Posts Tagged With: Monsters

How To Become A Movie Mogul, In Several Easy Steps… The OVIDIO G. ASSONITIS Interview

Eccentric mavericks have never exactly been in short supply on the Italian film scene but even in that colourful milieu, OVIDEO G. ASSONITIS stands out. Born of Greek stock in Egypt, 18/01/43, he became involved in film distribution after his family relocated to Italy. When the kind of films he wanted to distribute weren’t available, he started producing them himself. When he couldn’t find satisfactory scripts, he started writing his own. And when the directors he hired weren’t up to scratch… you guessed it. The runaway success of his first (co)directed feature Beyond The Door (currently available in a beautiful BD edition from Arrow) ruffled the feathers of Tinsel Town’s big wigs, resulting in a long running legal case. His fingerprints are on films that represented the best of some genres and changed the course of others. He was behind a couple of the “video nasties”, fired a Hollywood A-lister and saw more of the real Emmanuelle than he probably wanted to. And he’s still going strong, preparing to shoot his latest effort in Maui when we caught up with him.

First things first, Ovidio… I know that you were born in the great commercial centre of Alexandria, also that your father was involved in film distribution. Presumably these things impacted on your choice of career…

When my family lived in Alexandria we were not involved with the film industry. My father was an entrepreneur in the cotton trade, though he did bring writers and film makers over to Alexandria as part of his efforts to promote Italian culture. We moved to Italy when I was 14 years old and my father became the general manager for international relations at a major film producers’ association. Every day at lunch and dinner, I heard a lot of things about the making of movies, something to which I was definitely attracted. Later, I become a film distributor in South East Asia, opening offices all over that part of the world. My partners and I released more than a thousand movies over ten years. At a time when I was having difficulties finding the right pictures for that market I started producing them myself.

As a producer and distributor you were collaborating with people like AIP and the Shaw Brothers…

AIP was an independent distributor in the United States, one of my strongest connections over there. Nicholson and Arkoff released a lot of my movies and in the process we became great friends. I worked with the son of one of the Shaw Brothers, who was running the company then, also with people like Prince Yukolo Anusom, the brother of the King of Thailand who became one of my business partners.

A movie you produced that did very well in Far Eastern markets was Umberto Lenzi’s Man From Deep River, an important film which transformed the flagging Mondo genre into the highly successful and controversial Italian cannibal film cycle…

My inspiration for that one was definitely A Man Called Horse and also my connections in Thailand, where we shot the movie. It’s a country I knew very well and visiting the small villages in the forests, I discovered some very cinematic elements that could be combined interestingly in a movie. That’s how I decided to write and produce The Man From Deep River. Umberto Lenzi was the kind of director who could understand what I wanted to achieve, though I had to correct some of his more commercial instincts. But collaborating with him was nice, he was a very hard worker… although a little bit crazy!

You’re noted for your forceful personality, I was wondering how you found dealing with such similarly forceful types as Lenzi, Lucio Fulci (who was in the frame to direct Beyond The Door and helped out on the direction of David Keith’s The Curse, which you produced in 1987)… and yes, James Cameron. How were disagreements with these guys resolved?

Very simple. They had to back down… (Laughs)… because I never give up!

OK. Another of your early productions, Aldo Lado’s Who Saw Her Die, is considered one of the classics of the giallo genre…

I was involved in conceiving the mystery story for that film, beyond that my contribution was mainly financial. I was not a “hands on” producer for that one.

When I spoke to Aldo Lado he said that the thing about the killer being somebody who impersonated a priest rather than an actual priest was tacked on under pressure from censors and the Catholic church…

I don’t remember anything about. That sounds like a “post mortem” explanation…

You did have a killer priest in a film you later directed, Madhouse…

Yes.

Were you aware that Madhouse and Man From Deep River were both banned on home video during a crazy UK moral panic in the early ’80s?

Not really. I knew that those pictures had the potential to generate controversy. They were part of a tendency in horror movies that was going on at that time but they were original works… in fact I think there was that over reaction to them because they were ahead of their time.

Well, they’re now legally available in the UK, which kind of supports your argument. The female lead in Madhouse was Trish Everly, a very good looking woman and she gives a strong performance but she didn’t do much after that. What happened to her?

She’s the ex-wife of one of the Everly Brothers, so she was not short of money. After Madhouse I never heard from her anymore...

Like Fulci and Enzo Castellari you had great success in The States with a movie that ran into problems over its perceived similarities to a previous film… obviously I’m talking about Beyond The Door.

The world of horror movies was always something that attracted me and what really changed my vision of how to make them was Rosemary’s Baby. Films like that one and The Exorcist were bringing the horror into our houses, into our daily lives by representing something the audience knows very well. They’re both films about sick people and everybody at some point has some experience of illness, of family members with cancer or something like that.

Warners sued you over perceived similarities to Friedkin’s film of The Exorcist but you said at the time you hadn’t even seen that film… did you ever watch it?

No, but I read the book. We started shooting our film when theirs was still in post production. I read the book on a plane flight from Taiwan to Hong Kong on a very stormy night with a lot of turbulence, which seemed very appropriate. All the passengers were screaming and I was reading about The Devil. I thought this was a perfect project for me to shoot and as soon as I got back to the office I called the publisher to ask about the film rights, which of course had been sold to Warners, who were about to make their movie. So I said OK, I want to do something similar but original, something about the demons that are part of every one of us. Beyond The Door is about those demons we don’t like to acknowledge but we see lurking inside us, parts of ourselves that cause us to do irrational and selfish things, not out of love for ourselves but out of fear. No matter how hard we try to ignore our demons they are always there, bubbling up from under the lid that we try to keep on them. It wasn’t just reading a book that convinced me to produce a horror movie along these lines. The preparation for Beyond The Door was a very extensive intellectual exercise. It was both less and more than just “ripping off” The Exorcist. Every movie is influenced by movies that came before it and you could argue that The Exorcist is a “rip-off” of Rosemary’s Baby. We weren’t motivated to just make a cheap imitation of a famous movie, there was a lot of thought behind Beyond The Door and we hired one of the most important special effects artists, Wally Gentleman (who was Doug Trumbull’s right hand man on 2001) so we could make a good movie… all of this while confined to a $300,000 budget against $10 million for The Exorcist!

The case that Warners brought against you was one of “infringing visual copyright”…

Yeah, they charged me with infringing something that doesn’t even exist! Warner thought that they could intimidate this Italian producer, this small company, considering that the judge had confiscated $20 million dollars from us, pending the trial. Of course they didn’t know me because like I said, I never back down. It took me three years fighting them and I spent three times the cost of our negative on lawyers. In the end I met with them. I was in LA and I drove to Burbank, knocked on the office door of the number 2 man at Warners and I told him: “You have to stop, because you’re going to lose. You’re claiming $20 million from us but I’m going to take you for $100 million! So just stop!” We arrived at a compromise. He asked for two things, firstly that I shouldn’t do a sequel to Beyond The Door, because they were very worried about that, also that I should sign a deal with them to make three movies. They saw the return on my budget compared to what they had done with The Exorcist and they were so impressed that they wanted me to work with them.

That return on your budget had something to do with the amazing marketing for Beyond The Door, with gimmicks worthy of William Castle… the whole “Sensurround” bit and actors planted in the audience who were supposed to be having heart attacks because it was so scary!

The marketing was very smart and the sound was very important because when we had preview screenings for American audiences, they were screaming during the scene where Juliet Mills’ head turns around but it was a different story in Italy. Italian audiences are always very sarcastic and when Juliet’s head was rotating, they started laughing. I know I had to stop this laughing and I had heard that Universal were going to use this thing Sensurround on Earthquake so I flew from Rome to LA and asked them if I could borrow the sound technology. They showed me around this huge laboratory that looked like something out off NASA but of course they weren’t going to lend me the sound system until they had exhibited their picture first and then maybe, who knows. But we had the idea and we came up with a very basic concept which, instead of using 40w of sound, had thousands of watts at front and back of the theatre and the combining of these two low frequencies built a sound that covered the laughs of the Italians.

Try laughing that off! You’ve had some real star names in your films… Richard Johnson and Juliet Mills in Beyond The Door… Henry Fonda, John Huston and Shelley Winters in Tentacles…

Juliet Mills was perfect for the role, she came from this great British acting background. Richard Johnson was the same, from Shakespearian theatre. I liked Richard and he became a very good friend, worked for me in more than one movie. Working with them was great. I always want my actors to be totally involved in the picture, intellectually involved and giving to it the maximin of their experience and talent. They were not just “actors for hire”, they were really behind the story and we worked as a team. John Huston was in Tentacles mostly because he swapped roles with Henry Fonda, who had a heart attack and couldn’t play for us as long as we’d planned. John Huston was an amazing person who became my best friend and worked for me in another movie. I wanted him to direct a movie based on a famous novel for me but of course he died. Glenn Ford was another who played not just for money, these guys had to approve and believe in the story.

All of those were solid pros but in Beyond The Door you also had those two kids in very strange roles… jive-talking and swearing… was it difficult getting good performances out of them?

There have been children in many of my movies and you have to treat working with them like working with animals. They can be extremely good when they are just acting spontaneously but very bad when they start thinking about what they are doing. It’s the same with animals. When they act spontaneously they are very good but when they’ve been trained to do something, they might or might not do it well. Children can be really good, the trick is in choosing the right ones. The girl in Beyond The Door… the Italian Susan Strasberg… they way she talked in the movie was exactly the way she talked in real life. The boy was a very strange American boy who went to school with my son, an overseas student in Rome. I only met him because he was a friend of my son, a strange kid who would sit there silently for hours, which made me think he would be good for our movie. Neither of them had any previous acting experience.

That boy, David Colin Jr., appeared again in Mario Bava’s film Shock, which was even released in America as Beyond The Door 2. Given all the legal problems you’d had with Warners, I was wondering if anybody involved in Shock had had to settle with you.

Not, they just helped themselves to that and I didn’t even chase them. I don’t think it was the film’s producers, it was the American distributor of that picture who did it, taking maxim advantage of the title and logo of my picture.

I guess that illustrates just how successful your picture had been. Several writers are credited on Beyond The Door, one of whom is The Incredible Melting Man himself, Alex Rebar…

Alex Rebar was an American dubbing artist, he dubbed movies from Italian into English and I met him when I was working as a distributor in the Far East. As a matter of fact I originally cast him to play the Richard Johnson role but our schedules clashed and I went ahead without him. In the end his contributions to the film were very limited.

