Monthly Archives: October 2018

“Here’s A Bit Of A Scoop For You…” The ALDO LADO (Micro)Interview

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Calum Waddell’s presence at Manchester’s 29th Festival Of Fantastic Films (introducing and conducting stage interviews with some of its star guests) afforded us the opportunity to hook up and shoot some stuff that will hopefully be appearing in featurettes for several releases you might be enjoying in the near future. During my flying visit on Saturday 27th October it was a pleasure to catch up with some old (and getting older) mates, say hi to Luigi Cozzi and finally meet Aldo Lado, who has directed some of the darkest, most troubling and subversive entries in the Italian B-movie tradition. Thanks are due to Gil Lane Young for graciously allowing me to attend the director’s Q&A session, during which we managed the following brief exchange…

Signor Lado, is it true or just a rumour that you made an unacknowledged contribution to the writing of Argento’s The Bird With The Crystal Plumage?

I haven’t said much about this for the last forty years but now I feel like talking about it, so here’s a bit of a scoop for you… I was working as AD on a film produced by Dario’s father, Salvatore. Dario talked to me about ideas he was considering for his first film. He gave me the book he wanted to adapt and asked me what I thought of it.

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After I read it I told him that frankly I didn’t think very much of it but that there was something in there which would translate very well into a film, i.e the idea of the killings being seen from the killer’s point of view. So we worked together on a treatment of the film, until I was called away to assist on a Western in Spain (Presumably Sergio Bergonzelli’s Colt In The Hand Of The Devil – BF.) When I came back, he was making The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, featuring all these POV shots that would become “his trademark” and it was being presented as something that he had dreamed up all by himself, with no mention of me whatsoever. Dario built a very successful career on the back of that film and if he’d acknowledged me, it would have opened a lot of doors for me, too. So now I regard him as my sworn enemy, because why would you treat somebody like that unless they were your enemy?

(SPOILER ALERT!!!) At the climax of your brilliant giallo Who Saw Her Die (1972) it’s revealed that the child killer is a priest but the film ends with a hastily dubbed line, right out of the blue, to the effect that he wasn’t a real priest, just somebody who dressed like one… was this ending imposed on you by the censors?

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Yes. You have to realise what a Catholic country Italy was in those days and how much power was wielded by the Church. The producers told me either we insert this false ending or the film will not be distributed, it was as simple as that. If you know me, you’ll have no doubt whatsoever what my attitude towards this was. I’ve been saying for decades that one day the truth will come out about all this sexual abuse in the Church and look where we are today…

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At the start of your career you were part of the circle around such heavyweight Arthouse directors as Pasolini and Bertolucci (whom you assisted on The Conformist, 1970)… is it fair to say that with your films you’ve carried on their tradition of social comment and criticism but in the idiom of a more popular / commercial Cinema?

Yes, I was part of that circle. All of those directors had important things to say about our society and I had things I wanted to say, too. One of them was inspired by something I read, when I was about 12 or 13, in a book by a Czech author… I forget his name. He said that everybody is actually two people… the person they present to society and their other, more authentic self.

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So in a lot of my films you see these people who are outwardly respectable but that’s not the whole story. People are judged by their outward appearance so we see that rich people and poor people who commit very similar crimes are treated very differently.

I wonder if you can tell us something about the film you made that was based on the notorious case of Japan’s “celebrity cannibal”, Issei Sagawa…

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Was that one of mine? Oh yes, Ritual Of Love (1989) was loosely based on that case. To me, it’s a love story. You know that in Italy, when people express their love for their grandchildren, they often say things like: “You’re so sweet, I could eat you up!” Well, this is a story about a man who is so much in love with a woman that he wants to eat her… and she is so in love with him that she wants to be eaten by him! I’m putting together a book in which I expand upon the ideas of this film and other films I have made, also films that I will never get to make. I think that you would find it very interesting… 

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… I think so, too. Again, I’d like to express my sincere thanks to Gil and all the folks from Manchester’s ever-fabulous Festival Of Fantastic Films, for letting me in… to Calum Waddell and Naomi Holwill, whose Lado documentary I’m eagerly anticipating… and to Nick Frame, for stalwart translation services. It was good to see so many friends. 

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Aldo Lado + High Rising team = essential doc in the making.

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Zest Of A Salesman… WILLIAM CASTLE AT COLUMBIA Volume 1, Reviewed

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BD. Indicator / Powerhouse. Region Free. 15.

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Although he longed for recognition as a serious director of quality Cinema (and nearly attained it in 1968, before Roman Polanski replaced him as director of Rosemary’s Baby), William Castle knew in his heart of hearts that he was no Hitchcock. If he couldn’t outshine his idol on the silver screen however, he resolved to do outdo him as a showman… and boy, did he ever succeed! After about a decade-and-a-half as a hired B-movie director for hire, working on crime pictures and Westerns (including the 3-D Fort Ti in 1953) our man formed William Castle Productions to make Macabre in 1958 and The House On Haunted Hill the following year.

