Posts Tagged With: Serial Killers

Lift To The Scaffold… HITCH HIKE TO HELL Reviewed.

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BD. Arrow. Region B. 18.

Once again, Arrow take us on a thumb-tripping detour down the dangerous backroads of indie American scuzz Cinema with a cautionary tale torn from contemporary (*) headlines which moralises mealey-mouthedly while wasting no opportunity to cash in on the dishonourable ’70s tradition of serial killing.
(* Nobody seems too confident about pinning a date on this one).

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Howard (Robert Gribbin) is a total schmendrick who lives with his Mom and works as a dry cleaning delivery man. The edgiest thing he ever seems to do is drinking root beer (have any of our readers ever actually tried that stuff? Yeuch!) while working on his hobby, putting together model cars. Nobody knows about his other hobby, though… raping and strangling hitch hiking runaways. It’s strongly suggested in John Buckley’s screenplay that Howie himself is not too aware of this regrettable sideline, going into some kind of spazzed-out fugue state as soon as his victims start expressing dissatisfaction with their home life or dissing their own Moms (contented homebodies just get a free ride to wherever they’re going). Apparently Howie’s domineering mother was upset when his sister Judy hitch hiked out of their lives. “I’m going to do Mama a favour, you tramp” he rails as he rapes the hapless hikers and throttles them with wire coat hangers: “You ran away from Mama… I’m going to do something to you, Judy… punish you for all you did to Mama” he continues, over their limp protests that they’re not bloody Judy! One victim was even amenable (to the sex, if not the strangling) on the time honoured principle of “a ride for a ride” (despite observing, harshly but fairly, that Howie’s “no Burt Reynolds”). The little trollop had it coming, just like Mom says.

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Whaddya mean, I put too much starch in it?!?

Bit careless though, to use the coat hangers with which his delivery van is littered…. that’s the bright red “Baldwin Cleaners” van, which must be so inconspicuous when picking up the girls. Careless also of Howie to leave his milk bottle glasses at one of the crime scenes. Then again, he doesn’t even know he’s doing this, does he? And anyway, the investigating officer Captain Shaw (Russell Johnson… yes, “The Professor” from Gilligan’s Island) is completely clueless, so Howie’s reign of terror continues. He extends his murderous attentions to a young guy who’s left home due to his parents’ disapproval of his sexual preferences and a cute little girl (though it’s not made clear whether either of those are sexually assaulted) before finally winding up confined to a booby hatch (looks like the good folks of Crescent City will to find somebody else to clean their baldwins). “Spazzed-out fugue state”, my ass… somebody strap this guy into the nearest electric chair!

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The final shots of Howie wearing a strait jacket in a rubber room, babbling about his Mom, are obviously intended to underscore the purported Norman Bates parallels, as is so often the case in these things, though Robert Gribbin’s Howard reminded me of nobody so much as Dan Grimaldi’s disco-dancing pyromaniac  in Joseph Ellison’s Don’t Go In The House (1979). While we’re admonishing people not to do stuff, Gribbin’s other notable credit (under the highly apposite nom de screen “Crackers Phinn”) was Gar aka Mark, the time travelling cannibal caveman in Lawrence D. Foldes’ truly jaw dropping “video nasty” Don’t Go Near The Park (1979). No doubt if HHTH had been released on VHS back in the day, it would have joined that one on the DPP’s proscribed list. Whatever, it was picked up for US distribution by Harry Novak, so you should know pretty much  what to expect…

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The main feature and its trailer are presented in two optional screen ratios (1.33 and 1.78). Extras wise, Stephen Thrower does a characteristically engaging job profiling the prolific, promiscuous career of director Irvin Berwick, whose stint with Sci-fi legend Jack Arnold inspired one of the most memorable Creature From The Black Lagoon knock-offs, his The Monster Of Piedras Blancas in 1959. Alexandra Heller-Nicholas narrates a new visual essay on the darker aspects of hitch-hiking culture on the screen and in real life.

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This never happened to Jack Kerouac…

Country singer Nancy Adams talks about recording the title song for a film which is clearly not her cup of tea (“I don’t want that sort of thing in our house”) and we are treated to an incongruous mash-up of the picture’s opening visuals and the original version of that number, then entitled “Lovin’ On My Mind”. Adams gives one of the name droppiest interviews ever but, to be fair, she has had a long and interesting career.

