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Acidemic - Film

Psychedelic Film Criticism, in all its gonzo-theoretical splendor

Updated: 2018-03-20T13:56:15.517-05:00




Black and white old dark house films are the perfect balm for miserable rainy days like this, or the advent of spring (pollen/allergies) contesting grey winter's turgid encore as the sky clears. Cobwebs, shadows, candelabras, sudden black-outs, howling winds, shifty-eyed conspirators, pouring rain, sheet metal thunder, suits of armor that fall at odd times, cats, clocks striking midnight, readings of the will punctuated by lightning strikes, daggers in backs, spooky seances, fog-enshrouded stalking, spying through keyholes, secret passages, hidden laboratories, gorilla suits, disembodied death masks floating in the darkness - it's all manna. If you grew up at all in the 60s-70s then you remember too the ghosting of the UHF antenna signal (highly susceptible to cloud cover) when these movies showed on local TV Saturday afternoons; how a spooky old film was almost always, somewhere to be found out in the white noise wilderness, deep in those films that were deep in the white noise wilderness, Bela Lugosi waited like a UHF Kurtz, hamming it up in whatever role he got, be it a brooding vampire or just another enigmatic butler.Back in the 70s, before the advent of VCR, one's ability to see old movies was tied to the whims of TV programmers and the the cloud systems of a fickle God. With only a circular antennae and rabbit ears to move around in vain, atop the set, every second of one of these films that was visible became a sacred text written on the snapchat wind. At any moment a cloud might pass and wipe out the signal, which had bounced in off a storm cloud from Wilmington Philadelphia or wherever, and leave you stranded, so you basked in the hoary atmosphere while you could, read your Famous Monsters of Filmland like a holy writ, imagining that, one day, you'd be able to watch the movies those photos were from right there on the page of the magazine, as if a screen could one day be as flat and light and book-sized. On long drives I'd tape a picture of Bela Lugosi or Charlie's Angels on the back of my dad's seat so I could stare at it and wish-wish-wish it was a TV screen.Those days are a memory of course - thanks to iPads, that dark birthday wish come true ( I spent a recent jury duty in the waiting room watching Invisible Ghost, The Ghoul and The Black Raven on my Kindle) and when it's too pollen-saturated or soaking wet and freezing to go outside without sneezing like a machine gun, what can you do now but watch thy old dark house collection from the sanctity of your germ-free bubble, and remember how precious every signal-reception moment used to feel when it was all so ephemeral.If you don't know what I mean by all that, yet you still love old dark house movies, then you know their narcotizing effect transcends mere pre-sci-fi nostalgia. Nothing makes you gladder to live in a small apartment than the thought of being expected to stay the night in a huge, mysterious, dark house that could be hiding a whole army of killers with ease. Nothing makes you feel dryer than a raging storm onscreen. Nothing makes you happier to be honest and poor than the sight of the murdered rich and evil. And if you're a Lugosi fan, then you know why.NIGHT OF TERROR (1933)*** / Amaon Prime Image - BA long-unavailable old dark house swirl of a thriller melding in some pre-slasher movie signatures, the Bela Lugosi-starring NIGHT OF TERROR is violent pre-code melodrama that more than lives up to its lively reputation. Highlighted by an unusually lurid string of murders by a knife-wielding madman, who grins impishly from the bushes in and around a rolling, fog-enshrouded estate, then creeps in on his unsuspecting victims, stabbing them, then leaving his calling card - a headline of one of his killings - pinned to the back of each new body. From the opening scene of him crawling into a lover's lane convertible to stab a pair of necking lovers (top) it's clear this ain't your average 30s old dark house film, more like a 70s-80s slasher movie. Inside, a dotty scientist (George Meeker) plans to test his new 'suspended a[...]

The Flower People Screaming: DOCTOR FAUSTUS (1967)


Richard Burton's semi-forgotten directorial debut (and swan song), DOCTOR FAUSTUS came out in swingin' 1967 and it's too bad it didn't know there was a whole summer of love going on around it, because, thanks to all its Satanic, illuminati, 'interiority-hallucination' and horror film iconography, it's plenty psychedelic. An adaptation of Christopher Marlowe's Elizabethan play, made by Burton to raise funds for his alma mater, the Oxford Dramatic Society (and cast with pretty boys from thar), it's got issues with trying to be respectful Art in its retelling of the classic devil's bargain myth, but like a bunch of twitchy-legged hippy undergrads waiting for class to end, it's got a sensationalist, existential, trippy drug fantasia waiting for it down at the pub. Oh but the trepidation of taking one's first big lysergic weekend step into the Summer of Love. Mods and rockers giving way to Carnaby dandies, Blow-Out winning hearts and minds. Shit was in the wind, troop! And like Roger Corman in the US, Burton the director was realizing how how easily the already-available props and sets from the recent glut of Gothic horror films could carry over as hallucinational markers through the Jungian birth/rebirth Hell-initiation / the 'relax and float downstream to nirvana, or the thousand rending talons of self-centered fear will shred your psyche to ribbons' cornfields of the mind.Though shot in Italy and England using creative crews from both, bringing deep colored gel flavors of Mario Bava and slinky psychedelic and horror scores of the giallo (thanks to Mario Nascimbene), it nonetheless as a very strong AIP Corman Poe flavor, and would make a great double feature with Corman's very California The Trip (from the same year, 1967 - above) and Corman's earlier, yet still highly-psychedelic horror films Masque of the Red Death (1964) and X-The Man with X-Ray Eyes (1963). Which since I've written about all three as part of the justly-celebrated Acid's Greatest series, you know that means Doctor Faustus has things to say about the steep price paid for following the 'poison path' to enlightenment, disregarding the warning label on Medusa's chintzy veil. Be it the black arts or forbidden scientific experimentation in the form of eye drops or pills, the result in the Corman canon--and so here with Burton's Faustus--are approximately the same -power, kaleidoscopic images of painted women writhing in delight, lenses smeared on all sides by vaseline for trippy distortions, time lapse dissolves, crypts, dungeons, caves, cobwebbed skulls, sudden strange juxtapositional overlap dissolves, and copious occult symbolism.The TripIn all the tales of those who'd ignore caution to sound the depth of that they would profess, comes the terrible price of enlightenment, one way or another. Even in the case of The Trip there are the disclaimer in the beginning and 'cracked glass' ending, both forced on the film by the nervous producers who wanted to make sure the psychedelic experience was portrayed, ultimately, as causing calamitous long-term brain damage lest the film be seen as green light to a curious nation. In Faustus, however it's more bleak and final - the voyage to Hell being one of eternal DTs, represented by an evil Liz Taylor in green body paint, her hair a bed of snakes, laughing evilly."Heyyy, Swamp! Hey Swampyyy!"It's ironic that--as the star/director and the director's wife/muse and the muse of Faustus in the film, Burton and Taylor--then married and still tabloid gold-are the weakest parts of the film. Like many towering drunk titans of the stage and screen, each could rely on a bag of tricks to mask their various hangover and bloated periods. Burton, especially, as he'd later prove in nearly every role he took, uses tortured booming depth of voice and harrowed stare of beady eye into the ether just past the camera to masking his doleful hangover and likely existential longing for four PM cocktail hour (1).Burton was coming off his two best films with Taylor, bot[...]

Ride the Snake: Boris Karloff's HEART OF DARKNESS (1957)


Recently discovered hiding deep in the Amazon Prime--an interior so vast and tangled one never knows what serpent jewel is coiled below the most innocent flower thumbnail cover: a 1958 TV adaptation of Joseph Conrad's HEART OF DARKNESS starring Boris Karloff as Kurtz. For a fan of both the actor and the tale, it's quite a find: Archetypal, potent, pungent, primitive in every definition of the word (picture quality as savage as the setting), acted in a kind of beatnik cafe dream poetry shorthand, following streams far indeed from Conrad's estuary, it nonetheless sings the masculine psyche electric, turning the journey of Marlow upriver to Kurtz into a kind gone-rogue Boy's Life anti-colonialist/pro-incest version of Alice in Wonderland as performed by the residents of some remote mental institution. Some might consider it unwatchable due to terrible image quality and stagy overacting, but for those of us "in the know," one look into Boris Karloff's wild eyes as he dances  shirtless in a jungle leaf crown while a circle of cannibals thump on drums, shake skull rattles, stab goats, and wiggle long feather or vine skirts that look up close in the unshaded video quality like fire (or radar-jamming window), and we know we're home. Add a shirtless wild-eyed Roddy McDowell as Marlow, demanding the whip and being branded with a hot "K", feeding off Karloff's crazy energy, matching his performance art hysteria beat-for-beat, like if Page and Plant dueling high notes in "Dazed and Confused" was mixed with a family trying to be heard on the tarmac of a busy airport. "I celebrate my cruelty!," they shout. "I celebrate my hatred!"Been there, bro. I hereby claim this HEART as wild and true. "I celebrate my lust!"I celebrate the generosity of Amazon Prime and this great deal they seem to have made with 'Sprockets,' a vast library of long-neglected (unrestored) exploitation movies from the 50s-70s, many of them too damaged to even be on a Something Weird compilation. I celebrate the genius of mixing the potted plant jungle lurid sadism and miscegenation fantasy of Kongo, and White Woman with O'Neill's folk play existentialism (Emperor Jones), undergraduate avant garde theatricality (ala the old Pratt Institutionalized Theater, here) and Greek-myth analyst-couch bird-swarm beach-boy maenad rending ala Tennessee Williams / Hitchcock. I celebrate this Heart's mix of Shavian satire, Kafka-esque double talk, Maugham 'Victorian morality dissolving in the jungle heat'-ism, and expressionist dream poem segues. This isn't the Congo of Conrad--with its firsthand observed landscape and anthropological detail--anymore, but an inner Oz/Wonderland for sexually repressed British sailors desperately praying away their incestuous desires. And no matter how intense things get, the magic coins in Marlow's pocket can whisk him home as fast as ruby slipper Thorazine.I'll confess, growing up watching Shelly Duvall's Fairy Tale Theater with my parents, then studying Jung in college, (and finding my own magic doorways to weird worlds, if you know what I mean), have perhaps left predisposed me to love something as woebegone as this old Heart. It's similar to the way I love The Love Witch or Valerie and her Week of Wonders, or Lemorra: A child's Tale of the Supernatural. as much for the flaws and seams as their sense of wonder. I love the Disney fairy tales too, but they're so well done we don't get the ceremonial magick element, the Brechtian disconnect that lets you think, hmm next solstice maybe I'll get asked to play the Wicked Son, or white witch, or the God of spring harvest. In their staginess comes the surreal element of dreamsm which often appear slightly 'off' as if your unconscious couldn't afford the ambition of its art director.Unlike those feminine-based myths, reflecting anxiety about marriage and sex, this is the repressed hammy male version, reflecting going off to college and having your first acid trip and orgiastic sex experience [...]

