Film Reviews

Toast Of Douglas… MINDHORN Reviewed

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Barratt gets the David Hess role in the upcoming House On The Edge Of The Park reboot…

Directed by Sean Foley
Produced by Jack Arbuthnott, et al
Written by Julian Barratt, Simon Farnaby
Edited by Mark Everson
Cinematography by David Luther
Music by Keefus Ciancia, David Holmes
Special FX by Niall Trask
Starring Julian Barrett, Simon Farnaby, Essie Davis, Harriet Walter, Russell Tovey, Nicholas Farrell, David Schofield, Richard McCabe, Jessica Barden, Steve Coogan, Simon Callow, Sir Kenneth Branagh

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29/04/17 … another great night at Nottingham’s Broadway cinema. Kudos to Mayhem honchos Chris Cooke and Steve Sheil for procuring a Mindhorn preview and Q&A with its stars / creators Julian Barratt (The Mighty Boosh “jazz maverick”) and Simon Farnaby (known, chez Freudstein, as “that guy from Horrible Histories”). Thanks for the ticket, Chris.

I’d been looking forward to this one for a while. Inestimable anti-social media friend @CosiPerversa warned me that Bunny And The Bull from the same(ish) team was pretty rank stuff (and I’ve never had any cause to doubt his judgement) but the premise of this one was irresistible…

Julian Barrat is Richard Thorncroft who was Mindhorn, a much-loved ’80s TV detective who used his bionic lie-detecting eye (don’t ask!), not to mention his mastery of Brazilian martial art Capoeira and his lady killing charm, to get to the bottom of various crimes on the Isle Of Man every week. Thorncroft was habitually beastly to his stunt double Clive Parnevik (Farnaby) and – his ego swollen by a Hollywood offer that never came to anything – he rubbished his screen side-kick Peter Eastman (Steve Coogan) and the IOM itself during a particularly drunken appearance on Wogan, with predictably disastrous career consequences. A quarter of a Century later, “the fame has faded and the waistline has expanded” (welcome to my world, pal!) He’s lost his hair as well (at least I’m hanging on to mine) and he’s been reduced to advertising man corsets and orthopaedic socks (though John Nettles has just bumped him off of that gig.) Just to exacerbate Thorncroft’s discomfort, Mindhorn was replaced with a spin-off series showcasing the exploits of Windjammer, the character played by Eastman, who’s now doing very nicely indeed for himself.

Opportunity knocks (probably for the final time) on our boy’s door when a murder occurs on the Isle Of Man and the unbalanced Paul Melly (Russell Tovey), who identifies himself as “The Kestrel”, warns that there’ll be more unless he gets to speak to Mindhorn, whom he believes to be a real person. Hopeful of reviving both his career and his relationship with former co-star Patricia Deville (the lovely Essie Davis, below), Thorncroft gets on the first ferry out of Liverpool and proceeds to make a total arse of himself with the local cops (flinty faced David Schofield and the bemused Andrea Riseborough.)  Along the way he has humiliating run ins with Eastman and the perennially buff Parnevik, who is now shacked up with Patricia. Ironic that the bionic eyed dick couldn’t see any of this coming…

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Every bit as deluded as his nut-job fan (who at least has the excuse of a learning disability), Thorncroft embarks on a redemptive journey (I’m only sticking that “character journey” shit in there to wind up Mrs F, whose current least favourite metaphor it happens to be) and we actually start rooting for the dopey no-hoper as the penny drops that several key characters are not quite what they seem. Along the way, of course, the cruel ironies and comic complications multiply exponentially…

Barratt and Farnaby allegedly spent ten years working on the script of Mindhorn and it wasn’t a waste of a decade. On top of a firm, fun premise (into which elements of Toast Of London, The Six Million Dollar Man, Bergerac, Shoestring and others have been shoe-horned) the gags are scattered thick and fast. It ain’t exactly Spinal Tap or Airplane, but if you were beginning to think that the words “British”, “screen” and “comedy” were mutually excluded from appearing in the same sentence, Mindhorn will certainly disabuse you of that notion… it’s everything that Coogan’s recent output has aspired, in vain, to be. Barratt and Farnaby’s central roles aren’t too much of a stretch from anything you’ve seen them in previously but the rest of the cast (which also includes Harriet Walter as Thorncroft’s two-faced agent, Richard McCabe as his dissolute publicist and bit-parting Ken Branagh and Simon Callow) are uniformly excellent. The Mindhorn memorabilia and “clips” from the TV show are a particular treat. I hope they manage some of the mooted spin-offs… at least a Mindhorn TV episode as an extra on the DVD release? We’ll, er, see…

Hats off to rookie feature director Sean Foley. Christ knows why they thought he could pull it off, but he did. One quibble… I’m too much of a technical ignoramus to work out if the film was in some way misprojected, but the cinematography of David Luther (an ASC award nominee!) made parts of it look like it was shot on VHS… and I’m not talking about the retro stuff that’s supposed to look like it’s on VHS!

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Barratt and Farnaby’s Q&A (ably moderated by Sheil) was every bit as amusing as you’d expect, though a little different from most of those I’ve attended, which have overwhelmingly featured horror / exploitation film makers. When faced with a question that’s been, frankly, a bit dumb, those guys always seemed to be tying themselves in knots, in defiance of audience giggles, to dignify it with a straight answer. Barratt and Farnaby, as comedians, took the alternative course of amplifying the dumbness of certain questions and milking them for maximum comic effect. It has to be said that some of the questioners were asking for it but I still felt vaguely uncomfortable. Then again, Freud argued that humour was intimately connected with the discharge of uncomfortable emotions… and you know Sigmund Freud wouldn’t shit you about something like that.

