Groovy & Wild Films from Around the World

Sunday, December 02, 2018

3 Books a Month – November (Fall Reading... Still in the Mood for Horror)

After taking the first 10 days off from the Reading Challenge in November, and following the first regular-sized novel, I was then forced to move to some shorter novels for fear of not being able to live up to the 3-book challenge this month. A couple of these shorter ones were by Stephen Kin / Richard Bachman, and since his new book “Elevation” clearly states that it is in fact a novel right there on the front cover, then I'm going to say this swift little number totally counts. “Elevation” is a read-it-in-one-sitting novel, to be sure, it actually turned out to be one of my favourites by Stephen King, following an outrageous premise with our trusted author guiding the rather poignant plot through his well-drawn-out characters. This I read after the so-so “The Longest Night”, an old direct-to-paperback novel by 80s horror scribe J.N. Williamson. The book started off well, with a violent shoot-out in an old bordello, but the the ghost story remained at a simmer despite the good characters. I was actually really looking forward to this one, too. So back to King (or Bachman, rather), for the last of the original Bachman books that I'd never read – “The Running Man”. I remember I'd tried to ready this book back in 1987 after finding a paperback copy featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger in a Save-On-Foods – and promptly lost interest when it was clear withing the first two chapters that this was going to be nothing like the Schwarzenegger actioneer... Actually, I'm glad I waited, I would not have appreciated the biting dystopian satire as much back then. (Try reading this thing now in post-9/11 Trump times. Yikes). Still needing my retro-horror fix (I guess), I came across a copy of Harry Adam Knight's “Worm”, about the attack of several gigantic worms – and I was hugely surprised by this one – not just fast-paced and gory, but really well written, to boot, and the horror circled around a neo-noir-ish hard boiled world. I found out later that Harry Adam Knight was actually a pseudonym for a celebrated Australian author, who'd had a handful of his genre novels turned into films during his lifetime (he died in 2005). After these four horror novels (well, maybe “Elevation” wasn't exactly horror), I had the inspired notion that I could get two more “Preacher” books in – alas, I got one down. But overall, not too shabby for missing the first third of the month. I'll be starting December with the next “Preacher” graphic novel, though. 



Tuesday, October 30, 2018

3 Books a Month – October (Scary Readings)

Okay, quick re-cap although we're five month into this now – lovely wife and partner Nicole D'Amato created a three-book-a-month challenge. For October, I may have leaned slightly towards Stephen King. And it may have been a little infectious. Not only was 1408 one of the Halloween horror movies watched (re-watched) this month, but Nicki was compelled to delve into King's “Pet Sematary” over a re-watch of Mary Lambert's incredible film version. Admittedly, I also had only read King's “Pet Sematary” novel earlier this year. However, I feel I made up for that infraction by consuming not only one of my favourite Bachman Book (and King's least favourite), “Roadwork”. I had no expectations for this novel and found it King at some of his most mundanely humane – and I actually mean this in a very good way. His take on marriage and human relationships are far ahead of his then-young years (the novel was written in the seventies, post-'Salem's Lot). 

Adding to this I actually, finally, read “The Skin Trade” (aka “Dark Visions”) which includes stories by Stephen King, Dan Simmons (as I continues the exploration of his work from last month's “Lovedeath”), and George RR “Game of Thrones” Martin, in his experimental horror days. The standout of this book, for me, was an otherwise-unpublished novella by Stephen King titles Dedication. Can't explain that one here, but should be read, and I was so glad that it was at least published as part of this literary genre anthology. 

I also worked in a retrospective of Ray Russell's gothic works, published by Penguin and curated by filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro, titled “Haunted Castles”. Ray Russell is fast become one of my favourite underrated genre writers. (If you can get it, please read his short novel “A Case against Satan”). 

And lastly, while I was fully intending to take in yet another Preacher graphic novel, that intention was thwarted whan I came across a novel by Craig Spector – one half of the 80s-90s splatterpunk team of Skipp/Spector – in a thrift shop for a buck. Truthfully, I'd been interested in this book, “To Bury the Dead”, for quite some time. I'd read one of John Skipp's solo efforts (post-”Animals”), but I was curious about Craig Spector's solo work as well. During the reading of “To Bury the Dead”, I have to admit, I was mostly left with the feeling that from Spector's point of view, his writing really benefited from his previous partnership of John Skipp. Skipp's writing is more pared-down, pulpy, fast and furious. While Craig Spector undoubtedly maintains a high energy to his writing, it's thickly steeped in machismo and patriarchal heroism; it's testosterone-fueled to the point of being a little eyebrow-raising in these times. As fast as I was burning through the pages of “To Bury the Dead”, I was constantly and uncomfortably aware of the author's then-ideas of male-dominated ego-heroism. However, through the last fifty or so pages, things took a turn towards the existentially philosophical, turning something that at first appeared bizarrely conservative and right-wing into a work that explored ideas of, overall, understanding – which sort of saved this novel for me (and took it in a turn towards the surprising liberal). If anything, Spector's novel ends up being an experience in the complexities of Americans' personal beliefs and politics, and ideals that may have been built in the blood of America but has also softened in the education of the people. I'm actually glad I read this novel for the first time in the currently heated times of America, Americans, and their politics. It gives a strange light to Spector's work. Conversely, of you might be interested in his ex-writing-partner's anarchic horror-lit, may I recommend Skipps's “The Long Last Call”. Next month, I'll be back on Preacher! 


Sunday, October 07, 2018

And now, an Unused Article originally written for Absolute Underground...

