The Rape of the Vampire (1968)

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Available on Netflix streaming, as of 9/7/2012
On DVD and Blu-ray via Amazon

Notable French horror auteur, Jean Rollin, made his debut with this fever dream of a film.

Originally composed of two short episodes, the combined effort is a benchmark of 1960’s experimentation. Full of fantastic and nightmarish visuals, but inconsistent and at times, incoherent plot, Le viol du vampire is impossible to look away from.

Much like David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, the film probably plays better if you give up trying to figure out the motivations of the large cast of characters and just allow the imagery of the film to carry you along from scene to scene.

There’s a harsh and stark beauty to this film that will stick with you long after viewing and you’ll find yourself amazed at how much was achieved with unusual camera angles and simple sets.

While the first thought might be to try and compare this film to the Gothic masterpieces of Hammer Films, there’s more of a punk rock feel to this film. It lacks the subtlety and seductiveness of Hammer and has a raw unpolished air about it that only comes from a first time director.

Casual viewers interested in Rollin’s work are probably better off starting with his later films, but anyone interested in a great goth inspired nightmare, will enjoy a peek into the beginnings of one of horror’s more unique visionaries.

-C I

Buxom Beauties! Bizarre Creatures! Gratuitous Violence!

When the average viewer thinks about cinema or “the classics” they probably only consider the films they’re likely to encounter on TCM. While that film catalog is certainly worthwhile and a great place to start, it’s also kind of a polished, one-sided look at the industry. To be fair, TCM does a good job of mixing it up a little and on certain nights you can find some unusual offerings, but anyone interested in the other side of film should check out the following documentaries.

Currently streaming on Netflix, each of these four films paint a picture of the B-movie scene and how it has evolved over the decades since film was first used to tell stories.

American Grindhouse (2010)
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Available on DVD via Amazon

This is a great film to introduce you to the other side of Hollywood. More of an overview really, but if this type of movie making is new to you, you’ll find enough here to make your head spin. Starting with the concept of the exploitation film and it’s roots, American Grindhouse follows the evolution of the B movie from the earliest days until the introduction of the big budget blockbuster.

The film presents the material through a series of clips and commentaries from a wide range of cinema professionals. The tone is conversational and light, with an emphasis on entertaining as much as informing.

The real value of this film lies in its broad coverage of the various sub genres and you’ll probably want to watch with a notepad and pencil handy in order to write down film titles to track down for future viewing.

Machete Maidens Unleashed! (2010)
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Available on DVD via Amazon

One of two films on this list from director Mark Hartley, Machete Maidens Unleashed! focuses on the B movie industry of the Philippines.

Unlike American Grindhouse, Machete Maidens really zeros in on the craziness surrounding Roger Corman’s productions in the Philippines in the 1960s-70s.

There are a lot of interesting bits here as the film examines the different types of movies that were made during this era, placing them in a historical context in regards to technology, politics and the business of making movies.

The clips and interviews with cast and crew from these productions make up the heart of the film and you’ll find yourself laughing and simultaneously shaking your head in wonderment that people weren’t killed by the dozens during filming.

As the title would imply, much of the film is devoted to a select group of actresses who took part in the films, and who could rightly be credited for helping to establish a genre unto itself. In a way, they were very much trailblazers and its interesting to hear their perspective on what many consider to be nothing more than exploitation films.

While maybe not as informative as it could be, Machete Maidens Unleashed! is an entertaining look at maverick film making in an era where the rules maybe didn’t apply so much.

Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation! (2008)
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Available on DVD via Amazon

Also from director Mark Hartley, Not Quite Hollywood is an overview of the fledgling film scene that evolved in Australia during the 1970’s-80’s.

What’s interesting here is the evolution of the industry as it coincides with the social changes that swept the country during the time period covered.

Taking it’s cues from American B movie producers, Australia launched it’s own movie industry catering to the drive-in movie market. Restricted by budget and other considerations, the scene quickly became one of innovation and developed a style all its own.

As you would expect, all of the usual genres get their turn in the spotlight, but it’s really the second half of this film, where they begin to discuss the stuntmen and automobile related action, that this feature shines.

