Book Reviews

Do You Think He’s What They Say He Is? SATAN SUPERSTAR Reviewed

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Edited by David Flint. The Reprobate. A5, P/B. 240 Pages. ISBN 978-0-9955719-2-1

From the first tentative samizdat steps of Sheer Filth in the late ’80s, there doesn’t seem to have been a moment when David Flint hasn’t been agitating furiously for  freedom of expression, subsequently via such increasingly sophisticated publications as Headpress, Divinity, Sexadelic and – most recently – The Reprobate (debut issue reviewed), not to mention numerous book projects and his web incarnations Strange Things Are Happening and latterly, https://reprobatemagazine.uk. Flint’s transgressive tiltings at perceived propriety have not been conducted without personal cost but this angry, now not-quite-so-young man shows no sign of slowing down or mellowing… he will not serve.

In other words, one accusation that could never reasonably be levelled at Flint is that of possessing idle hands… yet still The Devil has found work for him to do.

In the introduction to Satan Superstar (into which The Reprobate seems, for the time being, to have mutated)  its editor remembers growing up in a vaguely restrictive C of E milieu (I’d wager that my own Catholic upbringing was a more pernicious formative environment), prior to being bombarded by pop culture representations of Satan and Satanists who, forever surrounded by naked nubiles, seemed to be having all the fun.

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It’s this life-affirming, pleasure-embracing aspect of The Left Hand Path that Flint and his contributors stress here, rather than any propensity to do Evil. Styling itself as “a handbook of the infernal and the immaculate in pop occulture”, Satan Superstar pretty much does what it says on the tin.

Is Satan a pagan deity in his own right? The bad guy in the Christian dramatis personae? A symbol of self realisation through enlightened self-will? These and other standpoints are discussed by such practitioners and advocates as the Church Of Rational Satanism’s John Wait (interviewed by Sarah Appleton), Nikolas Schreck (formerly of Radio Werewolf, now a teacher of tantric buddhism) and the Church Of Satan’s Reverend Raul Antony (interviewed by the editor). Logospilgrim and Jason Atomic of Satanic Mojo Comix provide further personal testaments and Billy Chainsaw quizzes Shaun Partridge, Whale Song Partridge and Boyd Rice on the philosophy of the Partridge Family Temple. Sammm Agnew (complimented by the photography of Ilya Falchevsky) discusses entry points into the occult.

As well as his own take on the public image of Satanism since the ’60s, Nigel Wingrove details his involvement in the Satanic Sluts saga, which ignited the red tops in unanimous sound and fury after Manuel from Fawlty Towers received a rather puerile phone call.

David McGillivray chips in with a portrait of Gerald Gardner, who anticipated Alex Sanders in being recognised as “Britain’s first celebrity witch”, coming out as one in 1951 after the long overdue repeal of the Witchcraft Act of 1753 (under which Victoria Helen McCrae Duncan aka “Hellish Nell” had been imprisoned as recently as 1944… as though the British government had nothing more pressing to worry about in those days!)

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Elsewhere Flint himself reflects on the legacy of Dennis Wheatley, champions the occult photography of William Mortensen and celebrates (with Darius Drewe) “the strange world of the occultist instructional LP” and the witch-hunting pulp fiction atrocities of “James Darke”, also identifying Doreen Irvine’s rather less-than-reliable memoir From Witchcraft To Christ as the starting point for Satanic panic in the UK… a subject further explored in Bruce Barnard’s account of two true crime stories that were given the full, lip-smacking tabloid treatment.

Presumably figuring that Zeppelin and Bowie’s Crowley connections have been amply debated elsewhere, Drewe’s Satanic Rock Top 10 spans Graham Bond, Comus and Venom (Jeremy Paxman’s interview with Abbadon from the latter combo remains one of the most mind-boggling things I ever saw on Newsnight, right up there with Paxo’s interrogation of Hayden Hewitt). Still on a music tip, C.J. Lines interviews Christian Falch, co-director of 2017 black metal documentary Blackhearts and Sina, one of the musicians featured in it.

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Proving conclusively that the Devil doesn’t have all the best tunes, Daz Lawrence investigates the oft-touted connections between country & western and Satanism, with a particular focus on the extraordinary Louvin Brothers. As things get weirder still, Daz also details the case of a certain canine saint.

While Ben Spurling surveys Satanism in ’70s TV movies, Keri O’Shea does the same for depictions of the witches’ sabbat in Western Art and delves into the background to Husymans’ scandalous occult novel Là-Bas. K.K. Eye suggests that the introduction of sigils to your next act of self love could make it a truly magickal experience and Lucien Greaves recounts the pink mass he conducted to counter the notoriously homophobic Westboro Baptist Church. Meanwhile Gipsie Castiglione interviews the man behind Divine Interventions, purveyors of satanic sex aids.

