Cyber Monday: Project Shadowchaser Trilogy

Frank Zagarino dies hard!

Cinemasochism: Black Mangue (2008)

Braindead zombies from Brazil!

The Gweilo Dojo: Furious (1984)

Simon Rhee's bizarre kung fu epic!

Adrenaline Shot: Fire, Ice and Dynamite (1990)

Willy Bogner and Roger Moore stuntfest!

Sci-Fried Theater: Dead Mountaineer's Hotel (1979)

Surreal Russian neo-noir detective epic!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sci-Fried Theater: HARD KNUCKLE (1987)

In the world of exploitation cinema there are those that give the people what they want, and there are those that give the people what they want, but in their own special way. Lucio Fulci gave the people and his financial backers what they wanted (flesh eating zombies), but he did it his way. Instead of just doing a straight rip-off of DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978), which is what everyone wanted of him, he delivered a zombie menace in an old-school voodoo setting that echoed WHITE ZOMBIE (1932) just as much as DAWN OF THE DEAD. Sure, it also pushed graphic on-screen undead carnage way past the already impressive level set by the Pittsburgh peeps, but it takes more than that to make it a true classic of exploitation cinema.

The Italians weren’t alone in this purpose of vision, either. The Australians also took their exploitation filmmaking seriously, writing interesting plotlines and quirky characters into what are essentially low-rent potboilers. An excellent example of this would be HARD KNUCKLE. The Aussies may have re-invented the western (with the help of Bob Clouse’s 1975 epic THE ULTIMATE WARRIOR) with the MAD MAX films, but they let the Italians and Filipinos exploit their success. When they did take the time to riff on it, you can bet that it’s not going to be what you expected.

Have you ever watched MAD MAX and thought, “damn, what this really needs is a good game of pool!” Yeah, I know, we all have. But then did you think to yourself, “a good game of pool where the loser gets his finger chopped off in a big-ass cigar cutter!” Well this is for you! Aussie character actor Gary Day’s one screen-writing credit is exactly this. As someone who at one time used to watch hours of competition pool on ESPN and is clinically obsessed with post-apocalyptic cinema, Gary Day is now my hero. Yeah, I don't know how the finger cutting comes in, but whatever.

Rolling back into town after a stretch of soul-searching in the wasteland, one-time pool champ Harry (Steve Bisley), has shaken his life-wrecking love-affair with the bottle. If there is one thing that science fiction writers like to ponder it is the nature of being human. If there is two things, it is what people will do for entertainment. ROLLERBALL (1975) hypothesized that the corporations would get larger and sporting events would become more violent. In SALUTE OF THE JUGGER (1989), David Webb Peoples downsized the corporations and made the post-apocalyptic passtime a dirty, brutal version of football where anyone could put together a team and get their teeth knocked in. Here, Day has decided that in a run-down dystopian anarchistic society, sports would be even further downsized to a more logical conclusion. Every town has a pool hall where wagers can be placed by an agent for his pro in tournaments. If you don’t have the cash (here represented by pill packets), you can always play on the Knuckle Table. The knuckle table is a game of pool where a black tile is set in the middle of the table after the break. Whoever knocks over the tile while making their shot has a digit removed and the tile is reset. The game continues until there is a winner, or, presumably, nobody has any fingers left. The audience puts up the stakes for the winner, the house provides a bunsen burner and a tin plate to cauterize the stump(s) of the loser.

Harry discovers his old rival TopDog, who he blames for ruining his life (and taking his motorcycle in a game), is living up to his name at the local pool hall. Harry is hell bent for revenge, but doesn’t have a manager for a title shot. Nor has he worked up the ladder. After a local urchin volunteers himself to be the manager, Harry, works his way up the in a tournament, only to be beaten down and robbed in the street by TopDog’s twitchy manager, Vince (Esben Storm). After a somewhat elaborate bit of revenge which leaves TopDog trussed up like a chicken, hanging in front of the pool hall, Harry with street-urchin-cum-manager, set out on a road-trip of sorts to hustle some of the smaller town tables, get enough cash for that title shot. Trouble is, the yokels don’t like being hustled and TopDog, spitting nails, decides to go after Harry himself.

Only in Australia. Seriously, there is no way in hell this movie would get made in America, even in that more tolerant era when there was so much demand for product that fucking Donald Farmer could make it into your video store. The movie isn’t really a pool movie as such, and not really a post-apocalyptic movie, either. It’s more of a character-driven film that is a sharply written and really entertaining tip-of-the-hat to Paul Newman’s classic THE HUSTLER (1961). Not only is it surprising that it got made at all, but it’s doubly surprising that it was made for television. There are plenty of TV movies made in the States that are well worth viewing, but they tend to be either low-rent ripped-from-the-headlines exploitationers or low-rent box-office knock offs. I can’t imagine this movie getting pitched to a TV executive. “So you want to do a MAD MAX rip-off? Great! Wait, what was that about pool?”

Day spends a lot of effort overcoming his lack of budget with tons of great little moments, such as the subplot in which TopDog takes a train to where he thinks Harry is going to be hustling. TopDog is a complete prick to a polite card player, who he later learns is the owner of the pool hall Harry is playing in and is really not pleased with TopDog’s attitude. Even though Day wrote the part of TopDog for himself (and is clearly having a blast playing the part to the hilt), he never softens the character up too much or makes him a really likable guy. He’s an asshole who enjoys being an asshole, but also has some honorable qualities. Yes, a muli-faceted character. In a TV movie. Really!

In spite of what is obviously a low budget, director Lex Marinos (something of a staple of Aussie TV) gives the film a very detailed, retro-future, almost Fallout-esque, look which makes the film feel bigger than it is. Add to that David Skinner’s very cool Ry Cooder style bluesy, slide guitar score and you have a movie that fires on all cylinders and is more than the sum of its parts. Ok, to be fair, it's not an action movie. Nobody wages war for a tank of juice and no dwarves are able to blow their whistles at the end of the film. Because of this it is likely to turn some people off who are wanting something more fast paced and action oriented. On the other hand, you'll be missing out on a great movie if you let that get in your way.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Strung Out on Slashers: BLOOD SISTERS (1987)

I have a confession to make – I love Roberta Findlay!  Well, I love her movies.  The strange this is I’ve never seen the “big” films she has been associated with. Somehow the late 1960s FLESH trilogy (THE TOUCH OF HER FLESH, THE KISS OF HER FLESH, and THE CURSE OF HER FLESH) made with her husband Michael has never passed before my eyes.  And, at the risk of losing virtual street cred, I’ve never seen SNUFF (1976), their reworking of a South American film that fooled both deviants and naïve protestors alike.  So what is the source of my affection?  It is Findlay’s 1985 works TENEMENT (“Tenement…it’s the place to be” goes the theme song) and THE ORACLE.  An action and horror picture, respectively, both of these films have a unique feel all their own.  Filmed in real New York City locations with mostly unknown actors, they sidestep the artifice of soundstages and sets; production design courtesy of real life.  Naturally, Findlay’s further excursion into low budget horror in the late 1980s (BLOOD SISTERS, LURKERS, and PRIME EVIL) drew my interest.

