Monday, June 25, 2012

When Mario Bava Stalked 12 Melbourne Drive-ins


When I crept out at 5:30 am on that fateful Thursday morning to retrieve the newspaper on my favorite day of the week, the day the movies changed, I was transfixed by this ad mat, and snipped it right away so I could possess it. I still do, obviously.

I was ten, so I didn't know who Mario Bava was, but to see him described as "Mr. Horror" in the black insert beside the title was enough excitement for me. My mission for that Thursday night was to convince my mother to take me to see Baron Blood (surely the best name for a horror film ever!) at Village's Clayton 1 drive-in. My biggest challenge would come from my knowing that my mother hated horror films, and had no stomach for blood, gore, or monsters, so I'd need to tell a few white lies and stretch the truth all the way to the nearest full moon in order to achieve my goal.

"It looks like something bloody," was mum's first assessment of the ad mat. "What terrible thing is it about?"

I started spinning my lies immediately. "It's about a guy looking for a castle. See, there's no blood, it's just that his name's Baron Blood."

Mum was unconvinced, and read the paragraph about Bava being 'Mr. Horror'. "No, I don't think so. It's a horror film. It even says it was banned."

I looked aghast.

She continued: "You don't need to be seeing banned films. Isn't there something else on?"

I tapped the paragraph. "It says his other films were banned. This is a nice one."

"It doesn't look nice. It looks terrible."

Each lie I launched was immediately shot down. "No, it's not terrible. Lots of kids are going to see it."

Mum placed her hands on her hips and dumped the cloth she was using to dry the dishes. Our conversation was taking place in the kitchen and I'd offered to wash the dishes in order to soften her up. She said with a scowl: "What OTHER kids are going to see this? I want their names and phone numbers. I'm going to call their parents."

I became sheepish. "Just kids. Other kids. They're allowed to see it."

"Are they ten years old, too?"

"Yes."

"Do they have parents?"

"Yes."

"I don't think so. Like you, they have school to think about... unless their parents are letting them run wild."

Shit! Mum was very big on disparaging parents who let their kids "run wild". It was her way of telling me that parents who let kids see bloody horror movies had lost control of them.  She didn't want to be in that category.

"Can't we see it? I'll wash dishes for the next month."

"You should be doing that, anyway, you're the oldest."

"I'll mow the lawns twice a week."

"They don't need mowing that often. Pick another movie."

I was going down in flames. "There aren't any others."

"There are lots of other movies! Better sorts of movies."

"But they're no good."

Mum looked at the ad mat again. "What's this rot rated?" I hated when she referred to my loves as "rot".

"It's rated 'M'."

Yes, 'M' for mature, and you're not that."

"I'm allowed to see it. If I ride my bike there, I can still get in."

My mum looked mortified. "You won't be riding your bike there! And we didn't buy you that bike so you'd take it to gory movies."

"It's my bike. It doesn't mind where it goes."

"Well, I do. And it's not taking you to see rubbish like this." 

"Then fine! I'm never cutting the lawn again, or doing dishes, or setting the table, or taking a bath."

"Then you'd better get yourself a job and a house and move out."

"I will!" I announced with unsecured  confidence. "And I'll see any scary movie I want."



A week later, my father picked up the newspaper and noticed that a film called Duel (with Dennis Weaver, one of his favorite actors) was playing at the local drive-in, the Clayton 1, with some other "rubbish", as he referred to it, called Baron Blood. He asked me, which wasn't common, if I wanted to see Duel with him. Stuttering like a horny jackhammer, I said "Yes."

"Why don't you call information and find out what film's playing first," he said.

I called information and was told Baron Blood would screen first.

Now, it was time to launch my last white lie like a sleek cruise missile.

"Duel is playing first," I told him.

"Good," he said, looking over the newspaper. "I don't want a late night."

The impossible happens now and then. The planet's line up. And some missiles are not shot down.

It was not easy for my father to contain his rage when he was greeted with Baron Blood. He said he'd have a word to the drive-in manager, but that never happened -- not then, anyway. He did get my mum to complain to Village Theatres on Monday for dispensing erroneous program information. I don't think they had anything to say. They hadn't done anything wrong.

As for me, I loved the heck out of the first film I ever saw from 'Mr. Horror', and I drooled at the grotesquerie on display. I wasn't quite sure what made this Italian horror film different, but I knew that my horizons had been broadened.