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A running thread throughout the book, curated by Billy Chainsaw, consists of personal takes on Satan from such counter-cultural luminaries as A.D. Hitchin, Lydia Lunch, Groovie Mann of Thrill Kill Kult, Carl Abrahamsson, Boyd Rice, Tom Six and Mr Chainsaw himself.

Plenty there to keep you out of mischief… or possibly in it. As an introduction to the ideas of those who sympathise with the Devil, this volume serves admirably. Grab ’em while they’re hot but don’t hang around… the physical print run of Satan Superstar is limited to (you guessed) 666 copies.

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“A Man Turned Inside Out”… Kat Ellinger’s ALL THE COLOURS OF SERGIO MARTINO Reviewed

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Ra ra me! The man and his muse in the early ’70s.

Arrow Books. P/B. 91 Pages. ISBNs 0993306063 / 978-0993306068.

I’ve been after this one for a while and finally got my hands on a PDF version (if, indeed, such a thing is possible) through the good offices of the guys and girls at Fetch Publicity.

Kat Ellinger, a commentator and critic who’s proving almost as prolific as Sergio Martino was in his heyday, has gone through all the available material (including our interview and the director’s autobiography Mille Peccati)

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to come up with an engagingly sure-footed and wide-ranging introduction to his career, even if (as the author herself concedes) the limitations of her word allocation meant that she couldn’t always delve as deeply into it as she might have liked.

Nevertheless, over and above its usefulness as a primer for curious general readers (their interest possibly piqued by the praise levelled at Martino by Messers. Tarantino and Roth), there’s plenty of stuff in here that might come as news even to those who consider themselves well boned-up on the director… e.g that he participated in his family’s home movie version of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde in 1955 (what wouldn’t I give to see that?) and nearly made a movie with (just imagine!) Bruce Lee.

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Speaking of boned-up, Ellinger devotes plenty of coverage to Martino’s working relationship with Edwige Fenech and also delves further into his innumerable sexy-comedies than is customary in these things, while acknowledging the near impossibility of viewing many of them. Perhaps Arrow, Shameless, Severin and / or 88 Films might look into acquiring some of these titles for UK release? And while they’re at it, what about Martino’s 1993 TV giallo series Delitti Privati / Private Crimes, whose cast reconvenes the Virgin Wife teaming of Fenech and Ray Lovelock and about which the author writes tantalisingly.

I particularly love the quote in which Fenech avers that she sees no significant distinction between a Bergman film and Guido Malatesta’s Samoa, Queen Of The Jungle (1968), one of her earliest starring vehicles… she obviously appeared in enough issues of my beloved Continental Film Review to absorb its editorial policy.

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Ellinger covers Martino’s family background and the sociological / historical context of the various genres he worked in well and in discussing the evolution of the Italian thriller, picks up Michael Mackenzie’s concept of the f-giallo and the m-giallo and takes a run with it. It was also interesting to be reminded of Martino’s comments on how increasing sexual permissiveness and the reaction against it in Italy led him to explicitly and quite self-consciously impose the dreaded “have sex and die” rule in Torso (1973) and to reflect how massively influential that was, five years later, on Halloween (and everything that came after it!)

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Here at The House Of Freudstein we pride ourselves on snappy titles (that of this posting refers to the US mis-marketing of Martino’s Island Of The Fishmen, 1979) and Kat clearly does too, on the evidence of chapter headings like “Trembling Cities, Cops In Action” and “Cannibal Slaves, Cyborgs And Other Exciting Stories”. Things are rounded off nicely with a discography, bibliography and index. An original Gilles Vranckx cover doesn’t hurt, either. One minor grouch… a still from Enzo Milione’s The Sister Of Ursula (1978) seems to have gate-crashed the book, or at least my PDF version of it.

I’d dearly love to see this volume on sale in a few more shops. In the meantime, you can get it here. Hopefully the author will find the opportunity, amid her prolific other outpourings, to expand ATCOSM into the door-stopping tome it deserves to be at some point in the future.

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… And Duly Regurgitated. David Cronenberg’s Debut Novel CONSUMED, Reviewed.

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Consumed by David Cronenberg. Fourth Estate. P/B. 358 Pages. ISBN 978-0-00-729914-0. 

The cover boasts a generous testimonial from Stephen King, no less, identifying Consumed as “an eye-opening dazzler… as troubling, sinister and enthralling as (Cronenberg’s) films”. I’d go along with the latter part of that quote, while qualifying my assent with the observation that it’s been quite some considerable time since any Cronenberg film has troubled, enthralled or dazzled me.

