Groovy & Wild Films from Around the World

Thursday, October 05, 2017

RIP American Character Icon Harry Dean Stanton.

Last month we lost another cinematic icon when character actor Harry Dean Stanton passed away at the age of 91. Of course Stanton was one of America's greatest character actors, but to a genre film fan like myself, he was also a key figure in the genre-film world, appearing in the films of Alex Cox and Ridley Scott, while also maintaining brief collaborations with John Carpenter and David Lynch, who put Stanton's talents to amazing use in memorable and near-iconic roles of starkly satirized Americans. Often, Stanton could bring any given film epic waves of emotion and intelligence by his subtle and equally expressive manner from underneath an all-American baseball cap. Wim Wenders exemplified Stanton's talents in his film Paris, Texas, which incidentally had been written by L.M. Kit Carson, who had also scripted The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 for Tobe Hooper and which starred another Vietnam-era American acting icon, Dennis Hopper. Hopper and Stanton were somewhat cut from the same American, (or Americana) cloth, with the likes of Jack Nicholson, Peter Fonda, and Warren Oates, the last of which Stanton had appeared alongside in Monte Hellman's Cockfighter. Like Hellman's own films, Harry Dean Stanton was as American as the Road Movie itself, born of and bred by American cinema. Stanton himself could effortlessly inject a deeper Americana into any of the genre films he played in, often simply just by showing up. And often this imbued culture of Stanton's Americana came from a comfortably paradoxical angle; such as the baseball-hat wearing spaceship mechanic in Ridley Scott's Alien, a film that itself was conversely on the fringe of the science fiction genre back in the late seventies as it was on the fringe of American culture itself. The charm of Scott's vision of Alien that has never been (and could never be) replicated is the down-home American feel of the working-class characters aboard the ship, characters that are clearly a product of the ideals of the working-class US citizens of the seventies, farm enough removed from the Vietnam War to achieve a little skeptical hope, and not yet embroiled in the Regan administration of the eighties. Much of this working-class idealism is what Harry Dean Stanton seemed to embody in his work as an actor, and as America progressed towards narcissism, riches, and fame-mongering, so Harry Dean Stanton began to appear, through his characters, as slightly more sardonic, a little more weary, a little more cautious about his previously-embodied Americana. Strangely, these characteristics culminated very well for Stanton in his cameo for Korean director Kim Jee-woon in his first American film, the Schwarzenegger-comeback action-comedy The Last Stand, where Stanton plays a farmer taking his last stand against an evil Peter Stormare who wants to bulldoze his land in order to facilitate a ridiculously over-the-top (yet hugely entertaining) jailbreak for his billionaire boss. Of course, Stanton has portrayed this typified character elsewhere in more critically-celebrated films, like his last movie Lucky (released to film festivals just this year), but being a genre fan, movies like those of Kim Jee-wong, John Carpenter, Alex Cox, and David Lynch is where my cinematic compass happens to be magnetically attracted. My own memories of Stanton's performances are encapsulated in John Carpenter's Escape from New York and Christine, David Lynch's Wild at Heart, Ridley Scott's Alien, Alex Cox's Repo Man, Wayne Wang's Slamdance, and, perhaps a little oddly, John Binder's 1985 American sci-fi comedy UFOria, which I saw on Superchannel that year as a 10-year-old-kid, and from one of Stanton's lines “Well, everybody's gotta believe in something... And right now, I believe I'll have another beer,” was honestly the first time I'd ever heard that joke and I practically busted a gut when I heard that.

As a actor, Harry Dean Stanton, without exception, brought a greater depth in general to the films and stories that surrounded him (or his characters), even if he (or his characters) were not the exact center of those stories. He could always fit into any film he was hired to contribute to with stunning ease; his presence would undoubtedly make a viewer think “of course Harry Dean Stanton was PERFECT for that role!” – but that in itself was all Harry Dean Stanton; that was the true embodiment of his talents, it was his talent to be able to embody any part of any type of story, and to seat himself into his roles perfectly, so that ultimately all of his roles were the perfect roles for him. In the end, Harry Dean Stanton was the last of the truly genuine performers.


Sunday, October 01, 2017

Quick Blog Post for Grady Hendrix

Just a quick blog to shoutout not just the incredibly-designed novel of the fairly new genre-writer Grady Hendrix and his publisher Quirk Books - not only are these books simply INSANE in both their cover and very clever interior designs, but Hendrix's writing is fast, fun, and totally satisfying. Actually, "Paperbacks from Hell" is an honestly brilliantly-presented celebration of the horror novels of the 80s and 90s. All HIGHLY recommended!!