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The first named of those is a routine “race against time to rescue a girl who’s been buried alive” thriller, best remembered for the piece of promotional hokum by which Castle insured every ticket buyer with Lloyd’s of London, to the tune of $1,000, against the eventuality of them dying of fright while watching the movie. Nurses were posted in cinema lobbies and hearses parked outside.

All very jolly, but Castle’s Barnum-esque antics were ramped up exponentially for House On Haunted Hill (in which jaded patrician Vincent Price bets an ill-assorted cast of characters that they can’t survive a night in his doomed domicile) by the introduction of the “Emergo” process, which purported to surpass 3-D by having ghosts emerge from the screen… in fact it consisted of a joke shop skeleton advancing shakily over the viewers’ heads on a rail.

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Impressed by Castle’s sheer chutzpah and the commercial success generated by such shenanigans, Columbia signed the director for a series of pictures, the first four of which comprise Indicator’s marvellous William Castle At Columbia, Volume 1 box set. Price returned for The Tingler (1959) as Dr. Warren Chapin, who discovers that intense fear produces a lobster-like critter (which he dubs “The Tingler”) in the human spine, which is killed off when the terrified individual screams. Chapin demonstrates his scientific dedication by dropping acid (in what is widely believed to be the first LSD reference in Cinema) with the specific intention of suffering a bummer, all the better to tickle his Tingler (Price’s “bad trip” acting is a predictable hoot). When a deaf-mute character dies of fright without neutralising hers (under circumstances that suggest the all-pervasive contemporary influence of Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques, 1955) Chapin removes it surgically, only for the beasty to escape to the adjacent cinema (show me a cutting edge neurosurgeon who doesn’t ply his trade next door to a movie theatre!), setting up what is arguably the greatest fourth wall-shattering moment in Schlock Cinema History. The movie the theatre patrons are watching breaks down and the silhouette of the titular monster on-screen is followed by a plunge into darkness and Price urging the audience (and us) not to panic, but to “scream… scream for your lives!”

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To compound viewer hysteria as The Tingler traversed the aisles, selected cinema seats were wired to vibrate and impart an appropriate tingling sensation to random lucky punters’ butts, a marketing coup dubbed “Percepto” by the tirelessly, dementedly inventive director.

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Castle continued to refine his search for the ultimate audience interactive experience with 13 Ghosts (1960) in which a down-on-their-luck family inherit a mansion from their eccentric uncle, only to find that it’s haunted by 12 ghosts with gristly back stories… with the ominous implication that one of the family is going to die and become the thirteenth ghost. By the miracle of bullshit gimmick “Illusion-O”, viewers were able to opt, via the stereoscopic viewing cards with which they were issued on the way in, to see or avoid the eponymous ghosts (like anybody was going to pay to get in and then not want to see the ghosts!)

Not content with accompanying his films on promotional tours, playing an active part in his own fan club and appearing in trailers, Castle was now boosting his brand by popping up in the main features themselves, introducing the stories and demonstrating to viewers how best to participate in each film’s interactive gimmick. Hitchcock himself was taking notice of Castle’s low-budget, high hype strategy (consider the celebrated trailer for Psycho, 1960… indeed, the very existence of Psycho) though Castle returned the favour in characteristically on-the-nose fashion with Homicidal (1961).

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Quick off the blocks, Homicidal opens with a bride stabbing the JP to death during her wedding ceremony and progresses to inheritance intrigue and conspicuous gender-bending before the proceedings are wrapped up with WC’s wildest gimmick yet. “Castle simply went nuts…” as John Waters has it in his book Crackpot: “He came up with Coward’s Corner, a yellow cardboard booth, manned by a bewildered theatre employee in the lobby. When the Fright Break was announced, and you found that you couldn’t take it anymore, you had to leave your seat and, in front of the entire audience, follow yellow footsteps up the aisle, bathed in a yellow light. Before you reached Coward’s Corner, you crossed yellow lines with the stencilled message ‘Cowards Keep Walking’. You passed a nurse… who would offer a blood-pressure test. All the while a recording was blaring: ‘Watch the chicken! Watch him shiver in Coward’s Corner!’ As the audience howled, you had to go through one final indignity… at Coward’s Corner you were forced to sign a yellow card stating: ‘I am a bona fide coward’.”

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Notoriously stingy, Castle always couched his refund offers in terms that audience members would be reluctant to take up and the same tight-fistedness would also be apparent when it came to filming the alleged alternative endings for Mr Sardonicus (1961). An uncharacteristic period picture with Gothic leanings, this one recounts the outrageous exploits of its libertine title character (Guy Rolfe)… digging up his father’s corpse, trussing attractive young women up and applying leeches to then (interestingly foreshadowing the onscreen exploits of Brazil’s Coffin Joe, who first came to the world’s astonished attention in At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul, three years later) and do on. On account of his desperate misdeeds, Mr S develops a grotesque rictus grin so fixed that ultimately it prevents him from eating or drinking (sure thing… whatever…) At this point the director appears onscreen to count the audience’s votes, as registered via the “thumbs up / down” cue cards that they were issued with on entry, this “Punishment Poll” deciding whether Sardonicus died or was cured of his affliction. Knowing full well that nobody was ever going to vote for the latter, Castle didn’t waste a cent on shooting more than one ending.