Like a lot of other people, I found myself fascinated by Shivers (1975), Rabid (1977), The Brood (1979) and Scanners (1981), while wondering when Cronenberg was going to hitch his undoubted fierce intelligence and the maverick morbidity of his imagination to some kind of coherent narrative sensibility. In 1983 he veered between extremes… his genuinely troubling, sinister and enthralling Videodrome (a hi-concept hallucinatory gore-fest, unencumbered by anything so mundane as a storyline that stood up to cursory scrutiny) was followed in rapid succession by The Dead Zone, which benefited from the narrative discipline of Stephen King’s source novel (and presumably the commercial discipline demanded by heavyweight producer Dino Di Laurentiis) but uncharacteristically side-stepped the brain tumour imagery that King himself employed in the book and with which one might well have expected Cronenberg to have a field day. He finally managed (again under the influence of a heavyweight producer, in this case Mel Brooks) the long-awaited synthesis with The Fly (1986), the perfect Cronenberg picture and a tremendous film by any yardstick. I didn’t have long to savour that before the director and I definitively parted company…

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… the rock on which we foundered was Naked Lunch (1991). Given that William Burroughs’ stated intention for his 1959 act of literary terrorism was to upgrade The Novel’s arsenal of narrative techniques to the point where they matched those of Cinema, the point of adapting it to the big screen was always going to be, at best, a moot one. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder how Cronenberg was going to render the moral and literary complexities of a book that had been horrifying and tantalising me in equal parts for decades. Well, there was some nonsense about “sexual ambulances”, then Roy Scheider ripping off a Mission Impossible-style latex mask to announce himself as Dr Benway (ta-da!) Oh dear… we’d been giving Cronenberg credit for his intelligence all these years and now he was repaying us by insulting ours. I never felt the inclination to seek out any Cronenberg pictures after this and those I did find myself accidentally exposed to on TV did nothing to convince me that I was missing much.

DC got my attention again with Consumed, which I picked up in a remainders shop three years after its initial publication in 2014. This time he’s attempting the reverse trick of rendering that Cronenberg sensibility via the printed page. So you won’t be at all surprised to discover within it a bunch of preposterously-named characters, travelling the world to have sex with celebrity cannibal intellectuals, contracting hitherto unguessed at venereal diseases and seeking out the assistance of a VD professional whose daughter is herself engrossed in a drawn-out process of auto-cannibalism. The protagonists’ lovingly chronicled hi-tech communication appurtenances only serve to further alienate them from each other, in the style of J.G. Ballard characters… irresponsible avant-garde surgeons slice their way merrily through human tissue that is, apparently, on the verge of collapsing into unspeakable insect horrors (still can’t resist a bit of Burroughs, ol’ Dave) and as for Dick… there’s plenty of dick herein – much of it diseased and deformed – and Philip K. even gets a personal name check on page 227. At several points Cronenberg seems determined, for some reason, to shoe-horn Samuel Beckett into the mix, too (that whirring sound you  hear might just be the irascible Irish minimalist rotating in his grave).

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Now, wearing your literary loves so brazenly on your sleeve isn’t necessarily such a bad thing. Will Self and Martin Amis, among others, have done very nicely for themselves by, er, channeling the influence of some of the above-mentioned writers. What’s more, Cronenberg is an accomplished and assiduous pasticher… this is, after its own wilful fashion, well written stuff. It’s just that after the sound, fury, calculated unpleasantness, deliberate ennui and all the rest of it, the reader gratefully lays Consumed down with an overwhelming sense of: “So what?” Charlie Brooker covers this beat with so much more wit and emotional resonance. Presumably intended to hit with the impact of some mortifying cancer or exotic new STI, Cronenberg’s novel registers merely at the level of an irritating head cold. Ironically, when I tackled Consumed I was too depleted by flu to abandon it in favour of more rewarding activity, e.g. surfing the TV for old episodes of Quincy ME.

Having previously discussed with the late, great Joe D’Amato the debt that Videodrome might or might not owe to his Emanuelle In America, I was intrigued to find Cronenberg naming this novel’s outlaw lifestyle philosopher, who might or might not have eaten his girlfriend’s brain, “Aristide”. As I struggled to finish Consumed, I kept consoling myself with the prospect that this character might just be about to rip off one of those Mission Impossible masks, revealing himself to be none other than jolly Uncle Joe… but (spoiler alert) no such luck.

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“It’s A Very Nice Book… Very, Very Interesting!” Stephen Thrower’s Fulci Tome BEYOND TERROR Recast In Truly Epic Proportions

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Blessed is he who approaches in search of knowledge…

Beyond Terror – The Films Of Lucio Fulci by Stephen Thrower. FABPress. H/B. ISBN 9781903254844

Given the dispiriting circumstances of his personal encounter with Lucio Fulci (detailed  for the first time herein), Stephen Thrower’s magnificent Beyond Terror – The Films Of Lucio Fulci emerged as a veritable phoenix from the flames when first published by Fab Press in 2000. Two decades(ish) later, pains-takingly revamped and thoroughly revitalised (“120 new pages… 80,000 words of all new writing!”), it now soars to peaks only previously occupied by Tim Lucas’s Mario Bava meisterwerk All The Colors Of The Dark.