Monday, August 28, 2017

RIP, Tobe Hooper!

So, this is actually a reprint of the celebratory and somewhat angry rant upon the death of one of my personal all-time favourite horror film director, Tobe Hooper. As first published on Facebook last night (uncensored, warts and all...)

#RIPTobeHooper, the second of the horror film giants to have passed this summer and the third over the past two years... To me, his work was so underrated (post-1974 Texas Chainsaw Massacre), from his satirical Chainsaw sequel to his Lovecraftian Invaders From Mars to his batshit-crazy vampire sci-fi epic Lifeforce. Someone once asked if you were to create a "Mount Rushmore" of horror directors, who would you pick? Tobe Hooper, for me, would have definitely been in there, sharing space with George Romero and Wes Craven. To me, Tobe Hooper always had a discernible cinematic style, a style that was just as in evidence in Poltergeist as Spielberg's second-unit work was, and I thought it was pretty shitty that some old Hollywood crew members were "coming forward" to purportedly declare that Hooper had not directed his film at all, which I choose to call bullshit on, and not just because there's a face-ripping scene mid film. Hooper's style and mis-en-scene are evident even in the family banter scenes and neighbourhood squabbles. The opening
to Hooper's Eaten Alive inspired one of the most memorable lines in Tarantino's Kill Bill Vol. 1, and his Texas Chainsaw themes became go-to horror movie tropes for the next three decades. Hooper's horror cinema influence has been as widespread as it has been quiet over the past four decades, at times lost in his lesser films, while at other times these seemingly "lesser" films, like Night Terrors and the Toolbox Murders remake, were actually quite a bit better than some fans and critics would have us believe. Hooper's films always slanted towards the unusual, weird, and often the daring, and at times they were downright freaky; and if anyone thinks he lost his touch after The Texas Chainsaw Massacre then I would point them towards Poltergeist, Body Bags, That Damned Thing, Eaten Alive, and Salem's 'Lot.

Writer's Note: I would also like to mention Tobe Hooper's excellent 80s-90s made-for-cable-television films, I'm Dangerous Tonight and the incredible The Apartment Complex. 


Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Rolls Royce Baby vs. Cecilia

Face value: Both Rolls Royce Baby and Jess Franco's Cecilia look like they might have been cut from the same cloth coming from (or inspired by) the internationally-successful Emmanuelle trilogy of erotic films. Structurally, all of these films share a very basic similarity, which is that they feature the exploits of the sexual-adventures of a female protagonist as portrayed in an energetic vignette-style plotting, taking us from sexual escapade to sexual escapade, usually with a single through-line based on the changing morals or personal discovery of said protagonist. But, as I first discovered both of these Jess Franco films in the last couple of months, there is no hiding that there are drastic and fundamental differences between the two Franco erotic-cinematic offerings. The first and most notable is that Jess Franco did not even direct Rolls Royce Baby, which starred his wife Lina Romay in the leading and titular role, as an experimental and adventurous nymph who is a photographic model-by-day; yet it was Franco himself who is rumored to have really directed many of the scenes within the film, which was directed by collaborator Erwin C. Dietrich. Rolls Royce Baby was more of a direct and immediate cinematic-response to Emmanuelle than the seven-years-later Cecilia, and Rolls Royce Baby shows the considerably more fun side of those erotic films. Also, Rolls Royce Baby does go into some full hardcore scenes, yet everything is consistently kept light and comedic, and it's overtly more interested in maintaining the voyeuristic aspect as an engaging plot characteristic as opposed to the character depth offered in Cecilia.

