Sunday, December 19, 2010

... 'Tis the Season

Christmas just seems to creep up on one closer and closer each year. I try to tune out most of the hype to keep something special about it to me; it works with varying degrees of success. Whether one believes it's the birthday of a deity or the usurpation of a pagan holiday tamed into a spiritual holiday, then warped into a celebration of the REAL God of Our Worship - namely Money and the Goods That It Buys - there is something special about the time of year... it's mainly up to YOU how special it is.

Thus endeth the sermon.

A Christmas miracle of sorts has occurred; namely regular employment - or at least the start of it. As usual, it's of low character and substance, but as long as I can fake it long enough, then things will be alright... right? It may put a crimp into the other activities I was doing, but it's not like those were making any money, eh? And money is indeed the lifeblood of most anything one wants to do these days. So, we'll see how it goes.

Another Christmas tradition - in Britain, anyway - is the telling of scary tales around the season. Just look at A CHRISTMAS CAROL... and it was a tradition in Britain in the 70's to broadcast such tales, usually adaptations of stories by M.R. James (look it up). A collection of those tales got passed around under the heading of A GHOST STORY FOR CHRISTMAS. DVDs of these shows appeared in the UK and though they're mostly out of print now, some enterprising souls put the collection out there, along with a couple of fairly recent attempts to revive the tradition, and the show that kicked it off, a late 60's adaptation of the James story, "Whistle and I'll Come To You."

Most of the shows are deliberately paced, and there's no gore to speak of. The emphasis is on atmosphere and a growing sense of unease. Those who like their horror to be slambang and bloody will be disappointed at the lack of body parts strewn about, along with boring things such as character interaction. But then, British horror has never been all about goosh and gore; it's more on how the Uncanny intrudes upon the Familiar, and turns understanding of one's world upside down...
Not a bad thing to be reminded of, in my view.  Putting the 'scare' in Christmas seems to be spreading - Santa in the European tradition, has long been a figure much more complex than the jolly fat man pushing consumerism in America, and two new films from Europe, RARE EXPORTS and SINT (Saint) are ready to ride that wave... it's only a matter of time before Krampus gets his own horror film.

They're certainly better than END OF THE LINE, a film that I heard a little about a few years ago, then it dropped from sight, until finding it recently.

It's not a bad film... in fact, its central premise is a pretty good one. However, for me, it's somewhat too fatally flawed to give it a total pass, and you can probably spot those in the trailer (which really gives too much away about the picture).  It could lose its first 25 minutes or so with no detrimental effect to the picture... some of that is unnecessary shock/jump effects and background that really doesn't add anything pertinent, except stripping any ambiguity away...

And even though your effects guys are pretty good - know when too much is TOO MUCH.

It sounds like I'm down on this film... I'm more irked that with so much it had going for it, it got hobbled by some bad decisions. It is worth looking for, though.

Way better was the local library getting in its copy of AMERICA LOST AND FOUND: THE BBS STORY, which in its DVD incarnation is in several discs, which the library decided to carve up and circulate as separate packages. THE KING OF MARVIN GARDENS was saved for me, along with the one I really wanted - HEAD!

In Widescreen, with commentary from all The Monkees, and with some very tasty extras, including a recent interview with Rafelson, an overview of BBS, some trailers including one I hadn't seen before, and a good photo gallery.

God Bless Us... Everyone!

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

PUNK SIDE STORY - When Broadway and Punk Rock had a one night stand...

Schlong, an East Bay Punk band, had a reputation for twisted covers... such as their TUMOURS ep, a cover of Fleetwood Mac's RUMOURS album. But their crowning achievement was PUNK SIDE STORY, a complete re-do of the WEST SIDE STORY album, with drunken punks taking the place of rival gangs.
You can read about the story of its making here - and judge for yourself by the following samples.

jet song




gee officer krupke

I feel pretty


Thursday, November 11, 2010

"When Dino die, everybody cry," - R.I.P. Dino De Laurentiis

Dino De Laurentiis is dead, alas. Yes, the name has a certain infamy among cineastes - but let's be honest here - yes, he produced a lot of crap, but most of it was highly entertaining crap. He also produced a lot of good films, and helped a lot of directors get a leg up - David Lynch, David Cronenberg, Michael Cimino, Richard Fleischer, amongst a very long list.

And most of those films are die-hard favorites of most audiences out there.

The Bible

Danger Diabolik



3 Days of the Condor



Buffalo Bill and the Indians

The White Buffalo

Conan The Barbarian

The Dead Zone


Maximum Overdrive

Blue Velvet

Flash Gordon

We will never see his like again in this world - and woe is us.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween with The Club Foot Orchestra

Excerpts from silent film horror classics, that could be grouped in the Horror genre, scored by Club Foot (composer Richard Mariott and company).

