overs and rip-offs to themselves fill a book… not exactly Jodorowksy’s Dune or Terry Gilliam’s Don Quixote, but a missed opportunity nonetheless and one that I very much regret. 

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The interview appeared shortly after it took place, in radically abridged form, as The Blood, Shit And Sperm Of Dario Argento in issue #1 of Andrew Featherstone’s short lived fanzine Blood & Black Lace, on which I served as an associate editor (whatever that means.) The full version subsequently appeared under the title Profondo Argento in the 1993 debut issue of my own fanzine, Giallo Pages.

Thanks to Mariano Baino who put me up for the weekend, acted as interpreter and even threw in a few crafty questions of his own. Probable credit for some of the Scala photos used here should go to Andy Bark, no relation (as far as I know) to Peter Bark. Thanks, Andy.

But hey, enough of my yackin’. Here’s (ta-da!) the Dario Argento interview

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Ah, there you are, Sperm…

Your big career break was on Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time In The West with Bernardo Bertolucci… How was the collaboration between three such giants of the Italian cinema worked out?

Well, Leone brought me and Bertolucci together, we already knew each other, we were friends, but it was Leone who enabled us to work together. It was wonderful! I got to spend many months working on a Western, a genre that I had always loved but never dreamed that I would actually get to work in. The first thing we did was watch Johnny Guitar six or seven times and The Searchers with John Wayne, we also watched that several times, and then we started writing. I bought a gun, a colt…

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A real one?

Yes, a real one! I needed to feel the weight. So, alone in my house I would play with the gun, turning it around and around in my hands. I bought a cowboy’s hat too, and I used to wear it in front of a mirror. It was all done to try and get into the spirit of the thing, and it worked very well, in fact the opening, you know all the stuff with the fly, that was my idea. It came from studying the gun and the hat.

Could you tell us something about the influence Mario Bava has exerted over your career?

I knew Mario Bava since I was a small child, and I also know his son Lamberto very well… he’s been my assistant on three films. Mario was a technical genius, a real master who discovered many tricks – in the use of lenses, camera movements, and so on – that nobody else could do. His father was a cinematographer at the time of the silent films, and he taught Mario many tricks. It was a family tradition of tricks, special effects – underwater effects, fire effects, etc – it was a wonderful experience working with him on Inferno. For instance, he would say: Do you want to make a film where there are 50,000 people killed in a battle? I’ll do it for you, give me a week and I’ll do it for you, and he would draw them. He was a master of the mirror effect, a technique widely used in films but difficult to master, and he knew it perfectly. He could make things appear using glass panes. The glass is transparent, but when the light strikes it at a certain angle, it becomes like a mirror and you can reflect things into it but you’ve got to find the right angle. And sometimes he would draw on these panes of glass… he would draw little cities and he’d build it up and you’d have an actor in close-up and a city behind him, alive with lights and movement… he was a marvellous man!

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While we’re on the subject of such hi-tech trickery, what were the difficulties involved in shooting the slow motion car crash decapitation that closes Four Flies On Grey Velvet?

Well, it took a long time, I used this camera from… Dresden University, the department of engineering. It’s called Pentaset. This camera reaches a speed… I don’t remember now, I think it’s about 25,000 frames per second. It’s unique, radically different from another camera, otherwise the film, at that speed, would burn, it would disintegrate immediately. I think the film is travelling at something like 400 KM per hour. But in this camera the film is immersed in an oil-bath, and there isn’t an ordinary shutter… it’s got prisms, glass prisms that can reproduce the same image 25 times. The prism rotates at an incredible speed, and so does the film. It’s a very complex piece of equipment but it was the only way to get that extreme slow-motion.

Are technical innovations always at the forefront of your mind when writing a screenplay?

Yes, in the script I put lengthy technical notes, and also musical annotations… it’s a very complete screenplay, as I’m writing it for myself… I’m not going to hand the screenplay over to somebody else, so I write down everything that comes into my mind… the colours, the costumes… everything!

Is there any scene that you would like to have shot differently, but couldn’t, for want of the proper equipment at the time?

There have been so many… so many times I’ve had to abandon some good idea because the right equipment wasn’t available. In my next film there’s a segment shot from an animal’s point-of view… not the whole film, just a small segment of it is from the animal’s point of view… the point of view of a lizard. I did have a project to be shot entirely from an animal’s POV, but it would have posed far too many problems, technically.

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On Opera you came up with several novel camera effects, and to achieve them you worked for the first time with a non-ltalian director of photography…

Yes, RonnieTaylor… I met him when I shot a commercial in Australia, a car commercial for Fiat. He was the DP on this commercial, which was shot in the Australian desert. We worked together for two or three weeks, quite a long job. We got to know each other and I discovered he was a fantastic man. When we finished the commercial, I started shooting Opera straight away and I asked him to work on it. We became great friends… a great friendship was born there.

Opera, particularly the end of the film, seems to reiterate the themes of its predecessor, Phenomena…

No, in fact I think that Opera ends where Phenomena begins, even if I made Phenomena first. Opera is the story of a director who leaves the theatre to make a film about insects in Switzerland… that’s how Opera ends. In reality the director does make the film Phenomena! The order in which I made them is not important – it doesn’t really matter which order you watch the videos in, does it?

Phenomena, your least well-received film, is the most personal of them all…

Yes, the story of Phenomena is the story of this girl’s spiritual odyssey, but in reality it’s my own odyssey… it was me… I’ve told it through the story of a 13 year old girl, but I wanted to tell my story… I was coming out of a certain period in my life… nobody understood it.

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Is this because your films are often viewed purely from a technical standpoint by true critics, completely disregarding their substance and subtext?

When the critics are confronted by a different way of making cinema, one that changes the rules a bit, they are puzzled and don’t understand what they’re experiencing. All the critic sees is the surface… he sees the surface of the water, which we could call the technique, the style… but he doesn’t go under the water’s surface to discover what lies there… and there’s a lot! It’s deep… there’s politics, there are symbols… for example I had the idea, for Phenomena, that reality was not what it is today, but a different reality: I imagined that, at the end of World War II, the Germans had won, not the English and the Americans, and that a new order had been established… a sinister order, in which people are reduced to nothing more than children, and teachers who behave as if in an S.S. camp.

Does it worry you that your fascination with the dark side of the psyche could end up consuming you, as in the case of your inspiration for Two Evil Eyes, Edgar Allan Poe?

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That’s something that has always worried me… not only Edgar Allan Poe, but also Cornell Woolrich… he had a tormented life… and others… Lovecraft… nobody knows where he’s buried. That’s because they… it was a different age, you know. It was the times, I think. Today it wouldn’t happen… and of course Poe probably had this tendency towards self-destruction… whereas when I finished Opera, for example, I was so shattered… my soul was shattered… that I had to go to India for two months. I went to Katmandu, then I toured India…

Alone?

Yes, it was very important for me to do it… otherwise I would have gone mad! It wasn’t exactly a holiday, more a pilgrimage, a self-renewal. But when I’d done it, I felt able to get out and socialise again. I’m not some kind of recluse. I love to meet my fans. I travel around a lot, in fact I’m a globe-trotter! Wherever one of my films is released, I go… always! I love people… they interest me.

You have such a tremendous cult following among young people… do you make any special effort to appeal to this young audience?

No… it just happens. I tell my dreams, and if that’s the way my dreams come out… (shrugs). But I am devoted to my public. It is because I need to have this dialogue with my fans, and for that reason only, that I am prepared to make some compromises. You have to accept compromise if you want to make films: cinema is the art of compromise… especially today.

Is it difficult for you to accept these compromises?

I don’t accept all of them, more often I find that I have to fight the system… that’s why I keep saying we should abolish censorship and set the directors free.

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Those who criticize you for the violence in your films take particular exception to the violence you direct against women, they accuse you of misogny… and yet your films are full of strong female characters…

It’s true that there are killings in my films, and women often get killed… but plenty of men do too! Apart from anything else, of course, you have to remember that it’s not real… it’s fantasy. But these women aren’t just poor victims anyway… think of Phenomena: the two female characters, the teacher and the girl – the girl has got these supernatural powers and the teacher is a ‘fury’…

Suspiria, too…

Suspiria, as well. I think it’s a perceptual error… a small one.

Do you think that increasing international censorship is to blame for the poor shape that the horror genre currently finds itself in?

Yes, I think that’s the case… especially in America, where horror films have disappeared. A year ago… no, three years ago, let’s say… there were lots of American horror films being produced. This year? Nothing! And certainly, censorship has played a part in all of this. That’s why I say that censorship must be stopped. It’s absurd!

Isn’t the Italian horror scene in an even worse state than the American one?

In Italy, horror cinema has virtually disappeared. There’s only me and my small ‘factory’ now… Lamberto Bava, Michele Soavi, special effects man Sergio Sivaletti… a few script-writers. There’s just a handful of us left doing it.

Are you comfortable in your role as a producer? Do you find it hard, for example, to walk onto Michele Soavi’s set and see somebody else direct the picture?

No, no, I find it very easy. We know each other well. I’m comfortable with them, and they’re at ease with me. I go on Soavi’s set without any problems… but he makes his film, not my film… he makes it and I produce it. Otherwise I would direct it myself, I show him that respect.

It’s said though that you don’t have much respect for actors…

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No… maybe it’s my attitude. Some directors who make… (pause)… comedies or other kinds of films, have a very complex and deep relationship with the actors, they practically live in symbiosis during the making of the film. But my films are very mathematical and the actors have got to do what’s required of them exactly, without deviating. They have to do what’s been written and drawn for them. I haven’t got such a close relationship with the actors, I tell them what they’ve got to do, explain things, and then it’s everyone to their own devices. So they think I despise them… but I don’t. Hitchcock used to, but not me.