So, conversely then, Cecilia, which was made by Franco seven years later in 1982 for the Eurocine film company, is a much more serious affair, delving into the character's motivations and sexuality and even their insecurities as motivations for their sexual escapades. This film concerns a well-to-do housewife who finds a sexual reawakening after engaging in a somewhat uncomfortable threesome with her next-door-neighbour brothers. It's quickly revealed that the action that took place was actually a story she was relaying to her husband, with the confession that she found him even more sexually attractive after the incident; which leads them on a journey of sexual exploration through different partners. Played up with the aforementioned more serious tone, Cecilia as a piece of erotic cinema is nevertheless far more successful than the more cutesy-poo Rolls Royce Baby; and, in my opinion, even more successful than Emmanuelle. There are two reasons that struck me with this conclusion as I watched what I'm gladly willing to call Jess Franco's erotic masterpiece: the first is the previously-uncharted depths that Franco, as an erotic filmmaker, was willing to plunge into in so many aspects of the story – the characters, the photography and locations (the locations are just as striking as those used for the backdrops of his films She Killed in Ecstasy, How to Seduce a Virgin, and Countess Perverse), and the ramifications of the characters' actions in the story. The second most striking thing about Franco's Cecilia is how closely the photography and the plot resembles the amazing work of Franco's favourite erotic artist, the late Guido Crepax (whom incidentally created his own graphic-novel adaptation of the character of Emmanuelle and one of Jess Franco's other explored subjects, Venus in Furs). To watch Cecilia is to experience, as a viewer, the most cinematic and literal insight into Franco's own inspirations (of Crepax's works). As erotic slices of the cinematic world, both Cecilia and Rolls Royce Baby are very successful, although each maintains its own personality – and to be fair (or at least to clarify some production information), each of these films was produced in a different decade and close to ten years apart. But while both films succeed in the erotic-film arena, it's Cecilia that really knocks it out of the park as Jess Franco held his artistic inspirations firmly throughout the film and managed to deliver it with confidence, creating sexually-charge surreal set-pieces while expertly maintaining an engaging and believable down-to-earth framework.  


Sunday, July 16, 2017

RIP George A. Romero.

RIP George A. Romero is a short string of words I dreaded ever having to see, hear, read, write. George A. Romero passed away today and as I write this, I'm still wearing the Night of the Living dead T-shirt that I left the apartment in this morning, about 12 hours before my wife read and broke the news to me after seeing it on her iPhone. I couldn't bring myself to take it off just yet.

To say that George Romero was a huge influence on my life is an understatement. He was my first “favorite film director” when I started getting into film and discovering his films in the early nineties. Yes, I'd seen Creepshow in the eighties, but I was just a nine-year-old kid. It was later on when I caught Monkey Shines and Night of the Living Dead on late-night cable television that I became really interested in Romero's films, and following that, I would go about seeking and exploring Romero's visionary horror films through the various video stores in my area. I rented Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, and Tom Savini's Night of the Living Dead remake and watched all three back-to-back in a single evening. That had quite an effect on me. I rented The Dark Half, and fell in love with that film, too. But when I found a then-rare copy of Martin on VHS tape at a video store called 24-Hour Video, my world suddenly exploded open. I had never witnessed a film like Martin before, and though I loved vampire movies, Romero's vision was so authentic, so experimental, so engagingly realistic and suspenseful and sad and thoughtful, it changed the way I looked at cinema forever. After this, one might think (myself included) that there would not be a Romero experience to outdo Martin (although the back-to-back Dead trilogy left a branding upon my brain that is still in evidence); however, a mere couple of months following my life-changing viewing of Martin, I managed to find a copy of Knightriders at a mall in Bellingham, in a VHS retail store called Suncoast Motion Pictures. Taking this VHS tape for the car ride home, I was on the edge of my seat with anticipation. I didn't unleash the tape from the thin foil wrap until I got inside the living room and was ready to push Knightriders into the VCR, fully expecting to witness a Romeo gore-fest. It was not a gore-fest at all. What it was, was a modern retelling of the Knights of the Round Table as they jousted tournaments in modern-day California on motorcycles, in a world that Romero imaginatively created to critique the capitalistic ideas of greed, consumerism, and corruption (both moral and capitalistic); and it instantly became one of my favourite films of all time. After this first viewing, which left me slack-jawed and awestruck, throughout 1995 to 1996 I would watch my LP VHS copy of Knightriders every Friday night for a year. 


Ideals and sentiments that Romeo brought up in Knightriders I employed in my own life and actions. The visuals of Romero's film swam in my mind for years, even after I stopped the weekly viewing of Knightriders. His films in general left an immense impression on me (as it did so many others) and for the rest of the nineties and into the new millennium I would seek out nearly anything George Romero was also partially, and even remotely, connected to. I once stopped at a video store in the middle of nowhere to buy a VHS copy of Two Evil Eyes; I found a paperback copy of “Masters of Modern Horror”, a literary horror anthology that contained a short story by Romero entitled “Clay”, on a cross-Canada journey I was taking. Years later I came across and purchased a 1974 Warner paperback printing of a “Night of the Living Dead” novelization that contained a lengthy preface written by Romero, and which is still, I think, one of the best pieces he'd written. I read Jay R. Bonansinga's “The Black Mariah” novel about a cursed runaway truck (which I still think was jacked as the inspiration for the Keanu Reeves film Speed) because Romero was developing a film version of the book. Likewise the Canadian direct-to-video movie Dead Awake, which Romero once mentioned in an interview that he had optioned as a part of a handful of outside scripts he was developing for production. Of course by the time it was produced in 2000, George Romero was long gone from the project. In 2003, when I finally came across a sought-after videotape of an early version of Roy Frumke's documentary on Romero, Document of the Dead, and I found myself transported back to the magic of discovering Martin and Dawn of the Dead for the first time...