Thrower is a thoughtful and passionate writer (there can’t have been too many reviewers of The House By The Cemetery who concluded their appraisal with a line like: “In a subtle way, the end is just as terrible a trap for Bob as it was for John and Liza in The Beyond; he’s returning forever to a house that can never be home”) so I’m looking forward to acquainting myself over the coming weeks and months with the ways in which his takes on various aspects of Fulciana have evolved. Most obviously, though, the updated version comes with completely new sections and gives a thorough going-over to stuff that was only hinted at, first time out.

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The hugely expanded survey of Fulci’s comedies is very welcome (though for me, personally, there’s more than a trace of “he watched them so I don’t have to” wrapped up in this welcome). Similarly, the new section on Fulci’s sound track composers is impressive stuff, though I believe Keith Emerson’s contribution to Murder-Rock merits more than the dismissive brush off it gets here (these things ultimately boil down to personal taste, of course and I freely admit that my position on this subject has always been – very much – the minority one). While I’m quibbling, I wonder about the relevance of Julian Grainger’s filmographies of all the major players in Fulci’s films – an undeniable feat of scholarship and gluteal fortitude – in the age of IMDB, although no doubt there are those who’ll find use for it. It goes without saying that the revamped BT is stuffed to bursting with more colourful, rare and distressing stills, posters and behind-the-scenes shots than you could comfortably shake an eye-poking stick at.

There’s a mouth-watering round up of (thirty!) Fulci projects that were mooted but never made and Thrower’s access to the BBFC’s archives yields fascinating insights into the thought processes of those tasked with cutting or denying certification to Fulci’s films at a time when such matters were virtually equated with national security. Hm, I wonder which film occasioned them the most consternation…

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It says “Exit”, Alessandra… do not entry!

The addition (to the special edition) of an interview with LF is a nice touch though (to paraphrase Mandy Rice Davies) I would say that, wouldn’t I? Said special edition also comes in a beautiful wraparound reproduction of The Beyond’s Book Of Eibon (which, regrettably, doesn’t burst into flame to the accompaniment of Fabio Frizzi music after you’ve read a couple of particularly portentous passages… no doubt Stephen and Harvey Fenton are working on that for a possible third edition) and with a DVD collection of trailers for 37 of Fulci’s 54 directorial credits. If that’s not enough for you (hard to please, huh?) there’s the option to run them with a commentary track by the author and an accompanying booklet throws up whole new and bewildering vistas of ultra-specialist film studies, detailing the use of alternative trailer takes from the ones that actually made it into the movies and offering glimpses of scenes that were abandoned altogether.

This is film scholarship run wild and we’re all better off for it. Do you wanna buy the book? If not, you’re probably reading the wrong Blog. If so, Save yourself twenty years or more of angstily anticipating some future edition. Get it while you can.

Woe be unto him who acts the tightwad over this…

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Mace liked it so much, he went out and got ink…

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When Two Tribes Go To War… Calum Waddell’s CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST Tome Reviewed

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Cannibal Holocaust by Calum Waddell: Auteur. ISBN paperback: 978-1-911325-11-6 ISBN ebook: 978-1-911325-12-3

When I interviewed Ruggero Deodato in the ’90s I mentioned the obvious (to me) affinities between his 1980 films Cannibal Holocaust and House On The Edge Of The Park, only for him to pointedly dismiss any such parallels. Well, I persisted, both films deal with a group of feral outsiders who are ultimately revealed to be less morally culpable than the “civilised” sophisticates whom they encounter… but the director was having none of it. Although both films had been lumbered with the moronic “video nasties” label in the philistine climate of early ’80s Britain, by the time I spoke to Deodato the reputation of his little anthropophagous epic had made the transition from international pariah to postmodern phenom worthy of serious critical – and even academic – attention. House On The Edge, in the meantime, has undergone no such re-evaluation (and admittedly, it’s nowhere near as good a film)… it remains, in the eyes of the world, an irredeemably tacky little knock off of a Wes Craven knockoff (I personally find much to “like” in HOTEOTP but this isn’t the place to go into that) and Deodato didn’t want anybody besmirching his suddenly respectable cause celebre with any comparisons to it. Have it your way, Ruggero…

From my earliest scribblings in Samhain, during the aforementioned video witch hunt, I was agitating for (and I hopefully contributed towards) a criticism that would fuse fannish enthusiasm for such genre films with an intelligent, analytical approach. Subsequently (blame me if you want to… I’ve frequently had the impression that I’m being shot by both sides) there have been comings together of the zine scenesters and the ISBN-totin’ academics, who’ve generally snarled at each other before withdrawing to their respective corners. One gathers there was a particularly mean-spirited poker game at one point but, as yet, nobody’s managed to find the found footage that documents this…