One thing that did become apparent, because Farnaby told us, was that Parnevik’s accent was supposed to be Dutch. Later in the session he attempted a Leeds accent that was similarly wide of the mark. Admittedly his Geordie is spot on (and was mercilessly deployed to take the piss out of Ridley Scott), then again he is a native of County Durham. Ah well, nobody’s perfect. The Q&A was enlivened by the presence of one Isle Of Man refugee (who conceded that all the flak it gets in the film falls under the category of fair comment) and an actual capoeira practitioner who (rather generously) complimented Barratt on his rendition of this esoteric Brazilian martial arts / dance crossover discipline. Oh, and there were plenty of cake-based cracks concerning Noel Fielding’s latest career move, too.

Never forget… you can’t handcuff the wind.

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The late Keith Moon leads The Who in spooky ’70s anticipation of Mindhorn’s capoeira moves…

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Nice Places To Visit But You Wouldn’t Want To Live There… HIGH RISE and KONG: SKULL ISLAND Reviewed

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From the days before The Guardian embraced Neoliberalism, Austerity… and all that cal.

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Hairy palms… the first sign of insanity… or was it wanking?

The House Of Freudstein is a wonderful but sometimes strange and frightening place. There is no rule book. There was one, but it’s currently being used to prop up the short leg on The Doc’s operating table, so you’ll have to have it out with him if you want to read it. In the absence of the rule book, the standard operating procedure that’s evolved around here is to write about low-budget horror, schlock and sleaze. Yet here I find myself, on Good Friday 2017, about to pen reviews of two Tom Hiddleston films… strange and frightening indeed.

1 ) Get Off Of My Cloud… HIGH RISE Reviewed

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DVD. Region 2. STUDIOCANAL. 15

It’s become a cliché of lazy film critique (one on which I’ve frequently fallen back myself) to describe the works of Poe and Lovecraft as “unfilmable.” Plenty of film makers have had a go and some have done rather well, invariably by injecting new plot elements into the tenebrous sketches of EAP and HPL. The ’60s / ’70s countercultural holy trinity of Ballard, Burroughs and Dick have fared demonstrably worse at the hands of screen adaptors… well, PKD’s done OK, with major plot additions making not one but two lucrative Total Recalls (Kate Beckinsale’s in one of them… more on this attractive guitar-sucking actress later) out of We Can Remember It For You Wholesale and a cocktail of additions and surgical extractions transforming Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep into the all-conquering (apart from at the box office) Blade Runner. As for Ballard and Burroughs, two words are sufficient to convey what fucked-up film fodder their fiction can become… and those words are “Cronenberg” and “David”, though not necessarily in that order.

There are friends and peers who roll their eyes and wiggle their fingers around their temples whenever I have the temerity to question anything Cronenbergian, but guys… when DC’s Naked Lunch was released, in 1991, I had already spent the best part of two decades enthralled and repelled by the Burroughs novel and its immediate “sequels.” With their deployment of “cut up” and “fold in” techniques, these incendiary works were designed to advance the novel’s narrative techniques to the level of cinema so arguably the very act of adapting them to the screen was a salutary lesson in defeating the object of the exercise… but if there was any way to translate work of such challenging complexity to the visual medium, the spectacle of Roy Scheider ripping a Mission Impossible mask off to reveal that he is (da da!) Doctor Benway sure wasn’t it.  As for “Sexual ambivalence? I thought you said sexual ambulance”?… give me a fucking break! I concede that Cronenberg had the humility to dub this mess “Naked Lunch” rather than The Naked Lunch but then again, this is a film that has rather a lot to be humble about. Nor was I significantly more impressed by Cronenberg’s adaptation of Crash (1966), despite my innate predisposition to favour anything so despised by the Dailys Mail and Express. Once could even argue that Cronenberg’s feature debut Shivers (1975) was the closest he (or anyone) ever came to the literary spirit of Ballard and, by dint weird of weird synchronicity, High Rise was originally published in the same year. Must have been something in the air, or possibly the air conditioning… whatever, each provided a prescient taste of unpleasant things to come. The very next year Harold Wilson resigned under never-quite-explained circumstances and Callaghan and Healey (not, as is commonly misremembered, Thatcher) signed the UK up to the great neo-liberal experiment that is still sucking most of us dry today.

Fortunately there’s no longer any need to make that argument (the one I mentioned towards the end of the previous paragraph, bozo! Pay fucking attention, alright?) as Ben Wheately (A Field In England, Sightseers, Free Fire, et al) has directed High Rise (2015.) If Danny Boyle was the ideal man to stage the London Olympics’ opening ceremony (or was it the closing ceremony? Couldn’t bring myself to watch any of that stuff) then Wheatley’s the guy to orchestrate TV coverage of The Apocalypse. And while we’re all waiting for that…

Tom Hiddleston, who looks a bit like that kid out of Home Alone on steroids, plays Robert Laing (I was waiting in vain for characters named Janov and Szasz.) By day he teaches physiology in a hospital. Slicing into the scalp of some dead dude to peel his face off and reveal the skull beneath is as good as any a precis of the dionysian / dystopian dehumanisation that is to follow… more importantly, the fact that it causes one of Laing’s wise cracking students to faint is a gratifying (as far as I’m concerned, anyway) nod to the greatest TV program of all time…

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… Quincy M.E.

When he gets back to his swishy apartment in the eponymous High Rise, Laing’s just looking to be alone, but gets inexorably drawn into the complexly nuanced social nexus of his ultra-class conscious co-High Rise dwellers. Shit like this happens. I know, I’ve experienced it during the regrettable periods when I’ve been obliged to take day jobs. Thankfully, none of those degenerated into the “eating dogs and throwing people off roofs” scenario depicted here. Nor, rather regrettably, did they evolve into the kind of sordid sex orgies that seem to break out in High Rise at the first suggestion that the lifts aren’t working properly or the supermarket is out of sugar puffs.