BLOOD SISTERS opens with a young boy being ridiculed by a young girl for 1) asking to cop a feel for some candy, 2) having a whore for a mom and 3) not knowing who his father is.  Damn, that little girl is cold and she's quite the gossip too. Her actions soon send the little tyke over the edge.  He runs home to a big house on the hill, which also happens to be a whorehouse, and blasts a woman and her client with a shotgun (it is unclear if this is his mother or not).  Haha, that’ll teach that little girl.  Okay, Freudian death openings aside, the film proper picks up 13 years later at a college during Hell Week. A group of 7 girls are pledging Kappa Gamma Tao sorority and this involves them drinking red liquid from a big ass cup and attending the lamest dance you’ll ever see.  And this is quite a happening party, let me tell you.  You know it is a wild night when the token fat guy grabs an orange slice out of someone's drink with his teeth.  Someone stop that party animal!

What they don’t know is the biggest part of their initiation lies ahead.  Sorority leader Linda (Amy Brentano) apparently has seen HELL NIGHT (1981) and decided the girls need to spend the night at the spooky old house where the murders took place as part of their hazing.  But she is going to make them work for it as she has planned a scavenger hunt where the girls have to find various items, not knowing that the house has been rigged with a bunch of scary gags by Linda’s jock boyfriend Ross (Dan Erickson) and his pals.  Naturally, we get every stereotype in the book with this crowd.  There is the snotty rich girl, the nerdy girl with glasses, the athletic girl, the constantly horny girl (who sneaks her boyfriend in, of course), the lesbian, the fat girl (who always has food in her hands), and the girl with no noticeable quality.  The one girl no one expected to show up is the hulking “girl” in drag who starts killing off our hapless sorority babes one-by-one.  Who could it be?  Hmmm, that boy in the opening was about 7 or 8 and 13 years have passed.  Hey!  I think I might know who is killing these lovely young ladies.

You can’t really hold a Roberta Findlay movie to the normal standards of the horror genre.  Her work won’t hold up against a classic like FRIDAY THE 13th (1980) and her style would get smoked by Sam Raimi.  So don’t take my endorsement of this film as an indicator that it is a “good” film.  The film, however, has a unique low budget charm that endears itself to me.  And, honestly, can you really hate on a film with a big scary house (perhaps the film’s best asset), prostitute ghosts, a slasher in a big silk nightgown, and a bevy of babes who are willing to get topless?  Okay, that last line really lets you know how cheap and easy I really am.  But I just love this type of movie.  It is the kind of movie where a girl can become possessed and sexually aroused by finding an old nightgown hanging in a closet.  Seriously, who hasn’t that happened to in real life?  It is the kind of movie where three girls see ghosts walk right in front of them, yet in the very next scene one girl is adamant that the house isn’t haunted (“Visions? Haha, I might have to die from laughing.”).  It is the kind of film where the final girl asks the killer the classic “why are you doing this” line and the reply is, “I’m crazy.” BLOOD SISTERS works with its own logic, not giving a damn about, well, logic.  I’ll take it.

Besides, Findlay reveals during an interview on the Shriek Show DVD that the only reason this movie was made is because TENEMENT and THE ORACLE had made a lot of money and they wanted to elude the taxman.  Has a film born in order to escape tax levees ever turned out badly? Wait, don’t answer that. There are inspired moments in the film (some of the ghostly flashbacks are well done with effective lighting and mirrors) and there are bits where you could tell Findlay didn’t give a damn (like when the cops pull away in the end and you can see the intersection and houses near this “isolated” mansion; or the killer’s right hand alternating between holding a knife and the victim’s shirt between shots). Also on the DVD is a great Joe Bob Briggs commentary where he goes into detail on Findlay’s career and even lets you know all about the careers (or non-careers) of the players and production folks.  BLOOD SISTERS ain’t going to change your world.  Hell, it probably won’t even enter your world.  But if it does, make sure to treat it like you would a beloved family pet - with love, honor, respect and the ability to laugh at it when it does dumb things.


Saturday, September 17, 2011

Oh, Thank Heavener: TWISTED JUSTICE (1990)

We're making history here at VJ with our first guest review.  After all, how could we possibly turn down an offer for a review of a David Heavener flick?  Heavener's work is a unique sub-sub-genre that we've been meaning to cover here, but haven't due to lack of time and sanity.  Without further ado, here is Guest Reviewer/Heavener addict Jamie Edwards trying to get you hooked on the heavenly Heavener.  Enjoy!

First off, I want to say thanks William and Thomas for the opportunity to do a guest review. So thank you good sirs, it's an honor. Ok, onto a topic near and dear to me: The films of Mr. David Heavener! Heavener comes from the school of D.I.Y. low budget film making. Since the late 80's he's literally been a one man movie making machine, often acting/directing/producing/writing and even doing the music for his films. I've seen almost all of them, and I’m not going to sit here and tell you they're all cinematic perfection. But more often than not, they deliver what a good low budget movie should: Action, entertainment, and a little humor thrown in. My favorite of his films (heck, my favorite low budget action movie of all-time) is TWISTED JUSTICE. I've been championing this movie to friends/whoever will listen to me for the past 10 years. Yep, it's your turn now!

The story takes place in Los Angeles circa 2020. Guns have been outlawed and even the police aren't allowed to carry them. Renegade cop James Tucker (Heavener) plays by his own rules. This frequently finds him butting heads with Police Commander Gage (Erik Estrada). The irony here is Estrada went from being the cop who irritated his sergeant on CHiPs, to being the irritated sergeant. But I digress. Tucker is a man of action, cool under pressure, smooth with the ladies, wearer of long johns, and always armed with a witty quip. He's the man you call when all else has failed.

And speaking of that, the movie opens with Tucker being called in to diffuse a tense situation (he arrives in style in his futuristic 72 Buick Riviera complete with "TUCK U" personalized license plates!). A man (Don Stroud) hopped up on a new designer drug called Umbra is on top of a refinery threatening to blow everyone up with a bomb. Apparently Umbra makes you crazy and gives you superhuman strength, kind of like PCP - OF THE FUTURE! (to borrow a line from MST3k). Negotiations break down and Tucker has to shoot him with tranquilizer darts, which of course have no effect. A fight ensues and ultimately Tucker is forced to pull out his contraband gun and put some holes in Mr. Stroud. There's a few actors that I think automatically make a movie better/more interesting just by them being in it. Guys like Dick Miller, Gary Busey, Clu Gulager, and Tim Thomerson. I’d put Don Stroud on that list too. It's too bad he's offed at the beginning of the movie, but a little "crazed Don Stroud" is better than none at all I always say.

