Monday, November 11, 2013

THE GHOUL


I met THE GHOUL in a bookstore, not at the the movies. Guy Smith's novelization caught my attention for obvious reasons, and Smith was already a big part of my life thanks to his numerous killer crab books and 'The Sucking Pit', one of the greatest pulp titles ever.

At only 128 pages, THE GHOUL is a short read, and its tale of two British couples who race their jalopies to Land's End, an obscure coastal region of Cornwall, and end up tangling with a creature kept prisoner in an creaky old inn, is a modest winner.


As good novels do, this tale evokes much in the mind of the reader, so doesn't suffer the fallout of expectations that the film does. At some point, films must show the horror, and if the horror isn't up to scratch, the disappointment sinks in.

THE GHOUL film, which stars Peter Cushing, Veronica Carlson (she of the ample cleavage), and John Hurt, is a stodgy affair under Freddie Francis's direction. Although atmospheric and nicely shot, it never truly meshes its elements, and lacks forward momentum. With its coastal setting, it feels a little like a Brit STRANGLER OF THE SWAMP, with the mutant son of a preacher (Cushing) replacing the aforementioned STRANGLER, but it lacks that film's deep dread. Francis pipes in plenty of fog and keeps Hurt, Cushing, and Ian McCulloch (!) busy, but he mishandles the reveal of THE GHOUL (Don Henderson) in a case of too little too late.


Guy Smith provides more GHOUL action in the novel and threads in some additional backstory about the creature's origins. Although the cinema GHOUL is on the book's cover, the creature still works better when suggested and not seen. Horror's dilemma is that it risks being absolute on the screen, while the novel doesn't risk that problem.

Plotwise, there are similarities here to Richard Laymon's first novel, THE CELLAR ('80).

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Last Post? Perhaps


I started this blog to share my passions -- meaning, my precious collection of books, ad mats (since '68), and movie art.

The BARON BLOOD drive-in ad mat is, for me, a symbol of a time that has sadly passed. Now, movies like it have been somewhat devalued, reduced to files "aggregated" on a massive on-line archive. There's no scarcity any more, so no value. There's some hope afoot, but the hope requires a shot of reality.

Are blogs going the same way? In the early days, most of my posts provoked a healthy torrent of comments from a loyal, informed readership. Now, the comments are few.

What's changed? Does nobody want to comment, or has commenting become tiresome? Worse, have blogs like this had their day?



Without readers, there's not much point in me posting. I'd be the tree falling in the forest that nobody can hear.

I've always enjoyed the dialog posts create, although it's always been hard to gauge what people really want most.


According to the stats each blog owner can access, the most popular post EVER here was the one I did on 'Brian Peppers'. It easily outscores all the others. The writing accompanying it focused on alienation, on being different, on hypocrisy.

At least it's a thoughtful post that got the traction.


I fully realize that we're all travelers through the paradox called Life, and events of and not of our own undoing shift priorities and realign focus.

Traffic here is no different.


I'm grateful for the support this blog has had for its five year life span.

I've made some good friends and enjoyed rich conversations about the things we love.

Personally, I've been going through some very trying times myself lately, and I sense major changes afoot. When one door closes, another opens. It's a cliche, but it's rooted in truth.

As I get older, I become less tolerant of games and bullshit, and I seek refuge in the bosom of common sense, honesty, and decency.

I'm grateful for the good.

I'm done with the bad.

Life's too short to indulge the toxins.

And the sun's too bright to ignore.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

An Ad Mat Post Dedicated to a Fellow Collector


I've collected ad mats since I was six or seven.I don't know why I started exactly. I have a sense of why I continue; it's the completist mindset, and I'm probably terrified of what I might miss if I stop. It's a hobby whose future is threatened by the death of the real newspaper, so I'm hoping newspapers survive.




It's not often I come across fellow ad mat collectors, but Fred Adelman (active genre fan par excellence), to whom I dedicate this post, has collected, collated, and scanned thousands of ad mats.

While I was cutting up newspapers in Melbourne, he was cutting them up Stateside.