As the High Rise goes to hell in a hand cart beneath him, its designer Anthony Lord (Jeremy Irons) squats atop it in the swishest apartment of them all (complete with rooftop recreation of an ancien regime garden), rather like Dr Eldon Tyrell in the Tyrell Corporation pyramid in Blade Runner. Rather like Roy Batty in Blade Runner, Wilder (Luke Evans) wants some face-to-face time with the man at the top… he wants more swimming pool privileges for his kids, fucker! James Purefoy (as Pangbourne) portrays the kind of psychotic smoothie he’s been specialising in since his Mark Anthony in that splattery mini-series Rome… he’s getting very good at it, too. If they ever decide to remake The Professionals, I’m hoping he gets the call for Bodie. I’ve always had problems telling the Siennas Miller and Guillory apart. Wheatley casts both of them here (I think they’re having a lesbian affair or something) to clear up… or possibly intensify any such confusion.

So often in the past I’ve expressed myself bewildered, exasperated and / or infuriated by the decisions of the BBFC but on this occasion I’m coming at it from an unaccustomed angle. I’m genuinely surprised that our pals at Soho Square deem the litany of atrocities trotted out in High Rise worthy of a ’15’ certificate. I remember an earnest young man who wrote a book in which he railed against the hypocrisy of the “video nasties” witch hunt, who would no doubt roll his eyes and wiggle his finger around his temple at my concern over the prospect of my daughter being exposed to Wheatley’s film. It’s a moot point anyway, as High Rise ticks precisely none of the boxes that might have tempted her to watch it… it’s not Japanese, it’s not animated and there are precisely no sensitive gay characters discussing their emotional problems in it.

Cast interviews in the bonus material give you the chance to decide which of the participants are playing ninnies and which of them are actually just ninnies. Hiddlestone sounds quite intelligent and thoughtful until asked what his dream, Anthony Lord designed apartment would look like and specifies that there would have to be a gym in it… bloody ninny! Sienna Miller, who seems to have made a career (at least if the things I’ve seen her in are anything to go by) playing underfed crumpet has never actually appealed to me but in these interviews she not only sounds a lot more intelligent than you’d give her credit for, but also looks absolutely incandescent… better than she does in the actual feature. It’s as though she’s taken the high rise elevator out of pleasant-looking Elizabeth Hurley mid-table mediocrity into the upper echelons where the grateful carpets are trod by the Kate Beckinsales of this world.

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Kate Beckinsale. Treading on a capet. Yesterday.

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Kate Beckinsale. Treading on a carpet. Sucking on a guitar. The day before yesterday.

 

Who shot these bonus interviews? Maybe Miller should put him / her on a permanent retainer. I’d definitely do so, were I not a penniless blogger.

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Just about the only mishap that doesn’t befall the residents of The High Rise (or at least, the only one it would be tasteful to make wise cracks about) is to encounter a giant gorilla climbing to the top of it. Hiddleston dons a vest and cargo pants to cross off this particular entry on his bucket list in…

2) Too Much Monkey Business… KONG: SKULL ISLAND (2017) Reviewed

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Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts.
Produced by Alex Garcia, John Jashni, Mary Parent, Thomas Tull, et al.
Written by John Gatins, Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Connelly

Edited by Richard Parent.

Cinematography by Larry Fong.
Music by Henry Jackman.
Special FX by Chris Brenczewski and shedloads of others…

Starring: Tom Hiddlestone, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John C, Reilly, John Goodman, Houston Brooks.

You wouldn’t want to live in Mansfield and it’s not even a particularly nice place to visit, nevertheless that’s where our Meerkat Movie vouchers have brought the Freudstein family on an expedition to check out Kong: Skull Island. The Odeon has dispensed with its ticket office since we were last here, you’ve got to print out your tickets on some infernal self-service device. Presumably this was intended to cut down the staff wage bill but there still seem to be countless callow youths standing around awkwardly in their cute uniforms, resolutely refusing eye contact in case – heaven forefend – they might be called upon to help you with something.

During the endless trailer reel we suffer Jason Statham running the gamut of emotion from A to B in a trailer for The Fast And The Fatuous Part 38 or whatever it is. “That looks shit!”, opines Freudette to her Mum… Christ on a fucking bike, wherever does she pick up language like that?

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Rather like our previous foray into mainstream cinema, Doctor Strange, which I reviewed elsewhere on this site (not that any of you fuckers bothered to read it!), Kong: Skull Island has had so much money chucked at it, there’s no way it wasn’t going to be entertaining, albeit in a stupid ass, knuckle-headed kind of way. There’s a prologue, during which we witness a Japanese and an American airman, who’ve just shot each other out of the sky in a WWII dogfight, about to conclude their death match when they’re interrupted by you-know-who raising his ugly, hairy head. Cut to the early 70s, where Tricky Dicky has just announced “peace with honour” in Vietnam and Lieutenant Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) feels that he and his grunts have been sold out. They don’t need much convincing to sign up to a geological study on Skull Island, under the direction of Professor Bill Randa (John Goodman), whose motivations aren’t exactly as stated. Nobody seems suspicious about a geological survey on a permanently storm surrounded rock (glorifying in the name of Skull Island) that requires a heavy-duty military attachment… not hunky James Conrad (Hiddleston, who would have done better to stay in the chic opium den where they found him), nor busty war reporter Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), whose along for the ride as Kong candy because Fay Wray is no longer available. Joseph Conrad is no longer available either, but because he penned Heart Of Darkness, from which this film, Apocalypse Now and many others have pinched so much, they thought they’d name a character after him. Kind of. Alongside the uncredited input of original Kong writers Edgar Wallace and Merian C. Cooper, you’ll easily spot elements of Moby Dick, Lord Of The Flies and Treasure Island just for starters. I did and I wasn’t really paying attention.

Anyway, Packard’s chopper squad fearlessly navigate their way through those perpetual storms but before you can whistle Ride Of The Valkyrie, the hundred foot ape turns up and starts swatting them out of the sky like Dinky toys. Conrad, who’s a pretty touchy-feely guy for the kind of black ops specialist he’s vaguely suggested to be, argues that KK was only defending his territory but Packard has conceived a mortal grudge against that monkey, unconvinced by the argument that his removal will lead to the island being overrun by H.R. Giger rejects from the centre of the Earth. In other words, Kong’s a big ugly monster bastard but he’s our big ugly monster bastard. The allegory of recent US foreign policy isn’t too difficult to discern and there are a few throwaway gags at Trump’s expense, but we’re mostly here to gawp at big beasties fighting each other rather than critique current geopolitical trends and it has to be said that the CGI creations are impressive, if lacking the charm of Harryhausen and O’Brien’s stop motion masterworks. I would have preferred to see KK slugging it out with some authentic looking dinosaurs than those Gigeresque jobbies, but what do I know?