Next we're introduced to a new crazed psycho (David Campbell), and he's paid a prostitute to put on some fake blood and pose so he can take lurid photos of her ("look buster, this blood crap is your idea, not mine!"). Strange hobby, but he is a crazed psycho after all.

"I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. Deranged."

We then cut back to the police station, and Commander Gage is giving Tucker his usual "you've crossed the line" type lecture (bonus points for it including the phrase "damn good cop"). One thing I never grow tired of is the angry chief "you've crossed the line" lectures in cop movies, keep 'em coming I say. The scene ends with Commander Gage demanding Tucker turn in his gun or his apartment will be searched.

The crazed psycho is now on to his next target, Mrs. Granger (Karen Black), the wife of the Downing chemical corporation co-owner. He's poses as a limo driver and takes Mrs. Granger out to a secluded area, chases her around with a knife, and stabs her to death. Both Mrs. Granger and a previous victim were found with a bull’s eye painted in blood on their bodies, leading the media to believe both killings were the work of the "Bull’s Eye Killer". Commander Gage makes good on his promise to search Tucker's apartment for the weapon, and sends Jim Brown and James Van Patten over to turn his place inside out.

Thanks to a tip from the prostitute, the police start to piece together a connection between the murders, Umbra, and the chemical company. Gage assigns Tucker to the case while a woman from a police watchdog commission named Andrea Layton (Julie Austin) barges into Gage's office. She's none too happy with the rumors that Tucker has a gun and vows to stay all over him like a cheap suit.

Tucker goes back to the Granger murder scene to search for clues. At this point I should mention that he communicates with HQ through a dispatcher named Hinkle. Hinkle and Tucker have never met face to face, and Hinkle has a deep, electronically altered voice (why, I’m not sure) which leads Tucker to believe Hinkle is a man. In reality, Hinkle is played by the lovely Shannon Tweed. This leads to a running gag where Hinkle flirts with Tucker, and Tucker has to find ways to fend off her passes.

While out at the crime scene, Tucker runs into the killer, who then escapes by car. The car chase scene that follows ends up at the killer's hideout. He's brought down by tranquilizer darts and evidence is found that shows he's a chemist and ex-Downing employee named Steelmore. Gage is thrilled that the Bull’s Eye Killer has been brought in (and without the use of guns) and asks Tucker to appear on the "Sally Winfrey" talk show to discuss the gun ban.

But wait! Steelmore is released on a technicality! Tucker finds this out while taking a shower at Andrea Layton's house! Even the tough-as-nails Andrea isn't impervious to Tucker's charms. It's revealed that the murders are part of an extortion plot by Steelmore to keep his chemical supply from Downing flowing so he can continue making/using Umbra. Jim Brown and James Van Patten show back up at Tucker's place for another gun search. Brown (one of the baddest men ever to play in the NFL) is startled when he finds Tucker's pet rat "Freud" chillin' in the medicine cabinet. I don't want to spoil how Tucker hides his gun, but it's quite clever. With Steelmore back on the streets, he continues with his murder plot. Now all that's left is the final showdown.

TWISTED JUSTICE has several things going for it. The cast of veteran actors seem to be having a good time with their roles. Plus David Heavener's easy going persona and dry sense of humor help elevate it above your average low budget action flick.

Gun nut, rat lover and Raiders fan?
That explains it all!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Theatrical Trip: CREATURE (2011)

Just when I thought it was safe to go back to the theater…

Earlier this year I regaled you with the tale of how DYLAN DOG: DEAD OF NIGHT (2010) bombed in 18th place its opening weekend.  I was immediately drawn to it like a chick to a bad boy. “Nothing can top that abysmal opening,” I said confidently.  And then came along CREATURE.  I only found out about this swamp monster flick a week or so before it came out thanks to some annoying flash ads on horror news sites.  “Okay,” I thought, “they are probably getting this in a few hundreds theaters.” Nope, The Bubble Factory managed to get this bad boy into over 1,500 theaters.  It still didn’t interest me though as the trailer made it look like every other bad modern horror movie.

But then something magical happened: the weekend box office figures came out. CREATURE had broken box office records…well, the bad kind of box office records.  The film came in 29th place this past weekend.  It bombed so bad that had it up as the lead news story for a bit on Monday, September 12.  How bad were the numbers?  The film raked in a measly $327,000 over the weekend with a per screen average of $217.  As the Yahoo article imaginatively put it, that amount “is about what one row of moviegoers spent on popcorn for the last HARRY POTTER movie.”  It was officially the worst wide opening for a movie EVER!  Once again my bad movie junkie craving kicked in and soon I was off to see if CREATURE really does have teeth.  Like I’ve always said, it will make a good story for the grandkids. Whose grandkids? I still haven’t figured out.

CREATURE opens with a bang with a scene of a woman stripping down and going skinny dipping in the swamp.  An unseen monster then takes a bite out of her while she splashes around in the water.  Well, at least I know debuting director Fred Andrews has seen JAWS (1975).  Actually he one ups Spielberg by having the victim crawl out of the water and the camera cranes up to reveal she has no legs.  BAM! CREATURE does have teeth and this is fixing to be good. What I didn’t know that Andrews was working opposite of the idea of saving the best for last.  Like many films before it, the film proper gets rolling with a six twentysomethings out to have a good time.  We have siblings Oscar (Dillon Casey) and Karen (Lauren Schneider), Randy the Marine (Aaron Hill) and his girlfriend Beth (Amanda Fuller), and Randy’s sister Emily (Serinda Swan) and her new boyfriend Niles (Mehcad Brooks), an ex-Navy Seal.  Traveling through the back roads of Louisiana on their way to the Big Easy, the group stops at a gas station (“We ain’t got no gas”) run by Chopper (Sid Haig).  Oscar is immediately entranced by a cheapjack display on the local monster legend Lock-Jaw and the creepy locals tell him of the nearby house belonging to the man-monster.

With some quick convincing, he gets the group to agree to check out the old house associated with the legend (“You know I love this kind of shit,” opines Karen).  On the way, Oscar fills them in on the story of Lock-Jaw and let’s just say it ain’t the trismus kind (thank you, Wikipedia).  Seems back in the 19th century swamp living Grimley (Daniel Bernhardt…yes, the guy from the BLOODSPORT sequels) was the last of his line and all set to bear a child with his kid sister.  Ewww.  But the incestuous “I do” got postponed when the bride was eaten by an albino alligator.  So, as the legend has it, Grimley tracked this beast to its underground cave and killed it.  Distraught, he remained in this grotto and gorged himself on the human flesh lying about.  Somehow this transformed into a half-man, half-alligator.