Square in the Maenads: 68 KILL


Trent Haaga's darker-than-black noir comedy posits, early on, that even within the cartoonish, exaggerated post-grindhouse-fueled Alamo Drafthouse-bound renegade spirit popularized in the mid-90s by Tarantino, and Rodriguez--there are bounds not to be crossed. Even for characters who--like the assassins of Banquo---are so incensed by the vile blows and buffets of the world they are reckless what they do. For a hard-working squaresville lovestruck septic man Chip (Matthew Gray Gubler), roped by crazy hottie girlfriend Liza (AnnaLynne McCord) into robbing one of her johns (of $68,000), it comes fairly early on, but... wait. I can't say more, for to spoil even one twist or turn on this wild ride is to lessen its blunt force impact. Suffice it to say, for we fans of strong assertive women (those who score along the Hawks-Russ Meyer carnal spectrum rather than the 'strong-willed mother' Ford-Spielberg curve)  this bonanza of badassery is, especially in the time of plunging markets and collapsing governments, something we desperately need. Why wait for a woman to be harassed and abused enough that she finally pulls a gun or a knife and goes on a vengeance spree? That, to me, is sexist, inferring a woman needs a man's cruelty to light her inner bomb's fuse. Yes, let merely seeing the combination when your john opens the safe suffice as a sufficient excuse for unleashing your inner maenad.Liza with her weird brother Dwayne (Sam Eidson)90s ANTI-MORALITY RETURNS:When I was around four or five, I was briefly obsessed with the cartoon SPEED RACER, not because I loved it but because I hated the good guy, 'Speed', and hated his stupid monkey and sidekick and the ridiculous striped caps. I always thought it so unfair that the cooler bad guys (always in cool black shades) never won a single goddamned race. Every day I'd await it on afternoon TV, sure that this one time the bad guys would win. Weeks spread into months, and my frustration grew. Finally my mom explained the terrible truth. I felt sick to my stomach about how foolish I had been. It was fixed.I mention that to explain the euphoria that overtook audiences, 25 or so years later, when the outlaws of True Romance, Bound, The Last Seduction, Natural Born Killers,, Pulp Fiction all were surviving past the credits, often with their masterful crimes going rewarded. Beloved 80s-early 90s crime characters like Al's Scarface, Baldwin in Miami Blues, Thelma and Louise, and Walken's King of New York no longer had to die at the end. It's not just that crime was paying, it was that the schmucks on the other side of the thin blue line were losing. It was a victory not only for crime but for the haters of cliche, and for a certain kind of blind obedience to 'rules' that says we in the audience are too stupid to get that this is all just a movie, that 'rooting' for bad guys will make us bad. There's a respect for the audience inherent in the low bar sense of morality we find in 68 Kill, it's the same kind of respect that allowed Don Rickles to insult audiences for half a century. He trusted you felt the love in his heart, that it was a joke, that you weren't going to shoot him in the parking lot.We don't get that vibe so much anymore - we're too crushed up in PC remorse--all our big screen killers tend to be pedophile shadow people, gender a prison that destroys across generations-- it's depressing. Crime has lost its sexy bubble gun snap. We had Spring Breakers a few years back, and occasionally a Tarantino film, but where can badass alpha bitch psycho monster hotties go to unfurl their random violent urge flags these days, I mean really unfurl them? Where can an actress really breathe larger-than-life malevolence? There was a villainess in Wonder Woman but she's just a love-starved, disfigured French chemist gone awry. Where is the Kali archetype? The Red Queen? Where is the Catwoman who[...]

Ballin' the Jacks: TRUCK STOP WOMEN (1974)


Fans of high-energy strong female-filled crime films from the 60s and 70s by guys like John Flynn and Arthur Marks will rejoice to note that--slipping unobtrusively onto Amazon Prime after being unavailable on DVD for.... ever... rolls-- Truck-Stop Women (1974). One of the better films from long-working Mark L. Lester (Class of 1984), it featuring the always alluring--taken from this world too damn soon--Claudia Jennings in one of her best roles. It's a four-pull on the air horn hoot with everyone doing their best to deliver more than a mere exploitation truck stop movie, but not too much more than that. After all, it has no interest in pulling off the highway of cheap goofy asphalt thrills into anywhere except a bed with a two-timing hijacker-prostitute of the open road. This ain't your grandma's Mildred Pierce, honey. I'll tell ya what it is is, though: matriarchal tale of a matriarchal dynasty with a powerhouse mom is Anna (Lieux Dressler) so sassy-crafty as the owner/manager/big boss madame of a remote New Mexico truck stop / diner / motel / brothel / hijacking ring, she makes Joan Crawford seem like a dandy fop. Presiding over a loyal assortment of button men, mechanics, and good ole gal waitress/load hijackin' prostitutes, Anna's operation running so smoothly there wouldn't be even a story except that her long-stable mob connection out in Vegas has been shot, and her territory is now up for grabs. She can handle that, but she has one fatal flaw: her no-good triple-timin' daughter Rose (Jennings) who's mighty tired of life as momma's main hooker/hijacker.Jennings is so good here it makes it all the sadder to realize she'd be dead in just five years, in an accident off the Pacific Coast Highway (at age 30). Here, as Rose, it's her eagerness to betray momma that sets the whole criminal empire off its axis. With a cunning glee that stacks her up with your average primo Russ Meyer vixen, she links up with a mafia-dispatched goodfella "Smith" (John Martino) and his candy-mackin' thug, as a combination hostage, conspirator, and lover. And each side--Anna's and Smith's--start scheming to steal from the stealers when word leaks out about a hijackable load of stolen securities stashed in the back of a cattle truck roaring past in a few days. Anna would rather not rob from the mob, but what else can she do? that money is earmarked for the muscle that would rub her out of business. It all hinges on who knows what and whether their dumb enough to tell Rose. Does she even know? Certainly we don't. This is a movie that plays--like a matriarchal version of The Godfather--all its cards pretty close to the vest. We're dealing with levels of intelligence and subtlety far higher than we're used to in shit like this.Feminist Side Note: sure, Truck-Stop Women is--on the surface--crassly exploitative (my original post title was "Jennings balls the Jack" or variations, but I toned it down as I got scared of being tarred by what is at the moment a pretty wide-swingin' brush) and there are objectionable montages of uninhibited back-of-the-cab balling and jacking, and leering. But I'd argue that compared to things that do get a pass from a lot of feminists, like Game of Thrones or American Pie, I'd stick up for this movie, and the cult of the Jennings, any day. Don't forget there are as many middle age working gal side characters as buxom hotties here, and the most complex character in the bunch is Annie, a woman of advancing years with bad teeth, fake hair, and a larger than life, uneducated but way street smart savvy that makes her all the more dangerous for knowing how to maximize all the advantages of being labeled a lady. I may sound like I'm justifying old school sexism but as I'll be mansplaining in future (or past) posts, babes like Claudia Jennings, Tiffany Bolling and Pam Grier all showed there's a kind of sexy feminism at work in some of the movies from this era I wouldn't [...]

Best of 2017: The Phoenix Scorches the Snake (Year of the Woman)


The age of the Woman has begun and there's no going back. Have they ever, aside from the last time, when Anita Hill and Take Back the Night got tangled up in The Rules-roosted third wave snottiness? That was just the launch pad, this time, baby, the outer atmosphere got penetrated and we're holding a solid orbit as decades of held-in rage is at last screamed out over the land like a purgatorial rain. The big Halloween costume pick of 2017 was a true WONDER, directed by a woman, and the best-reviewed film ever on RT is written and directed by a real LADY, and the coolest retro-feminist counter-intuitive mindbender since swingin' 71 was about a WITCH, and produced-wrote-directed-and costume-designed by a woman. Sure, there's been some newly iconic masterpieces made by men this year, but this list will focus on woman-helmed films, or movies with badass chicks in them, and TV comedy shows (cuz drama's too much a bummer in this unendurably bummer year, so don't wait for me to follow you deep into dystopian oppression. You heard me, MAIDS!) In short, Rejoice, I, a SWM, have affirmed your right to shine. Let the bitter misogynists jeer in frustration from the belly of their mom's basement, blind to that pathetic irony and therefore blind to it all. Ladies, it was your year, and if you find yourself sliding backwards in this next one, just ask a man to explain what you should do next, then sacrifice him to Kali. KALI!PS - I finally made it to Judy Chicago's "The Dinner Party" on permanent exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Here it was, a mere ten minute walk from my current apartment, and I haven't been... ever. It was a moving, spiritual experience, and clearly the right year for it, as the above rant makes clear. If you're in town, go, man, go... Kali gets a plate. Emily Dickinson gets a plate. Virginia Woolf gets a plate. Gets ain't the right word. They take the plates. This is the year they take all the plates1. LADY BIRDWritten and directed by Greta GerwigNeither shying away from the romantic faux pas nor the cool little moments of triumph that come with growing up artsy but confident, here's a Catholic school girl movie that avoids all the tired (albeit necessary) sexual endangerment/obsession we get with all the 'women's coming-of-age' stories (the ones written by dudes). Gerwig allows us clearly autobiographical triumphant sing-outs like the take down of the visiting anti-abortion rally speaker, the brilliant and ridiculous aspects of an after-school drama club, the disillusionment and joy of teen sex. As someone who went to public school and lost my virginity at 17 to a drama club Catholic chorine who insisted on using both a condom and vaginal foam from Planned Parenthood but who is now an anti-abortion zealot, I can vouch that this is right up there with Superstar and at any rate way better than Little Sister or one of those things that seems cobbled together from contemporary lit adult education workshops more than actual life. This feels real, and tells the story, not of some 'average' girl buffeted by the winds of change in her rocky search for the right guy to surrender her freedom to, but of a specific strong-willed young woman, not quite as mature as she acts but totally free of anything resembling a cliche'd trait, a girl for whom the most important thing is not any one boy, but her own dream of going to New York to college instead of one of her local (state-subsidized) California options, despite her domineering-but-loving mother's protests. Lovingly filmed and acted, especially by star Saoirse Ronan, with brilliant vignettes and tiny moments zipping by too fast to stop and praise in any single viewing, its keenly observed connections between family members feels both well rehearsed and totally spontaneous, lived-in, and there's some dynamite sweaters and autumnal colors. It's an amazing achievement that fulfills the halo of stoner grace I saw over Great Gerwig as[...]