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The soundtrack is nicely peppered with 70s rock classics and the Ben Gunn character gets to go home and enjoy the ballgame with a beer and a hotdog, not to mention his miraculously well-preserved wife. Conrad’s viewpoint vindicated, Kong is left lording it over Skull Island and multiple sequels are already in the works.

Sorry to get all prissy about ratings again, but Mrs F felt rather forcefully (and I’m inclined to agree with her) that this was pretty violent stuff for “12A.” Thankfully, Freudette doesn’t seem to have incurred any significant mental scars on account of it. One of my most vivid childhood memories is of my Mum taking me to see One Million Years B.C. when it came out in 1966 and now I’ve taken our kid to see a monster movie, it feels like the circle of life is being completed. Or something. At the time I was more enthused by the dinosaurs than the spectacle of  Raquel Welch in her fur bikini…

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… I dig the dinosaurs in that movie to this day, though my priorities did shift somewhat with the onset of puberty. What about Freudette… did she find the Hiddleston hot? (Dunno if I’ve mentioned this already, but I find him a bit of a ninny) Only, she tells me, in so far as she could imagine him in a passionate clinch with Benedict Cumberbatch. Apparently there’s a whole wing of the internet that’s obsessed with the possibility of such a romantic coupling. Perhaps that makes more sense to you than it does to me. Parenthood, like life at The House Of Freudstein, is a wonderful, sometimes strange and frightening thing.

The main feeling I was left with after consuming Kong: Skull Island was a desire to root out some of those batshit crazy Japanese Kong movies and review them on this site. So I’ll be doing precisely that, shortly.

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The Art Of Falling Apart… FREE FIRE Reviewed

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Directed by Ben Wheatley.
Produced by Andrew Starke, et al.
Written & Edited by Amy Jump & Ben Wheatley.

Cinematography by Laurie Rose.
Music by Geoff Barrow, Ben Salisbury.
Starring: Enzo Cilenti, Sam Riley, Michael Smiley, Brie Larson, Cillan Murphy, Armie Hammer, Sharito Copley, Babou Ceesay, Noah Taylor, Jack Reynor, Mark Monero, Patrick Bergin.

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world” – The Second Coming, William Butler Yeats.

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There’s a buzz about Ben Wheatley and no mistake. Theatre 1 of Nottingham’s Broadway Cinema on the evening of 07.03.17 was sold out for their preview screening of / Q&A session for his latest effort Free Fire (many thanks, as ever, to Mayhem’s Chris Cooke for saving me a ticket… and to Ollie Morris for actually finding me a seat!) Hell, more people attended this than last September’s Broadway screening of Doctor Butcher M.D. There’s no accounting for tastes, I guess…

… only kidding. Among the countless British directors who have been touted in recent decades as the next big thing /  great white hope / second coming, very few – IMHO – have actually merited such excessive investment of high hopes… off the top of my head (and no doubt I’ll offend some by not mentioning them and piss myself off for forgetting others), Nick Broomfield and Michael Winterbottom have rarely disappointed. Though it’s still early days, Wheatley has been justifying the hype via relentless pursuit of his (and his muse Amy Jump’s) favoured theme, a truly Shakespearian one, namely the bad things that happen when things break down … things as diverse as the self-control of banal, frustrated people (Sightseers), the Utopian dreams of urban planners (High Rise) and the Stuart dynasty (A Field In England).

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This Billericay Dickie having already dabbled in the UK gangster genre (to significantly more intelligent effect than is generally the case) with Down Terrace and Kill List, Free Fire is a step across the pond and hopefully up the ladder, in which the expected entropic  narrative is boiled down to the contents (human and ordnance) of a derelict Boston factory in 1978. It’s not quite the uninterrupted “90 minute shoot out” you might have primed to expect. The first half hour sets up the quirky dramatis personae in a twitchy drug deal and how it all goes tits up, starting with the revelation that a foot soldier on one side recently glassed the cousin of a guy in the other camp because she wouldn’t give him a blow job. After that charming spark has ignited the tinder box, you do get pretty much the climax of Taxi Driver (and just look whose name pops up among the list of executive producers) stretched over the remaining hour of the picture and played for queasy laughs, none of the characters allowing themselves to be distracted from the serious business of aiming profane wise cracks at each other by the fact that new chunks are being blown out of them at regular intervals. Nice to know that when things are falling apart, the last thing people lose (after several gallons of their blood) is their sense of humour. It’s as though Laurel And Hardy’s Them Thar Hills had been directed by Quentin Tarantino… or Tarantino’s own early efforts had been directed by somebody with a grasp of the Aristotelian unities.

More than anything, Free Fire reminded me of the hip “heroic bloodshed” epics that I used to watch at The Broadway a quarter of a Century ago, though there’s precious little heroism in it… everyone’s in it for themselves and it’s revealed, at the death, that the fix was in even before the goonish underlings started butting heads. Somebody had the whole thing stitched up all along and they would have gotten away with it but for those pesky… but for a timely reminder that although we have, for the last hour-and-a-half, been engrossed in a microcosm of man’s venality and buffoonery, there’s a world outside intent on reimposing order… however transiently.

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During Wheatley’s Q&A session, moderated by Mayhem’s other main man, Steve Sheil and enlivened by the prospect of a free T-shirt for anyone who asked a question, the director deployed a dry and deadpan wit. It was difficult to tell if he was kidding or not when he claimed to have enlisted the help of his producer’s son to plan out the film’s set on Minecraft. He frequently had the audience in stitches, which moved somebody at the back to start shushing people, which was a bit weird. I don’t know why they were in such a vibe-busting mood… maybe someone they knew had recently been glassed? Wheatley revealed that the film he’d watched most before shooting Free Fire was Evil Dead 2 and when he finally disposes of Sam Riley’s infuriating and hitherto indestructible-seeming character, he certainly honours that central zombie movie tenet… you’ve gotta get ’em in the head!