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Calum Waddell is not (and this won’t come as news to him) everybody’s cup of tea or bowl of monkey brain mush. He notably declared himself horrified by Cannibal Holocaust. Gore hounds, horrified by the fact that he was horrified by it, then alleged hypocrisy when he continued to write (very well) about it in genre publications and get paid (nothing like as well, believe me!) to do so, interviewed and befriended several of its principal creators, toured the festival circuit with them and collaborated on the film’s Blu-ray release in The States. But come on, guys… isn’t anyone who’s fascinated by this most notorious “video nasty” also appalled and repelled by it? Isn’t that the very essence of its ongoing “appeal”? Cannibal Holocaust isn’t Marmite (even if one of its most persistent chroniclers seemingly is.) Waddell’s proven track record of willingness to take a wider view, plus his extensive connection with the film’s creators (Carl Yorke – the hateful Yates himself – contributes a thoughtful and witty foreword) guarantee that anyone who picks up this latest entry in Auteur’s (Columbia University Press in the U.S. of A) ongoing Devil’s Advocates  series will find a lot to, er, get their teeth into… much food for thought in, e.g. his survey of which Italian cannibal movies got distributed in which Third World territories, from which you can draw your own conclusions.

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The author gives cursory treatment to Cannibal Holocaust’s seminal role in the aforementioned “nasties” hoo-hah and its roots in the “mondo” school of shockumentary, satisfied that enough has been written on both of these scores, elsewhere (not infrequently by myself.) My own particular interest in these films has always been the extent to which they represent a range of domestic reactions to the failure of Mussolini’s abortive (and ultimately absurd) attempt to refound some sort of Roman Empire. Waddell casts his net wider, framing his (persuasive) arguments in the wider context of The Cold War, which still had a decade or so to run when Deodato took his band of cinematic conquistadores up the Amazon. The proximate inspiration was no doubt Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979), though Cannibal Holocaust makes a starker statement about the impact of imperialism on the bodies of “gooks” and “savages” than FFC’s bloated folly, with its relentless focus on the mindset of its American characters, could ever hope to achieve… if, indeed, it was ever interested in doing so. When Alan, Jack, Faye and Mark massacre the yanomami in their huts for the purposes of their tacky little mondo movie it is, as Waddell points out, the spectre of My Lai that haunts our screens…

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“A clump“?

… Cannibal Holocaust could as easily be read as an allegory of the 16th Century European (specifically Latin) conquest of South America and a much more finely nuanced one than, for example, Neil Young’s celebrated Cortes The Killer, which combines musical fireworks with a portrayal of life under Moctezuma and his warrior priests so naively sanitized as to amount to inverted racism. Trust Bernal Diaz, who was actually there with Cortes and whose account, in The Conquest Of New Spain, of brutal life and death in the Aztec empire is all the more trustworthy because he pulls absolutely no punches at all about what a bastard (and indeed a killer) his master was.

Similarly, it’s a moot point (and one made eloquently in the final section proper of Waddell’s book, “Patriarchy In Cannibal Holocaust”) whether the indigenous women here (not to mention Faye) suffer more at the hands of the mondo crew, casual rapists and killers as they are, or their own jealous menfolk, casual abortionists and honour killers that they are.

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Hip as he is to such moral relativism and the irony of an exploitation movie that’s exploiting its own expose of exploitation movies to put bums on cinema seats, Waddell can’t help but multiply rather than resolve the ethical ambiguities of Cannibal Holocaust… as would any self-respecting discussion of Deodato’s film, which remains a hall of distorting mirrors in which the moral high ground is impossible to locate, let alone claim. Nevertheless, those seeking a guide through the arterial byways of Deodato’s Heart Of Darkness (perhaps towards a verdict that will be – to paraphrase a line in another notorious “nasty” – one of self-incrimination) will wait in vain for a better one than this.

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Back To The Future? THE REPROBATE – FIRST TRANSMISSION Reviewed

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The Reprobate – First Transmission. Edited by David Flint. A Colmena Publication. P/B. ISBN 978-0-9955719-0-7

One of the things that the current Mrs F found particularly entertaining about your humble blogger, in the early days of our acquaintance, was the spectacle of me carting my granny’s wonky shopping trolley around Manchester, stuffed with copies of Samhain to be hawked to Forbidden Planet, Odyssey 7 and assorted smaller retailers. Yep, I’ve paid my dues in the  ‘Zine trade…

Mrs F was particularly tickled by the regularity with which the wheels came off and required fixing and how some misaligned spoke or metallic whatnot hanging off this contraption would scour a record of my passage in the pavement behind me. Legend has it that instalments of my progress around Albert Square and up and down Oxford Road are still traceable to this day, which will no doubt be helpful when the burghers and aldermen of Manchester finally get round to putting up some of those blue plaques to mark the landmarks of the ’80s-’90s North West fanzine scene…

… and what a golden age it was, yielding among others (and apart from my contributions to the seminal Samhain) Paul Higson’s Bleeder’s Digest, Ian Caunce’s mighty Absurd (still my all-time favourite ‘Zine) and Sheer Filth, courtesy of one David Flint. David Kerekes and others were lurking in the wings and I also seem to remember a fresh-faced kid called Hayden Hewitt…nice guy but it was always clear to me that he was never going to amount to anything. The acuity of my judgement was recently confirmed to me when I saw Jeremy Paxman interviewing him on Newsnight.