Cabin Fever (and Streaming the Horror)

No, not Cabin Fever the film, cabin fever as in cabin fever – being locked up indoors for long periods of time without much relief from the situation. Anyone experiencing the wet cold winters in Canada (or those who have seen The Shining a thousand times) will know what I'm getting at. Many years ago, barely into my double-digits age, there was a long summer that was just as wet as any winter Vancouver had ever seen, and I'd spent my days – quite literally, every day that August month, walking back and forth to the local video store and spending a few dollars on one or two tapes at a time, trekking through the rain to bring them back to my house where I'd hole up in the basement den and watch movies like Out of Bounds and Friday the 13th Part V. The downstairs den wasn't really in a basement – not quite. We lived in one of those architecturally unique Vancouver homes where the foyer was the only part of the house that was even close to ground-level. Then you'd have to choose your destination: upstairs, a storey-and-a-half over the driveway, or downstairs, half-buried into the ground, where all the windows were half-height and set closer up to the low ceilings so that you could see over the grass on the front lawn. Anyway, it was down in that sort-of basement that I'd spent that wet summer getting an education in exploitation cinema. However, it isn't 1985 anymore, and you should consider yourself lucky if you still have an actual operating video rental store near where you live.

And now some really good horror can be found on most of the mainstream VOD streaming services now – the only problem, I find, is often how the search algorithms are set up on these platforms (not very horror-fan-friendly, in my opinion), but we'll get to that soon. For right now I thought it might be cool to feature some of the horror gens I've found streaming directly into my own home, especially for those downpouring days where you really don't want to leave the house.

Taking Netflix for a spin, while I have come across a few said gems, this is actually the streaming platform that I find the most frustration when it comes to its search options. However, the ones that I have discovered have been unexpectedly good – the Netflix “Original” slowburn gothic horror film I Am the Pretty Things that Lives in the House has a palpable Stephen King / Shirley Jackson literary-horror feel to its central ghost story and outlaying flashback scenes, making for a worthwhile entry in the haunted house canon. Another good haunting lies in the indie arthouse horror film Darling, a quick Larry Fessenden-produced romp that gives us its ghost story laced with madness and generous helpings of dark humour. The Bottom of the World, unavailable on any physical home media format in North America so there's no other choice but to stream it, stars Jenna Malone (from Neon Demon) in a similarly hallucinatory narrative as she becomes wrapped in a maze of subconscious and other-worldly realities; it's another quick arthouse genre film (around 80 minutes) that feels like an inspired collision between Twin Peaks, Psycho, and Jacob's Ladder. Bottom of the World is actually one of my favourites from Netflix, along with the weirdly erotic and murdery Sun Choke, which stars classic genre fave Barbara “Re-Animator” Crampton in what I think is one of her best screen performances ever. One of the best straight-hitting horrors on Netflix, though, in terms of sheer intensity and suspense, is Hush, which takes place all in one night when a deaf and mute woman is terrorized by a violent and clever home invader.

The streaming platform Crave TV is, as you'd probably guessed with the name, focused on television series – some old, and a lot that are very new. Here you'll find the Stephen King / JJ Abrams supernatural horror series Castle Rock, and while Stephen King did not write any of the series' episodes (it's based on a world created by King in his horror literature), the first 10-part season is, appropriately, very Stephen King in feel and atmosphere, as the 10-part story rolls out itself much like a novel. But it was David Lynch's return to Twin Peaks that really floored me – this 18-episode limited series from 2017 takes place 25 years after the last time we were invited to visit the town of Twin Peaks, and everyone one of those 18 episodes was directed by Lynch himself. This hallucinatory, genre-bending return to Twin Peaks does boast a couple of episodes that are outright horror, and horror underlies most of what's going on in a very emotional level where Lynch brings us his subconsciously deep view of loss and agony, to an ultimately haunting conclusion. One professional critic had opted to maintain that the return to Twin Peaks was some of the best “cinema” of our time, stating that in this age of digital streaming, the lines between “television” and “cinema” continue to blur closer together.

Continuing my recent TV-series obsession, Amazon Prime has the first seasons of Preacher, which I've been wholly addicted to (based on the graphic novel series by Garth Ennis). I have a preference to the Amazon VOD platform for two reasons: 1. Unlike most of the titles available through Netflix, there are tons of horror and giallo films that date earlier than 2015, and you can also find a slew of wild independent genre films like the over-the-top Peelers, and the giallo-inspired Glass and The Editor. And reason number 2, the search-links are similar to what we're used to seeing on Amazon's shopping website, so if you see a title that looks interesting, it's easy to open up a whole line of selections that other “Customers Who Watched This Also Watched”, and thereby accessing hundreds of titles that may have gone unrepresented in the initial homepage categories. Through this somewhat intuitive browsing mode, I found a couple of inspired independent horror films – from 2012, a German take on the cannibal subgenre titled (very appropriately) Cannibal Diner, which admittedly does not have a high rating on the imdb, but I personally found it to be fast-paced and very enjoyable with an engaging (and nearly all-female) cast of characters, and it relies so heavily on the genre's tropes that it's almost impossible not to find it bloody charming. Not a lot of violence until near the end, which I didn't mind, and what there was was fairly gory – the story is basically a young woman who finds herself lost in the woods runs afoul of a Texas Chainsaw-type of family in an abandoned chemical factory.

I feel compelled to mention that Amazon Prime is one of the only places you'll find Spike Lee's gorgeous and thoughtful vampire remake of the 70s cult film Ganja and Hess – Lee's version re-titled Da Sweet Blood of Jesus. Also on Amazon's streaming service we'll find another Larry Fessenden indie film (actually, we'll find a lot of things, from the films of Umberto Lenzi and Lucio Fulci to the crazy flicks of Charles Band's Full Moon) – called Silver Bullets, and despite what Amazon will tell you, Silver Bullets was not produced in 1970; rather it's a modern low-budget erotic and existential movie from 2011 that eventually turns into a horror movie, after folding dream- and nightmare-fantasies over its own neo-realism and into the fantastic cinema of, well, werewolf films.