Angels of Death V: Girl Mummies


Sitting here in the tomb that is my office building on the day before Thanksgiving (luckily we're getting out early), I'm reminded of mummy bitches... in tombs... and how excited I was to see the new MUMMY was going to be a girl, i.e. maybe another semi-adaptation of Bram Stoker's 1903 novella JEWEL OF THE SEVEN STARS. Adapted several times to less or more effect by everyone from Hammer to downtown NYC hipster Michael Almereyda, it's a ripping, cozy little Victorian bit of proto-feminist spiritualism, postulating an ancient evil priestess whose soul travels the cosmos and is planning to return in a new body when the 'seven stars' of the Big Dipper align in accordance with a mystic jewel on a ring on her severed mummified yet perfectly preserved hand. Though the new movie isn't really based on it, there's some carryover in the crypto-Egyptian spiritualist reincarnation/speculation, and of course the idea of a girl mummy high priestess coming back from her astral travels to destroy the world in her own immortal, ancient-but-forever young-looking image. Too bad they had to shoehorn in a certain aging male.A major flop, this MUMMY will surely cast the blame for its failure on the idea of a girl mummy villain, rather than on its rightful target, Tom Cruise's wearying vanity, but I hope not. And I hope in general for more badass ancient sexy goddesses who are beyond good and evil due to their vast expanse travels and epoch-spanning existence, who view mortal life the way we might view dandelions or insects. They may fall into 'villain' categories, but you can't call them evil. They're just themselves. They're of their time. Their life force, being eternal, transcends our ordinary concepts of time, space, and duality. We cannot judge them anymore than a turkey can judge us for not honoring its sacrifice as we sit down to devour it on Thanksgiving; or anymore than the ghosts of the long-slain Native Americans who once kept our ancestors from winter starvation by bringing them corn judge us in our blind adherence to our 'family' tradition. Soon we'll all be in the same place anyway, we'll all return to ashes and become as the stardust in the wind, but these mummy broads will still be around, a coherence of energy no epoch's tedium can diminish.  Sofia Boutella as AhmanetTHE MUMMY(2017) Dir Alex Kurtzman**  / **1/2If you look past the rubble of collective abuse heaped on this year's MUMMY and see it with your expectations lowered and your buzz nice, therein you may find a true treasure in the form of lithe Algerian dancer/actress Sofia Boutella. As the title role, Ahmanet, she's a warrior mummy priestess assassin who (in the prologue), kills the pharaoh's wife's baby (as was the style of the time), and is mummified alive in an unmarked tomb for daring to love too much. Thousands of odd years later, Ahmanet's still far from down and out, tracing the seams in the fabric of time and space she's got just the right sky cult-brainwashed figurehead A-lister to exhume her and see her safely ferried across the channel to jolly England. Along the way all sorts of 3-D ready excitement materializes, the best of which are a vast murder of CGI crow ripping through the plane windshield and a great sandstorm made of crushed London window glass whooshing down the city streets, bouncing off the buildings like the sides of a giant whooshing bong. Required to convey great reams of unholy ancient power with little more than an arched back and determined half-smile, Boutella's Ahmanet is so cool even Russell Crowe as a burly Jekyll-Hyde-cum-Allan Quatermass seems rawther anemic and tediously patriarchal by contrast. There's never a doubt in our minds who amongst the whole dreary lot is the most sympathetic, no matter how many innocent people she kills. And if Crowe's coming off bad, you can only imagine how Cruise--ever determined to appear waggish--fa[...]

Spooky Behaviors: 15 Cool Horror Films Streaming on Amazon Prime


It's that time of year, a curated list of bizarro cage-free horror films casual classic horror fans may not know of, by me, Erich - and where to find them (they're all currently streaming free on Amazon Prime... for now). Sure it might be harder to get on your Fire stick or Apple TV or whatever, but if you love horror, the classic kind, ya gotta git Prime, man. While Netflix sheds almost all its older movies Amazon Prime has been, year after year, amassing a giant catalogue of weird old shit fin to make Kim's Video rise from its grave. Sure, come Halloween we'll all be watching STRANGER THINGS 2 on Netflix. But until then... am I right?(Post Script 11/17- We watched it already, and here we still are - am I right?)If the boxes of strange old crap look even fuller lately, it's because some rerelease outfit called 'Sprockets' has added countless lurid, cheaply made 50s-70s softcore sleaze-o-thons, usually barely an hour long, the type that probably packed onto marquees back in the days before hardcore but would barely get a PG-13 nowadays.  They all suck but in the process can help show why Joe Sarno, John Waters, and Russ Meyer are such comparative genius poets. Check a few out and wonder just how girls ever blinked with all that eyelash mascara back in the day. Then promptly exit that theater and come into mine, choose from this weird curated collection and be assured good times. To get the grindhouse effect (the 'three movies in continual rotation, open 24 hours'  malaise) I suggest slotting out three of these films in advance and then starting the first one in the middle, because--if you're old enough to remember--grindhouse marquees seldom had feature 'start' times. They just played continuously, so you'd walk into the theater in pitch dark, feeling your way to a seat, and never knowing which movie was playing when you came in, until the end (which is why so many horror films of the era end with the title, i.e. "You have been watching SUSPIRIA!"). Not knowing what film you were seeing, or what was happening onscreen, allowed for a sense of anything-can-happen danger that's missing when you know what film it is, and what it's about, and what it's rated, in advance. After one film is done, start the next right away, before you can second guess yourself or read what it's about.Then, when you finish your third movie of the night, start the first one up from the beginning, and when you get to where you 'came in,' you whisper to your asleep viewing partner (or cat): "this is where we came in" and turn the TV off and sashay away (i.e. pass out). Lo! A longstanding grindhouse tradition!As always with Prime, the image quality ranges from sublime to fourth generation VHS messed, so I rate both the film and the quality of Amazon's streaming print. Some of these reviews have been posted before on this site, they're presented here re-edited (and with new thoughts) but since some of the films discussed on older posts aren't always still avail. I wanted to regroup those that are, all the better to ensnare you. I'm not being lazy, just obsessive! And lazy!1.  TORSO (1973) Dir. Sergio Martino **1/2 / Amazon Image - ALooking at this now it's hard to believe just how thoroughly the commercial for Torso--which popped up a few times on local afternoon TV in 1973--chilled my six year-old blood. Its key image--of a girl, crawling pathetically through the mud in the woods while a figure in a ski mask slowly approached, relentlessly, her legs twisting in the undergrowth like she was grinding up against the mud in pathetic but aroused abandon, the killer's immobile face behind the orange ski mask approaching, pulling out (as I remember, incorrectly) a chainsaw--opened up my six year-old psyche like a razor through a Mad gatefold. It was probably the dawning of my nascent feminism (forced to contemplate the ranci[...]

BOOZE! Rate your drinking problem through these 12 progressively more harrowing movies.


There are fun movies about drunks like Nick Charles and WC Fields (which real drunks love whether or not they're sober) and there are movies ABOUT the reality of being a drunk, which drunks do not love, as they hit just too damn close to home. I'll confess, as an alcoholic ("Hi, Erich"), I've always loathed Jack Lemmon and his overwrought desperation in DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES. It's devious - director Blake Edwards + Lemmon equals, you'd think, a Billy Wilder-ish farce with Bronx-born babes in negligees staggering down hotel halls with empty ice buckets and bumping into the man from Nantucket, etc., and it's that expectation that makes it DAYS damned uncomfortable. Booze is a complex issue, so essential to higher mammalian social functions that we get positively genocidal without it. And it IS funny, I don't care what anyone says. It just helps to be on the inside of it, i.e. buzzed, to be able to laugh when things get terrifying.Generally even non-drinkers can all be amused and a little envious of the 'high-functioning alcoholic', the rest of us either quit or die. Addiction is--in the end--a disease brought around by a combination of genetically-endorsed depression, access to alcohol and an acute awareness of its self-medicating properties. We drunks often feel cut off from the world as kids; we don't even know what we were missing until that first drink hits, the clouds part, the sun shines in color, like Dorothy waking up in Oz. How can she go back to sober sepia after that? She can't, Auntie Em. A few days of depressing black and white (every sepia tint like a dagger of trite ennui), the wet hay and offal is still tinging the nostrils like an accusatory finger, she can't take another minute of wearing those shiny shit-ass black dress shoes (if she can't wear ruby slippers, she's going barefoot), kicks them off, and sneaks to the back of the shed and finds Zeke's still (that funnel on his head in Oz clearly denotes that inside his hollow chest is fermenting sour mash). Technicolor suddenly gushes into the world; she can see the miasma of OZ superimposed over the drab flatlands. But... always a but.. when it wears off in the heat of the next morning's chores, not only is the color gone, but the sepia tint looks muddier, the aspect ratio screwed up, the commercials endless and shrill, the evil Mrs. Gulch's dog-hating machinations that much more demoralizing. You better believe Dorothy's tumbling back o'the shed to that still asap, before the shakes start. A few years pass and Dorothy has to go rehab, but Aunty Em can't afford it. So we all know what happens next. Everything's up to date in Kansas City, including the eletroshock, the brothels and... damn, AA still only an Ohio thing.Thanks be to whatever higher power you choose, the Wizard, Auntie Em, or just the Emerald City door knocker, AA is everywhere today, there's a meeting that lets out right on my walk to work. It's too early for me to attend, most days, but I pass it and feel jealous of their weird fellowship. Dorothy would love it there; she'd find a whole new kind of half-color Emerald awaiting her in Kansan church basements and coffee and (once upon a time) cigarettes. Provided the wizard remembers to give her a meeting book and a copy of Living Sober. But there's movies that are less metaphorical than OZ, that address booze directly, good or bad, and I've seen them all. During my slow inexorable slide towards the rubber room I've realized every step of my journey is reflected within a series of films that, held end-to-end, just might help me, you, or some sick and suffering, poor bedeviled guy on fire with thirst figure out just where he's at, how he'll know whether he should try and stop on his own, or if it's just too damn late in the game to turn around on the road to either death or the detox ward. Rather than lying through[...]