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If you’ve got a BD capable PC or Mac you’ll be able to access the original press book and the reversible sleeve will feature original and newly commissioned artwork by those Twins of Evil guys. The first pressing only will contain a collector’s booklet featuring Heather Drain’s appraisal of this torrid trash effort. Enjoy.

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Sympathy For The Devil? 3 FROM HELL Reviewed.

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BD. Lionsgate Home Entertainment. Region B. 18.

The contemporary controversy (or at least one of the contemporary controversies) concerning Todd Phillips’ Joker rehashes a long running argument about genre films which allegedly invite the viewer to identify with a protagonist who’s a violent psychopath… remember how Meir Zarchi’s rape / revenge (with the emphasis very much on revenge) epic I Spit On Your Grave (1978) was castigated as a glorification of violence against women? One outraged pundit condemned Zarchi’s film as: “Impossible to defend”, further opining that: “The Vice Squad ought to watch every person who actually buys a copy of this tape”. Bonus points if you can identify that outraged pundit (answer below *) The best genre films have always been aware of the thin line between the critique and endorsement of the “killer as pop culture icon” phenomenon and any list of those which navigated that particular moral tightrope most nimbly would have to include the likes of John McNaughton’s Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer (1986) and Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers (1994), films to which the item under consideration here owes much.

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Completing a (so far) trilogy initiated by Rob Zombie’s House Of 1000 Corpses (2003) and continued in his The Devil’s Rejects (2005), 3 From Hell was supposed to reunite redneck maniacs Otis Driftwood (Bill Moseley) and Baby Firefly (Sheri Moon Zombie) with killer clown Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig). Unfortunately Haig’s rapidly declining health reduced his participation here to fleeting stock footage, which means one of the as yet unreleased productions which he completed before his death on 21/09/19 will have to stand as the capper to a truly amazing career.

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RZ quickly rewrote 3FH to include the Fireflys’ previously unseen half brother “Foxy” Coltrane (Richard Brake from Zombie’s 2016 effort 31… he also played Seneca in Bettany Hughes’s TV series 8 Days That Made Rome!), much as Moseley’s Chop-Top character was parachuted into Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 in 1986. Foxy arrives to rescue Otis from a chain gang, in the process slaughtering everyone else he encounters, including Mexican crime Lord Rondo (Danny Trejo). They then hold nasty warden Virgil Dallas Harper (Jeff Daniel Phillips)’s family and friends hostage until he collaborates in springing Baby from his penitentiary (and she’s A Wild One, alright).

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Here’s where the problems really start… the warden is a certified scum bag but several perfectly nice and as far as we know blameless characters are brutally done in for the viewer’s lip-smacking delectation. You could argue that the nudge nudge intercutting of these murders with Three Stooges footage constitutes an all-too on the nose declaration of cartoony intent (not too difficult to swallow when you’ve already accepted the introductory premise that Otis, Baby and Spaulding survived something like 100 hundred bullets apiece, administered to them at the conclusion of The Devil’s Rejects) but the fact that Mr Zombie went out of his way (as we learn from the feature length “making of” doc on this disc) to shoot stuff in the cell where Susan Atkins confessed her part in the Tate killings is really kinda questionable.

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After spending the first half of this picture’s near-two hour running time settling accounts with the forces of law and order, the gang decamp South of the border but their desire to lay low for a while and enjoy a bit of Roderiguezesque R’n’R is foiled by the appearance of Rondo’s vengeful son Aquarius (Emilio Rivera) and his luchadores masked minions, The Black Satans, cue predictable quasi Spagwest carnage a la Tarantino…

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There are things I actually rather liked about this movie. Sheri Moon Zombie impresses as a genuine screen presence rather than the trophy wife vanity casting you might have feared and Moseley continues to consolidate his status as a contemporary Horror icon. It’s always great to see Dee Wallace and nice to know that Clint “Coopershit” Howard is still working. Mr Zombie is good with action, less so with the dialogue / expositional stuff. That “making of” and the director’s commentary track eloquently testify to just how much love and hard work he put into pulling off what was clearly a mammoth undertaking. But if you’re gonna use Iron Butterfly’s In A Gadda Davida to compliment a climactic moment, you’re going to have to top what Michael Mann did with it in Manhunter (1986) and he doesn’t. Similarly, if you’re consciously invoking such august company as Hooper, Carpenter, Stone and even Sergio Leone, let alone Tarantino, you’re stepping into giant shoes and on the evidence of 3 From Hell, that still feels like a bit of a slippery fit for RZ.

