WAKE IN FRIGHT (1971)

Wake In Fright

1971, Australia

Director: Ted Kotcheff

Staring: Donald Pleasence, Gary Bond, Chips Rafferty

Viewed: Streaming on Amazon Prime

Transfer Quality: Good enough

Man this movie is deranged and completely fucked up.  I’d seen this poster around forever, but the trailer and story line just never really grabbed me enough to give it a go.  Well last night I took a chance and gave it a shot based on not being able to find anything else to watch.  I’m glad I finally made the decision to spend the time with this weirdness.

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The story is that of a under paid schoolteacher in Australia who has been working in a remote town for the government.  When the school year ends the teacher goes on holiday trying to visit the city of Sydney to see his girlfriend. His train stops in a small Australian redneck town, and he has one night in Bundanyabba (the Yabba) and ends up getting ridiculously drunk and gambling all of his life savings away (doesn’t seem like much of a savings really).  The teacher has nowhere to stay and no money to catch another train or bus to get out of this drunken violent hell.  He ends up waking up on different people’s floors and beds after many nights of debauchery. The teacher starts hanging out with an alcoholic doctor who doesn’t believe in money (played by the infamous Donald Pleasence of Halloween).  This might be DP’s best role ever as he steals the show in this one.  I actually was wondering if the director got Pleasence completely shitfaced and just let him have at it with the character he was playing.

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The pair goes out drunkenly hunting for kangaroos with some red neck miners driving them around shooting in the bush. They chase and kill many a kangaroo.  They also drunkenly fist fight and wrestle these beautiful beasts.  Some of this film is hard to watch.  As (DC) said to me about this film when I told him I was viewing it… “Donald Pleasence is Satan in that movie”.  When (MA) asked me what film I would have as a double feature with Wake In Fright I immediately said Last House On The Left.

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MANIAC (1980)

MANIAC (1980)

Director: William Lustig

Starring: Joe Spinell, Caroline Munro, Abigail Clayton, Kelly Piper, Tom Savini

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Maniac is the gold standard of slashers. I’ll go as far to say that Maniac is better than the original Halloween (Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the original Halloween, it’s a personal long time favorite. In my top three, to be somewhat exact), and easily the first two Friday the 13th movies, or, really, any of the Friday the 13th movies, to be honest. Friday the 13th may have had more imaginative kills, but with Maniac there’s more of a story here, and there’s more of a character as opposed to a faceless killer with minimal backstory. It’s a movie you can watch over the the years and not grow bored with. Characters aren’t essentially marched in front of the camera and killed off.  Something else that elevates Maniac above all the others, and  what makes it the most disturbing is that this killer could actually exist. He’s not some super villain endowed with insane powers of bouncing back to life from every attempt on his life.

Joe Spinell’s performance is excellent. He’s absolutely believable as the tortured Frank Zito who lives a sad and mundane life vacillating between cold ruthless murderer to an emotionally destroyed soul who spends most of his time in isolation. He’s not someone who stands out. You would pass by him on the street without a second thought. He’s a Norman Bates type, but fully aware of what he’s doing. After some kills we see him reading about it in the morning paper, or watching the news, and you can see hints of shame and remorse in his reactions.

As the story progresses we learn he was physically and emotionally abused by his mother who died while he was still young, which did his head in for good. He sees her in the women he kills, which is confirmed when he murders Rita, as he keeps asking, “Why did you leave me? I was scared. Now we are together again, and I will never let you go. I’m just going to keep you so you won’t go away ever again.”

The kills in this movie are brutal, and Tom Savini’s effects are in top form. A woman sees herself ran through with a sword as she looks into a mirror. One woman is forced to agonize in terror before she’s finally snuffed out, and that one shot gun blast scene still stuns to this very day. Even the most jaded, and most modern of audiences will be visually shushed into silence.

