Posts Tagged With: Documentary

All That Zarjaz… FUTURE SHOCK! THE STORY OF 2000 AD Reviewed

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… wielding their gleaming tweezers, no doubt.

BD. Region Free. Severin. Unrated or BD. Region B/2. Arrow. 15.

The IPC comic Action (created by Pat Mills and published 14/02/76-11/11/77) specialised in, er, “adapting” the storylines of violent contemporary movies (Jaws, Rollerball, any amount of vigilante cop sagas) for a readership who were avidly discussing them in the playground but too young to sneak into cinemas and actually see the bloody things. In the process it garnered much hostile tabloid comment, anguished TV debate and the undying enmity of Mary Whitehouse’s National Viewers And Listeners’ Association. WHS and Menzies started getting cold feet and so did IPC, pulping the print run of issue 37 (an ultra-rare copy of which recently went for two-and-a-half grand on eBay!) and the comic lingered on for another year or so of declining sales in woefully bowdlerised shape. As a precursor to the “video nasties” witch hunt of five years later and indeed, as a social panic in its own right, the Action story deserves documentary treatment…

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In the absence of that, here’s Paul Goodwin’s 2014 documentary on Action’s spiritual successor, the rather more successful (forty years as “the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic” and still counting) 2000 AD. Mills’ new creation was seen as some kind of retreat on its inception. “Because it’s a Sci-fi comic, people thought that it would be nice and middle class…” he remembers: “Boy, were they in for a shock!” They sure were, with a continuing stress on “action” (which in Mills’ formula always equalled “violence”) and a new pantheon of iconic, anti-heroic characters such as Judge Dredd, Rogue Trooper, Strontium Dog, Halo Jones, The ABC Warriors and Nemesis The Warlock (2000 AD even revamped The Eagle’s venerable Dan Dare for a spell) running amok in hard-hitting strips that were Dystopianly satirical, sardonic and Sadean.

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Goodwin’s very welcome doc, adeptly handled for the most part, unfortunately kicks off with a couple of my least favourite lazy pop social history clichés, concerning the cultural climate from which 2000 AD emerged. The late ’70s was, by this account, a period of “social conflict” in the UK and the evidence wheeled out to support this trusty old chestnut is familiar stock footage of Arthur Scargill, aggro on the picket lines and bin bags piling up in the streets. OK, so working people at this time were achieving a measure of success in the struggle to advance their economic conditions by flexing their industrial muscle (nobody was going to hand them anything on a plate, where they?) and that apparently amounts to “social conflict.” By implication the current situation, in which the boot is very much on the other foot and being enthusiastically ground into the faces of the working poor, the disabled, the demented, immigrants and benefit claimants (when it isn’t pressing down on the accelerator of wealth transference to the 1% from the rest of us) must be seen as a period of relative “social harmony”. Tell it to the nurses queueing at food banks and the tenants of high-rise tinder boxes! So much for pop social history…

My other least favourite lazy cliché follows hot on the heels of the first and has it, in this instance, that 2000 AD drew its “grit”, “authenticity”, “street credibility” and any amount of other bullshit from the punk “movement” and the antidote it allegedly provided for the drippy hippy legacy of the ’60s. Well, the idea of punk as a street level / grass-roots tendency has always been laughable, considering that it was cooked up between a record industry hell-bent on cutting production costs and an elite circle of entrepreneurs who had been to Art School and thought (correctly) that they could use a dodgy strain of French academic theory (Situationism) to flog a bunch of stupid clothes to “the kids”. In point of fact, 2000 AD’s initial impact and impetus came from its adherence to the dark, taboo busting ethos of “drippy hippy” Felix Dennis’ Cozmic Comix, from which milieu the new title recruited such luminaries as Bryan Talbot, Brian Bolland and Dave Gibbons.

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The pre-titles sequence’s clumsiest moment, though, comes when the voice over is referencing a “clash of cultures” and we simultaneously cut to The Clash on stage, performing some cod “political” diatribe in their customary hysterical manner. Speaking of Da Clash, during (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais, Joe Strummer (aka diplomat’s son John Graham Mellor) warned us: “They got Burton suits, haha, they think it’s funny, turning rebellion into money”. The main thrust of Goodwin’s doc (which, it’s fair to say, improves dramatically after its glib introduction) is how the founders of 2000 AD overthrew the complacent likes of Eagle (which, if we are to pursue the putative punk parallels, might be cast in the infra-dig Emerson, Lake and Palmer role) and such anachronistic oddities as Whizzer And Chips, only to fall into old fartitude themselves as successive waves of young Turks arrived at King’s Reach Tower to redefine the cutting edge of comic cool, before giving way in their turn to further turks / future farts… while in the background the guys in suits continued to turn all of their respective rebellions into money.

Distinguished alumni interviewed here include Kevin O’Neill, Dave Gibbons, John Wagner, Alan Grant, Brian Bolland, Bryan Talbot, Carlos Ezquerra, Grant Morrison and David Bishop, plus the “comic activist” (whatever that is) and historian Paul Gravett, Alex Garland (who wrote the second, superior Dredd movie) and Karl Urban (who played the title  character in that) and fan boys including Scott Ian (the guy out of Anthrax with the silly beard) and some bloke from Portishead.

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Throughout this feature the rival factions diss each other (the only subject on which there seems to be unanimity is on how much everybody despises the character of Tharg, the comic’s notional alien editor) and big up their own credentials as true custodians of the soul and spirit of 2000 AD, with frequent interjections from founder and on / off contributor Mills, the Gordon Ramsey of the comic world… this is a man whose default emotional state appears to be “seething”. Of course he has a lot to feel angry about and one of Future Shock’s ongoing refrains is how disgracefully the creative talents have been treated by IPC and subsequent publishers. Shocking enough that writers and artists were expected to surrender all copyright in their work in perpetuity for a measly flat fee (as the late artist formally known as Prince once observed: “If you don’t own your masters, your masters own you”) but when Kevin O’Neill discovered that a) his story Shok! had been plagiarised for the Richard Stanley film Hardware and b) that he was being threatened with legal action by the film company’s layers unless he disowned any rights to the story… well!!!