International ScarJo: GHOST IN THE SHELL, LUCY, GHOST WORLD, Black Widow


Turn the cable on at any given time and there she is: Scarlett Johansson, the earthy alien: a KGB-enhanced warrior in THE AVENGERS; a neurochemically-enhanced girl who becomes more-than-human with 100% brain usage in LUCY; or (voice only) as a sexy Siri Mach 2050 in HER; an alien in UNDER THE SKIN; an alienated Tokyo tourist in LOST IN TRANSLATION; an alienated high-school graduate in GHOST WORLD.... on an on. Her wry half-smile and husky voice transform any enhanced, artificial, alien or weird character into something warm, tangible, iron tough yet all-forgiving. Born in the Bronx, inheritor to all the tough chick rasp that implies, she's ever ready to use seduction or a mixture of the kind of martial arts (Muay Thai, Kali, etc) that involves swinging around people's necks like an ice ballet starlet, to get what she needs for the mission. She has a great 'across the thug-filled room' saunter, shoulders low and hunched as if primed for a sneak attack, and a unique way with sussing potential trouble out of the corner of her eye without breaking stride or cool. She seems always a notch above her material, yet at the same time she doesn't step on its toes as she climbs. Gingerly she even brings it along behind her. No easy feat, to redeem and solidify shaky CGI realities; it's OK too if she can't quite pull off some of the more encompassing moments of grandeur, for she has the brains to underplay rather than ham it up. Hers is the same cool savvy we find in, say, 80s action stars like Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger --if she lacks their self-deprecating doofus undercarriage, she at least doesn't wink at the audience or start doing funky dances like Cameron Diaz. That shit doesn't age well, but Scarlett is built to last.Though adept at smaller scale comedies (she loves to dust off her Jersey-Bronx-LI accent), since becoming an A-lister, ScarJo hasn't labored for respectability in prestige pics too often, ccontent in becoming instead sci-fi royalty; the poster girl for a Tyrell Corporation-sponsored Time-Image sci-fi future. The first girl to hang glide all the way across the Uncanny Valley, she's part Hawksian 'one of the guys,' part 'your older sister's one cool friend who's nice to you.' When we see strange new sci-fi worlds through her eyes, those worlds seem somehow absolved, their furrowed scalps gently but robustly tousled. Be they Seoul's skyways, the post-riot despair of 3 AM Glasgow, jet-lagged Tokyo, futuristic Tokyo, some other Tokyo, Paris, mall culture America, the empty rose-colored void, or the past of all mankind on the earth, from the first female ape to the last gasp, she can bring humanist warmth. Turn on any channel and there she is, making the future seem not only real, but inviting, even survivable. Hair like Mary Elizabeth Winstead in the manga-esque Scott Pilgrim vs the WorldGHOST IN THE SHELLI'd heard the 'white-washing' accusations (1) before going to (open the Netflix envelope of) Ghost in the Shell but that only helped lower my expectations, which were low to begin with, for it seemed like Aeon Flux meets Ultraviolet x Resident Evil all over again. Maybe that helped in ways I can't foresee, or I'm racist, but I actually think Ghost in the Shell is actually a goddamn great film. For one thing, it's so rich in ambient futuristic detail --from the ingeniously animatronic reptilian geisha girl assassins to the visualized 3-D streams of bit data (they're so cool they make the green columns in The Matrix seem like the dos prompts in War Games --insert snorty nerd laugh)--that all its generic cop vs. corporate corruption clunkiness is forgivable (and certainly no more perfunctory than that in Ghost's most obvious template, Blade Runner).In a role originally conveyed via an anime pixie, Johansson plays "The Major," an adva[...]

Death Drivin' America - Part 3: DEATHSPORT, CANNONBALL!


Corman fans like myself are finding--in golden hindsight and reverence for all things 35mm--that many of Roger Corman's New World produced ALIEN / STAR WARS / JAWS-imitations (the one that launched Joe Dante, James Cameron, and Lewis Teague) have held up and improved with age, and even the 'period-period', the post-BONNIE AND CLYDE wave (BLOODY MAMA, BIG BAD MAMA, LADY IN RED, BOXCAR BERTHA, etc) still pack a wry punch. But we do ourselves, not the man, a disservice by forgetting Corman too wrote the original FAST AND THE FURIOUS, launched the biker subgenre with THE WILD ANGELS and helped craft the parameters of the wacky outlaw race movie with DEATH RACE 2000 and EAT MY DUST.In the best of them, like TEXAS DYNAMITE CHASE, there are sultry glimmers of greatness, and the worst, like SMOKEY BITES THE DUST (1981), there are at least some good crashes. BUT -- remember a few miles back we talked about DEATH RACE 2050 ("the only movie that matters in 2017" - April Wolfe), and talked about how no film could match the original. Well, maybe I missed something - probably not, but there are two movies that explore different aspects of DEATH RACE 2000, a kind of Dougie/Cooper split if you will. Thanks to Shout Factory, whose New World DVD output is one of the great boons to any serious trash collector, we can shuffle back and find out which one has the real juice, if either.The Paul Bartel-directed 1973 original DEATH RACE hypothesized that in 2000 we'd be living under the thumb of a crazy president (hey!) with a fun old-school (like Roman gladiator) sense of entertainment and population control. In the process all the tenets of 70s life were commented upon: road rage, gas crises, Carter and OPEC; America's big cathartic fuck-you to the next four days of work, Monday Night Football; Detroit demonology, the grease pit grimoire with groovy names like Gran Turino, Corvette, Trans-Am, Mitzy Bishu Gallant, Suzy Bannon the Buick; CB radios (as discussed in the earlier piece on CONVOY)It's perhaps understandable why one who was a child in that time would return now to the auto wreck bloodsport satire genre as if some rumbling unleaded Rosebud. For our crazy prez, for our crazy country, for the Civil War that turned so cold we grew more Russian the more we tried not to be, and lo! hear the mighty engines roaring for America? Komrade, we need to rev it. Only by blazing fast and furious do we finally not stand stagnant swampish.CANNONBALL!(1976) Dir. Paul Bartel**There was the drag race juvenile 50s, the biker 60s, and then the New World team jumped lanes and drafted over behind a speeding slew of now semi-forgotten drag racing /moonshiner movies, and cross-country 'rallies,' rooted to actual events, such as the now-forgotten real-life Cannonball Dash, a cross-country race that was set up to protest the 55 mph highway law (set up in 1974) and caught the popular cinematic imagination where it congealed with the once-popular all-star cast ramshackle race-arounds like GUMBALL RALLY, VANISHING POINT and eventually SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT. In all of them, the issue of prize money, a bet, the importance of an honor system and all in the game camaraderie is easier to understand (a gum ball machine, for example, is a relatively worthless prize; a truckload of beer doesn't seem worth risking jail and doing all sorts of public damage, etc.). For $100,000. prize in CANNONBALL!, well, that's real money, and it's just too damn easy to cheat if all you need is an LA parking lot stamp at the NYC finish line.  One canny little guy flies his car in a big jumbo jet across country; others sabotage rival cars (with racers too dumb to watch their vehicle or check under the hood); and so forth.These things bother me; and the film is choked up with actors too much alike to tell apar[...]



Julie Newmar in the old BATMAN TV show--her lithe playful grace, her tender malevolence with her dopey underlings, her black spangly bodysuit and languorous ease in her own alluring body, the languorous stretching way she'd climb up and dismount the boxes and thrones in her secret lair--even as a seven or eight year old I could feel my still-slumbering hormones stir within me like a sleepy behemoth whenever she appeared (it was a regular after-school rerun throughout the 70s). And so, because of her, we all began to worship cats. Bast, the ancient Egyptian cat goddess, was invoked around playground pentagrams; Cat Woman to boys what My Pretty Pony, or National Velvet was to girls, and nowadays Jacob the wolf boy. Animal-human hybrids are a pop culture-raised nations' adolescent sexual surrogates. America the parent sits on our bed, fidgets in its after-work tie, glances at our weird posters, and says "this has been a good talk," then runs from the room confident its role has been passably completed. The TV smiles, rolls its eye and returns to regular cat channel.  We may not know the mystery behind that impassive mask, but that's why it's there - and as a result it's a real relief.Alas, Cat Woman fell down a well (see Kitty Kali). Other ladies took the role. None the same; what cat can compare to luminous Newmar? Genres change, boys become men, men become wolves, graven images are smashed by heretics' hacking hammers, the beat goes on, and cats come back / the very next day. As Boris says in THE BLACK CAT (1934), "Cats do not die." So can we deny that the crazy old lady with the ton of cats is within us all?Lately two film ambled forth and struck my gong in this department. Timeless, strange, evocative, ephemeral, mysterious, kind of goofy, and short. What can we do but cherish them, and never try to put them in little cardboard boxes? You heard me, Ollie, in CAT PEOPLE (1942).THE CAT CREATURE(TVM - 1974) Dir. Curtis Harrington***The story of a strange necklace stolen off of a mummy and the curse that follows it (everyone who handles the piece gets mauled to death by Bast, a mummy cat god), THE CAT CREATURE is solid as far as 70s TV horror movies go--and there were a lot of them. If you were a kid in the 70s (this post is heavily nostalgic, because cats are outside space and time), now you may find you love them, despite their shallow depth slow-amble cop show vibe, their general avoidance of anything like sex or gore, their low budget and clear reliance on commercial breaks for pacing (which makes their video and digital versions seem strangely incomplete, as if 'the good parts' are missing). In their gentle nostalgia-evoking haze they provide a kind of comfort food opiate quality. And when done right, as by Curtis Harrington, they're great sources for bits of classic Hollywood, a way to keep fading B-list characters visible, and evoke the bygone classics while following cop show rhythms and doling out just enough scares and suspense to keep you from changing the channel at the next commercial break, but not enough to give you a panic attack, rob you of your very-70s faith in humanity, or even bum you out. They trade on ambiguity, which is something that Curtis Harrington proved himself a master of straight out the gate with his first film, NIGHT TIDE (1962). Harrington is a true fan of the classic horror era; he single-handedly rescued OLD DARK HOUSE from the edge of the abyss and here he salvages the gloriously sinister Gale Sondergaard from her decades on the black list, giving her ample room to flash her evil smile and dish out tarot fortunes (guess what card is drawn for the nosy archaeologist?). The cast also includes Keye Luke, John Carradine, Milton Pearson (he played the escaped lunatic in THE HIDDEN HAND) and [...]