Did you experience any problems with Harvey Keitel, given his ‘method’ approach, on Two Evil Eyes ?

No, not at all! Everybody told me I was going to have problems with him, but I didn’t. One actor who did give me plenty of problems though was Tony Musante, in my first film, The Bird with The Crystal Plumage. We fought all the way through the shoot. For me, getting up in the morning to go to work became a nightmare, because I knew that I would have to fight with Musante… everyday, day after day! When we finished the film, we met again, and this time we had an actual fist-fight… as he was much bigger than me, he gave me a good hiding!

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And that was your worst ever experience with an actor?

Yes, luckily I’ve never had to work with anyone that obnoxious again.

There’s a shortage of really top-notch special effects people in Italy…

Well, Sergio Stivalettii is pretty good… and we had Rambaldi, the great Rambaldi.

Yes, but you used the American Tom Savini on Two Evil Eyes…

Well, Tom Savini is an artist, a great artist… he’s a sculptor, he builds models that nobody else in the world could do… his models are truly unique. He also does animatronics exceptionally well. For example, the cat head he did for me on Two Evil Eyes… it was about this big (makes sweeping gesture)… the head moved… the eyes, the ears, the nose… but Tom was born a great artist, it could have happened anywhere… in America, or France, or wherever… sometimes a genius is just born.

Will you be using him on your next film?

Yes, because I’m shooting in America again.

Can you tell us something about the picture?

It’s called Aura’s Enigma (released as Trauma – Bob). I had the idea while I was working in Pittsburgh during the three months it took to edit my Black Cat segment of Two Evil Eyes… I find editing very easy, it doesn’t take too much out of me. So I was all alone in my room for long periods, and I spent the time writing the story, then I wrote the screenplay, and now I’m shooting it.

Are you still, in the words of Sergio Leone, “full of cinematic sperm?” Are you still in love with film?

Yes, it feels like my career has just started, like it started only a moment ago. Yes, I am still “full of sperm!” (Laughs) For me it’s really like a natural function… if you didn’t shit you would die, and it’s like that. I’ve got to do it, because if I didn’t, I would die… it’s a necessity!

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“Now I have a mission in my life…”

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“I have become like a monk…”

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“A monk of…”

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“… AGAINST CENSORS!!!”

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Four Flies / Red Eyes… Argento’s FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET Reviewed

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As already mentioned in this month’s Scalarama postings, there was a time in the ’80s when I would think nothing of catching a train from Liverpool to London, doing a spot of shopping in Forbidden Planet, stopping up all night in a shabby Scala seat to catch a 4 am screening of Four Flies On Grey Velvet then returning on the milk train to Lime Street… eloquent testimony to both the lure of The Scala and the 40 year unavailability of Dario Argento’s third giallo (not to mention how much more disposable income and motivation I had in those days!) You kids don’t know you’re bloody born, with your deluxe Blu-ray collectors’ editions! Speaking of which…

 Blu-ray. Region Free. Shameless. 18.

CoOP41YW8AA0YaT.jpg-large.jpgIf The Cat O’Nine Tails (1971) was evidence of Argento’s growing self-assurance his follow-up, the same year’s Quattro Mosche Di Velluto Grigio / Four Flies On Grey Velvet testifies eloquently to his emerging genius. Its dazzling title sequence intercuts an overhead view of a drum solo with closeups of a beating heart, a brilliantly chosen image with which to simultaneously express Argento’s central and interconnecting themes – time, love and mortality. Thereafter we are plunged straight into violence: Gleefully confounding our expectations, Argento has the menacing figure based on Cameron Mitchell’s heavy in Blood And Black Lace apparently killed by the character he’s been stalking, rock drummer Roberto Tobias (Michael Brandon) who tracks him down to a derelict theatre.

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All this is photographed by a mysterious masked figure in the balcony, and the guilt-stricken Tobias, who already has to contend with the breakdown of his relationship with his wife Nina (another touchingly fragile performance from Mimsy Farmer) is now plagued by photographs of the incident turning up at his house – no wonder he suffers from a recurring nightmare of decapitation.

His housekeeper works out what is going on and arranges a meeting with the blackmailer in a local park, only to be stalked through its topiary after closing time and stabbed to death in a maze. At this point Tobias enlists the aid of a gay private eye, a deft comic performance from Jean Pierre Marielle as the ineffective detective who fares no better than the housekeeper… after a chase on the underground he confronts the blackmailer, who promptly beats him over the head and injects curare directly into his heart.

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As his entrapment deepens, Roberto seeks consolation in an affair with his wife’s friend Delia (Francine Racette), who predictably is soon pushed down a flight of stairs and stabbed to death. The police’s forensic division use one of the dead girl’s eyeballs in an experiment, passing a laser beam through it in the hope that the last thing she saw can be reproduced as a photographic image (that old chestnut pseudo forensic chestnut) and provide a clue to the identity of her killer. The resulting image is meaningless, the titular “four flies on grey velvet.” Things are looking bad for Roberto, but out the blue the significance of this image announces itself… then things look even worse as he finds himself at the mercy of his tormentor. He is shot twice but just as the killer is about to deliver the coup-de-grace, one of the drum’s eccentric friends appears and saves the day. The killer jumps into a car and drives away, only to crash into the back of a truck, and Roberto’s ongoing premonitions of decapitation are shockingly fulfilled…

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Argento had recourse to extra high-tech equipment for FFOGV and technological innovation also features as a plot device (noted Italian SF specialist-Luigi directed second unit and also had a hand in writing the film’s story.) Paradoxically, Four Flies is the director’s warmest, most human film – transcending mere gimmickry, Argento uses his technical bag of tricks to cut straight to the heart of the human condition. By a masterful manipulation of screen time he illuminates the plight of those for who present is a constant re-working of past traumas. The titular clue is quintessential Argento, an audacious visual representation of a dead moment from the past, lovingly conserved and cultivated in the mind of a psychopath until it can swing again into violent life. There is no room for any concept of free will in this scheme of things and Argento goes to extraordinary lengths to comment on his fatalism – the classical device “Deus ex machina” is used at the climax of many of his  films but here Tobias is saved by the intercession of a god very much present in the machine, Bud Spencer as “Dio” who is introduced by a burst of The Hallelujah Chorus on the soundtrack, a nod to the Spaghetti Westerns in which Argento got his script-writing break.62-four-flies-on-grey-velvet-1-preview

In another spot of dues-paying the director gives Tobias an address on Fritz Lang Street! Clearly Argento is in a playful mood – he even manages an affectionate sex scene, touchingly played by Brandon and Racette, which brings the emotionally shrivelled life of the killer into sharper relief. Similarly, a jokey visit to an exhibition of funeral accessories where one of the tacky exhibits is a coffin car, serves as a comic pre-echo of the film’s shattering conclusion, where Argento scales the heights of tragedy. Using a camera that shoots (by his reckoning) up to  25,000 frames per second, Argento elongates the final seconds in the present of a character whose life has been lived almost exclusively in the past. His minutely-detailed slow motion dissection of this terrible moment either sadistic, nor voyeuristic, but ultimately compassionate. Enhanced by Ennio Morricone’s most haunting theme (at times the marriage of visuals and music in FFOGV approaches what he achieved in tandem with Sergio Leone) this profoundly moving moment leaves the viewer emotionally drained but wishing that he could sit down and watch the whole thing all over again (though for decades seeing it at all was some feat.) By tugging on the strings of time Argento has wrought a work of staggering complexity and resonance in which each part refers to every other part and to the whole. Nic Roeg’s feted Don’t Look Now, which aspired to something similar (a full two years later), comes across as positively simple-minded in comparison.

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From about 2010 0nwards a succession of official looking releases turned out to be little more than tricked-up bootlegs, finally put by right by Shameless in early 2012. This one is Argento-approved and optically fixes a screen glitch (caused by the film jumping the high speed camera gate) that has detracted from the film’s shattering climax in every previous small and big screen release. Visual and aural elements have been beautifully remastered, four elusive pieces of footage can now be viewed (in standard definition) as either isolated extras or in situ, Luigi Cozzi introduces and talks about the making of the film, you get alternative English titles and credits plus the expected trailers…

… talk about well worth waiting for!

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Van Orton Design

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Wild In The Aisles… PSYCHOMANIA Reviewed

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BD. Region B. BFI. 15.

Square dude: “Just what is it that you want to do?”

Peter Fonda: “We wanna be free! We wanna be free to do what we wanna do! We wanna be free to ride. We wanna be free to ride our machines without being hassled by The Man… and we wanna get loaded… and we wanna have a good time… And that’s what we are gonna do!”

Roger Corman’s The Wild Angels (1966)

Cut to 1973 Walton-on-Thames, where local outlaw biker gang The Living Dead are on the rampage. After running a van driver off the road to “blow his mind” (yeah, right through the windscreen of his car!), their leader Tom (Nicky Henson) is making out with girlfriend Abby Holman (Mary Larkin) in a graveyard (when, that is, he’s not taking time out to catch toads.) He suggests that they “cross to the other side” by killing themselves. “Oh no, not that again…” complains Abby: “I can’t. I promised my mother I’d help her go shopping tomorrow!”

