Monday, October 20, 2014
Until their songbook was officially released with the comprehensive coffin-shaped boxed set, there was perhaps no other punk bands whose semi-incomprehensible lyrics inspired as much conjecture as the Danzig-era Misfits. My buddy Greaseball Johnny and I spent years trying to makes heads or tails of their songs, often coming up lyrics that seemed right on the money, but then the songbook came out and revealed that for the most part Misfits songs were just a bunch of nonsensical gobbledegook coupled with kickass music, thus pointing out in no uncertain terms that Johnny and I had wasted our lives. And apparently we were not the only ones, as these videos will attest.
Udo Kier as the Count: An interesting and sympathetic take on the vampire genre's arch-fiend.
Rumania, the 1920's: a delicate Count Dracula (Udo Kier) is sickly and apparently on a one-way short-ticket to lasting death, thanks to the lack of virgin blood in the area. With the aid of his servant, Anton (Arno Juerging), Dracula relocates to Italy, where it is reasoned there will be virgins a-plenty thanks to the strong influence of the Church, and he ends up at the opulent home of the wealthy Di Fiori family. There are four nubile Di Fiori daughters for the Count to pursue, but there is also the presence of the hunky communist handyman Mario (Joe Dallesandro) to contend with, and two of the Di Fiori girls have spent a good deal of time contending with him (and each other) in the boudoir. In short succession the Count finds out what happens if he feasts on non-virginal blood (gaining two minions in the process), but will he strike out with the two remaining candidates? And what of Mario, who discovers that Dracula is a vampire? Will he do his part to save the remaining sisters from the fate of un-death?
Playing like some MASTERPIECE THEATER costume drama set in the jazz age, BLOOD FOR DRACULA is a staid and rather dull affair that comes off as a slow-moving disappointment in the wake of FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN's delirious (and funny) excesses. The nudity is certainly not skimped upon but the lack of blood in a Dracula flick is somewhat shocking. Well, to be fair, the film does pull out all the bloody stops during its finale, when Mario takes a woodsman's axe to the Count and whittles him down limb-by-limb before makin' with the stakin', but it's too little far too late.
Udo Kier: When tragedy collides with hilarity.
The one thing the film does have going for it is another fun performance by the always-superb Udo Kier. Kier's Dracula is a fragile, sad-eyed, sympathetic monster who only seeks to survive. He's in no way the malicious, malevolent. satanic presence as seen in countless other depictions, and in many ways can be read as a commentary on the debilitating effects of hardcore addiction. I've seen and known enough junkies to know what I'm talking about, and Kier's Count would fit right in with the lot of them, only considerably more tolerable. The performance is mostly a study in sadness and futility in the face of the inevitable, and Kier's sad eyes tug at the heartstrings, but there are also a number of instances where he gets to ham it up as only he can, specifically during the moments when he suffers vomiting spasms upon supping on the blood of women who are not untried. He also somehow manages to hilariously keep a straight face while running away armless from an axe-wielding Mario.
A farewell to arms. (Sorry...)
I give writer/director Paul Morrissey credit for not feeding the audience more of exactly what he brought to the screen with his previous delving into horror but BLOOD FOR DRACULA is a disappointingly bloodless effort that is worth it for Kier and its finale, and should probably be skipped by all but the most devoted of vampire movie completists.
Poster from the original U.S. release.
Sunday, October 19, 2014
When the Italian-French FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN hit screens in the United States as ANDY WARHOL'S FRANKENSTEIN, it garnered attention for it's in-your-face sex and gore (all rendered in 3D) and X-rating, so it naturally piqued the curiosity of us horror kids at the time. It was well before the days of cable porn channels and the ready availability of porno flicks on home video but we children of the post-hippie-era 1970's heard all manner of what went on in films bearing that ominous "X," so just what in god's name would an X-rated Frankenstein movie be like? Even at that early point in my development, I had already seen a number of the Hammer Frankenstein films and absorbed their feel and visual language, plus to say nothing of Universal's genre-defining entries, so I could not wrap my head around how anyone could couple the blasphemy of an obsessed mad scientist's single-minded quest to craft life from the cobbled-together elements of sundry cadavers with the sweaty, explicit bedroom gymnastics of tenderloin cinema. Finding out for myself at the tender age of nine was simply not going to happen, so ANDY WARHOL'S FRANKENSTEIN would have to be one of the forbidden movies I'd have to wait a decade or more to finally witness, and when that event took place what I got was not at all what I expected.