Beyond The Door has a great score from Franco Micalizzi and so many other great composers have scored your pictures. Morricone, Ortolani, Cipriani…

I’ve always believed that music is one of the most important elements of a movie. Alongside the acting and the photography, the music is as important as the plot, so I always want to hear the composition that I’ll be using in my movie before shooting the movie itself. I’ve always done that, that’s what happened with Morricone on Who Saw Her Die

That’s a beautiful score!

It is. In the case of Beyond The Door, Micalizzi, had worked for me in my previous picture which was a tremendous success, a tear jerker called The Last Snows Of Spring. His music for that was a big success on the hit parade for many weeks all over the world. I asked him to have the main composition ready before I shot Beyond The Door and he asked me what I wanted. I had been thinking and thinking about what the theme should be, the language of that music and when I was in Paris, I had heard Barry White…

Who needs Sensurround when you’ve got Barry White?

Whether it was coming from a concert stage or a recording studio or even a telephone conversation I had with him, Barry White’s voice is unlike anything else in popular music. There is something truly profound about that basso… it rumbles! It’s not his voice but the way that he used it. This is what I told Micalizzi about the kind of music I wanted… I wanted to hear the voice of The Devil! That’s how we came up with the theme Bargain With The Devil and he recorded it before I made the the movie, I listened to that music before shooting many of the scenes because it was so very inspirational.

That music plays as Gabriele Lavia and Juliet Mills walk around in San Francisco, having all sorts of weird experiences. I believe that you shot these scenes guerrilla style, without any permits… masquerading as Italian tourists! Was that difficult?

It was very easy. Sometimes we asked for and received permits to shoot in public places sometimes we didn’t have time to ask so we just went ahead and shot the scene but all the interiors were shot in a studio in Italy. We had to be very careful to keep all the stylistic elements consistent so we brought everything we could back from the States to make the room look like an American apartment.

On several of your films you’ve co-directed with Roberto D’Ettore Piazzoli and I wonder how you typically divide the work between you. Is one guy doing the set-ups while the other directs the actors, or whatever?

Beyond The Door was the first picture which I directed or co-directed. I had a lot of experience in editing, especially the pictures that I was releasing in the Far East, recutting them for different markets. This editing experience also helped me in writing stories and conceiving the pictures I wanted to make. Roberto D’Ettore had worked as my DP and directing together, we didn’t really share out the work. It was more about pooling our different experiences to support each other and make the best movie possible. Of course his camera experience was greater than mine at the time and my experience with editing and conceiving stories was greater than his. I did deal more with the actors, mostly because I could speak English and he couldn’t.

You co-wrote and produced the 1976 film Laure aka Forever Emmanuelle, supposedly directed by Emmanuelle Arsan herself… which I doubt. What was the real story behind that picture?

First of all you have to know that the person who wrote Emmanuelle was not Emmanuelle Arsan…

It was her husband, wasn’t it?

Exactly. Louis-Jacques Rollet-Andriane. He was an officer of UNESCO but he had these strange ideas about sex, he was like a theoretical philosopher of “the new sexuality”. He wasn’t a porno guy, but he considered porn as part of a normal life. I knew him very well, he used to live in Rome and Paris. He was a person of great intelligence, very highly cultured, but he wrote Emmanuelle and had this great success with it. Now one day, I was sitting in front of the President of 20th Century Fox in LA and he was reading the box office takings and he just was screaming, saying hey, look at the figures for Just Jaeckin’s Emmanuelle… he said that I should do something like that and I told him that I knew the guy who wrote Emmanuelle. He was very excited by this and proposed we do a movie in Italy with Louis-Jacques directing, of course under the name Emmanuelle Arsan and also have her as one of the leads. I asked Louis-Jacques about this and he jumped at the chance.

We started putting the elements together and then had the bizarre idea to have Linda Lovelace acting in the movie. I thought that to put somebody with one of the most famous names in the world, particularly in the United States, in a normal, well directed picture with production values would sell the picture and give her more quality, representing her the way she really was. So I asked my assistant to find where she was and a couple of weeks later he found her living in Arizona, almost retired. So we hired her and flew her over to Rome for a meeting with Louis-Jacques. I told everybody to treat her like a lady rather than the Porn Star she used to be, to forget about Deep Throat, to treat her like a normal actress and everybody was willing to do that but throughout the meeting Linda sat with a bodyguard who was also her boyfriend…

Was that Chuck Traynor?

It was an American – Italian guy and she wouldn’t talk directly to us, we had to talk to the bodyguard so it was a funny situation where we were asking him the question, he was asking her the same question, she was answering to him then he was telling us the answer.

Like Chinese whispers…

Yeah. Then she said: “I will never shoot this scene the way that it’s been written. I will never appear naked in the movie”.

WTF?

Yeah, she said that it was absolutely against her morality. Like I say, you could write a book about every movie I’ve ever made. There were so many problems with Linda but we had a commitment with Fox to have her name on the marquee so we called in the actress Annie Belle to do the nude scenes and changed Linda’s role to one in which she kept her clothes on. Then we went to the Philippines to shoot the movie and immediately there were more problems. In the first scene we shot, Linda was walking in a corridor and she had to stop and say some lines but she refused because there was a statue behind her, a copy of the Venus De Milo statue and she said she would never appear in a scene next to a naked woman! That was it, no matter what the deal with Fox was, I fired her. Going back to Emmanuelle Arsan, of course she didn’t really direct the movie, that was Roberto D’Ettore Piazzoli, who loved photographing naked women. Then some stills were released to a magazine which published some really unflattering shots of Emmanuelle Arsan. I had to sue them because they also ran an interview with me that never actually happened! Anyway, Emmanuelle Arsan came to me and said she didn’t want her name attached to the movie anymore and in the end we publicised it with a picture of her, saying she wrote it but that it was directed by “Anonymous”.

What sort of a person was Emanuelle Arsan? Was she comfortable with being this erotic icon created by her husband?

The first time we visited Louis-Jacques ’s apartment in Rome, he opened the door and right in front of us, in the lobby to his apartment, there was a big photo of his wife, naked, with her legs wide open. My wife didn’t want to go in and I had to convince her, c’mon, were doing a business deal here. But everything was like this, the whole apartment was full of photos of his wife in, let’s say, the most incredible artistic positions.

Wow! In 1979 you produced Giulio Paradiso’s The Visitor… that’s another wild movie. What can you tell us about that one?

Again, that would fill a book in itself, like most of the films I’ve directed or produced for other people. There are so many interesting things that happened on that movie, some of them positive, some of them negative. Like most of my movies, it was ahead of its time. I’d like to remake The Visitor, bringing in elements of gaming and virtual reality that we didn’t have at the time. It was an interesting movie, but much more interesting in its conception that what actually ended up on the screen. The same is true of Tentacles, which had a really good script that was compromised by the distributor’s vision. But come on, I know you’re dying to ask me about James Cameron and Piranha 2…

Well, now you mention it… in fact before you signed Cameron to direct that picture, I believe you were going with Rob Bottin.

Exactly. Piranha 2 was not my idea. After I’d settled with Warners over Beyond The Door, they asked me if I would produce a script they were interested in but they didn’t trust the producer… it was the same producer from the first Piranha. They said they’d shoot it if I’d take over. So I read the scripts which was very bad and I told them I’d executive produce if I was allowed to change the story which was really stupid, beyond any credibility. They did insist on me keeping those piranhas, flying out of the sea, which was absolutely irrational but that’s what I signed up for. Immediately I was looking for a director who’d be good with special FX. Knowing very well the work of Rob Bottin, I approached him and he was very happy about directing the movie. About a week after we signed an agreement he came asking me to release him because he’d just got an offer from Universal to pay him a million dollars a year to supervise effects on some of their films and I couldn’t stand in his way. He recommended James Cameron so I went to see him while he was some shooting second unit stuff on Escape From New York. I asked him to direct Piranha 2 and he was jumping like crazy, very happy to do it. That’s how we started to know each other. I like Jim a lot because I understood that he had a great vision. The problem was that he did not know how to make his visions happen, especially in a film whose budget was so limited considering the amount of special effects that Warners wanted to keep from the original script. I have thousands of stories to tell but I’m not going to tell them now, but basically Jim failed in what he was supposed to do. I didn’t want to fire him but I had to after 10 days because at that point we were 9 days behind schedule.When the picture was finished we had to shoot the FX scenes all over again and try to make them work. We spent a lot of time in labs trying to make it happen and have hundreds of flying piranhas attacking, not just one or two on wires and stopping in the middle of the shots. That’s what Jim did. I asked him to stay next to me and help wherever it was needed. I allowed him to shoot all the underwater scenes in the Cayman islands and he got some great shots but only when he didn’t have to deal with special effects. I admire Jim for flying from LA to Rome without any money and staying here for two months. Of course I put him in hotels and gave him whatever he needed. I admire that he is so stubborn but he is a very difficult character. When I was directing the movie he wanted to take part in the editing and although he didn’t have the right to do it, I said fine, but after a week the editor came to me and said: “Hey, I’m very happy to work with James because you will pay me for one year!” He had edited it, Jim had taken it and changed things around but after three days it was right back to what the first editor had already done. He was too inexperienced. I wanted Jim to gain experience but the editor didn’t want him in the editing room any more because he was wasting so much time. I told him that we’d look at the scenes in my office and he could have his say. That’s where the idea of The Terminator came up, based on a book that I bought called Formula Man, by an Italian writer…

Do you remember the name of the writer?

He was a physician as a matter of fact. His name escapes me right now but the inspiration for Terminator came from this book. Jim was asking me what we were going to work on next and he proposed a Terminator-like story but I told him: “Jim, I want to do your third movie with you, not your second, because when you have learned enough you will surely become a great director”. So once when I was in LA, I was going to meet the chairman of Orion Pictures and I saw Jim coming out of his office so asked the chairman, who was a good friend of mine, what Jim was doing there and he said well, they were going to release a picture that he would direct, called The Terminator, which was basically that story. The chairman said that they had seen Piranha 2 and liked it, not knowing that I had actually directed it. I didn’t say anything to put him down and he made The Terminator. Since then he’s written a lot of inaccurate things about our relationship but I’ve kept quiet about it because I don’t want to embarrass him. But every time he made a new movie I’d send him a message saying “You need to improve” and his answer was always “Fuck you!” When I saw Titanic, which I really liked, I sent him a message saying: “You’re improving but you still need to do better” and again he replied “Fuck you!” So this was our relationship. One day I called him because I read something he said that was not true and said: “Hey Jim, we’ve got white hairs now, we’re getting older. You’re much more famous than I am, you’ve made a lot of money and I’m making much less money, we should stop doing this stuff. We spent more than one year together and I admire you for many reasons. I had to do what I had to do because it’s a business but we should stop doing this, let’s meet and have a drink… of course you should pay because you have so much more money than me!” He said I was right and we should meet but after an hour he called me and said: “No Ovidio, I don’t want to meet you, because you are such a convincing person, you will convince me that I am wrong and you are right!”

