Wednesday 6 September 2023

RELEASE ME 3: More Movies That Need a (Decent) Region 1/A Release

(USA, 1989; Dir: E. Elias Merhige)

Blood and Roses
(France/Italy, 1960; Dir: Roger Vadim)
Blood Beach
(USA, 1981; Dir: Jeffrey Bloom)
Body Count
(Italy, 1986; Dir: Ruggero Deodato)
City of the Dead (aka Horror Hotel)
(UK, 1960; Dir: John Llewellyn Moxey)

VCI Entertainment have released a DVD/Blu-ray version, but it could sure use an upgrade. 

Dawn of the Mummy
(USA, 1981; Dir: Frank Agrama)

The Day of the Triffids
(UK, 1963; Dir: Steve Sekely/Freddie Francis)

Death Weekend (aka The House By the Lake)
(CAN, 1976; Dir: William Fruet)

The Devils (Uncut Version)
(UK, 1971; Dir: Ken Russell)

The Holy Grail of missing releases. 

The Early Films of John Waters:

Hag in a Black Leather Jacket/Roman Candles/

Eat Your Makeup/The Diane Linkletter Story

(USA, 1964-1970; Dir: John Waters)

The Ghoul
(UK, 1975; Dir: Freddie Francis)

The Giant Leeches (aka Attack of the Giant Leeches)
(USA, 1959; Dir: Bernard L. Kowalski)

The Glass Ceiling
(Spain, 1971: Dir: Eloy Germán de la Iglesia)
I Was a Teenage Frankenstein
(USA, 1957; Dir; Herbert L. Strock)

I Was a Teenage Werewolf
(USA, 1957; Dir: Gene Fowler Jr.)

Invasion of the Saucer Men
(USA, 1957; Dir: Edward L. Cahn)

The Keep
(UK/USA, 1983: Dir: Michael Mann)

(West Germany, 1970: Dir: Hans W. Geißendörfer)
London After Midnight
(USA, 1927: Dir: Tod Browning

The Holy Grail of lost movies.

Murder By Phone (aka Bells)
(USA/CAN, 1982; Dir: Michael Anderson)
The Name of the Game is Kill!
(USA, 1968: Dir: Gunnar Hellström)

VCI Entertainment have released a DVD version, but see above, City of the Dead.

The Psychopath
(USA, 1973; Dir: Larry Brown)
(USA, 1987; Dir: William Friedkin)
The Shout
(UK, 1978; Dir: Jerzy Skolimowski)
(France, 1973: Dir: Claude Faraldo)

Union City
(US, 1980; Dir: Marcus Reichert)
The White Reindeer
(Finland, 1952: Dir: Erik Blomberg)

Thursday 20 July 2023

More Favourite Horror Flicks, Alphabetically: Phantasm


Dir: Don Coscarelli. Cast: Michael Baldwin, Bill Thornbury, Reggie Bannister, Kathy Lester & Angus Scrimm. 1979

Phantasm, the little movie that could. This indie flick is such a shaggy dog that I think horror fans either find it too all over the place and goofy to be a cohesive horror classic, or embrace its everything-but-the-kitchen-sink storytelling. Clearly, I fit into the latter category. 

Reduced to brass tacks, Phantasm is the story of something weird going on at a small town mortuary that involves tiny robed creatures from another dimension, a flying bloodsucking orb, and the iconic Tall Man played by Angus Scrimm. It also, significantly, involves a teenager dealing with the death of his parents, and the off-kilter world that he finds himself in in the wake of that loss. And that, for me, is the key to Phantasm. 

Never a fan of “other dimension” horror tales, Phantasm, much like Jack Woods’ 1970 indie flick Equinox (to which Phantasm seems to owe a small debt, much smaller than say Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead does), director Coscarelli doesn’t go down that particular portal in very much depth, which suits me just fine. Instead, Coscarelli focuses on the bizarre world of Morningside Cemetery and the uncertain and unstable nightmare that teenage Mike (Baldwin) is trapped in. 

More Favourite Horror Flicks, Alphabetically: Pearl


Dir: Ti West. Cast: Mia Goth, David Corenswet, Tandi Wright, Matthew Sunderland, Emma Jenkins-Purro, & Alistair Sewell. 2022

As much as I love X, I was unprepared for how much I would fall for Pearl. Set 61 years earlier than X, Pearl gives us the backstory of my favourite murdering granny, set in the era of the influenza pandemic in rural Texas. 