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Neil Gaiman admits to shedding tears over the fact that Alan Moore (the most notable absentee from the interviewees here) abandoned The Ballad Of Halo Jones because of the shabby way he was being treated. When Brian Bolland defected to DC (specifically to its Vertigo imprint) he turned out to be the first of many. The second half of this doc details the subsequent decline in 2000 AD’s mojo and flirtations with closure. After the nadir represented by its ill-advised ’90s dalliance with the “lads’ mags” demographic, the only way was up and Future Shock! closes with the comic thriving under the safe custodianship of Rebellion Developments, still sending thrill-meters into meltdown across our and other galaxies. Meanwhile popular culture (have you checked out one of those Marvel movies recently?) and the world we inhabit have finally caught up with 2000 AD … kudos to Mills and co but perhaps, on reflection, this is not something we should be celebrating!

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Goodwin deploys flashy editing, groovy graphics and metal music in a style that suits his subject perfectly. It’s a subject he loves and the reverence he clearly feels for its protagonists means that interviews are occasionally allowed to go on a bit too long. At 110 minutes, Future Shock! would benefit from a bit of a trim, with more material allowed to spill into the off-cuts which form much of the generous bonus materials. Another nice featurette has Pat Mills revisiting King’s Reach Tower – well, standing outside it – and reminiscing in its shadow.

In terms of these supplementaries and their presentation of the main feature, there’s really very little to distinguish between the similarly impressive Arrow and Severin editions that recently arrived at the House Of Freudstein. You spends your Earth money and you takes your choice…

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Borag Thungg, Earthlets!

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Assassin Screed… THE KILLING OF AMERICA Reviewed

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BD. Region Free. Severin. Unrated.

“Oh, the history books tell it, They tell it so well
The cavalries charged, The Indians fell
The cavalries charged. The Indians died
Oh, the country was young, With God on its side…” With God On Our Side, Bob Dylan.

“A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed”. Second amendment to the Constitution of The United States.

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“Drop the gun!” a cop urges Sam Brown, the superfly San Diego sidewalk sniper in 1979. The unresponsive Brown (possibly musing over the important message he claims to have brought from aboard the Starship Enterprise) is shot down, point-blank. The first words we hear in The Killing Of America are effectively its message. But as we shall learn, things are seldom as simple as they seem…

TKOA’s status as the Mondo Movie that transcends Mondo, redeeming the genre from the questionable shockumentary practices of its founders Jacopetti and Prosperi by virtue of its ongoing relevance and unflinching verisimilitude (well, keep reading…) is even more remarkable when you consider that this 1981 effort was commissioned by producer Mataichirô Yamamoto in a blatant attempt to emulate the success of that most gonzo of Mondos, Faces Of Death (1978), which had outperformed Star Wars for 13 straight weeks at Japanese box offices. “His problem was that he hired a film archivist and a guy who did Art Films” says director Sheldon Renan, describing himself and writer / producer Leonard Schrader respectively.

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Not that it’s likely FODophiles will consider themselves remotely short-changed by TKOA… Thomas Noguchi, LA “Coroner to the Stars” and inspiration for TV’s Quincy ME appears in both and establishing shots here of mortuary workers matter-of-factly going about their daily business are pretty much interchangeable with those in “Conan Le Cilaire”s memorably revolting “video nasty”. Thereafter it’s the expected mix of newsreel footage, CCTV and some original material, all (and here, in the words of the doc’s opening caption, is the kicker) “… real. Nothing has been staged.” Hm…

The other thing that sets TKOA apart from the Mondo competition as worthy of serious attention is the serious Calvinist intent of writer Leonard Schrader (The Yakuza, Blue Collar, Kiss Of The Spider Woman, Mishima) and the attention to structure imposed upon it by renowned film archivist Renan. Starting with shots of America’s geographical scope and splendour (though unfortunately most of this stuff was cut from the American release) he pursues a historical tack (which identifies ground zero for an epidemic of American violence as the JFK assassination) and progressively narrows his focus through a succession of snipers, messianic assassins and serial killers until we find ourselves face to face with Ed Kemper in his cell at the California Medical facility, hear what he has to say for himself and get the chance to reflect on what we might possibly have in common with him.

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The structure and thrust of TKOA command respect, even where one might find oneself disagreeing with Schrader’s argument. For example he fetishises the slaying of JFK (difficult not to, I guess) but it’s unlikely that Sitting Bull and Geronimo, were they available to offer their opinions, would agree that American cultural violence was conceived in the room of a book repository or on a grassy knoll in Dallas, TX on 22.11.63. The Zapruder footage, duly trotted out, never loses its impact (though it’s interesting to hear Renan’s observations on the shocking condition that the original film had been “conserved” in), likewise the casual brutality with which South Vietnamese police chief Nguyễn Ngọc Loan executes  Việt Cộng member Nguyễn Văn Lém in the street. There’s further familiar footage of Bobby Kennedy’s death (and a mind-boggling interview with his killer Sirhan Sirhan, who offers: “I wish that son of a gun were alive… I’m not mentally ill, Sir, but I’m not perfect either”), the shooting of Ronald Reagan and crippling of George Wallace, protestors gunned down at Kent State, dramatic trial footage (the Manson family, Ted Bundy) and helicopter shots of Guyana littered with dead followers of the Reverend Jim Jones (scenes of Jones gurning idiotically as he does a wacky snake handling dance are particularly creepy, given what was to come)… and on and on…

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A Central Park vigil for the murdered peace activist (when it suited him) John Lennon suggests the potential for positive social change, until the dulcet tones of narrator Chuck Riley close the proceedings with the claim that two people were killed at the vigil and that “while you watched this movie, five more of us were murdered. One was the random killing of a stranger.” Sweet dreams, everyone.

