RAWHEAD REX DVD (Kino Lorber)
Steven King championed Clive Barker in Barker’s early days. Barker’s Books of Blood short story series are perfect otherworldly companions to Stephen King’s earthy, hometown horror. Barker has a way with bringing the supernatural into the modern world. The story “Rawhead Rex” comes from the series and is one of the more straightforward narrative-wise. Rex’s origin doesn’t really doesn’t develop until the end, which leads the movie into a typical “creature or baddie terrorizes a small town” narrative. The movie is shot well, bringing a small Irish town in the countryside struggling between the modern world and old traditions to life evenly. The film has a similar feel of the superior American Werewolf in London (1981). Director George Pavlou successfully creates the monster stalking and sulking naiveté of a small town under siege by something it can’t properly deal with.
With a competent monster chase movie in place, the somewhat lackluster monster effect will determine your enjoyment. With all the skill of the filmmaking in place, it’s odd how much Rex looks like a guy bounding around in a Halloween costume with flashing lights for eyes. A little of the Jaws (1975) “don’t let them see the monster right away” method might have been employed with regard to Rex. The appearance of the monster sometimes evokes the wrong kind of laughs, particularly one scene where the monster chooses to trash a kitchen rather than give chase. But scenes intertwine well enough to create interest and make the movie watchable for fans of monster narratives. Pavlou’s film credits include adaptations of two other Barker stories and no other films. He evidently has deep enough understanding of Barker’s work to keep getting hired. And he can swing a camera. I’m curious to see another one. -Billups Allen
dir. George Pavlou, 1986, color, 89 min.
DVD and Blu-ray at Kino Lorber Home Video.
The Green Slime (1968)
Director: Kinji Fukasaku
The Green Slime opens with a 60s, psychedelic rock theme song that repeats the title of the movie over and over again as the chorus. It’s a real 60s swinger written by Charles Fox who also wrote the music for Barbarella (1968). The story opens with scientists blowing up an asteroid heading towards Earth, carries on with “people disappearing off a space ship” and culminates into a “guys in space suits floating in space shooting at aliens” battle.
Ex-Toho employees designed both the special effects and the monsters. By 1968, they must have been seasoned art directors. By seasoned, I mean you can no longer see the strings on spaceships and asteroids. It was a magical time for moviemaking; people weren’t so concerned with whether or not things would burn and smoke in space. This film exhibits the best of late 60s special effects and is laden with bright colors and stylish spaceships. This low budget sci-fi movie combines all the best plot points of Armageddon (1998), Alien (1979) and Moonraker (1979). The Simpson’s aliens also closely resemble the aliens in this movie leading me to believe this is one of the most influential sci- fi movies ever. –Billups Allen
The Octagon (1980)
Director: Eric Karson
Trinity Home Entertainment
Although Japanese folklore can only vaguely pinpoint the origins of the ninja, Scott James can look at a roomful of corpses and determine the cause of death: ninjas! Does it have to be ninjas? Couldn’t it be disgruntled employees? Ninjas are as good a guess as aliens, I suppose. Chuck Norris plays Scott James. James is a guy like Chuck Norris. The film never fully explains James’ stake in the scenario presented except that he is an ex-soldier, ex-professional fighter, and he trained as a ninja. As the story progresses, he acquiesces to a call from someone for an assignment. Who does he work for? It doesn’t matter. Scott James walks around kicking ass. Women swoon. Evil schemes fail. His entering a room is enough to stop a square dance.
The movie is mostly a series of fights with an occasional break thrown in to attempt a plot. Eventually, we are treated to the martial arts expo we are all waiting for. James and all his cronies converge on his old training camp run by his arch nemesis Seikura (Tadashi Yamashita). There, ninjas get a chance to show off their ninja training: training that covers important topics such as how to hang around under leaves until an intruder happens by and how to stop in the middle of a fight you are winning and swing your weapons around skillfully until you get kicked in the head. And throwing stars. Yes, there are throwing stars. But as movies no longer seem to care about time, space, or the limitations of the human body when it comes to action sequences, The Octagon delivers great analogue action and is the best vehicle to showcase Chuck Norris’ talent as a martial arts practitioner.
The Octagon contains early appearances by Oz and Ghostbusters star Ernie Hudson and character actor Tracy Walter. The movie was written well before the Internet, before people had ready access to casual information. All that people knew about ninjas in 1980 was that they are awesome. That’s really all you need to know to enjoy The Octagon. -Billups Allen
If horror and mystery stories are a regular part of your summer reading, you may want to consider these two classic horror/mystery hybrid films as a companion for a hot night in front of the air conditioner. Kino Lorber is re-releasing excellent adaptations of classic stories from Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, both loaded with horror film tropes from seasoned directors and studios.
HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES DVD (Kino Lorber)
There are over twenty film and television adaptations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic story of The Hound of the Baskervilles. Hammer Film Productions were in the height of their infamous revamps of classic horror franchises when they turned their attention on the timeless detective. Hound was meant to launch a series, but the lack of Hammer monsters kept people away at the box office. Hammer left its signature on this film with trademark paint can blood, brooding organ music, and a gothic setting to the first Holmes mystery ever to be filmed in color. Peter Cushing’s Holmes was also well informed as he was an acute fan of the books and brought many of Holmes’ mannerisms to the screen.
André Morell’s performance of a more competent Dr. Watson was also praised as a more accurate reading of the character from the original stories and an antithesis to the much beloved and remembered bumbling portrayal in the earlier films where Nigel Bruce portrayed Watson regularly to Basil Rathbone’s Holmes. The combination of these elements brings an unmistakably stylish approach to a one-of-a-kind production. -Billups Allen
Hound of the Baskervilles
dir. Terence Fisher, 1959, color, 87 min.
DVD and Blu-ray at Kino Lorber Home Video.
TEN LITTLE INDIANS DVD (Kino Lorber)
Peter Collinson’s 1974 adaptation of Agatha Christies’ Ten Little Indians was obscured at the time by a star-studded version of Murder on the Orient Express of the same year. Collinson’s penchant for mysteries laced with dark corners and suspense is apparent in The Spiral Staircase (1975) and his 1969 classic The Italian Job. If Murder was a star vehicle, Ten Little Indians is the character actor’s exercise. Adolfo Celi and Gert Frobe both appeared in early James Bond films as baddies. Herbert Lom also stands out among an excellent cast as the calculating Dr. Edward Armstrong. Filmed at the Abbasi Hotel in Iran, the location is a perfect modern gothic location for dark lighting and grisly murders. There is a pinch of classic horror attached to this classic tale of ten people lured to a remote location and picked off as revenge for past transgressions one at a time by an unnamed entity. – Billups Allen
Ten Little Indians
dir. Peter Collinson, 1974, color, 98 min.
DVD and Blu-ray at Kino Lorber Home Video.
A Thousand Cuts: The Bizarre Underground World of Collectors and Dealers Who Saved the Movies by Dennis Bartok and Jeff Joseph.
Print collecting began well before the days of home video. A Thousand Cuts is a collection of interviews with people who collect prints of films. Many of those interviewed follow a similar path from a desire to exhibit eclectic or unusual films to a full-on collecting obsession. The book sheds light on the hustle, blind faith, occasional pettiness, and slim rewards associated with obtaining film. The scope of shipping, storing, exhibiting, and sometimes hiding bulky film reels is a recurring theme among generations of film buffs who often seem to have fallen into it. Film buffs and anyone who collects anything will find the anecdotes relatable.
Film collecting has a common thread of problems ranging beyond the obvious difficulty of storage and expense. Shady deals, decomposing prints, and even potential legal trouble have not dissuaded the die-hard collectors in the pages of this book. Film reels technically belong to the studios that printed them for exhibition when the films were made. Many film collectors started during a time when film cans languished in warehouses and no one much cared what happened to them. But in the 70s, studios began cracking down on collectors of various levels. With the help of the FBI, studios tried to reclaim their original prints on a large scale, raiding locations film prints were known to be part of personal collections. Noted sci-fi Actor Roddy McDowall famously came into a lot legal trouble over his personal collection of film prints.
In spite of dubious ownership issues, film collectors have often rescued films from being lost due to bad storage or disinterest. Abel Gance’s 1927 epic silent film Napoleon was restored due to the diligence of film collector Kevin Brownlow who became interested in the film when he purchased two reels of an expurgated version as a child. The story of his research into Napoleon is the stuff of collector dreams. For years he sought and collected versions and scenes of the incomplete film until much of the to date five-and-a half hour film is near completion. All collectors would like to think they are saving something for posterity. Brownlow’s story of the restoration of Napoleon shows the difference a childhood hobby can make. Another rescued from obscurity story is collector Mark Hyatt’s effort to restore the 1963 sci-fi film The Day of the Triffids.
Film print collecting has become less prevalent than in its heyday. But in the arena of new blood in the collecting spectrum, Something Weird Video’s Mike Vraney is interviewed. Vraney’s efforts to store these films allows him to bring them to people thorough his DVD mail order website Something Weird Video. The website has a premier collection of oddball films and, besides being an excellent online shop.