Tom won’t be put off by such humdrum, diurnal considerations. Having wheedled the secret of immortality out of his medium mother (Beryl Reid) and her sinister (possibly Satanic… maybe even Satan himself) butler Shadwell (a bizarrely cast George Sanders), he rides off a bridge into the river, dies, is buried astride his bike in a mound in the local park (Mrs Latham gave her permission, but didn’t the environmental health department have anything to say about this?) and returns (running over a hapless passer-by in the process) to tell his gang (Hatchet, Chopped Meat, Gash, Hinky and, er, Bertram) the glad tidings… namely that if you commit suicide, secure in the belief that you can “cross over” and come back, you will. Furthermore, that having died once, there’s nothing  on  earth that can kill or even hurt you. “Oh man!” cries his evil lieutenant Jane Pettibone (Ann Michelle): “What are we waiting for?” Hey ho, let’s go…

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Cue a series of ludicrous and surreal suicides (played out to furiously wicky-wacking wah wah guitar)… leaps from motorway bridges and tower blocks… RTAs… best of all, the eejit who chains himself to an anvil which he then chucks into the river… and before you can say “wankel rotary engine”, an undead biker army has suburbia at their mercy.

Although a contemporary review in The Times considered Psychomania to be ideal viewing “at an SS reunion party”, Henson and co’s antics during their alleged reign of terror is more reminiscent of The Bash Street Kids than anything that went on at the Spahn Ranch. Cornflake packets are knocked off of supermarket shelves, women in hot pants are chased around shopping centres (lacking only the Benny Hill theme music), the gang attempt (and more often than not fail) to kick over traffic cones and anyone reckless enough to carry a cardboard box is jolly well going to have it jostled out of their hands. Christ knows how Tom manages to cajole these wimps into suicide and beyond. “Today we do the ton!” he announces at one point (though the clapped out machines on display look scarcely capable of that), only for one of his acolytes to bleat:”It’s suicide!” It really isn’t… I’ve done it (as a pillion passenger, anyway) and lived to tell the tale. Don’t start me on their drippy hippy funerary practices either, though admittedly Harvey Andrews’ rendition of Riding Free is pleasing stuff, a darkly deft psych-folk offering conceived with at least one ear on Paul Giovanni’s Wicker Man OST.

All this weediness notwithstanding, Tom’s declared intention to kill a long list of establishment figures (the kind of squares who want to stop our anti-heroes from doing what they want to do) prompts his Mum to reconsider her pact with “superior powers”, even if it means that she’ll be turned into a toad while he and his gang are transformed into monolithic stones. Well, these are the breaks when you deal with The Devil…

Psychomania gleefully mines the occult, anarchic, homo-erotic and thanatonic overtones (The Coffin Cheaters, anyone?) of the biker lifestyle previously delineated in films as diverse Cocteau’s Orphee, Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising and Freddie Francis’s Tales From The Crypt, not to mention Easy Rider and all those AIP programmers. Ted Moore’s beautiful photography of Henson and co’s quaintly sanitised biker antics is enhanced no end by John Cameron’s atmospheric, nay doomy death-prog score.

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Don Sharp directed (perhaps “perpetrated” would be more appropriate) Psychomania at a time when American money was draining out of the British film industry. A series of early ’70s films which suggested that the groovy mores of the swinging ’60s were finally embedding themselves into mainstream consciousness actually disguised the desperation with which the trend conscious bread heads and bean counters were trying to keep bums on British cinema seats. Even the stumbling giant of Hammer was dipping its toe into youth rebellion, juvenile delinquency, biker gangs and plastic psychedelia with its last gasp Dracula flicks. If small British producers couldn’t compete with MGM, aping AIP was much more feasible and while Sam Arkoff and co had a hand in many UK-based co-productions during this period, Psychomania (in which they didn’t) follows the AIP formula more slavishly than most of those.

As prestige productions dried up, unlikely names got dragged into the ensuing schlock fest… Beryl Reid already had The Killing Of Sister George and Entertaining Mr. Sloane on her resumé. Hollywood’s Mr Suave, George Sanders had been in (to name but one) All About Eve, fer chrissakes, but was dogged by personal problems at this point in (and very close to the end of ) his life. Both of them shape up like troupers, indeed it’s the resolution with which the whole cast keep their faces so admirably straight during the preposterous proceedings that accounts for much of its oddball charm. Ann “What are we waiting for?” Michelle was a girl whose leather trousers adroitly straddled the zeitgeist, sandwiched as she is here between her roles in The Virgin Witch (1972) and House Of Whipcord (1974)… after two 1977 roles in The Cruel Passion and Young Lady Chatterley her film career pretty much petered out (though she has continued to work on TV)… no wonder she didn’t want to hang about!

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Young Vic alumnus Henson (who took a significant role in the zenith of UK horror cinema, Michael Reeves’ Witch Finder General, five years earlier) hoped that nobody would ever see this film and, disappointed in that hope, has slagged it mercilessly throughout the decades, though he seems to be reconciling himself somewhat to it in his old age… surely a more measured response than that of Sanders, who – legend has it – killed himself immediately after watching Psychomania! Robert Hardy is wheeled in as an oddly accented police inspector investigating the gang’s skid marks and you’re also treated to an early Dot Cotton cameo.

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You can see Henson’s attitude towards Psychomania mellowing over the course of two of the bonus featurettes on offer here, Severin’s “Return Of The Living Dead” retrospective from 2010 (in which there’s some nice reunion stuff with co-star Larkin… see below) and a more recent interview devoted to him. He rightly praises the film’s stunt work and recounts various stunt mishaps, along with anecdotes focussing on the cheap skate nature of the production and the cringe-inducing treatment of fallen star Sanders.

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Other extras carried over from Severin’s own release of the film include interviews with John Cameron and Harvey Andrews, the latter shot by James “Birdemic” Nguyen… a stark reminder there for Nicky Henson that Psychomania is nowhere near the worst film ever made!

New on this BFI disc is an interview with Derek Harris, proprietor of legendary outfitters Lewis Leathers (who supplied the biker gear for Psychomania) and they’ve dug up an old Shell-sponsored short in which John Betjeman encourages us visit the standing stones of Avebury, Wilts (and presumably use lots of Shell petrol in the process), similar to those that The Living Dead spend much of their time riding around in slow motion. You have the option to watch the main feature with a Wilson Bros Trivia Track (an option I haven’t chosen to exercise yet) and there’s a micro-featurette on the BFI’s pains-taking restoration of Psychomania (it looks pretty good considering the paucity of available elements, though colours get a bit flickery in places.) The accompanying booklet contains informative, amusing and nostalgia-tinged essays by Vic Pratt, William Fowler and Andrew Roberts. Pratt’s reminiscences of trying to stay awake during late night TV screening of horror films such as Psychomania in the pre-VHS era struck a sympathetic chord with me and I imagine there are many readers of this blog who’ll know exactly where he’s coming from.

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The most astonishing aspect of this set, though, is the inclusion of Roger Wonders Why, a 16mm Christian biker propaganda film (indeed An Apostle Christian Venture Film), the contents of which are probably more gob-slapping than anything in the main feature. Its stars are listed as the eponymous Roger Abbott, Derek Jones, The Gang, The Scouts and Father Shergold. In it, young Roger is unwinding with his pals after a church service with an enthusiastic spot of conga dancing when he notices that a moody, leather jacket wearing youth (Jones) isn’t joining in. Derek convinces Roger to visit The 59 Club, where he observes that he’s never seen so many rockers altogether at one time in his life, before being introduced to the genial, pipe-smoking Father Shergold, who dreamed up this whole wizard wheeze to co-promote the twin joys of Jesus and biking. Now I’m sure that Father S was a stand up guy and everything about his club was on the level, but what we now know about some of the dodgy things that have been going on under cover of the cassock and the confessional make you wonder if any similar club, initiated today, might more appropriately be named “ten higher” than its predecessor. Anyway, our mild-mannered Marlon Brando graduates from the club to a scouting holiday in Wales, where we finally learn exactly what it is that Roger wonders, namely why more people don’t make the connection between trusting your abseiling trainer and “my faith in God and Jesus Christ as our guide and instructor across the rugged face of life to the frontier of heaven. So many people miss this point… I wonder why!” Dunno, Rog… beats the hell out of me!

Was Don Coscarelli influenced, when making Phatasm (with its characters’ casual acceptance of an out-of-whack world-unto-itself) by a previous exposure to Psychomania? Who can say. Together they’d make a cracking double bill, though…

… and while somebody is sorting that out, here’s the BFI’s Blu-ray release of Psychomania. To paraphrase Ann Michelle: “Oh man! What are you waiting for?”

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P.S. Yes, as well as haunting late night TV schedules (and Nicky Henson’s nightmares) for many years, Psychomania did play The Scala on several occasions.

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Little Deuce Coup… DOCTOR BUTCHER AT THE BROADWAY

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It’s all very well (has been rather jolly, in fact) watching Scala-type screen filler on DVD/BD and posting Scala-related reviews, features and interviews online but it has its limitations. Imagine my disappointment, for example, on playing the outboard motor scene from Doctor Butcher to Mrs F who, instead of whooping enthusiastically and commenting on the finer points of Maurizio Trani’s FX work, opined: “Uurgh, that’s horrible! Don’t ever show me that again!” 😦

No, to truly invoke the spirit of Scalarama you’ve got to get up off your sofa, leave the house (I freely admit, I’m not a great advocate for either of those activities) and sit yourself down among the great unwashed to enjoy a trash film with a live audience. Admittedly Phil “Hedgehog” Tonge barely qualifies as “live” but it was nice to remake his acquaintance as we shared the awesomeness that was the aforementioned Doctor Butcher M.D. playing at Nottingham’s Broadway Cinema under the Scalarama banner on the evening of Saturday, 17th of September, this year of Our Lord 2016.