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You might already be aware of this forbidding documentary from the Severin gang’s earlier DVD edition, when they were trading under the name of Exploited. They’ve hit the ball out of the park once again with this super spanky Blu, which not only serves up the main feature looking and sounding better than ever before, but incorporates as extras (aside from the expected trailer) Renan’s audio commentary plus interviews with him, editor Lee Percy and Mondo historian Nick Pinkerton (who’s been working about as hard as the Sevs on making sure that TKOA is finally seen where it’s most needed, i.e. the USA!) Along with the outstanding documentary they worked on, Renan and Percy’s contributions to this release represent something of a primer for any aspiring documentarian on how to set about making one, but be warned… both admit the adverse effects that making TKOA had on their own mental well-being.

As if all that weren’t enough, this edition includes an alternative Japanese cut of the doc, lasting 20 minutes (!) longer than the US version. Much of the additional material comprises a paean to the American way of life and some of its critics have speculated that Yamamoto felt obliged to somehow “soften” the film’s message out of some misguided sense of politeness. One could just as well argue that these glimpses of the American dream serve to throw the atrocities that litter the rest of TKOA into sharper relief… a legitimate approach, though not one which consistently comes off. There’s an endless sequence of clean-limbed young Americans relentlessly tossing frisbies, roller skating and generally pursuing wholesome leisure activities that almost has you wishing you were back in the morgue among all those cadavers. We also participate in a training exercise during which rookie cops must make split second decisions about whether to shoot or not. The Manson section in this version is prefaced by material about Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme’s attempted assassination of President Gerald Ford in 1975. We also witness Muhammad Ali talking down a would-be suicide, suggesting that celebrity doesn’t always have to be a malign end in itself, in stark contrast to one Robert Smith, who blew away innocents “to get known… I just wanted to make a name for himself”.

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Though far superior to the Mondo movies with which it is traditionally bracketed, even the original cut of TKOA is (like Sirhan Sirhan) not perfect.  There’s a sequence about the lives of social marginals on Hollywood boulevard that doesn’t really go anywhere and I’ve always felt that the addition of comic piano music to some of the footage detailing Richard Hall’s three-day ordeal at the hands of aggrieved bank customer Tony Kiritsis  (above) struck a jarringly bum note. I was further disheartened to learn from Renan’s contributions to this set that he dubbed dialogue over the shooting of the strutting Sam Brown that would tend to support the police’s (contested) version of how that lethal incident went down. Once a film maker has admitted to one such falsification … who knows?

Still, TKOA stands as disturbing yet compelling piece of work whose power hasn’t been diminished by one jot over the passing of the years. On the contrary… Pinkerton says he’s tired of hearing that TKOA is “more relevant today than it’s ever been” but come on Nick, if something looks, sounds and feels more relevant than it’s ever been, then it’s probably because it’s more relevant than it’s ever been. Some things really are as simple as they seem.

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Core Baby, That’s Really Free… THE ORCHARD END MURDER Reviewed

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The Perils Of Pauline…

BD/DVD Combi. Regions B/2. BFI. 18.

The latest release from BFI’s Flipside imprint (“which rescues weird and wonderful British films from obscurity and presents them in new high quality editions on DVD and Blu-ray”), Christian Marnham’s The Orchard End Murder (1980) garnered shedloads of Eady Levy money during the early ’80s on account of its outings as a program filler for the likes of Dead And Buried (originally) and A Nightmare On Elm Street (which is where I dimly remember catching it, or the last reel or so of it, first time out).

This 50 minute thriller, set in 1966 and allegedly based on a true case, follows the fatal misadventure of one Pauline Cox (Tracy Hyde) who gets bored watching her new boyfriend (Mark Hardy) playing cricket on an idyllic village green and wanders off into the lush Kent countryside in search of distraction, only to meet her end in that eponymous orchard. A real pippin in her summer dress, Una Stubbs hairdo and Mary Quant eye lashes, Pauline is quite scrumptious as she moves among the bowers, indeed she proves irresistibly a-peel-ing to the local sex killer (OK, enough of the apple gags already). We’re led to believe that’s this is going to be the creepy, hunchbacked local station master (prolific character actor Bill Wallis), who improbably lures her into his garden of unearthly gnomic delights for a cup of tea…

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… but it turns out to be his hulking, dim-witted side-kick Ewen (future Casualty stalwart Clive Mantle), with whom he’s got an “Of Mice and Men” kind of thing going on. Ewen doesn’t just tell Pauline about the rabbits, he bashes one to death on the table where she’s taking tea and promptly skins it. Initially repelled, Pauline – whom we’re clearly intended to view as “a bit of a goer” – rapidly warms to his muscular presence. Perhaps his rabbit casserole is off the menu but this girl might just be able to find room for his tongue in cider. She acquiesces to his initial advances only to pull away abruptly, announcing that she’s off to reunite with her boyfriend. Hell hath no fury like a dim-wit spurned and Pauline’s resistance crumbles when Ewen strangles her with one of her stockings before secreting the corpse under a pile of rejected apples (knowing how they feel, I guess)…

OK she dies (not far into the picture) but this revelation really isn’t much of a spoiler, given the film’s title. The balance of it concerns the exact nature of the relationship between Ewen and the station-master, also their farcical attempts to dispose of Paula’s body (interrupted by Ewen’s periodic retrievals of it so he can play house with his dead dream girl). Director Christian Marnham describes TOEM as a black comedy and I guess, if anything, I’d liken parts of it to some of the more eye-watering moments from Hitchcock’s Frenzy (1972).

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Marnham benefits from a solid cast and some tremendous camera work (witness the impressive opening crane shot) from Pete Walker’s favoured cinematographer, Peter Jessop, beautifully rendered in the BFI’s characteristically spanky BD transfer. Praise is also due for Sam Sklair’s vaguely jazzy, occasionally Goblinesque OST.