I heard that Cameron released an alternative cut of Piranha 2 in certain markets, though I’ve never seen it. Is that true?

Absolutely not. He doesn’t have the rights and I would sue him if he did. That just never happened, anyway. I directed Piranha 2 and I could have put my name on it but I kept his on there because I didn’t want to embarrass him, I wanted to help his career.

Can you tell us something about the part you played in the ongoing saga of Cannon Films at the end of the ‘80s?

How long have you got? (Laughs) It’s a long story… I was approached by one of the people who acquired Cannon Films from the cousins Golan and Globus, his partner was the very important financier Giancarlo Parretti who had financed some of my pictures. He said they’d just acquired a major company and requested my help after discovering the critical financial situation that Golan and Globus had left it in. I said I didn’t want to be part of it unless we could sort out the company and we employed a very important lawyer to do that. We split Cannon into two new companies, one which I ran as chairman and which would produce pictures with budgets of lower than ten million dollars and the other, run by Alan Ladd Jr. doing films with budgets beyond ten million. I had a plan and the first policy I wanted to introduce was to move away from the pictures Golan and Globus did which were all about action with machine guns and helicopters. I wanted to try what New Line had done, gradually introducing more quality into their productions. I wanted to make Scent Of Woman with this new company but in the end they did that with Universal because the budget was over ten million. When Parretti decided to buy MGM, that was the beginning of the end and I got out just before everything collapsed. But in that period, it was little more than a year, I made ten movies with good box office receipts, well in excess of the costs of these movies.

A couple of times I’ve asked you about things and you’ve said: “How long have you got?”… “You could write a book”. Do you in fact have any plans to write your memoirs?

After death! You can write them for me after I’ve gone…

Well, we’ve made a good start today. What are you working on now?

Well, you haven’t asked me the question that everybody else asks, i.e. among the pictures I’ve shot, which is the one that I like the most?

And the answer to that question is?

I don’t like any of them! The one I like is always the next one and principal photography for the next one will begin in Maui in Hawaii, where I’m flying out to tomorrow. It’s called The Disappearing Girl, it’s a very strong story about love and life and death. The leads are two teenagers, one American and one Italian. The really interesting thing is that the director of this picture will be a 15 year old girl, a very famous Youtuber and author named Iris Ferrari. I’m never satisfied with my films but I’m sure this one is going to be very good and a tremendous box office success.

We’ll be looking out for that and wish you well with it. Thanks for your time, Ovidio.

Ciao!

Beyond The Door is available in a spanking Arrow BD edition from all good retailers or directly from Arrow.

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Virgin On The Ridiculous… BLOOD TIDE Reviewed

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BD. Region Free. Arrow. 15.

Arrow’s ongoing quest to bring you every possible Nico (Island Of Death) Mastorakis-related movie they can lay their hands on gathers pace with this 1982 effort, which Nico co-wrote (with its director Richard Jefferies) and produced.

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A doomed virgin models seaweed earrings. Yesterday.

Neil Grice (Martin Kove, just before he became a fixture in the Karate Kid franchise) and his new bride Sherry (Mary Louise Weller) sail to a remote Greek island in search of Neil’s sister Madeline, who’s been mysteriously incommunicado. They experience little trouble finding her (in the luscious shape of Deborah Shelton) but can’t persuade her to leave with them because she’s become obsessed with local mythology about the sacrificing of virgins to placate a fearsome sea monster. Neil and Sherry investigate various mysterious goings on, in the process incurring the wrath of the town elders, principally José Ferrer, who takes great exception to outsiders meddling in the Islanders’ ancient customs. There’s also a chapter of creepy nuns (presided over by Lila Kedrova) which made me wonder if Blood Tide had been an influence on the conception of Mariano Baino’s  Dark Waters (1993) though that film’s co-writer / associate producer Andy Bark assures me that this was not the case.

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Is Shelton being prepared as a human sacrifice? More pointedly, are we honestly expected to accept that a woman who’s so alluring that Craig Wasson felt compelled to fish her discarded panties out of a bin (in Brian De Palma’s Body Double just two years later) is a virgin? Yes, I know it’s theoretically possible but she’s hardly the most obvious casting choice. Such considerations are soon rendered academic anyway, as James Earl Jones’s Frye (a bang on portrayal of somebody who thinks he’s “a bit of a character” but whom everybody else regards as a total dick) dynamites the island’s undersea caverns in search of some obscure treasure and ends up releasing that sea monster. To say it doesn’t quite measure up to the Kraken from Clash Of The Titles would be a significant understatement, nevertheless it starts noshing its way through the local population, virgo intacto or otherwise.

Bloodtide

Ooh, scary!

Jefferies keeps this preposterous “Wicker Man with a side order of moussaka” concoction bubbling along engagingly enough (until the appearance of that risible monster) and it’s beautifully shot by Aris Stavrou (though the undersea cavern scenes, inevitably, look a bit grainy in this 4K restoration from the original camera negative). There’s a bonus interview with the indomnitable Mastorakis, conducted by one Ari Gerontakis. Although the latter is billed as an “actor / voice over genius”, this feaurette is directed by Mastorakis himself so you just know this isn’t going to be some kind of Paxman-style grilling. Instead, our man talks up his friendship with John Carpenter and his clashes with the late Don Simpson at Paramount. Just when you think he’s going to skirt around the subject of his notorious “video nasty” Island Of Death, he remembers it as his attempt to “out-Texas Chain Saw Massacre the Texas Chain Saw Massacre”. You also get a new audio commentary from director Jefferies, a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys and (in the first pressing only) a collector’s booklet featuring a new appraisal of the film by Mike Gingold.

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OK, I accept that Shelton’s character could be a virgin. But I’m still troubled by the er, over enthusiastic kissing between her and her brother after he’s rescued her from that monster. What the fuck was that all about? Shelton also sings (pleasantly enough) over the closing credits. Cor, what a gal!

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Such a pretty present for a Christmas cracker Kraken…

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See Ya Later, Imitator… Sergio Martino’s BIG ALLIGATOR RIVER Reviewed.

 

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DVD. Region Free. No Shame. Unrated.

With the likely exception of Mario Bava, Sergio Martino took the giallo more places than anybody else would even have attempted and having given the definitive push to the American “body count” box office phenom with 1973’s Torso (which tellingly played on drive in double bills with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) he pretty much left the genre alone (barring the misfiring crime slime / comedy crossover Suspicious Death Of A Minor and a couple of variable stabs at TV giallo). There were plenty of Sexy Comedies to come and, driven by the ruthless logic of commercial production, he would continue to jump any new bandwagon, e.g. pasta post-Apocalypse with 2019: After The Fall Of New York, killer cyborgs (Hands Of Stone) or revisit any resurgent filone (see his late breaking spaghetti western Mannaja: A Man Called Blade, 1977).

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During 1978 and 1979 Martino essayed a loose trilogy of stonking Boy’s Own adventure yarns, inaugurated by Prisoner Of The Cannibal God (an H. Rider Haggard knock off with enough voguish cannibalism tacked on to see it consigned to the DPP’s dreaded “video nasties” list), continued in Island Of The Fishmen (The Island Of Dr Moreau as if rewritten by Jules Verne) and concluded via the item under consideration here, whose original Italian title translates as River Of The Great Caiman but which is also known as Big (or “Great”) Alligator, Big (or “Great”) Alligator River (as it is identified here) and in some markets the titular beasty was rebranded a crocodile…

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… but let’s not get too nitpicky about our saurians. The film’s story (co-written with Martino by ol’ Anthropophababy himself, Luigi Montefiori, among others) is an obvious cash in on Jaws but so what? What’s Jaws if not Ibsen’s An Enemy Of The People with added, er, bite? Mel Ferrer is Joshua, the entrepreneur with no social conscience who’s opening a swinging hot spot on the banks of a Sri Lankan river, oblivious to the man eating menace lurking nearby. He won’t listen to the warnings of his publicity photographer Daniel Nessel (Martino stalwart Claudio Cassinelli) but Dan finds solace in the arms of Alice, a foxy anthropologist played by the luscious Barbara Bach. Literally a Starr in the making, BB isn’t the only rock star’s chick in the cast, which also includes the perpetually bikini-clad Lory Del Santo, later mother of the ill-fated Connor Clapton. Other familiar faces include black muscle dude Bobby Rhodes and (as sassy, pint-sized comic relief Minou) Silvia Collatina (best known for her subsequent role as Mae Freudstein in Lucio Fulci’s House By The Cemetery) in her screen debut. Making up the hat trick of Fish Men holdovers, Richard Johnson cameos as Father Jonathan, a missionary gone native (signified by his Catweazle wig and beard) who subscribes to the theory that the alligator / caiman / crocodile / whatever is actually an incarnation of “The Great God Kruna”.

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Aside from growing resentment about the ecological damage done to the island, local tribe the Kuma take particular exception to a member of their number being seduced by one of the holiday makers during a full moon, a time when their pagan gods demand abstinence. The two miscreants are subsequently wolfed down by Kruna himself, in day for night shots which don’t work at all on this DVD. At least the underwater work of Gian Lorenzo (Inferno) Battaglia is as good as you’d expect.

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Things are getting a bit nippy on the Sri Lankan waterways! And as for that alligator…

The great Kruna now goes on a predictable snacking rampage through the ranks of the assembled 18-30 crowd who go into overacting overdrive and swim for their lives, only to end up impaled on the spiked fences that were supposed to be keeping the critter out or reaching the shore and being butchered by vengeful Kumas (though after Cassinelli has dispatched their alligator god with a handy dandy fistful of dynamite, everybody seems to bury the hatchet with a minimum of fuss). Carlo De Marchis’s alligator looks pretty solid by the general standard of these things (until Cassinelli blows it to smithereens, of course) though like myself, many viewers will probably find the most arresting spectacle in the film that of Ms Bach, kidnapped by the Kumas, lashed to a bamboo raft and attired in a flimsy and progressively wetter shift. Nice shift work if you can get it.