The ever-awesome Udo Kier as Baron Frankenstein.
The film's story is pretty much a catalogue of Frankenstein movie tropes, especially those set up in Hammer's Frankenstein cycle, only with a good number of psycho-sexual kinks thrown in for good measure, and gore on a level far more plentiful and explicit than anything found in Hammer's output. It revolves around the efforts of Baron Frankenstein (my man Udo Kier) to build and animate a pair of Serbian "zombies" that will mate and breed a new race of ethnically-perfect specimens, thanks to the perception that the supposedly ethnically-pure Serbians are the European stock most closely connected to the glory of the ancient Greeks. Frankenstein himself is a privileged and corrupt aristocrat, married to his own sister, Katrin (Monique van Vooren), and their union is wholly devoid of love and passion, with him ignoring her (and their children) in favor of time spent hard at work on his experiments in the lab with his assistant, Otto (Arno Juerging). Life in their castle is a study in opulent stagnation and twistedness wrought by too much freedom and power, and it finds a direct counter-point in the earthy life led by the local peasantry, most prominently represented by the strapping stableboy, Nicholas (Joe Dallesandro). Nicholas comes to the Baroness's attention thanks to his dalliances with the local girls and soon finds himself called by her to the castle for some "special services" but before that task begins, Nicholas seeks to enlighten his friend Sacha (Srdjan Zelenovic) to the ways of female flesh before the rather asexual fellow throws his life away as a monk. During a trip to a low-rent brothel, it becomes very clear that sex just does not move Sacha, which is unfortunate because the Baron and Otto, out hunting for a head with the perfect nose for the in-progress male zombie, mistake him for the virile Nicholas and ambush the two friends as they make their way home, with Otto knocking Nicholas unconscious while the Baron lops off Sacha's head with a huge pair of shears.
The theft of Sacha's head.
That all sounds pretty grim, right? Well, while it falls in line with the playbook of the Frankenstein sub-genre, what I did not expect when I finally saw the film after just over a decade of anticipation was that it's a jet-black, played-straight comedy. In fact, it's played so straight that a viewer could be forgiven for not noticing that the movie is a genre lampoon with its twistedness and gore very intentionally cranked up to a ridiculous degree. Udo Kier's performance as the Baron is a delight as he chews the scenery like a man possessed, hamming it up while performing unspeakable acts and delivering the most ludicrous of dialogue. Kier's Baron is clearly mad but his insanity makes his Hammer counterpart (played by the indelible Peter Cushing) seem like an exemplar of stability, restraint, and good taste. This Baron takes an obvious sexual pleasure from his unholy experiments, a pleasure he does not find within his cold marriage, and even crosses the line into outright necrophilia while working on his female zombie, an act that yielded the immortal quote found at the opening of this review. Any way you cut it, Kier is very much in on the grim joke and he totally runs with it.
(cue Alice Cooper's "I Love the Dead")
Nicholas (Joe Dallesandro) and the Baroness (Monique van Vooren).
While the film's decidedly un-wholesome sexual content must have been quite shocking when encountered four decades ago, what really must have earned the movie its X-rating was its generous helpings of fountaining blood and lovingly-displayed eviscerated organs, presented up-close and in 3D. Wiggling viscera is dangled over the camera or thrust at the audience to an absurd and intentionally gratuitous degree — an effect lost on home video, though the depth of field makes the intent quite clear — and I'd bet good money that the excesses found here would later be mined as one of the sources of inspiration for SCTV's series of Dr. Tongue 3D movie lampoons. And yet, despite its quantity of both arterial spewage and butcher slaughterhouse surplus, the infamous gore content is so over the top that it amuses rather than offends(though it is undeniably gross). If not for the warped view of sexuality on display, I'd recommend the film as a yucky gross-out festival that horror-loving kids would greatly enjoy, but even with that fleshy aspect out of the equation it still may be a good deal more than most responsible parents or guardians would allow the wee ones to absorb.
Just one example of the movie's voyeuristic festishizing of wounds and gore.
Saturday, October 18, 2014
Ginny's gruesome birthday party, where secrets come to light and little is as it seems...