By mining myth, fairytale and folklore (allusions range from the Garden of Eden to Little Red Riding Hood) Marnham parlays, from his humdrum albeit beautiful setting, a passion play of some considerable emotional power, unearthing the pagan processes that lurk beneath the pastoral platitudes of vicars consuming cucumber sandwiches on neatly manicured cricket greens. The film’s tacit condemnation of Cox’s free loving ways (consistent with the contemporary “have sex and die” ethos that then had people queueing around the block to see slasher movies) and the way she does seem to lead Ewen up the garden path before he cracks and kills her, plus the film’s apparent concern to elicit some sympathy from us for sex killers and necrophiles, all make for dodgy sexual politics more troubling than anything in Dead And Buried. In the event, the BBFC extracted a mere 2/3 of a second (!) from TOEM (Marnham remembers it being picketed by feminists, though) while Gary Sherman’s film went on to become, ludicrously, an offical “video nasty”. Go figure…

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Needless to say, this disc comes complete with an impressive set of extras. While TOEM was the first film appearance for both Mantle and (uncredited as a policeman) Rik Mayall, it was the last (whatever it says on IMDB) for David Wilkinson (as Mark Hardy’s piss-taking cricketing buddy). Now working in distribution, Wilkinson looks back on the vagaries of thespian fortunes during a 13 minute interview and admits “I fancied Tracy… we all did… but she wasn’t having any of it”. The still very desirable Ms Hyde gets a similar amount of time to ponder the ups and downs of the actor’s life (she was prematurely touted for stardom after taking the juvenile lead in Warris Hussein’s Melody aka S.W.A.L.K. in 1971). Hyde has nothing but good things to say about her experience on The Orchard End Murder, which she cites as a cautionary tale for young women.

Chris Marnham, who cuts (shall we say) quite a theatrical figure, talks interestingly for half an hour or so about The Orchard End Murder and although it failed to lift him out of the commercials milieu, he announces that he now has two feature projects ready to go. He also gives a brief introduction to his 1970 short (included as another of this disc’s extras), The Showman.

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Ah yes, The Showman… just when I’d convinced myself that the eager BFI beavers who turn up wacky bonus material for these Flipside releases could never top the rocking vicar and his chapter of Christian bikers in their release of Don Sharp’s Psychomania here comes The Showman, a profile of the astonishing Wally Shufflebottom and  his travelling Wild West Strip Tease Show… if that doesn’t sound like a rattling good night out to you, you’re probably reading the wrong blog here. Scantily clad go-go dancers shake their money makers enthusiastically to the tinny strains of Gary Glitter’s Rock And Roll while Wally (literally) drums up trade from the passing ’70s clad thrill-seeking reprobates. Mrs Shufflebottom (once a trapeze artiste but now clearly built for ticket booth duties rather than flying through the air) takes their money and we enter with them to witness further non-PC delights as Wally unleashes volleys of knives (some flaming, some not), axes and tomahawks around the dancing dolly birds’ semi-naked forms… that’s entertainment!

Commenting on the logistical difficulties of making this documentary milestone, Marnham reveals: “We blew just about every electrical supplier in the village of Billericay”… wow, talk about going above and beyond the call of duty!

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Back To The House Of Pain: A Second Look At David Gregory’s LOST SOUL Documentary…

… albeit a very short one.

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BD. Regions A/B/C. Severin. Unrated.

No, the Severin release of Gregory’s Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey Of Richard Stanley’s Island Of Dr Moreau (2014) hasn’t given me cause to reconsider the enthusiastic endorsement I gave it elsewhere on this blog, it’s just that I’ve now had the opportunity to view the bonus features common to both this and the Nucleus releases and thought that, while possibly interested in hearing about them, you might be more likely to read this than go back to the original review in hope of an update.

Plenty of extras here to keep you out of mischief, kicking off with lengthy interview out takes from Richard Stanley and other contributors that give you the chance to second guess Gregory’s edit. Then Stanley talks us through a gallery of Graham Humphrey’s original conceptual art, providing plentiful further hints as to the film that might have been. In the audio featurette Barbara Steele Recalls Moreau, Barbara Steele er, recalls her brief stint on the still-Stanley directed Dr Moreau and sharing fags with a “Rangatang.” In Boar Man Diary manimal extra Neil Young goes all Jackanory on the patio, reading from his on set-diaries. Most interesting revelation? Rob Morrow was acting up “… because he’s a cunt!” (on a set where there was, by all accounts, no shortage of lady parts.) David hunts for Moreau’s compound in Cairns, Australia with the aid of eminent botanists in The hunt For The Compound and, of course, you get a trailer.

There’s an archive interview with John Frankenheimer, in which he claims that H G Wells would have liked his picture better than Erle Kenton’ celebrated 1932 version of Dr Moreau (hmmm…) and, while attempting to pour oil on the troubled waters of his working relationship with Brando and Kilmer, takes time out for a verbal swipe at Stanley. Stanley returns the compliment (and expresses himself freely on the subject of Val Kilmer, too) in the featurette The Beast Of Morbido (a 2014 festival in Puebla, Mexico 2014 where Stan Winston protegé Bruce Spaulding Fuller made the renegade director up as a beast man.) Stanley’s verdict on Marlon Brando is more nuanced… apparently Marlon had been in The Business and suffered its obnoxiousness so long that he developed a rosy-tinted view of the world outside it whereas Stanley insists (before leading the festival attendees in a spirited recitation of The Law) that the world is populated with hyenas and you’re better off living in seclusion on top of The Cathars’ mountain. Amen to that…

There are further Severin editions of this film available, the most covetable of all, I guess, being the Special 3-disc House Of Pain Edition, which also features Die Insel Der Verschollenen (Island of the Lost), a recently discovered 1921 German adaptation of Wells’ classic yarn…  the “H.G. Wells On Film” featurette, featuring expert Sylvia Hardy… Richard Stanley on Wells and a bonus audio CD in which Stanley Reads “The Island Of Dr. Moreau”… maybe I’ll be reviewing that one for you, one of these days.

Am I not a man?

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The House Of Pains In The Arse… LOST SOUL: THE DOOMED JOURNEY OF RICHARD STANLEY’S ISLAND OF DR MOREAU (2014) Reviewed

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BD. Region B. Nucleus. 15

“For what shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his soul?” Mark 8:36

On 10.11.(18)71, on the shores of  Lake Tanganyika, the Welsh journalist and explorer Henry Morton Stanley locates the missing missionary  David Livingstone, (allegedly) addressing him with the celebrated words: “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” Stanley is almost as well remembered for his efforts to discover the source of the Nile but a discreet veil is often drawn over his collaboration in the “development” of the Congo Basin (i.e. ruthless genocide of countless Congolese) under the auspices of King Leopold II of the Belgians. Stanley becomes a Knight of The British Empire in 1899.