A lot of the independent horror films featured on these streaming services came from film festivals like SXSW, and now without the video stores of yesteryear to bring them in front of genre audiences, a lot of them are leaping directly from the festival circuit to Video-On-Demand platforms. And while it's probably abundantly clear that a large chunk of these personal horror selections lean towards the kaleidoscopic, I have found something hugely engaging and even inspiring with each of them, whether they're 75 minutes or 18 hours long. Follow this list and you'll certainly be in for a mindbending end to your winter months.

-Vince D'Amato

(Cannibal Diner)

(Da Sweet Blood of Jesus)



(I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the Walls)

(Silver Bullets)

(Sun Choke)

(Twin Peaks -- Revisited)

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

3 Books a Month – September (The Last of the Summer Readings)

Alright, we're officially into fall and the Halloween season! Of course that didn't quite stop be from getting my horror on with September's book challenge (still ongoing between Nicole D'Amato and myself – and any friends that care to partake as sort of a self-challenge). Strangely, my first book book of the month was only the second novel I've ever read by the brilliant Peter Straub. Well, possibly the first novel, as the previous book I'd read had actually been his short story collection Houses Without Doors, and I'd read that way back in the 90s after having finished the Straub/King collaboration The Talisman. Anyway, I'd been in a used bookstore in Santa Monica when I accidentally came across a bent-up recent publication of Peter Straub's 70s thriller If You Could See Me Now. Reading this murder-mystery for the first time, with its dangerous smalltown redneck flavour and supernatural creep-factor, it struck me just how influential this novel might have been to the works of upcoming horror authors and filmmakers – and I say might have been, because in truth I'm not sure what the critical or commercial response to this book was when it was first published in the 70s, but I wouldn't be surprised to find out that it actually had a direct influence on other genre works. Moving from If You Could See Me Now to a weirdly similarly-toned The Wasp
Factory by Iain Banks, the prose in the latter novel was far more contemporary (and should I even use the word “clever”? – I suppose that would be subjective) yet both novels retained the same tense, engagingly creepy, and mysterious gothic atmosphere that continually signaled that there was so much more going on beneath the surface of these novels' main plots. Following these two novels, I finally read a book that I had purchased back in the 1990s (around the same time as I'd purchased Straub's Houses Without Doors, it would be extremely safe to assume), Dan Simmons' LoveDeath – LoveDeath is a collection of novellas dealing with the often horrifying and always tantalizing themes of love, sex, death, and violent bloodshed. Some of the works in this book are existentially haunting, other parts are terrorizing, and of course, there are some decent doses of humour, because really, what's sex and death without a little bit of nervous laughter? Everything in Simmons' book is extremely readable, although
Simmons' prose is such that it quite literally demands and simultaneously commands the reader's attention. Not concentration, just attention, and thereby the reading of LoveDeath felt more intense to me than the other horror literature I'd consumed this month – and of course, all of these books were so very appropriate in leading into the fall/Halloween season. Finishing my three books a couple of days before the monthly deadline, I once again went back to Preacher (as season three is still not available on Prime! Come on, Amazon!!) and I've now gone all linear – last month, I'd read the fourth book in the originally-compiled 9-book series (the series has since been re-compiled and re-published in a slightly different order and context over six books), and now I've firmly placed myself in the proper order, having devoured Preacher Vol. 1 – Gone to Texas, which collected the first seven comics in the long-running series. Hopefully, I'll have Vol. 2 in my hands by the end of October. 


Sunday, September 16, 2018

Issue #69 - The Absolute Underground Papers

(Original text from Absolute Underground Issue #69 - originally published April, 2016)
It was the summer of 1994 that I walked into the little corner store – an independent retailer – at Richards & Pender Street in Vancouver. It was primarily music, a used and collectible record store; the proprietor also had a lot of CDs – but in the far back corner of the store, as far away from the summer sun streaming in through the large glass windows as physically possible, was a small wooden thrift-store bookshelf that held, in no discernible order whatsoever, used VHS tapes of all genres. Interestingly, there were no mainstream Hollywood movies there on that shelf. There were a couple of 80s horror films that starred a very young Bill Paxton, and a weird-looking horror-thriller that starred Sting and was directed by celebrated filmmaker Robert Altman with I title I have never again come across since that day (and can no longer remember what it was). Attempts to find this film on the internet have been fruitless, as well, and possibly the VHS cover was using an alternate title; this happened quite a bit in those days. I still remember Uumberto Lenzi's Nightmare City and its Canadian-release VHS cover from the early 80s – a naked woman hanging upside-down with her nipple torn off, and the alternative title “City of the Walking Dead” partially obscuring said ripped-off nipple. Also long forgotten was the name of this little corner used-record shop, the shop itself has been gone for decades now, replacing by an ever-increasingly dilapidated convenience store that is somehow, inexplicably, still in operation to this day. I do remember, however, having a lively conversation with the proprietor when I brought the used VHS tape of Stuart Gordon's Re-Animator up to his counter to purchase. He was a tall, young-ish man with a sore-looking condition of skin psoriasis all over his otherwise pale face. I was about to pay $9.95 plus tax for this used Re-Animator tape that had be re-packed in a black Amaray clamshell by some unknown video store long before it ever wound up at this guy's shop, and he proceeded to explain to me why the VHS videotape in my hands would never become valuable to any collector.

“Look at this,” he said, removing the videotape from inside the clamshell case and pressing the tiny black release button that allowed the back of the tape to swing up, exposing the magnetic tape and all of the thin silver and white reels the tape had to wind around in order to get from the right side to the left while playing through a VCR. “All these moving parts. Records don't have moving parts, and that's why they can become collectible. Something like this, all these parts and components – it will never become collectible. These tapes won't ever be worth anything to any collector”. I paid for my Re-Animator tape and left. 
I still have that tape to this day, almost 22 years later.