Laurentiis of Drug-rabia: DUNE (Great Acid Cinema #43)


Caught the last half of DUNE on Showtime after a groovy nap and it was good enough I had to watch the first part on demand. I remembered liking its wildly uneven effects and straight-faced self-important trippiness as a college freshman catching it at the Student Union in 1985 but it wasn't 'cool' to show enthusiasm for it. What insecure freshman is strong enough to buck the flow of the masses? But this time 32 years older, unafraid and not fully awake, watching Kyle McLachlan in a sexy ribbed dark black suit riding atop a giant sand worm as the thunder cracked, the sand churned, and finally--like it's been buried under the surface of Arrakis all this time-- an electric guitar from Toto comes cracking through the orchestration like a blazing ray of sun, I knew I was home. Directed by David Lynch, produced by Dino de Laurentiis - a match made in heaven, whether anyone knew it back in the realm before cheap CGI made even unconvincing miniature work forever precious.Even from the first scene you know you may not understand shit about what's going on, but you've never seen anything like it: a bald sister psychic asked by the emperor to psychically eavesdrop on the thoughts of a 'navigator' (those Metaluna-brained giant newts) escorted by a flock of austere leprous monks with cracked-egg brains--who file into a wildly psychedelic golden throne room carrying a Grand Central concourse entrance-cum- 30s diner train car betwixt them--then the windows open and the navigator swims out of the murk up against the glass to address the emperor via a translator device that looks like a 20s radio microphone. This, you realize, is not common, not hackneyed or trite or cliche, this is the kind of thing Bill Burroughs might hallucinate while on yage in the 50s, watching an old WB movie wherein Spanish ambassadors complain about privatized buccaneers to Queen Elizabeth while in the throes of junk delirium in the back of a decaying Moroccan cinema. In its total otherness it might even be a film actually made on another planet, one where the burnished dusky Art Deco Grand Central concourse oyster bar Illuminati 1939 Worlds' Fair Dali fever dream decor never went out of style, just matured along a separate tributary from the sci-fi we know. Even (or especially) if from certain angles you can see all the gold fixtures (right down to the gleaming highlights) are painted backdrop, this shit's truly psychedelic. Lynch + Laurentiis = batshit crazyThe guitar of Toto made me think of another pic produced by Dino de, FLASH GORDON (1980), with its unforgettable rock and roll Queen soundtrack. The stories are the same, too: the 'deliverer' come to a strange new world to free the people in bondage from Von Sydow's or Jose Ferrer's galactic emperor. CONAN too... with its thunderous De Falla permutations, going against Thulsa Doom. ORCA in reverse. Dino de Laurentiis did them all. Dino! I feel your guiding hand, it's holding an electric guitar!Now in 2017, aired on Showtime in tandem with Lynch's TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN, the true psychedelic yield comes forth, like one of those big 'Guild Navigator' beings, that look kind of like a giant newt with the cranium of a Metalunan mutant and googly eyes of a giant monster squid. Acting as a kind of intergalactic MTA, folding space through their swimming in gaseous clouds of the psychedelic spice, they blow from their icky Burroughsian orifices big plasma balls at images of planets and in doing so dissolve the space betwixt them, a kind of butterfly wing / tsunami / Dustin Hoffman folding a blanket thing. And they expect to have their fog of spice fresh and churning for their troubles. The film doesn't get much help trying to decipher all that, even [...]

Tigron and Taboo: the Freudian Dream Theater of FLASH GORDON (1936) + Aura the Merciful


The murky Freudian sexuality of dreams sometimes creates a kind of bilateral lurching movement, as if drunkenly crashing sideways through a row of Natural History Museum dioramas. Crashing through each thin wall we tumble through shallow and dimly imprisoning landscapes, giddy warm panorama of exotic wonder--shallow yet vast, static yet propulsive. In their weirdly other nature, these dioramas are neither indoors nor out, but a strange combination of the two, as if the whole world was now under one roof, yet offering the same limited depth of field of, say, a low budget film or TV soundstage. It was the original STAR TREK's great genius to understand this: their alien planet surfaces never had much depth of field, but in their surreal staginess-- a few foam rocks with a weird tree growing between to evoke a whole planet, a strangely-colored sky backdrop--offered a cozy 'small world' interiority, creating a vibe like when we're kids imagining sneaking off into the diorama one of those haunted Disney log rides; it was only when TREK went out of doors, in the desert canyon scrub, that mundane reality seemed to intrude. Those were never as fun--they never tapped into the dreamy sexual current. Sexual dreams, it seems, are almost always indoors.This was all brought home to me after recently re-watching Universal's original 1936 serial of FLASH GORDON. Instead of masking its poverty with one too many half-assed fist fights and talky stretches, the way so many later serials did, FLASH packs in imaginative cliffhangers, monsters, fights, ray guns, death beams, hypnosis, giant lizards, allies and foes, and most importantly, sex, in every chapter. Overflowing with pulp-sexy gonzo shoestring madness, this original 13-chapter groundbreaker captures the semantics, lurid subtext, sketchy detail, and tumble-over-itself breathless pacing of pre-adolescent 'ur-sexual' dreams, or especially (as per Freud), a prepubescent male's first erotic pangs - the magnetic jouissance that has no outlet (the orgone energy and erotic focus is yet to cohere in the genitals, so roams throughout the body, diluted but present everywhere at once, leading to polymorphous perversity). Flash might be aimed at the younger viewer, but it's not aimed at keeping them children. Just as Zarkov blasts Flash, Dale, and himself to Mongo to save the Earth, the film blasts us off to adulthood at the sight of Jean Rogers' bare midriff, back pressed against the throne room wall as the heartily-laughing/leering King Vultan of the Hawkmen advances towards her, as crazed with desire as we are. Our brains scrambled and entire body alive with rocket fuel jouissance, this serial lifts us out of snot-nosed, ice cream truck-chaser phase and onto a semi sexually awakened pre-teen plateau. Just pulling a girl's hair so she chases you around the playground is suddenly no longer enough, but we have no earthly idea where else to go from there. We go from wild to awkward, and from Marvel and DC superheroes to racy shit like Heavy Metal and Vampirella. But unlike them, Flash is not puerile or pandering. It's still made after the code. There are rules, and within those rules an understanding of how rules are sexy.AURAKim Morgan's excellent New Beverly piece on the remake, her startling praise for the color red and the progressive awesomeness of Ornellea Mutti as Aura in the 1980 Sam Hodges' remake, inspired me recently to revisit both that film and the earlier original series. Though considered just a post-Star Wars imitation (though really it's Star Wars that's the Flash imitation), the remake has stood the test of time as a pinnacle in utilizing kinky pulp magazine ur-sexuality (1) in the service of kid-friendly f[...]

No Sex Please, We're British... from Space: DEVIL GIRL FROM MARS, FIRE MAIDENS OF OUTER SPACE


Watched the amazing GLOW on Netflix this weekend, great stuff, man. I got some advice though, if you're going to watch the show don't watch the documentary, it's depressing - the cheap video they shot on has not aged well, and they talk about bad gym smells and have food fights. Don't sully the beauty and amazingness of the 10 episode series with the brutalism that is reality.... in Vegas... on home video quality tape. Go instead to CAT WOMEN OF THE MOON, GHOSTS OF MARS, or STAR MAIDENS, or THE RUNAWAYS (and, presumably, the new WONDER WOMAN) and bask in how progressive and rockin' chicks can be when they start wisin' up to the limits they've let reproduction and the hetero-pair bond inflict on them, and take back the Matriarchal council from hammy elder 'fathers' and dogmatic scientists. BUT, if you're a bunch of space women from unfertilized matriarchies, who've (wisely) long ago killed your men (they deserved it, baby), and you're looking to raise your gene pool water line, come to America! Don't go to Britain, at least not in the 50s, where men are reserved under the cold tea-and-crumpet heel of something worse than fog, marriage, or censorship, that cold Brit upper lipped-stiffness so resolute they even wrote a show 'bout it. The following is based on something of mine originally published in the print zine Van Helsing's Journal, which focused on all British horror and sci-fi and a jolly good rag it was, too, with me providing a very British blend of gallows' humor and urbane drollery in covering these two films. My grandmother was a daughter of the Revolution with several descendants fighting in that war, the war of 1812 and two hung in Salem (two escaped to less bonkers towns) as witches in the late 1600s so I guess I can 'pass' in a Darby pinch, and right now--flash forward--Hammer's black-and-white 1063 Bloch-chip NIGHTMARE plays behind me while I write this; the pained screaming of the heroine in the madhouse dovetails perfectly with some looney lady screaming like a possessed women on the stairs below my apartment. I love those kind of bonkers coincidences--they're absolutely mad, utterly bonkers. The film itself's rubbish (NIGHTMARE, I mean), as far as I can glean --the heroine's head is too wide. But Hammer's vampire stuff is good, in full-throated color, as seen in the other film on the disc, KISS OF THE VAMPIRE. You'd think being so good with that end of the fantasy spectrum, the Brits could handle sci-fi. But if I was queen of Mars and looking for willing earthmen to save my stale race, I wouldn’t look to England. A little 1953 sci-fi cheapie called CAT WOMEN OF THE MOON (in 3-D) once proved America to be an ideal place from which a lusty moon matriarchy might order fit specimens. In fact, that film’s central theme, not exactly new in itself (a popular motif in pulps), prompted a slew of copycats: MISSILE TO THE MOON (1958), QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE (1958), ABBOTT AND COSTELLO GO TO MARS (1953), even INVASION OF THE STAR CREATURES (1963). All of them are classics, worth repeat viewings, except for... well, any of them. I do love CAT though, for all the wrong reasons (see: The Moon, Cat-Women, and Thou). After all, the sexy insinuations inherent in the formula are nigh irresistible and more or less write themselves: phallic rocket ships, sexy cat ladies in curvaceous craters, underground lairs represented by some cushions and a statue of the dancing Shiva, a giant spider, sandwich it betwixt some stock rocket shots and some hopeful young starlets willing to dress up in funny tiaras or black leotards with painted eyebrows - and then either raid the stock cue library or hire a newcomer kid like Elmer Bernstein, then j[...]