This one's for you, Fred.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Return To Piedras Blancas


As I kid, I carried Ed Naha's HORRORS: FROM SCREEN TO SCREAM around with me like it was 'The Bible'. In a sense, it was. Although I also had Denis Giford's HORROR MOVIES and Alan Frank's books in non-stop rotation, Naha's irreverent spirit and occasional focus on obscurities always rubbed me the very right way.  Childhood often didn't.

This image, from THE MONSTER OF PIEDRAS BLANCAS ('59), always fascinated me: A Monster and his Severed Head. Horrible and sad at the same time. A little like Pedras Blancas itself.


This week, while shooting the Californian coastline for a UK doco, we drove through Piedras Blancas. Of course, it held no significance for anybody else, but I was determined to find a reason to rest there.


Fortunately, the weary producers agreed to stop for a bite, giving  me a half hour to snap off a few photos of the old lighthouse smothered in fog. It was a case of Going-Going-Gone because, within five minutes, the structure was obscured in ocean soup.


I thought long and hard of The Monster as the fog enveloped the lighthouse, and felt sad about his demise more than fifty years ago. It was a solemn experience.



The prevailing mood only intensified when I wandered down the road and discovered this long-abandoned motel. Broken on a craggy clifftop overlooking a scrappy beach...


... it felt like an echo of The Monster's final, gutteral moan.




The old motel smelt of decades-old urine and rot. The wind howled through its boards, and little light penetrated its musky dark. Nature was busy tearing it down. It was a deliciously creepy place. A cemetery of abandoned hopes.





After I'd explored the motel,  I noticed a chunk of gnarled wood sitting like an ocean sentinel out back.
As you can see, from the rear it looked to me like a defeated old man surrendering himself to the wind and sea.


Or perhaps he was waiting for The Monster of Piedras Blancas to return?

I hope so.

And I hope it does.

Pedras Blancas is too sad without him.


Friday, September 13, 2013

Compelling Work From Kiyoshi Kurosawa


Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa's SERPENT'S PATH and EYES OF THE SPIDER, thematic twins,  were both strong example's of his considerable talent and ability to take a narrative in unexpected directions.

Both involve child killing, torture, and vengeance, but are primarily focused on behavior more than action. Made around the same time and approaching almost the same events from different perspectives, they make for a mind-bending duo.

The influence of Takeshi Kitano on Kurosawa is clear. SERPENT'S PATH plays, at times, like Kitano's VIOLENT COP, right down to its warehouse location, opening visuals, and matter-of-fact violence.



EYES OF THE SPIDER, which boasts a larger cast of characters, references Kitano's HANNA-BI, A SCENE AT THE SEA, and BOILING POINT. Its deep silences are effective, giving its violent explosions enormous impact. The husband/wife relationship is also reminiscent of Kitano's work on HANNA-BI.


Both films are well worth catching, and are available from UK distributor Third Window Films.


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Scum Are Cumming Soon

Finally, after two years of shooting, POND SCUM is nearing the finishing line.

Thanks to a talented, dedicated cast, and devoted 'crew', this challenging cinematic odyssey will soon leave its creative womb and slither forth into the world.

Hopefully, those who enjoyed films of mine such as MARAUDERS and the BEYOND THE PALE (aka PENETRATORS) series will find something to like here.






Friday, July 19, 2013

Only God Forgives


The focus of Nicholas Winding Refn's ONLY GOD FORGIVES is on a series of formal revenge rituals played out in a mostly nocturnal Bangkok. The use of long silences, eerie soundscapes, and formal framing create a tone that is somewhat Lynchian, at least superficially. Unfortunately, a roster of shallow characters, their personalities more hinted at than conveyed, fail to create any emotional resonance, and place the film on a ladder way below Lynch classics such as LOST HIGHWAY or MULHOLLAND DRIVE.

Ryan Gosling plays the brother of scummy cunt murdered for raping and killing a teenage girl. Conscious of the moral dilemma thoughts of revenge raise, he opts to not take any action initially. Events beyond his influence are triggered, however, when his mother (Kristin Scott Thomas), who struggles with no moral dilemma, arrives in town to do what a psychotic mother will do.



The Bangkok constabulary are represented by Vithaya Pansringarm, a sword-wielding exterminator who believes in skipping the legal process and cutting/slashing straight to harsh punishment. He becomes embroiled in a two-sided campaign of revenge engineered by Thomas's character. Strangely, Gosling is often peripheral to the primary action, because Refn (who wrote the script) seems more interested in Pansringarm's story. This decision wastes a good actor and fractures the narrative.