Anyway, the kids make it to Grimley’s old house and, well, they don’t do anything there.  They get scared off by some birds and no one actually goes into the house. Along the way Oscar is bitten by some spiders but no one seems to care (despite the huge welts on his arms).  The group decides to camp there for the night and you know what that means – campfire drinking, pot smoking and, hey look, Niles the Navy Seal brought his guitar (in one of the film’s major disappointments, he never plays a tune). However, things aren’t as serene as they seem. First off, there is this hulking monster out there in the swamp.  Second, is that – ah, screw it, I’m going to ruin a big plot twist here so skip the next line if you don’t want to know – Oscar and Karen are actually Chopper’s kids and have led the other folks out here to be sacrifices in a ritual for Mr. Monster Grimely.

To steal a line from my DYLAN DOG review, there isn’t really a lot to say about this film.  So let’s start off with the good. There is that opening scene and…hmmm…I think that is about it.  Okay, I take that back as I also thought the acting was good by pretty much the entire cast.  Dillon Casey and Lauren Schneider actually did their turns well and the incestuous relationship is actually pretty disturbing thanks to an onscreen handjob scene.  Amanda Fuller, previous seen giving an excellent performance in the ultra-grim RED, WHITE & BLUE (2010), is also good in her supporting role.  And Mehcad Brooks is fine in his role as the hero who has to go mano-a-clawo with the monster, even if the script does him no favors.  It was also refreshing that the filmmakers avoided all talk of cell phones, got some nudity in there (I’m easy) and didn’t work in some lame movie reference dialogue (aka the Tarantino Effect). Also on the plus side, at least the filmmakers didn’t jump on the lame post-conversion 3-D horror craze.  I’m forever thankful as the last thing I need to see is Sid Haig’s big belly swinging at me off the screen.

Of course, for every step forward there are two steps back.  The set up is so generic that I had to make sure I wasn’t watching VENOM (2005) or HATCHET (2006) again. Gee, another “kids in the swamps of Louisiana” movie.  Director and co-writer Andrews seems to have cataloged what he thinks every modern horror movie needs (monster, teens, inbred rednecks, torture scene, pot) and checked them off one by one. While the image of Sid Haig in a wifebeater might still give Rob Zombie a boner, it has been done to death.  Even worse are the braindead moments littered throughout the script.  My favorite was Niles being shot in the leg with a shotgun and then bolting like his name was Usain in the very same scene.  And he just keeps on running like nothing happened to him. Also equally unspectacular is the titular star.  A horror movie can live or die by its monster and if you’re going to name your film CREATURE, you better deliver on that promise.  The creature here is pretty lame, looking like the bastard lovechild of comedian Rondell Sheridan and the monster from THE TERROR WITHIN (1989) if it had hit they gym.

The design is doubly disappointing when you know that Andrews spent most of his film career as a production designer. I’m also sad to report that the creature goes down pretty easily and, worst of all, it happens off screen!  Seriously, Andrews has survivors Niles and Emily get swallowed into a sinkhole with my boy Creature and then Niles emerges with its jaw in his hand.  I guess if the Navy Seals got Osama Bin Laden then Grimley was no sweat.  In a final funny bit, the duo throw the jawbone, literally their only evidence the creature existed, onto the roadside for an armadillo to eat.

My shame!
So is CREATURE really deserving of the dubious distinction of being the worst wide release box office bomb of all-time?  Not really.  It certainly isn’t the worst film I’ve ever seen in the theaters.  But it also doesn’t deserve to be released in 1,500 theaters.  With horror distribution getting choked to death a little bit more each day, it is sad to see something so utterly mundane get out to the public (even if they didn’t watch it).  Really good horror films have struggled to hit screens so watching this unspooling on screens is downright painful. Chances are the $30 bucks the producers culled from the 6 people in our theater (although I don’t think one guy paid) aren’t paving the way for CREATURE II: BAYOU BLOODBATH.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The "Never Got Made" Files #68: THE ANGER (1984)

I documented the history of the unmade anthology BLOODY PULP (1982) a few weeks back, but little did I know that I would inadvertently have another unfinished film project fall into my lap.  While researching PULP, I decided to look up information on New York-based special effects artists and found profiles on Tom Lauten and Jennifer Aspinall in Fangoria issues #40 and #43, respectively. While finding info on PULP proved to be unsuccessful, I noticed both articles mentioned an unfinished UK production called THE ANGER.  One of the sole clues about the film’s construction was that it was produced by one Mike Lee. “Hmmm,” I thought, “the BLOODY PULP guys later worked with Michael Lee on TWISTED SOULS (aka SPOOKIES). I wonder if it is the same guy.”  A quick inquisitive email asked PULP co-creators Thomas Doran and Frank Farel if they knew anything about the mysterious THE ANGER. My hunch paid off big time as Doran responded, “How do you know about this?!!!” and Farel added, “Know anything about THE ANGER? I should say we do!”  Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it jolted this junkie.

Before we get into the details, let’s back up a bit and give some history.  Producer Michael Lee earned his initial success in the entertainment industry by creating the British video label VIPCO (Video Instant Picture Company) in 1979.  Riding the wave of the VHS craze, Lee proved to be very successful by distributing lurid titles such as THE TOOLBOX MURDERS (1978) and CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980) on the fledgling format.  Helping double his success was the rise of the “video nasty” phenomenon, a modern day witch hunt of violent films on video by the U.K. government co-facilitated by the tabloid press.  Why bother dealing with real problems when you have imaginary killers to blame?  And, after all, we know most of the world’s problems are a caused by the filmmaking of Ulli Lommel (THE BOOGEYMAN) anyway.  The resulting furor made Lee a wealthy man and, before the hard times hit (Video Recordings Act 1984), he made the age old mistake of thinking that success at selling a product equates to being equally successful at making that product.
Thus was the genesis of THE ANGER.  Hoping to cash in on the market that had treated his bank account so well, Lee sought to produce a horror movie in his home country.  The film went before the cameras in November 1983, but shut down completely about halfway through filming in December.   Very little info is known of the film.  In fact, below is literally all the ink you will find on THE ANGER on this great big globe from the FX artist profiles.

                Fangoria 40:                                               Fangoria 43:     

So exactly how does a trio of filmmakers from New York (Thomas Doran, Frank Farel, and Brendan Faulkner) get involved with a shelved project languishing across the pond? As the old saying goes, the way of the world is meeting people through other people.  Producer Lee contacted the group via FX artist Arnold Gargiulo, who had previously worked on their short HELLSPAWN.  The purpose of contacting new filmmakers was to recruit them to possibly salvage the project.  “After we met Michael Lee, Tom Doran traveled to the UK for the purpose of evaluating the footage completed,” Farel elaborates, “and determining whether Tom, Brendan and I might be interested in taking it over. Tom's decision: it was a total disaster, not worth the cost of salvaging. I've seen some of the footage and can't say I disagree.”