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With the aid of such regular collaborators as DP Giancarlo Ferrando, art director Massimo Antonello Geleng and composer Stelvio Cipriani, Martino has here turned in a more than acceptable slice of spaghetti exploitation that would sit comfortably in a triple Lockdown bill with Fabrizio De Angelis’s Killer Crocodile brace.

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Back in the naughty noughties, Italy’s No Shame label was the best place to go for Martino films on disc and although better editions of his gialli are now available, their “Sergio Martino Collection” is still as good a source as any for some of his non-giallo offerings. Here you get a good 1.85:1 transfer, enhanced for 16X9. Extras wise, you get a collectors’ booklet, the international and domestic trailers (the latter marginally more psychedelic), poster gallery and a featurette comprising the reminiscences of Martino and Geleng. I particularly welcomed the opportunity to enjoy a good nose around the latter’s apartment, which is crammed to bursting with interesting artefacts from various points in his illustrious career.

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Blood & Brown Fur… WEREWOLF IN A GIRLS’ DORMITORY Reviewed.

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BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

The question is not “Who is the murderer?”… but “Who is the werewolf?” (The challenge thrown down to viewers during the legendary “Werewolf break” in Paul Annett’s The Beast Must Die,  1974).

Before it found a particularly convivial setting in the early-mid ’70s thrillers of Sergio Martino, screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi’s obsession with the Whodunnit plotting of Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques (1955) was expressed via some unlikely outlets, none more unlikely than Lycanthropus, directed by Paolo (The Day The Sky Exploded) Heusch (as “Richard Benson”) in 1961.

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Despite a dodgy discharge from his previous employers, Doctor Julian Olcott (Carl Schell) takes up a new position at a reform school for bad girls, supposedly located somewhere in England (though the locations are conspicuously Italian). Fortuitously (for the real culprit) his arrival coincides with a spate of slayings in which various residents and staff members are messily bumped off, for which Dr Jules naturally becomes the prime suspect, ahead even of philandering pedagogue and blackmail victim Sir Alfred Whiteman (Maurice Marsac) and general dogsbody Walter (“Allan Collins” / Luciano Pigozzi, whose resemblance to Peter Lorre always puts him in the frame). Striking up an alliance (not to mention a romantic entanglement) with boot camp babe Priscilla (Barabara Lass, who was nearing the end of her marriage to Roman Polanski during the making of this picture), the doc sets about the task of unearthing the actual killer’s identity (and their shaggy dog back story, into the bargain…)

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While the transformation scenes are handled with simple efficiency, they’re not the main point of interest here. Lycanthropus is clearly cut from the same cloth in which the incipient giallo genre was being fashioned. The milieu of intriguing young minxes and their corrupt custodians in a claustrophobic setting rings a bell or two with Mario Bava’s seminal 1964 effort Blood And Black Lace (and is it just me, or does Barbara Lass bear an incidental resemblance to Leticia Roman from Bava’s earlier The Girl Who Knew Too Much?)

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Antonio Margheriti’s The Miniskirt Murders (1968) also rehashes several elements from Heusch’s films, not least the presence of “Collins” / Pigozzi and Lycanthropus’s giallo legacy stretches far further than that… tracking shots of night time chases through the woods and compositions of female victims reclining in stretches of water had me wondering if this is one of the films screened by Argento before he got cracking on Phenomena (1985).

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Renato Del Frate’s crisp b/w cinematography is well served throughout in this new 2k scan from archival elements. Special features include an interview with the great Gastaldi, a David Del Valle-moderated commentary track from Curt Lowens (who plays Director Swift in the movie), trailers, and the alternative US titles… commercially inspired by any amount of contemporary werewolf flicks, Lycanthropus went out as Werewolf In A Girls’ Dormitory States-side, with a terrible tacked-on opening song (“The Ghoul In School”) that is clearly attempting to invoke the spirit of AIP’s I Was A Teenage Werewolf (1957). My early bird copy contained a mini-repro of the original promotional photo-comic and a bonus CD of Armando Trovajoli’s OST. Nice!

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A Warning To The Pure Of Heart… AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON On Arrow BD.

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BD. Arrow. Region B. 18.

Just a couple of weeks or so into 2020 and I’m happy as a pig in shit (Mrs F just suggested that I also look and smell rather like one… thanks, I love you too Darling!) Following hot on the heels of the beautiful new Shameless edition of Fulci’s The Beyond, Arrow’s 4K restoration of An American Werewolf In London (1981) revives further vivid memories of a time, something like 40 years ago, when life wasn’t running too smoothly for Yours Truly but, guided by Starburst magazine (the fantasy film fanatic’s bible in those days) I was able to take regular solace down at our local fleapit, catching the original theatrical runs of such classics as The Evil Dead, The Thing, Tenebrae, Phantasm, Blade Runner and Paul Schrader’s Cat People remake, not to mention any amount of seminal slasher flicks, an unstoppable flood of ferocious Fulci fare and… last but by no means least… the item under consideration here.

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John Landis was on a proper roll at this point (for a while there, my interest in his work rivalled my obsession with Dario Argento’s), AAWIL coming after Kentucky Fried Movie (1977), Animal House (1978) and The Blues Brothers (1980). Having attained pre-eminence as a director of Comedies, Landis now leavened the mix by indulging his fondness for the Horror genre, with such impressive results that countless subsequent British films (American Werewolf is sort of a British film… the final beneficiary of the Eady Levy, no less) have mixed the two genres… to generally woeful effect (though every so often there’s a welcome exception to the rule). Despite Horror and Comedy being proverbially two sides of the same coin, spinning them into a coherent movie is no mean feat. Landis not only managed the right blend of scary and funny, he also balanced elements of eroticism and yep, romance plus high octane action set pieces to supremely satisfying effect. Brilliant stuff…

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… and yet, in the absence of a review copy, I’ve been studiously avoiding Arrow’s recent Blu-ray edition, following my adverse reactions to previous Universal DVD and Blu-ray releases of this film. For all the past promotional puff of Universal’s contemporary featurettes (included among the plentiful extras here), how could they possibly think they were doing justice to one of my cherished movie memories with those grainy travesties? And was there any realistic hope of the Arrow job looking any better? Doesn’t 4K just automatically exacerbate any such pixillated imperfections? (City Of The Living Dead, I’m looking at you!) Well, Santa having slipped a copy into my stocking while I wasn’t looking (what, you think I’ve got nothing better to do all day than sit around looking at stockings? Depends who’s wearing them…) its gratifying to be able to report that this new restoration from the original camera negative, supervised by Landis himself, finally looks and sounds (in blood-curdling 5.1) every bit as splendid as it always should have. To think I hesitated… (what a schmuck!)

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Here’s why Griffin Dunne didn’t get the red puffa jacket…

2fed2fa912e1355ab1ccf4b7be5802cc.jpgMuch of the cocky genius of Rick Baker’s masterful FX work (so good they invented an Oscar for him to win and never bettered… many have tried, but only Baker’s protege Rob Bottin came remotely close) was that it stood up to brightly lit scrutiny and now you can watch it unfold under optimal conditions in the comfort of your own lair… ditto the sublime spectacle of Jenny Agutter, at her career loveliest, as the nurse (Alex Price) for whom doomed protagonist David Kessler (David Naughton) takes an understandable turn.

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From a sexy nurse in American Werewolf to a nun in Call The Midwife… pah!

… and of course there’s a woodshedload of extras for you to wallow in, some of them familiar from previous editions. David Naughton and Griffin Dunne’s audio commentary is a treasure trove of amusing anecdotes and reminiscences while Paul Davis, who authored the comprehensive guide Beware The Moon takes an appropriately “soup to nuts” approach. Davis beats Naughton and Dunne hands down for Landis impersonations and also contributes the feature length doc version of his book. Further documentaries, cast and crew interviews and featurettes (several of them dating back to the film’s release) reinforce each other in a compelling narrative of AAWIL’s Universal antecedents, its genesis in Landis’s encounter of supernatural beliefs while working as a runner on Kelly’s Heroes (1970) in Yugoslavia, his struggle to get it green lit, the simultaneous, synergetic emergence of The Howling by Joe Dante (one of the many luminaries interviewed here), its brilliant realisation, cult kudos / critical mauling and subsequent rehabilitation.

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It would have been nice to see wider acknowledgment of cinematic lycanthropy outside of the mainstream tradition (e.g. the Iberian exploits of Mr Naschy, above) though of course the werewolf is the only member of  the classic Monster pantheon whose rulebook is copped neither from some literary source (like Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy et al) nor, contrary to popular belief, from ethnic folklore, rather from an earlier (Universal) film, George Waggner’s The Wolf Man (1941), whose Jewish writer Curt Siodmak fled Nazi Germany and had harrowing personal experience of reasonable looking people transforming into wild beasts overnight.

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In the video essay I Think He’s a Jew: The Werewolf’s Secret, Jon Spira labours a point that even the dimmest viewer must surely have got after the “nightmare within a nightmare” home invasion sequence, if not long before, i.e. that this film is an allegory of precarious Jewish consciousness in the second half of the 20th Century. Indeed it is, but Spira lays it on a bit too thick when he interprets Anne-Marie Davies’s line “I think he’s a Jew” as signifying her character’s barely concealed anti-semitism. By Spiro’s contention, Agutter’s Alex should have responded: “Why does it matter?”, but in the context of the nurses’ attempts to establish the origins of the mysterious patient, it’s by no means an inadmissible observation. And if Nurse Gallagher does have an ulterior motivation, is it really beyond the realms of possibility, in a film directed by the man previously responsible for Animal House, that it was the lascivious one to sneak a peek at a fit young guy’s dick? I would also suggest that if somebody as obviously smart as Landis wanted to personify privileged WASP bigotry, he’d have chosen a more appropriate avatar for it than a red haired nurse named Gallagher! Familiar with the expression “No Dogs, No Blacks, No Irish”, Jon?

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There’s  much discussion of the pre-CGI miracles wrought by Baker, of course (with fascinating “making of” and unused footage, plus SFX artist Dan Martin and Tim Lawes of The Prop Store drooling over precious props and costumes from the film. Out takes include the amusing (unfortunately soundless) encounter between Landis and the See You Next Wednesday cast (Linzi Drew and co). You get the original (and now somewhat cack handed looking) theatrical trailer plus teaser and TV spots, also a gallery of over 200 images and the option to display this one on your shelf sporting either original or new Graham Humphreys art work.