Much of the onstage discussion (at least before I had to leave to catch a bus) was about the technicalities of discharging guns on rifle ranges and sets, but one statement of personal philosophy did slip out, about the re-emergence through Wheatley’s films of the theme that “smart people get dragged down by the stupidity of the crowd.” Will his upcoming films get dragged down to the LCD level of Hollywood product? The director revealed that his next two will be “a science fiction film… and something else.”

Watch this space.

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Lovelock Lies Limp… Edwige Fenech in THE VIRGIN WIFE

valentina-movie-poster-1978-1020205099.jpgTHE VIRGIN WIFE / “LA MOGLIE VERGINE” aka VALENTINA – THE VIRGIN WIFE, YOU’VE GOT TO HAVE HEART and AT LAST, AT LAST (1975)

Directed by “Franco Martinelli” (Marino Girolami).
Produced by Edmondo Amati.
Written by Marino Girolami & Carlo Veo.
Cinematography by Fausto Zuccoli.
Music by Armando Trovajoli.
Starring: Edwige Fenech, Ray Lovelock, Renzo Montagnani, Carrol Baker, Gabriella Giorgelli.

“What’s eating you” Ray Lovelock asks Edwige Fenech at one point in this picture. Not him, apparently. C’mon Ray, get down and get down to it… today is La Fenech’s birthday! (It’s rather a special occasion for everybody here at The House Of Freudstein, too… our 100th posting in this, our first year of blogging!)

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If Lovelock’s career reached its zenith in Jorge Grau’s sublime Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue (1974), its nadir can surely be fixed in this fitful, unfunny effort by Marino Girolami (Enzo Castellari’s dad and director of Zombi Holocaust.) The Virgin Wife is a variation on Ray Boulting’s The Family Way (1966) done as Sexy-Comedy all’Italiana and comes as an overdue opportunity to probe the link between Italian machismo and mama-worship, in which we’re supposed to believe that ol’ Ray (as “Giovanni”) can’t bring himself to consummate his marriage with the truly   (“Valentina”), despite the encouragement of lecherous old Uncle Fred (Renzo Montagnani, he of the ever-popular catch-phrase “Oy-oy-oy-oy-oy-oy-oy!”) Priapismic Fred likens his own unbridled manhood to “an Olympic torch burning a hole in my breeches”, simultaneously complaining that “My nephew’s got a limp sardine in his pants!”

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“Oy-oy-oy-oy-oy-oy-oy!”

Bottles of schnapps, red hot chillies in the minestrone, “bull’s hormones” and the contagious eroticism of cousin Gianfranco (Michele Gammino, an astonishing Peter Sutcliffe lookalike) and his nymphomaniac French girlfriend Brigitte (Florence Barnes), much addicted as she is to nibbling sensually on bananas, the ministrations of Maria the naughty maid… even Fenech’s restaging of Sophia Loren’s strip for poor old Marcello Mastroianni in Ieri, Oggi E Domani… all of these attempted remedies, and more, fail to get lovelorn Lovelock’s limp dick rising to the occasion (don’t forget, all of this took place in the days before Viagra.)

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Nature abhorring a vacuum, Fenech is soon on the receiving end of Sapphic overtures from Brigitte (“Your skin is fantasteek… eet must drarve your ‘usband warld! Your breasts are magnifique… lark a marble statue!”) as well as warding off the unwanted overtures of a smarmy family lawyer who’s trying to get into her briefs.  At one point Fenech is driven to take herself in hand, fantasising about Lovelock in a Superman costume… a virile horse also features in this dream sequence, so it’s probably just as well that Girolami rather than Joe D’Amato directed the picture!

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Any scant sympathy one might have felt for Lovelock’s plight, even after the realisation that it’s him croaking the godawful theme-song to this film (one section of the lyrics sounds horribly like: “Teek-tock, the time goes on / Teek-tock, my love has gone / Teek-tock, my goat goes on without you here”) flies right out of the window when the root of this Oedipus wreck’s trouble is revealed as a fixation on his mother-in-law, played by the matronly Carroll Baker. Distraught, Fenech runs off during a downpour and is discovered and deflowered by a member of a nudist colony (“They’re Americans – they like to do that sort of thing!”) Lovelock and Baker, searching for her, are themselves obliged to take shelter in a derelict building, where they make out  while Lovelock weeps and wails: “I want my Mama”, setting a new low for unwholesome Mommy love that would stand for several years, until Peter Bark and Marianga Girodano’s gob-smacking shenanigans in Andrea Bianchi’s Burial Ground (1981.)

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The unhappy family come to an awkward modus vivendi in an unexpectedly downbeat ending for such a frothy piece (something Hollywood took years to work up the courage to do – remember the fuss that was made over War Of The Roses?) Otherwise, this is typical and typically broad Italian comedy, complete with its groan-inducing compliment of double-entendres. Unfortunately Fenech’s oft noted comedic talents are severely compromised, in the British VPD video release, by the clumsy translation and disastrous dubbing of her waspish asides.

Trivia note – when the family doctor “tests” Giovanni for homosexuality, he does it by showing him pictures of a (then) little-known body-builder… yep, it’s Arnold Schwarzennegger!

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“Stop me if you’ve heard this before… oy-oy-oy-oy-oy-oy-oy!”

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Mystic Pizza…DOCTOR STRANGE Reviewed

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Doctor Strange. 2016. USA. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Mads Mikkelsen, Tilda Swinton, Michael Stuhlbarg, Benjamin Bratt. Production Design by Charles Wood.  Art direction by Ray Chan. Costume Design by Alexandra Byrne. Special and Visual FX by… how long have you got? DP: Ben Davis. Edited by Sabrina Plisco, Wyatt Smith. Music by Michael Giacchino. Written by Scott Derrickson, Jon Spaihts, C. Robert Cargill… after the Steve Ditko comic character. Produced by Kevin Feige, etc. Directed by Scott Derrickson.