Tonally, ONLY GOD FORGIVES is more VALHALLA RISING than DRIVE. It boasts few narrative surprises, and takes on a sameness that sucks it dry. In a sense, the film operates in the dead zone of a man post-ejaculation. It lacks build.

Cliff Martinez, who scored DRIVE, delivers a hypnotic score that echoes the best cues from DRIVE, and embellishes with other cues that feel like extensions of Eric Serra's score for LEON (aka THE PROFESSIONAL). The photography, by BRONSON (and FEAR X) shooter Larry Smith, is luminous, often reminiscent of the grimy nighttime vistas of John Woo's BULLET IN THE HEAD (the scenes where the hopeless 'Frank' kills for a fix come to mind).


Ultimately, ONLY GOD FORGIVES is a series of violent tableaux that are loosely connected. A fight scene between Gosling and Pansringarm is extremely brutal, as are the numerous gougings and slashings by sword. At times, Refn chooses to show us dialog while denying us its precise content -- occasionally it works, but just as often it feels like a missed opportunity to enrich the character interplay. More a welcome experiment than a satisfying ninety minutes at the movies, the film's lack of contrast (all shade and no light) creates too much distance between its auteur and its audience.



By no means a dog, ONLY GOD FORGIVES still fails to make its elements gel Refn-style, while feeling too imitative of Lynch, Wong Kar Wai, and Tran Anh Hung (CYCLO) without the pay-off of those directors' best films.

A dedication card to Alejandro Jodorowsky caps proceedings, and a thank you to Gasper Noe is also offered.



Not often that a film like this opens at a cinema five minutes' walk from my place.

Nice to see this getting a decent theatrical release.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The MANIAC Remake



Franck Khalfoun's MANIAC, a remake of the early 80's classic, has much going for it, and not nearly as much going against it.

I saw the film last night at Hollywood's ARENA CINEMA, a welcome reincarnation of the old Egyptian 2 and 3 theaters, and came out pleased for the most part. Seeing MANIAC, which was shot in LA, in a theater located smack-dab in the killer's actual stomping, cutting, and slashing ground, was a slightly surreal experience, so top marks to the ARENA, and its manager Christian, for a splendid presentation from both a picture and sound perspective. In the tradition of the nearby ARCLIGHT, Christian introduced the movie to a dozen or so apostles of pulp before leaving us to our own devices.

Thankfully, no actual devices were employed during this movie, making it one of the most enjoyable screening experiences for me in months. Whenever I visit a multiplex, the constant flicker of the cell phones of irritating, selfish jerks raises my blood pressure and turns me murderous. At the ARENA, the MANIAC devotees, like good, true horror fans, watched the actual movie (yes, it's possible!), not their cunting cell phone screens. Bravo!






William Lustig's original 'maniac', the great, one and only Joe Spinnell, is replaced here by spindly Elijah Wood, an actor popularly associated with his 'Frodo' character from LORD OF THE RINGS. Although he's done other gigs like GREEN STREET HOOLIGANS and the fine RADIO FLYER, it is his association with Frodo that dogs him, and leads people to believe that he IS the height-challenged hobbit of the popular series.



Well, I'm happy to report that Mr. Wood sheds Frodo very successfully in MANIAC as he launches a rampage of murder, dismemberment, and creative killing. While Spinnel was a gloriously large, sweaty, tragic character with a degree of warmth (recall his dinner date with Caroline Munro), Wood's 'Frank Zito' is cold, awkward, antisocial, and batshit crazy. Wood makes no attempt to ape Spinnel, which is just as well, but he makes his 'Frank Zito' (a name derived from director Joseph Zito) a memorable one, and adds several character tics into the bargain.

As has been broadcast to all and sundry, the film tells its story from Frank's POV; that means we see what Frank sees most of the time, and only see Frank when he's confronting his own image in a mirror. During several killings, the film does break from the POV gimmick (popularized in Michael Powell's PEEPING TOM) to show Frank engaged in a particularly gruesome murder, but the singular POV dominates. The approach mostly works. It doesn't work so well in protracted stalking sequences because the suspense is nullified when we know exactly where the killer is. Traditional suspense is about the victim not knowing when the killer will strike, so it's impossible for that to work when we ARE the killer. A way around this would have been to include a sequence in which Frank has the tables turned on himself and is stalked by someone he was stalking. Unfortunately, director Kalfoun doesn't try anything too out of step with the expected here.