Kudos to the mighty men of Mayhem, The Reprobate and Severin (whose incredible Doctor Butcher BD is reviewed elsewhere on the site) for bringing this bastard offspring of Times Square and the Tiber terror mills to The Broadway, a venue so uptight and PC under a previous regime that it banned Hong Kong knockabout fare for its perceived slights against the LGBT community and declared that De Palma’s Dressed To Kill would never sully its screens under any circumstances (it subsequently did, uncut!) Certain sensitivities must be observed though and I noticed that in advertising for the event the Doc’s C.V. had been amended from “depraved, sadistic rapist” to “depraved, sadistic maniac”… sounds like a much more agreeable chap now, doesn’t he?

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I was hoping that Severin’s Carl Daft might be manning the Butcher Mobile outside and handing out barf bags to punters, but it wasn’t to be. Nevertheless, Theatre 4 was just about sold out and in their introduction Chris Cooke, then Dave Flint did their best to whip up a little 42nd Street grindhouse atmosphere, while cautioning viewers that they probably wouldn’t get away with public sex or overt drug use. There was a rumour that somebody had taken a crap in one of the urinals, but this turned out to be a short lived and highly localised urban myth. Shame, really…

These provisos notwithstanding, the audience did guffaw enthusiastically along to their favourite scenes and lines of dialogue. “The patient’s screams disturbed my concentration so I performed removal of the vocal cords” and “I’m determined to have your brain!” went down particularly well and inevitably the most popular scene was…

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An unwholesome good time was had by all and before exiting into a Nottingham disfigured by the antisocial antics of alcohol addled townies (a spectacle that probably had more in common with the heyday of 42nd Street than anything which had gone on in the polite environs of The Broadway) we were thanked by Mr Cooke, who took the opportunity to plug the imminent Mayhem Fest (13th-16th October) and announce that they’ll be screening upcoming Severin release The Killing Of America in its newly discovered longer cut on the eve of the American Presidential election.

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Enjoy yourselves, it’s later than you think…

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Neuro Surgeons Scream For More… Severin’s Brain Boggling DOCTOR BUTCHER M.D. / ZOMBI HOLOCAUST BD Reviewed

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This is precisely why we don’t want a U.S. style health service over here… support the junior doctors!

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BD. Region Free. Severin. Unrated.

198o’s Zombi Holocaust by “Frank Martin” (Marino Girolami) apparently started life as Queen Of The Cannibals, which immediately begs two burning questions: 1) Where does the zombie sub-genre shade off into the cannibal canon? and 2) Could anyone in their right mind actually give a toss?

Of course several characters in this film aren’t actually in their right minds or rather, their minds have been put in the wrong craniums by Donald O’Brien, a mad medic who’s set up practice in cannibal country, hoping that the culinary preferences of the locals will discourage investigation of his forbidden experiments. Bang goes that little theory when body-snatching shenanigans by Kito-cultists in a New York hospital predictably lead to the mounting of a jungle expedition (and if that – plus the presence of O’Brien – sounds horribly like Emanuele And The Last Cannibals, so does the soundtrack music, shamelessly pillaged by producer Fabrizio De Angelis from that previous, D’Amato-directed outrage.) Despite Ian McCulloch’s ostentatious safari jacket, the expedition resembles nothing so much as a bad acid remake of King Solomon’s Mines, crossed with Island Of Lost Souls and shot in somebody’s back garden (though it was actually lensed in a Roman park.)

The expeditioneers comprise anthropologist McCulloch, sleaze-queen Alexandra Delli Colli (shortly to “enjoy” her career nadir, enduring hispanic toe-sex in Fulci’s notorious New York Ripper) and the compulsory sassy female reporter, Susan (Sherry Buchanan), who’s pushing for a Pulitzer. She’s more likely to get that than an Oscar, as her acting technique consists of staring goofily into the foliage when not actually delivering lines herself. Even so, she fails to see the cannibals who arrive to drag her off to consult with the doc. Various native bearers are similarly borne off and disemboweled and the unfortunate George (Peter O’Neal) has his eyes messily plucked out and eaten in Maurizio Trani’s finest FX moment (well, considerably finer than the make-up on the heavy breathing zombies who turn up to frighten the cannibals off, anyway: these guys only appear to be decomposing from the neck up – insert your own gag about the film makers here.)

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Desperately seeking Susan, the survivors are hampered by both zombie and cannibal attacks, but the ever resourceful McCulloch – veteran of countless zombie and alien pod scrapes – saves the day with his trusty machete and – in one case – an expertly wielded outboard motor.

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Finally, they reach the doc’s bamboo operating theatre … and Casualty was never like this! Susan, whose brain has already scooped from its skull, never will win that Pulitzer, but at least her career ambitions were pitched higher than those of O’Brien, who apparently considers “placing the brain of a young female into the body of a male who has been dead for ten days” to be “traversing new boundaries in medical science!” The good doctor is nothing if not thorough-going (“The patient’s screaming disturbed my concentration so I performed removal of the vocal chords”); community-spirited (“I always make a point of giving the scalps to the natives, for use in their fertility rites”); and modest (“I don’t limit myself to correcting nature’s mistakes. I improve on nature!”)

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He’s also scornful of his critics (“Yours is a fine example of medium intelligence”) and brushes aside any ethical shilly-shallying with the brusque observation that “science must surmount all obstacles, and this requires certain sacrifices.” Finally it’s revealed, in strictly throwaway fashion, that the natives regard Delli Colli as their goddess, which prompts them to torch the zombies and eat O’Brien, while McCulloch and the divine Delli Colli make good their escape.

In America, Terry Levene’s notorious exploitation outfit Aquarius released Zombi Holocaust on the grindhouse circuit as  Doctor Butcher M.D. (= “Medical Deviate!”), recutting its intro with shots culled from the abortive Wes Craven / Roy Frumkes collaboration, Tales That Will Tear Your Heart Out. I’ve never thought that this in any way enhances the viewing experience, but I’m loath to second guess as canny an exploitation operator as Levene. Surely he always gets such judgements right? Apparently not, because he’s of the opinion that it would be foolish and pointless to mount an HD restoration of Doctor Butcher, a  misguided view he chooses to state during one of the bonus featurettes on the very double BD set whose existence proves him wrong… the landmark Severin release now under consideration.

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Both cuts of the film presented here look better than recent rival Zombie Holocaust releases and both contain the elusive “bamboo pit” sequence (only present as an amputated “extra”, if at all, in those) as an integral part of their action. There’s still a fair bit of grain on view but I guess that’s inevitable in a film of this vintage and budget, preferable in fact to the kind of DNR pea-souping that blighted our screens in the early days of Blu-ray mastering.

… and then, of course, there’s the raft of impressive extras with which both of these discs are freighted. On Doctor Butcher you get the aforementioned Terry Levene profile and an equally enlightening guided tour around what’s left of the 42nd Street grindhouse district by  Chris “Temple Of Schlock” Poggiali and Roy Frumkes… the Frumkes footage whose fragments adorned the intro of Levene’s cut is shown in its entirety. The expected trailers are trotted out, editor Jim Markovic is interviewed and Gary Hertz supplies a witty and heartfelt illustrated reminiscence of his adventures in The Deuce. My favourite supplement on this disc, though, is an interview with notorious Gore Gazette editor Rick Sullivan who reveals all on the seminal East Coast fanzine scene, how an ill-advised detour into the pirate distribution of porn nearly got him jailed and his stint on the legendary Butcher Mobile, drumming up punters in the streets of New York with a spot of grand guignol hokum. The Severin boys repeated this trick to promote their own screenings and – Carl Daft tells me – made sure that they forewarned local cops, to reduce their risk of getting shot.

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Over on the Zombi Holocaust disc, Ian McCulloch continues to express good natured bewilderment at the ongoing popularity of his three forays into Italian splatter cinema (and sings Down By The River in archive audio evidence of his former incarnation as a wannabe pop star), FX artists Maurizio Trani and Rosario Prestopino discuss the tricks of their gory trade, we get more trailers, a “compare and contrast” of the film’s Big Apple locations, then and now (not much seems to have changed… one of the buildings now seems to have more rabbis hanging around outside it.) There’s an informative interview with Sherry Buchanan (looking rather lovely, speaking fluent Italian and now apparently residing in Rome) in which we learn, for instance, that this Biloxi girl’s career in Italian cinema began in a back room job on the Sergio Leone / Tonino Valerii Western My Name Is Nobody (1973.) Finally, director Girolami is remembered by his son (a certain Enzo G. Castellari) in a touching tribute illustrated with plenty of personal family photographs.

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In his featurette, FX man Prestopino amplifies a charge that Dardano Sachetti has often levelled, that the producers of Italian zombie films could have pumped more money into them and created an ongoing, internationally viable franchise, but chose to cut corners disastrously in search of a fast buck. Fabrizio De Angelis failed to lure Enzo Castellari to direct Zombie Flesh Eaters, which inaugurated the Zucchini Zombie craze in 1979, and it was only after Joe D’Amato had also turned him down that Lucio Fulci got the gig and turned in the exploitation masterpiece that we know and love so well. For Zombi Holocaust, De Angelis chose Castellari’s father… if he hadn’t been able to get him, I wonder, would he have approached D’Amato’s dad?!?

Lucio Fulci once told me how pissed off he was that De Angelis had nicked not only his ZFE star, locations and sets for Zombi Holocaust, but also surplus-to-requirement footage that Fulci had shot. I had fun spotting a coupla such shots (keep your eyes peeled for Auretta Gay) and I think you will, too…

Obviously you’re going to shell out for this, but bear in mind that the first 5,000 copies also include a give-away authentic(ish) Doctor Butcher barf bag and be quick about it… chop chop!

