Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Gary Graver's Masterpiece


Late in 2013, Code Red released Gary Graver's TRICK OR TREATS, a mostly terrible slasher with very little slashing and plodding pacing. David Carradine, Steve Railsback, and Carrie Snodgress do their best, but the script betrays their efforts. I saw the film theatrically at the Showcase Sterling Heights (MI) in '82 and was unimpressed.

A short while earlier, I'd seen Graver's (uncredited) THE ATTIC with Snodgress again, and a crotchety Ray Milland. Although it was an atmospheric piece, it had the feel of a troubled production. Both films are poor examples of what a great filmmaker Graver really was.


The truth is, Graver, who was an accomplished cinematographer with over 100 credits to his name, was an extraordinary artist who not only directed even more films than he shot, he made some of the greatest porn films ever under the name Robert McCallum. One of them is, in my humble estimate, a masterpiece.

Not withstanding his other stellar erotic works such as V- THE HOT ONE, THE ECSTASY GIRLS, SATISFACTIONS, AMANDA BY NIGHT, SOCIETY AFFAIRS, and SUMMER CAMP GIRLS, the Graver film that stands alone in the annals of of pornography (and genre filmmaking) is the extraordinary 3 AM ('75).  Unlike most XXX-rated pornography made at the time, there is little about it that even feels X-rated. Its sex scenes represent a true bridge for its well sketched characters, and the narrative is as far from standard porn as you can get -- closer, in fact, to Cassavetes-style drama via a darker shade of Eric Rohmer.



The film, set on Stinson Beach, Northern California, about twenty miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge, focuses on a family whose brittle foundation is shattered at 3 AM one morning when one of its members is killed. The impact of the killing on each member of the family drives the loose narrative and plunges the viewer into a series of erotic interludes that exist for reasons far beyond raincoater quotas at the time. Sex, in 3 AM, is a pill used to fight depression, barricade loneliness, and build intimacy, even the incestuous variety.

Photographed by R. Michael Stringer, who worked with Orson Welles, shot TV's LAND OF THE LOST, and shot other X-raters such as MANHATTAN MISTRESS, SKINTIGHT, and SULKA'S WEDDING, 3AM is a very fine visual achievement, and a model of atmospherics and dread. The foggy Stinson Beach location lends a fey, otherwordly dimension to the film's "feel", and the low key cinematography has the vibe of European porn such as Lasse Braun's BODY LOVE.



Because of its loose narrative requirements, 3AM takes on a foreboding, dream-like feel that, today, recalls other films of that era such as MESSIAH OF EVIL, LEMORA - A CHILD'S TALE OF THE SUPERNATURAL, and the Jess Franco duo NIGHTMARES COME AT NIGHT and A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD. The use of voices by composer Peter Van Den Beemt so reminds me of Bruno Nicolai's work on VIRGIN, while the employment of a rich, discordant soundtrack is right out of MESSIAH OF EVIL, a film made two years earlier in '73 that Graver may or may not have seen.


Georgina Spelvin, who headlines the movie, is perfect cast as aunt to two fatherless teenagers and guilt-ridden sister of a dead man's wife. While acquitting herself formidably in the dramatic scenes, she is electrifying in two beautifully shot, scored, and directed lesbian interludes. In the first one, a woman wanders off the foggy beach into Selvin's bathroom while she's showering. Emerging from deep depression, she allows this stranger to take her in the shower in what is surely one of the most natural seduction sequences I've ever seen in any movie. Although the scene is volcanic in its intensity, it never feels like porn because the camera coverage and editing are so inventive and atypical for the genre. The scene is really about a woman embracing deep physical intimacy at a time when she's not capable of dealing with anything more complex. The music in this scene is inspired, and the constant cascading of water on the women's bodies adds immeasurably to the end result. The second sequence involves Spelvin's gentle seduction of her niece. Totally different from the shower scene, it, nevertheless, grows entirely naturally, and arrives at a perfect place.

The film's other couplings flow naturally from the narrative and never feel gratuitous. The surreal atmosphere is consistent throughout, and when it's all over, you're left with a breathless sense that had more pornography gone in this direction, an exciting sub-genre might be flourishing today.

The film is not widely available and has not been resurrected on BluRay. If anything should be a candidate for reassessment and re-appreciation, this is the one. The late Gary Graver's masterpiece.

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.