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Even if you’ve never had the good fortune to see these movies, the above descriptions have hopefully clued you in on exactly how much fun you ‘re going to have with them. Each is presented here with gimmicks intact (their on-screen components, anyway… you’ll have to rig your own sofa to vibrate and knock up your own Coward’s Corner somewhere in your living room), what’s more this set is appropriately equipped with a host of cherishable extras… audio commentaries, interviews, featurettes, archive promotional footage, trailers (with commentaries), isolated music and sound FX tracks and appreciations from the likes of Jonathan Rigby, Stephen Laws and Kim Newman (who points out that even in his autobiography, Castle had more to say about the wiring of cinema seats for The Tingler than about that film’s astonishing content).

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Best of all, this set includes Jeffrey Schwarz’s 2007 feature-length bio documentary Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story, a visually inventive celebration of this showman nonpareil with contributions from his daughter Terry and the likes of Roger Corman, Joe Dante, Forrest J. Ackerman and John Waters, who was instrumental in getting this project off the ground. You also get a short featurette on the making of Spinechiller! and, just to prove that these Indicator people are nothing if not thorough, the latter comes with its own commentary track. Interesting (and a little troubling) to learn that in his pre-cinema days as a theatre impresario, Castle was not above faking up Nazi desecrations to put more bums on seats. Nor does the doc shy away from Castle’s darker final years, when the once-cynical purveyor of schlock horror came to believe that his production of Rosemary’s Baby had unleashed genuine bad karma on some of its participants.

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Limited to 6,000 numbered copies, this special edition of William Castle At Columbia comes with exclusive booklets (which I haven’t seen) boasting new essays and archival materials. Volume 2 will join it in December… assuming you’re brave enough to remain in your seats for that!

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A Walk In Fear And Dread… NIGHT OF THE DEMON Reviewed

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“Like one who, on a lonely road, Doth walk in fear and dread, And, having once turned round, walks on, And turns no more his head; Because he knows a frightful fiend Doth close behind him tread…” The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner, Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

BD. Indicator / Powerhouse. Region Free. PG.

Among genre fans of a certain vintage, one of the principal rites of passage was having the holy shit scared out of you by Night Of The Demon, Jacques Tourneur’s 1957 screen adaptation of the classic M.R. James spine-chiller Casting The Runes (first published in 1911). As any seasoned Horror devotee will no doubt already be aware, in Tourneur’s film sceptical American psychologist John Holden (Dana Andrews), while investigating the mysterious death of his colleague Professor Harrison (Maurice Denham) in England, pokes his nose a little too intrusively and imprudently into the affairs of malign magus Julian Karswell (a superbly nuanced performance by Niall MacGinnis) who slips him a parchment containing runic symbols, possession of which guarantee the bearer an unwanted meeting with a terrifying elemental being at an appointed hour. Neither the support of love interest Joanna (Holden’s niece, played by Peggy Cummins) nor his own cherished rationalist convictions can prevent the inexorable erosion of Holden’s sang froid in the face of the mounting evidence that this is no mere mumbo jumbo, that the existential peril facing him is all too awfully real…

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For some time now, my traumatic recollections of a youthful TV exposure to Night Of The Demon have been safely contained within the box of Mediumrare’s 2010 DVD edition (which observes me resentfully from the shelf as I sit typing these words), containing two versions of the film, the “full length UK cut” and the shorter “re-edited American version” (as Curse Of The Demon). What more could I possibly need in this regard? How much more should I be prepared to risk? The arrival of Indicator’s double BD limited edition, though, establishes that those appellations are misleadingly simplistic. As well as correctly identifying those variants, it presents us with another two, alongside a slew of extras that draw back the veil of obfuscation, question critical orthodoxies that have stood nearly as long as Stonehenge and finally reveal Night Of The Demon in all its troubling magnificence… curse them for cracking my comfortable complacency!

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Disc 1 contains the BFI’s 2013 2k restorations of both the 96 minute UK pre-release version and the US re-issue, which is the same length but went out under the American title Curse Of The Demon. Each of those is watchable in either 1.75:1 or 1.66:1 ratio options and you can also access an informative commentary track by noted NOTD obsessive (and author of the 2005 Tomahawk Press tome, Beating The Devil: The Making Of Night Of The Demon) Tony Earnshaw. Over on Disc 2 you get HD remasters of the original UK and US theatrical cuts, each running at 82 minutes, plus a sackful of bonus materials…