Collecting things has been said to be a way to cheat death in everyday life. Stories of search and rescue explored in A Thousand Cuts are an excellent read for film buffs and collectors alike. -Billups Allen
A Thousand Cuts: The Bizarre Underground World of Collectors and Dealers Who Saved the Movies
by Dennis Bartok and Jeff Joseph
320 pp. University Press of Mississippi.
SHOCK CINEMA 52
Shock Cinema contains in-depth interviews with the character actors past and present who’ve been a part of some of our favorite moments in the movies. #52 features a great interview with Larry B. Scott from Revenge of the Nerds (1981). Scott discusses his film career along with television appearances on iconic shows like Hill Street Blues and Seinfeld. Shock also contains a variety of DVD and book reviews for the eclectic taste. It’s a must-read and fighting the good fight at only $5 an issue. – Billups Allen
P.O Box 798
Edgewater, NJ 07020
FOUND FOOTAGE FESTIVAL VOL. 8 DVD
It’s hard to imagine a time when people watched funny videos without the internet. There was a time when VHS compilations could be bought and traded with friends and like-minded people. Compilation tapes could include all manner of bloopers, strange encounters, home movies, iconic and rare music performances, or comedy sketches. Infamous bits of footage would reappear time and time again, standbys included the Merry Melodies cartoon “The Skeleton Dance” (1929), segments taped off of Night Flight, foreign commercials (including the bizarre German Afri Cola advertisements), and (I say this with new perspective in my old age) the R. Budd Dwyer suicide. These clips were windows into worlds unseen before computers and would certainly never be viewed on TV for any reason. Clips from those tapes seeped inside the public consciousness at least enough to be mentioned on shows as hip as Arrested Development and Mr. Show.
The Found Footage Festival is a traveling road show of video clips narrated by video collectors Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett. The two turned a hobby of VHS collecting into a show where home movies, restaurant training tapes, and exercise videos languishing in thrift stores and estate sales are given new life by way of a curated comedy show. Volume 8 contains staples of the show such as the “Exercise Video Montage” where clips from exercise videos are edited together to the “VHS Cover Slideshow” where unusual videotape covers are scrutinized. New segments assembled from their massive VHS collection include a montage of 80s videos meant to expose Satanism, a light bulb eating new-age surgeon, and a collection of clips rescued from David Letterman’s dumpster. And if you think videos like “Looking Better with Phyllis Diller” weren’t greenlighted when video content was all the rage, you’d be wrong.
The Found Footage Festival is a fun time on it’s own, but Prueher and Pickett’s good-natured ribbing at video traditions may one day be recognized as a heroic effort to preserve a bit of history. Some people might rather these tapes not be seen, but the culture of people’s access to home video is a turning point in American media and certainly deserving of at least one entity’s preservation attempts. -Billups Allen
Found Footage Festival Volume 8
DVD and download available at Found Footage Festival
MULTIPLE MANIACS DVD (Criterion Collection)
A one-two punch for me in when I was getting more into the movies were proximate screenings of Pink Flamingos (1972) and Pedro Almodóvar’s Pepi, Luci, Bom (1980). I saw both of these at The Key Theater in Georgetown when Georgetown was a little grubbier than it is today. For a teenager, it felt very urban: uneven sidewalks, entering a building decorated with posters of movies I hadn’t yet heard have, the smell of popcorn and apathy. This might have been the closest I ever came to entering a porn theater save the fact down the street The Biograph showed porno and also participated in Spike and Mike’s Festival of Animation. But there is fear in this kind of experience, the kind that follows you through life.
The Criterion Collection has cleaned up Multiple Maniacs for a DVD and Blu ray release. I was glad for that except I really wanted to buy the DVD wrapped in a brown paper bag. Certainly, we’re all too sophisticated to be shocked by plot points. Waters’ reputations for transgressive cinema is as rooted in Multiple Maniacs (1970) as Pink Flamingos (1972). Lady Divine (Divine) runs a traveling side show of depraved perfomers. Her ambition is to eliminate her lover Mr. David (David Lochary) and take over the show. This dynamic creates warring factions and a platform for Waters’ ensemble cast of Dreamland regulars to engage in his unique style of depravity.