At last, the color portion of my promised Hill oeuvre, celebrating the mountain of Hills now available on Blu-ray, framing the golden question of whether Hill "gets" women or just loves them - whatever the difference is, and if a single filmography can answer it. Thanks to great work of the mighty Arrow video, and Scorpion releasing; most everything Hill did is on Blu-ray or at least DVD (see part one of this series, the Hill black and white era). Next to the great JC, he's the premiere Hawksian of the drive-in era. Cherish him.The following have always been in print and written about quite a bit, largely due (I think) to Quentin Tarantino and Pam Grier, so just a quick pass through of their pros and cons as I have mixed feelings about them.PART II: THE GRIER YEARSTHE BIG DOLL HOUSE (1971) ***Made during the Philippine film industry boom (a time when life--that of stunt men, crews, and extras-- was cheap), when Corman's New World youth brigade (Hill, Hellman, etc.) operated down there like a bunch of film school Col. Kurtzes, BIG DOLL HOUSE updates of the Women in Prison genre for a new 'sexually free' generation. Shoring off the 50s gang deb's big hair for straight blonde or afros, changing her switchblades for machetes, and adding erotic nudity, lesbian amor (as opposed to just suggesting it via some lip-smacking bull-dyke guards), horniness, political upheaval, nymphomania, opiate withdrawal, sisterhood, corruption, systemic sadism (The infamous Stanford Experiment was conducted the same year), xenophobia (racism), and existential ennui, using the foreign locale to emphasize the powerless terror any sensible American has being caught in the gears of a corrupt, brutal third-world regime. If that wasn't rough enough for you: Hill stock character actor Sid Haig shows up in a sombrero. Wherever Hill is there, so too the wildman Haig. It is written.The cast is a veritable All-Stars of New World hottie talent, not only introducing Pam Grier (as the lesbian) but Judy Brown (as the newbie); Pat GIRLFRIENDS Woodell (as the guerrilla); Roberta Collins (as the tough blonde); and Brooke Mills (as the strung-out junkie). They'd all be playing nurses, strippers, thieves, or feminists all through the New World 70s drive-in canon. Here they race cockroaches, fight in the mud, shower, and get it on while the sadistic head guard (Kathryn Loder, left) conducts nightly torture sessions for the pleasure of the mysterious Colonel Mendoza (the kind of character who watches from behind two-way screens --only his cigarette holder and riding crop discernible in silhouette); eventually the girls escape, and all hell breaks loose as they race to join the rebels, machine guns blazing a path through the jungles. Libertad! Wait, what country is this supposed to be again?Pros: Despite the copious grime and systemic abuse, Hill keeps a nice pro-feminist stance, though the final shot is a downer for sure. Some cathartic violence during the escape; sexy star wattage from a roster of capable talent in their prime; Grier's dynamite song "99 Years."Cons; The Philippines never look good on film to me -- that vegetation just feels claustrophobically damp, the vegetation waxy and a thin sheen of sweat over everyone and everything, flat gray-white sky outdoor days both hot humid and oppressive even out of doors, with ugly buildings and the ghosts of horrible Japanese soldiers still haunting bullet-ridden ruins, and so forth. Some of the torture is unpalatable (like that 'swirly' trick Hill's so fond of). Still, *** because for what and where it is, it's damned solid.THE BIG BIRD CAGE(1972) **1/2The Doll House was such a hit that Hill and[...]

Dipsomaniac Amore: FALSTAFF (aka CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT)


We fans of Welles and of his boozy expressionist MACBETH (1948) dreamt long and loudly of one day seeing a CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT (1966) Criterion Blu-ray. Orson Welles' culling of Falstaff bits from several Shakespeare plays--put in a larger English history (circa early 1400s) context via Hollinshed's Chronicles--was damned hard to appreciate on graymarket shit dupes. The handful of critics who'd seen it on the big screen assured us it was a masterpiece, but with the usual muddy transfer, and a pace too rapid and over-edited and re-dubbed for our attention to rest upon, it looked (from within the murk) as if Welles had been editing it so discordantly that the only way to appreciate it was to have edited it oneself, to be so familiar with its rhythms and the story, that its ceaseless cascade of intricate movement and overlaps of drama, history, wry comedy, arrestingly grotesque woodcut- expressionistic deep focus frames, discordant distorted perspectives, bawdy double entendre, and poetry, could sing in the blood (and you'd have to be drunk). Enough forgotten words and slang phrases were used that we needed subtitles and a period English dictionary to unscramble it) and we didn't have them, unless maybe in Korean. What's worse, the whole cast within the film were laughing uproariously at every little movement of old Jack Falstaff, before we even got a chance to see him or get the joke, and that's an alienating effect, intentional or not. Looking so ballooned, as if he might bust or drop a sandbag out of his purse and float away out of the Mad magazine-meets-Bruegel frame, his voice sounding like ventriloquist throwing his voice back in time across vast sound mixing chasms, Welles' Falstaff seems hardly fit material for such guffawing. We're trying our best to keep track of what's going on but end up only worried we're not 'enjoying' it right -- their laughter becomes at us for being dimwitted philistines.I tried to watch the whole thing once or twice but gave up, decreeing I'd wait for the Criterion. Maybe if the full scope and glory of the cinematography could be appreciated, the sound fixed up, this mountains of icy qualms into flattened puddles melt once the clarity and deep woodcut shadow returned. Well, the Criterion has come. No more excuses. Dive in! Sure it's taken me months to finish it, and to find at last the right mindset for it's odious savors sweet. But now allow me to suggest the ways I did it might for you too work, for why else would one watch it if not to boast later that one has and imply in doing so one is, what is the word, a cultured aesthete? 'Hiccup'It's not rocket science, man. I relapsed over Xmas. Yea, for other reasons than Percy's scourge, yet I pray thee --judge me not. Because if nothing else, my cups grew so craked that by contrast Don Birnim would seem a lordly Dunsinane.And so I 'finished' the Chimes at last.I'd learned from my last relapse (1998), watching an old tape of Welles' Macbeth (1948) that Orson ranting under gloomy painted skies, swilling from his drinking horn, servant ready in the wings with the jug for refills, soothed the saucy doubts and fears of a lost weekend-into-next bender. When the brain is bobbing merrily in the amniotic surf, Shakespeare's language comes into delirious focus and the world's weight of guilt and dread for the coming work week (the boss's unanswered voicemails like an accusing blinking digit Banquo) find a perfect mirror in gloomy tripped-out Scotland, and in the process, are allayed, soothed. I still have the pages of almost illegible, whiskey-stained, hand-written notes, to the effect it was the ideal re[...]



If you have Netflix and three-ish hours on your hands, why not bow your cowboy mouth down below your skies-are-not-cloudy and ride along in the buggy with "the Cowboy" to a double-feature shivaree fit to bust a low-hangin' cumulonimbus: the Netflix-produced meta-crime-mentary CASTING JONBENET (2017) and Lynch's recently-upgraded post-affect-noir, MULHOLLAND DRIVE (2001). Cowgirl pageant darlings cast and into the coffin cradled, broh; non-starter starlets on the Hollywood bungalow bed, dead. How many films in a buggy like? Two along with Mitch.Like that ALL ABOUT EVE chick bowing to herself in the mirrors while cradling Eve Harrington's theater guild award (left) in an infinite cascade of cinematic split-subject no hay banda hauntologic dead media mimesis reality vs. fantasmatic / feminine split psyche, this proposed double feature combo would scare the glasses right off that young kid in the morgue in PERSONA. If a real spooked identity crisis uneasiness happens while you're within this three-hour tour through the tumblin' tumbleweeds, just click your heels five times, and whisper the word "silencio" as you draw a functional pentagram with a sacrificial dagger upon the flesh floor. You may not hear his rustlin' in the underbrush, but the devil will come.. already came... and you're long, long dead, waking never from the dream of cinema. As the fella said, sometimes you eat the bar, sometimes the bar eats you. A Netflix original directed by young Australian fox auteur Kitty Green, CASTING JONBENET is a true story, on both levels, the making of a movie about the thing, and the recreation via memory of what the thing may have been. Rather than just recreate the infamous events, Green kept the interviews and screen tests from the casting call of a "Lifetime"-style movie about the infamous JonBenet Ramsey case, utilizing local actors from the Ramsey family's Colorado hometown, many of whom who knew the people involved. So though technically a "making of-" documentary, the details of story unfold and the sidebars become the main content.  Is mom covering up for either her weird son or her possibly pedophile husband? What about that three-page ransom note? Forced into the child pageant circuit by a failed beauty queen mom, JonnBenet may have been a brat or too good for the world; as screen tests of actors playing the real life characters (who seemed to be 'acting' at their press conferences) anything is possible.Green's not after the truth but the elusive way truth vanishes in telephone game clouds on the horizon. Take for example the montage of auditions / screen tests re-enacting mom's initial phone call to the police: with a script in one hand, the phone in the other, several actresses carefully modulate the tremor or anxiety and desperation in their voice as they read from the script and feign possible feigning. Green trusts us to unpack the massive electric charge inherent in watching an actress audition by performing the mother's real life unconvincing (but possibly real) phone call. Seeing more than one actress try to nail this weird ouroboros strip paradox is to realize an even broader canvas, the mutability of the truth along a mythological axis (not just those low horizon clouds, but a spinning wheel like Dorothy's sightline after she's hit on the head during the tornado). Even if we've never heard the actual Ramsey phone call (and we don't within the film, nor do we see any actual images of the actual participants) we know the 'type,' and the child kidnapping/murder is a tabloid boilerplate fastened with adamantine bolts to the mediated public c[...]