Here we are, towards the end of 2016 and I’m sedately ensconced in the blogosphere. It took me quite a while to get here (The House Of Freudstein hasn’t even been online for a full year yet) but now I’ve arrived, I’m happy to say that it suits me just fine. No more lugging bags and boxes of hard copy around to distributors who might or might not cough up (obviously this became even more of an issue for me when I started running my own show with Giallo Pages, et al)… sure, there’s no prospect of turning the kind of small profit that occasionally came your way in the Golden Age of ‘Zines, but nor are you subject to the kind of loss that was much more frequently your lot … and people still send you stuff to review! So no more ‘Zines, fan or pro, from your truly… uh-huh… and that’s a fact, Jack! But apparently not everybody feels the same way…

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… the aforementioned David Flint, for example, has clearly never lost his love for the print medium. After Sheer Filth he was a founder editor of Headpress before flying solo with Divinity and Sexadelic. David’s interest in horror and exploitation has always been part of a wider-ranging focus on transgression that has involved him in many other genres and art forms. Having run the Strange Things Are Happening (Popular Culture Gone Bad) website for several years, he’s now fronting up the The Reprobate, which has maintained an online presence (https://reprobatemagazine.uk) for some time and now here’s the long-gestated first quarterly issue of its namesake magazine “for the modern contrarian.” Is the very act, nay, the very idea of publishing  such a thing in 2016 itself the dictionary definition of contrarianism (if, indeed, such a word can be found in any dictionary)? Well, the evidence is here before me in the shape of 164 glossy, perfect bound A5 pages, dripping with seditious text and heavily illustrated in both black’n’white and colour. Looks nice, now let’s investigate the contents…

The (one imagines) regular “Reprobates In The News” section features, among other scoops, the notorious case of the Devon woman who sexually abused a plastic tyrannosaurus emerging from an egg (the very one pictured below) on Exmouth’s Dino Trail. We Freudsteins were also rather disappointed with this particular “tourist attraction” but none of us felt the need to mitigate our disappointment by masturbating over any of the paleantological tableaux.

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David himself interviews Human Centipede auteur Tom Six but chooses to concentrate on the latter’s notions of personal style rather than the meanings beyond his films, possibly because there is no discernible meaning to those films beyond the idea that shock is, in and of itself, a good thing, an idea towards which I’ve never felt particularly sympathetic. Some would argue that this makes Six a kind of latter-day John Waters, but I’ve always loathed Waters’ films too. Hey, what’s the world coming to if I can’t review this cavalcade of contrariness without tossing in a few contrary opinions of my own?

Daz Lawrence’s profile of “Reprobate Hero” Lord Buckley is engaging stuff. Daz might also have mentioned that Buckley plays a role in one of several competing theories about how Prog Rock pioneers The Nice got their name. He might have but doesn’t, probably on the reasonable grounds that he’s nowhere near as obsessed with such Prog minutiae as I am. The ever readable Mr Lawrence also gives us the amusing lowdown on his quest to bring faux fag wrestler Adrian Street’s music to the masses and remembers Tiny Tim.

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Objects Of Desire that get promoted herein range from luxury chocolates and undies, off-the-peg bar cabinets, a penis-shaped flash drive containing the collected works of some Danish comedians, Arrow’s homounguous Herschell Gordon Lewis box set and the monstrously priced Pink Floyd Early Years collection.

Expensive as it is, I’m more likely to be seen purchasing that Floyd anthology than anything by noise terrorist William Bennett who, under the handle Whitehouse, assaulted our ears and morals with such family favourites as Tit Pulp, Just Like A Cunt, Shit Fun, Rape Master and I’m Coming Up Your Ass. As reported by Bruce Barnard, they signally failed to ignite the anticipated dance craze with their anthemic Wriggle Like A Fucking Eel. Elsewhere Mr Barnard inveighs against the vapidity of the cocaine lifestyle.

Nigel Wingrove returns with a primer on Scandinavian Black Metal and accompanying Chris Bell fashion shoot. Wingrove’s Redemption outfit are allegedly releasing Japanese Cosplay / mutilation epic Mai Chan’s Daily Life in the US and Mister Flint gives us the lowdown on that later in the mag.