Virginia "Ginny" Wainright (Melissa Sue Anderson) is a senior at the prestigious Crawford Academy, where she is numbered among the "Top Ten," a clique of the school's uber-rich, most popular, and not-so-coincidentally douchiest students. Ginny would seem to have it all but four years ago she survived a car accident that took her drunken mother's life and caused her brain damage that required surgical correction, but a cerebral edema resulted in her losing a chunk of her memory. During a night out with her assholish friends, Ginny unwittingly finds herself a passenger in one of her friends' cars as they play "the Game," in which they attempt to jump a local bridge as it opens up to allow cargo boats to pass. The terror of the high-speed antics and the DUKES OF HAZZARD-style jump over the bridge jars Ginny's memory and long-suppressed recollections of exactly what happened on the fateful night four years prior slowly begin to unravel. But as Ginny's memories begin to gel, her friends are disappearing one by one, all murdered by someone they each recognize (but whose face remains off-camera), which coincides with what appears to be an inexorable slide into confused mental illness for our heroine. Somehow her friends are connected to the car accident that killed her mother and damaged her mind, and as events progress it appears that Ginny is committing the murders and awakening a day later with no memory of her homicidal activities, so just what the hell is going on?
When HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME to me came out in May of 1981, I was about a month shy of turning sixteen and the infamous slasher movie boom of the 1980's was beginning to carve out its bloody onscreen niche in the wake of the runaway box office triumph of FRIDAY THE 13th (1980). Though a tad too young to be allowed into R-rated movies, my peers and I nonetheless managed to see a plethora of gory horror offerings thanks to the staff at local movie houses not giving a fuck if kids bore witness to such era-defining trash. In the case of HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME, a number of my friends and I piled into a slightly-older friend's beater car and made our way to the film's opening night, armed with a couple of bottles of liquor pilfered from some of our parents' stashes. As we sat in the darkness of the sleazy theater, we downed a considerable amount of alcohol and by the time the film reached its midway point we were too busy messing around and being drunkenly obnoxious to pay attention to what was going on with the movie we'd ventured forth to see. A big part of our apathy had to do with the film being nowhere near as mindlessly violent and gory as the vast majority of its ilk, so there was a strong sense of disappointment that led us all to write HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME off as a dud, and after making that assessment we headed to Compo Beach to finish off the last of our ill-gotten hooch in the wee hours. Ah, the seemingly endless days of misspent youth...
In the thirty-plus years since that anesthetized night, I saw HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME repeatedly referenced as one of the very best of the misbegotten slasher genre and I found that popular opinion running in direct opposition to my admittedly booze-addled memories. In recent years I have revisited the slasher genre of my formative years and, for the most part found its entries lacking, yet I continue onward and hope to rediscover a hidden or forgotten gem or two. In revisiting HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME I finally understand why I was disappointed by it back in the days. It's not particularly gory or scary and it focuses on a pack of entitled, rich douchebags much like the majority of the kids I was raised amongst, so where was the fun in that? However, with the wisdom and filmic education gained over thirty-plus years, I now see the film in a very different light and totally get exactly why it's held in such high esteem these days.
The '80's slasher boom was mostly an avalanche of cranked-out shit, devoid of quality and offering nothing more than a brain-optional MTV-era Grand Guignol for undiscriminating teens and grindhouse devotees, but they were popular, easy to produce on the cheap, and lucrative, so they proliferated for close to a decade. HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME came along relatively early in the cycle and distinguished itself from its contemporaries by actually bothering to have a solid plot with more on its mind than buckets of blood and offal, and a cast of defined characters who serve as more than ciphers fit only for the chopping. What little blood there is comes in only the briefest of glimpses and the plot is less concerned with outright scares than with slowly peeling back the layers of Ginny's fractured memory. If anything, the film owes more to the creepy, old school, mystery-tinged flavor of flicks like WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (1962) and HUSH...HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE (1964) than the Jason Voorhees school of "fuck and die" quasi-cautionary tales. It was that stressing of psychological misery over grue that now renders HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME as something of a minor cause celebre among latter-day genre enthusiasts, despite a couple of from-out-of-nowhere plot twists during its last act.
While not among my personal favorites from the '80's slasher cycle, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME is definitely worthy of note for all the reasons I've outlined and should be seen at least once, if for no other reason than to provide concrete proof that not all slasher films were cookie-cutter efforts cranked out by barely-competent hacks. It's a tad too genteel for its own good but that can be forgiven, thanks to the presence of a legitimate narrative, and it's worth a dozen films like HUMONGOUS, PROM NIGHT, and the majority of the FRIDAY THE 13th franchise.
Poster fro the original theatrical release.