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The Straw Dregs… THE HOUSE ON STRAW HILL aka EXPOSE Reviewed

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Anyone remember that (historically accurate) scene in The Baader Meinhof Complex (2008) where journalist Ulrike Meinhof crosses the line from reporting on The Red Army Fraction (and yes, that’s how they actually designated themselves) into participating in their armed insurrection? A similar(ish) Damascene conversion was experienced by respected BBC documentarian James Kenelm Clarke in 1975 while he was shooting “Xploitation”, an episode in the Beeb’s Man Alive series that was devoted to the social menace of skin-flicks. Ruing the money he had lost on his utterly respectable directorial debut (the unfortunately entitled Got It Made) the previous year and noting the filthy lucre being amassed by the tit and bum merchants, Kenelm Clarke decided to throw in his lot with these smut peddlers, honouring the old adage: “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em… and beat off with ’em.”

Expose 1.jpgHooking up with producer (of Jose Ramon Larraz’s sexy blood-sucking epic Vampyres, 1974) Brian Smedley-Aston and hitting up bongo mag nabob Paul Raymond (who was keen to promote the budding thespian career of his protege and room mate Fiona Richmond) for financial backing, JKC put together The House On Straw Hill aka Trauma… the only British-made “video nasty” cited on the DPP’s official proscribed list (after it was released on the Intervision label as Exposé.) Thirty years-and-the-some later, Severin’s Blu-ray release (on their nostalgically resurrected Intervision imprint, appropriately enough) gives us a chance to reappraise this singular cinematic oddity (or decide that we’d been right about it all along.)

Exposé features exploitation Hall-of-Famer Udo Kier as a writer trying to get his head together in the country and pen the follow-up to his blockbusting debut novel. Work isn’t proceeding too smoothly, which is hardly surprising since that blockbusting debut was actually written by somebody else, who killed himself when Udo stole his magnum opus – Kier is further distracted by the presence of his sex-crazed wife, the typecast Richmond (their frenzied coupling intercut with that hoariest of cliché shots, a door banging in the wind) and nightmare / flashback sequences involving somebody (presumably the plagiarised author) slashing his wrists.

Kier packs Richmond off to London and installs a secretary who proves hardly less distracting, played as she is by Linda Hayden (just 22 but already boasting a string of Brit Horror credits, including Taste The Blood Of Dracula, Madhouse and Blood On Satan’s Claw), who spends half of her screen-time abusing herself with great gusto (Hayden’s orgasms, conveyed by frantic mugging, are the most memorably amusing aspect of Exposé). She even takes time out from dictation of Kier’s novel to go upstairs and take herself in hand (who can blame her … Udo’s prose, excruciating soft-core pap, would send anyone in search of something better to do, and the suggestion that the finished novel will be nominated for a Pulitzer Prize is patently preposterous). Having satisfied herself, Hayden calmly returns to work…

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… then nips out into the cornfield behind the house for yet another wank. While she’s gone, Udo – who’s convinced that he knows her from somewhere – roots through her effects. Predictably, he discovers a massive dildo. Meanwhile two louts in ridiculous loon pants have discovered Hayden playing with herself in the corn-field and are busy raping her. Hayden feigns acquiescence, only to lull her attackers into a false sense of security, then she grabs their shot-gun and blows them away (clearly JKC had The Straw Dogs very much in mind, a parallel underscored by the casting of Susan George-substitute Hayden and the House On Straw Hill variant title.) Back at the house, she resumes her dictation duties as if nothing has happened.

Udo gets drunk and starts to display paranoid tendencies, ranting about the demands made on him by editors and publishers, claiming that people are out to get him. After further weird flash-back sequences he makes a heavy pass at Hayden, but she seems content to let her fingers do the walking. Udo raves some more about how tough it is being a sensitive artist and phones Richmond, asking her to come back. When she does it’s only to end up spending more time in bed with Hayden than with her hubby.

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Taking a bath, Richmond discovers the body of Udo’s housekeeper (Patsy Smart) in the airing cupboard and is then herself stabbed by a mystery assailant … except that there’s no mystery about the identity of the killer. It is of course Hayden, who now trains her rifle on Udo and reveals that her husband is the dead guy whose work was ripped off (another major non-surprise.) She pursues him into the corn-field and is just about to blow his brains out when one of the rapists she shot earlier (“Little Youth” played by Karl Howman, subsequently of sit com and soap-sud commercial semi-fame) leaps out of that corn to stab her before finally dropping dead himself. Kier is left a gibbering wreck, contemplating the Shakesperian stack of dead bodies littering his estate… that should give him something to write about!

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A pre-titles card explains that with the elements declining fast, Severin raided three different prints to mount this restoration job which still looks a little ropey in places but will stand, when future alien visitors sift through the cultural detritus of our long dead civilisation, as the definitive edition of House On Straw Hill.

The bonus materials they’ll enjoy include a trailer, a short interview with Hayden in which she expresses enthusiasm for everything she ever appeared in with the explicit exception of Exposé and a commentary track, moderated by Jonathan Sothcott, with Kenelm Clarke and his producer (and uncredited editor / 2nd unit director… it’s also revealed that it’s Smedley-Aston’s photo which Hayden spends much of the picture, er, de-stressing over.) It’s an informative chat (during which none of the participants spurn any chance to chuckle over Linda’s self-love scenes and the film’s frequent outbreaks of “lesbotics”) though nobody seems to have any idea why more than one character feels the need to don rubber gloves before indulging in rumpy-pumpy (the safe sex message really isn’t getting across to some people!) Mention is made of the remake that was being touted for a while, though thankfully that moment of madness seems to have passed.

As well as THOSH on both BD and DVD you get a bonus disc incorporating parts 1 and 2 of David Gregory’s masterly “video nasties” exposé Ban The Sadist Videos and the featurette Censors Working Overtime, in which David “Reprobate” Flint takes the Torquemadas of Soho Square to task. The copy that Severin’s Carl Daft scared up for me also seems to bear James Kenelm Clarke’s autograph on its sleeve. Thanks, Carl.

… and yes, I do believe that this one did, on occasion, play The Scala.

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Re-Booty Call… Victor Matellano’s VAMPYRES Remake Reviewed

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DVD. Region 2. Soda Pictures. 18.

Victor Matellano makes no bones about his passion for the Spanish horror film tradition, having previously directed a documentary short about Jesus Franco and a feature length examination (Zarpazos! Un Viaje Por El Spanish Horror, 2013) of the whole Iberian genre shooting match, showcasing the likes of Franco, Jorge Grau, Carlos Aguilar, Eugenio Martin, Jose Larraz and Paul Naschy. He went so far as to incorporate archive recordings of Naschy’s voice into Wax, his 2014 variant on the much reworked Charles Belden chestnut, also finding room in its cast for such tapas terror stalwarts as Jack Taylor, Antonio Mayans and Lone Fleming… Mayans and Fleming return (joining Franco and Naschy alumnus, our very own Caroline Munro… though her role here is little more than a throwaway) for Matellano’s 2015 reboot (i.e. it’s hovering somewhere between remake and sequel) of Larraz’s Vampyres, a project which JL endorsed before passing away, as is clear from some of the supplementary material on this disc.

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In the roles made (in)famous by Marianne Morris and Anulka Dziubinska, Marta Flich and Almudena Leon are the eponymous sapphic sirens, luring unsuspecting dudes into threesomes where they end up donating more bodily fluids than the ones they were hoping to. Christian Stamm is the main victim but it is suggested, as it was in the 1974 original, that this character is some kind of supernaturally enhanced Van Helsing figure, doomed to pursue the toothsome twosome through successive incarnations…

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Poor Rupert…

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Rupert’s fate rebooted in 2015.

… this incarnation sticks pretty to close the original, down to the frequent recitation of its dialogue, verbatim and the recreation of specific scenes and shots (e.g. the ghoul girls running around in the woods, their capes flapping behind them), but starts to falter somewhat when Matelanno seems to lose his nerve about selling reheated early ’70s fare and introduces ill-advised elements of stalk’n’slash (the stalkees are ill-defined creative types camping out, for some reason, in the grounds of the girls’ gothic shag pad) and the dreaded “torture porn”, signalled by an unsubtle pinch from Eli Roth’s Hostel 2.

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The orginal Vampyres was at some level a love story (albeit an extremely kinky one) and a story of addiction (what’s the diff?) in which Larraz skilfully conveyed the compulsive nature of the title characters’ behaviour… though lethal, they remained attractive and ultimately pitiable. The current crop, when inflicting (unconvincing) tortures on their captives, just become petty, spiteful and bathetic.

Matellano has a good eye (by dint of which he generally manages to obscure this film’s budgetary shortcomings and mediocre locations, relative to the original) and his heart is obviously in the right place. His revisitation of Vampyres will do OK on the basis of its Barthorean levels of boobs and blood, but I’d like to see how this director gets on with some original material and a decent screenplay collaborator. His next effort, A Stop Over In Hell has been completed and its cast includes Italian action director in excelsis and occasional thespian, Enzo G. Castellari. Obscure credits buffs excited by that casting coup are exactly the kind of obsessives who’ll spot May Heatherly (from Cannibal Apocalypse and Pieces) in Vampyres 2015. Sad to report that she died shortly after it was made.

Bonus materials here include teasers / trailers, a mini-interview with Caroline Munro and a short “making of” featurette, narrated by Jack Taylor and apparently dating from a time when the film was entitled Universe Of Vampyres.

… and yes, Larraz’s original did play The Scala on more than one occasion so this timely Soda release gels nicely with our current Scalarama theme.