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari


The Hands of Orlac

Pandora's Box

If you're lucky enough to be in the Bay Area on November 14, Club Foot returns to SF for a live performance at the Castro Theater.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

October is the best time of year...

I'm definitely a Fall-type of person - good things tend to happen for me in the Fall, as everything prepares to die for the Winter...

Final shooting on Patrick Rea's NAILBITER wrapped up... they're looking at a premiere date sometime in Spring 2011, so if the Film Distribution Gods smile upon them, it could be out in general circulation sometime in 2012... BUNKER HILL is still looking for a distributor, so the only way to see it for now is to check your local film festival. AU PAIR, KS is finished, so I'm told, and will hopefully be at a festival near you sometime next year.

October also brings about the yearly Halloween movie themed links.

THE KIND OF FACE YOU HATE is doing its annual Shocktober blogging of horror literature, "The Kind of Face You SLASH!", and you can check out the entire series going back to 2008.

Stacie Ponder over at FINAL GIRL, is doing her Shocktober film listings;

and at A THRILLER A DAY, they're checking out the recently released tv series THRILLER - and getting to the horror episodes just in time for the holiday.

As for myself; refer to last year's posting and the post on the obscure CHILD'S PLAY down further on the page.

This year, I plan to keep to 'obscure horror', starting with television shows... I'll get to a few movies soon enough in the next week.

First on that list of obscurities is the anthology show DARKROOM, from the early 1980's, which featured James Coburn as the host.

It only lasted some six weeks; not really enough time to gather a general audience, but just enough for the few episodes that aired to stick in the heads of those who watched them. It chose from a decent pool of stories by writers like Robert Bloch, Fredric Brown, Cornell Woolrich, William F. Nolan and Robert McCammon, though the execution was somewhat spotty. It was only available on torrent, with dubious image quality, though that could change - the entire series was released on R4 dvd in Australia, so it's entirely possible an R1 release will happen soon - or at least better quality torrents will soon be popping up.

More obscure than that is the little seen QUINN MARTIN'S TALES OF THE UNEXEPECTED from 1977, broadcast on NBC. Really, the only memorable thing from this is the funky opening theme by David Shire:

No episodes of this available on the 'Net, which may not be a bad thing... As anyone who's seen the movie THE MEPHISTO WALTZ can tell you, 'horror' and 'Quinn Martin' are two terms that don't go well together - the most memorable episode was basically THE INVADERS done in the space of an hour instead of two seasons. Although "Force of Evil" looks like cheesy fun - in retrospect.

Since I mentioned cheesy horror, I went to see BLACK SWAN at the Kansas International Film Festival tonight, a late birthday present from a couple of friends. I'm a bit lukewarm on Darren Aaronovsky - I like PI and REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, didn't like THE FOUNTAIN and haven't seen THE WRESTLER as of yet.

Can't really say that I liked BLACK SWAN, even though there's a lot that I should... unfortunately, for me, the parts don't add up to a satisfying whole. It definitely AIN'T your mother's THE RED SHOES, with its deliberate unromantic and realistic look at the world of ballet dancing... well, realistic in terms of the environment and feel.

It's sort of a combination of THE RED SHOES with REPULSION - Natalie Portman is a dancer who's chosen to headline the lead role of the Swan Queen in a production of SWAN LAKE. Natalie isn't quite so tightly wrapped herself - she's stifled by her mother (Barbara Hershey), who simultaneously spurs and hinders her; and another dancer (Mila Kunis) may be attempting to take over her role.

It aspires to be a modern version of THE RED SHOES, yet its soul is more attuned to the type of movie that you'd watch on Skinemax at 2am. Granted, THE RED SHOES might be even more appreciated if it had lesbian oral sex, gratuitous CGI effects, and really obvious symbolism...

Bottom line, there's nothing here that I haven't seen before, and in much better films - I just named them! It's visually great to look at, and Barbara Hershey will probably get an Oscar nomination, but I was doing the faceplant several times during the last third of the film.

Watching THE RED SHOES, I felt I'd watched something tragic, but was exhilarated by its love of Art. The takeaway from BS (note the initials) is pretty much, Dancers Are Even More Fucked Up Than Actresses...

Maybe they're right, but still.... 

And I can't imagine anyone wanting to even consider being a dancer after watching this.