Published in 1896, The Island of Doctor Moreau is H. G. Wells’ dark tale of accelerated evolution, a stark warning about naked science untrammeld by human scruple or social responsibility and uncomfortable pre-echo of what eugenic science would “achieve” in the 1930s.

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In 1899 Wells falls out with his friend Joseph Conrad, believing that Heart Of Darkness, the latter’s novella of imperialist excess, had been ripped off of The Island of Doctor Moreau with ivory trader Kurtz standing in for Moreau. Others have identified Belgian soldier Leon Rom and his brutal modus operandi in The Congo as “inspiration” for the character of Kurtz.

In 1924, Creationist B. H. Shadduck ridicules the idea of human evolution in a tract entitled Jocko-Homo Heavenbound.

Erle C. Kenton’s original (and still greatest) adaptation of Wells’ cautionary tale, Island Of Lost Souls (1932), features chilling performances from Charles Laughton as the Doc and Bela Lugosi as “Sayer of The Law” (not to mention the Panther Woman, Kathleen Burke’s unforgettable incarnation of forbidden allure.)

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In 1938, at the Institute for Hereditary Biology and Racial Hygiene in Frankfurt, Josef Mengele’s genetics research earns him a cum laude doctorate in medicine in 1938. Five years later he is appointed “Chief Physician” to the Romany population of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Dieter Laser’s move from separating conjoined twins to sewing separate people together in The Human Centipede (2009) reflects just one of Mengele’s unwelcome “contributions” to medical science.

In 1977 Don Taylor’s Island Of Dr. Moreau features a predictably solid performance from Burt Lancaster in the Moreau role but is otherwise a reasonably engaging action yarn with little philosophical substance. In the same year, on the flip side of their Mongoloid single on Stiff Records, Devo issue Jocko Homo in support of their “de-evolution” schtick. Lugosi’s most memorable line from Erle Kenton’s film – “Are we not Men?”-  is repeated throughout the track.

Francis Ford Coppola’s overblown Apocalypse Now (1979) filters Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness through the dark lens of the Vietnam War. Kurtz, now a renegade U.S. Colonel, is played by Marlon Brando.
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In 1996, Sir Henry Morton Stanley’s great grandson, up-and-coming horror director Richard Stanley, begins shooting his dream project for New Line, a vision of Dr Moreau intended to more accurately reflect his own take on the Wells novel than was managed in Don Taylor’s version or such schlocky variants as Eddie Romero’s Twilight People (1972) or Marino Girolami’s Zombie Holocaust (1980.) In an example of de-evolution that would gladden the hearts of Devo, Doctor Moreau is to be played… Marlon Brando.

Kenton’s Island Of Lost Souls, which preceded by a short head actual Nazi atrocities more awful than anything he or Wells could ever have imagined, is one of the greatest horror movies ever made, in fact – to paraphrase Brian Clough – it might just possibly be “in The Top One.” How to top that? By putting a visionary but unproven maverick talent (still living down a plagiarism charge relating to his debut feature Hardware) in to bat against monstrously massive star egos, ever changing production demands from a studio in the throes of an identity crisis and, just to make things interesting, extreme (bordering on Biblical) weather?  It was always likely that Richard Stanley’s stint directing The Island Of Dr Moreau wouldn’t end well, but how very badly it ended has become the stuff of legend…

… and now the subject of a fascinating documentary. David Gregory’s Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey Of Richard Stanley’s Island Of Dr Moreau (2014) rehearses the already well-known facts (Stanley was sacked after something like three days, failed to take the plane ride home that New Line booked for him and went native, subsequently turning up on set, mischief in mind, under cover of an extra’s bestial costume) but piles on the detail in compiling its post mortem report of an impossible cinematic hybrid running out of control then expiring via the gonzo surgical slices of movie executives (“Monkey Men all, in business suits.”)

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As with Wells’ source material itself, of course, alternative versions of the truth are possible and it has to be said that Gregory gives most of his screen time over to Stanley himself and those sympathetic to his cause, notably conceptual artist Graham Humphreys, actress Fairuza Balk and fangirl journo Kier-La Janisse… it’s also patently clear that Gregory himself is very much in Stanley’s camp, though he’s careful to present as balanced a picture as possible. The suggestion is acknowledged, for example, that Stanley just wasn’t temperamentally up to handling such a unit and although John Frankenheimer (Stanley’s martinet replacement) and Brando are dead (who could possibly claim to know what the latter really thought, anyway?) and Val Kilmer presumably unapproachable, Gregory doesn’t shy away from presenting hostile witnesses. Of the two New Line execs ultimately responsible for TIODM, Stanley’s champion Mike De Luca is conspicuously and eloquently absent while his opposite number Bob Shaye is given free rein to vent the misgivings he entertained about Stanley from day one. Having interviewed Richard Stanley (though regrettably he failed to greet me with the words “Bob Freudstein, I presume!”) and found him to be every bit as otherworldly as reputed, I’m tickled that Shaye chose to seize, as irrefutable evidence of his irredeemable oddball status, upon the guy’s four sugar coffees … God knows what Shaye would make of the diabetes-inducing brews favoured here at The House Of Freudstein!

After nearly losing his pet project to Roman Polanski on the eve of shooting, Stanley made a personal pitch to Brando, backed up with ritual magick performed by a sympathetic adept. When his magus fell ill, though, Stanley’s felt his grip on the production beginning to wane and the eyes of the hyenas on his hotel wallpaper staring at him… more prosaically, male lead Kilmer was, by all accounts, conducting himself on the set like a complete prick.