Funnily, I was not the only one to hold onto a couple of my old VHS horror tapes. In fact, I literally only held onto a couple of them when the DVD revolution hit. Now, though, it's astoundingly clear that VHS tapes have indeed become highly coveted collectors items, some going for hundreds of dollars on eBay and Amazon, in a time where we've gone even further beyond the original DVD revolution of the new millennium into HD and 4K Blu-ray disc media, creating something of a treasure trove for collectors of all types of media from magnetic standard definition to digital hi-def picture quality; and often, fans of niche and genre film fare are the ones benefiting; many genre (horror) titles have survived the advances in film media technology, and it's not unusual to see titles that have made it across all the home video formats: Betamax, VHS, Laserdisc, DVD, and Blu-ray (and I'll include digital streaming in this sentiment, as well). Of course the biggest impacts were made by the VHS, DVD and Blu-ray formats specifically, clearly defining the technological generations in home video history. And with these defined generations, we see that there are also titles that had skipped a generation, and it's amusing to me when I happen to come across a horror or cult film title that had run out its print in the VHS days only to make a surprise comeback on a hi-def 1080p Blu-ray disc, while missing out on the entire DVD generation altogether. 
Most recently, Slasher//Video (through an output/imprint deal with the Blu-ray distribution company Olive Films) has begun to release niche and sought-after horror and slasher videos on Blu-ray while incorporating the nostalgic aspects of the VHS days. These Slasher//Video releases were not entirely imagined by design – often, Slasher//Video (Olive Films) could only track down a Betacam SP tape master to provide us with the digital transfer to their Blu-ray discs – Betacam SP is a large videotape master, in standard definition (or Standard Play, SP), that was the standard delivery master to broadcast television and often to direct-to-video distribution in the eighties and nineties. In the case of the direct-to-video films, while they were nearly all originally shot on film, they were cut together and mastered only onto standard definition Betacam SP tapes in that bygone era of film and video production. The very name of these tapes – Standard Play – signified the maximum video quality that the technology had produced at that time. So now, mixing these distant generations of video technology, Slasher//Video has given us niche horror and genre fans a bit of an unusual and offbeat treat – we can see these wonderfully strange, gory, exciting, and low-budget originally direct-to-home-video horror movies in their original video/VHS anesthetic, but on a Blu-ray disc that will never wear down, no matter how many times the film is played at home. In the VHS days, god forbid you would fast-forward to your favourite part of the tape (an explosion of blood, a couple of boobs, a kickass werewolf transformation and subsequent gory slaughter) more than a couple of times; the tape would soon develop tracking issues and interruptive glitches, constantly changing the way you could see your favourite scenes. Admittedly, this is one of the charming aspects about VHS to some collectors. But for those who are keen on reliving the nostalgia of the VHS aesthetics with their 1980s horror obscurities, Slasher//Video and Olive Films have fallen on something very unique for horror fans, by delivering that VHS aesthetic on their Blu-ray and DVD releases. I'm curious to see how Slasher//Video's new mixed-technology retro-releases will be received by fans down the road. For me, it gives me the chance to see some of these films that I missed before the VHS tape went extinct, and I'm personally loving it. 


Sunday, September 09, 2018

RE-POST SERIES: Last House on Dead End Street... The Last Enigma

(This "Re-Post Series" is a re-introduction of older writings created for a now-defunct blog from 2011. Still some interesting stuff, though! Beware, some of the old links may or may not still work).

Roger Watkins' 1977 indie arthouse horror film has left behind a seared imprint on my mind since I first borrowed the Barrel release/double DVD from a good friend of mine back in 2004. I think the DVD itself had been released a year or two earlier... Since then, with Barrel's DVD having become woefully long out-of-print, I was able to find a different DVD copy quite easily (and cheaply) in the UK. Watching that film again, I was no less impressed than on the first viewing. There was something so rebellious, so fucking art, so bloody horrific in its low-budgetness... It was actually kind of profound in a way. Having been reminded of this flick in 2009, I began to wonder about the man behind the film. Roger Watkins. So I did what any slave to the kind of immediate self-satisfaction the internet generation has produced would do... I Googled him. And discovered forthwith that he'd died in 2007. Shame. But this was just the beginning of my curiosity, as it quickly piqued higher.

In Barrel's double-DVD there was also a booklet included where Roger Watkins (then going by the name Victor Janos) spoke about how the distribution company had literally - and physically - stolen the film (yes, the actual reels of film and negatives) from him back in '73. The film never appeared again until it's release by the shady distribution company in '77. Victor/Roger never even knew his film had been released (and re-titled) at all.

Also on this DVD is a special feature - the original episode of Joe Frankiln's talk show (originally aired on February 6, 1975) where Watkins speaks intelligently (though you get the sense he's high as a kite) along with his NY film prof about his movie, then titled "The Cuckoo Clocks of Hell". All of this had intrigued me back in 2004, but what I unearthed five years later only added to the mystique of Roger Watkins. I went looking for something, some films perhaps, or anything he'd done since the drug-addled Last House on Dead End Street. Well, here is a sample of what I found... Ultimately raising more questions than solving them, during the course of a day-long internet search that went from mysterious to enigmatically creepy. Judge for yourself.