Dad thoroughly enjoyed watching Dennis outwitting the truck, and we both cheered when the demonic rig disappeared over the cliff and burst into flames.

As we drove home together, Dad lit a Marlboro, cracked open the window, and found for himself a reason to smile. "I don't think your mum would've been too happy sitting through the first film."

I nodded. I waited. Then I said: "Did you like it much?"

He said without hesitation. "It was a bit different."

And he was right. On that one thing and not many other things, we agreed.

Dad died last year. RIP, Dad, I miss those precious moments when mutual agreement brought us closer.

Note: the above ad mat was for Baron Blood's first week, when it didn't play with 
Duel; in the second week, it played with Duel.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Zoom In: Sex Apartments


 Of all the 'Roman Pornos' that Impulse Pictures/Synapse has released so far, Zoom In: Sex Apartments is the jewel in the crown. Bearing atypical hallmarks of originality, it serves as a reason to celebrate dark art, not find fault with its morality.

Director Naosuke Kurosawa, working with cinematographer Masaru Mori, takes Nikkatsu's trademark rape/murder subject matter and presents it as a frenzy of almost giallo-like surrealism.

Yoko Azusa, who starred as a burgeoning rapist in Yasaharu Hasebe's Assault - Jack The Ripper  four years earlier, plays the mysterious role of a suspected rapist. Betrayed five years prior by the film's female lead, Erina Miyai, a woman married to a professional cyclist (!), Azusa reconnects with her carnally and becomes involved in a spate of unusual crimes. Adding spice to the film's sexual violence is a fire theme: The rapist torches the vaginas of the women he's raped, and goes several steps beyond said item in one memorable scene.


To be frank, the story isn't big on logic and the lead female's inability to put two and two together is frustrating. Despite both these deficits, however, Kurosawa's treatment of the material excuses his sins (for me, anyway).

These Nikkatsu pictures existed to excite audiences with their erotic audacity; they were never meant to be realistic, and they were never meant to be much more than reliable programmers for the studio that switched its focus from mainstream product to erotica with a sucker punch. Occasionally, as in the case of flicks such as Assault - Jack The Ripper,   Secret Chronicle - She Beast Market, Beautiful Girl Hunter, and the film currently under discussion, Nikkatsu produced some remarkable works that transcended their genre requirements.


I'm keen to know when exactly Joseph Ellison's grimy Don't Go in the House ('80) was released in Japan because this Zoom In entry smells of that film's delightfully foul embers both tonally and visually. The rape/burning scenes in both films are downbeat and nihilistic, leaving us with no hope for the human race.  The callous indifference both killers have for their victims is uncannily similar in both pictures also. This nihilism is both disturbing and exhilarating, making it essential art.  



Giallos were clearly an influence on Kurosawa, and the cutting style employed in Argento's early work (Deep Red, Tenebrae, Suspiria) is slavishly imitated here.

At the other end of the spectrum are the films this one clearly influenced; the most obvious is Billy Tang's Cat III shocker Red To Kill, surely one of the most maligned and Roman Porno-esque of the former colony's horror flicks. Kurosawa's focus here on the concrete edifices where the mayhem takes place is carbon copied by Tang in Red. Most obviously, Red's chilling, driving score sounds like a direct bit of thievery from Zoom In. The visual characterization of the rapist here is also echoed in Red, and leaves me convinced that that film's writers saw a tape of this film and were more than impressed with its potent credentials.


Zoom In -Sex Apartments (original Japanese title: 'Zoom In: Rape Apartments') achieves a heightened place in the pink pantheon because it's consistently inventive, audacious in its conceits, and unabashedly vile. It's not a terribly graphic film and the nudity is restrained, but it's a ballsy exercise by a director with an arthouse approach to his material that made me reflect on Koji Wakamatsu's best works such as Dark Story of a Japanese Rapist, The Man Who Assaulted 13 People aka Serial Rapist, and Go Go Second Time Virgin. There's not a celluloid moment here where Kurosawa isn't exploring a strange or powerful idea. They don't all work, but they make for engaging cinema.


 For years, the film has been available as a decent boot, but now is the time to throw that away and support Impulse's stellar presentation with flawless subs, terrific liner notes by Jasper Sharp, and an insert of the original poster art.