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A Penny For Guy’s Thoughts… The GUY PHELPS (BBFC) Interview

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Alongside the splat pack luminaries on the star-studded guest list for The Scala’s Splatter Fest (24.02.90) and among its rabidly anti-censorship attendees, BBFC examiner Guy Phelps might understandably have felt like Daniel entering The Lion’s Den. But he was cool in every sense of the word and happy to discuss the censors’ doings with us. There was a sense even then (still under the purview of James Ferman) that the Board and social mores were gradually loosening up… though we could scarcely have foreseen then that the likes of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Exorcist, Straw Dogs, Death Wish, Salo, Last House On The Left, et al (not to mention such Johnny-come-latelies as Baise Moi, Hostel and the Saw series) would be freely available in the UK in the 21st Century.

Guy, you’re aware of the strong passions aroused on each side of the censorship debate. How do you feel for example, when the BBFC certificate comes up at an event like this and the audience starts booing?

Well, you’re talking about very different situations with film and video. Most of the kind of stuff you’re interested in comes to us on video because so few horror and low-budget films get a cinema release these days. I think at the cinema a very specialised audience come to see this particular sort of film in a very particular way, whereas the same images released on video are going to have a different life in front of a different sort of audience. The whole way they are going to be seen will be totally different.

When an ‘18’ tape is taken home, anyone can see it, because the Video Recordings Act only operates at the point of supply. They also see it within their own home and the interpretation seems to be that seeing it at home gives a very different meaning to something. It’s one thing to go to the cinema – partly it’s a matter that you’ve gone out and chosen, made a very deliberate choice to see a film – whereas getting a video is nearer to broadcast TV, where it just comes straight into the home and there is less deliberate choice. Also, you’re seeing it in a situation at home where things look different to how they do in the cinema, or even in the office, in our case. We often find that if we take a tape home and watch it, it looks different than when watching it in the clinical surroundings of an office. So it’s very difficult to go from the position of a film screened at the cinema to a video released widely through the rest of the country, I don’t think one can draw any conclusions from one event to the other.

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Weren’t there particular problems with one of the films being screened here today… Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer?

A few. But I felt it was a very good film, and it would have been even better had it continued to investigate the more interesting psychology it discusses earlier on. On the whole, I think it’s an interesting account of a bizarre case. I didn’t find it exploitative, I think it was interested in the psychology of the character and the extremely depressing life-style he was leading. Some of the scenes were problematical but I don’t think the film as a whole was exploiting its material in a way that one could find unacceptable, in the same way as we didn’t think Cold Light of Day was doing that. (*)

This ‘tone’ thing is reminiscent of the BBFC’s feelings about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre…

I would have thought that Henry and Texas Chainsaw Massacre were very different cases, personally. Henry has more of a documentary style, though it isn’t an actual documentary, as the film-maker very clearly says in person and on film, whereas Chainsaw Massacre is very much a “chasing around and screaming” film, though with Chainsaw Massacre you never get quite what you think you’re going to get, curiously. But Henry is a kind of cold, beady stare at a curious individual, it doesn’t have any of the chasing around, menacing scenes. The scenes of violence, on the whole, are fairly brief and they vary in a way that they are presented, but a lot of them are not particularly visual at all.

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Still on the subject of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, can you give us a definitive answer as to what happened to the sequels? Because everyone’s got a different version of the story…

The second one came to us on film from the distribution company and as far as we were concerned, we were looking for a “soft” version that we could consider passing. Then the whole distribution network collapsed, for various reasons, the departments fell out. The company appeared to lose interest in it at that point. It was a film that didn’t do very well in America, and the third one didn’t do well either. Most of the films that don’t do well in America never reach this country.

Are you under instruction not to talk about specific cases you’ve worked on? An ex-member of the Board gave me that impression.

It’s difficult to talk about specific cases because we’re a monopoly. The companies have to come to us and we deal with their material… it’s not necessarily anyone else’s business what goes on between us. It doesn’t mean I can’t talk about individual cases at all, but there is a slight constraint, especially with something that one has worked on very recently. I can’t really go into too much detail about business relations between us and a company.

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The same ex-member told me an interesting anecdote about Lucio Fulci’s The New York Ripper being kicked out by the Board because its distributors submitted it without any cuts at all, hinting that if they had taken the trouble to approach you with, as you say, a ‘soft’ version, the Board would have considered passing it, possibly subject to further cuts.

I’m not sure. There were a lot of problems running through that film. (GP had opined in a previous interview that “…with people like Fulci, certainly, when the movie comes up one gulps slightly and reaches for the sick bag” – Bob.) Violence towards women is something that we’re increasingly worried about. It’s an area where there’s a great deal of research which suggests that the media really do have an input on the way that men think and behave towards women.

But isn’t there also the experience of Japan which has little regulation of horror movies, nor indeed of ultra-violent pornography, and yet has a negligible incidence of sex offences.

I think it’s very difficult to make comparisons across different cultures. Japan is a shame culture whereas ours is a guilt culture. Their whole attitude towards things like that is quite different, so I think one’s got to get into quite profound cultural studies before one can start wondering why certain things are more worrying to us than to the Japanese. We were very worried about violence against women in a way that the Board wasn’t twenty years ago So we continually find that when we’re were watching material on video, certain stuff that was cut back in the ’60s for instance doesn’t worry us at all now, whereas scenes of violence towards women which worried nobody back in the ’60s, apparently, we are now concerned about. That’s something about censorship generally, that it changes all the time, and I think one’s always going to look foolish in twenty years time, whatever one’s stance.

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Yeah … Mondo Cane was considered absolutely mortifying in its day, but now it looks ridiculously tame.

I can’t say I’ve seen it.

It contains stuff like Rossanno Brazzi having his shirt ripped off by frenzied female fans…

(Laughs) Well, that sounds absolutely disgusting to me!

No cheap thrills at all , there…

I’m sorry to hear it. But going back to The New York Ripper, it contained a scene where a broken bottle was used as a weapon, and there is a tendency to find something like that a bit more worrying in that in a moment of anger one’s unlikely to lay one’s hands on an axe, but one could pick up something like a bottle.

Does the Board have a list of unallowable “trigger images”, or is that just a myth?

Nothing’s ever as simple as that, no. It’s always context, treatment, why it’s being done… Film cutting is a delicate job!

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Jose Mojica Marins cocks the trigger in Embodiment Of Evil (2008)

Blood on breasts has often been cited as precisely such  a ‘trigger image’.

That’s certainly something that we would tend to worry about, but once again it would depend on whose blood and why it’s there. We would have to look at it from the point of view of what the director was trying to say with that image, which is as important as the image itself. One of the reasons that we have no book of rules is because there’s no reason why one particular shot shouldn’t be used. It’s how and why it’s used, the purpose to which that shot is put, that’s so important. For example, a shot in a horror film will have a quite different function and appearance to the same shot used in a documentary about a horror film, so it’s really the how and why that counts as much as the content.

How can you possibly justify passing some of the extreme stuff that was in Peter Greenaway’s Art-house movie The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, including cannibalism and the protracted torture of a child? Scenes like that just wouldn’t be allowed in a horror film. Doesn’t this reflect the elitist, class-bound attitude that is at the heart of the British censorship system?

Well again, I think that was more to do with the power of the film-making. Good, clever film-makers can get away with more because they know how to do it. In the Greenaway film you didn’t actually see very much and I gather he shot more – which is always the case – but what was actually shown on the screen was a lot less than the impact it had. That’s the way that a clever director can create an enormous impact without showing very much, that’s the important thing. Inferior film-makers, in my view, have to show the blood and guts because that’s all they can do. They don’t know about structuring a scene and creating an impact without all the splatter. I think that is one of the problems with the modern horror film, there are too many directors reduced to that kind of level because their imaginations don’t allow them to get any further. This is very much my personal view.

To paraphrase a notorious observation by one of your predecessors at the Board, there is a class judgment, isn’t there, in saying that a factory worker in Manchester, for instance, would be depraved and corrupted by seeing Andy Warhol’s Trash but a sophisticated, middle-class Londoner like yourself could handle it with ease?

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Not necessarily, no. We watch the films in a certain way. We distance ourselves from them through the way we watch them, to some extent. One watches them in a sort of academic manner, looking to see what the film is doing, how people are going to see it and deal with it. So one is, all the time, debriefing oneself from the experience. At the same time one is trying to see it in the way that other people will see it when they watch it – it’s a hopeless exercise if, through the debriefing, you don’t get the experience at all. So it’s actually a very difficult matter of trying to do two totally different things at the same time. But I think the fact that one is sitting at a desk, writing away, makes quite a difference, obviously, to the way you see it and one sees a lot of films. We will have a particular expertise brought from other experiences which gives us different ways of looking at the films. So we would hope that there is enough between us and the material we see, which is occasionally very unpleasant, to make sure that we’re not depraved and corrupted too quickly (Laughs).

What do you think about the whole “video nasties” hysteria in retrospect? Wasn’t the whole thing blown out of all proportion?

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1984-5 was obviously a very difficult period. There were a small number of video nasties, not many, and in the years before there was any regulation at all there was genuine concern that young people in particular were seeing material that they were probably not able to cope with. Whatever one might think of “video nasties”, so called, or other horror films, the thought of young children watching them in particular is, I think, fairly horrifying. It’s easy enough to make the case that there was a certain media and public panic that got slightly out of proportion to what was actually happening, but since regulation, to which there was so little public opposition – perhaps surprisingly – at the time, I think that the situation has sorted itself out, on the whole, to the satisfaction of most people. I think the government is more concerned with the look and presentation in video stores now than with what is being released and certainly the video industry is much happier – in this country it’s grown very much faster since regulation, whereas in many other countries where there is no regulation, there has been much less growth. This may or may not be a good thing, whether the industry grows or not may not be relevant, but certainly the industry is happy with regulation and I think there are plenty of sound reasons for supporting some form of it.