While not as entertaining as Machete Maidens or as informative as American Grindhouse, Not Quite Hollywood has its moments. As a follow up to the the other films it does offer a different perspective worth examining and highlights a few now classics of the dark side of cinema.

Popatopolis (2009)
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Taking a different path from the films mentioned above, Popatopolis provides an overview of American film maker, and B movie legend, Jim Wynorski’s career and follows along as he produces the film The Witches of Breastwick in 3 days.

Wynorski is another product of Roger Corman’s movie making machine, and has an insane list of credits in his filmography. Chances are, if you own Cinemax or Showtime, you’ve seen his work, you probably just didn’t know it.

Popatopolis is a sometimes fascinating look at the career and personality of one man and his quest to do what he loves, namely, making movies. Over the course of the film however, you can see how changes in the industry have affected Wynorski.

While still driven, you get the sense that it’s no longer making movies that drives him, but rather, making money. Commentary from friends and colleagues help paint a full picture as we see the director in action over the three day shoot. In all honesty, the film leaves you with a kind of sadness at what could have been, but don’t let that dissuade you from watching, it’s still highly entertaining.

Perhaps more interesting than the transformation of Wynorski, are the many insights into today’s B movie market revealed throught the film. It’s a whole different scene now than it was in its heyday of the 70’s and 80’s.

Much of the experimentation and anything goes attitude of the earlier cinema has been replaced by formula and lack of effort, which should give you all the more reason to appreciate the grindhouse of decades past.

Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn (1983)

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Available on Netflix streaming, as of 8/22/2012
On DVD via Amazon

In 2009, James Cameron gave us Avatar unleashing a whole tidal wave of 3D films. This wasn’t the first revival of the 1950’s technology though. Hollywood had a brief fling with stereoscopic vision in the 1980’s and unlike today’s use of 3D in high budget and animated projects, the films of the 80’s were more in line with their 1950’s B movie cousins.

Following in the wake of Comin’ at Ya! (1981) a surprise hit 3D western imported from Italy, the studios were all eager to get in on the trend.

Taking it’s cue from what was popular at the time, namely Mad Max and Star Wars, Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn looked to combine elements of those series with the added bonus of 3D. In fact, you can almost hear how that pitch meeting went.

“I know, let’s get some of those Mad Max cars and a throw in a bunch of stuff from Star Wars. Kids love that crap!”

Still, despite the obvious attempt to cash in, there’s a few things to like about Metalstorm if you aren’t too critical.

You get the sense that writer Jean-Marc Rocher actually tried to tie it all together in a somewhat cohesive script. The plot has a very pulp magazine feel to it, and dialog aside, the story doesn’t stray too far from films that are now considered classics of the genre. The very title, Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn, just screams Edgar Rice Burroughs, and may be one of the best titles to ever grace a mediocre movie.

As usual though, with this type of film, the failure lies in the execution.

The special effects really leave a lot to be desired, and despite a few gimmicky 3D shots, they really don’t make all that much use of the technology. The acting is pretty bad across the board, with perhaps one exception, and you will see better costumes walking the floor of a comic con.

The story beats are where you would expect, and while the action sequences are not in any way outstanding, they serve to keep the story moving. It’s just a shame that its all done in a kind of a passive way. Had any emotional punch been added to the events or if the acting been more engaging, it could have helped cover some of the more glaring holes.

And yet, there’s still something just inherently watchable about Metalstorm.

Probably the biggest surprise of the film is how good Tim Thomerson is. Anyone growing up in the 80’s would pretty much agree that seeing Thomerson in the cast is a good indication that the movie is going to be bad. He was the reigning king of B movies for a while and graced the covers of countless VHS boxes, all promising the next Star Wars while not delivering a tenth of the magic.

In Metalstorm, Thomerson, relegated to side-kick duty this time around, seems to just play himself. He comes across as an affable smart-ass with a knowing grin, which you can’t help by like. Every time he’s on screen, it’s like a knowing wink to the audience. “Yeah, I know this film sucks, but I’m still having fun. Beats working for a living, right?”