Eli Bell interviews Billy Chainsaw, a man with far more strings to his bow than I’d previously suspected, some of his canvases reproduced here (striking collisions of Burroughs and Baphomet, Crowley and comix) being genuinely impressive. The man himself later takes time out from his artistic creations to interview Michelle Mildenhall, “the Latex Queen of the Art Scene.”

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A visit to The Demis Roussos Museum in Nijkerk inspires CJ Lines to remember the great man’s extraordinary career. Keri O’Shea surveys the history of Great British Courtesans and rates the beers and museums of Prague. Flinty flexes his Jeffery-West shoe fetish by interviewing that company’s Guy West in their swanky Piccadilly Arcade store. Then he reviews Victor Matellano’s recent Vampyres remake, comparing it unfavourably with Jose Larraz’s cult original, a judgement with which I concur elsewhere on this blog. Somebody called White Dolemite fills us in on his non-existent films (don’t worry, it’ll all make sense when you read it… or maybe not) and if Gipsie Castigloione’s interview with novelist-turned-perfumier Sarah McCartney doesn’t get your olfactory bulb twitching, I don’t know what will!

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Arguably the highlight of this volume, Gavin and Lucy Morrow’s Close Encounters relates their experiences “travelling the extraterrestrial highway” in words (hers) and photos (his.) Apparently they’ve got enough documentation of their explorations of arcane Americana to fill a book of their own and I, for one, would very much like to see it.

Further reviews of books, film, music, food and drink, grooming and lifestyle, places and events follow before the proceedings close with a personal memoir / true confession regarding a spontaneous S/M orgy that broke out in a nightclub toilet on Valentine’s Night, 1991… more tea, Vicar?

The Reprobate’s First Transmission is a fine maiden effort, most worthy of your attention… a trustworthy map to guide you down the road of excess which will lead you, inexorably, towards that palace of wisdom. Has it tempted me to consider a return to physical ‘zine publishing? Nah… my granny’s shopping trolley has gone the same way as my granny and there are no scratch marks on the sidewalks of cyber space. But do I wish David well with his new endeavour? Sure I do and would urge you to visit, post-haste https://reprobatemagazine.uk/2016/11/29/buy-the-reprobate-first-transmission/

Is the print revival going to take off, then? The outcome will (hopefully) be in your hands…

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With Friends Like These… AMICUS – THE FRIENDLY FACE OF FEAR Reviewed

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“You do The Hokey-Cokey and you turn around…”

Amicus – The Friendly Face Of Fear by Alan Bryce. Ghoulish Publishing. P/B. ISBN 978-1-5272-0271-9

While knocking out issues of The Dark Side under the Stray Cat banner, Allan Bryce also managed to publish a series of nifty film books… among the niftiest of them, I would count (never having found modesty all that forbidding) the third edition of my “video nasties” tome Seduction Of The Gullible and the follow-up Cannibal! (which I still prefer to refer to under its original title “Slaves Of The Cannibal God – 20 Years Of Italian Man Munching Movies.”) After the death of Allan’s business partner Ken Mills, Dark Side disappeared from our shelves for a couple of years before its triumphant re-emergence courtesy of Ghoulish Publishing, which now brings us Allan’s own Amicus – The Friendly Face Of Fear, touted as the “definitive history” of this much-loved low-budget Hammer competitor, named for the friendship between its co-creators Milton Subotsky (the creative schmendrick with the DIY haircut) and Max Rosenberg (the hard-headed money man.)

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Definitive? To assess this claim I would need to have read the various previously published accounts of Amicus  (including one by Stray Cat, 15 years ago) which, I must confess, I haven’t. Safe to say, though, A-TFFOF is a terrific read in its own right, simultaneously eminently knowledgable, fannishly enthusiastic and rigorously analytical as it guides us from the soup of Subotsberg’s pre-Amicus horror effort City Of The Dead (1960) through to the nuts of the daft plastic dinosaur epics from which you might remember Doug Mclure, with all those portmanteau treasures and such endearing oddities as And Now The Screaming Starts (1973) and The Beast Must Die (1974) nicely packed in between. While doing so it steers a middle course between previous accounts of the breakdown in amicable relations between Rosenberg and Subotsky (their ups and downs mirroring those of the company’s fortunes), which have tended to favour one or the other. While reiterating that Milt was the creative heart of Amicus, Bryce acknowledges that turning in a coherent, feature-length screenplay wasn’t exactly his forte (much to the chagrin of literary sources such as Robert Bloch and the consternation of several Amicus directors.)

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The dynamic duo first collaborated on an early draft of The Curse Of Frankenstein (1957), maintaining thereafter that they had been bilked out of their due credits (and payments) on Hammer’s horror breakthrough. Thereafter they strove manfully to compete with Carreras and co, poaching their talent from both sides of the camera while never consistently competing with Hammer at the box office. Amicus certainly couldn’t compete in budgetary terms, making a virtue of necessity by hiring multiple name actors for short stints in their beloved multi-story horror films.