Like so many filmmakers and producers throughout the world, visuals and ideals and social criticisms form Romero's groundbreaking horror films left significant impressions on me and also heavily influenced my own film work for nearly a decade. Knowing that this amazing, uncompromising artist and the author of these works is no longer with us truly leaves a weight on my heart and a sadness in my mind; although my thoughts keeps coming back to all of the creativity and work and soul he's given to us over so many years, for us to enjoy and to learn from and to draw inspiration from, and I can only be forever glad he was a part of our world. RIP George A. Romero.

~Vince D'Amato

Sunday, July 02, 2017

The Naschy/Franco Mondo Macabro Double-Feature

The Mondo Macabro retro-DVD distributor may have come late to the game in the Blu-ray arena, but when they arrived, it was with fanfare and fireworks for fans of the nearly ultra-niche genre film world. Knocking it out of the park with their The Fan and Symptoms blu-rays and their Greek-giallo double DVD releases, lately, Mondo Macabro have gone back to focus on a pair of utterly epitomic Euroshock filmmakers – I'm (obviously) talking about Paul Naschy and Jess Franco. For the latter, Mondo Macabro released onto blu-ray one of his lesser-known 80s sleaze-thrillers entitled The Night Has a Thousand Desires, which stars Franco's then-aging starlet-wife as a psychic who through several sexual encounters is the erotic and fetishistic vehicle for a story involving an elaborate con/scam that ultimately winds up being incredibly cheesy, although not for lack of trying – one can clearly see Franco's passion for telling this heist-sex-comedy story (perhaps unintentionally comic?) even though really, and in true Franco fashion, none of these thematic expectations, other than the sex, pays off successfully, and the whole affair ends up culminating in a barely-more-than-amusing conclusion. While it's clearly evident that Franco had loftier ideas for the film and the story, the gorgeous cinematography and Franco's affection for kitschy and vibrant set designs, and his hardwired knack for filming his muses in sexually explicit situations, all contribute to the memorable visual content of this nearly-lost minor gem. Overall, it's a curio-run-amuck in Franco's immense catalogue of films, and despite the fact that it's no Female Vampire, it's well worth checking out, especially for die-hard fans of the lovely Lina Romay.


Following this release, Mondo Macabro also saw fit to unleash a film from another prolific Spanish filmmaker, Paul Naschy – Inquisition – to my knowledge, this had been one of Naschy's harder-to-come-by films with an early DVD release relegated to the country of origin, Spain, and some evidence of an earlier European box-set release. But Naschy's 1976 film holds the same engaging tributes of his (in my opinion) most successful films, like Panic Beats and Dracula's Great Love – which is to say that Inquisition is brimming with unfolding plot and story elements, creating a twisty maze of double-crosses and doublebacks as it goes along, and hence elevating what could have been a generic revenge-scenario plot by placing it in the politically volatile world of religion and leadership politics of the Spanish Inquisition. Exploitation soars (with loads of nudity with women at the peril of the tortuous witch-hunt inquisition) while the movie's plot twists and an inspired defiance of genre convention and expectation propel one of Naschy's most under-appreciated genre films to the top of his prolific canon. Huge kudos to Mondo Macabro for digging this one up and unleashing it (and The Night Has a Thousand Desires) out into the sadly diminishing hardcopy jungle of North America.

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Check out CINEMAFANTASTIQUE 3 - The international genre film festival in Vancouver on Saturday, August 26th, 2017! Many special guests in attendance! See the FB EVENT PAGE


Thursday, June 08, 2017

Their Later Films (Vol. 2)

Vol. 2 – Vampires.