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Grab ’em while they’re hot…

The 2007 featurette Speak Of The Devil involves Earnshaw, fellow film historian Jonathan Rigby, star Peggy Cummins and production designer Ken Adam in an in-depth dissection of the film’s making. Cloven In Two is an all-new video essay which deploys split screen techniques to compare and contrast what goes on in different cuts. Further light is cast on cinematic darkness in several talking head pieces, each tackling NOTD from a different angle, each between 20 and 30 minutes long and delivered by such genre heavyweights as Christopher Frayling (talking up the influence of  Hitchcock alumnus Charles Bennett, who co-scripted and Tourneur’s former collaborator Val Lewton), Kim Newman (who compares and contrasts Tourneur’s film with such contemporaries as The Innocents, The Haunting and Sidney Hayers’ 1962 knock off, Night Of The Eagle) and Ramsey Campbell (delighting with tales of the Winter Gardens cinema in Waterloo, Merseyside, whose posters used to tantalise me with horrors I was way too young to even think about sneaking in to witness). Frayling challenges the received and lazily accepted wisdom that the explicit revelation of the monster (Ray Harryhausen was approached to execute these scenes but didn’t care to work for producer and former East Side Kid Hal E. Chester) goes against the Jamesian precept that there must always be room for the reader of his stories to interpret the ghastly goings on as “all in the mind” of the protagonist… in fact James (below) never entertained any such notion, the supernatural entities in his tales of terror invariably being presented as objectively real, however stubbornly their protagonists postpone this realisation.

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Something else that gets refined in the course of these featurettes is our understanding of who inserted the tangible demon, at what point in the proceedings and over the objections of whom. The assembled cognoscenti are unanimous, furthermore, that the much derided demon itself (once described as “King Kong in drag, riding a model train”) actually looks pretty good. Popular misconceptions about the different cuts and the part played by the BBFC in shaping NOTD are also addressed. Roger Clarke debunks the notion that James’ Karswell was based on Aleister Crowley, who had achieved nothing like his later notoriety when Casting The Runes was written, identifying as a more plausible model Oscar Browning, James’s rival for the post of Provost at King’s College, Cambridge. Of course it’s highly likely that Karswell as played in the film by Niall MacGinnis was informed by public perceptions of Crowley.

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Tourneur biographer Chris Fujiwara places NOTD in the context of the director’s wider career. David Huckvale and Scott MacQueen both talk about Clifton Parker’s music and MacQueen is afforded another featurette in which he talks about growing up as a genre fan in the US, discovering Night / Curse Of The Demon via Famous Monster Of Filmland magazine and speculating about the (then mythical) longer version in a piece he had published in Issue 26 of the American fanzine Photon. Having cherished audio recordings of the film’s TV broadcasts as a youth, MacQueen’s joy at being involved in such an impressive BD restoration is almost palpable.

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The British contributors here evince a similar voyage of fascinated discovery regarding NOTD for genre fans on this side of the Atlantic (including myself) and much is made of BBC 2’s out-of-the-blue broadcast of its full 96 minutes on 28/06/80, during one of their beloved and much missed Saturday night Horror double bill seasons. Happy (albeit scary) days…

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We’re further treated to a cut-down Super 8 presentation of the film (silent but with laughable subtitles bridging its many gaps)… so that’s actually five cuts of NOTD on this set! Also, an impromptu audio interview with Dana Andrews, taped by MacQueen doing his “stage door Johnny” bit… Michael Horden reading James’ original short story and a radio adaptation from 1947… optional isolated music & effects track on the US theatrical cut… a Curse of the Demon theatrical trailer in which an abandoned demon design is briefly glimpsed… and a gallery of behind-the-scenes and promotional photos, also rare production design sketches from the Deutsche Kinemathek’s Ken Adam Archive.

Enough there to put this Limited Edition in contention with recent Nucleus releases of Death Laid An Egg and Lady Frankenstein for THOF’s “Disc(s) Of The Year” Award. If you can’t wait for Indicator’s standard release, exclusive to this edition are an 80-page book containing a new essay by Kat Ellinger, a history of the film’s production through the words of its principle creators, a profile of witchcraft consultant Margaret Murray, the film’s history with the BBFC, (another) look at the film’s different versions, contemporary critical responses, a look at the original ending as envisaged by Charles Bennett and more… not to mention an exclusive double-sided poster. Although I often moan about such materials not being made available to the humble reviewer, for once I was glad…

… I mean, who knows what might have been slipped in between those pages?

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Coming right up… our review of Indicator’s similarly blockbusting William Castle At Columbia, Volume 1 set.

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Nightmare Cinema: The Field Guide To MAYHEM 2018, As It Happened…

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The 14th annual instalment of The World’s Greatest Horror Film Festival, Mayhem, got off to an all-singing, all-dancing, all-intestine munching start at Nottingham’s Broadway Cinema on the evening of Thursday, 11th October with John McPhail’s Anna And The Apocalypse (2017), in which schoolgirl Anna (Ella Hunt) and her school friends / adversaries deal with their commonplace hopes, dreams and fears, in song, against the back drop of an unfolding zombie apocalypse… well, zombie apocalypses are becoming pretty commonplace themselves these days (we’ll encounter one or two more before the end of this report). AATA doesn’t maintain its horror comic momentum quite as well as, e.g. last year’s opener, Double Date (why no proper release for that one yet?!?) and the musical numbers are as variable as some of the accents (Paul Kaye’s big show stopper has already been dropped after initial screenings) but this was an ambitious and rather jolly way to ease our way into the proceedings and Ms Hunt is one to keep your eye on, positively lighting up the screen every time she appears. Think “Michelle Keegan… with talent”.