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Having granted us story board glimpses of the film that might have been, Gregory details the debacle that ultimately unfolded, depicting a Hollywood location shoot (this one in Cairns, Australia) as something scarcely less hubristic than a mad scientist’s lab or some white supremacist’s twisted imperial wet dream… nobody is killed but more than one career is dealt a mortal blow. Whatever onset mischief Stanley might have surreptitiously wrought to undermine Frankenheimer becomes a moot point in the face of the film’s stars’ antics… Kilmer strutting around like an insufferable self-perceived ubermensch, the Zen-like Brando puncturing the production’s pretensions and, via his promotion of court jester Nelson (Ratman) de La Rosa, inventing Mini-Me into the bargain!

Frankenheimer duly delivered his compromised sack of cinematic goods to the suits, who expressed themselves relieved that it was (by their calculations) going to lose them less money than if Stanley had continued at its helm… and the critics commenced to rave, their brickbats ranging from “train wreck” to “worst film ever made.” Perhaps “Twilight Of The Idols” would have been a more apposite jibe…

Meanwhile Stanley dwells on in splendid, Moreau like isolation atop Mount  Montségur in the Ariège department of southwestern France, where the Cathars (who had their own very definite ideas about the integral status of the human body) took their crackpot, heroic final stand in 1244. It’s possible that Stanley is more comfortable anyway as a cult foot note than he could ever be operating among the bland conformity of low-fat latte Hollywood… who knows, had the dice been loaded differently or the runes cast more assiduously in his favour, he could have become as big a player as that other misfit maverick, Tarantino… could have been a contender (now who said that?) Gregory, who has distributed Stanley’s earlier films, collaborated with him on 2011 portmanteau effort The Theatre Bizarre and seems to have conceived this doc at least partly as a comeback launcher, might well believe that such a move is still potentially on and again… who knows?

The once and future horror Hotshot’s thematic concerns certainly aren’t showing any signs of receding into irrelevance. This year alone, the US National Institute of Health announced that it was considering the funding of “chimera” research projects intended to generate organs from human / animal hybrids and it was recently announced that a human baby has been conceived with genetic material from three parents.

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“The Horror! The Horror!”

Note: The DVD screener I was sent for the purposes of this review comprised only the main feature. When Lost Soul hits the shelves (approximately the same time as I type these words) it will boast a raft of attractive extras, making this winning Nucleus release an even more essential purchase.

Categories: Blu-ray / DVD Reviews | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Independents’ Daze… The ROY FRUMKES Interview

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September is Scalarama Month here at The House Of Freudstein… and all over the world! Throughout the month we’ll be sharing treasures and treasured memories from that fabled King’s Cross pleasure palace. The following interview with Roy Frumkes was conducted at the star-studded Splatter Fest that unfolded there over the 24th-25th Feb, 1990. This also happened to be my first date with the current Mrs Freudstein. As my sister sarcastically remarked at our wedding: “He’s always known how to show a girl a good time!” Thanks, Sis. Mr Frumkes is an affable and (as you’ll see) very talkative guy. I did actually get in a few questions here and there but as he was on such a roll, it seemed to make more editorial sense to omit them and just let him go… like the man said: “If you get good talent you should just let them go!” Take it away, Roy…

I was teaching film making and there were just no films out there for independent film makers. 80% of American film making is independent, you know… the Hollywood thing is a facade. All over the U.S. there’s this independent film making going on, of which John Cassavettes was the leading figure. Now it’s Romero and I wanted to make some short teaching films that would be of value to my students because they’re not going to go to Hollywood, that just doesn’t happen. Spielberg had an uncle at Universal and he’s one out of maybe 100,000. Generally my students end up kicking around for usually about ten years, just working their way up through the pecking order, y’know?

There is tons of work out there because of home video, MTV, cable TV… I don’t know any students that don’t get jobs but they don’t get Hollywood jobs, if that’s what they come to school thinking about and I wanted to make something they could relate to… non-union, low budget, how to get things cheaper, etc. But the only things available were like “The making of Star Wars”, $20 million films, which just didn’t make sense. So I pitched my idea at New York State’s official film school and they were… y’know, relatively unhelpful.

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They must have slaved for months on that campaign…

We started a thing called Tales That Will Tear Your Heart Out, seven little stories… Wes Craven did one and I was going to do one. That ran out of money and wasn’t in any state to be completed, though a distribution company called Aquarius bought some of my footage and turned it into a new prologue for an Italian import called Zombi Holocaust, which they renamed Doctor Butcher M.D. Then a few years later, I figured:”Let’s just do one story.” I proposed it to The School Of Visual Arts in New York, who went for it immediately… sent me a cheque the next week for what became Document Of The Dead… except that I nearly went for Earl Owensby’s The Wolfman instead.

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Earl’s a great guy. I met him a few years earlier and he was like… The King Of The Bible Belt! He made these movies, one after another, none of which has ever made any of the big cities but they all make their money back – and tons more – through The Bible Belt.

I needed to get on a non-union film. Nowadays non-union people are allowed onto a union set but back then they weren’t. Owensby was very helpful, he said he’d give us his private plane and we could circle, upside down, over the set on which he’d built a runway. He also had a motel, he’d built this huge complex down there. He was a big entrepreneur, into many businesses… a Trump kinda guy, you know? He was starring in all his films and shooting them himself. It sounded great, he said he’d let us film the wolfman transformation, like he wasn’t uptight, like he wasn’t uptight about giving away any of the goodies.

Then the chance to make a film about Dawn Of The Dead also came through. Richard Rubinstein was somebody I’d known socially and obviously it was clear what I was going to opt for… I mean, Dawn has gone on to be the epic of the horror genre, you know? The Monroeville Mall has gone on to be like this shrine for horror fans.