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It was great to see our old mucker Pete Atkins waxing eloquent about werewolf lore in one of the docs (I quoted one of his best lines earlier, for those of you paying attention), whereas David Naughton seems to have undergone an even scarier transformation that the one suffered by his character in the film, now bearing an uncomfortable resemblance to David Cameron! In a sadly ironic sidebar, during one of the contemporary promotional featurettes, while talking about running the three ring Piccadilly Circus climax to the film, Landis comments that “no movie is worth hurting somebody for”. Now there’s a line that would come back to haunt him.

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“Chainsaws In Outer Space… Why Not?” The NORMAN J. WARREN Interview.

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Although I’ve enjoyed his company on several subsequent occasions, my interrogation of Norman J. Warren took place at and around the second Black Sunday film festival in Ashton-under-Lyne in February 1990, when the Freudstein interviewing technique was even less polished than it is now. The complete (ish) transcript appeared in A Major Horror Magazine but another rag commissioned me to adapt our conversation into the following profile, which they never actually used or paid me for… which was nice of them. Nearly (ouch!) 30 years later, their loss is hopefully your gain, dear readers. Beyond Terror and Norman’s Fiend Without A Face reboot remain tantalisingly unrealised projects but maybe one day? Like chainsaws in outer space, why the hell not?

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In the mid-60s, the young Norman J. Warren had begun his career assisting Anatole and Dimitri De Grunewald on the likes of Rod The Mod, a documentary look at the trendy life and times of the equally youthful Mr Stewart. “Like a lot of other people in their late teens / early twenties, I was desperate to direct, and couldn’t understand why the establishment wouldn’t give me the chance to do so”, Norman laughs: “It’s only later on when you realise why they didn’t! So out of sheer frustration I made a short film called Fragment in 1965. I’d already made other amateur efforts, but I decided to do Fragment properly, on 35mm and so on and I managed to talk several independent cinemas into screening it. It was just pure luck that one of those cinema managers, Bachoo Sen and a guy called Richard Shulman had just gone into film production. They’d decided to start with sex films because it was an obvious way to make a quick buck and because it was low budget. They were new to production, they wanted a director who was not too experienced, thus couldn’t give them a hard time, and of course somebody who was enthusiastic enough to do it for very little money. They gave me a call, made me an offer and I said yes immediately, without knowing what it was!” (Laughs)

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What it was, was Her Private Hell… “a black and white film made in 1967, and I dread to think what it would look like now. The whole thing was so naive, but I was grateful for the chance to actually direct a feature film and make all the mistakes that you inevitably do, which is how you learn your trade. The second one, Loving Feeling (1968) – which is about a disc jockey who destroys his marriage because he takes advantage of all these girls who are throwing themselves at him – looks a lot more polished, though I was still making mistakes in that one”.

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One of the biggest mistakes Norman made was not scrutinising the small print closely enough. “Bachoo never spent an awful lot of money on his productions, but he spent a hell of a lot on his contracts! Eventually I tried to challenge him for money, after working seven days a week, virtually 24 hours a day for two years on two films… I did the story for Loving Feeling, edited Her Private Hell, did all the sound… and I hadn’t been paid anything, apart from the odd fiver here or there for something to eat. Whenever I said I needed some money to get a taxi home, he’d would drive me home in his own car – I never seemed to get any cash! When it came to the crunch, a solicitor told me the contracts had been so beautifully written, that I really had no claim on anything! We ended up reaching a settlement, and it worked out that I’d been working for £20 a week, which – depending on what your job was – mightn’t have been bad money for that time, but if you think what I’d been doing, the responsibility and the hours I was working… also, how much money Bachoo made on these pictures! Her Private Hell, for instance, cost something like £18,000 to make and in one cinema alone in the Charring Cross Road, where it played for 14 months, it was taking £5,000 a week! Then of course it went around the entire country, and was sold to foreign territories. I dread to think how much it must have made, the profit must have been absolutely enormous, but I didn’t see any of it. Bachoo later relocated to The States and called me asking if I wanted to direct this terrible picture, Nightmare Weekend, for him. I didn’t take him up on his offer, even though I really wanted to get back into directing, and having seen the finished result, I think I made the right decision! Once again, it was a sex film disguised as a horror movie. Of course in a way I’m terribly grateful to him because he gave me the chance to direct my first feature film, to get through that enormous barrier you have to surmount to be accepted as someone who can actually direct a feature-length film… but I don’t want to go through all that again! I learned my lesson the hard way”.

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Loving Feeling was the debut movie for Euro-sex bomb Francoise Pascal, who claimed in the documentary version of David McGillivray’s book Doing Rude Things that she needed twenty brandies before she could bring herself to take her clothes off… a version of events that Norman disputes: “She was very young, and she wasn’t shy at all. She didn’t have a very big part, but she was a very attractive girl in those days. I wasn’t aware of any brandies or embarrassment…. in fact the problem, as I recall it, was trying to get Francoise to keep her clothes on!”Another of Norman’s leading ladies displayed no such willingness to drop her drawers in the cause of Art: “Georgina Ward was a very grand lady, actually, came from a very wealthy background. I don’t know what happened to her. She was in another sex film made by the producer Hazel Adair, who used to write that soap opera Crossroads. She was very coy, didn’t want to do any nudity, so we brought in a body double for the sex films. David McGillivray mentions something like this in his book, though he might have been referring to Lucia Modugno, the Italian actress in Her Private Hell. We received some very beautiful photos of her aged about 17, but they turned out to be very old photos, because when we met her at the airport, I actually thought she’d brought her mother with her! I was very sorry for Lucia, because once we started filming she realised she was to old for the part, and didn’t really have the figure… of course she was surrounded by all these young girls. It was very sad”.

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“After a while, you run out of things to do with a bed…”

“David was right when he said that sex films weren’t a genre I enjoyed working in, though this wasn’t out of any sense of prudery. I actually found the genre very restricting… the story lines just revolved around people taking their clothes off and going to bed, and after a while you run out of things to do with a bed, you know, camera angles and so on. A lot of people got labelled and never did anything else, and when the British sex films came to an end, they just faded out with them! So after the second one, although I was offered the chance of doing The Wife Swappers, which was eventually done by Derek Ford, I refused, and more or less put myself out of work, as far as directing was concerned, for several years, until the opportunity to direct Satan’s Slave came along. After that one I knew that this was what I really wanted to do, which was nothing to do with money, just because it was a much more satisfying experience all round”.

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“I think some of the younger fans are not only amazed that there was a British industry in those days, but that these sort of films, with such graphic content, were being made here… reflects Norman: “Those who’ve managed to see an un-cut foreign print of Satan’s Slave, for instance, are quite shocked that a movie like that could have been made in this country and that it could have been seen commercially in cinemas… they all were, that’s something I’m very proud of, that they were all shown theatrically”.

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After the disappointment of The Naked Eye (a project on which Norman was to have directed Cushing and Price for AIP) falling through, Satan’s Slave (1976) was conceived in a rush of frustrated enthusiasm and tackled by all concerned in a spirit of D.I.Y. gusto. In it, aristocratic Michael Gough presides over a cult dedicated to the revival of an ancestral witch via human sacrifice, a batty plot culminating in one of those trusty “So, it was all a dream… hang on, no it wasn’t!” moments. Terror (1978) commences in similar fashion before the witch-hunting action is revealed to be a film-within-a-film but (you guessed) the cast and crew are soon being bumped off in gruesome fashion. With Norman and writer David McGillivray (who’d already written several of Pete Walker’s “terror pictures”) both under the recent spell of Argento’s Suspiria, Terror places even less emphasis on narrative cohesion than its predecessor, concentrating instead on a succession of spectacular designer deaths.

terror-1978-film-04553e9b-38be-4b3d-add3-97849bd1d85-resize-750.jpg“David was very good indeed to work with”, remembers Norman: “because he never got offended when I wanted to make changes. A lot of writers feel that their work is set in marble and they don’t want any changes, but David (laughs)… maybe he’s just been very lenient with me, but he’s never had any complaints when I’ve thrown out lines or changed scenes around completely. David appears in Satan’s Slave and he has a smaller role in Terror, he’s the TV reporter in that one. I know those films contain some violent scenes and they get a bit gory at times, but there’s no viciousness about them. My sole intention was to entertain, and to me they’re sort of light-hearted films, in a way…”Something of that playful spirit is captured in the title of All You Need Is Blood, the “making of…” documentary, which David Wyatt shot on the set of Satan’s Slave. “It was shot in the hope that the BBC would broadcast it as a programme about the making of his low budget film, but all they did was take out shots from it’s opening, in which Michael Gough is conducting a black mass, and use it in a religious programme about the growing menace of Satanism – as though it was the real thing!” Ain’t it reassuring to know that your license money gets spent so responsibly?

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Always the first to acknowledge his films’ weaknesses, Norman states that with the plots of these gory little epics “we fell into the trap of making things incredibly complicated, which gave us problems half-way through when we realised it was so complex that it was actually quite difficult to work out what was going on”. This is one reason why Beyond Terror, one of the projects Norman is working hard to develop (along with properties entitled Darkland and Skinner), is an expansion of his 1978 smash-hit.

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I remind him (as if he needed any reminding) that Terror was the top-grossing film in Britain on its release in 1978: “Yes it was! This tiny film, which cost scarcely more than £80,000, was Number One for a week, and when it opened all over America, in towns like Chicago and Oklahoma, it actually broke box office records! In Chicago it packed them in all the cinemas for a week!”

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In between Satan’s Slave and Terror, Norman took a stab at science fiction with Prey 77 (featuring the ever saucy Glory Annen, above), a virtual three-hander in which a lesbian couple’s rural idyll is rudely interrupted by the arrival of an enigmatic stranger who turns out to be the vanguard of an alien invasion force. When I suggested that the film had been influenced by Jose Ramon Larraz’s Vampyres (1974), which shares its country setting, small cast and indeed one of its actresses, Sally Faulkner, Warren demurred: “No, I haven’t seen the Larraz film unfortunately, in fact I don’t think I was influenced by anything for Prey, outside of its tiny budget… plus I had literally three weeks preparation, including writing the script. In some ways the small scale of everything was actually a positive thing, because despite the brief schedule I was able to spend time with all the principle actors, building the characters and so on, and I think you can see that in the finished film. Sally is particularly good, the way you suddenly start realising, she’s the crazy one!”