As effective as non-stop POV can be, non-stop chatting from Frank's POV isn't so successful -- especially when that chat is poorly written. Whether Wood is addressing victims-to-be, arrogant boyfriends, or women he fancies, his dialog is juvenile, retarded, and barely at grade school level. Is this because writers Alexandra Aja and  Gregory Levasseur intended him to sound like a child, or did they just not have a solid enough grasp of the English language to do Frank justice? Whatever the case, the film's overall effectiveness is diminished by this aspect. All it would have taken to fix it is a rewrite by someone whose first language is English.

My gripes aside, which are legitimate, MANIAC will be graded on its kill scenes and its power as a gore- and suspense-fest. With an exception or two, the kill scenes are strong. We don't have to wait long for the film's first scalping, and the KNB FX team, replacing Tom Savini here, acquit themselves nicely with a terrific tendon slashing, a knife shoved up into a face from beneath, and the expected demise of the maniac himself. The subway chase sequence from Lustig's original is duplicated here, but it's less effective than in the original because its depiction of noctural LA as an empty city stretches credibility to the breaking point. Considering how thickly populated LA really is at night -- especially in the area where the killings take place -- it annoyed  me that nobody ever crossed Frank's path during his murders. In the Hollywood Boulevard world of this MANIAC, the streets and parking lots are always empty, giving young Frank plenty of opportunity to exterminate without a care in the world, but giving the audience no sense of suspense that Frank may be busted at any moment.




True to the original, Frank's sad backstory about an abusive mother who locked him in a closet and burnt him with cigarettes is still Norman Bates-like, but it's adjusted here. Now she's someone possessing the traits of Henry Lee Lucas's mother, a woman who fucked several men in front of her son and took drugs in his presence. A number of hallucination sequences depict a young Frank witnessing her sexual escapades and rampant drug use. Reasonably explicit, these sequences do their job of adding a little balance to the narrative.  Frank's apartment in this MANIAC shares the wall color (purple) and dressings (bloodied mannequins) of the originals, and the atmosphere, though not as fetid as in the original, is reasonable grimy.

Missing here is the sequence in the first film where Tom Savini's head is blown off by Spinell. There is no equivalent sequence in which a courting couple are stalked and killed Son of Sam-style.

The 'Caroline Munro' love interest in this outing is played by Nora Arnedezer. A photographer of mannequins (very convenient!), she meets Frank while photographing the window of his mannequin restoration business.  In a fantasy context, these mannequin parallels would be a quaint touch, but they don't quite gel in a film that has one foot in brutal reality. Arnedezer does her college best with wafts of shabby dialog, but her performance is hampered as a result. Her most realistic interaction with the romantically immature Frank is when she casually mentions her 'boyfriend' to him; this sets off the expected reaction.




Elevating the good and bad in MANIAC is the striking score by Phoenix's Robin Coudert. Echoing the best of John Carpenter, Tangerine Dream, and the original film's Jay Chattaway, its dark and resonant cues (soundscapes and standalone pieces) are MANIAC's soul, and the film would be a much lesser work without them.

Kudos also to cinematographer Maxime Alexandre, who does a superb job with the film's visuals and challenging blocking.


Elijah Wood is to be commended for having the balls to take on this classic character, and he rises to the challenge with a sympathetic performance, not a pathetic one. It's just a pity his hard work is handicapped by some questionable dialog choices and a couple of 'credibility crimes'.

If you can see this film in a theater, don't hesitate.

***

The ARENA THEATER (on Las Palmas off Hollywood Blvd.) is screening MANIAC daily until Thursday the 4th of July. Then, it will screen the film weekly as a late show. I love the sound of that!

Upcoming is Neil Jordan's excellent BYZANTIUM.

There are not enough theaters devoted to genre flicks of this nature. If you can, please support the ARENA THEATER. If you're not in Southern California, patronize your local version of a theater that's made for people of our ilk.