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Ooh, thanks for all that (James Gang era) Tommy Bolin on the soundtrack.

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(*) It was John Waters.

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“Sweet Mother Of Mercy, Can’t You Smell That Stink?” Further Fragasso / Mattei Madness From Severin… NIGHT KILLER And ROBOWAR Reviewed

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Night Killer. BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

Robowar. BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

Does the image above suggest a Felliniesque cinematic sensibility? Perhaps there’s a touch of the Bergmanesque about it? Well, unlikely as it may seem, on one of the extras to Severin’s spanky new BD release of Night Killer (1990), writer / director “Clyde Anderson” / Claudio Fragasso states (with admirably straight face) that these were the rarified levels of cinematic attainment to which he was aspiring here. Unfortunately, when his partner in crud (OK, the guy’s dead, let’s be a bit respectful, now)… “his uncredited co-director” Bruno Mattei saw the rushes he declared Fragasso’s wannabe Arthouse classic a dud and (at the insistence of producer Franco Guadenzi) cut in interminable clumsy dance sequences and stuff involving a gonzoid killer in Freddy Krueger mask and kill glove (the latter wobbly prop looking like it would struggle to slice its way through warm butter) before releasing the whole resultant mess in Italy under a title and publicity campaign that suggested it was the second sequel to Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre (!?!) at exactly the same time as Jeff Burr’s Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III came out.

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Did Mattei’s revamp do the film any favours? Probably. After spending way too long pondering what Fragasso’s “psychological thriller” cut of the movie would have looked like, I’ve come to the conclusion that neither version was ever going to make a lick of sense, but that Mattei injected sufficient (additional) unintentional laughs into the proceedings to make it worth your while.

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In Virginia Beach, VA, some nut job is raping and killing his way through the local female population. Melanie Beck (Tara Buckman) is the only victim to have survived one of these assaults, only to find herself apparently falling into the clutches of the psycho all over again… but is her captor Axel (Peter Hooten) the same loony as the one with the Freddy mask? And if not, WTF is going on? And should you give a toss? Prepare yourself for one of the stupidest twists in stupid movie history, closely followed by one of the lamest “so, the nightmare is finally over… oh no it isn’t!” codas you’ve ever witnessed. No doubt about it, this is one of the dumbest movie I’ve ever sat still for. Hm, might watch it again tonight…

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In the ’70s and ’80s Tara Buckman compiled a pretty solid CV, appearing in many of the classic TV series of that era. She played in Kojak, The Rockford Files, Baretta, Hart To Hart, Barnaby Jones, CHiPs, T.J. Hooker, Buck Rogers In The 25th Century (on which, more below) and not one but two episodes of The Greatest TV Show Ever (and I’ll brook no argument on this score), Quincy ME (including 1979’s Never A Child, in which the irascible coroner battled child pornography, an episode informally banned from UK TV screenings until recently). In 1981 she rubbed shoulders with a shedload of Hollywood A-listers in Hal Needham’s The Cannonball Run. Three years later her career trajectory was describing a downward curve (or not, depending on your personal orientation re trash films) with an appearance in Charles E. Sellier Jr’s miserably tasteless Silent Night, Deadly Night. TB’s resume petered out in the early ’90s (partly, perhaps, for reasons hinted at in some of the bonus interviews on this disc) amid some of Joe D’Amato’s stodgier soft core efforts and the likes of Night Killer. To be fair, she puts in a half-decent performance here, with nary a hint that she considers herself above all the nonsense unfolding around her or of her apparent animosity towards her co-star… again there are hints at the (not entirely PC) grounds she might have had for this in the supplementary materials.