Friday, October 17, 2014
Ah, SNUFF, a film whose very existence helped divest me of my innocence at an early age. A legendary topic of conversation on the nation's playgrounds during recess when it came out, this flick introduced kids of my generation to the concept of "snuff films," movies allegedly made by nameless, faceless ne'er-do-wells that graphically depicted the on-screen actual torture and murder of innocent people who'd been kidnapped off the street specifically for that purpose. The very idea really fucked with the young minds of myself and my peers who heard of and discussed this unverified phenomenon, so we were beside ourselves with simultaneous horror and morbid curiosity when SNUFF hit the screen and made the bold claim that it dared to show footage of a woman actually being murdered by the movie's crew. How the hell could something like that be allowed to be shown anywhere, let alone on the nation's movie screens, and how in hell could its makers and the company that released it face the stiffest of penalties and not be immediately thrown in jail for the rest of their natural lives? That question haunted us kids in the mid-1970's, especially those of us who witnessed it brazenly advertised on the marquees of NYC's infamous Times Square during its heyday as the Mecca for exploitation films with a tag line that proclaimed "The film that could only be made in South America...Where life is cheap!" How could a budding sleaze-monkey like myself not be strongly intrigued by such a come-on, no matter how low and vile the resulting frisson might turn out to be?
Opening with a "Born to be Wild" knockoff instrumental blaring on the soundtrack, in South America a Manson-like figure commands his group of female followers to kill and torture a number of victims while the bored audience attempts to stay awake. A film that wastes zero time in getting right down to its shabby business, SNUFF gives its audience the hunting and torture of a woman approximately six minutes into the film, after which the violence and gore is intermittently doled out amidst incredibly boring plot material that no one in their right mind could care about. Originally shot as SLAUGHTER by the legendary Michael and Roberta Findlay (a husband-and-wife team of exploitation filmmakers) and later "improved" with the addition of its lurid climax, the film's sole purpose is to give the most rabid gorehounds what they hope will be the most shocking displays of spewing arterial spray and slippery viscera yet committed to celluloid, but even at that goal the movie comes up short. Herschell Gordon Lewis got there first over a decade earlier and even though his movies are basically crap, at least they are entertaining crap. The same cannot be said for SNUFF. It meanders boringly from murder to long stretches of dull plot and negligible acting and back again, and it fails to engage the audience with either an interesting plot or characters to care about. And the film's main draw, the tacked-on "murder" of a cute blonde by one of the filmmakers as the camera crew captures the incident for posterity is so obviously faked that even a grade-schooler would call bullshit on its content.
The infamous "real" murder scene: I staged more realistic effects for a Halloween haunted house when I was in ninth grade.
Considering that SNUFF was released in the days long before the advent of the internet and YouTube, where one can find a plethora of real footage of people meeting their fates in all manner of horrible ways — though not in actual footage shot for the purpose of distribution as snuff "entertainment," thank god — the obvious fakery of the big murder sequence is really a huge "fuck you" to the members of society that the film's marketing come-ons aimed to attract.
The final money shot.
And when you really think about it, SNUFF serves to allow more introspective viewers to note that the main reason they saw the film is likely because they were curious to absorb an alleged actual sadistic homicide as a cinematic spectacle. I have often wondered what moral issues the initial theatrical audience wrestled with while sitting in the flickering indoor twilight in anticipation of the movie's promised real deal. Did it bother them at all that they had shelled out their hard-earned cash to see a vital young woman held down, mutilated, and eviscerated on camera, supposedly as an actual document? And if it did nag at them, did they leave the theater pondering what blackness or emptiness in their souls allowed them to think that treating something so sadistic and vile as an amusement for general consumption was okay? I cannot speak for them but I can tell you in no uncertain terms that if I genuinely believed that what SNUFF had to offer was in any way exactly what it claimed to be, I would never have seen it. The idea of killing someone for real and marketing it as a legitimate form of entertainment is simply appalling to me and I cannot conceive of just how psychologically and emotionally bankrupt one would have to be to dig something of that ilk. I freely admit that I greatly enjoy gore and violence in my entertainment but I am fully aware that what I consume in that department is all carefully-orchestrated make-believe, and the individuals being shot, sliced in half, beheaded, or what have you would get up, dust themselves off and go home at the end of the day when the cameras stopped rolling. Obviously, such would not be the case with what would amount to a for-real act of human butchery, and as a thinking, breathing, feeling human being, I could not bear intentional witness to the life of another member of society's sacrifice to the bloodthirsty needs of clinical sociopaths.