Monday, September 06, 2010


You have now had the privilege of experiencing AFTER LAST SEASON minus 98% tedium.
If you're still intrigued and somewhat masochistic, you can plunk down $20 and buy the dvd from the filmmakers on Amazon - but in good conscience, I can't recommend wasting your hard earned cash. The more adventurous can find a torrent that includes a comedy commentary track - I also don't recommend or even like comedy tracks, but in this case the obnoxiousness of the comedy is matched perfectly with the ineptitude of craft it's commenting on.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Recent viewing

Some quick words about stuff that I've seen or currently watching - but first, news about a new Criterion Collection boxset coming out near year's end: AMERICA LOST AND FOUND: THE BBS STORY.
BBS Productions being the company of Bob Rafelson, Bert Schneider and Steve Blauner, and their films are classics of the late 60's-early 70's -- films like FIVE EASY PIECES, THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, EASY RIDER, DRIVE HE SAID (Jack Nicholson's directorial debut), A SAFE PLACE, THE KING OF MARVIN GARDENS...

and the artistic pinnacle of The Monkees and Monkeemania, HEAD!

Hopefully, I'll take a crack at this sometime down the road...

With a title like CLEOPATRA JONES AND THE CASINO OF GOLD, you're sure to be guaranteed some sort of fantastic action... you'd think. Unfortunately, for me, that title turns out to be the best thing about this movie, disappointing because it was something I'd been hunting down for years.  I have the original CLEOPATRA JONES in my collection - CCCG isn't available in the U.S., and having watched it, I think I can understand why.

Despite a bunch of great elements that should guarantee cinematic nirvana, CCCG comes off as a lesser version of ENTER THE DRAGON...

The story has Cleopatra (Tamara Dobson, reprising her role), on the hunt for two other missing Federal agents in Hong Kong, who've been taken prisoner by the Dragon Queen (Stella Stevens), who is making her move to control the entire drug trade.
Aided by private detective Tanny (Ni Tien), Cleo kicks asses and a path to the titular Casino of Gold, which the Dragon Queen controls, and many asses are kicked, henchmen killed and a Final Showdown eventually settles all scores.

THAT sounds like an exciting movie!! And yes, those things DO happen -- but I fell asleep watching this. TWICE.

Wha happen?  Well, there is action aplenty, but aside from some car chases and some indoor motorcycle action, the fights are very uninvolving, which is surprising considering the director is former stuntman Chuck Bail (THE GUMBALL RALLY). Well, maybe not so surprising -- shooting kung-fu is way different than staging car crashes... the script isn't really very good, but you can say the same thing of ENTER THE DRAGON... there's something else that was a distracting element for me, and that was Tamara Dobson's makeup. She's credited for doing her own makeup in this film...

Hmmm....  well, I don't think that it's a fall-back skill for her.  She plays the role more Bondish in this, and with a bit more humor, so I assume that the outlandish makeup was an intentional element.

And you know what happens when one assumes...  Anyway, it was pretty distracting, and not in the fun way.

The cast is pretty decent; along for the ride is Norman Fell, as Cleo's handler and Clueless White Guy Comic Relief. Stella Stevens makes a decent lesbian Dragon Queen.

So, why isn't this a better film? I blame the script and direction...  it certainly looks great, and probably wouldn't be too bad watched with friends and lots of liquor nearby. I just expected better - maybe then I wouldn't keep falling asleep watching it.

Crass American remakes of foreign hits is apparently not a recent development - I came across a remake of Fritz Lang's M, done in 1951 by Joseph Losey... and it's actually pretty good, despite what purists would probably say.

There's no major divergence from the basic storyline... although it's a bit strange seeing it with American characters on American soil - aside from the fashion and car makes, it's almost like a contemporary film, with the emphasis on what is now called 'stranger danger'... and it doesn't shirk on the climax of the film, which, in light of what happened to Losey can be seen as prescient and very-on-the-nose. The cast is top notch - David Wayne, Howard DaSilva, Norman Lloyd, Raymond Burr, Jim Backus, Walter Burke, and many other character actors of the time. The cameraman is Ernest Lazlo, who also shot another L.A. travelogue, KISS ME DEADLY, of which this almost seems a dry run of; seeing that Robert Aldrich was Losey's assistant at the time, it seems that Aldrich learned his lessons well.
It's a film that's hard to find - if you ever come across a copy, or run across a screening, definitely set aside 90 minutes and give this a watch.

Currently plowing through tv boxsets of MAX HEADROOM: THE COMPLETE SERIES... and DARIA.

I wonder if we'll ever look back at the current MTV programming and consider THE HILLS and JERSEY SHORE to have been clever instances of satirical programming and disguised social commentary?

Nah! - do your teen a favor and give them the DARIA set for Christmas and/or birthdays... give them the Real Thing.