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If only the performance of Peter Hooten as Axel could be dignified with the accolade “half (or even quarter) decent”… having worked his way up through the same TV terrain as Buckman, Hooten made his first inroads into Italian cinema into Enzo Castellari’s Inglorious Bastards (yeah, the real one) in 1978, the same year as he filled the mystic threads of Dr. Strange to rather less elegant effect than Bendydick Cucumberpatch in a weedy TV adaptation of the Marvel character’s trans-dimensional exploits. In 1982 Hooten popped up in Joe D’Amato and Luigi Montefiori’s post-Apocalyptic romp 2020 Texas Gladiators and here he is in Night Killer, looking very much like a fish out of water… I mean, for an allegedly intense psycho, he doesn’t half mince around!

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Rossella Drudi, Fragasso’s other half and uncredited co-writer suggests, in one of the accompanying featurettes, that Night Killer is about how sexual assailants penetrate the minds of their victims as devastatingly as their bodies, which smacks of an after-the-fact attempt to claim Night Killer as some kind of influence on Dario Argento’s 1996 giallo The Stendhal Syndrome (itself a pretty awful film, albeit with many less excuses for being so). That’s as may be, but die-hard sleaze film fanatics will be way more interested in such scenes as the one where the masked dude’s in a heated clinch with a floozy, who observes “Ooh Grandma, what a big schlong you have!” and the big reveal of the psycho’s true identity, after which Buckman stabs him in the dick.

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“Ooh, Grandma…”

Additional bonus materials include a trailer and an interview with Fragasso which, like Drudi’s, looks like it was recorded in someone’s home recording studio. He remembers how their disagreement about the editing and promotion of Night Killer led to a temporary estrangement between him and his co-director, though happily they made it up and Claudio was eventually gracious enough to admit to Mattei that he’d been right. Hey Claudio, when it came to spaghetti exploitation, Bruno Mattei is always right!

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Bruno’s Robowar – Robot De Guerra (directed under his trusty “Vincent Dawn” alias in 1988) is an altogether different and ultimately more satisfying kettle of crud, in which a crap (sorry, crack) team of mercenaries / ‘Nam vets and the like are shipped off to a remote and war infested Filipino island to bring down Omega 1, a prototype battle droid that’s gone AWOL / rogue / native and all sorts of other bad places to which you wouldn’t reasonably want a homicidal cyborg to go.

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I love everything about the mercenaries / ‘Nam vets, starting with the fact that they call themselves “The Bad Ass Motherfuckers” (hilariously mistranslated on the English soundtrack as “Big Ass Motherfuckers). I love their ridiculous insistence (mandated by Mattei, apparently) on screaming like loons as they unload the inexhaustible magazines of their machine guns on platoons of acrobatic Filipino extras and stunt men (well, it worked OK for Stallone..) Then there’s their ridiculous designations: “Diddy or Diddy Bop”… “Papa Doc”… Sonny “Blood” Peel… “Quang (a carry over from the Vietnam campaign)”… and (as portrayed by Reb Brown) “Major Murphy Black, a multi-decorated field officer, better known as… Kill Zone”. It bothers me a little that Romano Puppo’s Corporal Corey doesn’t get a nick-name, so I’m gonna award him one myself, OK? From now on he’s “Big Apple”. It’s my blog and I’ll award nick names to fictitious characters  if I want to…

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Actually, despite Massimo Vanni’s Diddy Bop bearing a spooky resemblance to Chuck Norris, this is actually a pretty weedy-looking bunch of special forces operatives. Don’t worry unduly on their behalf though, because the cyborg assassin they’re up against is a particularly sad sack looking piece of robotic shit. His suit must have been pinched from some cut price fancy dress shop and as for his voice… registering in a range that makes Giovanni Frezza in House By The Cemetery sound like Barry White, it recalls nothing so much as that gobshite garbage pail Twiki from the aforementioned Buck Rogers In The 25th Century.

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The guys are further hamstrung by the unwanted presence of Mascher (Mel Davidson), a representative of some sinister corporation or other who, it turns out, designed Omega 1 (“… with my team of bionic experts”) and in an unexpected twist (unexpected by anybody who’s never seen Alien) is only on board the mission to check how his baby does against a crap (sorry againcrack) special forces unit. Rather more serious accusations than that are made against Davidson in some of the extras on this disc, but I’m not going to get into any of that stuff here. The boys also rescue an UN aid worker called Virgin (!), played by the likeable (she comes across very well in the extras, anyway) Catherine Hickland, who was in the process of becoming the former Mrs David Hasselhoff during the Robowar shoot. Spagsploitation stalwart “Alan Collins” (Luciano Pigozzi) is listed in the credits (and appears in some of the “making of” material) but any trace of him has been ruthlessly excised from the final release, as also happened on Mattei’s Zombi 3, Strike Commando 2, Cop Game (all 1988) and Born To Fight (1989)… I’d love to know what happened to occasion this obviously serious falling out.