That said, allow me one last brief moment on my high horse so I can state flat-out that SNUFF is poverty row-budget trash of the lowest, most crass order, the kind of work that makes one question the worthiness of the human animal to draw breath while one sits in a state of stultified boredom during its 80-minute running time.
But if SNUFF had not existed, it would never have been fodder for NATIONAL LAMPOON magazine's hilarious parody of it. "Snuff Movie," from the March, 1976 issue and written by the legendary P.J. O'Rourke, only served to throw more fuel onto the fire of playground discussion of the source movie (once enterprising kids filched copies of the magazine from their dads or older siblings). When it fell into my hands a few months prior to my eleventh birthday, my mind was blown. It was the second issue of NatLamp that I'd purchased and my parents had zero clue that I was reading such ultra-offensive, drug-reated and sexually-explicit material at such a tender age, largely thanks to the fact that the local newsstands stocked it right next to issues of MAD, CRACKED, and CRAZY, assuming it was just as innocuous as those kid-friendly mainstays. Anyway, here's "Snuff Movie." Bear in mind that the 1970's were about as free from political correctness as it gets, so consider what you're about to read as a product of its era and the magazine's ultra-tasteless brand of humor.
From NATIONAL LAMPOON (March, 1976)
Believe me, this parody is a million times more entertaining than the actual movie.
Poster from the original theatrical release.
Thursday, October 16, 2014
Welcome, dear Vaulties, to Day 3 of NYC's biggest and craziest annual geek gathering! Saturdays are always massive, and this year's proved no exception to that rule. By the way, according to the local news reports, this year's ticket sales numbered around 150,000 for the show's four days, and it was definitely crowded enough for me to believe it.
here and here .
Garth Ennis signs for his fans.
A superb Creeper.
I will never tire of Hawkgirl.
Chamber. You can't tell thanks to the flash, but his chest energy glowed.
My favorite couples' costume of the entire weekend: Silver Age Brainiac and Lex Luthor.
I'm always amazed and fascinated by the craftsmanship on homemade dresses.
A dedicated TRANSMETROPOLITAN fan. (A series I edited for a couple of issues.)
An outstanding Kid Flash.
Captain Haddock shares a nip.
Starman and Stars.
The Silver and Golden Ages represented.
Word of advice to cosplay photographers: Park near Amanda conner's table in Artists Alley and you will see legions of cosplayers away from the crush of the main floor. Here a fan shows his appreciation of my homegirl.
Gotta love this Rhino.
She's so outrageous!
Seriously, this is a Top 10 costume from the entire weekend. Superb in every way.
"Bizarro hate Green Kryptonite!"
Best Viserys Targaryen ever.
To properly shoot them, I had to move these two out of the main traffic thanks to their wingspans.
here and here .
Amanda Conner and Paul Mounts contend with a berserk Harley Quinn.
A.C. with Power Girl, the character she helped make into a fan favorite for the 2000's.
A.C. with my favorite of the numerous She-Hulks I've seen over the years.
Peter David (L) and the Teen Titans.
Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner.
Adam Warlock, one of my all-time favorite heroes, in sensible footwear.
DMC pontificates to a legion of Deadpools.
Seriously, what is there not to love about this?
From BATMAN BEYOND, an outstanding Dee Dee.
Where Santa goes during the off-season. I told y'all he's real!
Hunter S. Thompson (with bat in pocket).
A wonderfully dour Violet Parr.
The appalling excellence of Joffrey Baratheon.
Misty Knight and Luke Cage.
The mighty Soskas, two of my very favorite cosplayers and genuine fans.
With my man Nick Fury (Steranko version).
With the Paul Mounts portrait.
And then Madame Hydra happened to walk by.
Death and Morpheus.
Loki and the Enchantress.
One of the most original costumes ever: Miss Piggy as Wonder Woman.
Seriously, this was one of the weekend's Top 10.
Hercules and Lobo.
This Lobo was excellent, even going the extra distance with the teeth.
An outstanding Catman. How I wish Gail Simone were still writing him...
A great choice for a couple's costume: Death and Thanos.
Joel, with a homemade Tom Servo.
Sterling Archer and Lana Kane.
A wee Marvel Girl makes with the telekinesis.
And many childhoods ended that day. (Seriously, I love this.)
TO BE CONCLUDED...