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In his Q&A session director McPhail thanked the fans for turning out and expressed his concern that Netflix is killing Cinema. Our survey of the Horror Film’s current state of  health continued with Nightmare Cinema, an anthology picture that’s equal parts Amicus, Son Of Celluloid and Mad Ron’s Prevues From Hell. Five protagonists find themselves in an unearthly grind house, watching themselves fight for their lives in a succession of hazardous scenarios. Alejandro Brugués’ The Thing In The Woods starts like an ’80s slasher movie, complete with unstoppable psycho, before gleefully flipping our expectations with an excursion into 1950s alien invasion tropes. Joe Dante’s Mirare predictably emerges as the most satirical of the vignettes, building up a palpable sense of dread as a suspicious plastic surgery patient prepares to unwrap the face that Richard Chamberlain has given her, only to blow it with a smart ass ending that only registers a massive “so what?” At the conclusion of this meditation on the follies of cosmetic surgery we are introduced with admirably, er, straight face, to Mickey Rourke’s The Projectionist, the crypto Crypt Keeper in this celluloid vault of horrors.

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Dr. Kildare, is that you?!?

Ryûhei Kitamura’s Mashit is an incomprehensible yarn about demonic possession in a Mexican orphanage, the climax of which plays out like Who Can Kill A Child? meets Shogun Assassin, as lopped off limbs and heads fly through the air in all directions. A spot of gratuitous priest-on-nun rumpo-pumpo confirms the impression that Kitamura’s prime objective here was to rubbish the Catholic Church, for which I can only commend him. David Slade’s This Way To Egress features a female character sinking into psychosis and / or an entropic Lovecraftian parallel dimension. Real laugh-a-minutes stuff… not! Finally, Mick Garris’s Dead turns out to be yet another tweak on the ol’ Occurrence At Owl Creak Bridge chestnut which maintains audience engagement marginally more consistently than Lucio Fulci’s comparable Doors To Silence (1991), though that’s virtually a dictionary definition of “damning with faint praise”.

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Friday afternoon’s session opened with a retrospective screening of The White Reindeer, Erik Blomberg’s 1952 screen adaptation of the Lapland myth that also informed John Landis’ 2005 contribution to the Masters Of Horrors TV series, Deer Woman. Amid scenic snowy splendour (beautifully rendered in b/w by Blomberg, doing his own cinematography), beautiful Pirita (Mirjamo Kuosmanen) worries about maintaining her grip on her husband’s affections during long his long days away, herding. She visits a shaman, whose spells turn her into some kind of were deer, a scenario that’s never going to end well… particularly as it’s taking place in a part of Finland apparently known as “Evil Valley”! With whom exactly did Pirita fear that hubby was going to be unfaithful? I’m reminded of an off colour joke about a Derby County fan and an Eskimo RAC employee… and speaking of sheep shaggers, it was, as ever, a pleasure  to run into Darrell Buxton (rocking an Anthrophagous T-shirt), who’d made the trip specifically to catch this film. Glad he wasn’t sticking around for the quiz, though… give somebody else a chance eh, DB?

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Of all the films scheduled by Mayhem honchoes Chris Cooke and Steve Sheil this year, I suspect Nicolas Pesce’s Piercing will occasion the most hand wringing and knicker wetting over at the Daily Heil. Wannabe serial killer Reed (Christopher Abbott) checks into a hotel room with the intention of hiring and murdering a prostitute. Apparently his libido was hopelessly warped in childhood by the spectacle of a little girl stabbing a rabbit. He has a girlfriend who supports his murderous ambitions (what childhood trauma was she subjected to?) They have a talking baby… yeah, whatever. When Jackie the call girl (Mia Wasikowska) turns up she forestalls Reed’s attempt on her life by going straight into a messy self-harming session. After he’s taken her to hospital to be bandaged up, she invites him back to her place, where she spikes his soup and starts torturing him… oh, there’s a completely pointless nipple piercing sequence too. This one’s your basic fusion of American Psycho, Matador, Basic Instinct and Audition… in fact like Takashi Miike’s Audition (1999), it’s adapted from a novel by Ryû Murakami, but while Miike took the time to make us care about that film’s protagonist before the psycho shit started hitting the fan, here you honestly couldn’t give an actual rat’s ass about what happens to Abbott’s character and the film’s makers prove that, ultimately, they couldn’t either by ringing down the curtain with a flip and fatuous gag. I’m increasingly irritated by hipster directors pinching giallo themes for their soundtracks, too. Profondo Rosso, Tenebrae and The Red Queen Kills Seven Times, among others, suffer that particular ignominy here. Next, please.