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Bruno never seemed to tire of ripping off John McTiernan’s Predator (1987). In 2004’s Land Of Death, he combined its plot line with that of Cannibal Holocaust, to pants-pissingly hysterical effect. Robowar boasts the aforementioned Alien pinch and at its “climax”, when Murphy / “Killzone” discovers that the human remnants inside Omega 1’s helmet are those of an old ‘Nam buddy, it strays over into Robocop (also 1987) territory.

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Bruno, we miss you…

*SPOILER ALERTS* The scene in which Murphy jumps down a waterfall before Omega 1 self-destructs is ambitious and well realised but my favourite memories of the film remain the one in which everybody’s angsting about Sonny “Blood” Peel having his face ripped off by the cyborg, only for a reassuring glance at Sonny’s corpse to reveals that it’s right there, still plastered to the front of his head… not to mention the moving credits sequence, in which the actors’ names are attached to the wrong clips!

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Like Night Killer, Robowar has been remastered in a 4K scan from the original original negative. In the extras, Fragasso and Drudi have their say, the latter revealing just how much sexist shit creative women had to put up with in the world of exploitation all’Italiana.  There are further interviews with Massimo Vanni, John P. Dulaney (Papa Doc), Jim Gaines Jr. (Sonny “Blood” Peel) and Hickland, whose behind-the-scenes home movies we also get to see (and which confirm that Collins / Pigozzi was definitely in this movie at one point).  Fragasso doesn’t need much persuading to recount some of his favourite Al Festa anecdotes (anybody who doubts that audience and film makers came to blows at a Roman screening of Gipsy Angel (1990) obviously didn’t attend the world premiere of Al’s Fatal Frames at the 1996 Bradford Film Festival) and the first 3,000 units of this release come with a bonus CD of Festa’s Robowar soundtrack. I’m not sure if he’s responsible for the title theme, in which a squad of grunts seems to be chanting what sounds like “hot sluts!”, suggesting a different kind of movie altogether… whatever, great fun and another indispensible brace of Severin releases. What are you waiting for?

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“A World Unto Itself”: Al Pacino Is CRUISING For A Bruising In An Exemplary New Arrow Release…

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BD. Arrow. Region B. 18.

In 1979, radiographer Paul Bateson was arraigned for one of several killings that had recently disfigured New York’s underground gay scene. Bateson’s previous claim to fame / notoriety was performing the cringe-inducing cerebral angiography in William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973). The director visited him on Riker’s Island and by his (disputed) account, was both alarmed and fascinated when Bateson told him that he’d been offered a reduced sentence if he copped for other murders, to make NYPD’s clear up ratio look better. This, plus a Gerald Walker novel based on the killings, became the inspiration for Friedkin’s Cruising (1980)…

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Steve Burns (Al Pacino) is an ambitious young cop looking for a short cut to his detective’s badge. Because he shares many physical characteristics with several gay men who’ve already fallen foul of a serial killer, Capt. Edelson (Paul Sorvino) asks if he’s willing to pose as psycho bait. Burns readily assents but is warned that the milieu he’ll be moving into is “a world unto itself… heavy metal… S/M”. Reborn as “John Forbes”, Burns goes deep undercover in the meat packing district (ooh er, Missus!), frequenting such legendary establishments as The Ramrod and The Mine Shaft (Friedkin filmed in the actual venues, populated – with the understandable exception of the principal actors – by regular patrons) to bone up on his hankie etiquette and get closer (increasingly dangerously so) to the killer and / or killers. Unable to talk about his secret posting, Burns / Forbes realises that his relationship with girlfriend Nancy (the always adorable Karen Allen) is suffering and Nancy soon notices how he’s changing. Is he developing a taste for the gay life? Or something much darker?