The other remarkable thing about the film is the score. According to IMDB, Richard Brand composed and recorded the film’s score in only eleven days. That seems pretty crazy, but damn if it isn’t well done. Reminiscent of many of John Williams’ more memorable theme songs, the Metalstorm theme has a great hook, and after watching the film you may just catch yourself humming it.

Overall, Metalstorm is worth watching, if only for the lesson of what could have been. This is a clear example of a project that is probably better than it deserved to be but far short of where it could have gone.

Perhaps with a bigger budget or more skilled hands involved in the production, they may have been able to follow up on those sequel threads left dangling at the end of the picture.

-C I

Tony Scott 1944-2012

To say that this morning’s sad news was a bit of a shock is an understatement.

A new Tony Scott film was always a reason to celebrate and I was looking forward to seeing what he was working on next.

I can think of few directors who have had as great an impact on my viewing habits, and been directly responsible for establishing a standard by which I judge other films, even if I didn’t know it at first.

As much as I love film, I didn’t always pay as much attention to the behind the scenes aspects of the art form. I knew what I liked and that was good enough.

What I liked was Revenge (1990), True Romance (1993), Enemy of the State (1998) and Man on Fire (2004).

In fact, it wasn’t until after I saw Man on Fire that I realized all of these films were made by Tony Scott. The impact of that film made me want more and when I looked into who had directed it, I was surprised to see so many of my personal favorites listed in his filmography.

At that point, I really began following his career in earnest and I made sure to see each new film in the theater as it came out.

Domino (2005), Deja Vu (2006) The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (2009) and Unstoppable (2010) all delivered in a way only a Tony Scott film does.

He didn’t make art films, he made films for everyone and he made them to a higher standard then most.

-C I

Screwballs (1983)

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Available on Netflix streaming, as of 8/15/2012
on DVD and Blu-Ray via Amazon

(This review may contain spoilers)

With the arrival of the affluent middle class of the 1980’s we began to see a new consumer demographic. Teens suddenly had spending money and Hollywood was ready to give them what they wanted in exchange for their fast-food earned dollars.

So what did teens want?

Breasts.

At least, that’s what teen boys wanted, and the movie industry was ready to deliver. Now, I’m not saying that this was in any way a new revelation. After all, films had been finding ways to show us the female anatomy for decades, but wrapping this showcase for female nudity in the guise of a teen comedy became an art form during the Reagan era.

You can probably make a good argument for laying the blame on John Landis, who gave us The Kentucky Fried Movie (1977) and Animal House (1978) which kind of set the standard for what would go on to become a whole genre unto itself.

Or you may even go one step further and call out Porky’s (1982) as the defining film, from which all others derived their formula.

However you get there though, there’s no denying that Screwballs was an attempt to cash in on the same market.

As these types of films go, there’s enough here to make it worth your while. The humor, while juvenile and mostly hit or miss, does occasionally deliver a genuine laugh or two. There’s also ample opportunity to ogle, and jiggle fans are well served.

What I find most fascinating about Screwballs however is the utter failure of the director to deliver at the end of the film.

The plot, such as it is, revolves around a group of high school teens (seemingly played by 30 year-old actors) who vow to get a glimpse of the homecoming queen’s goods before the end of the school year.

(Spoiler Alert)

Throughout the film, there’s many a misguided attempt to shed the clothes of the high school hottie, Miss Purity Busch, played by Linda Speciale. As you’d expect, the film culminates in the successful unveiling of those much desired breasts during the height of the homecoming celebration activities.

However, in what should be the grand climax, director Rafal Zielinski fails to reward the audience in a satisfying way.

Immediately, as Purity’s clothes are ripped from her body leaving her naked in front of the homecoming crowd, the ending credits begin to roll. She hunches over in an attempt to cover herself, and much of the frame is obscured by the text. The action continues with reaction shots of the crowd and peeks back at Purity, but all while being blocked out by the credits.

So after setting this up for 82 minutes, we get left with a quick unsatisfying peek.

With all the build up, you would at the very least expect a good 2 or 3 second reaction shot of her standing there in front of the crowd, stunned look on her face, but no.