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Marc Price introduced and later fielded questions on his Nightshooters, in which the long-suffering cast and crew of a low-budget zombie flick are locked by their tyrannical director into a tower block that’s due to be demolished at dawn, before which everybody’s hoping to get that last bit of footage in the can. This cut price Otto Preminger didn’t bother to get permission or notify anybody, everybody’s cell phones have been stashed (after a conspicuous bit of script contrivance) God-knows-where and just to put the tin hat on it, our rag-bag of protagonists find themselves witnessing a gangland rub out and must fight their way through a posse of mean ass gangstas to escape the block before everybody gets a real bang for their buck, relying mainly on the pyrotechnic skills of their FX girl Ellie (Rosanna Hoult) and the kung fu prowess of leading man Donnie (the amazing Jean-Paul Ly). Simple minded stuff, but Nightshooters successfully kicked Mayhem 2018 back on track after the pretensions of Piercing.

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Bearing in mind that Ken Livingstone recently got labelled an anti-semite for saying Hitler originally planned to deport European Jews to Palestine (i.e. for stating an easily verifiable historical fact), this is a particularly, er, interesting time for Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich to hit the UK. Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wiklund’s reboot of the endless Charles Band franchise proceeds from the not exactly PC premise that “fans” are visiting a convention “celebrating” the 30th anniversary of the Toulon murders and rapidly escalates to stratospheric levels of bad taste as Udo Kier (unrecognisable beneath heavy burns make up) unleashes his Nazi puppets on the minority groups he despises, in an orgy of clever but stomach churning make up effects… so a torso pisses on the head that’s just been severed from it… a puppet tunnels up a pregnant woman’s vagina and exits, dragging her unborn foetus and placenta behind it… I spotted Ollie Morris frantically recalibrating his Wrong-o-meter when a Jewish character pushed a “baby Hitler” puppet into an oven with the words: “See how you like it!” Fulci’s go-to OST man Fabio Frizzi scored this abomination and it was nice, as ever, to see Barbara Crampton in a small role.

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Nic Cage channels Marilyn Burns, circa 1974…

Anyone whose jaw hit the floor during PM:TLR was wasting their time in retrieving it, given that Friday night concluded with Panos Cosmatos’s Mandy. Everything you’ve heard about this much-touted, overblown oddity is true… and then some. When Steve Sheil suggested to me that I was about to see “a Prog Rock Horror Film” he was pushing at an open door and as the opening shots of rolling US timberland unfurled to the surround sound accompaniment of King Crimson’s monumental Starless (love King Crimson though, like Jeremiah Sand, I’m partial to a bit of Carpenters as well), my goosebumps and the erection of hairs on the back of my neck suggested that I could be about to watch The Greatest Film Of All Time… well, Mandy isn’t quite that but it is magnificently, recklessly unlike any film you’ve seen or are ever likely to see.

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Red (Nic Cage) is a lumberjack, but he’s not OK. He works all night then his home is invaded by the followers of Jeremiah (Linus Roache), a charismatic cult leader who’s pissed off about the world’s failure to recognise his musical talents and who refers to straight people as “pigs” (hmm, to whom could Cosmatos possibly be alluding?) When Red’s girl Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) proves singularly unimpressed by either Jeremiah’s music or his penis dimensions, he has his followers bag her up and burn her in front of Red’s horrified eyes. What follows is an odyssey of revenge… nay, a quest (Red even forges a sacred axe for it), during which our increasingly unhinged hero must overcome a band of outlaw bikers who subsist on acid so powerful that it has apparently transformed them into Cenobites (!) Chemical elevation is probably not the ideal consition under which to fight a chainsaw duel but there’s one of those, as well…

Mandy is, at heart,  a simplistic revenge drama but its rococo plot embellishments and the lysergic emulsion of Benjamin Loeb’s candy coated cinematography make it something that you really need to experience rather than read about.

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Shin’ichirô Ueda’s One Cut Of The Dead (2017) kicked off the Saturday session in audacious high risk style, its first half playing out like a shonky “zombie movie location interrupted by actual zombie outbreak” zero-budgeter, shot in one take… kind of “nice gimmick, shame about everything else”. I’m surprised that the audience stayed with it but for doing so, they were rewarded with a second half introducing the participants, their various backgrounds and motivations for taking part in this live TV production, then “making of” footage via which a lot of shonky things start making sense, to gratifyingly comic effect. A bravely / kamikaze structured movie… it’ll be interesting to see how it does outside the rarified Festival milieu.

I’d like to be able to tell you about the UK Premiere of Chris Caldwell and Zeke Earl’s sci-fi effort Prospect, but at this point I was whisked away to the Broadway’s Green Room by Carl Daft and Dave Flint to be filmed waffling about gialli for a proposed featurette that will hopefully accompany Severin’s upcoming BD release of Sergio Martino’s All The Colours Of The Dark (1972). The Green Room is defiantly and flamboyantly not green, as you’ll certainly appreciate when / if  this featurette sees the light of day…

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Number 37 (another UK Premiere for the men and women of Mayhem) is a South African variation on Rear Window (1954), with wheelchair bound small time crook Randal Hendricks (Irshaad Ally) making rather more interventionist use of his omniscient viewing position in the Capetown Projects than Jimmy Stewart did in the Hitchcock flick. Desperately in need of money to pay off a loan shark, Randal jumps from frying pan to fire when he persuades a friend to pinch a sack of it from the rude boys he’s been keeping under observation. Director Nosipho Dumisa sure-handedly ramps up the plot complications and suspense en route to a satisfying, if not exactly happy, ending.