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Even before shooting began, Cruising divided opinion in and beyond the gay community. The aforementioned heavy leather S/M crowd got right behind it but there was a strain of more mainstream homosexual opinion which held that a decade after the Stonewall riots, the director of such sensationalist fare as The Exorcist might be about to unpick the tentative social progress that had been and was being made. As Friedkin himself concedes, water sports, fist-fucking and serial killing might well not constitute the community’s “best foot forward” in this regard. Attempts were made to disrupt the films shooting (much of the dialogue exchanges had to be subsequently re-looped) and there were civil disturbances at early screenings. Cruising was and remains controversial stuff, with each revival / re-release serving as a weather vane for where we are now, attitude wise…

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Having said that, I must confess that this is the first time I’ve watched Cruising since its theatrical release in the UK. I remember that in 1980 I was fairly impressed by its gritty edginess (though of course its orgiastic tableaux now look pretty tame compared to, e.g. the opening / closing scenes of Gaspar Noé’s 2002 effort Irreversible) and found myself irresistibly drawn into its mystery, only to be frustrated by the film’s increasingly wayward narrative en route to a “WTF?” denouement, leaving the theatre with the impression that Friedkin had… er, blown an intriguing premise. In addition, of course, there was the lurking suspicion that Cruising was, yes indeedy, homophobic.

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39 years later, viewed through the prism of the cinematic obsessions I’ve accreted in the past four decades, my initial impression was how much influence Cruising (itself a vaguely gialloesque proposition) has exerted over another, perhaps even more notorious offering, Lucio Fulci’s The New York Ripper (1982), way over and above that of the other obvious precedent, Brian De Palma’s Dressed To Kill (1980). Of course Cruising wasn’t exactly fresh in my mind by the time I finally got to see Fulci’s much-banned giallo.

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Pacino’s attempts at dancing with amyl-fuelled gay abandon still look pretty risible (then again I think everybody – with the probable exception of Fred Astaire – looks pretty silly when they’re dancing)… and what exactly the fuck is it with the scenes in which a humungous black guy straight out of Tom Of Finland steps into interrogations, slaps suspects around then shimmies out the door?

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Friedkin makes fantastic use of Joe Spinell’s unforgettable physiognomy at various points and I’ve always cherished the entry that turns up in one suspect’s diary (“I feel my thoughts being born in my head. I can feel them taking shape. If only I could stop thinking. I can’t help but feel I’m on the verge of a discovery of some sort. Yesterday in the park, I saw an enormous dark shape. It seemed to hang suspended and dripping from the trees like a tar jelly. At its centre was a bright red glow”) because I love it when killers in these things have some kind of cracked mystical motivation. Still, not a patch on David Keith’s insane cosmological speculations in Donald Cammell’s White Of The Eye (1987, below).

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That demented diarist is only one of several candidates that Al’s got his eye on and I have to concede that I’m still as baffled as I was in 1980 regarding who exactly is killing whom… and why. Different suspects speak with the same creepy voice (and recite the same macabre nursery rhyme) as the hallucinated father of one of them. Is this a really lame attempt to forge some kind of link in the viewer’s mind between Cruising and Friedkin’s megahit The Exorcist (the director deploys subliminal footage to unsettling effect in both)? It doesn’t exactly help that a lot of the victims and possible killers look exactly like each other. Isn’t that what prejudiced people always say about minorities? Am I homophobic? Nah, just confused. I’ve spoken to gay friends and fellow pundits about Cruising and the general consensus seems to be that the film is problematic but probably not homophobic. But when Friedkin opines in one of the commentary tracks that “some of the cops were also degenerate”, you have to wonder.

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The impossibility of pinning down a single killer in Cruising leaves it open to the interpretation that even if you could put somebody away, there are always going to be more killings because “that’s what homsexuality is all about… deviance and premature death, innit?” Other possible interpretations emerge during the course of the supplementary materials on this disc. Apart from a trailer and two useful featurettes concentrating on the film’s genesis, production and controversial impact, you get a couple of commentary tracks. The archive one by Friedkin is a curiously unenlightening affair, for long stretches of which he merely describes what’s happening on screen. I really surprised myself by my positive response to the second, more recent track, in which BF’s comments are mediated by Mark Kermode…

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“Surprised myself” chiefly because I’ve never quite understood the esteem in which Kermode is rated as a critic. One of the biggest problems I have with him is his ongoing insistence that The Exorcist is, rather than some superior, turbo-charged variation on William Castle‘s formula of conveyor belt shocks, the best / most profound movie ever made. I mean… really, Mark? Come on…

