Rawhead Rex (1986) DVD

rawheadrexposterweb.jpgRAWHEAD 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

Rawhead Rex
dir. George Pavlou, 1986, color, 89 min.
DVD and Blu-ray at Kino Lorber Home Video.

 

The Green Slime (1968) DVD

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The Green Slime (1968)
Director: Kinji Fukasaku
MGM

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) DVD

51MRTX9XJCL.jpgThe 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

 

Kino Lorber Releases Two Lost Gothic Classics For Summer.

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.

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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.

 

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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

1000 Cuts.jpgA 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

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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

 

Shock Cinema,
P.O Box 798
Edgewater, NJ 07020
shockcinemamagazine.com

Found Footage Festival Volume 8 DVD

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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

John Waters’ Multiple Maniacs released for the first time on DVD & Blu ray

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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

Multiple Maniacs
dir. John Waters, 1970, black and white, 16mm, 91 min.
DVD and Blu ray at The Criterion Collection

The Other Greats: The Histrionic Genius of Ray Wise

ray-wiseRay 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:

–Billups Allen

Lucas’s Art Film: THX 1138

THX 1138 (George Lucas, 1971) –

Weirdly, this was my first time seeing this film.**  It’s a movie that has hovered around the edges of my awareness, but I always sort of considered it a film for Star Wars complete-ists rather than as something whole and interesting in its own right.  And it is.  Whole, complete, and interesting in its own right.  Like all good sci-fi, it is very much a product of its time, using the speculative to meditate on what makes us human and explore contemporary anxieties.

I was surprised at how arty it was.  And I don’t mean that in a derogatory way.  Rather I was struck by the visual beauty and vocabulary: You could clearly see Lucas’s debt to Bergman running throughout the film—not just in style, but thematically.

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Also Godard’s Alphaville.

 

 

 

 

And of course the silver-faced robot of Metropolis.

There is a dedicated sparseness.  There is never extra exposition or explanations.  It mirrors the emptiness of the antiseptic world. Even the violence is bloodless—isolated in its white world.

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Which makes the sensual and the fleshy so much more dramatic and embodied.

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It’s not a complicated film, but it is adult.  And exceptionally well-versed in British post-war dystopian fiction: It is a mash-up of 1984 and Brave New World.  Everyone is heavily medicated and the medicine cabinet is the space of surveillance.  Sex is forbidden.

But Robert Duvall as the title character here seems to channel the raw intensity of De Niro’s Travis Bickel.

Or properly, it’s the other way around: THX was released in ‘71 and Taxi Driver in ‘76. In addition to their muddled revolutionary tendencies (one towards sex and one towards violence), they are shot with the same harsh profile shots and head on shots reminiscent of mugshots as much as anything, that provide a frame for alienation.

But the comparison is an intriguing one. Remarkably, Duvall was already 40 when THX was released.  De Niro was 32.  Their similarities can perhaps function as a metaphor for 70s New Hollywood more generally.  Very white. Very male. Very reactionary. And not as young as the mythos and their overly simplistic world view seems to suggest. At the same time, there is the fierce purity of the characters, and an actor-ly commitment to reality of those the characters, that is riveting.

It is certainly not a perfect film. The almost literal erasure of LUH, the sulkily luminous Maggie McCommie***, THX Luh.jpgis certainly problematic. It was all her. She is the one who set all of the action in motion. She falls in love, she does something about it. She is the revolutionary. And her pregnancy is a death sentence.. Not for her the escape into the sunset.  The last we see of her she is dragged naked out of the shared cell they are imprisoned in. And while THX certainly remembers her, and mentions her, the film decides she is not as interesting or as important as he is and gets rid of her.

I got a little lost in the prison/asylum.  Donald Pleasance as SEN, while eminently watchable, was confusing as a character in this world.  This isn’t aided by the fact that Lucas and Murch cribbed a bunch of his dialogue from Nixon.  We watch him watch THX and LUH on the monitors (a classic way to implicate us the audience in our own scopophilia). But he certainly isn’t the only character watching them.  Our vision of their connection is constantly fractured by monitors and shared by observers within the film.

But SEN seems to want to capitalize on their lawlessness. Or he desires it. If his stance is not a put-on, how did he get so far?  Is he sexually into THX? Or is he just weird? Paranoid? Crazy? He is certainly the most human seeming.  Awkward and strange. Even in the dystopian stripping of identity he shines through with personality.

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(More echoes of Persona).

So if, as I posed, THX1138, like good sci-fi, is thinking about what makes us human and what makes us afraid, we can certainly come up with some strong-put ideas. What makes us numb, and the institutions that support it, should make us wary. Here, prescription drugs and television (masturbatory holograms), the stripping away of individuality, the homogenization of culture: these are what destroys us. Sex makes us human, love, the desire for human connection.

As I said, it isn’t complicated.  But it is effective.

As a final note, let me avow my undying devotion to Walter Murch.  If you don’t know the genius of this guy, its time you did.  And actually it was his name that pushed me over the edge into finally watching THX 1138.  This guy. Where do I even begin? The Conversation? Apocalypse Now? How about the sounds of light sabers in Star Wars.  Look no further than THX. It’s all there. And that is not even to mention that he’s the guy who brought Touch of Evil back to life from Welles’ notes.  This guy.  He pretty much invented sound design as a category.  And here, working with George Lucas, he brings something unique in his career: co-writing credit (although I credit him personally for a great deal of The Conversation). And I think he balances out Lucas’ tendency towards epic conflicts that tend to erase much nuance (Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing! Star Wars provides a clear and abiding mythos (if borrowed) that vividly resonates with generations of audiences).

**My personal connection to the movie is locational.  Lucas shot a lot in Northern California and area is littered with places he shot. I lived in the Bay Area for a couple of years and spent more time than I like to remember going back and forth to Concord.  The Caldecott Tunnel became very familiar and almost inevitably my partner at the time would mention that THX 1138 was filmed in these tunnels. Which also may account for my delay in watching this film.caldecott I am not a fan of driving through tunnels in general.  It gives me a great deal of anxiety. Not so much the underground part, but the having no place to go part.  So altogether a set of useless associations that caused me to resist watching it.

***Clearly the inspiration for Robin Tunney’s look in Empire Records.

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—Kathleen Murray