If you’re able to score a dirty screen from a yard sale, it’s worth setting it up for your friends for a screening with popcorn in plastic bowls and whatever else you’re into. For your intellectual side, the DVD includes a trailer, an excellent video essay by Gary Needham, and interviews with key players in the production. Anarchy is the secret ingredient. Multiple Maniacs is a gallery of people behaving badly, but it sure is nice to see people running and smiling. Putting Multiple Maniacs on late at night and seeing those young faces degrading themselves for fun is still magical. I turned off the lights to hide the modern world and that fear came back. –Billups Allen
“Aren’t we glad we didn’t have test screenings? Can you imagine the focus groups? Where did that lobster come from?” – John Waters
dir. John Waters, 1970, black and white, 16mm, 91 min.
DVD and Blu ray at The Criterion Collection
Ray Wise’s name rarely appears early in the credits. Most often it shows up after a few names have passed. Wise doesn’t often garner top billing. But with a combination of histrionic acting and a smile range from hiding something to downright evil, Wise has the presence to make at least a few people in the theater grin when his name appears.
Wise’s appears often on the sidelines. Wise brought his unstable persona alongside Miguel Ferrer as henchman Leon Nash in Paul Verrhoven’s classic Robocop (1987). He also voiced Commissioner Gordon in the recent animated version of Alan Moore’s classic Batman comic The Killing Joke (2016). He is best known as Leland Palmer, the unbalanced and paranoid father of Laura Palmer on the cult pillar Twin Peaks (1990-1991). Wise’s everyman look, crazy blue eyes, and ability to spiral dark emotions with harrowing howls and werewolf-esque motions gives Nicolas Cage a run for the money in the category of bizarre performances. But to really get Wised, check out the 2003 direct to video (or whatever they call that now) Dead End. Wise carries the film along with second-string stalwart Lin Shayne as quarreling parents on a road trip detour that forces them into a journey into the repetitive. If you can’t get enough, Wise elevates Jeepers Creepers 2 (2003) as the harpoon-wielding farmer out for revenge against a creature no one understands. I won’t say it’s underrated, but it’s enjoyable to a point, especially if you liked the first one.
Ray Wise can switch gears from calm to completely frantic in seconds and deliver humor to a tense situation. His nuclear family-style charm and sinister presence makes him a unique character actor.
How cool is he? Check out his PSA against bullying:
Director: Joseph Sargent
MCA Home Video
The 80s was a great time for low-budget horror anthologies. Creepshow (1982) helped revive the horror anthology going strong in Britain in the early seventies with comic adapted films like Tales from the Crypt (1972) and Vault of Horror (1973). While Creepshow had a one two punch with a script by Stephen King directed by George Romero, 1983’s Nightmares did not have the same cache. However the film has a respectable cast and a few good short stories with some interesting twists.
The film opens with “Terror in Topanga,” a story about an escaped psychopath terrorizing a small community. It wouldn’t be a story if someone didn’t go out for cigarettes. The twist in the story closely resembles an urban myth, but it’s a fun story and Fear front man Lee Ving is among the players.
The most unique story in the anthology is the second story: “The Bishop of Battle.” This chapter finds Emilio Estevez between his success in The Outsiders and his eventual ascension into cult stardom in Repo Man. Estevez plays J.J. Cooney, a video game hustler (I only hope there really were video game hustlers) who goes from arcade to arcade listening to Fear on his walkman and hustling people out of their allowances with his video game prowess. Cooney does this because he’s obsessed with a video game called The Bishop of Battle. Cooney is convinced there is an unreachable 13th level that will validate his existence. A clandestine moment can be had with fans of the movie with the game’s opening warning: “Greetings Earthlings. I am the Bishop of Battle, master of all I survey. I have 13 progressively harder levels. Try me…if you dare.” If you consider what can go wrong here for a moment, you can probably work out the twist ending, but for a glimpse into early Estevez and a good representation of early arcade culture, the second chapter of Nightmares is a must see.
Story three has two things working for it: one is the ever effective Lance Henriksen playing a priest, and two, it recognizes the length of time the man vs. car plotline can remain interesting. Henriksen plays Macleod, a priest struggling with his faith until he is faced with battling a satanic car. It sounds a little trite, but Henriksen makes it work. His ability to struggle with evil is inherent and he makes the story work. There is a similar dynamic in “Night of the Rat,” where professional hysteric Veronica Cartwright improves the typical giant rat narrative. Cartwright is a freak out expert bringing her pushed-over-the-edge persona to films like Alien (1979), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) and The Right Stuff (1983). Nightmares won’t blow your mind, but it’s a great Saturday night horror anthology with good performances, punk undertones, and a few surprises. It’s been released a couple of times on DVD, but it’s an easy video to run across in a dollar bin as it’s usually in the throwaway section of stacks of horror videos. It’s easily a dollar or two’s worth of fun.