Finally, THE WOLFMAN - I waited for the unrated version to be released. I thought the end result was extremely decent -- the homaging was nicely handed (I particularly liked the Bava-ish touches in the scenes in the woods), and it was handled seriously, unlike THE MUMMY -- it was almost TOO serious with all of the frontloading of the "Daddy Issues"... if you haven't figured out what Anthony Hopkins will be within the first half hour, then you're not paying attention, since it's all but spelled out in big neon letters with a hand pointing --- and I also think that it's time for the "Daddy Issue" Plot to take a big time-out for awhile. It didn't do THE HULK any good, and I can't really say that it added anything of major importance to THE WOLFMAN.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Obscure Film of the Moment: CHILD'S PLAY - plus some excellent news for documentary fans

Well, news first - I had the opportunity, at film school, to see the infamous DEMON LOVER DIARY (the original AMERICAN MOVIE) and SEVENTEEN, films by the duo Joel DeMott and Jeff Kreines. SEVENTEEN was quite hot at the time, because it was part of a documentary series for PBS called MIDDLETOWN, and it was the only film in that series that was withheld from broadcast, due to its unvarnished and no bullshit look at the American Teenager.  Strong stuff, and memorable -- it's been over 25 years since I last saw it, and those who've been lucky enough to see it at film festivals and special screenings over the years have been jonesing for a copy.

While DEMON LOVER DIARY remains an underground legend (and can be found if one looks in just the right places, let's just say), SEVENTEEN has been harder to track. One could purchase a VHS tape for the pricey sum of $300, or try to hustle an invite to sites that hosted it in torrentland...  For the past year, SEVENTEEN has been popping up in special screenings at film festivals, which usually means that something special is coming down the road.

Well, the news is good - in fact, it's BETTER than just Good, it's GREAT - the MIDDLETOWN series is being released on DVD, and it includes SEVENTEEN! Scheduled to hit retail in September... so get your pre-orders in, and/or request that your local library purchase a copy.

Here's a taste:

Now to the second good deed of the day...

Sidney Lumet is a well-respected director who, over the years, has dipped into quite a few genres, although he's mainly known for tight dramas usually involving cops and criminals... although he's never done horror. Straight on, balls out, booga-booga horror, that is - although, depending on your definition, that can be stretched... FAIL-SAFE is pretty intense, nut-tightening tension, and a horror story of a different sort, although DR. STRANGELOVE just pawns everything in the Nuclear War story ghetto.
He's done quite a few thrillers; but straight on horror is something that Lumet has really never approached.

CHILD'S PLAY doesn't really qualify as horror; it's more of a psychological thriller, but it's the closest that Lumet comes to the genre - it's quite content to wrap itself up in that cloak and go BOO...

That look of puzzlement on your face is no accident; you've never seen this, and most of you are thinking, "Where's Chucky?", when the title was mentioned. If you're above the age of 55, you may have heard of this, if not ever having seen it. It started as a very successful play in 1970, written by Robert Marasco -- and if that name is familiar, it's because of a book he wrote called BURNT OFFERINGS, which was made into a movie that scared the shit out of many a person. It's also how CHILD'S PLAY can be lumped in with the horror genre, at least in the psychological end of the pool.
At the very least, it's a horror film for teachers.

CHILD'S PLAY was very successful in its New York run, but the film version is pretty much unheard of - it didn't get a wide release, and it never went to home video in the U.S. I remember reading about it in film catalogs. It may have been seen on rare occasions on television, when stations used to broadcast movies that were older than the past five years... the copy that I saw is apparently from Spanish television, since it has subtitles burned in.

I'm attempting to be somewhat oblique about it... hard to do when you're talking about something that no one has seen and you don't want to spoil everything. Most of the links will take you to additional information about the film, so no need to linger over trivia such as Marlon Brando being sued for walking off the picture... interesting as it is.

So, here's a series of screenshots, to give you a very rough idea of watching it.

It's a very paced and deliberate film... it takes place in a Catholic Boy's School, so that provides lots of atmosphere to milk, from subtle homoeroticism to pre-EXORCIST stirrings. The premise of the film is, basically, a battle for the soul of the school, contained in the rivalry of two elder teachers (GREAT performances by James Mason and Robert Preston). That battle is more metaphorical than supernatural, but there is just a hint that the little evils that Men do may just leave the door open for a much larger Evil...

One may even find parallels to the present day, especially with education being a major concern, and the presence of charismatic individuals who play skull-farmers, planting and harvesting ideas that may not be in everyone's best interest... heck, even BURNT OFFERINGS can now be seen, in the shadow of the housing financial crisis as a black comedy about home ownership - where the house literally sucks the life out of the residents. But that could just be me.

Point being, although not technically horror, CHILD'S PLAY still has plenty to offer the viewer who does like their horror to be unsettling instead of merely gross. But again, it's not easy to see - Amazon appears to offer the movie, in their "Burn on Demand" selection, where you can either rent or buy -- though the reviews are all about the "Child's Play" with Chucky. There is the possibility that it may get a release though other outlets, now that the Paramount vaults are slowly opening up, but it may not be anytime soon. Outside of that, the options of the interested public finding this are slim... very slim... next to nothing... just hopeless.

Which makes posts like this really frustrating, but that's part of the package when dealing with the obscure...