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Anyway, I had this fantastic cast of real characters… Savini has this wonderful, hyper personality, Romero came through like a real star, y’know and Rubinstein is a real shark, a scary guy. The other producer was Dario Argento. He obviously had such faith in George. I guess George is his favourite American film maker. Argento was never there when I was on set, he just flew over once to say hello. He put the money up, that was his part in it. It was a co-production deal and he was supposed to be putting up half the money but in fact Rubinstein, from what I gather, was getting half through services. So in return for putting up virtually all the money, Argento had foreign rights. George took domestic rights and that put them in a tough position, which is made very clear in Document Of The Dead… Argento’s cut version, with the Goblin music, did great in Italy, Japan… everywhere. George had his slightly longer version, without that music… and nobody wanted to release it, because it was too strong! Well, everyone wanted it but they all wanted it to be R-rated. George had to fight tooth and nail, for a year, in Document Of The Dead you can see that he ages more in the year from filming to distribution than he does from the distribution of Dawn to Two Evil Eyes, eight years later – he was under such enormous pressure.

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So anyway, I soon realised that I had enough wonderful material here for a feature. The School had put no strings on me, I just turned it around and started raising more money. While we were raising additional money we kept shooting Romero in various stages of production, post-production, securing distribution and so on… we shot the film’s opening on Broadway. So finally I had this unique three year record, chronicling an independent film from beginning to end.

Then in 1981 it was done. By this time we had put in $35,000 and because video was in its infancy back then, people were offering us derisory sums. Because I’d gotten another film going – Burt’s Bikers – I wasn’t compelled to get Document out, there was no executive producer, no money people screaming at me to get it out, so I just put it on the shelf and showed it once a year to my class. So although it hadn’t been released, word started getting round about it, y’know?

Then an ex-student of mine, a Jamaican guy named Len Anthony, who’d seen the film in my class about six years previously, called me up. By now he was the head of a thriving distribution company, releasing all these Filipino things like Lady Terminator and he said: “I really want a class act… I absolutely loved Document Of The Dead but can you get Romero to autograph 2,500 video boxes?” I told him that was really unlikely, that Romero lives on an island off Florida, like a hermit… but I said I’d try.

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So I rang George and he said: “Sure, but I thought you were ringing to do an addendum.I’m getting ready to shoot another living dead thing, you can do that too if you want to.” I said: “What?!?” So I called Len and it was like… you could see the rocket to Nirvana, y’know, with this guy strapped to it so two months later I’m back in Pittsburgh again with Romero and his whole old crew, it was like the weirdest form of deja vu, you know? He was doing Two Living Dead, in which he’d hidden the solution to the living dead series. It’s like he’s rewritten the Poe story to give an explanation , that he never made in the series, to what the hell was going on!

So they’ve got the zombies walking around again and I’m shooting again… I shot another 23 minutes of stuff. My contract stipulated that in order for it to be considered a feature abroad, it had to be 75 minutes or more and it was only 66 but you get twice the amount of money for a feature, so Len begged me to get it up to 75 minutes. I had it put in my contract that for every minute over 75, I could cut a minute out of the original, because the original always did seem a little long to me… scenes were making their point then going on for another 20 seconds, y’know and I always wanted to trim it.

But we were out of money. I shot an additional 23 minutes so I had a lot of freedom and I cut 5 minutes.  Now it moves like crazy, y’know then we put the new 23 minutes on the end and I’ve got this wonderful statement. I’m really proud of it because – filmed over 12 years – you see Romero reflecting on what it was like doing Dawn, what his career and the independent scene is like now and you’ve got this really long interview. The thing is doing really well in The States and my stubbornness / pigheadedness is starting to look like some kind of savvy… which it sure wasn’t!

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What I learned from Romero – and this became my forte – was making something look big for nothing. With Street Trash, which only cost $850,000, it was the steadicam that did it. The director, Jimmy Muro, was a sophomore student of mine, whose Uncle died and left him some money which he invested in a steadicam rig. He had done a 16mm short version of Street Trash in my class, using some of the same people, but it was just a string of gags, there was no real story. He approached ne about if I wanted to write it up as a feature, because writing wasn’t one of his strong points. We got an offer of $60,000 from some little distributor to just blow up the 16mm and add some new scenes but steadicam begs for quality so I said: “Let me produce it, I’ll raise a relatively large amount of money and we’ll do it right.”

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It took about a year. Jenny Aspinall, who did the make-ups, required 3 months advance work, because there’s a ton of make-ups in there. most of it good. She actually started getting paid out of the development money that we had raised to put together the corporation and financial structure to raise the actual money to make the picture. I volunteered to do one of the castings, to keep her busy for a week, that’s why I’m in there as the yuppie who gets melted under the fire-escape. I’d already done prosthetic make-up in two other films and it’s not fun! The whole idea of putting on that horrible adhesive, then using ether to get it off, an awful feeling – then never really getting it off – yuch! In order to have those prosthetics made up, you go under all that gloop and it comes on freezing cold, and you’re completely covered, they put tubes up your nose, then it dries and shrinks and goes hot and for half an hour it’s like being in a deprivation tank.

Some people really can’t stand it. They flip out, they rip it off… so Jenny and Mike Lackey, in particular, who had a great bedside manner, would sit and talk them through it, ask if they needed a massage or anything. They’d always have a paper and pencil handy in case the actors were having trouble, particularly trouble with breathing. because we’d want to make the attempt to have the passage opened rather than just let them rip it off.

We had a lot of difficulty getting actors because traditionally you advertise in Backstage magazine but if you’ve seen Street Trash, you’ll know that these are very odd people, right? For the role of ‘The Winette’ we put up pictures in anorexia clinics for actresses and models and Nicole Potter turned up… she’s fabulous! She was probably one of the most powerful actors in the film. Bill Chepil, who played the cop, was an actual cop for 16 years in Times Square, which is considered one of the worst beats in the world… two homicides every night! I’m doing a book on Chepil’s life now, which is actually a bit more raw than Street Trash!

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These street people are pretty much crazy, I did about six months research with the police about the homeless and I learned a lot. I mean, the character of ‘Black Suit’ came out of my research… about half of them are riches-to-rags stories. They live in the outskirts of New York, doing pretty well and then something goes wrong, they lose their jobs or something and they can’t face their families anymore. They just crack… it takes about a year. They end up on the streets of New York and their families call the police once a week or so just to check that they’re still alive, but there’s never any contact with them.They send them money, whatever has to be done. The Black Suit guy is a good example of that, someone who’s still wearing the same suit he was married in.