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This year’s Short Film Showcase, curated by Meli Gueneau and always introduced as “the Heart of Mayhem”, included paraphrases of Poe (Kevin Sluder’s Heartless, USA) and Homer (Jorge Malpica’s Ulisis, Mexico) also, just in case things were getting too highbrow, Chris McInroy’s amusing American effort We Summoned A Demon, in which two drooling stoners… well, I guess I don’t need me to draw you a diagram. There were also two clever and – in their different ways – distinctly macabre animations. From Switzerland came Lorenz Wunderle’s Coyote (psychedelic enough to turn you into a Cenobite) and from the UK, Dick And Stewart: I Spy With My Little Eye, a “Watch With Mother goes to Hell” affair directed by one Richard Littler (the 88 Films guy?)

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Much has been made, in the promotion of Aislinn Clarke’s The Devil’s Doorway, of the Magdalene Laundries scandal and the wider back story of her native Ireland’s emergence from the rancid grip of 2000 years of hypocritical superstition. Ostensibly culled from film shot by priests investigating supernatural goings on in a nun-run home for fallen women, TDD demonstrates Clarke’s familiarity and facility with the incessant “found footage” and “paranormal activities” traditions, effectively delivering its quota of genuine jump shocks. You don’t have to be Thomas Aquinas, though, to detect its doctrinal confusions, indulging as it does the very dogmas that justified those Irish gulags in the first place. Maybe Ms Clarke addressed such concerns in her Q&A session after the screening but I didn’t stick around for that, opting instead for a relatively early and cheap journey home, plus enough sleep to see me through Sunday. For this reason I also, regretfully, missed the late, late screening of Lamberto Bava’s Demons, 1985 (tailor-made for such a festival slot, I would have thought) and – I subsequently learned – a “mystery short”, too. That’s what you get for being a lightweight.

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I’ve been to enough Mayhems now to recognise the patented Cooke And Sheil play of waking up their Sunday morning audience and setting them up for the final day with a spot of manga madness. In Shinsuke Sato’s Inuyashiki (getting its UK Premiere) an alien visitation bestows super powers onto two random citizens of Tokyo, a hip albeit alienated young dude and an underachieving old geezer who gets no respect from his family or society in general… guess with which of those I most identified. Hip young dude turns his anger on his fellow citizens, bumping a bunch of them off through their beloved PC, phone and tablet screens, before his more philanthropically-inclined counter part engages him in an apocalyptic battle for the future of the city (half of which is demolished in the process) and indeed, the whole of Japan. The clash of personal and societal imperatives in this one recalls some of the themes from Anna And The Apocalypse, though something like ten times that film’s total budget must have spent on Inuyashiki’s CGI alone.

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Another multi-director portmanteau effort, The Field Guide To Evil (out of the same stable as ABCs Of Death) concerns itself with folklore horrors from around the globe, explored by the likes of Can “Baskin” Evrenol and Peter Strickland (whose erotic fairytale evidences a familiar foot fixation). (Just about) all of the vignettes are beautifully constructed and shot, if sometimes overly cryptic and open-ended. Neither charge, however, could reasonably be levelled at The Melon Heads, Calvin Reeder’s slice of American backwoods gothic being so on-the-nose that it reduced FAB Press main man Harvey Fenton to hysterical convulsions, from which he emerged to declare it “the worst film I’ve ever seen”. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

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Andy Mitton’s The Witch In The Window is an effective haunted house effort that sees Simon (Alex Draper) and his son Finn (Charlie Tacker) renovating a lakeside des res which, local legend has it, was previously occupied by… well, just read that title again. I hope that if I’m ever confronted by malign supernatural presences, I manage to retain my philosophical cool as well as the principal characters in this one. Having said that, when the really witchy shit does kick in and everybody starts seriously panicking, it’s all the more effective for that. I think the moral we’re supposed to draw from this film’s unexpected conclusion is something to do with self-abnegation being a necessary part of the maturing process…

… jump cut to the annual Flinterrogation, where self-negation was in short demand as the alpha anal retentives battled it out in most gruelling genre cinema quiz on this or any other planet. Having been part of the winning team on the only occasion I’ve ever taken part and rather liking the idea of retiring as undefeated Quiz Champ, I heeded the promptings of my stomach at this point and set out in search of some cheap food. On my return I learned that the team based around Messrs Daft and Fenton had taken the laurels for 2018. Yep, Harvey Fenton knows what he’s talking about when it comes to genre cinema… sorry to rub it in, Calvin Reeder.