Vampires, as a sub-genre of the horror cinema genre, is not an uncommon playground for genre film directors to flash their talents in at the beginning of their careers – George Romero gave us Martin at this beginning of his, Tony Scott bestowed the bloody arthouse supernatural opus The Hunger at the beginning of his, and even Tobe Hooper went all Stephen King on us with Salem's Lot – also an early novel for genre king King. Post-seventies and -eighties, Robert Rodriguez and Tarantino got into the toothy action as well, with their collaborative gore-a-thon From Dusk till Dawn. However, my recent musings on this is not about those early vampire films from these celebrated genre directors; instead, I'd been thinking about the later films of celebrated genre directors – filmmakers who decided, later on in their careers, to dabble in cinematic vampire lore, and how these films differed (apart from been more poorly received than their colleagues' early vampire movies). It's really no mystery as to why early-career vampire films were better received than later ones; in the horror genre early films in general have a wider and more boisterous cult following and cult reception than later films in genre directors' careers. But what's interesting about these receptions when it comes to vampire films is just how thematically different the vampire film can be depending on the directors' career trajectory and artistic disposition at that point in their careers. Martin and The Hunger were genius arthouse experiments, and completely different from each other aesthetically. Salem's Lot was a for-hire gig by Warner Brother produced fo broadcast television. From Dusk till Dawn was just a wild ride by two filmmakers at the hugely energetic start of their careers (and which was also a loose rip-of of Richard Wenk's freshman film, Vamp). Later on, though, the vampire film gets more creative, and a little more high-concept, and not always to the appreciation of the audience. Because, really, we're going to out-concept strippers and vampires?

A Vampire in Brooklyn came about in Wes Craven's career between his excitedly-anticipated masterpiece New Nightmare (a Freddy Kruger meta-re-boot) and his insanely successful launching of the Scream franchise. In fact, Wes Craven is the only genre film director I can think of who was so conceptually talented that he was able to start two successful long-running horror franchises, both of which even spawned their own television series. His vampiric collaboration with comedian Eddie Murphy was not exactly a commercial success, and unfortunately marked a personal low-point in Craven's career when Angela Bassett's friend and personal stunt double was killed when filming a stunt-fall on set. However, when looking at the film itself, few people realize that it was Craven's and Murphy's vision that really reignited the idea on not only the horror-comedy, but in having the lead character playing the oblivious straight-man to his far more comedic sidekick, taking the cue from Young Frankenstein. Since Craven's vampire film, this shtick has come back into style with a vengeance. Also moving in on the comedy-vampire territory was John Landis with his movie Innocent Blood, about a vampire who takes it upon herself to wipe out a mob family. When she fucks that up, the mob systematically goes about turning themselves into a gang of vampires. This high-concept guilty pleasure suffered for no other reason than the fact that horror fans would only be comparing it to Landis' masterpiece, An American Werewolf in London. No matter what Landis threw at us in Innocent Blood, he was not going to exceed the giddy excesses of his early horror-monster film. If anyone other than Landis had directed this movie, it would never have had the baggage of comparison attached to it – but on the flipside, really only Landis could have delivered this vampire movie. Stupid catch-22s. Tobe Hooper, who had helmed Stephen King's Salem's Lot, returned to the vampire sub-genre by going sub-sub-genre with his concept and bringing us an adaptation of Colin Wilson's “Space Vampires” under the moniker Lifeforce. Here, a group of astronauts discover, and bring back to earth, the corpse of a female space vampire, only to have her resurrected where her “Lifeforce” begins jumping from one victim's body to the next, until the entire story winds up caught in an apocalyptic-disaster scenario. Without a doubt, this is Hooper's wildest film, which was produced after his catastrophic collaboration with Steven Spielberg and before he signed his groundbreaking horror film work off to Michael Bay and the Hollywood-franchise circle of hell.

Some popular horror genre directors managed to go without touching on the vampire sub-genre at all, such as Sam “Evil Dead” Raimi, and for a long time it seemed Dario Argento would be avoiding the entire vampiric affair as well (although this was not ultimately to be), when in 1998 John Carpenter himself helmed his own vampire opus. Loosely based on the novel by the late John Steakley, John Carpenter's movie was the fist to associate the obvious themes of the vampire and the western movies, and it was also one of the only films to bring the intense idea to the audience that the vampire monsters are actually really hard to kill. This latter fact of the film is really what drives the interest in it, with the heroes constantly stressed and struggling to kill the supernatural beings in a dusty, down-to-earth way. The film unfortunately does come undone despite its stellar cinematic themes, due to the winding-down of Carpenter's career at the time, and the budgetary decision to utilize only the first three chapters of Steakley's clever novel and to extend those limited concepts into a feature-length story. It's a shame, as Steakley's novel (titled Vampire$) shows us the vampire-hunting team as what is really a glorified pest-control unit in the midst of a global infestation, and ultimately as a band of misfits who were clever enough to cash in on the world's situation. All of this was lost in Carpenter's filmed version, including the team's heroic arc, but Carpenter nevertheless left us with one of the meanest, grittiest, vampire scenarios ever put to film, in only a way that Carpenter could have done. In the end, this was probably the last great John Carpenter film.