I haven’t gone to the cinema regularly for yonks… decades, in fact. Antiseptic “wheel ’em in, kick ’em out” multiplexes, uninspiring franchise fodder, seat kickers and sweet bag rustlers, exorbitant ticket prices and the fact that I’ve got all my favourite films on a shelf and a fuck off telly / sound system on which to experience them right here in the HOF… all of these factors have contributed to my poor cinema attendance record since the last Lucio Fulci double bill played out at the old Odeon on London Road in Liverpool (now yuppie apartments, I’m told.)

When the little Freudette started toddling around and seeking screen entertainment, Mrs F and I briefly ventured back into our local picture palaces to treat her to the likes of Wallace And Grommit: The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit, Curious George (“Curious Gudge” as she insisted on having it) and any amount of Disney / Pixar offerings. Now she has put such childish things behind her, the adolescent hormones are raging and it’s that guy from Sherlock who’s stoking the flames… yep, me daughter’s a total Cumberbitch!

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When she broached the subject of going to check him out in the latest Marvel Smasheroo, she wasn’t exactly pushing at a locked door, given my own fond boyhood memories of following the Doc’s astral escapades, as rendered by Jack Kirby and co, in the pages of Dez Skinn reprint comics such as Fantastic and Terrific.

So it was that I donned the cloak of levitation and we wafted over to that jewel in Nottingham’s cinema crown, the Savoy on Derby Road… by the jap’s eye of Agamotto and the thrice-dread dog poop scoop of Dormammu… wahay, we’re going to the pictures again for two 12a hours of “moderate fantasy violence” and “injury detail”!

The Savoy is a wonderful Old School cinema (and approximately 50% cheaper than an evening out at one of the big chains!) which continues to run current biggies and also hosts regular cult screenings by The Loft Movie Theatre. No seat kickers, thank fuck, though the World Sweet Packet Rustling Championship seemed to be taking place in the auditorium. The Freudette proved less impressed by this glimpse into the lost cinema going world of her mum and dad (who, after all, copped off during a screening of the awful Rutger Hauer picture Salute Of The Jugger) than by the prospect of Benedict besporting himself in mystic robes.

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And so to the film itself… Doctor Strange is a diverting big budget bash which won’t engage too many of your brain cells but certainly doesn’t dishonour my childhood memories of Steve Ditko’s creation. As played by Benedict C, he’s a skilled but arrogant surgeon who performs his operations to the sublime, silky funk accompaniment of Earth, Wind And Fire (hardly pikers themselves when it comes to pop culture mysticism.) Full marks for that, but scores of credibility points deducted when he crashes his car after using his mobile phone when driving (as only the scum of the Earth would do.) Seeking to repair his shattered hands, he makes for Tibet and is inducted into The Mystic Arts by The Ancient One, played by Tilda Swinton in a performance that seemed, for some reason, to set Mrs F’s teeth on edge (and she was in no way mollified when I pointed out that the baldy woman’s complete appellation in real life is apparently: “Katherine Matilda – Tilda – Swinton of Kimmerghame, a British actress, performance artist, model, and fashion muse.”)

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In place of the ectoplasm slinging duels to which I thrilled as a lad, you get loads of the CGI reality-scaping that’s been de rigeur since The Matrix, scads of Marvel in-jokes including the mandatory Stan Lee cameo, undeniably impressive outbreaks of big screen, Dolby-enhanced psychedelia (it’s impossible for me to come down too hard on any film which features The Pink Floyd’s Interstellar Overdrive in its soundtrack) and a climactic cosmic shoot out with Dormammu from The Dark Dimension that’s startlingly reminiscent of the conclusion to Lugi Cozzi’s completely bonkers and resolutely low budget The Black Cat / De Profondis (1989.)

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You bet there are going to be sequels and Avengers tie-ins, ad infinitum…

Befuddled by free-flowing hormones, ma fille scored this one 10/10. Despite my lingering suspicion that when it comes to Tibetan mystic proteges, Sharron Macready from The Champions would have kicked this Dr Strange’s ass from one end of the astral plane to another, plus reservations about BC’s variable accent (he’s more believable as a trans-dimensional trouble-shooter than he is as an American), I score it as a rare and reasonably enjoyable trip to the flicks…

… and I’ve honoured my pledge to Mrs F that, to avoid winding up our offspring, I would steadfastly refrain from referring to her screen heart-throb, at any point in this review, as Bendydick Cucumberpatch… oh, hang on… d’oh!

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Peter Hooten in the 1978 pilot for an abortive Doctor Strange TV series… wonder why that didn’t catch on?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Paul Naschy Weekender Part 2… THE WEREWOLF AND THE YETI reviewed

TWATY NaschyIt’s the second day of our Paul Naschy Weekender and I trust you all managed to get some sleep after the horrific emotional roller coaster that was our examination of Werewolf’s Shadow / Walpurgis Night (1971.) Hopefully by now you’ve regained your composure and are appropriately attired in brown trousers because tonight we’ll be looking at Naschy’s Nasty, the great man’s only contribution to the DPP’s dreaded (ulp!) “video nasties” list… 1975’s The Werewolf And The Yeti aka Maldicion De La Bestia (“Curse Of The Beast”) / Night Of The Howling Beast.

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“That’ll be me, then…”

Maldicion De La Bestia. 1975, Spain. Starring “Paul Naschy”, Grace Mills, Josep Castillo Escalona, Silvia Solar Gil Vidal, Luis Induni. Special effects: Alfredo Segoviano. Camera: Thomas Pladevall. Written by Jacinto Molina. Produced by Modesto Perez Redondo. Directed by “Miguel Iglesias Bonns” (= Miguel Iglesias).