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Norman’s career continued in a sci-fi vein (featuring additional Glory Annen) with 1979’s Outer Touch: “That one was quite successful in America, where it played as Spaced Out, but it didn’t do very well in Britain. Basically, it’s a science-fiction comedy, and making it taught me just how difficult comedy is – the most difficult, I think, of all the genres. It’s totally about getting the timing right”. Norman’s next picture, Inseminoid (1981), was straight SF with no comic trimmings. 20th Century Fox certainly weren’t laughing when they got the idea that it was an attempt to cash in on Alien. “Nick Maley and his wife Gloria came up with the idea for Inseminoid as a showcase for his special effects expertise, which really is quite amazing. This was before they or anyone else had seen the Ridley Scott film and we were genuinely very surprised, when we saw Alien, that there was this similarity to the script we were about to shoot. Anyway, Fox wrote to us, not quite demanding – but ‘requesting’ – to see Inseminoid when it was finished, so we let them screen it and they themselves decided that it wasn’t a rip-off. They sent us a very nice letter, which the producer Richard Gordon has still got, in which they said they were happy for us to go ahead, wished us luck and said they thought our film was very good, considering its budget. Indeed, in a way it’s rather flattering when these comparisons are made between Alien and Inseminoid, because they had a budget of $20-30 million and we made ours for $2 million. This was possible because we shot it in Chiselhurst Caves in Surrey rather than on a set, which was cold, damp and claustrophobic, but gave us stuff that we could never have afforded to build”.

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Norman also recalls the extent to which this picture benefited from the trojan efforts of his players, particularly two well-known actresses: “Stephanie Beacham was a joy to work with, and Judy Geeson (above) was an absolute dream – she was just so enthusiastic, involved in the whole production. I don’t think she had more than two or three days off in the entire schedule and even on those days she insisted on turning up, simply because she didn’t want to miss anything that was happening. I caught up with Judy recently in Hollywood, and happily she’s now over some of the personal problems she’s been suffering… she told me it’s amazing how many people she meets bring up the subject of Inseminoid, even today”.

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Several contemporary and subsequent reviews of Inseminoid questioned why there was a need for quite so many chainsaws in pursuance of interplanetary exploration, to which Norman smilingly responds: “Why wouldn’t there be?” There’s really no answer to that, so I changed the subject to the film’s VHS re-release by the revived Vipco label, which was hyped along the ridiculous lines of being “The greatest ever bunk-up in outer space” (or some such nonsense) shortly before the company went belly-side up again in the wake of such disastrous releases as The Nostril Picker. “It wasn’t just that they were putting out rubbish, they was putting out too much, too soon”, opines Norman: “You only had to do a few sums to see that it was quite crazy, because putting out a video is not that cheap, and there weren’t enough people buying those things to offset that sort of cost. It’s very disappointing when these things blow up, but when it does happen, it’s usually their own fault. Richard Gordon is now desperately trying to find out where the master has gone…” (we heard that Vipco mastered some of their stuff from VHS!) “… and who is making money on the copies that are still floating around”.

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As for the promised “bunk-up” that never actually transpires… “That’s down to the way some people misunderstood the insemination sequence, where there’s a sort of plastic tube that’s going into Judy, and people got the mistaken impression that it’s the alien’s penis but we never intended that, because if he’s an alien, why would he have a penis that’s compatible with a human being?” “Or made out of plastic?” I add, helpfully. “Yes, that was supposed to be some kind of artificial insemination equipment, and we shot that sequence very impressionistically, to be like a dream, because I know that if we had shot it straight, it would have played like a rape scene and been cut out. So it has this sort of abstract quality to it that the censors didn’t mind”.

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In the mid-80s Norman found himself making a brace of pictures for producer Maxine Julian, whose penny pinching ways made for a couple of dispiriting experiences: “We had to fight to stop Bloody New Year (below) going out as ‘Time Warp Terror’, not that this improved the film very much! It was a terrible disappointment to me – there were just so many problems with the production, and Maxine didn’t even like horror films, she was only interested in saving money and making it in as short a space of time as possible. It was a wasted opportunity, because the script was pretty good”.

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The other fruit of Norman’s Maxine Julian period, that classic of camp espionage cinema Gunpowder, used to turns up regularly on UK TV in the early hours of the morning. “That’s exactly where it belongs!”, he laughs: “Maxine had made some strange arrangement by which we were shooting in Macclesfield, not an easy place to do things, and she was only casting people who lived within driving distance of Macclesfield (because she wouldn’t pay for hotels) and yet didn’t have a Cheshire accent. For some reason she had us shooting in November / December, so doing scenes on the river with a boat and a helicopter, the biggest problem was to stop the actors going completely blue, you know? All the time, the budget was shrinking before our very eyes. She was sending back important props that we hadn’t finished with, then she went and bought stock footage, so there’s a wonderful scene in where you get this giant army helicopter landing and all these men pouring out of it, then cut back to our footage and there five men coming through the trees… if you look carefully at the battle scene, you’ll find that the same people are on both sides! There was one scene, I’m not joking, where she wanted to indicate a submarine by having somebody walk around in this pond, holding a bit of drainpipe above the surface, looking like a periscope! I said we’ll never get away with this, I point-blank refused to shoot it!” (Laughs)

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“Those two knocked my enthusiasm a bit” admits Norman: “I enjoy working in the low budget field, but even I have my limits. The one lesson I did learn is that you’ve got to have a producer who loves what you’re doing as much as you do, who’s not just an accountant. I decided that I’m never going to work like that again – even if it put me out of directing again for a long time, I just couldn’t stand to do another Gunpowder or Bloody New Year”.

fiend_without_face_poster_02.jpgKeeping himself going with commercials, rock videos and educational films for the BBC (precisely none of which concerned the menace of Satanism!), Norman has been preparing his long-mooted remake of / sequel to seminal 50’s alien invasion stop-motion fest Fiend Without A Face: “It’s now in what will hopefully be the final re-write stage, just a matter of tidying up and working on the characters, taking on some comments that Richard Gordon has been making and hopefully when that’s concluded, within the next month or so, we’ll be ready to take it to the next stage. The alarming thing is what a painfully slow process it is. When I sat down and realised how long I’d been tinkering around with Fiend, it scared the life out of me, but then the likes of Shallow Grave, Jacob’s Ladder and even Forest Gump were knocking around for years as scripts before they were finally shot. Funnily enough, Bob Keen’s movie Proteus is now going through, and Bob just reminded me that he was originally contacted about that movie when I was supposed to be directing it. I’d forgotten because it was called Shaper or something in those days. We couldn’t get it off the ground then because the shape-shifting effects proved too alarming, cost-wise, for possible backers”.

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Undeterred, Norman won’t be sparing the special effects in his new version of Fiends: “It’ll employ a combination of stop-motion, animation, some computerised effects and, on top of that, probably some straight forward old-fashioned physical effects, where it’s all done right there in front of the camera. The monster brains will be recognisably like the old ones, but we’re writing them to be much more nasty, they’re really vicious little things this time out. They’ll also be much harder to kill… remember in the first film, they were stopped by blowing up a nuclear power station? That shows you how naive people were, back in the ‘50s!”

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Meanwhile, the quest to secure financing continues: “When I was trying to set up Beyond Terror I encountered a lot of resistance to the idea of making a genre film. The moment you mention horror or science fiction you could almost feel this barrier coming down, they really didn’t want to be associated with it. Undoubtedly, recent increases in censorship have contributed to this attitude, but I find it such a perverse one because horror has always been the most successful genre, it’s just gone on for ever. If you talk to any video distributor or supplier, and people who have film libraries, they say the most profitable things for them are the horror pictures – they never seem to date. People will rent a horror picture when it’s donkey’s years old, whereas they won’t necessarily be doing that with one of the current big releases in ten years, or even a couple of years time. This a genre that I enjoy very much and, although I’m always looking for opportunities in The States, I’d really prefer, if possible, to do it in Britain, because everyone acknowledges that we’re capable of producing very high quality work over here. Despite everything, the horror film hasn’t gone under. It keeps fighting back… I think it’s going to be with us forever!”

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Norman, photo-bombed by fanboy git. Yesterday.

 

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The Shadow Over Doug McClure… HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP Reviewed.

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Monster: Humanoids From The Deep (1980). Directed by Barbara Peeters (and Jimmy T. Murakami, uncredited). Produced by Roger Corman (uncredited), Hunt Lowry and Martin B. Cohen. Written by Martin B. Cohen, Frank Arnold and William Martin. Cinematography by Daniel Lacambre. Edited by Mark Goldblatt. Art direction by Michael Erler. Music by James Horner. Creature FX by Rob Bottin. Special FX by Roger George and (uncredited) Chris Walas. Stunts by Diamond Farnsworth and Jack Tyree. Starring: Doug McClure, Ann Turkel, Vic Morrow, Cindy Weintraub, Anthony Pena, Denise Galik, Lynn Theel.

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“We’re having a great time down here… we’re waving to people… we’re playing records… we’re doing a whole lot of things!” Mad Man Mike Michaels paints an irresistible radio picture of the annual Noyo Salmon Festival.

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Jim Hill (Doug McClure… you might remember him from constant lampooning in The Simpsons) and beautiful scientist Susan Drake (Ann Turkel… you might remember her as the trophy wife of Richard Harris) team up to investigate weird goings on in the fishing town of Noyo. A sinister salmon canning corporation is setting up its new factory upstream, which Hank Slattery (Vic Morrow), his redneck cronies and the townsfolk in general regard as booster for the local economy, though Native American “Johnny Eagle” (Anthony Pena) has eco-conscious-cum-spiritual legal objections to the misappropriation of his people’s ancestral lands. A certain amount of low level racist aggro plays out in this poor man’s Henrik Ibsen scenario before we crack on with what everybody’s actually come to see… i.e. oversexed mutant salmon-men, spawned by sinister corporate attempts to increase fishing yields, chasing large-breasted, bikini-clad lovelies around the cove and impregnating them. “It’s my theory that these creatures are driven to mate with humans, to accelerate their already incredible evolution” speculates Turkel. Who could forget (or indeed forgive?) the scene in which a ventriloquist’s dummy talks a buxotic beach babe out of her bikini, only for a humanoid to invade their tent and violate her?

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All hell breaks loose when the Humanoids run amok at Noyo’s annual Salmon Festival, molesting women (and dismembering people of whatever gender) to the running commentary of the exceptionally irritating Mad Man Mike Michaels, a DJ who’s clearly learned his trade from the guy heard over the climax of Zombie Flesh Eaters). Created by Rob Bottin (he’s actually in there under one of his suits), they look fucking great, with long arms that they wave around like Andrew Marr and (unlike Marr) prominent brains that are bashed in by handy-dandy planks, marlin spikes and what have you when the crowd turns on them and drives them into the bay, which Jim Hill (not, under any circumstances, to be confused with Jimmy Hill) ignites.