From Wikipedia:
Last House on Dead End Street is a horror film released in 1977...
Few knew who actually directed the film, until Roger Watkins, who died in March 2007, posted on Internet message boards three decades after it was made saying he was behind it. The film was made in 1973, but was not released until four years later.
Watkins said he was high on amphetamines while making the film. He also said only about $800 was spent making the film, while the remaining $3,000 budgeted was used to buy drugs.
The film was virtually unavailable until Barrel Entertainment released a double-disc DVD in 2002. In the 1970s, its release was limited to grindhouse and drive-in theaters. The [original] version entitled The Cuckoo Clocks Of Hell ran some 175 minutes in length - though the only remaining print of it in that form is thought to be stored in a New York film lab.
Also From Wikipedia:
Roger Michael Watkins was a film director best known for the notorious 1970s movie Last House on Dead End Street He also directed several porn films. He worked with famous porn actors like Jamie Gillis and Vanessa del Rio.
And from
"I was greatly distressed to hear of the passing of Roger Watkins, the director of the infamous cult classic Last House On Dead End Street on March 6 in Apalachin, N.Y. I saw that movie on 42nd Street and it really freaked me out at the time. The director’s name listed was “Victor Janos” (which was just a pseudonym for Watkins). Watkins was a director, author, editor and starred in the film as Terry Hawkins, just released from prison after a one year drug bust. Pissed off at the world, he rounds up a few friends and they decide to direct some films aimed at a “specialized” audience of degenerates. Actual snuff films, which they can make money from and get back at society with.
Watkins shot the movie after getting out of SUNY Oneonto college in 1972. In an interview he said there was $3,000 for the shoot but only $800 was used on the movie. The rest “I think it was to buy drugs,” he said. “I didn’t spend anything on that film.” It’s original title was The Cuckoo Clocks Of Hell (a reference from Kurt Vonnegut’s Mother Night). After it was finished it went through many shady distributors and didn’t hit theaters until 1977 as: The Fun House and later: Last House On Dead End Street, tying it into the Last House On The Left popularity. But as a film it still manages to unsettle -- it’s a nihilistic dark little horror masterpiece."

Some of the feedback from the Papermag obituary went as follows:

Elizabeth Watkins: "I am Roger's oldest daughter and I want to thank you for posting this article and paying tribute to him. I really miss him. He was the smartest guy I've ever met..."
Jo C. Schwarz: "Elizabeth, I am an old friend of your dad. I am sadden by the news of his passing. Roger was the smartest man I have ever met myself. His wit and charm will sorely be missed. He often talk about how smart you were as well."
Bob Arturi: "Elizabeth I had the pleasure of working with your dad at Bill Kolb Ford in Blauvelt, New York. He was one of the wittiest, smartest people I ever met. I lost contact with him for a while after he left the busines, but found him a little later at another dealership. He then totally left the business to move upstate and I didn't have the opportunity to speak with him before he passed away. I can't say enough good things about him, his sense of humor, our long conversations about his life in the cinema world, and of course his tales of his family. He will always be in my thoughts."
Barry Koch: "Elizabeth, Your Dad roomed at my house for a while back in the late 1980s. He was a brilliant, creative, and maddeningly mercurial human being... and remains unforgettable to those who knew him in to any degree. Despite the tempests that seemed to swirl about his restless mind, he always spoke lovingly of "his girls", you and your sister.
pedobear: "I loved roger too we hung out together looking for young girls. i will miss you. Pedophilia died with you. R.I.H"
ananymous: "Pedobear,  It is very important that I speak with you. You hold the key to a very important puzzle.  Please, please, please email me at this address. I will make it worth your while."
You can read the entire string of messages left behind at Papermag's obit here.

Sunday, September 02, 2018

3 Books a Month – August (Summer Reading)

At first, I thought I wasn't going to meet the challenge this month! (For those new to this, my wife Nicki and have currently have a three-books-a-month challenge taking place – indefinitely. It started in June). However, I actually passed the goal quite literally (ha!) in the eleventh hour on the 31st – of course, if you were to ask Nicki about it, she;d tell you that my last book didn't count. More on that later. So, the reason I almost didn't make the goal this August was actually in part the fault of the first book I'd read – Joe R. Lansdale's “The Thicket”. I've always loved Lansdale's work, though he's one of my favourite authors whose books I seem to only get around to every couple of years (I've really gotta change that, there are still a few of his early ones I haven't gotten to yet) – but hands-down, “The Thicket” is now my favourite Lansdale book. It's a Western-type of seek-and-revenge tale, with a Southern existential weirdness that really only Lansdale can do justice to (especially as he practically invented this style). This one is definitely the pick of the month. Following this, I absolutely devoured Stephen King's latest, “The Outsider”. And as much as I loved this book and the insane plot turns it took following the arrest of a child-killer who may or may not be innocent, and who was widely adored in his own community, I have to admit I was slightly annoyed (only slightly, mind you) as I was getting to the finale of the novel only to realize that there was a reliance on characters introduced earlier in King's “Mr. Mercedes” trilogy, which I had/have not read yet. Minor thing, though, but I'm a little OCD (just ask Nicki) and so I would've liked to have known that beforehand, and I might've read Mr. Mercedes first. At any rate, “The Outsider” is still very much recommend.
Finishing this novel was where the trouble began – I was dying to go back to something Lansdale-esque. But instead of reading another book, I launched into the Preacher television series on Amazon Prime and binge-watched the first two seasons. (I would've done three, but the third season wasn't available yet. Which might've been a good thing). As I ran out of Preacher episodes to gorge myself on, I remembered that back when I was experimenting with getting into graphic novels, I had actually purchased a Preacher book – Volume 4, “Ancient History”. I honestly couldn't tell you how long I'd held onto that graphic novel for, having purchased it years ago from Golden Age Comics on Granville Street. I can tell you that it had been stuffed to the back of the top shelf of the bedroom closet, and at one in the morning it wasn't going to go over really well if I woke Nicki up digging through my back-issues of The Walking Dead and Marvel Zombies to find this fucking thing, so I gave up after a cursory glance. Instead, I went for a trade paperback that my friend Vincent Ternida had given us a few days earlier – it was, in fact, his
first published novel. “The Seven Muses of Harry Salcedo” regards the trials and tribulations of singles-dating in Vancouver, told from Vincent's keen eye on Vancouver living and getting through a daily grind in what is often a schizophrenic city, even for people who were born here. His observations on the city are humorously perfect (the description of his “Java Mausoleum” in the first chapter instantly reminded me of the time I saw two young women carrying a new espresso machine to the cashier in the downtown Best Buy while both of them were carrying Venti Starbucks coffee beverages); and the description of Harry's dating life are colorfully painted with his uncannily acute sardonic/loving descriptions of culture in the city. As I actually managed to finish my friend's first novel before the
end of August, I found myself with one day to spare, so I did dig out the Preacher graphic novel (in the daytime, as to not find myself in the same predicament as two nights earlier), and finished it off on the 31
st. Although Nicki will maintain that “comics don't count” (okay, I might be paraphrasing there), I disagree when said comic is over 200 pages and boasts a lot of text and the stylized writing of Garth Ennis. “Ancient History” was mostly filmed in the first two seasons of Preacher, but I have to say that it temporarily satisfied my newfound addiction and gave me a new-found appreciation for the original graphic novels. Now all I have to do is track down the other eight books from the original saga... 