So was it really that bad?  According to Doran, it was.  While the filmmakers outside of Lee remain unknown, bits of the plot of THE ANGER remain alive via memory.  According to Doran, the film was set in America and involved a young married couple buying a house in New England.  Providing a window into the muddled nature of the production, even this minor detail was apparently mishandled.  “I remember the guy saying and falling to his knees. Something like: ‘Honey, I found a house - in New England!’ Wife: ‘New England? How can we afford a house in New England?’” Doran recalls.  “Huh? The writer, or one of them, who was Canadian, I guess didn't realize that New England encompasses 6 freaking states - with a zillion towns of all sizes and levels of prosperity. It made no sense.”

It looks like producer Lee at least had some business savvy as THE ANGER appears to have been riffing on the popular haunted house subgenre evidenced by box office hits such as THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (1979) and POLTERGEIST (1982).  “They go live in the house and strange things happen,” Doran remembers. “There's a stuffed ape toy that comes alive. There's a monstrous face in an oven that eats someone and spits them out - truly hilarious.”  Yeah, Lee was definitely getting his POLTERGEIST freak on, but he was no Steven Spielberg.  While the filmmakers were definitely trying to ape (pun most definitely intended) 1982’s top horror hit, the end results delivered more unintentional comedy than horror according to Doran.  “The husband gets hit in the head with a GIANT meat cleaver,” Doran recalls with amusement.  “He goes into a room, screams, and then stumbles out with this freaking giant thing stuck in his head! The blade was like 8.5 x 11 inches. I was dying.”

In the end, the 40 minutes of roughly edited material screened for Doran proved to be a pointless rescue.  “It wasn't worth it,” Doran says, “I mean, here I was turning down the chance to direct. But, the footage was laughably bad; one actress I remember was good, but not the others that I saw, but it's hard to say without seeing it all cut together really. There was going to be no way to match locations, etc., so it really wasn't a good proposition - even if the footage was great to begin with.”  Ultimately, Doran and his co-collaborators convinced Lee that starting from scratch was a better idea and TWISTED SOULS (aka SPOOKIES) was born.  Lee, however, wasn’t above saving some dollars…uh…pounds and one of Lauten’s mechanical effects from THE ANGER lived to see another film.  “If you look at that mechanical head,” Doran mentions, “you'll see where the Snake Demon idea [from TWISTED SOULS] came from.”

Filmmaker Thomas Doran wasn’t the only one who had his blood boiled by THE ANGER.  Preeminent genre journalist Philip Nutman, Fangoria’s British correspondent, was actually on set for some of the filming and he was kind enough to let us pick his brain for the (thankfully) hazy memories.  “It was my first ever set visit for Fango,” Nutman reveals via e-mail, “I think I was 20-years-old.”  Like the young soldiers often sent to fight wars on the frontlines, he soon found himself – what is it they say – knee deep in the shit on this ultra-low budget production.  “The production couldn't afford a real studio,” he recalls, “The day I was there, I think it was some old house they rented, which had a space they'd turned into a make-shift non-soundstage.”  

A graphic throat wound effect
courtesy of Aspinall
Plot and production details remain foggy with him as well, although Nutman does remember the ineptness on display by the mystery director.  “I have a vague recollection the director's name was John (something) and he might have been one of the founders of Vipco. He couldn't direct his way out of a wet paper bag. He may have been one of the ‘so-called’ writers.  The script, according to Lauten, was terrible.”  Doran’s description of the aforementioned screened footage proves Nutman right and, no doubt, wet paper bags used to house neophyte directors were relieved worldwide.  And it was this greenness that ultimately led to the film being shelved.  “Basically, stupidity and no money,” sums up Nutman on the project’s death.

Alas, the set visit wasn’t a total bust as Nutman does have one vivid memory from the shoot. “The only ‘actress’ I recall was the body double for the female lead, who sat around talking to me naked all day,” he remembers.  So at least we can know producer Michael Lee had some knowledge of what sold and attracted audiences.  “The nude body double, who was Scottish, took a liking to me,” he confides, “and asked me to give her a ride home, which I did. I then spent several hours at her apartment watching TV with her and her cute younger sisters. Maybe she wanted to shag a rather shy, cute 20-year-old lad -- or was trying to set me up with one of her sisters. I'll never know, because I was too shy!  Many years later, I discovered, the body double was actually one of the leading performers in the British underground hardcore porn movie business!”  In the end, Fangoria was able to publish very few words on the failed project in the profiles on the New York-based FX artist Lauten and Aspinall.  But both articles did allow for some of their superior make-up befitting a better film to be shown.  Here are some of their creature effects (Aspinall's on the left, Lauten's on the right):

As of this writing, footage from THE ANGER has never been released in any format and seen by less than a dozen folks. Mostly likely it ended up being a nice tax write off for producer Lee and sits rotting in a vault (or garbage dump) somewhere.  The original cast and crew remain a mystery to this day, probably much to their relief.

Author note: I did try to contact both Lauten and Aspinall for their thoughts on THE ANGER, but never heard back from either of them.  To be honest, I don’t blame them as it was a long time ago and both of them have moved on to award-winning make-up careers.  

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Listomania!: Will's August 2011 viewings

Hey, I’m totally going to steal…uh, I mean, contribute to Tom’s Listomania idea.  Just to give some old favorites and new exposures some love, even if it isn’t 1,500 words.  Here are some flicks I watched in August (the good ones are in no particular order as they all rocked).  Let’s get the rough stuff out of the way first with the “Why? Why? WHY???” award going to…

JOHN CARPENTER’S THE WARD (2010) – John Carpenter is my favorite director and I think his period of films from 1974 to 1988 is pretty much unrivaled in modern genre filmmaking.  So, naturally, it began to sting when his efforts started to slide.  His last theatrical feature, GHOSTS OF MARS (2001), was a decade ago and the only thing done in between were two terrible episodes of MASTERS OF HORROR and lots of interviews where he basically said, “Just give me my fuckin’ paycheck while you remake my films.”  Well, this is the end of the line with Carpenter doing a work-for-hire gig on this thoroughly unexceptional film. Inexplicably set in the 1960s (there is no reason for it to be), the film focuses on Kristen (Amber Heard), who is sentenced to the titular location after trying to burn down a house.  Also in this ward are four other girls with various mental issues.  Oh, and there is a ghost with long black hair (straight out of a 90s Japanese horror flick) out to kill them all.  I can’t begin to tell you how average this film is.  One the plus side, it is well shot and all the female leads are good.  However, had Carpenter's name not been on the credits, you would never know he had made this.  It could have been swapped with any AfterDark or FrightFest title and you couldn’t tell the difference.  It is like Carpenter has been taken over by someone else.  A great man from Carpenter’s past once asked, “If I was an imitation, a perfect imitation, how would you know it was really me?”  One way would be to have any hints of style or mood that Carpenter is known for, none of which is on display here.  How sad is it that the man who made HALLOWEEN is now aping the pulse-flattening work of kids today and I have to endure it TIED TO THIS FUCKING COUCH!  On the plus side, he still hasn't reached the depths Argento has plummeted to.