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There’s a touchy feely reconciliation between Johnny Eagle and his erstwhile persecutors. “Everything’s alright now, Sheriff… isn’t it?” asks a character who’s clearly never seen a New World release or any kind of monster movie before, cueing the sucker punch coda in which Turkel supervises the rather messy birth of a humanoid / bikini-clad lovely hybrid, incorporating the ten seconds of alien copying that was obviously all Roger Corman was prepared to fund… ooh, that’s gotta hurt!

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Like a dumbed-down Creature From The Black Lagoon / sexed-up Horror Of Party Beach, Monster rattles through its economical 80 minutes ticking all the exploitive boxes to pleasing effect. I first encountered it on a theatrical double bill with Fred Walton’s When A Stranger Calls (1979) and it’s been a firm personal favourite ever since, just crying out for rediscovery by a wider audience (Arrow, are you listening?) Nothing is as powerful as a trash movie whose time has come… not only was M:HFTD parading its eco-consciousness and championing civil / indigenous rights nearly 40 years before David Attenborough started counting all the plastic bags floating around the North Pole, the story behind its production also chimes spookily with today’s feminist movement… but not in a good way. Not if you believe the official account, anyway…

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The widely accepted version is that Roger Corman promised Barbara Peeters that she could direct a right on eco-thriller then undermined her by cutting in gratuitous tit’n’ass shenanigans filmed by Jimmy T. Murakami on obviously inferior film stock. Doncha just hate that kind of patriarchal bullshit? But wait just a cotten-pickin’ minute… the “starry eyed neophyte shafted by chauvinist movie mogul” line must have generated some useful hype for the publicity campaign, but how does it square with the known facts? For an alleged sexist, Corman has relied heavily on the collaboration of his wife Julie over the years and has never shown any reluctance to foster female talent (who’s that “Gale Hurd” lurking among the production assistant credits on Monster?) What’s more Peeters had already directed the exploitive Bury Me An Angel (1971) and the sexploitive Summer School Teachers (1974) for Corman, not to mention co-writing and co-directing the dykesploiation epic The Dark Side Of Tomorrow (1970) for Harry H. Novak (never exactly regarded as among the most woke of producers).

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As for Murakami, he subsequently directed (among many others) the film adaptation of Raymond Briggs’ anti-nuke parable When The Wind Blows (1986) and video promos for Kate Bush and David Bowie, so for all we know, he was responsible for the eco-conscious stuff and Peeters handled the boob’n’bum aspect. Whatever, her career wasn’t exactly sabotaged by the Corman connection, any more than those of Joe Dante or Jonathan Demme (who earned their spurs shooting bits and pieces for insertion into Corman features) or Gale Anne Hurd were. Although she never attained the same heights as some of those guys, Peeters carved out a respectable career for herself directing episodes of such TV shows as Cagney and Lacey, Falcon Crest and Remington Steele.

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Two final thoughts… 1) Jeff Yonis’s 1996 TV movie remake of M:HFTD (despite perpetuating the original’s big boob fixation with the casting of Emma Samms) is a travesty which you can safely avoid. 2) The film under consideration here should also be avoided by anyone who’s about to give birth. In fact anyone who might ever conceivably find themselves in that position should give it a very wide, er, berth indeed…

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Meanwhile, on a Ghanaian poster for a completely different film…

 

 

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My Brain Hurts… Siberian Khatru On Board Eugenio Martin’s HORROR EXPRESS.

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BD. Arrow. Region B. 15.

If you’ll indulge me in a spot of nostalgia (and why wouldn’t you?), Eugenio Martin’s Horror Express (Pánico En El Transiberiano, 1972) was – along with the likes of Witchfinder General, Tales From The Crypt, et al – a regular fixture on the Friday late night horror slot with which Granada TV used to enliven my humdrum adolescence. In those days of course (sit up and pay attention, Junior, this is for your own good!) we didn’t yet have the benefit of VCRs and given that the gaps between transmissions of certain films might be as long as two years, it was a catastrophe of global proportions if you succumbed to sleep half way through this or some or other horror gem, usually waking up during the credits with a stiff neck and another significant wait in prospect.

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Flash forward past the VHS era and into incipient middle age, at the dawn of DVD, where Horror Express became one of the most widely released titles on the nascent format, mostly in scuzzy looking and not necessarily authorised editions on fly-by-night labels, apparently because of a misconception that it had entered the public domain. Indeed, if memory serves me well, this is the first title I ever saw on DVD, round at David Flint’s place. Image Entertainment’s managed a decent R1 version that has been deleted for some time now and was followed  by a R2 incarnation from Cinema Club’s Horror Classics imprint, very welcome despite its absence of extras, full screen presentation and rather tired, solarised-looking print, which seemed identical to the one that subsequently got screened by the BBC. In 2011 Severin managed a predictably pristine BD / DVD combo edition chock full of impressive extras that you’re going to get another chance to catch on the new Arrow release under consideration here.

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Born in 1925 and now (if indeed he’s still alive) long retired, Eugenio Martin was an able journeyman director of adventure yarns until the success of Sergio Leone’s Dollars Trilogy (shot in Spain) initiated a vogue for Paella Westerns in which he enthusiastically participated with the likes of El Precio De Un Hombre (aka Bounty Killer, 1966) , Requiem Para El Gringo aka Duel In The Eclipse (1968) and as late as 1971 with El Hombre De Rio Malo (“Bad Man’s River” aka Hunt The Man down)

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By this point Martin had already started dabbling in the horror genre, his 1969 offering Una Vela Para El Diablo (“A Candle For The Devil”) showing a preoccupation with hidebound social concealing psychotic deviance that would be amplified in later efforts up to and including the early ’80s brace Sobrenatural and Aquella Casa En Las Afueras (“That House On The Outskirts”). The latter turns on a memorable, Sheila Keith type turn from the venerable Alida Valli and features abortion as a plot point in a way that would have been impossible scant years earlier, under Franco’s regime.

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There’s a similar faith vs secularism motif in the Spanish / British co-production Horror Express (1972), easily the best of Martin’s fear flicks… how could it fail to be, combining as it does a truly stellar cast (including Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in their strongest non-Hammer outing) with some totally wacked out plotting. Said action commences with Sir Alexander Saxton (your basic Professor Challenger type, as essayed by Lee) unearthing some kind of deep frozen yeti in scenic Szechuan (in fact all the impressive locations in this picture are actually Spanish) at the turn of the Century. Later he runs into old scientific adversary Dr Wells (Cushing) at Shanghai railway station, as both are about to board the Transiberian Express. The prickly professional rivalry between these two leads to Wells bribing a porter to take a peek at the contents of Saxon’s crate. Oh, mister Porter… what he finds is a thawed out troglodyte whose glowing red medusa stare leads to prolific bleeding from the victims’ own eyes (which rapidly cloud over with cataracts), followed in pretty short order by death. Cushing’s autopsy (pretty graphic stuff for its day) reveals that the victim’s brain is smooth as a baby’s bum, every wrinkle (and piece of information that is potentially useful to a space Yeti) sucked right out of it.

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Having bailed out of his crate, Trog now mooches around the train, disturbing the genteel travellers with further eye-bleeding, brain-sucking antics. His victims’ ordeals, effectively conveyed via dissolves and quick cuts, still pack a horrific punch and really shook me up as a kid. I’m convinced that they also made a big impression on Lucio Fulci who, it became apparent to me after meeting and interviewing him, was a bit of a Spanish horror buff. The mistreatment to which various characters’ eyes are subjected in Fulci’s 1980 schlock opera City Of The Living Dead are unmistakably reminiscent of these scenes, ditto the ping-pong eyeballs which pop up at the conclusion of his masterpiece The Beyond (1981).

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Back on that train, as if all of the above weren’t entertaining enough, Martin chucks in Eurobabe Helga Line as the beautiful Polish Countess Natasha and her Rasputin-like personal chaplain Father Pujardov, played by Alberto de Mendoza in a performance possibly patterned on that of Patrick Troughton as Lee’s sidekick Klove in Roy Ward Baker’s Scars Of Dracula (1970). The Argentinean Mendoza was a busy actor (right up  till his death in 2011) whose notable Eurotrash credits include Bitto Albertini’s Nairobi-based giallo oddity L’Uomo Piu Velenoso Del Cobra (“Human Cobras”, 1971), Sergio Martino’s The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh (1970) and Case Of The Scorpion’s Tale (1971) plus the Fulci brace One On Top Of Another / Perversion Story (1969) and Lizard In A Woman’s Skin (1971.)

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His mad monk maintains that the Troglodyte is Satan incarnate (”There’s the stink of Hell on this train… even [Line’s] dog knows it”) and Saxton’s attempts at rational explanations (“Hypnosis! Yoga!”) are somewhat less than compelling. When the train’s resident detective manages to shoot Trog, Mills performs an autopsy that presents some startling results. This missing link’s retina has retained images of dinosaurs and even a view of The Earth seen from Outer Space (Martino taking his cue here from a pinch of the pseudo-science that informed Dario Argento’s Four Flies On Grey Velvet, made the previous year). The conclusion is that the evil entity comprises pure energy that must inhabit a host body to make its way around terra firma. The train dick’s hairy hand (hope I got that the right way round) indicates that he is the new host, and a fresh cycle of brain sucking and The Thing-type paranoia kicks in when he sets out to absorb the engineering expertise that will allow the construction of a spaceship with which to check off of planet Earth. Ultimately Pujardov volunteers to host the Elemental and, as if the passengers hadn’t already suffered more than their fair share of commuting misery, he now raises the bodies of all the previous hosts and victims as a horde of marauding zombies!

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By this point the express has been boarded by a macho bunch of cossacks, under the command of Captain Kazan, played by Telly Savalas. Ah yes, Telly Savalas… never the subtlest of actors, the future Kojak star raises the bar here for all subsequent outbreaks of scenery-chewing thespianism… but how else was he going to steal the show from the legendary Lee / Cushing axis? Obviously labouring under the delusion that he’s performing in a Spag Western (an impression enhanced by frequent, tuneless whistling on the soundtrack) Savalas swaggers around gargling with vodka, smashing glasses, ranting xenophobic invective and delivering such impenetrable aphorism as: “A horse has four legs, a murderer has two arms and The Devil must be afraid of one honest Cossack.” “What’s he raving about?” demands Mills, reasonably enough, only to be punched out by Kazan of this trouble. “Everybody’s under arrest!” howls the Captain before handing out a few lumps to Saxton, a propos of nothing in particular and horse whipping Pujardov into the bargain… Oh, those Russians! Savalas’ overripe performance had such an impact on my impressionable mind that I long misremembered him as dominating the entire picture, and it came as quite a shock on my first adult rewatching of Horror Express to realise that this character doesn’t make his entry until well into the film’s final third.