Written by Paul Naschy himself and directed by one Miguel Iglesias Bonns, this is Naschy’s eighth (?) entry in a saga detailing the life, loves and monster mash-ups of the lycanthropically challenged Count Waldemar Daninsky. Writer, actor, competitive weight lifter and occasional director Naschy (given name Jacinto Molina Alvarez) is the irrepressible dynamo of Spanish Horror cinema, whose attempts to create an Iberian equivalent of the great Hammer and Universal cycles (on what seems like a budget of about a couple pesetas per movie) have to be seen to be believed, ranking amongst the most jaw-droppingly out-of-wack and enjoyable celluloid offerings on offer anywhere in the world. It’s impossible to come down too hard on these ultra-low budget efforts, because Naschy’s heart is so obviously in the right place and he sets about this ambitious brief with such undeniable gusto, often suffering extreme physical discomfort to achieve the desired effect (in 1972’s Hunchback Of The Morgue, arguably his finest hour, Naschy assisted at an autopsy and was repeatedly bitten by a pack of rats… it was a particularly unruly autopsy, OK?) in the manner of a latterday Lon Chaney. Actually though, Naschy is more often compared to Lon Chaney Jr. due to that interminable series of Daninsky movies, initiated in 1967’s La Marca Del Hombre Lobo (“The Mark Of The Wolf Man”) aka Hells’ Creatures / Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror.

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The effort under consideration here opens with Yeti-hunting anthropologist Silas Neumann (actor uncredited) discovering his moth-eaten quarry in Katmandu and falling prey to it. Cut to Britain (stock footage of Westminster bridge, accompanied on the soundtrack by bagpipes droning “Scotland the Brave”!) where another Yeti-buff, Professor Lacomb (Josep Castillo Escalona) is enlisting the aid of our Waldemar in an expedition aimed at capturing the beast: “You’re an anthropologist and a psychologist … besides you know Tibet and you can speak Nepalese.” Quite the Renaissance man… he’s also conducting a pretty hot affair with the Prof’s daughter Silvia [Grace Mills). Arriving in Tibet, the expedition is hampered by heavy weather, demon-fearing sherpas going AWOL and outbreaks of ill-matched stock footage depicting native dervish dances. Naschy, looking even more bulky than usual in his snow gear, wanders off to collapse in the wilderness and is rescued by two scantilly-clad cave-dwelling bimbos. “He is very strong,” opines one of the girls: “He will be a good companion “…and a passionate lover!” adds her partner. True to form, as soon as he comes around Naschy whips off his balaclava and roll-neck pullover, baring that legendary barrel-chest to the world, and starts making serious whoopie. There’s a strong suggestion that Naschy’s playmates treat him to certain sexual practices that could get them all arrested in several States of the Union… and that’s not the only thing the girls like tucking into: Naschy later discovers his new girlfriends eating an itinerant sherpa, and is obliged to reduce them to smoking skeletons with a handy-dandy wooden stake.

At this point the full moon rises in the sky and Naschy’s accumulated love-bites work their lycanthropic wonders on him (learning well from his Universal and Hammer mentors, Naschy has never given undue weight to internal logic in his films or continuity and consistency in this series, Daninsky’s werewolf having a different set of origins each time out). His transformation proves to be a blessing in disguise because the rest of the expedition has been captured by a horde of tartar roughnecks whose leader, the dreaded Saga Khan, has certain radical ideas on acne treatment – nubile girls are flayed and flaps of their dripping skin draped over his spotty features. It was presumably this aspect of Werewolf And The Yeti that brought it to the DPP’s attention when Canon Video released it in the UK, though the pertinent scenes look pretty tame now compared to 18-rated stuff like the Saw and Hostel franchises. TW&TY remains in the notional rump of “video nasties” that have never been reconsidered by the BBFC, though one suspects that this is more probably a function of its limited commercial appeal and / or obscure distribution rights rather than any lingering perceptions of its alleged tendency to “deprave and corrupt.”

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To cut a very long story short, Naschy lopes into tartar HQ, trashes the bad guys and liberates Sylvia, then the Yeti (remember him?) turns up for a perfunctory and distinctly anti-climactic wrestling match. Finally Sylvia discovers – just like that – the herb which will transform Naschy from a nasty brutish wolfman back into a regular Nepalese-speaking anthropologist, psychologist, Tibet-expert and John Belushi lookalike. And presumably they all lived happily ever after…WW&TY4.jpg

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Intermission!.jpgPhew… you’d better get your ass to the lobby and score yourself some fortifying treats because The Paul Naschy Weekender here at House Of Freudstein reaches its feverish climax tomorrow night with an eye witness report on the great man’s visit to London in 1994. Be there or be a sad sack yeti…

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“Do we love her… Me Me Lai? Deep River Woman, Rising High”… ME ME LAI BITES BACK: RESURRECTION OF THE CANNIBAL QUEEN reviewed

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Me Me Lai Bites Back: Resurrection Of The Cannibal Queen

Edited, produced and directed by Naomi Holwill. Produced by Calum Waddell. Certificate TBC.

Once upon a time… sometime in the mid 1980’s… back  in the darkest days of “video nasty” witch hunting… somewhere in Essex… police were raiding a suspected “nasty” dealer. We can only speculate as to the levels of apprehension and disgust felt by the officers as they bagged up tapes with such lurid titles as… shudder… Deep River Savages. Did they believe the shrill tabloid claims, amplified by publicity hungry politicians and misguided members of the judiciary, that people were “actually eaten” during the making of Italian cannibal films? One of the cops, at least, had good reason to doubt the veracity of such alarmist claims… starring, as she had, in Deep River Savages.

Spinning off of their acclaimed Eaten Alive: The Rise And Fall Of The Italian Cannibal Film, the High Rising team have hit another home run with this riveting effort, which succeeds on levels of human interest and social history, over and above its obvious appeal to anally retentive horror nerds such as myself. While making EA:TRAFOTICF, Calum Waddell’s internet researches turned up photos of Me Me Lai that had been posted by her daughter, via whom a contact was effected, after initial reluctance on the part of the retired actress. Gradually winning her confidence, Waddell began to unravel a story of life after cannibal movie infamy and introduced Ms. Lai to a demi monde which she could probably never have imagined, a fan scene and convention / festival circuit where her film career could be openly celebrated rather than hushed up. It’s good to see her striking up a friendship with Catriona MacColl, an actress for whom that particular penny dropped a little earlier.