Okay, now that we got that out of the way, let’s move onto the good stuff.

PSYCHO II (1983) – Can you believe my mom took my friend and me to see this when I was just 8-years-old? Thanks mom!  Despite the protests of Lila Loomis (Vera Miles), Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) is released from a mental institution after 23 years and moves back to managing his motel. Along the way he picks up a roommate in Mary (Meg Tilly), but things start to get ugly real fast. Norman starts getting calls from his "mother" and she is leaving threatening notes telling him to "get that slut out of his house." I honestly can't think of a better crafted horror sequel than this. Writer Tom Holland creates an incredible mystery that not only is thrilling, but carries on the logical progression of time between the two films. Even more astonishing is he is able to also create a modern "body count" picture within these confines, effectively letting Universal have the best of both worlds. Director Richard Franklin actually befriended Hitchcock in the 1970s, so he knows better than to try and copy any of the first film's memorable moments. He is a master of suspense though and this movie has some great set ups (including one that is still ripped off today) and a classic finale. This is helped greatly by an excellent Jerry Goldsmith score and ace camerawork by Dean Cundy.  The cast is perfect all around with Perkins doing an exceptional job as the still-crazy-after-all-these-years Norman.

TROLLHUNTER (2010) - Three college-age journalist kids secretly follow a guy named Hans (Otto Jespersen), who they believe is illegally poaching bears in the Norwegian mountains after some tourists are killed. The title tells you what he is really after. Yes, trolls are real and Hans it he only guy in the country employed by TSS (Troll Security Service) to keep the monsters in check if they leave their designated homes. Watched this last night and really enjoyed it. As much as I can't stand "found footage" shaky-cam stuff, this did a really clever spin on it with the story and pulls it off amazingly. Seriously, the troll effects are stunning and director André Øvredal films each sighting in a unique way that gives the best impact. This was all accomplished on a budget of $3 million, embarrassing Hollywood and even folks like SyFy for their "we can't do anything decent for that amount" low standards. One of the more interesting aspects is when Hans complains about his job and the bureaucracy of TSS to the camera crew. The film also has some really funny dark comedy bits. The end is a bit of a letdown, but you know it is coming since this opens with the standard "we found this mystery footage" crawl. Sadly, the director has quickly sold his soul and is now working on a big budget Hollywood remake.  Why?

THE LAST OF THE KNUCKLEMEN (1979) – This Aussie flick is an adaptation of a play that focuses on a group of several men working at a isolated mining company. They are all burnouts or misfits who sit around to drink, play cards and gamble away their little savings. Self-appointed leader is Pansy (Michael Preston, who is probably sitting and waiting for Mick Jagger bio pic to be greenlit) who is constantly butting heads with everyone, most notably knuckleman Tarzan (Gerard Kennedy). A knuckleman is pretty much a foreman who also has license to whoop anybody's ass if they get out of line. Intrigue arrives when young Tom (Peter Hehir) comes on the job and he may or may not be the infamous "Karate Bandit." This is really good stuff and one of the more unique examples of Ozploitation male bonding I've seen. The writing is very sharp and director Tim Burstall showcases some glorious deserted locations. The acting is great from everyone, but if the film belongs to anyone it is Kennedy as the gruff but likable physical enforcer. He is the last of the hardmen and delivers his lines with the appropriate vigor ("5 minutes after you walk down that road, I won't even remember you were alive, Pansy. That's how much I care about you!"). Also with Michael Caton, Michael Duffield, Steve Bisley (of MAD MAX and THE CHAIN REACTION), and Steve Rackman (Donk from the CROCODILE DUNDEE films).

DEAD MOUTAINEER’S HOTEL (1979) – Tom reviewed this one earlier here and I agree with everything he said.  This is definitely some moody sci-fi stuff and easily the best film I’ve seen from Estonia.  Okay, it’s the only film I’ve seen from there.  I think.  The mystery is suitably compelling and the location is really stunning (think a Motel 8 version of The Overlook from THE SHINING).  I really liked the lead actor Uldis Pucitis as he reminded me of Jerry Cotton actor George Nader.  There is also a really good electronic score and this haunting song by Sven Grünberg.  Definitely the best Estonian synthesizer rock I’ve heard…you know the rest.

Finally, the winner of the “I would have hated this in 1996, but enjoyed it now” award goes to:

HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP (1996) - Before Roger Corman sold his soul to SyFy for a buck and an executive producer credit, he sold it to Showtime a decade earlier with their "Roger Corman presents" series. This involved throwing some of his new New Concorde flicks on the cable channel as exclusive premieres. Also involved were remakes of some Corman-produced classics including PIRANHA, NOT OF THIS EARTH (again), A BUCKET OF BLOOD (with Anthony Michael Hall!), THE WASP WOMAN, and this. Fisherman Wade Parker (Robert Carradine) finds being a single father of a 16-year-old (Danielle Weeks) hellbent on dating environmentalist Matt (Robert Walker) isn't the worst thing in the world when genetically mutated monsters start attacking folks. After his daughter is snatched, Wade must team up with Matt and scientist Dr. Drake (Emma Samms, a long way from DYNASTY) to stop the beasts.

I was hoping this would be different enough from the original that I could pretend it was the never-delivered HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP 2: THE NEXT GENERATION. Alas, I can't do that because Corman manages to outcheap himself by reusing lots of footage from the original (the carnival climax from the first film is shown almost in its entirety). Had I seen this when it originally aired, I would have hated it. Even watching it now it is only so-so due to its general cheapness (get a load at the bar set; and it appears they only made two monster suits). But it is amazing what godawful SyFy and Asylum flicks will do to your B-movie sensibilities. The HUMANOIDS remake is gory and features nudity (strangely, the US DVD cuts all of this out), so I am somewhat satisfied. And the cast actually gives a damn. Well, with one small exception. Walker, previously seen in CLUELESS (1995), gives one of the worst performances I've seen in a while. Seriously, this kid is awful with his constant shouting of nearly every line. Director Jeff Yonis cut his teeth in the Corman factory on one of the many BLOODFIST sequels and keeps the action moving fast enough. Look for Clint Howard, an unrecognizable Season Hubley and Bert Remsen in small supporting roles.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Listomania!: Thomas' August 2011

We watch a ridiculous amount of movies here at VJ. Most of these films never get a write up in these pages, so we thought it would be fun to post the Top 10 most noteworthy hits and misses of our month of video mainlining. The coulda-beens that we decided not to bother with giving full reviews for one reason or another.