There was a perception at one point, not so long back, that perhaps the Board was loosening up a bit, with the likes of Society and Bad Taste being passed un-cut…

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We try and draw a line between horror that is fantastical and horror that’s inciting the audience to take pleasure in the spectacle of pain and enjoy the pain of the person who is suffering on screen. Films like the ones you mentioned, those are good examples of films that are pure fantasy. I don’t think anyone could extrapolate from them to real situations. That’s the main plank of our policy really. But there are particular problems with horror due to its history during the period of un-regulated video and the fact that the Video Recordings Act was brought in specifically to control horror films. As you know, before the VRA a lot of horror films were convicted under the obscenity legislation. This is something we can’t ignore – were not above the law and if the courts have judged that certain material is legally obscene, we can’t say: “We’re going to disregard this, we know better than the law”. We’re not allowed to know better than the law. We have to take account of these decisions.

In fact, we don’t see that many horror films at the moment. The genre seems to be in a bit of a trough, I would say. Not so many horror film are being made. We don’t actually see that much obscene material, most countries have some kind of idea of the standards we apply – presumably if there is that much material we don’t get to see it, or too much of it anyway.

There’s been a feeling for a while in America, which has been going through its own censorship travails, that the BBFC is now in some ways more liberal than its own MPAA.

I hope that’s right – the MPAA has a problem in that their cinema categories are entirely voluntary. Over there, apart from the ‘X’ and ‘NC-17’, their normal cinema categories exclude nobody. One of the advantages of our system of legal regulation by age is that we have a pretty firm idea of what the audience is, whereas they don’t – they can pass something ‘R’ and anyone can go in, as long as they’re accompanied by an adult, so that gives us a lot more flexibility – although ours seems a more rigid system, the end result is in fact greater flexibility, in that respect.

We sometimes hear about left-wing journalists who are supposedly working at such right-wing rags as “The Daily Mail”… is there any sort of contingent acting as anti-censorship “moles” within the BBFC?

Well, there’s no one consensus of opinion within any body, or even between any two people. Virtually everyone has a bottom line of what they would allow or not allow, so to that extent everyone is pro-censorship. Everyone would draw the line somewhere, and above that there’s a great level of disagreement over where the line should be drawn. The strength of our organisation has been employing a number of very different people who have different ideas and one argues constantly as a result, but I think that’s a positive rather than a negative thing.

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(*) When Henry was finally released in the UK shortly after this interview, it was only because its distributors had agreed to a version that had been personally re-edited by James Ferman, himself a failed film maker, to get certification…. out-fucking-rageous!

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McNaughton Rules… JOHN McNAUGHTON & STEVE JONES Interviewed

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Deep in the bowels of The Scala, I taped several great interviews at the star-spangled Splatter Fest in February 1990, including a cracker with Brian Yuzna, the transcription of which seems to have gone AWOL from The House Of Freudstein archives. Sometime in the distant future when I’ve located that or had the time to undertake a fresh transcription, I’ll post it on this site. In the meantime here’s another memorable Splatter Fest encounter, with director John McNaughton and producer Steve Jones, whose Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer was starting to generate much interest and controversy in the UK.

The ending of Henry is a real kick in the teeth…

SJ) We didn’t want to end it by having Henry removed by the police or put in jail or something, we didn’t want to let anyone off the hook that way. Henry goes off into the distance and he’s the one person who’s still out there and we thought that would add more to the horror of the business.

JM) Well again, the real Henry claimed to have murdered… was it 36o people? I forget… over a 7-9 year period in which the police pretty much never had any idea who this character was. I do find it a bit strange that people like Freddy are becoming mass heroes, but it’s usually the bad guys who are the interesting characters to me, y’know?

People find H:POASK so hard to take because watching it, they find themselves identifying with Henry…

JM) That’s the idea…

Yeah, but to me it was as though you kept dangling the idea that this guy could somehow be redeemed and then you snatched it away at the ending… I felt that ultimately he remained inaccessible.

SJ) I don’t think there’s any redemption…

JM) I think that all of us are capable… we’re all connected to The Beast in some way or other and some of us are born or formed along our lines of development in such an unfortunate way… again, I think the traditional way to deal with somebody like Henry is to say: “Look how bad this person is! He shouldn’t have done it, he’s bad and he should have just said no and not done this…” I think that’s kinda silly. I think there are those who are born so malformed… maybe they get pressure put on their skulls when they are born or something, nobody knows… but there will be another Charles Manson, there will be another Henry Lee Lucas… somewhere, somehow. I think as long as there are human beings there are going to be disturbed ones who are somehow missing that mechanism which stops them, when their anger rises, from reaching out and slaughtering someone.

I do think Henry had a code. Some people have a problem with drugs and can’t control themselves and it might even cause someone to die, it might cause someone in their family to die, it might cause them to lose control of an automobile… it might not, but that’s something that is compulsive and which they cannot control and in a person whose compulsive, uncontrollable behaviour happens to be incapability of stopping themselves from killing… well, it’s his problem but I also think we try and point out that there’s a difference between him and Otis, who just lets go, totally, to The Beast. With Henry it was like… “I can’t help myself from doing this… but this, this and this are wrong!”

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Henry Lee Lucas & Ottis Toole

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So what was Henry’s problem?

JM) We did a fair amount of research… oh, it was his mother, a line here and a line there were taken from actual quotes and woven into the dialogue but, y’know, I read Henry giving his life history to ten different reporters, printed in ten different newspapers and the basis of the story was always the same but the details were always different. Henry was diagnosed as a pathological liar, so I don’t think he knows himself exactly what he did. He has now recanted and says that he didn’t murder anyone – including his mother , for whom he served a nine year jail sentence.

SJ) They have hard evidence on a few of his murders, which is why he’s in jail, He claimed many more, in a lot of ways to get better treatment in jail – he just kept admitting to murders and police would come in from all over the United States and say: “Did you do this one?” and he said yeah, it just helped them out, cleaned their slates of unsolved murders and so when he got up towards 400 murders, he just recanted and said: “No, I didn’t do it!”

JM) To me, in many ways the more interesting story is what happened to Henry after he was captured, which we talked about doing as a picture, subtitled Superstar Of Crime, because you take a man who’s from such a deprived background and who’s so low on the social scale in every way and now he’s arrested for murder and every time he starts opening his mouth and confessing to another one he becomes more popular with the press and he also becomes the police’s buddy because each police jurisdiction has a book of unsolved murders, So they just call Henry up and they say we’ll blame it on him and cross it off the books and Henry went on TV, they were writing about him…

SJ) He’s got a phone in his cell…

JM) … right, they’re flying him around the country, various police jurisdictions and then he starts making demands, y’know… I must have a fresh carton of pall mall cigarettes, I must have a hot thermos of coffee… I won’t eat hamburgers any more, I must have steak and I want a VCR in my cell at all times… so it’s very strange that it was in many ways the best thing that ever happened to him.

It’s like the situation we have over here with The Moors Murderers, who sexually tortured and killed kids back in the ’60s and ever since they’ve been in jail milking it for all they can, hinting that they might reveal the burial sites of some of the victims and so on and the media has turned them into… well, as you say, “Superstars”…

SJ) It keeps people off Death Row in the USA also, y’know, as long as they can come up with a new crime to solve every now and then, most of them get away with it.

Given Henry’s tie-in with real life events, is there any litigation going on at the moment?

JM) There was never anything. We did some legal research, very little… enough to establish that what Henry can come after us for is basically defamation of character, but I mean… he’s convicted!

SJ) our lawyers, in typical lawyer fashion, had preconceived ideas about what could happen so we had to adjust to those things. That’s why there’s a disclaimer at the front of the thing.

JM) Right, in terms of our deal with Vestron, they were concerned about possible litigation.

SJ) You’re talking about the victims’ families…

How did  you feel about that? Were you concerned about the feeling of the bereaved?

JM) Well, because none of the killings in the film are based on the actual killings at all, no.

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You’ve talked about setting out to re-define Horror in the most extreme way possible with Henry and the quasi-documentary way that you did set about that task reminds me of The Last House On The Left, which was not a slaughter fest but instead focussed sharply on a few ghastly events and their aftermath… was that an important film for you?

JM) I didn’t see it until it came out on video and by that time I felt it was a little bit dated but again it was the grittiness, the reality of it… the forest preserve scene, if you remember that, was very, very effective. It think the score aged very poorly, it really hurt the film for me, took my attention away and made me think how dated this music sounded on this picture…

… and there were ill-advised comic sequences that just shouldn’t have been in there…

JM) Yeah. Again, to me, you have to be very careful. I mean, there’s Horror which is fantasy, where you can be comic and it’s great, but when you get into reality… we didn’t have the money to make Henry horrible through special FX so we made it horrifying by making it real. Pull the fantasy out and then you can’t run from it and when you do that you have to be very careful about humour… it can’t be gag-type humour, where they turn around and say a gag to the person next to them… to me that really takes you out of the story.

SJ) John’s original idea was to do a documentary-style depiction of a week in the life of a serial killer. By staying with the idea of being documentary-style, I think that’s what makes it as mean as it is. . There’s no frills – we didn’t have any money for frills – but we used it to our advantage for once.

So how would you compare and contrast that with the very flashy style they used in a film with a similar subject, Michael Mann’s Manhunter?