Ultimately, I think it would have been awesome if it ended with one of those three camera, multi-angle shots you used to get of explosions in actions movies. The kind where you see the same explosion from different angles to heighten the impact.

You could have the dress being ripped off revealing the full frontal, CUT, the dress being ripped off shown from behind to get the crowd reaction shot, CUT, the dress being ripped off from a side angle showing the whole scene. You get the idea.

Despite the shortcomings of the ending, if you’re the sort who enjoys a good 1980’s T & A film, you could do a lot worse than watch Screwballs. It wouldn’t be the first film I’d recommend from the genre, but when it’s after midnight and you just want something stupid to entertain you, give it a view.

-C I

The Van (1977)

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Availble on Netflix streaming, as of 8/12/2012
on DVD via Amazon

First off, let me just point out that I watched this via Netflix streaming, and I’m not sure where they got their copy, but it had all of the earmarks of being an edited for television version. There were oddly timed cuts where the screen would just go black for a second or two as if to indicate where the commercials should go. None of the nudity mentioned in the Amazon reviews was present, and practically any word which may have been deemed offensive was censored out. Choose your viewing option wisely.

The Van is not a great movie. It’s not even a good movie. By intent, it’s a comedy and a coming of age film, but it’s not very funny, nor is it particularly poignant.

That being said, I still watched the whole thing and here’s why.

The Van is like a perfect time capsule of 1977.

Obviously filmed on a smaller budget, the movie uses many actual locations and settings. Unlike a bigger budget film where you’d have sets constructed for key scenes, here we get to see a glimpse of what it really looked like in the 70’s. There’s a pizza joint, a car wash, and a few other locales which give you a good sense of just how different it was back then. Most notably, the lack of graphic design really stands out. Today you can’t look down a city street without being assaulted by advertising, back then, not so much. There’s a sparse-ness to the past, which I think we tend to forget or at least not consider these days. That alone is worth a few minutes viewing, even if you don’t stick around for the whole film.

You also get to see the fashions of the day. T-shirts with iron on decals tucked into jeans worn with a belt. Girls with loose flowy blouses and a big wavy hair. It’s all here for your viewing pleasure.

Of course, it should be mentioned that this film was released around the height of the van craze and apart from the main character’s ridiculous ride, we do get to see some pretty sweet examples of the road palaces everyone wanted back in the day. Reminds me of the van my cousin had. It was hard not to think of him and wonder what adventures he had as I watched.

For the most part, The Van is a typical, albeit poor, teen comedy trying to cash in on the popular sub-culture of the times. I imagine there were many who saw this at the drive-in from the comfort of their own vans, and in all likelihood, is probably best enjoyed now as it was then, with a six-pack or two, while hanging with your friends.

-C I

 

Cinema Irregular!

As Chance the Gardener said so succinctly in Being There (1979), “I like to watch.”

I was one of those kids, part of the Star Wars generation, raised on Sunday afternoon reruns of Abbott & Costello features and secret after bedtime viewings of the CBS late night movie.

I watched WTAE’s Sunday morning movie instead of going to church, and weekends were spent watching the likes of Logan’s Run (1976) and Rollerball (1975) on WPIX and WWOR. Thanksgiving and Black Friday marathons of Godzilla and King Kong were yearly traditions and I would wake up early on my days off to watch all the films from the beginning.

It wasn’t just TV though, I begged my parents to take me to the movies at every opportunity and in those days it was no big deal to drop your kid off at the theater for an hour or two, while mom shopped or did whatever else grown-ups did. I saw all of the classics, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977), The Land that Time Forgot (1975), The Norseman (1978), the Benji films, Disney fare like Herbie Goes Bananas (1980) and The Shaggy D.A. (1976), The Bad News Bears go to Japan (1978), etc. OK, maybe not classics, but beloved none the less. Our local library also had a pretty good cinema program too and I can recall one fantastic afternoon of Universal Monsters clips and select highlights from Hammer Films.

Then there was The Star Channel, later to be rechristened The Movie Channel, and my fate was sealed. Our town had a free preview week, back when having cable meant you had twelve channels instead of three, and we watched Gray Lady Down (1978) one evening. After that, it seemed like everyone in town subscribed, or at least all my parent’s friends and relatives. Suddenly, there was a whole new level of accessibility to films, and not just kid’s fare either.