ROAD HOUSE 2 (2006): We all know Aussies make awesome movies in Oz, but take them to Hollywood and Sampson loses his hair, or just goes completely batshit crazy like that one dude who made that Christ movie. I know what you're thinkin', "it's a DTV sequel to ROAD HOUSE, and you thought this would be good, why?" C'mon, now, you got Richard Norton (with what appears to be someone else's face) and more importantly, William Ragsdale cast as a bouncer! Yes! A bouncer, actually the head bouncer! A few amusing moments, but this is one rough HOUSE, desperately trying to be an Isaac Florentine film, but epic failing by fudging all the fight scenes with rapid edits of close-ups of body parts. Almost feels like watching porn in fast forward. So yeah, director Scott Ziehl (also responsible for the Sci-Fi Channel's '91 non-remake EARTH VS. THE SPIDER), can now be added to the Aussie Wiki under "Exception to the Rule".

MOONRUNNERS (1975): It's amazing that this template for "The Dukes of Hazard" has still yet to see the light of day on DVD. Is Waylon Jennings' estate holding out or something? The plot has a couple of shine-runnin' cousins, Grady (James Mitchum) and Bobby Lee (Kiel Martin), helpin' out their bible-thumpin' Uncle Jesse when the owner of the Boar's Nest decides that their friendly rivalry should take a mean turn. This really has everything that you could want from a '70s back-woods car-chase flick, 'ceptun mebbey sum nekkid wimmuns and o' course the good ol' General Lee.

THEY'RE A WEIRD MOB (1966): My obsession with Aussie cinema has gotten to the point where I'm starting to do some serious digging. So maybe my idea of buried treasure ain't for everyone, but for my money this '60s classic (that is reviled by the hoity-toity), is well worth the price of admission. After arriving in Oz, Italian immigrant Nino (Walter Chiari) finds that his cousin has disappeared leaving a mountain of debt in his wake. So Nino does what all good Italian's do, rolls up his sleeves and dives in head first. Getting a job in landscaping and learning the way to King's Bloody Cross and the subtle etiquette of Australian drinking rituals. Dated, sure, but some of it is flat-out hilarious. More than a little un-PC, and that's half of it's charm, if you ask me. And in case you ever wondered, yes, the Pope is a deigo.

MALCOLM (1986): If RAINMAN had Colin Friels, John Hargreaves and was about armed robbery, model trains and robots, it would have been a damn sight better in my humble opinion. This was a sleeper hit in the US back in the day, and it's easy to see why. Since it's an Aussie film, it sidesteps a lot of the Hollywood trappings and creates a rather safe, quirky comedy about a mentally handicapped man (Friels) who is obsessed with building machinery, from model trains to a car that splits in half. To solve his money issues, he takes some advice from a neighbor and rents a room in his house... to an ex-con (Hargreaves) who is looking for another score. Pretty tame stuff compared to our usual fixes here at VJ, but hey, it's Aussie, so it's good!

HEATWAVE (1979): It's amazing what Aussies are capable of before being assimilated by the Hollywood machine. Phillip Noyce. Yes, he is Australian. Sure, he's now running top Hollywood celebs around a green screen, but there was a time, yes, even before the 1989 Zatoichi reworking, BLIND FURY (which, for the record, I really like), that Noyce made some really interesting movies down under. Actually, a lot of movies down under. This is more of a drama than a thriller, but flat-out refuses to explain the mystery as would a Hollywood film and lets the audience piece it together, right down to the end credits. Sort of a SILKWOOD kinda thing, but not really. An architect (Richard Moir) involved in building a new super-modern apartment complex for the wealthy gets involved with an activist (Judy Davis) who is fighting to save the tenants from being forcibly evicted from their homes that stand in the way of this new building. When a tabloid journalist who is helping to spearhead the rebellion disappears, things start to get ugly. The use of Sydney during a brutal Christmas heatwave is brilliant in and of itself. The movie is flawed and Davis is a bit too shrill to be believable as anyone's love interest, but it's still worth checking out, if for no other reason than to see how un-Hollywood Noyce was at one time.

THE FALLING (1987): I remember not liking this much back in the day under the rather misleading title ALIEN PREDATOR. Still not the best movie ever, but widescreen and uncut makes it strangely compelling. Three friends (Dennis Christopher, Martin Hewitt and Lynn-Holly Johnson) go on a Winnebago trip through Spain only to find themselves broken down in a strange little town that is the site of an extra-terrestrial experiment that goes surprisingly well and is quite safe. You buyin' that? No, of couse not. The scientist in control of the experiment lets it loose to infest itself in people's heads turing them into zombie-like psychos who eventually succumb to the parasite when it explodes from their faces in a big, chunky mess. Yep, that's the complelling part. Well, that and I remember Lynn-Holly Johnson being kind of attractive back in the day and now that my youth is behind me and I'm just a middle-age perve, damn, she's fucking hot! *ahem* Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah... expect some typical '80s teen hijinx and Johnson, sadly, stays extremely over-dressed throughout the film, but I dunno, for some reason, like a lot of crap from the '80s, I enjoyed it a lot more in retrospect.

The only on-screen bit of
nastiness in the entire film
YOU WILL DIE AT MIDNIGHT (1986): Nobody does. Mediocre giallo and far, far from Lame-berto's best, but then again, miles from his worst. Even uncut, it's teetering on PG-13 fare and the twist ending is not in the least bit interesting. A cop (Leonardo Treviglio) in the middle of a traditional Italian discussion of matrimony, attempts to kill his wife for cheating on him, he stops short and walks out, only to have an unseen assassin walk in behind him and stab his wife to death with an ice pick. After going into hiding, the detective on the case (a bearded Gianni Garko), spends an awful lot of time stressing about finding his pipe while his offices are being relocated. Oh, and he checks into the murders which are starting to pile up. But those can wait. Where did that pipe get to? Gianpaolo Saccarola pops up and stretches his thespian legs as a none-too-bright suspect in the slaying of a librarian. The murders are barely on screen and the rest of the film can't prop itself up, but some folks on the IMDb think this is a keeper, so what the hell do I know?

THE LAST OF THE KNUCKLEMEN (1979): Damn near got testosterone poisoning from this Aussie classic. Great cast, played with so much gritty machismo that you can almost smell the stale sweat and warm beer. A fistful of men work the mines in the middle of the Aussie wasteland, living in a tin shack and occasionally throwing down cash in arranged fights. Based on a play, but don't let that stop you, this sweaty drama (yeah, I said it, it's a drama) from the legendary Tim Burstall (who amazingly never embarrassed himself in Hollywood) boasts a great cast including Gerard Kennedy, Mike Preston and Steve Bisley, gritty dialogue and tons of great moments that would never, ever be handled in the same fashion in Hollywood.

