Groovy & Wild Films from Around the World

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

RIP, Jack Ketchum

I was surprised and saddened to hear about horror author Jack Ketchum's passing last week (he died from cancer, he was 71). Although he first published his controversial cannibal-horror novel “Off Season” in 1980, over the past decade Jack Ketchum (which is actually a pseudonym, his real name was Dallas Mayr, the name usually found on the copyright notice inside the front pages of his paperbacks) was coming more into the spotlight due to the recent “extreme” horror film adaptations of his works, which at times were met with almost as much controversy as their literary origins. DVD distributor Anchor Bay became involved with the film versions of The Girl Next Door and The Lost, and later Ketchum would team up with young filmmaker Lucky McKee to co-write the wildly controversial horror movie The Woman.

Usually I'm very good at remembering where I'd first heard about any author, band, or film director that I'm regularly into (or whose work I become obsessed with), but with Jack Ketchum, the events that lead up to me seeking out, finding, and purchasing his first novel “Off Season” have, over time, slipped my mind. I want to tell you that I read about Ketchum's “Off Season” from Stephen King – but upon checking back through King's horror-reference book Dance Macabre, I was unable to verify that notion. But however I'd heard about Ketchum's cannibal book, it was pre-internet, sometime in the early nineties, and I managed to find an original first-printing paperback for dirt cheap – but again, I can't remember from which used bookstore. I could take an educated guess, but it would still be a guess. What I do remember was my actual first reading of “Off Season”, and how it grabbed me immediately, and I swallowed the entire thing in one sitting. I was blown away, and “Off Season” became one of my top-five books of all time for nearly two decades. I do remember trying to find more Jack Ketchum books throughout the nineties, and finding two (then-new) Jove paperbacks at a Coles bookstore (when those existed) – “Joyride” and “Stranglehold”. I would tell anyone within earshot how awesome Jack Ketchum was and how “Off Season rocks.” (I remember actually saying that to a stranger in a used bookstore one time). I remember vividly the day I read “Stranglehold”, I was reading this book in the wait-times between a marathon of films during a day at the Vancouver International Film Festival; I'd taken that day off of work just to see a half dozen films – and I still remember Ketchum's novel most of all from that day. “Stranglehold” was the most brutal, gut-wrenching, emotionally-wringing and terrifyingly real novel I have ever read to date. Which is why, after experiencing similar reactions to the film version of The Girl Next Door, it took me a little time to build up the courage to crack open that book. Leaving viewers inside the cinema emotionally and psychologically wracked, a friend and I agreed that there would be no need to revisit that film – and to this day, I haven't; and there has been no need to, the horrifying thwart of the perception of Americana through a Norman Rockwell lens and its twist into the utter horrors of jealousy, manipulation, under-education, narcissism, and torture is still lingering in my mind over a decade later.

Around this same time period, 2007 and earlier, the Dorchester publishing company was releasing several of Jack Ketchum's titles (old and new) through their Leisure Horror paperbacks line, which was actually an amazing horror line. Not all of the freshly-printed Ketchum novels were of the raw and emotional brutality-type that “Stranglehold”, “The Girl Next Door”, and “Red” were, some were just teeth-grittingly violent horror-thrillers, like “Offspring” (the sequel to “Off Season”) and one of my favourites, “She Wakes”. Leisure Horror also published an anthology book titled “Triage”, featuring three stories from the late great Richard Laymon, Edward Lee, and Jack Ketchum, whose novella "Sheep Meadow Story” is not only the best story in “Triage”, it is one of the true highlights in his creative career.

Now, sadly, Jack Ketchum, one of my favourite authors for the past 33 years, has joined some of the horror greats who have recently shoved off this mortal coil, leaving us with an astounding legacy of their genre work – and for Jack Ketchum in particular, it's a legacy of work that remains locked (and sometimes tortured) in readers' minds and emotions long, long after the last page of the novel has been turned, and the last frame of the film has flickered out. Dallas William “Jack Ketchum” Mayr was a true American original. Plus, he had the coolest-looking author's profile pic ever. RIP.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

“Buddy Cop” movies – Jess Franco-style.

Okay, so Jess Franco never really did a “buddy cop” movie, but what he did give us was a handful of dual-female-agents defying the odds stacked against them and using their sexuality to flirt and striptease their way through a sabotage of heists, corruption, and conspiracy through a low-budget series of Bond-esque sexy/comedy films in the late sixties. The most famous of these types of Jess Franco's films are, of course Two Undercover Angels (aka Sadisterotica) and Kiss Me, Monster!, released to home video over fifteen years ago on VHS and DVD through the original incarnation (pre-Starz-owned) Anchor Bay Entertainment, which were released alongside Franco's gorgeous Succubus (also late-sixties), which also starred the strikingly beautiful and androgynous Janine Reynaud. Since the Anchor Bay releases, Blue Underground has re-released an upgraded double-feature of the two titles on DVD.

A decade after making Two Undercover Angels and Kiss Me Monster, Jess Franco shot a reworking of the premise titled Two Female Spies in Flowered Panties. As the title might suggest, this latter entry in the double-female-spy arena was a lot more explicit than its PG-style sixties counterparts, and quite frankly, I'd never actually even heard of this Jess Franco film until Severin Films saw fit to give it an HD transfer and release it onto Blu-ray last year. This time, Franco's wife Lina Romay (Female Vampire) takes the lead alongside Lynn Monteil (Sadomania – not to be confused with Sadisterotica) playing a pair of prisoners who are released by the government on the condition that they act as double-agents to foil the plot of a sex-slave ring. Of course, many sexual encounters and shenanigans leap from this concept, and while Jess Franco obviously intended to keep some of the inherent humour attached to the somewhat ridiculous (yet entertaining) plot turns, at on point everything actually gets a little intense, when Romay is captured and tortured with cigarettes. Well, it seemed intense to me, anyway, because I actually liked Romay and the quirky character she was portraying in Franco's otherwise lighter-hearted spy/sex spoof. Following this scene of flesh and embers, however, the film goes wildly off-track and the humour and enthusiastic playfulness starts to shine through again, as Romay's character continues to run around wreaking sexy havoc with the inclusion of a somewhat flabbergasting helicopter chase and subsequent pistol shootout. Even writing this now I have the sudden urge to go back to the movie for a second viewing.

Severin Films included two different cuts of Two Female Spies in Flowered Panties on their blu-ray release, Franco being no stranger to several versions coming out of his movies. Ultimately, fans of Franco's female-spy-spoofs of the late sixties should have a lot of fun with this darker, more exploitive turn on the charming scenario, which works very nicely in the context of this niche sub-genre in the director's own canon.



Saturday, January 20, 2018

New Posts on Sundays!

Now you can enjoy our new, nearly-weekly posts, nearly every Sunday throughout 2018!

Staring on January 28th... Keep posted!