I have no idea where Impulse is going next with these releases apart from the imminent release of The True Story of a Woman in Jail: Continues, a must-have sequel. Personally, I'd like to see them forging ahead with darker material like this and other unreleased (with English subs) Nikkatsu product such as the above-mentioned Secret Chronicle - She Beast Market, Zoom Up - Rape Site, Zoom Up - Rape Report, White Rose Campus - Then, Everybody Gets Raped, Raping, Rape, and Sex Hunter.


Yes, yes, yes, as monotonous as these titles sound to the uninitiated, they are all blisteringly unique efforts.

For now, rejoice in the fact that Zoom In -Sex Apartments is available to own and has never looked better.





Monday, June 18, 2012

How Austria Fostered A Sociopath



Not just a spell-binding book on the mind of a very sick individual, but a scathing critique of Austria pre- and post-WW2. An in-depth study of how a man like Fritzl, despite an earlier rape conviction, possessed qualities that permitted his sociopathic tendencies to be overlooked by those in authority and Austrian society in general.

Austria's relationship with Nazi Germany and its subsequent denial of intimacy shaped the scenery for decades that enabled Fritzl's crimes to go undiscovered for so long.

As horrific as the crimes themselves were the attitudes fostered by war and occupation.


 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Bud Clayman's Anti-Matter Man


 One of the biggest surprises in OC87: The Obsessive Compulsive, Major Depression, Bipolar, Asperger's Movie is the inclusion of a discussion on and several clips from one of Lost in Space's penultimate episodes, 'The Anti-Matter Man'.

Bud Clayman, the subject of the documentary, recounts how he always saw Guy William's John Robinson as the perfect father figure -- and how, to him, 'The Anti-Matter Man' perfectly reflected Robinson's other side, his opposite, and this scared the crap out of him.


 



John Robinson's evil twin scared the crap out of the  five year old me also, because I, too, totally related to Williams' John Robinson and always thought he was a pretty good example of a father. Although my focus was primarily on the exploits of Smith, Will, and The Robot, Williams was a solid anchor for the show's drama. Seeing this father figure treat Will, his son, with callous disregard for his feelings, hurt my own sensibilities, and opened a door in my psyche to acknowledging another side I sometimes saw of my own late father. When the good Robinson managed to kick the bad Robinson off the space carpet into an endless space abyss, I cheered loudly, and felt confident that the world was back in balance. Little did I know, but, hey, I was a kid. 

Clayman's doco (he directed it with some assistance) attempts to get us to understand how someone with all of the above conditions thinks. He gives us stream of consciousness voice-overs of himself in testy life situations that really convey the difficulty someone like himself has moving amongst the living.

The film features a wonderful sequence in which Clayman recreates 'The Anti-Matter Man' episode from LIS using green screen, costumes that come close to the originals, and himself as both John Robinsons.




Well worth catching for both its educational and solid entertainment value. An illuminating social document done right.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Circus of Dread Is Coming




My next project, Circus of Dread, has had a lengthy gestation period, and is finally approaching production.

Bill Oberst Jr. and Domiziano Arcangeli topline this dark, brutal, sensual, and action-packed story of two brothers sucked into the grotesque maelstrom of an underground circus.



Without a doubt, this is just the sort of Pulp that this blog is dedicated to --  and , I trust, something special for lovers of dark, weird, and 'fantastique' cinema. 

As a lifelong lover, devotee, and fan of this material, my mission is to make a movie that I would love to see myself, that I would embrace for its originality, passion, and raw truth.





That's my challenge, and its my responsibility to engage my audience, give them a cracking good time, and disturb the shit out of them with compelling characters in unpredictable situations.

This first piece of art is by the brilliant Santiago Caruso, whose work I've showcased several times on this blog. For me, it perfectly captures the spirit of this considerable creative undertaking, a true collaboration of like-minded individuals. They know who they are, and I'm grateful to them all.


The circus IS coming! Nothing can stop it.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

John Wayne's The Cowboys




 If you've never seen Mark Ryydell's The Cowboys, this $15 triple pack from Warner's is your yellow brick road to an incredible movie.

The Searchers and Stage Coach get more love than this, and they certainly deserve all the praise, but The Cowboys, for mine, is right up there with them, and features not only one of John Wayne's greatest and most tragic performances, but is a grand and painful story of how boys become men.