END PLAY (1976): They don't make this type of murder-thriller any more, not even in Oz. No opportunity for CG effects I guess. Damn, I'm turning into a cranky old man. Tim Burstall goes all in with this nifty thriller that draws inspiration from Hitchcock's seedier works (why are Aussies always the best at that sort of thing?) and, at the time, modernized parlor-room murder thrillers like SLEUTH (1972). Though there is no comic relief to be found here, this is a vicious little pug. I can't say too much about this as not knowing what is going to happen next is key, but John Waters (no, not that one) and George Mallaby star as unusually close step-brothers who are somehow involved with murdered hitchhikers in a rural town. Excellent acting and neat little twists overshadow the fact that modern cinema nerds will probably be able to piece together the twist before it is revealed, but getting there is pretty damned entertaining.

SHERLOCK HOLMES AND DR. WATSON, PART ONE: ACQUAINTANCE (1979): First of a series of 11 Russian TV movies that ran from 1979 to 1986. In addition to the fact that they may be the best straight forward adaptations of the stories (if not totally verbatim), the casting is quite good with Vasili Livanov turning in a fine performance as Sherlock Holmes, but Vitali Solomin damn near stealing the show as what is unequivocally the best reading of the Doctor Watson character. None of this wallflower-with-whiskers characterization here. Watson is a sharp ex-military man who may not reach the heights of deductive reasoning as Holmes, but is no bumbling half-wit. In addition to great casting, the sets appear to be lived-in and worn, adding a sense of reality that is rarely seen in Holmes adaptations which invariably present Victorian England as a very clean, freshly pained environment. Add an excellent score (who knew Russians were good at music?) and interesting, occasional, use of hand-held cameras and you have something that completely blows away the incredibly overrated Jeremy Brett piffle.

DAMNATUS: THE ENEMY WITHIN (2008): Hmmmm… maybe there is a reason Games Workshop doesn't want this movie seen. Haven't had this much fun since Albert Pyun's ADRENALIN. Well meaning Huan Vu (who brought us the far more entertaining and only slightly less convoluted Lovecraft adaptation, THE COLOR), clearly worked his ass off making this low-budget, SOV action-horror effort set in the Warhammer 40K universe. Boasting a relentlessly complicated plotline that can be easily stripped down to the simple fact that it is an underground bug-hunt. A group of marines (really? The ALIENS cliche, in this day and age?) are recruited to trudge through some sub-terranean passages in pursuit of some heretics who are trying to summon a massive demon that will threaten all life as we know it. I really hate to beat Vu up about it because he does accomplish a lot on what is obviously very little resources. Even at it's worst, for an amateur German effort, it's head and shoulders above Timo Rose and Andreas Bethman, but even at a scant 80 minutes (10 of which is credits), it is a long, slow slog. I don't know much about Warhammer 40K, but what I have seen had power armor and space orcs and stuff. None of that is here, but there are lots of long winded speeches in the vein of TALES OF AN ANCIENT EMPIRE, which is the modern excuse to pad out the running time and replace the action that the SOV filmmaker can't afford. The tons of W40K details that are packed in here will appeal to people whose idea of a fun Saturday night is sitting around discussing the intricacies of the W40K timeline, but for everyone else it's like washing back a handful of Sominex with a bottle of Nyquil.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Non-fiction Fix: Hal Needham's STUNTMAN!

Thanks to a visit from Hurricane Irene, we didn't have power for 4 days. To a Video Junkie, that is pure hell and like being forced against your will into rehab. To ease the pain, I opened up one of these strange contraptions called books. Yes, we actually read books from time to time, although it seems we never stray too far from our comfort zone and stick to books about movies (with the occasional horror novel here or there).

Anyway, what better way to pass the time than to read the autobiography of famed stuntman/director Hal Needham.  As we mention in our review of DEATH CAR ON THE FREEWAY (1979), we are fans of the man and his contributions to motion picture history. Needham is quite the raconteur and the books 296-pages fly by rather quickly.  He starts by talking about his early life growing up in Arkansas, where his step-father was a sharecropper during the Great Depression.  It is truly a different world that most of us could never fathom (outhouses, yuck!).  After that he jumps into his family moving to the big city, him getting a job as a tree trimmer (which helped him greatly in Hollywood) and his eventual joining of the military as a Airborne Ranger.  All of his stories are fun reads and told in a very frank and funny manner.

Of course, the majority of the book is built around his move to Hollywood and the career choice that would eventually make him famous.  Needham details the first film he worked on (THE SPIRIT OF ST. LOUIS) and how he got his first big break on the TV show HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL, where his tree climbing abilities got him the job of doubling star Richard Boone.  He also mentions working on a show called RIVERBOAT starring Darren McGavin, where he first encountered a young actor by the name of Burt Reynolds. This led to a great relationships both professionally and personally (Needham even lived in Burt's guest house for years after a divorce).  There are tons of great stories about working with the likes of Jackie Gleason, Jerry Reed, John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, and Burt.  And lots of great behind-the-scenes anecdotes about how the business works (and doesn't work).  For example, there is a totally insane story about Needham going over to Europe to be the stunt coordinator on THE BRIDGE AT REMAGEN (1969) and having to flee the country when the pesky Russians actually invade Czechoslovakia in real life.  There is even a wild story about his real-life encounter with the Skid Row Slasher.

The book does a have a few problems though, most significantly in its lack of details about Needham's directing career.  He is apt to emphasize his hits more than his misses.  MEGAFORCE, his biggest bomb, gets only one mention, while the aforementioned DEATH CAR ON THE FREEWAY and everything post-MEGAFORCE get no mentions at all.  I guess he was not "man enough" to talk about MEGAFORCE for its fans (sorry Tom).  He also jumps all over the place in terms of periods of his life.  Also, there are some sections on his NASCAR history where I started to tune out as that really isn't my thing.  Of course, these are only minor quibbles.  If you are looking for a lively read about a time in Hollywood when real people actually drove cars during stunts (his wreck planning for John Wayne's McQ is terrifying), this is definitely a must-read.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Lovecraft Legacy: THE COLOR (2010)

If you've never visited Craig Mullins' stellar Lovecraft blog, now is the time to do it! Lots of info on Lovecraft projects of all kinds including regular updates on what projects Guillermo Del Toro is incredibly excited about and will subsequently abandon. It is also home to a VJ review of the latest adaptation of "The Colour Out of Space", Huan Vu's DIE FARBE!

Full Review of DIE FARBE on Unfilmable.Com