TWIN PEAKS is happening again; Agent Cooper has returned in different places as different selves; DANGER 5 is no longer on Netflix, but THE LOVE WITCH is. Things from the past come back yet nothing from the moment leaves--the selection is so vast picking something is impossible. So we go back in time to when--if we wanted to see weird shit, sex or gore--we had to go the R-rated movie, or... in the 80s, we had to rent it, and were limited by what wasn't checked out, and by circumstance. Now we miss that simplicity, the narrowness of options. So we make movies that evoke those golden years of a smaller group of options. If you want to make a movie that looks and feels like it was made 20 years ago then you might be a retro-metatextual, but I won't judge you. I'd have to pick a version of me to do that, and I'll leave that to the professionals serenely rooted in space and time.What's important is that the acclaim for STRANGER THINGS and IT FOLLOWS helped kickstart a batch of filmmakers into making stuff they wanted to see back in the days of standing in front of shelves filled with empty clamshell boxes, child's mind thrilling to the lurid covers. From the recently discussed SWEET, SWEET LONELY GIRL to as far back as GRINDHOUSE, a kind of borderline nostalgia future-past melancholy washes over things to free us all from the terrible burden of the slick but washed-out HD CGI present --wherein STAR WARS films look like video games and video games look like neorealist crime dramas.Neither feature film discussed below is specifically great (which is why I added a short at the end that is). In fact I'd love to sit them down with each other and have them compare notes for each has what the other lacks: for THE VOID, it lacks patience, tick-tocaklity and focus; BEYOND THE GATES action and surprise, the strength of convictions --willingness to crank it to eleven rather than constantly dialing back like a repressed schoolmarm resisting temptation.THE VOID(2017) Dir. Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski**The bashed-in brainchild of an art director and make-up artist in their directorial co-debut, VOID offers a nice showcase of analog/latex effects harnessed to a long-weird-night tale of an understaffed hospital (in the midst of closing) deep in the meth belt, wherein people start to give birth to or change into tentacled behemoths thanks to some creepy chemist's Cthulhu cult. Aaron Poole stars as the shaky sheriff who lets you know how rattled he is when he shoots a patient in the head after bringing in a (different) twitchy, shot freak from the woods. The guys shooting at him arrive, hold everyone hostage and then the hospital is surrounded by a cadre of cultists in white robes with black triangles on the hoods. All Hell breaks loose, literally: everyone shouting and waving guns, and about four different Clive Barker and John Carpenter movies come crashing together as THE THING and ASSAULT PRECINCT 13 merge together and then goes IN(to) THE MOUTH OF MADNESS, the church in Carpenter's PRINCE OF DARKNESS, the attics of Clive Barker's HELLRAISER, and Stuart Gordon's FROM BEYOND and the Solaris-from-Hell space ship in EVENT HORIZON, there's probably others.That may sound great, I know it did to me. But Gillespie and Kostanski clearly have a lot to learn about what makes a good horror film, like when to use dialogue and when not to, where to put the camera, and how to set up an ominous mood. They go for a Carpenter vibe but don't have the patience for Hawksian cool or the slow-building relentless dread that are amongst Carpenter's best auteur traits[...]

Pitt Daddy Blasts Again: WAR MACHINE + All-Out War Acidemic Memorial / Father's Day Round-up


I never fought in a real war, but growing up we played war with cap guns or plastic Uzis and I had HO scale planes dogfighting over my bed; I don't have to tell you how bad things are today: toy guns are fake looking, made of yellow or orange plastic to allay the triggers of nervous cops. But in the 70s-80s our guns were real-looking, heavy and loud. Nowadays the squirt guns have way more range, so maybe it's a trade-off. We need George C. Scott as Patton and Nazis to fight; instead we got Afghanistan civilian insurgents and Brad Pitt as General McMahon. Yeah, I'm watching the released-today-on-Netflix WAR MACHINE, the true story of the crazy gung-ho general brought in to 'fix' Afghanistan not too long ago (?) and who was taken down by a snide Rolling Stone reporter and his own reckless urge to shoehorn the complexity of counter-insurgency into a war model he can 'win' (he's not the general taken down by an affair with his sexy biographer, he's taken down by a snide journalist --big difference!). Adopting a comical (and overused) bowlegged running style that lets him show off his barrel-chested burliness (as if he's always about to fall forward and give you twenty), Pitt's SLING BLADE-on-the-half-baked-pasta-shell voice and pillow factory energy makes watching him is like reading a paperback military biography on a long plane ride rather than living the history. After the coiled cobra calm be brought to David Ayers' FURY and Tarantino's INGLORIOUS BASTERDS (above), it's a bit of let-down how slack he is here - the calm is there, the cobra is gone. Looking back at those earlier films it's clear he had a few things going for him, trait-wise, other than a comically stiff Fearless Fosdick chin and an ostentatiously silver head of hair. One of the easiest to admire was the easy way he had with shooting unarmed prisoners (the kind of thing a Tom Cruise or Leo would worry might alienate their fan base). Where's that 'madness of war' gone, Brad?As with Jolie's fall from feral madwomen grace, I blame their children.In other words, WAR MACHINE's General McMahon is a bit too obviously the work of a beaucoup liberal screenwriter trying to be balanced while taking down as a well-meaning warrior blind to the fact that America hasn't won a war since 1945. A sniping journalist voiceover burdens itself with all the usual suspect hearts-and-minded critiques we all know by heart and never asks why we'd want to hear this 'embedded' opinion rather than the researched high of war by someone like Kathryn Bigelow, Mel Gibson, John Milius, or Clint Eastwood. It's pretty easy to throw Tilda Swinton in a German press briefing and have her deliver the 'Big Message' lines the rest of the film's too distracted to convey, but if it is supposed to be all based on a Rolling Stone piece we'd have been much better off going with a more nuanced 'gonzo' journalist approach, i.e. focusing on the journalist''s personal experience situated within the events, their observations, and the drugs they were on that may have distorted those observations, with background press and history folded into it rather than this kind of presumption that liberal bias equates truth.The script starts out well but then wind up in situations no journalist could possibly be, like the generals date with his rarely seen wife (Meg Tilly - be in more stuff, baby! We miss you) or some 'typical' FUBAR moments of chaotic boots-on-the-ground implementation of the general's 'big' strategy.  Rather than focus on the war room or his base of command, or attempt anything remotely c[...]

Anti-Authority Nowhere Land: CONVOY (1978)


America needs a hero again, c'mon back Rubber Ducky 10-4 and remember that song "Convoy" by ole Cash McCall? Sure, now that the trucker craze is decades gone, and rap is here to stay, McCall just sounds like some grizzled old Marlboro man babbling into his CB receiver while a Curtis Mayfield instrumental plays behind him on the FM dial, but in 1975-6, his "Convoy" was haulin' ass up the charts until it became the hood ornament on a full-on cross-country trucker fad going no place at 80 mph, downhill. It was the kind of thing we all heard on the radio in the car nonstop and either loved or ignored. We didn't really 'hate' things in the 70s, there weren't enough options. We had to listen to what the DJ played, so we just figured it was 'new' and we'd get used to it. Lack of options made us less judgmental.It's been gone, but now it's back - on Blu-ray no less, so c'mon back, good buddy, all the way through, put the CB back in the box and turn to the movie of CONVOY at long last. Why? Because Pauline Kael liked it. And cuz Kristofferson is in it. But why? Why was it ever made? It's hard to fathom nowadays, because songs are too scattered along generational formats, but back in the 70s a single could get so big across so many demographics that movie versions of goddamn songs were commissioned. We loved some songs so much we needed, producers guessed (wrongly), to see a film version the same way we needed the novelization of a movie (but that's different since --don't forget--this was the time before videotape, so the only way to 'own' a film was via the paperback).But the more we pull a song to us the harder we push it away later, so the movie inevitably bombs and today only a few of us remember they even existed. Take for another example the more northern state-style 'softie' radio obsession that came upon as after McCall's song had died away, Debbie Boone's 1977 hit "You Light Up My Life." Whole families would pull over when "Light" came on the car radio, and cry in unison. A Light up my Life movie was immediately commissioned, producers ill-advisedly presuming America wouldn't be long sick of the emotional hit by the time the film came out later in the year.We were. And to this day no one has ever seen You Light Up My Life.But Convoy (1978) had more than a feelin', by which I mean Peckinpah directing, which meant slow-mo bar fights. It came out three years after the song had been forgotten. Emotion didn't enter into it, not the sappy kind anyway, only a comforting feeling of strength and solidarity with the truckers of the open road. It sat in our minds next to Burt Reynolds' middle finger and our ability to get truckers to honk real loud if we turned around and made a 'toot-toot' gesture as we passed them. The real appeal for those of us too young to drive, though, was the novelty of the CB radio and all its crazy code words: You could get on there and DJ to maybe millions, maybe no one; you could tip off the reverse going traffic if you spotted a 'bear in the woods' i.e. a speed trap waiting for traffic on the other side. We didn't have Twitter or cell phones, but those didn't exist yet - CBs did - but you needed cool parents to get it and install it and teach you how to use it, a combination of elements that no one I knew managed to pull off.Car culture was huge, still. Once in awhile we got rides in the older kids' cool Trans-Ams or Firebirds and it hooked us. The automotive store became a kind of secondary Spencer Gifts. We eyed the Playboy bunny mud flaps[...]

Burnt Persona Jessica Drives Again (to Death, Sister): SWEET, SWEET LONELY GIRL (2016)


Rolling through the ghostly corridors of small town 70s America, via director A.D. Calvo, rides a retro-intertextual homage to the young girl-sunk-to-madness horror films of auld. SWEET, SWEET LONELY GIRL (2016) exudes such a confidently lyrical, intertextual, and retro-pastorale poetry over its nicely brief running time (78 minutes) one can forgive it for not really having anything new or even coherent to say. What is has instead is a nice slow but inexorable build of unease, some genuine corner-of-the-eye scares and moments of quiet beauty, photographed in a style reminiscent of early Vilmos Zsigmond. Stars Erin Wilhelmi and Quinn Shepherd are subtly captivating as the leads in what's essentially a two-hander character study and lord there's been a lot of them, these "which is one is crazy or a figment of the other's imagination or going to kill the other, etc" sagas. But this one, this one follows its own little whispering shadow up the attic stairs.I also shouldn't neglect referencing  how the combination of new formatting (it's 'exclusive' to Shudder, a curated horror streaming service) and old style (digital recreations of retro-analog celluloid familiarity) so eloquently sums up the easy death of 'currency.' Today, any new movie can choose to look older, like a tween at Forever 21, or worse. No one from 20 years ago would want to deliberately evoke bygone eras of filmmaking (except for confirmed horror fan Mel Brooks) but now there's just too much present to go around. I, for one, am glad the the 'everything available all the time' post-modern paralysis has reaped at least one benefit, the ability to make things made before our time. If that makes no sense, you understand it perfectly: the past is perhaps the one place we can look forward to. Anything lucky enough to have been shot on 35mm film stock now seems bumped up a star in our esteem. Loving restoration Blu-rays by Scorpion, Shout, Code Red, Blue Underground, make the lamest 80s slasher film glow like a priceless artifact in comparison to the washed-out flatness of HD video. Everything is topsy. If it will ever turvy again, well.... there's always the movies. We can make turvies today that make the topsies wince in shame.GIRL is one such turvy.Sent by her weary bitch of a mother to work as a helper for a secretive (and wealthy) shut-in aunt in her big, eerie Victorian house (top), friendless, taciturn bookworm Adele (Wilhelmi - above left) adjusts no problem to the job's long stretches of lonely tedium. She listens to music on her headphones, does the shopping, makes and leaves the meals on a tray by the door, etc. We never even see the aunt at all except in glimpses through the mirror. Is she even her aunt or some creepy monster lady hiding itself in there? If you've seen any movie made in the 70s, you'll naturally be suspicious. The house is big and very still and lonesome, quiet enough to make the suffocating tick-tocking of the house in CRIES AND WHISPERS seem like a sock hop; and the Gothic gloom of Adele's situation begins to get to us almost immediately, way more than it does to her. Bronte-esque as she is, Adele just bops along listening to lit FM pop songs on her possibly slightly anachronistic walkman, shopping for auntie's sardines. And... wait, who's that chick?It's Beth (Quinn Shepherd), rocking a delectable 70s midriff, holding a tell-tale apple and the gaze of a long-haired shop clerk. The two girls strike up a friendship and soon Beth is dropping by the Victorian  [...]