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If you’re reading this you’ve probably already got some knowledge of and / or affection for these films… if not, I can do no better than point you in the direction of The Friendly Face Of Fear, 168 perfect bound glossy pages heavily illustrated in both colour and b/w and just bursting with Amicus minutiae… who knew, for instance, that the then Marquis de Sade petitioned successfully to have the family name removed from French marketing for Freddie Francis’s The Skull (1965) on the grounds that it would be brought into disrepute (“Locking the stable door after the cheval has bolted”, as Bryce wryly notes)…  that Rosenberg deep sixed Subotsky’s plans for e.g. a tripped-out revamp of It’s Trad, Dad! (starring The Byrds, The Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful dead!) and film adaptations of Marvel’s superhero characters (no commercial potential there at all, eh?) … that The House That Dripped Blood supported Last House On The Left in the U.S… that Geoffrey Bayldon was an 11th Hour replacement for Spike Milligan in Asylum… that Tales From The Crypt was being shot at Shepperton at the same time as Tower Of Evil, a film with which it shared sets… that the negative response to Vault Of Horror from E.C. Comics’ Bill Gaines scuppered Amicus plans for More Tales From The Crypt, The Haunt of Fear and Tales Of The Incredible (the latter to have been shot in 3D)… that, according to special FX man (and no relation to the author) Allan Bryce, the squirming green innards of a Dalek were cut from Dr. Who And The Daleks (1965) on the grounds that they would upset tiny tots… and who remembered that Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. (1966) was freighted with product placement shots promoting the breakfast cereal Sugar Puffs? (*) If your answer to these questions or most of them is “Me!”… just shut up Darrell and give somebody else a chance, OK?

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A splendid read then, topped and tailed by a characteristically eye-catching Rick Melton cover and irreverent biogs of Messrs Bryce, Melton and Kevin Coward (who acquits himself admirably in the design of this volume) and, for some reason, their respective spouses. Helps to keep things amicable, I suppose.

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(*) Just consider, if that movie had been made in Italy, I Daleki would have been exterminating their way through rivers of J&B!

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Dark Dreams Of A Knight Of The Realm… ALFRED HITCHCOCK by Peter Ackroyd, reviewed

norman1Alfred Hitchcock by Peter Ackroyd. Chatto & Windus. H/B. ISBN 9780701169930

The virtuous man, according to Plato (in a passage frequently cited by Freud) is the one who’s content to dream what the wicked man actually does. If this is true of us regular folk, how much more so of those possessed by “Genius”?

Freud also opened a hotly contested can of worms when he declared that “Biology is Destiny.” Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980) was cursed by physiognomy, doubly so by the strictures of a Catholic education. Making a virtue of necessity, he presented himself as a desireless creature, even joking that his daughter Patricia had been conceived in the sort of turkey basting scenario subsequently celebrated in Sunset Beach. On the silver screen he subjected the blonde ice goddesses of his dreams (Grace Kelly, Ingrid Bergman, Tippi Hedren) to his sublimated resentment and revenge.

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On the studio lots they had to suffer his smutty jokes. In later life, encroaching senility (and possibly alcoholism) reportedly reduced him to the level of a sex pest. Critics who are fond of berating the successors to Psycho for explicit violence that Hitchcock would never have countenanced have obviously never watched the maestro’s 1972 effort Frenzy, certain scenes in which pay perverse and explicit tribute to John Reginald Halliday Christie and his misdeeds at 10 Rillington Place and elsewhere, towards which Hitchcock maintained an unabashed fanboy attitude.

Hitch, encircled by his own fears and insecurities, found fame and fortune exploiting those of others. Uneasy with people, he turned himself into a brand, the avatar of which was the physical appearance that so dismayed him. A voyeur, he hated people looking at him. A card carrying cockney, he became a U.S. citizen, then a Knight Of The Realm…rich pickings there for any biographer.

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Although Ackroyd is a respected practitioner of that craft, who’s previously tackled Chaplin, Dickens, William Blake, Wilkie Collins, Thomas More, T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, alarm bells started ringing when I noted the slimness of this volume (a mere 259 pages to cover a figure so massive – in every way – as Hitchcock?) and registered the misuse of certain terms (e.g. “neuralgia”) within the first few of those pages. Happily, Ackroyd’s proof readers wake up as he commences a worthy,  economical handling of Hitchcock’s life that concentrates on the filmography but manages to pack a lot of personal stuff around it, revealing (if not fully illuminating) the substratum of dark dreams upon which the cinematic wonders were erected. Initially I was tempted to dismiss this biography as “Hitchcock at half cock” but it’s really a  lot better than that, a useful primer that might well inspire the reader to seek out weightier tomes by Truffaut, Spoto (“The Dark Side Of Genius”, indeed) et al.

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Coffee With Scream… MONSTERS IN THE MOVIES reviewed

Landis Monsters Book

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

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

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

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

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

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