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JM) I can comment on that because I read the book, Red Dragon, about four times… thought it was the best mystery, thriller, psychological thriller… I don’t know how to genrify it, exactly. I thought that book was wonderful and I formulated the script in my mind and y’know, it’s hard enough to make a film and I don’t want to talk bad about other film makers but I didn’t care for the film at all. I really think it was a TV treatment of an incredibly rich book, so I didn’t care for it. I don’t like Silence Of The Lambs as a book as much as I like Red Dragon, because it focussed more on the good person and I find the good people usually lead boring lives. I’m looking forward to seeing what Demme does with the movie because I really rate him as a director.

I got the impression in your movie that Henry didn’t even get off on what he was doing, he just had to do it.

JM) That probably came from Michael, the way he chose to play it. It was very, very low key.

How did you set about getting all those glowing testimonials from people like Richard Pryor?

SJ) That was kinda second hand… we didn’t have it in writing.

JM) We had it in writing from John Waters, who is a big fan of the picture and sent me a few postcards praising it and I sent him a few back. He seems like a great guy.

He’s been itching to play a serial killer for some time… has he sounded you guys out about that?

JM) He’s got a great face and a great look and I’ve always loved his pictures, they’re hilarious… more power to John Waters for what he’s done.

You got an amazing quote from Stuart Gordon…

JM) Steve worked  with Stuart Gordon in The Organic Theatre, he did video stuff for two of their plays. The Organic Theatre is like, I dunno if you’re familiar with The Living Theatre, they were like the wild men and women of the theatre in their era and Chicago theatre, which is incredibly wild and wonderful and produces an incredible amount of excellent actors and actresses… The Organic Theatre was kind of like these wild dogs, y’know, they did the crazy stuff and Tom Towles came out of their, as did Richard Fire, Joey Montaigne and a whole bunch of other people who’ve become famous and successful. They were quite a crew.

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Gordon said something along the lines of: “Makes what I’ve achieved on far bigger budgets look pitiful!”

SJ) Yeah, that’s what he told me. Right after we got done with Henry, he saw one of the original cassettes and he said that for five times the budget they weren’t getting as good movies out there and that we should be working immediately…. and three years later, we finally got another job!

JM) Henry’s original budget was $100,ooo and it went over budget to the tune of of about $111,000, but that was before it was blown up. With the blow up, legal fees, etc… I dunno what it is but the finished product was $111,ooo. The Borrower was 2 million… it was easier for us to make a movie for $120,000 in Chicago than it was to make one for two million in Hollywood!

SJ) We had really dedicated people for Henry…

JM) … nobody looking over your shoulder and saying: (whines) “Well I dunno, shoot it from another angle, get a covering shot for that, do this, do that, etc…” When you work in an entertainment corporation, it’s like working in the advertising business, you’ve got a lot of people looking over your shoulder… do this, do that, everything costs more, everything’s more complicated.

Does all this make you reluctant to work the Hollywood system?

JM) N-o-o-o! I’ve already shot my mouth off and put my foot in it in print and I’m hoping not to do it again, because Hollywood is where the deals are made…

SJ) … that’s where the money is.

JM) $5 million to make a picture… try and raise it from your friends and family and see  how far you get!

SJ) On Henry, the fact that there was no money at all meant that the people who worked on it just wanted to do a good job. The Borrower was done more in the studio way of doing things and the people who worked on it, that was their job and that was what they did week-by-week. It was not…

… a labour of love…

SJ) … by any means. That meant some people were good at their job, like in any job and some people were lousy at their job but would get another job and continue to work and earn their living and feed themselves and their families. On Henry there wasn’t any money.

JM) Nobody fed their families on Henry, believe me!

SJ) Unless they had real small families…

JM) … like a family of gerbils or something.

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I was wondering if Michael Rooker, now that he’s got “respectable” credits under this belt, has shown any signs of trying to distance himself from Henry…

JM) No, Michael is in a kind of position where Hollywood is typing him a little bit in bad guy roles, I don’t know when Hollywood is  going to get hip to the fact that he can be a very effective leading man… today Henry is his only leading role.

SJ) He also turned up at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado and basically made friends with the entire town and the entire film community. Y’know, they see him in this horrible picture and then they meet Michael Rooker, who’s this gentle bear of a guy… he did a great job.

What happened with The Borrower?

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SJ) The Borrower was a logistical nightmare. We started in Chicago, ended up doing it in L.A., three different regimes of executives came and went before the picture got done, the company that we were doing the picture for went bankrupt… it’s kind of a miracle that the picture ever got completed and now it is, we just have to let it go until they finally decide to release it.

JM) In some ways that turmoil and strife worked to our advantage because all  the executive teams kept leaving, due to the collapsing nature of Atlantic entertainment. Consequently we had no interference during post production and editing, so it’s pretty much untouched. I mean, its director’s cut is the cut that’s going to go out, unless whoever buys it decides to recut it, which is certainly a possibility given the history of the film but so far each time they would try and have us alter the film, they would leave the company within a week or so… it worked out for us in that respect, at any rate.

But there were so many problems you came up against while you were making it, up to and including forest fires… earthquakes…

JM) It was not a blessed project!

SJ) We had a pretty big earthquake…

JM) There were a lot of problems. It was the first Hollywood production for both of us and we really got … it was like waking up every morning and getting punched in the face until you went to bed again at night, basically. Making that picture took about two years, start to finish. We were always skin-of-out-teeth, one micron away from disaster but we managed to complete the picture. It’s got a totally different tone to Henry and the more I’ve seen it, the more I’d have to call it a Horror Comedy although it’s very tongue in cheek, not gag humour.

SJ) It’s much more of a fantasy, also.

JM) You’re right, much more of a traditional sci-fi fantasy…

SJ) … more palatable to audiences generally while it’s a fantasy. All these heads get ripped off… it’s nothing like Henry, not as real…

JM) … but again, Tommy Towles opens the picture and Tommy’s original training in Chicago was with the Second City Company. If you’ve ever seen Saturday Night Live, that’s basically what Second City have been doing on stage for years… skit comedy. Tommy came out of this improvisational comedy school and he’s quite a comic, quite a funny guy and he’s great in The Borrower, it’s pretty funny, it’s more of a rock’n’roll movie for teenagers rather than something that makes you think or affects you very deeply.

In the projects that you’re working on now, which of those strands are you going to develop?

JM) We’ve got two or three things… we’re hopefully about to conclude negotiations to buy a William Burroughs book called The Last Words Of Dutch Schultz, Dutch Schultz being an American gangster of the 1930s and I think that when we get back on Monday we’re going to take a ride out to Lawrence, Kansas and talk to Mr Burroughs. Unfortunately, Mr Burroughs doesn’t own the book. If he did, I think he would have made a deal months ago.

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That property has been around a long time, hasn’t it? I seem to recall that at one point Keith Richards was being touted to play Dutch…

JM) I talked to a producer in L.A. and he told me that Keith Richards had optioned it or has tried to option it or had talked about optioning it at one point… another time, Elliot Gould was going to do it. Yes, it has been round for some time. Richard Fire (who co-wrote Henry) and myself have just finished a script, last Friday, called Step Right Up, which is about a young man whose life falls apart then he joins a travelling carnival.

This is from your own personal experience, isn’t it?

JM) Yes, this is an autobiographical piece and I just bought a book, optioned a book, called Carney Kill which isn’t horror, it’s more of a noir, murder-mystery thing  that takes place in a carnival in 1961 and there’s a screenplay on that which is out.

Can you tell us something about your own experience with carneys?

JM) They run games and have freaks and rides – crazy rides – so it’s great fun, y’know, there are a lot of people in the carnival who are pretty disreputable, but that core of people I hung out with in the carnival that I traveled with were some of the most trustworthy and solid people in terms of people you could count on in a fix or a scrape. The rest of the world might not see them perhaps as the best of citizens but there were some really top-notch folks in the  carnival I was with. I was running a game called the glass pitch. I was also taking pictures while I was there so I have a series of photographs of that which we are going to use in our next rewrite of the script.

Have you seen Jodorowsky’s Santa Sangre, a film largely set in what I would imagine is a similar milieu?

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JM) I didn’t buy into it the way I did with El Topo… but someone always comes along in the horror genre with a new picture, a Chainsaw Massacre or  A Day Of The Dead and blows it wide open again. I think it’s like film in general or literature or the music business, there are landmark works that blow it open, then the imitators come along and it kind of peters out for a while. I don’t know what to think of Horror now because the MPAA has so castrated the genre. Again, when I read Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3 – which at one point there was the possibility of me directing – The Borrower is like a fairy tale compared to that and it came to me round about the time we were on our fourth ‘X’ rating for The Borrower. Fortunately The Borrower was not damaged badly by the MPAA… a little bit, but not badly. They were sort of lenient with us, in a way.

Is this because you personally sought out Richard Heffner, the chairman of the MPAA?

JM) We had to, because we were in a bind but he was pretty fair with us, in my opinion.  But really the Texas 3 script, it’s like, New Line have been in the business for a while now and I couldn’t see why they wanted to shoot it because it was quite obvious that none of that stuff was going to make it onto the screen and this was indeed the case. I haven’t seen it but I’ve talked to the writers and, from what I understood, they’ve cut everything.

SJ) I think that technically, they can do anything now, as far as showing you anything, they can show you heads coming off realistically… bodies being ripped apart realistically, so maybe it’s time for the imagination to take over again and the stories to get a little better. Horror doesn’t just come from seeing that kind of stuff. I think everyone’s going to get immune to all this blood and gore. I think what’s really horrifying is what’s in your mind and what people do to each other as opposed to see what you see just splashed on the screen.

JM) Yeah, but I guess there is something about just delving into blood and guts and revelling in it that is just… part of being a human being!

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McNaughton & Rooker yock it up on the Henry set…

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