14 Must-tapes in May on TCM


May, a magical month on TCM, rich with Clark Gable pre-codes, surreal anti-war parables (all the rage before Pearl Harbor) and war celebrations (for Memorial Day). As Richard Dix says in ACE OF ACES, it's a wonderful war and I'm having a grand time!And if war and Gable didn't send you, TCM has stacked the month with giant monster movies (the perfect summer afternoon haze-inducers). May 3rd4:30 PMNIGHT FLIGHT (1933) Dir. Clarence BrownLong unseen due to a rights dispute with author Antoine de Saint Exupéry's estate, Night Flight (1933) turns out to be quite the dreamy-poetic and modern meditation, full of little captivating midnight moments in the lives of a few pilots, wives, and airport officials as they begin the dangerous operation of night flying over the Andes. After nearly dying in the downwind between two lonely peaks, pilot Robert Montgomery shares a smoke and discusses the feeling of some unseen but palpable enigmatic intelligence and watching the breathtaking footage, we can feel it. If you crashed down in these nowhere lands it might be weeks until you see another living soul, but you'd never feel alone. This film is kind of best seen while half asleep in pajamas, if you will, capturing a vibe of what it's like to be awake when everyone else around you is sound asleep. Clark Gable--isolated in his pilot seat--a radio operator down below him passing up notes up on weather and direction--clears the fog and emerges into a clear night sky. A full moon above, he loosens up on the wheel, leans back in his seat, tunes in a radio station of tango orchestra music on his operator's headphones, and looks up at the moon and stars like they're a girl he's about to kiss for the first time. His smile is so wide and the moment is precious and so pure you understand the appeal of risking one's life in a rickety biplane just to deliver mail. But that's no guarantee he or any other pilot in this film is going to survive the night. Just our luck if anyone dies it won't be dopey William Gargan. All I can do when I hear him is remember how he goes on and on about how great "Babs" is (Mary Astor) while she's off shagging Clark Gable in Red Dust (also on this month) . Here he's got the divine Myrna Loy, and he leaves her for a week to ten days without so much as a radio. Meanwhile Helen Hayes is talking to Clark Gable over a late supper, but he's not there, is he? Her maudlin insanity is worrying to the maid and any viewer averse to overly theatrical acting.  Don't let her stop you, though. Night Flying MUST go on. (Full Review)Weds May 1011:45 AM IDIOT'S DELIGHT (1939) Dir. Clarence BrownA ne plus ultra-Brechtian howl against the machinery of both peace and war, this adaptation of Robert Sherwood's play starts out rough and cliche'd -- a big string of jobs-jobs-jobs from hungry song-and-dance man Harry Van (Gable) after the first war--but at last comes to roost in a Swiss frontier hotel on the eve of some great new global conflict, and reserves the bulk of its preachiness for one little guy mouthpiece (Burgess Meredith) who's whisked away by der soldaten almost at once (and there was  much rejoicing). Like The Lady Vanishes if the train never left, Delight is set in around Alpine hotel with great views overlooking the peaks, but this time also near the airfield where bombers begin to take off to bomb some remote village, only to come back and be surprised by a retaliation. Stranded there during the esca[...]

Schlock and Aww: BC BUTCHER and the Kansas Bowling Miracle


Could our current Alt-Right Hype-Bart macho backwash moment be the last gasp of a drowning buffalo? If so, it's a comfort that what is best in man, his ability to celebrate and pay tribute to strong women, should be remembered and absorbed by the nation's upstart young things. The mighty masterpieces of switchblades and eyeliner by Meyer, Hill, Wood, Corman, Tenney, Waters, Sarno, etc. will live on long past that buffalo's panicked squealing, ennobling a new breed of female filmmakers like Anne Biller (THE LOVE WITCH) and most recently to my bemused, even (all things are relative) grandfatherly eye, precocious maniac Kansas Bowling, whose entry in the burgeoning prehistoric slasher-beach party genre, BC BUTCHER, was begun when she was just seventeen. Shot on bright and lovely actual film (16mm, but still) it's been released through Troma, and is currently available on Amazon Prime screaming und soon ze vorld. It's nowhere near as polished and coherent as Biller's film but damn if it don't look like itself, and it's the only one close to doing that. It's so itself it proudly clocks in at 52 minutes, which as we all know is a weird length, too long to be a short, too short to be a feature. What the hell is it? It's itself. Bowling has made her own category, and there's no going back.As with so many of Bowling's admitted favorite films (she even likes Herschel Gordon Lewis and Doris Wishman! Eww!) the BUTCHER ain't exactly CITIZEN KANE, or even ONE MILLION BC or even CLAN OF THE CAVE BEAR. Or even CAVEMAN. Or GAVE GIRL. Or even EEGAH! But who wants them? Where da art der? No art at all. There's more Bowling in BC than in the entirety of the 80s Italian cave girl ouevre. It even sports anachronistic punk rock interludes (because it wants to), a THING THAT WOULDN'T DIE-style romance between hulking prehistoric monster, the Butcher (Dwayne Johnson) and the vengeful spirit of a girl murdered by the fierce amazonian tribal leader (Leilani Fideler) for sleeping with an unbearably fey Rex (Kato Kaelin). Later, Rodney 'the Mayor of the Sunset Strip' Bingenheimer and his friend Duck-Duck appear on a rock in full 'modern' hipster clothes to introduce 'the Ugly Kids' a proto-punk band air-banding their latest hit on watermelons during the tribe's nightly story time, replete with freeze fame jumps in the air like a Monkees video. The costumes are all clearly cut from the fabric store by jagged scissors the way a mom might whip up a Halloween costume never meant to survive the night. And the group is regularly endangered by their tribal leader's adolescent insecurity.The shirt, sez it allYeah, it's complicated. But aint a damn thing changed, as high school-age Bowling coveys without hoisting a single pen. This is a story of a girl clique that lives and dies in a few hundred yard radius, their turf, their territory, and their queen has to hold it. It's AAW (All About Women), ala a lion pride where the male lions are either monsters or mincing idiots (Kaelin) or punk rock anachronisms. Instead of browbeating the issue, though: Bowling's rolled a perfect 'j' on the Bechdel Test.We need girls like Kansas, they are the real future, if there's to be one. Her arrival on the scene is like a nascent Hill-Waters-Meyer version of John Connor, with the Terminator foe being the cookie cutter indie horror with its endless deluge of two-hander captivity dramas, torture-revenge cycles, haunted new tract homes, [...]

Warren William's Moveable Feast: The Perry Mason Edition: CASE OF THE CURIOUS BRIDE, CASE OF THE LUCKY LEGS


Now more than ever, and you know why, we need to examine the pre-code films of Warren William. Expert as a cruel capitalist, he's got plenty of moxy and wit and though way more charismatic than a certain president, shares his mercenary capitalist spirit, the sort that has billions in assets and billions in debt at the same time and you wonder if he's a jagged knife in capitalism's heart or its resuscitating defibrillator. My old art dealer embezzler boss was like that (I found out I wasn't getting paid for my last month of work when I saw he'd made the front page of the NY Post), and another example is William Powell as Flo in THE GREAT ZIEGFELD. History is full of such men, but the movies often don't know how to portray them and so wind up on the either/or dichotomy, either a Daddy Warbucks or a Scrooge, an embezzling market crasher or a hardworking tentpole of American industry. But Williams' titans are always more than either a champ or a villain. And in playing we in the audience as easily as he plays boardrooms full of filthy investors, Warren William straddles that / between either and or and rides it like a ripsnortin' stallion. If it throws him in the end, well, the credits were coming anyway, so let the 'little people' pick over his corpse as they may, they'll find he somehow managed to 'take it with him' after all.If, in films like SKYSCRAPER SOULS and THE MATCH KING, he falters on account of some woman screwing up his circuits, it's always late enough in the film that we've enjoyed at least a few uninterrupted reels of pure Williams' champagne-and-cocaine trouble-ducking, the way he charms and disarms a constant stream of alimony-hungry ex-wives, bank examiners, potential investors, mistresses, and CEOS, having a great time doing it all too, until some innocent hick girl, a ballet dancer, a loyal secretary, or the sister of a man he ruined in s semi-crooked deal, undoes him, and he sacrifices it all so she can ride into the sunset with some dimwit rube of acute moral integrityzzz.I've covered my love of WW last year in Warren William: Titan o'Vitaphone, but this time I want to take a closer look at his 'series's - for he's played Philo Vance (once - rather lacklusterly) Perry Mason (four times - brilliantly), and The Lone Wolf (eight trillion, averagely).The Lone Wolf is one of those Boston Blackie-style things ala TO CATCH A THIEF where a prominent but reformed jewel thief is regularly swept up in daring robberies he initially had nothing to do with but since he was seen in the same time zone, lazy detectives just assume they should round him up, forcing our antihero-hero to lead them to the real thief or killer. Eventually the lazy cops accuse him of murder and put out a warrant just so they can get him on the phone; they know if they just chase him around the bends long enough he'll unearth the culprits just so he can go back to his life of leisure, unharried. A lot of times it all depends on his sidekick to get the ball rolling when the Wolf would rather 'not get involved' (just what we want, to cheer him on in not rescuing imperiled heroines). Eric Blore's a peach of course, especially when directed by Preston Sturges, but I've never felt a palpable zim and zoom between him and William's Wolf. At times, such as speeding to escape a simple traffic ticket, nicking random goods and drawing heat down upon himself, he's down right irritating and rather than find[...]