The Movie channel would air about 30-35 films a month in rotation, and I’d pretty much see everything by the end of the four weeks. The neighborhood kids would have sleep overs which almost always ended up in us watching whatever was on all night long. We’d sit through multiple viewings of Dogs of War (1980) and Attack Force Z (1982) and be especially delighted when something risky like Fade to Black (1980) was on.

If mom knew I was watching the likes of Little Darlings (1980), Humanoids from the Deep (1980) and Carnal Knowledge (1971) she would protest, but having two working parents meant a lot of unsupervised TV and despite any rumors to the contrary, I was basically a good kid, so I was left on my own a lot.

My dad was somewhat the opposite, and I think he enjoyed the cinema as much as I did. Although he was never as obsessed, he made sure we always had The Movie Channel, then HBO and later Showtime. From the first, he and I would watch the broadcast runs of the James Bond films, back when ABC was “still the one,” and later would take me to see my first R rated films in the theater. We saw Conan the Barbarian (1982), The Blues Brothers (1980), Blade Runner (1982) and The Road Warrior (1981) before I was old enough to buy my own ticket. Even before that though, he would often take my sister and I to the drive-in on nights when mom had to work. We’d see films like The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again (1979) and Candleshoe (1977) through the windshield of the Oldsmobile.

The 1980’s brought us the VHS boom, and with seemingly a new video rental shop manifesting on every corner, there was now an opportunity to not only watch films, but to actively have a choice in what to watch. No more would my viewing be dictated by the whims of a programming director or restricted by what was currently showing in the theater. Now, I could choose what I wanted to see, when I wanted to see it.

I’d go on runs, like watch every Chuck Norris movie, Good Guys Wear Black (1978), A Force of One (1979) and The Octagon (1980), or all those ninja movies, Ninja III: the Domination (1984), or fantasy films such as Deathstalker (1983), Ator, the Fighting Eagle (1982) and Barbarian Queen (1985), often watching two or three films a night.

It wasn’t always genre films either, by the end of the VHS era, I was making my way through established filmmakers. I spent two weeks with Hitchcock, starting with The Trouble with Harry (1955) on through North by Northwest (1959), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) and the rest.

Eventually though, the VCR gave way to DVD and with that shift, came not only the ability to rent films, but to affordably own our own copies. As a bonus, they never looked better. Our TVs got bigger, and the resolution clearer. It was a cinephile’s dream. Suddenly, aspect ratio mattered. Letterboxing was essential, and never again was I going to watch anything “pan & scan” or “edited for television.”

I became obsessed with owning my favorites, watching and re-watching the best of the best: Big Trouble in Little China (1986), The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984), Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004). Then as prices dropped to consumer friendly levels, it was even easier and practically more affordable to just buy a film on DVD even if you had never seen it before. For the price of two theater tickets you could own the DVD.

Obscure films, both domestic and international were all easily within reach thanks to the Internet. With the whole Asian film market opened up to me, I dove in head first. Not just obsessed with quality films like House of Flying Daggers (2004) but a true love of more genre films like the ‘girls with guns” pictures Naked Weapon (2002) and Beyond Hypothermia (1996). I started tracking down and collecting film noir, The Killers (1946) and Chandler’s The Blue Dahlia (1946) and seeking out films I had missed in my childhood, The Cat from Outer Space (1978).

All of which leads me to where I am now… a cinema irregular.

I will generally watch almost any movie, any genre, and usually find something to like about it. I’m not saying all films are good, and believe me I’ve seen a lot that weren’t, Tenement a.k.a., Game of Survival (1985) I’m calling you out, but given the right time and place, even a bad film can be good when watched with the right group of friends.

With that in mind, and with the encouragement of my friends who often have to listen to my film critiques at lunch, I’m starting this blog to record my thoughts on what I’m watching.

I won’t always promise you’ll like the films mentioned in this blog, in fact I’m sure that won’t be the case, but hopefully you’ll at least find yourself exposed to a film or two you may not have heard of or see an old movie in a new light.

-C I