DvW9_OMWwAAUoLa.jpg-large.jpegHere, however he relentlessly nags at Friedkin to explain himself and the unfolding explanation is one where the narrative dead ends down which this film cruises are more attributable to intent than ineptitude on the director’s part. By his contention, WF was loath to hand viewers an easy wrap-up (“like a hamburger in a paper bag”) for a complex situation. As he was articulating this position, it occurred to me that I’d been maintaining a double standard by kvetching about this aspect of Cruising while Antonioni’s Blow Up (1966) remains a fixture on my all time Top 10 (quite possibly Top 5) films list. Friedkin even offers a plausible (albeit still a tad far fetched) explanation of the black guy in the cowboy hat and jockstrap.

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The main feature has never looked or sounded better than here, in a 4K restoration / 5.1 sound reworking. I still entertain nagging doubts about it but after consuming this edition I appreciate Cruising a lot more and understand it maybe a little better. Isn’t that precisely what these collector’s editions are supposed to do for us?

It was particularly helpful, while marshalling my thoughts (such as they are) on this film, to chat with @jonnylarkin from those Screaming Queenz. Here’s their SQ podcast on Cruising. Enjoy.

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2 Ripping BD Yarns From Severin… Monty Berman’s JACK THE RIPPER and Ivan Nagy’s SKINNER, Reviewed.

SAUCY JACK, YOU’RE A NAUGHTY ONE…

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Jack The Ripper (1959). BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

For readers of a certain vintage, the name of producer Monty Berman will evoke such ’60s / early ’70s gimmicky TV action staples as The Saint, The Baron, The Champions, Randall And Hopkirk (Deceased) and the camp escapades of Jason King, both in and out of Department S. All of these seemed to boast iconic title sequences / music and as an added bonus, The Champions arrived just in time to stimulate our developing libidos with the spectacle of the icily beautiful Alexandra Bastedo, the erstwhile Bond girl who would subsequently appear in such Euro Horror epics as Vicente Aranda’s The Blood Spattered Bride.

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It’s my blog so we’re having a gratuitous pic of the glorious Alexandra Bastedo here, OK?

Less well documented (even within the recent slew of books about British Horror flicks) are Berman’s attempts (in cahoots with Robert S. Baker) to ride Hammer’s coat tails with the likes of Henry Cass’s Blood Of The Vampire (1958), John Gilling’s Burke and Hare biopic The Flesh And The Fiends (1960), The Hellfire Club (1961) and the item under consideration here, which (like The Hellfire Club) was directed as well as produced by Baker and Berman (the latter, interestingly enough, born in Whitechapel, a quarter of a Century after Saucy Jack littered its streets with his prostitute victims).

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In furtherance of those Hammeresque aspirations, Jimmy Sangster was poached to script the film and came up with a thoughtful effort taking in the iniquities of social deprivation, gender and disability discrimination, rough street justice, et al, while adroitly shifting suspicion between various characters. John Le Mesurier’s snotty surgeon is looking like the likeliest candidate until another posh doc is revealed, at the eleventh hour, to be the killer, motivated (in a persistent pet theory of Ripperologists) by his son’s death from syphilis, contracted from a Whitechapel working girl. Pursued by Inspector O’Neill (Eddie Byrne) and his men, “Jack” unwisely attempts to conceal himself in a hospital lift shaft and is promptly squashed to a pulp.

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Although an interesting historical footnote, Berman and Baker’s variation on the Ripper saga failed to elevate its makers, as intended, into the Premier League alongside Hammer. Crucially, that company’s lurid use of colour seems to have been completely lost on them. I suppose the b/w cinematography (which again, they divided between them) made it easier to convey a pea soupy East End on their threadbare studio sets, but this film is one of those which you suspect already looked dated when it came out. There is a sore thumb colour insert at the climax of the American release version (which also adds a portentous voice over intro and replaces Stanley Black’s score with one by Jimmy McHugh and Pete Rugolo, among other bits of fiddling) as JTR’s blood bubbles through the floorboards of the lift, this scene and several others excised from UK prints by the BBFC. Both versions are included here and you also get an audio commentary from Baker, Sangster and AD Peter Manley, moderated by Marcus Hearn, plus a selection of alternative “Continental takes”, shot for markets with a greater toleration of female nudity. On top of the expected poster and still gallery and (scuzzy looking) trailer, you get interviews with the ubiquitous Denis Meikle and Whitechapel murder tour guide Richard Jones, allowing you to evaluate their conflicting theories about who the Ripper or possibly even Rippers might or might not have been… an argument that isn’t going to be settled by this release or by anybody, any time soon.