(This "Re-Post Series" is a re-introduction of older writings created for a now-defunct blog from 2011. Still some interesting stuff, though! Beware, some of the old links may or may not still work).

So I was at my pal and co-producer Peter Speers’ place yesterday picking up the final video exports of our recent double-feature, when I’m snooping across his bookshelves and I come across a DVD titled “The Severed Arm” from 1973. Now, this DVD wasn’t exactly out in the open. It had been packaged in the cheapest of cheapest slip-covers (actually it was more of a Photoshopped envelope) and had been squeezed in between “Dawn of the Dead” and “Matchstick Men” and I assume completely forgotten about. It was still shrink-wrapped! According to Peter and his girlfriend Jen, neither of them had any clue as to how that DVD had gotten there on their bookshelf. The package promised gory cannibalism and some kick-ass revenge, while on the front of the envelope there was a picture of a hand that likely had no part in the actual film whatsoever with the tagline: “The right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing!”. So of course, we watched it.

Turns out this DVD was distributed by some company called “Dollar DVD”. I assume it had cost a dollar, but there was no price tag on it, even though it was still wrapped. So we throw it into the DVD player, and The Severed Arm starts off in a dimly-lit morgue, where some disguised antagonist saws the arm off of a corpse and then sends it out “Special Delivery” (not kidding – that’s what the package actually said) through the US postal service to our protagonist. From there, it’s pretty much a tedious 85 minutes showing us a complete lack of gore, horror, suspense, competent acting, and for the most part even a heavy lack of exploitation, until we (finally) get to the end, where there’s a lame-ass twist (the killer isn’t who we thought it was, it was somebody you never even knew existed!) coupled with a pretty good revenge twist… if only we got to see it, that is, instead of simply listening to the characters talk about it.

Well, the beer helped, that was for sure. The only fun part was watching it with a couple of friends, and I suppose that’s what these flicks are all about, anyway (although back in ’73 I assume we would’ve been watching it at the drive-in). Still, I wondered who was responsible for this schlock? Some of the credits at the end of the film seemed made-up, but I can’t be certain. Apparently the director also made a movie called “Coed Dorm”. Not much else to go on.

Till the next one, then…

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Vertigo/De Palma - Part VI

* * * Part VI (The Scream/End Credits)***

Femme Fatale was the first real-feeling DePalma film I'd seen in the cinema. I had actually seen Carlito's Way and Snake Eyes in the cinema as well, but Femme Fatale was the first DePalma theatrical experience where I felt I was watching a film that could've been made during the time of his master trilogy of the early 80s. Femme Fatale was the extension of Dressed to Kill, Blow Out, and Body Double that it seemed Raising Cain had hoped to be in the 90s. Perhaps Raising Cain would have been more secured in that creative extension had DePalma been able to figure our how to edit the film in the manner that he'd originally envisioned. But with Femme Fatale, it was apparent that he had fully creative reign when it came to his experimental non-linear storytelling. Femme Fatale would be another revisiting of Vertigo themes while Raising Cain had served as a remake of DePalma's own Dressed to Kill, which of course, was a remake of Hitchcock's Psycho. Perhaps Raising Cain, then, would serve as a first offering of a post-1980s trilogy in and of itself, featuring Raising Cain, Femme Fatale, and finally Passion, which would also deal with the nightmarishly-presented ideas of Rachel McAdams having her own “double” that was haunting the thoughts and actions of Noomi Rapace. Indeed, the list of these six films undoubtedly make up the “key” and an importantly defining portion of DePalma's catalogue – Dressed to Kill, Blow Out, Body Double, Raising Cain, Femme Fatale, and Passion, which ironically (even if this was unintended) loops the modern idea of how society receives its modern media with the studio-television monitors, 16mm projected film, and newspapers of 1973's Sisters.
* * *

With all of its similarities, it was the final shot of Vertigo that really grabbed my attention and shook me out of my seat. It was the scream.

But twenty-four years before this, it was a television trailer for Carlito's Way (1993) that had grabbed my attention in a completely different fashion; it would be the first Brian DePalma movie I'd have the opportunity to see in the cinema ever and since discovering his films on VHS thanks to a handful of video rental stores in North Vancouver. My brother and I went to see Carlito's Way after it opened at what at the time was North Vancouver's only multi-screen cinema in an outdoor retail complex called Park & Tilford. Before the movie theatre opened there, Park & Tilford was a destination for families during the Christmas season because of the elaborate Christmas display of lights and decorations that were weaved through a monumental garden tunnel-path. And really, this was the only thing housed at the Park & Tilford location for years until the movie theatre went up, followed by a huge Canadian grocery store (Save-On-Foods) and soon afterwards, Blockbuster Video. I even rented Carlito's Way for a second and third viewing from this Blockbuster Video on latter occasions. Carlito's Way was really the epitome of flashback-sequence storytelling as the entire film was essentially one long flashback sequence.