I love how West and co-writer Goth revisit and payoff themes, elements and incidents from X here. I love that they draw a connection between the height of the COVID pandemic with the earlier influenza pandemic. I love that Goth has an opportunity to really own her character here, to inhabit her, to write her, to co-create her. I love how Pearl’s parents know they are housing a psychopath in the making, and that this, to them, is Pearl’s true X-Factor. I love that West took the movie in a different direction than its predecessor by drawing inspiration from movies like The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind. I love Goth’s performance here (she should have been handed an Oscar), and that of the other actors. I love the world this movie creates, I love its atmosphere. I love that, for me, it evokes the filmography of Curtis Harrington. I love that we get to see the spark in the young Pearl that, by movie’s end, is just starting to be snuffed out, only to be replaced by something much more lethal and sad. 


West and Goth have just wrapped shooting on MaXXXine as I write this, the third and final film in the X trilogy. It follows Pearl’s mirror image Maxine from the first film as she tries to make it big in 1980s Hollywood. I, for one, can’t wait to see what they’ve got in store for us. 

More Favourite Horror Flicks, Alphabetically: The Hills Have Eyes

The Hills Have Eyes 

Dir: Wes Craven. Cast: Susan Lanier, Robert Houston, Martin Speer, Dee Wallace, Russ Grieve, John Steadman, Michael Berryman, Virginia Vincent & Janus Blythe. 1977

While his Scream films tend to divide horror fans, I have a like/don’t like relationship with Wes Craven’s movies in general. Sometimes I react to a perceived silliness that I just can’t get beyond (i.e. his penchant for boobytrap-fuelled climaxes), sometimes I think he brings the worst out in his actors (Virginia Vincent in Hills, Ronee Blakley and — yes, sorry… Heather Langenkamp in A Nightmare on Elm Street), and sometimes, I actively dislike his movies (Shocker, Deadly Friend). Oddly, it’s some of his less popular titles that I respond to more positively, namely Deadly Blessing and Red Eye, though I think that Last House has its merits, and The Serpent and the Rainbow and The People Under the Stairs are worth catching, and A Nightmare on Elm Street is a bonafide horror classic. 

All that to say… By all accounts an intelligent and thoughtful man, Craven followed up his Last House on the Left with this less controversial but still lurid tale of an All-American Family at odds with its cannibal clan opposite. Stranded in the desert due to irritatingly dumb actions from Mom and Dad, the surviving members of the Carter family have to stay alive and retrieve Baby Katy from the clutches of the cannibal family lead by Papa Jupiter (Whitworth). 

Rife with social commentary, great raw shocks, genuine emotion, some indelible characters, and yes, boobytraps, The Hills Have Eyes gives me Craven at his best. For once, it’s less complicated than it need be.

Solidly remade by Alexandre Aja (co-produced by Craven) in 2006.

More Favourite Horror Flicks, Alphabetically: City of the Living Dead

City of the Living Dead (aka The Gates of Hell)

Dir: Lucio Fulci. Cast: Christopher George, Catriona MacColl, Carlo De Mejo, Janet Agren, Antonella Interlenghi & Giovanni Lombardo Radice. 1980

Lucio Fulci is one of my “comfort” filmmakers, having created a filmography from which segments have become very familiar to me, and which always serve to bring me back to the early days of hunting for Italian horror on VHS, and the joys of actually happening upon a rare uncut tape at some mom and pop shop back in the 1980s.

The director has a number of great horror films to his name — The Beyond, Zombie, The House by the Cemetery, and most notoriously, The New York Ripper — as well as gialli — Perversion Story, Don’t Torture a Duckling, A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, The Psychic — but for me, City of the Living Dead is his most gleeful foray into the macabre. 

A doorway to Hell is opened when a priest in Dunwich, Massachusetts (Lovecraft territory), hangs himself. What follows (and precedes it) is a number of set pieces designed to wow splatter fans: A psychic awakens after being buried alive (a scene I believe Tarantino — ahem — paid homage to in Kill Bill: Vol. 2), poor old John Morgan (aka the late, great Giovanni Lombardo Radice) has his head drilled, internal organs are spewed, brains are squeezed out of skulls, and what’s an Italian splatter classick without a storm of maggots? 