I don't write about my love for John Wayne often on this blog, but when I do, I'm at a loss to convey what an incredible actor he was. He made the process look effortless with that trademark swagger and unique delivery style, but, like all good actors, it was the written material that made him shine so brightly.

The Cowboys script, by Irving Ravetch, Harriet Frank , Jr., and William Dale Jennings, sees Wayne taking a group of very green young boys on a tough cattle run. Along the way and over the course of the dusty two month trek they learn life lessons most grown-ups don't learn in fifty years while being tracked by Bruce Dern and his band of criminals. The film also features a touching performance by Roscoe Lee Browne as the company's cook and conscience, and showcases the talents of a very young Robert Carradine.



Made in '72, seven years before Wayne's death, the film includes a surprising amount of killing by children, some totally unexpected plot turns, and a rich John Williams score that sounds more like the early Goldsmith than the later Williams.

Director Mark Rydell also made The Reivers (a ripper), On Golden Pond, The River, and Intersection, but I'm unconvinced that he made anything better than The Cowboys. It's a superb achievement.  Robert Surtees' cinematography also boasts breathtaking day exteriors and beautifully lit night scenes.

Wayne often catches the criticism that he simply played himself in most movies. I say nonsense to that because it assumes that playing yourself would take no focus or discipline. A man is a complex creature, and deciding what part of yourself to draw from to play any character (even yourself!) is an equally complex process. Like every actor, Wayne had a deep and effective process, and that's what made him great, and that's why, when the scripts are good, he's got the screen authority of God.



The quality of all three movies on BluRay is pretty stunning.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Life's A Happy Accident


Life has plunged me into a strange abyss of late. I'm getting a new film ('Circus of Dread') prepped with some amazing people (Bill Oberst Jnr, Domiziano Acrangeli), finishing post- on a making-of ('John Doe'), nudging two other features to the post-production finish line ('Fertisle' and 'Pond Scum'), and rewriting two long works of fiction. Busy, yes, but wandering in a bizarre landscape of creative confluences, the ever-expanding commitment to originality, sundry life needs, optimism, negativity, inspiration, and pants-on-seat labor.


The great Bill Oberst Jr, who has deservedly been called 'The New Lon Chaney", 
has joined the cast of my new movie Circus of Dread.


The incredibly versatile and brilliant Italian veteran of  over 137 movies and TV shows, Domiziano Arcangeli, also joins the cast of Circus of Dread.

As always, good health is a primary concern. I pop more vitamins and minerals than my late granddad popped antibiotics, but considering the fact that I haven't been sick or seen a doctor for several years now, my morning cocktails must be doing something right. I take a multi-vitamin from youngagain.org and a mineral supplement; I take a combo of Glutamine,  Fructooligosaccharides, and Acidophilus for intestinal health; the CoQ10 (real Japanese Ubiquinone) is for heart health, and the Beta Glucan strengthens immunity; Vitamin D3, though called a vitamin, is, in fact, a vital natural hormone. Blood sugar levels are kept in check by the avoidance of sugar and heavy carbs and assisted by Taurine, an essential amino acid, and Green Tea Extract. Cholesterol levels are normalized by my magical Citrus Pectin tablets, and a product called GermanZyme (enteric coated for proper digestion) smoothes digestion. Not bad for a bloke who doesn't "do drugs".




Mental health is an ongoing adventure for us all, it seems, and we gravitate to the arts so we can better digest the slings and arrows of life itself. I've stuck with Mad Men from the beginning and are often rewarded with brilliant writing, creeping revelations, and top notch performances. This week's episode delivered a hard punch to the gut with the death of a key character. His measured fall from grace made for great TV and even greater food for thought.


AMC, the network behind Mad Men, unleashed The Pitch this year, a reality series portraying the culture of  ad agencies who compete for common business. As I've worked on and off in advertising, having directed close to two hundred commercials (mostly at the budget end), I find the series both fascinating and depressing; since working amongst ad men was both for me, the series accurately depicts the business as the ego-driven, idea-hungry, dog-eat-dog beast it is. What makes the ad world difficult to navigate for creative types is its many layers, layers you're not always privy to. As a director of a commercial, your job is to please both the client and the agency while putting something of your own personal stamp on the brief. The "personal" part is usually defrocked of its pointy bits, and you're usually happy to deliver something that is at least energetic and original (but not too original).  The Pitch does a knock-up job of conveying the complexities of the process, while not ignoring the fact that ad work is mostly hard slog for dubious reward. Recent episodes have focused more heavily on the personal lives of those involved, and the sacrifices necessary to make a dent and build a reputation. Recommended.