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Thankfully, Saxton and Mills manage to de-couple the zombie-infested carriages and send them down the line that sends them careering over a cliff. Great miniature work throughout, but which bright engineering spark decided to lay down a line that would send trains careering over a cliff? Even Southern Rail commuters expect better than this… and speaking of stiff upper lips, Cushing gets to utter the best line in the film –  “Monsters? We’re British, you know!”, one that still resonates loudly in the wake of Brexit…

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Bonus materials include an interview with director Martin in which he reveals that the film’s motivating “high concept” was producer Philip Yordan’s desire to get his money’s worth out of the train that he had purchased for Pancho Villa, in which Martin had already directed Savalas earlier in 1972. He also describes how Lee coaxed the recently widowed and deeply depressed Cushing back into a working mood. In the featurette Notes From The Blacklist producer Bernard Gordon talks about his run-in with everybody’s favourite Commie-baiter, Senator Joe McCarthy. Telly And Me comprises an interview with composer John Cacavas, who acknowledges how his scoring career flourished under the patronage of Savalas. There’s an enthusiastic intro piece from erstwhile Fango editor Chris Alexander and of course you get a trailer.

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All of these were on Severin’s BD, which also included an audio interview with Peter Cushing that you could listen to while watching the film. Arrow replace that with a useful Kim Newman / Stephen Jones commentary track. The main feature here looks marginally grainier but more a tad more nuanced, colour wise, than the now out of print Sev disc, for which this disc constitutes the perfect replacement.

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Creatures From The Cack Lagoon… THE HORROR OF PARTY BEACH Reviewed

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Who ate all the hot dogs?

BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

“…and you’ll never hear surf music again!”  – James Marshall Hendrix.

Somebody… I don’t quite recall who it was… maybe Celine (one of those light-hearted guys, anyway)… once said that “if you want to see people at their most desperate, watch them while they are enjoying themselves”… something along those lines, anyway. Bear these sage words in mind as you watch the bikini babes and gym bunnies busting their best beach party moves to the melodious tones of The Del-Aires in “The First Horror-Monster Musical”, The Horror Of Party Beach.

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“Everybody do The Zombie Stomp… You bring your foot down with an awful bomp!”(Beginning to get the picture?)

This, er, distinctive creature feature, directed by Del Tenney (aka “Connecticut’s own Ed Wood”)  first entered my consciousness as one of The Fifty Worst Movies Of All Time, so designated by Harry Medved in his influential 1978 book of that title. I’m grateful to Severin for the arrival (with an awful bomp) of this fine BD edition and the opportunity to finally see for myself if THOPB lives up / down to Medved’s estimation.

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Hunky Hank Green (John Scott) is certainly having a hard time enjoying himself at The Del-Aires’ beach gig. His wildcat girlfriend Tina (Marilyn Clarke, the Ruby Wax lookalike pictured above) taunts him about his dweebish devotion to Science and when a bunch of bikers turns up she starts flirting outrageously with them, leading to a rumble that’s almost as badly choreographed as the dance routines (incidentally, Tenney appeared as an extra in Laslo Benedek’s seminal The Wild One, 1953). Serves Tina right when she’s the first to get mutilated and murdered by one of the mutant fishmen spawned after the casual dumping of radioactive waste into Stamford’s bay.

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The situation escalates rapidly as two fish men gatecrash a rather tame sorority sleepover party (folk songs, hair combing, pillow fights) and kill twenty girls (the bloody aftermath of this attack, routinely cut from TV broadcasts and many VHS releases, has been restored here in all its gory glory by Severin). It’s readily apparent that the budget only stretched to two fishmen costumes but some nifty split screen work increases their ranks to six at certain salient moments. During the “climactic” confrontation, various extras with sacks over their heads provide unconvincing fishman backup, with Tenney obviously figuring that you won’t notice this if he cuts quickly enough. Suffice to say, he doesn’t cut quickly enough.

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But we’re getting ahead of ourselves… Hanks finds a new love interest in the more deserving, shapely shape of Elaine (Alice Lyon), daughter of Dr Gavin (Allan Laurel). This guy’s got all manner of preposterous theories about how the fishmen were spawned and what to do about them. Personally (call me a stickler), I can’t give much credence to any scientist incapable of pronouncing the word “protein” correctly, but Dr G has definitely hit on something when he speculates that the Party Beach horrors might react adversely to sodium (bit like throwing salt on the slugs in your back garden… one of Mrs F’s favourite activities, by the way). You might well think that the required element would be shipped in, lickety split, by the military but no… Hank has to jump into his sports car, drive over to NYC and jolly well buy some sodium (?!?) After a few bags of that have been chucked around the monsters disintegrate into fizzing piles of goo and the world is saved forever from the perils of irresponsible nuclear technology. If only…

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Extras (aside from the inevitable trailer) include an archival interview with the late Del Tenney, an agreeable bloke who expresses himself satisfied with what he’d achieved in life. His widow Margot Hartman appears in Dan Weaver’s retrospective documentary Return to Party Beach. Surviving Del-Aires Bobby Osborne and Ronnie Linares (who’ve got a great future as teen idols behind them) reminisce, knock out a few numbers and test the water re a possible comeback. In the featurette Shock & Roll, film maker Tim Sullivan agues that “horror movies are to movies what rock’n’roll is to music” and based upon this persuasive proposition, mounts an entertaining survey of Rock & Roll Horror Movies.

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As ever, Severin have come up with an appropriate assortment of marketing knick-knacks and indeed gee-gaws to accompany this release and if you’re planning on hosting your own Beach Party this Christmas, check out their Bundle of Party Beach, which includes an Inflatable Beach Ball and an Enamel Pin with which to burst it. Personally, this dancin’ fool could do with one of those dance step diagrams to work on my Zombie Stomp but hey, you can’t have everything…

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I Really Hate Your Tiger Feet… BLACKENSTEIN Reviewed

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BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

“To Stop This Mutha Takes One Bad Brutha!”

One of the standby narrative tropes of Blacksploitation (see also Fred Williamson‘s Mean Johnny Barrows, 1975) is the black Vietnam Vet who gets welcomed back States-side with a big “fuck you very much!”, invariably fouling foul of gangs and / or The Man while trying to piece his life together. Eddie Turner (Joe De Sue) has it worse than most. Losing all his limbs to one of Charlie’s land mines, he’s now trapped in a crappy Veterans’ hospital where one of the male nurses (John Dennis) taunts and mistreats him. On the plus side, his loyal and foxy fiancée, Doctor Winifred Walker (one shot film actress Ivory Stone) works for Doctor Stein (TV’s former Lone Ranger, John Hart) who’s just won a Nobel Prize for “solving the DNA code” (methinks he’d totally clean up if they ever held a Dick Van Dyke lookalike competition, too) and he agrees to take Eddie on for experimental treatment in his plush LA mansion, which boasts a basement lab fitted out with props from James Whale’s original Frankenstein (1931)… more Van Der Graaf Generator than in Fabio Frizzi’s record collection!

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Before he gets carried away with optimism, though, Eddie might care to consider the, er,  mixed results of the Doc’s treatments so far. There’s a 90-year-old woman who now looks several decades younger than she should but will crumble like Christopher Lee at the first rays of dawn if she doesn’t top up her injections every twelve hours… and what about Bruno, who due to “unresolved RNA issues” seems to have grown a tiger leg? Nevertheless, Eddie’s limb transplants seem to be going well until Dr Stein’s assistant Malcomb (Roosevelt Jackson)… yes, Malcomb (why didn’t they just call him Ygor and get it over with?) makes a move on Dr Winifred and is firmly rebuffed. Figuring that she’ll fall into his arms if Eddie’s don’t take, Malcomb switches his all-important DNA injections with Bruno’s (I particularly cherish the scene where Winifred sniffs the bottles of DNA suspiciously, suggesting that each batch bears its own distinctive bouquet…)

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You’re probably suspecting that Eddie grows a tiger leg like Bruno’s but no, nothing so ridiculous… instead, he develops a bad case of acromegaly and (his head swelling into a reasonable approximation of Jack Pierce’s iconic make up job on Boris Karloff) becomes… Blackenstein! He also sets off out on a bloody kill spree. Now, I can understand the poetic justice of pulling his former nurse’s arm off (above) but after that our boy seems to pick his victims (whom he mostly disembowels) pretty much at random. He does display a certain penchant for “courting couples”, among whom we find the legendary Liz Renay, though my favourite victim is Beverley Haggerty as one half of “couple in car”.

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She abandons said car after a particularly lame make out attempt by her date, to wit:

Him: “You’ve got beautiful hair!”

Her: “I know I’ve got beautiful hair!”

Him: “Are you proud of it?”

(Taking notes there, boys?)

Blackenstein returns to the hospital to find Malcomb forcing himself on Winifred and soon makes him wish he hadn’t. As Dr Stein’s lab goes up in flames, Blackenstein can’t bring himself to kill Winifred and the Dobermanns of the LA County Canine Corps roll up to pull him limb-from-recently acquired-limb for an abrupt and anti-climactic ending, though trash movie fans will surely have enjoyed their fill by this point.

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On this disc Severin serve up both the 78 minute theatrical release and the extended video version which clocks in at 87, with the extra footage scattered throughout it clearly having been sourced from lower grade elements. Narratively, it might well have made more sense for cinema distributors looking to fit this one more comfortably into a double bill to have just excised the padding of the nightclub scene, though admittedly Cardella Di Milo (geddit?) sings pretty well and MC Andy C tells a couple of good jokes. One of the most keenly felt omissions in the theatrical cut is that of John Dennis’s apologia for his rotten behaviour, in which he deplores “the Patriotism scam”.

Although Blackenstein was directed by William “The Happy Hooker Goes To Washington” Levey, the bonus materials concentrate, understandably, on the eccentric life and violent, unsolved death of its flamboyant, polymath writer / producer Frank R. Saletri. His sister, June Kirk, gives a touching interview to David Gregory and we also get the reminiscences of Saletri collaborators Ken Osborne And Robert Dix. An audio interview with creature designer Bill Munns and theatrical trailer round things off nicely.

Another corking release,  Severin dudes… are you proud of it?

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