There are surprising twists that may not be logical, but they sure work on a visceral level, and there are no rules about who will make to the other side, or even what that other side might look like when they get there. The whole thing is heavy on atmosphere and comic book lighting, and is not meant to offend or to be taken more seriously than the entertainment — albeit a little on the nihilist side — that it is. Admittedly, its pace has slowed, for me, on repeat viewings due to that same familiarity that makes me love it, but that initial introductory screening was extraordinary. 

Tuesday 9 May 2023

Another White Guy Writes About Blaxploitation Movies

I find it at best awkward when a white person writes about Blaxploitation movies, mainly because these movies weren’t made specifically for us, and because we bring our experience as white people to them. It can be so easy for us to miss the point, to treat them as camp, or to dismiss them, because, honestly we might just not get them. 

As a white suburban kid in the 1970s during the golden era of Blaxploitation, I didn’t come into contact with any of these films. They may have played my local drive-in, but I wasn’t seeing them. If what I was seeing in the pages of Cracked and Crazy magazines could be believed, however, these movies were mostly playing urban centres, and they all shared one common message: “Let’s get honky!” 

The latter wasn’t true, of course, but it was a reading that obviously a lot of white people were making of Blaxploitation movies at the time, and it may also have been a reaction to the fact that movies made by black filmmakers and starring black actors were vying for screens alongside the usual white-centric films. Regardless, the message that was being passed along to pre-teen me was that these movies were clearly dangerous, at least to a little suburban white kid. 

Eventually, I caught one of the Shaft movies on TV, and I was surprised to find myself getting into it, and responding positively to Richard Roundtree’s John Shaft. Maybe there was more to these movies than what the comedy magazines of the day were pitching. 

During the 1980s, Blaxploitation movies made their way into suburbia and rural areas via home video. Unfortunately, that was also the decade when the concept of B-Movies took on a new life, meaning “so bad, they’re good”, and so all art, especially that from any earlier time period, was subjected to a sort of “we're above it” mentality. It was through this lens that I experienced Black Belt Jones

Despite that, times change, people change. Hopefully, we all develop a better understanding of, if not communities specifically, then of the need for communities to have their own and equally valid modes of communication, expression and storytelling. Blaxploitation, after speaking to the black community first and foremost, can be an invitation to others to be a respectful visitor/viewer, if you're open to the invitation. 

This is the way I’ve been able to approach Blaxploitation movies as I’ve dug deeper into them. Now, I’m ready to take in the concerns of the day in which each of these movies were made. Now I’m ready to take in their aesthetics, what they have to say. Now I’m able to enjoy them absolutely for their entertainment value, for the stars that they produced. 

I think being Queer has something to do with this, at least in my case. It doesn’t mean that I understand the “Black Experience”, as diverse as we all know that is; It means that I know what it’s like to not see yourself represented onscreen and to watch as films emerge that actually reflect some aspect of your experience and of your being (i.e. The New Queer Cinema of the 1990s). Not every Queer person thinks this way, of course, but I’d like to think that all of us from any faction of society are getting to a point where we can appreciate art for where it comes from, what it says, for the perspective it offers, and maybe, just maybe, to enjoy it for what it is.

Thursday 2 March 2023

More Favourite Horror Movies: Basket Case

Basket Case

Dir: Frank Henenlotter. Cast: Kevin Van Hentenryck, Terri Susan Smith, Beverly Bonner. 1982

Basket Case is the tale of two brothers, Siamese twins separated against their will, who take revenge on those who’ve “put them asunder”. 

I first saw Frank Henenlotter’s feature debut during its initial VHS release by Media. If memory serves, I’d read about it in the pages of Fangoria magazine, and so, had my eyes pealed for its appearance at any of the video stores in my area. Lo and behold, one day, there it was.

I took it home, and popped it in my home player (or did I have to rent a VHS machine?). As it began, I remember being hit with these impressions: cheap, gory, outrageous. These are three of the characteristics I love about Basket Case, though in hindsight, it's much more than that. It’s also clever, a thorough snapshot of early 80s Times Square, it’s populated with unforgettable characters, and it’s utterly endearing. 

The moment early on in which a murder takes place accompanied by squeaky ballon sound effects, I was hooked. By the time, also early on, that a character is cut in half with a buzzsaw, the deal was sealed.

Henelotter has a terrific ability to covey a sense of place, to create unforgettable characters/creatures/outsiders (Belial from Basket Case, Aylmer from Brain Damage, Frankenhooker), and to bring them together under intriguing circumstances expressed with unbound outrageousness. At heart, Hennelotter works to keep classic exploitation alive, and there is no better example than here in Basket Case.