Not recommended is Pete Berg's ghastly Battleship, surely the worst film I'll see this year. I can't imagine anything worse. The generic trailers dropped my expectations to toilet level, so I drove in (more on that in a moment) anticipating little more than light on a silver screen. Well, the light sucked the proverbial elephant dick. Moronic and cliched in the extreme, this pro-military exercise in big bangs and dialog Ed Wood would have barfed at suffered a well-deserved death at the box office. Next time, Pete, try shadowing Michael Bay so you can see how a crap expert does crap well (sometimes).





I caught Battleshit at the Santee Drive-in in good old El Cajon, California. One of the state's last ozoners, it caught my eye as I sped past it at three o'clock in the afternoon. I zipped back along the I-8 freeway to check it out close-up. A flea market was coming to an end on its hallowed grounds, admission was free, and I was at liberty to snap a few pictures. Although I'd already seen and slightly enjoyed The Avengers, I thought I'd give Battleshit a shot. See, it didn't really matter what the movie was, I was going in, anyway. How often did I get to attend a drive-in movie these days? The last American drive-in I'd attended was the Bel Air drive-in in Detroit, Michigan, and that was almost thirty years ago. Then there were the needs of my female companion. Hell, she was itching for her first time; her first time at a drive-in, that is (!)








Shame it had to be Battleshit. Still, the experience was a good one, and it lifted my spirits to see a long driveway filled with cars almost an hour prior to the opening of the gates. Yes, sir, the drive-in has not lost its luster in El Cajon, California, and I wish it well, even if it has abandoned the exploitation fare that made it great in the first place. Perhaps that's unfair (slightly). Much of that exploitation fare is still being made, but it's being made by the studios. It now lacks the edge, of course, and you don't see jiggling breasts much these days. I did see a pair in a car parked close by, though. Put a smile on my face knowing some drive-in tropes don't die so hard.



No matter what anybody says, Mel Gibson's career is not dead. His Get The Gringo is a damn good time on the telly (Direct TV Exclusive), and it serves up plenty of action, some salty non-PC dialog, and a colorful menu of stunts and grunts. Mel didn't direct this one, but his stamp of cinematic brutality is all over this film's rugged hide. I'm a big Mel fan, and certainly didn't turn my back on him when that gold-digging wife of his posted a bunch of private phone calls. On the contrary, Mad Max's anger at someone he'd poured love and finance into was totally understandable. No doubt the man has some anger issues, but his heart's a sound one. I know a fella fairly close to Mel's world, and the skinny is he's a good bloke who doesn't suffer fools (fools like Joe E, for example) and is, in the Mitchum and McQueen tradition, the last Hard Man of Hollywood. Anyway, do Get The Gringo when it hits BluRay, or plays at a non-US cinema near you. You won't have any regrets.


On the BluRay front, there's been movement aplenty on my TV. I so enjoyed the BFI's BluRay restoration of Andy Milligan's wonderful Nightbirds and The Body Beneath. Turns out Nicolas Winding Refn was holding the best print of the movie, so he petitioned the BFI to restore it and release it, and gathered a murder of cinema crows such as Tim Lucas, Jimmy McDonough, and Stephen Thrower to write liner notes and deep biographical material. The result is one of the best cult releases of the year. Although I'd seen The Body Beneath before, although not looking this good, Nightbirds was a first for me. It portrays a relationship between two drifters, a man and a woman. The man's a fairly easygoing type, if a little moody, but the woman becomes increasingly aggressive and plain witchy. I couldn't help comparing Nightbirds to some of Koji Wakamatsu's work, in particular Go Go Second Time Virgin and Running In Madness, Dying in Love.  As with the early work of directors like John Waters, the appeal of Milligan's work is its raw intensity. You get the feeling that each film is Milligan's psyche vomited onto the screen. The Body Beneath, which explores vampirism, is an experience requiring patience, but its central premise of a vampire prolonging his influence via blood transfusions is a good one.

Again, duty beckons, and I must apologize for the recent dearth of new posts.

Life's a mostly happy accident.