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B&B possibly figured (wrongly) that despite the absence of colour, they could sell this one in The States on the strength of second string yankee hunk Lee Patterson in the role of holidaying New York cop Sam Lowry. Why, you may well ask, would a NYC cop want to spend his vacation helping out Scotland Yard? Well, as Lowry tells Inspector O’Neill: “We don’t have Rippers in New York!” Watch this space, pal… quack, quack, quack!

THE SHAPE OF WATER…

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Skinner (1993) BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

“He wants a vest with tits on it”.

My first encounter with Carl Daft and David Gregory was in 1991 (so obviously pre-Severin, pre-Blue Underground… this was even pre-Exploited) when I found myself sitting adjacent to them at a midnight movie preview screening of Silence Of The Lambs and we exchanged off the cuff critiques. Nearly thirty (yikes!) years later, Severin have released a film that could all too easily be dismissed as a poor man’s take on the Jonathan Demme hit, though as we’ll see, there’s a lot more to this story than meets the eye…

Dennis Skinner (the name a gag that might have been lost on non-British viewers, though presumably American audiences got the “Bob and Earl” reference), played by Ted Raimi, is a nerdishly likeable misfit who rents a room in what looks suspiciously like Norman Bates’ house (shades of Ed Gein, already). His landlady Kerry Tate (Ricki Lake) is having a hard time with her often absent husband Geoff (David Warshofsky) and romance begins to blossom between her and Dennis. He longs to show her his “real self”, but there’s a clue as to what exactly that might be in the mutilated shape of Heidi, a former flame who’s tracking him down with vengeance in mind…

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Suits you, Sir…

When he’s not romancing Kerry or working as a janitor, Dennis likes to kill prostitutes and skin them to construct lady suits for himself. Not the most endearing of hobbies but skilful scripting and direction from (respectively) Paul Hart-Wilden and Ivan Nagy (e.g. in the revelation of the childhood trauma that drove Dennis off the rails) keep us rooting for him and hoping that he can find redemption in the arms of Kerry… but Heidi has other plans for him…

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An obvious STV job, Skinner transcends its evident low-budget by dint of such deft touches as its ant-hero’s obsession with water and it’s ability to fill any vessel into which it is poured. The film’s casting could hardly have been bettered in this regard, with Lake having undergone a massive physical transformation in real life and Lords effecting a no less startling metamorphosis into the cinematic mainstream. Director Nagy was quite the Protean figure himself and it’s clear, from David Gregory’s fascinating bonus interview with him here and from other extras on this disc, that before his involvement in “other business” defined him forever in the public eye, Nagy was a film maker intent on making good films. With Skinner, he succeeded (even if that ambitiously quirky ending does come off as something of a misfire).

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Other bonus materials (apart from the obvious trailer) include interviews with Raimi, writer Paul Hart-Wilden and editor (actually the last in a long line of editors) Jeremy Kasten, plus the unexpurgated depiction of Skinner’s gruesome tailoring. All the surviving contributors agree that this would be far less problematic today than the ill-advised scene (Hart-Wilden insists that he didn’t write it) in which Skinner wraps himself in the skin of a black co-worker and goes into a cringe-inducing Amos’n’Andy routine. Hart-Wilden is wryly amusing on the troubled pre-production history of a film he was hawking around for several years before Silence Of The Lambs. Hammer rejected it on the grounds that it was too horrific (!), British Screen because he wasn’t Peter Greenaway. The success of Silence Of The Lambs finally got Skinner green lit in The States, only for it to be shelved when funds dried up. Nagy’s involvement in the Heidi Fleiss scandal having reignited interest in the property, Hart-Wilden and Kasten offer their respective insights on the struggle to get it finished and released. Skinner’s no Magnificent Ambersons but its behind-the-scenes saga is as compelling and salutary a tale as any of the perils and pitfalls that lurk behind Tinsel Town’s glittering facade.

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