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On becoming a mother (one of the many fascinating insights we gain from this doc is the fact that she was pregnant during the Last Cannibal World shoot) Me Me decided that her screen earnings were too precarious to support a family and briefly changed career to competitive body building (!) before becoming, yes, a policewoman in Essex, completely forgetting about her film career until that fortuitous contact was made with Calum. We see her on stage, reliving former glories with Ruggero Deodato and discussing the films she made with Umberto Lenzi. Me Me remembers Lenzi as being a bit of a screamer on Deep River savages, Deodato as a more laid back director (though plenty of others have attested to his own screaming fits) when they collaborated on Last Cannibal World. Apparently Lenzi had mellowed out by the time the made Eaten Alive, though this remains her least favourite of the films in which she’s appeared. She subscribes to the general view that Ivan Rassimov was a sweetheart. In turn, fan boy Eli Roth pays handsome tribute to our heroine, as do Waddell, academic Shelagh Rowan-Legg and Sitges Festival programmer Mike Hostench. The documentary does not shy away from their thoughts on the proverbially thorny issues of how women, ethnic minorities and (thorniest of all) animals were treated in the films Lenzi, Deodato, Martino and D’Amato (among others) contributed to this genre, without coming to any glib conclusions. Those issues remain thorny.

This is a curiously moving film about the vicissitudes of life, changing social mores, personal self-discovery and the way that the internet has facilitated a micro universe of alternative fandom. Any quibbles I have would concern the lack of further information about aspects of Ms Lai’s career which are tantalisingly referenced, e.g. the body building and the films she made outside the Italian cannibal milieu, for the likes of Val Guest, Lindsay Shonteff, Blake Edwards and Lars Von Trier. But these are issues concerning the remit that the film makers set themselves (and as such cannot be second guessed) rather than of competence. Me Me Lay isn’t the only unsung heroine to emerge from MMLBB…  Naomi Holwill, formerly something of a grey eminence at High Rising, makes her feature directing debut in confident and accomplished style (and I was particularly pleased to see her animation expertise making a welcome return in the film’s title sequence.) This documentary will gain its first general exposure as a bonus feature on the imminent 88 Films BD release of Man From Deep River (aka  Deep River Savages.) Whatever the merits (or not) of that transfer, Me Me Lai Bites Back justifies the price of a copy on its own.

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Reunited with Massimo Foschi and Ruggero Deodato…

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Me Me in the news

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East Meets Worst… HERCULES AGAINST KUNG FU reviewed

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HERCULES AGAINST KUNG FU aka MR HERCULES AGAINST KARATE (“MING, RAGAZZI!”, 1973) 

Directed by Anthony M. Dawson” (Antonio Margheriti). Produced by Carlo Ponti. Story by Luciano Vincenzoni & Sergi0 Donati. Screenplay by Antonio Margheriti & Gianni Simonelli. Cinematography by Ettore Papaleo. Edited by Mario Morra. Music by Carlo Savina. Starring: Tom Scott” (Roberto Terracina), “Fred Harris” (Fernando A rri en), Jolina  Mitcbell, Chai Lee, George Wang.

Despite its title, this flick is not a late entry in the peplum stakes, rather a transparent and tragically inept attempt to take off the successful Terence Hill / Bud Spencer comedy team, with Arrien as the hulking Bambino figure Percival and Terracina’s Danny standing in for the wily Trinity. The former is the accident-prone giant of the title, whose ignorance of his own strength comes in handy during those Enzo Barboni-patented slapstick punch-ups as our, er, heroes search for a missing kid, spirited away by a gang of kung fu kidnappers. There’s even a whitesuited baddy in the early part of the picture who recalls Donald Pleasence’s character in Watch Out, We’re Mad.

Unfortunately these guys’ wannabe act is sabotaged by fact that whereas Hill (aka Mari0 Girotti) is handsome and appealing, Spencer (Carlo Pedersoli) huge and charismatic, these guys are merely oafish and insufferable. Nor are they even slightly funny, which always tends to be a drawback in comedies, I find. The script does them no favours at all in this department, its feeble attempts at humour as broad as the checks on its protagonists’ loud sports jackets. The gag in which a hotel basement fight leads to repeated changes in the building’s thermostat setting neatly guages the film’s tepid level of wit, and there’s an abundance of regrettable “Chinese takeaway on a saturday night type” racist cracks (somebody please take ’em away!), witness the characters named Big Pong, Sonov Gun, Har Lot … there’s even a Fuk Yoo (only “Hoo Flung Dung” is, mercifully, conspicuous by his absence). Calling the villain-in-chief Hung Lo only reminds us how much better this kind of skit was done (if it has to be done at all) in Kentucky Fried Movie (1977). The tackiest gag of them all comes right at the oh so-welcome end, where “Hercules” is seen straining to pass pearls that he’s inadvertantly swallowed, but as Margheriti proves with this fiasco, it’s sometimes impossible even for a director of his legendary resourcefulness to salvage anything valuable from a pile of shit!

On the plus side, pictures like this and the director’s Stranger And The Gunfighter, from the following year, serve as a reminder of the pioneering part he played in bringing currently cultish oriental cinema to the attention of us white devils, and the extraordinary scenes (for an alleged comedy actioner) in which Hung Lo punishes incompetent henchmen by plucking out their teeth and eyeballs, to mount them on trophy boards, foreshadows Margheriti’s part in the subsequent Italian explosion of graphically gory horror, directing Cannibal Apocalypse (1980) and (just maybe) Flesh For Frankenstein and Blood For Dracula (both 1973… a busy year even by Margheriti’s routinely prolific standards.)

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“Ah, Mr Dung… we’ve been expecting you!”

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