The movie opens up with a shot of Al Pacino (“Carlito” in the film) being carried away, dying, on a paramedics' stretcher out of the tunnels of New York's Grand Central Station. The location immediately recalls the backdrop of important Blow Out scenes, including scenes leading up to the climax of that film. Even the reason that the two sets of leading characters from each of those two films are the same: they're catching a train out of town to hopefully outrun the bad guys. In the opening shots of Carlito's Way, we have DePalma telling us that it's the climax of Carlito's Way that is going to play out in the same locations. We also have him telling us, directly, the ultimate fate of his own leading character, and then invites us to find out if he was lying to us or not; taking us through two and a half hours of Carlito's flashback story. After the opening credits play out, with Carlito lifted from the train platform and transported away on an ambulance gurney, we see him a few months previous to this in a courtroom as his prison sentence has just been revoked due to illegal wire-tapping by the District Attorney, and so right away, we get another Blow Out reference, or at the very least another gentle reminder of that film. Again, hidden wires, microphones, and audio recordings play a minor but significant role in this film as well. The circling camera shot around Pacino and his love interest Penelope Ann Miller midway through the film reminds us of the same shot midway through Body Double (nineteen years earlier). Much of DePalma's filmography holds up years and decades after-the-fact, Carlito's Way in particular seems to get better with age, crawling up on Martin Scorsese's GoodFellas as best gangster movie. In fact, I believe one of the best scenes DePalma has ever film is the fight between Pacino and Miller, which takes place in her apartment – the two characters, arguing their own moral logic, remain separated by space, walls, and doorways until the argument reaches its heated moments – Pacino pushing his way into her bathroom, where Miller is standing, yet the two of them continue to argue without looking at each other, their heads are backside-to-backside. Finally breaking this disconnection that is coming between them, instead of looking directly at each other, they face each other in the bathroom mirror, where they are forced to face each other and themselves as slightly warped, opposite-reflections of themselves, until he finally breaks the mirror with his fist – cutting his hand. She follows him out of the apartment, like she would follow him later in her life, and she lets him go without her, as he would let her go without him at the end of the film, from the platform of Grand Central Station. Miller yells after him as Pacino disappears from her apartment: “I'm through cleaning up your blood!” – And she is through, she won't have to clean up his blood again, next time, the paramedics are going to do it for her. Unlike Nancy Allen's prostitute-with-brains-and-a-heart-of-gold character form Blow Out, Miller will get away from all the blood and crime that she'd been trapped in inside the city. Carlito's Way ends with her dancing in paradise.

Blow Out ends on a far more cynical note, made palatable only by the multi-layered irony that DePalma has brilliantly twisted it all into at the end of the story. Hitchcock himself had set-up a beautifully ironic twist at the end of his masterpiece Vertigo. At Vertigo's halfway point, as James Stewart has had to give up his ascent to the top of the bell tower, the last thing he hears is Novak's scream before the body falls, seemingly to its death, from the top of that tower. As the clues build up to a tense and wholly uncomfortable climax at the end of Vertigo, Stewart realizes that he had heard Novak's scream before seeing the body fall – only it wasn't her body. It was all a set-up to place Stewart as the only “witness” to another woman's “suicide” – all this an elaborate cover-up for the other woman's murder. As Stewart literally drags Novak back to the scene of the crime, he overcomes his crippling vertigo and manages to get them both up to the top of the bell tower, where the murder victim had been thrown. As they teeter on the edge of the tower, Novak, riddled with angst and anxiety, gets spooked by something in the shadows and accidentally falls to her death from the tower, her scream echoing once again for Stewart, but this time the scream isn't staged.

When DePalma's Blow Out opens up, we see John Travolta in a private screening room with the slasher b-movie producer, mixing the sound effects track for their horror movie. They are in need of a “good scream”. DePalma uses this detail of Travolta's background for some humourous scenes throughout the movie – as Travolta runs about the city trying to solve the apparent murder he's captured on his tape recorder, he's suddenly brought back into his everyday-world reality of having to test voice-over actresses in order to record the perfect scream for his producer. Still, they can't find the right one. The fact that the creepy villain-hitman of Blow Out (Lithgow) has ransacked Travolta's sound studio and erased every single recorded and meticulously catalogued sound-effect tape Travolta has ever created just puts him further back from ever being able to finish the work that his dayjob (and only source of money) requires. Throughout the entire film the circumstances surrounding Travolta's character only serve to push him further and further into a corner, until the climax of the film, where Travolta and Allen devise a plan to entrap the killer by wiring Allen with a hidden microphone – a plan that backfires fatally for Allen, and Travolta is left stranded and helpless, unable to help Allen as she screams harshly to her death through the headphones in Travolta's ears.

DePalma leaves us watching Travolta, in his own personal hell inside the private screening room with his b-movie producer, having to listen to Allen's death-screams over and over and over again; the only scream that he, the sound recordist, would have on tape in order that he could finally finish his job on the low-budget slasher film in front of him. That final scream would be the only thing John Travolta would walk away with by the end of that film, just like Novak's scream would be the only thing Stewart would walk away with, in spite of all his obsessions, at the end of his.

VERTIGO/DE PALMA by Vince D'Amato.
Copyright (c) 2017 by Vince D'Amato, All Rights Reserved. First published as an E-book, non-fiction, 2018. All photos are stock/promotional photos from their respective studios: Universal Studios (Vertigo), Warner Bros. (Femme Fatale), Warner Bros., MGM (Blow Out).