That role was written as a very existential piece, it was supposed to be delivered in a very surreal manner and I wrote it for Patrick McGoohan. We approached him and he considered it for a while, apparently, but turned it down. Then we considered Elton John for the role, thought he’d be great in it but didn’t know quite how to get to him. We’d obviously hit on something there, though, because I later learned that he had requested a screening of Street Trash, having missed it while he was on tour and said it was the best film that he had ever seen! (Laughs)

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The guy who finally did play the role, Morty Storm, was like a Borscht Belt comedian, one of these Catskills kind of guys and he just massacred what I’d written, but it was wonderful… it was like throwing the words into a computer and programming it to rearrange them, they were coming out reversed, backwards, repeated over and over again and I was just looking at him, aghast. But it’s great to put stuff on paper, which is just a blueprint anyway and see what happens. I’ve done two films with Rodney Dangerfield, The Projectionist and An Evening At Dangerfield’s, a 90 minute TV special when his night club opened. Rodney had not been discovered when we found him, he was going under the name “Jack Ray” and he was testing at little clubs like The Improvisation. He was great to work with and there are some stories about Rodney that I’d better not tell you while that tape is running, you know? (Laughs) But he was another one who improvised about half of his material. I’m a firm believer that if you get good talent you should just let them go, y’know? All that matters to me is getting the scene and if we get it, I’m satisfied. Then we can try it again, leave them to let rip and see what we get out of it.

We sold Street Trash in Europe first, because in America you rarely get much money upfront. You usually get a percentage on the back end and you know, over there they say: “Net means niet”, you never get any of that back in money because they’re allowed to deduct for (sneers) “reasonable expenses.” That could mean anything, you never, ever see any money off the back. So the sales in Europe helped to get the investors out, while I fought to get a good deal over there. I went to the Cannes Film Festival in ’86 with Howard Goldfarb, who was my foreign sales agent and the film was not finished then, we thought we’d just test the water and see how it went.

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I had cut a three minute trailer and put together a really nice portfolio of colour stills … now at Cannes, MIFED and the AFM, which are the three big marketing festivals, they don’t really look at finished films. They’re paid not to, because there are 2,000 films at any given time and as many distributors running around trying to buy them. What they do is, they look at your promo, your trailers and stills and, if they’re still concerned, they either fast forward your film on video, to make sure those scenes are really in there, that you’re not cheating them, or they’ll go into the screening, sit for five minutes and leave.

So we showed it to “Scandinavia”, which represents four countries in one… this guy comes in with his 13 year old kid and when Howard ran his trailers the kid was just sitting there until the one for Street Trash came on and he started going berserk! The guy’s looking at him like his kid’s the barometer, y’know? He immediately offered us 75 grand, which was 25 above my minimum offer and it was totally down to that kid’s reaction… I didn’t know what I could do for that kid, I took him for ice cream, the works!

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I also sold the film to Avatar in the UK. They did a really good job and selling it to those two territories, a year before the film came out, was enough to reassure my investors… because we had gone over budget… that we really had a saleable commodity. Then what happened was, every foreign country has a censorship clause, you have to refund all the money if the government itself won’t allow the film to be shown. In the case of England, Australia and South Korea, Street Trash was given the deep six. However, Avatar figured that this would only increase its chances on video, that it would be good publicity and so did Australia. So they went for it anyway… Korea wanted their $5,000 back!

I’m surprised that we got off so lightly, censorship-wise, in England… that was extremely unusual. It might have been because we were so democratic, I know there’s some concern about violence against women but I felt that our rape scene was balanced by the castration – we had a three-and-a-half-minute castration! The UK had it a minute longer than it was in America. The longest version was, I think, two minutes longer than you had and that was in France. Japan also had it that long but they airbrushed about four minutes of nudity. That was certainly weird. They had to use a lot of airbrush on Miriam Zircher, the gangster’s girlfriend. The demanded a thousand dollars back, just for the airbrushing!

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In America Street Trash went out unrated so we did our homework, had lunch with the people who released all these films like The Evil Dead and Texas Chainsaw 2. They were doing about a thousand prints and hiring kids in every town to give out leaflets if the newspapers wouldn’t advertise an unrated film and they still didn’t do well, y’know, so for a major company to take George’s Dawn Of The Dead was an incredible break… and it did great, which was a miracle. I hate to defer to the MPAA, so I’m not, but in fact that film should not have made money.

Censorship-wise, there’s definitely an increasing right-wing backlash, in The States and all over the world. I mean, you know about the serial killer in Japan who was caught and he had a closet full of splatter films… now they’ve banned splatter films in Japan. I’ve kept in touch with that scene through Screaming Mad George, who was one of my students. It’s all over the world, not just in the U.S. It’s OK though, it’s alright because all films are made under warlike conditions of creative compromise and I don’t see any difference in that.

Y’know, if they play something on me, then I’m going to get around it. That makes it better, in an odd way. You’re always going on the set with twenty ideas, ten of which go wrong and end up being better! A good example of that in Street Trash is the death of Bill Chepil’s character, the fight scene. He’s supposed to take the tarpaulin off and Bronson was supposed to slash him across the throat. His jugular’s severed, he sticks his hand in, plugs it up and fights Bronson one handed! We shot the ending, with Bronson standing over his body and there was no blood on Bronson’s shirt! I saw it in the rushes and went: “Oh, Jesus Christ” and so we go to shoot it and I thought: “OK, we’ll put the Winette under the  tarp so that Bill’s back is to Bronson when he gets his throat cut, y’know, it was better and I think it was a wonderful scene… so I’ve never had any problems with creative compromise!

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Please consume Viper responsibly. Or else…06_street_trash_promostills.jpgstreet-trash-1987.jpg

Categories: Interviews | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jodrophenia… THE FILMS OF ALEJANDRO JODOROWSKY Box Set Reviewed

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DVD. Region 1. Anchor Bay. Unrated.

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

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

… body dysmorphia…

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

… and associated delusions of grandeur…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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DVD. Region 1. Paura Productions. Unrated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rest In Peace.

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“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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