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Flint, Fenton and Daft, pictured at the Broadway bar…

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Dennison Ramalho’s The Nightshifter starts promisingly enough, with Sāo Paulo mortuary worker Stènio (Daniel De Oliveira, a dead ringer for David Warbeck in his scrubs) talking to and hearing back from the corpses on his slab. He’s always had this ability and thinks nothing of it. That changes when his workaday conversational diet progresses from the customary exchange of small-talk and homespun philosophies to the revelation of his wife’s infidelity with the local baker. Stènio vengefully implicates the latter, falsely, in the death of a criminal warlord’s brother, as a result of which both of the lovers are executed in the street. You might have thought that any half decent director couldn’t fail to build on such strong foundations but unfortunately Ramalho hereafter squanders his hand with a relentless succession of demonic possession clichés… ho-hum.

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Mayhem 2018 concluded with Colin Minihan’s Canucksploitation killfest What Keeps You Alive, in which lesbian lovers Jacky (Hannah Emily Anderson) and Jules (Brittany Allen) get it together in another of those lakeside country getaways, until Jules rubs Jacky up the wrong way (by prying unwisely into her murky past) and unleashes her inner Count Zaroff. What follows is yet another a variation on Richard Connell’s The Most Dangerous Game, with a soupçon of Whatever Happened To Baby Jane and the world’s most awkward dinner party (“awkward” as in “all the guests get killed”) thrown in for good measure. WKYA is another one that squanders its strong premise and early promise with a few too many plot improbabilities and “WTF did she do that for?!?” moments. Anderson’s psycho is also just a little too self-aware for my liking (c.f. Ksenia Solo’s character Carles Torrens’ Pet, from a couple of Mayhems back). Will Minihan cop heat, in the current PC climate, for being unable to depict lesbian lovers without revealing one of them as a ruthless killer?

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Buggered if I know… I’ve just sat through four straight days of horror films, I’ve got rectangular eyes and pressure sores on my bum. I need fresh air, some decent food and a lie-in. Thank you Chris Cooke, Steve Sheil and Meli Gueneau for reducing me to this state. Will I be back in 2019? Yeah, if they’ll have me…

All titles ©2018, unless otherwise stated.

Oh, just in case…

 

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(Throwing) Stars In His Eyes… Jim Van Bebber’s DEADBEAT AT DAWN Reviewed

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BD. Arrow. Region B. 18.

They say that there are only five or six stories in the world and thereafter, just different ways of telling them. During the composition of this review I was exposed to Mandy, in which Nicolas Cage goes on a rampage of revenge against the bad guys who killed his girl… a synopsis that hardly does justice to Panos Cosmatos’ astonishing vision but when you get right down to it, that’s what it’s all about. Jim Van Bebber’s Deadbeat At Dawn (1988) is nothing like as druggy a film as Mandy (though various comments in the supplementary materials suggest that a lot more drugs were consumed during its four-year production) and clearly made on a fraction of Mandy’s budget, but sure as goose shit, it follows (give or take a Cenobite biker or two) the same narrative arc.

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As well as writing, directing, editing, choreographing fights, performing stunts and applying make-up (he probably knocked up lunch every day, too) Van Bebber stars as Goose, a prominent member of the Ravens, battling for turf against rival gang the Spiders on the mean street of Dayton, Ohio… the only trick JVB missed, perhaps, was not composing a couple of  West Side Story-style numbers for the OST. When Goose’s girl Christy (Meghan Murphy) is offed by a Spider, he ransacks his arsenal of nunchakus, shurikens and manrikigurasis (you bet your ass James Ferman stamped all over this one when Dave Gregory and Carl Daft submitted it for home video release, back in the day) and we’re off, on a relentless gonzo adrenaline rush to a predictably bleak denouement.

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Arrow have done a creditable job here of making a thirty year old 16mm effort look as good as its ever going to and the assembled array of impressive extras serve as a primer for any unwary aspirant regarding the level of dedication required of the zero budget auteur (Nat Pennington’s short VHS documentary records the day’s effort that went into a couple of set ups, only for a jammed camera to render all footage unusable). Van Bebber famously signed up for film school and absconded the moment his student loan arrived, utilising it to start shooting DAD. Plenty more colourful anecdotes emerge during Victor Bonacore’s Deadbeat Forever! documentary and the various commentary tracks. The participants all seem to be collaborators / friends / boosters of Van Bebber and sometimes you find yourself hoping for a more balanced, neutral view, though I guess enthusiasm is of the essence in this particular cinematic demi-monde. The long running Charlie’s Family saga is glossed over in favour of talking up JVB’s proposed Day Of The Deadbeat sequel.

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Other extras include outtake footage that reveals one participant sporting an incongruous Moody Blues T-shirt, some rather jolly video promos that Jimbo shot for Pantera and others, a trailer for the so-far unrealised, Chas Balun scripted Chunkblower, chunks of another work-in-progress, Gator Green and restorations of Into The Black (1983), the Ed Gein “inspired” Roadkill (1994) and My Sweet Satan (1993), all with commentary tracks. The last-named title is probably Van Bebber’s best effort so far, a docudrama treatment of the real life Ricky Casso murder case that echoes Tim Hunter’s River’s Edge (1986) with its depiction of the nihilisitc milieu in which that crime unfolded.

Enjoy.

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