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Issue #70 - The Absolute Underground Papers

(Original text from Absolute Underground Issue #70 - originally published June, 2016)

The Cinema Fantastique (Sex & Horror)”
by Vince D'Amato

I was recently in Netherworld Collectibles in Burnaby, BC, when I overheard a customer chatting with the proprietor and telling him, rather loudly so that most of the store could accidentally overhear him, that he “doesn't watch new horror movies at all because most of them seem really cool but they just disappoint”. Well, to be perfectly honest, this was a sentiment I shared for along time, until about a year and a half ago... One of the problems with new horror cinema was the perception that the genre itself was precipitating over its intended audience – new filmmakers were either pushing forth pretentious projection of their work that they considered high-brow, or to use the term some if these filmmakers were using five years ago, an “upper echelon” of horror cinema. Which basically meant cool-looking horror flick with no sex or nudity, which throughout the eighties and nineties had been required tropes for the genre, along with the blood, guts and scares. These “upper echelon” films, like House of the Devil, The Innkeepers, Mulberry Street, and to half this degree Your're Next, also barely delivered on the guts and gore aspect, usually saving such frivolities to the very end of their respective films (as I said, You're Next was somewhat of an exception, and as added bonus points it had Barbara Crampton in it!). On the flipside, if a horror fan did want a little nudity or eroticism included within his genre fare (artistically, of course), one would be forced to turn to the ridiculous – indie films like Call Girl of Cthulhu or the exploitive (and yet vapid) Hollywood remakes of the aforementioned 80s horror films. There was nowhere for us to turn to the seriously good side horror cinema that wasn't afraid to be sexy as hell as well...

In December last year I wrote my first Absolute Horror article; and the inspiration for that article had been the recent releases of independent horror films that had finally started to change the face of indie horror into something more sophisticated, more energetic, more suspenseful for audiences (such as myself) who have learned (i.e taught ourselves) not to rely on the studio PG-13 output for their morbid frights. We have been ushered into an era, by these new indie horror filmmakers, of films that may have originally been inspired by the likes of Friday the 13th or the films of John Carpenter, Wes Craven, and Sam Raimi, but films that nonetheless do not care to wear these influences outright on their sleeves – instead, these filmmakers are now often twisting and flipping the influences to such a degree as to design some very intense, visceral, and even darkly comedic low-budget scares. And they're pretty clever about it, too. And thanks to the critically and commercially successful Scarlett Johansson sci-fi horror/thriller Under the Skin and the hugely popular indie horror hit It Follows, we're starting to see a little sexiness reappearing in our horror fare – following these two commercial releases it seems to all be suddenly okay once again for a horror movie to be sexually aware, instead of pretending that people don't have it. (Meanwhile, Brain DePalma remained cemented in the gorgeously sexy slasher/thriller genre with his latest outing Passion, most criminally under-screened on this side of the world). But before we fully get back into sexy, allow me to talk about a very clever realization of the horror film that I came across about two days before writing this piece – a little film called The Last Shift which is an hallucinogenic mindfuck regarding a lone young female police rookie hired to guard a defunct police station the before it's permanently closed. It gets off to an edgy start and just gets totally intense from there, as our protagonist becomes trapped in the tomb-maze of the old station while running into some quite literal ghosts of the past who are hellbent on driving her insane. This small-scale horror flick calls up the intensity of the modern horror classic It Follows, as does new director Benjamin Moody's Last Girl Standing, which had its inspirational roots in the aforementioned Friday the 13th, but takes the idea of “the final girl” into dizzyingly outrageous and wholly intense territory. Last Girl Standing has been a festival hit in 2015 and 2016, and will be screening at this summer's Cinemafantastique Fest in Vancouver (July 8-10) along with some other amazing contemporary horror films that are far more steeped in the sexy, hallucinogenic, and the psychedelic: from the Burlesque-noir Cruel Tale of the Medicine Man and L.A. artist Anna Biller's erotic 60s throwback The Love Witch, to the erotic Lovecraft homage Harvest Lake (which incidentally is a far cry from Call Girl of Cthulhu). But the funnier side of genre cinema is also celebrated in b-movie maverick Ron Bonk's She Kills, and Canadian Ryan LaPlante's Holy Hell; and Hell Town – which is an astoundingly witty homage to Lynch's Twin Peaks. Alongside these films is the more intense Last Girl Standing and the neo-giallo The Red Man, but sexy does tend to reign supreme in this lineup, as it does with the collection of short films selected for the film fest also range from the off-the-wall bloodfest El Gigante (from Luchagore productions) to the very sexy First Love and Mistress C. The sexy and the funny (the bloody funny) collide in the French short Bitch, Popcorn & Blood. Indeed, the international collection of very sexy nightmares that populate this year's Cinemafantastique Fest are the films you're not apt to see at other film festivals on the west coast. With any luck, most of the films here will find some sort of distribution, but we're living in a funny time now when it comes to cinema culture. Hard media really is dying and has been niche for some time now. It opens up the opportunity for theatrical exhibition for films like these, but cinema has been crawling along towards a slow death, too, despite there being more film festivals in the world than any other time in history. Our venues are disappearing, and film festivals have dared to go digital, like the media itself. Despite this, there are die-hard cinema fans (like myself) who actively participate in the lumbering medium, who love to discover obscure on under-distributed gems. With horror filmmakers no longer settling for the easy low-budget go-tos of the zombie or vampire sub-genres, it is inspiring to see that so many independent genre films released over the last fifteen months have supplied us with some real, visceral thrills. So here's to filmmakers keeping the sexy, the erotic, the nudie-cutie, the fun, and the intense, in our serious – and darkly funny – horror cinema. Cheers!
(Cinemafantastique runs July 8-10, 2016 at the Norm Theatre at UBC)