Maniac isn’t the sort of movie one would, could, or should love, but I do. It’s sleazy, violent, and grim as hell, but it lures you into the the filth and it’s hard to resist. Even the soundtrack by Jay Chattaway with it’s downer mood anchors you down solid into the muck.  There’s nothing pretty about this film and you should see it.  (MA)

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Nate Wilson: NW  Devon Cahill: DC  Matt Average: MA

 

 

EATEN ALIVE (1976)

Eaten Alive (aka Death Trap)

1976, USA

Starring: Neville Brand (Judd), Marilyn Burns (Faye), Robert Englund (Buck),Stuart Whitman (Sheriff Martin), Mel Ferrer (Harvey Wood), Crystin Sinclair (Libby Wood) Carolyn Jones (Miss Hattie), William Finley (Roy), Roberta Collins (Clara Wood), Kyle Richards (Angie)

Director: Tobe Hooper

Viewed: Streaming

Transfer Quality: Very nice transfer!

Probably my biggest takeaway from this film is that while a scythe looks cool and makes for great promotional poster art, it is ridiculously cumbersome as a murder weapon. Oh, and that Nile crocodiles in Texas can both shrink in size when pursuing prey in tight quarters and eat several adult-sized humans in a single night.

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Hooper again exploits our deep-seated collective fear of backwoods Texas to explore something I’m still not quite able to put my finger on in the horror hotel genre meets Jaws flick, Eaten Alive. Apparently Hooper had some creative differences with the producers that lead to some scenes being helmed by a different director. Perhaps this can explain away why this movie has so many elements that could have made it great, but still manages to fall short. In the end this is a pretty clunky film, but with some cool components, great cast and soundtrack, and a campy plastic crocodile that morphs into different sizes that make it worth checking out.

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So the set-up: The film opens at a sleazy country brothel run by Miss Hattie (Carolyn Jones, The Addams Family) with “Name is Buck, I’m rarin’ to fuck,” Buck (Robert Englund, Nightmare on Elm Street) trying to force newbie prostitute Clara Wood (Roberta Collins, The Big Doll House) to do pervy stuff she doesn’t wanna do. Of course, Miss Hattie takes the good ‘ol boy Buck’s side in the dispute and banishes Clara from the whorehouse. Well, it’s out of the frying pan and into the fire for poor Clara as she stumbles over to the Starlight Hotel, a dilapidated mess of a place in the swamp where she meets a similarly dilapidated mess of a mental case, Judd (Neville Brand, Mad Bomber, Stalag 17), who owns it. Not to spoil too much, but it doesn’t end well for Clara or just about any man, woman, monkey, or small dog that happens to find themselves at the Starlight that evening.

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While watching this I kept wondering what Judd’s motivation is for undertaking all these killings. At first, he seems to be exacting revenge for all of the abominations and iniquities of the world embodied in the guests he encounters at his hotel. We know he’s definitely got a thing against prostitutes, but it’s certainly not a consistent motivation to kill. For example, he also chases a little kid under the house, with the scythe, no less…a pursuit that smolders throughout the film, but he ties her mother up to the bed without killing her. He mumbles to himself at times, so I’m guessing he’s hearing voices, but that’s never clarified. There’s also this thing where he takes off his glasses when he kills. Maybe an alter ego he takes on? Anyway, don’t expect any of this to be explained at any point. Judd’s just a creepy guy who acts nice and then ends up killing you for no real reason…first with a pitchfork and then with a scythe. And, yes, as the title gives away, Judd doesn’t quite finish off any of his victims, so they’re each “eaten alive” by a giant crocodile that Judd keeps in the bog next to his hotel.

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While leaving things unexplained is what gives the horror in Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre such depth and intensity, it just doesn’t work here. In my opinion, this comes from Hooper’s decision to film the entire movie on a sound stage. I will say first that the genius of this is that it allows him to create a discrete and completely fictional universe, where the rules of the real world don’t necessarily apply. The dominant red hue cast in the hotel scenes really does create an alternate reality kinda feel that intensifies just how cut off from sanity the hotel is. The downside, of course, is that in the process it cuts the viewer off from any sense that this is real, and forces us to start finding holes in the narrative leaving us asking questions like “why any of this is happening?” In Chainsaw, it’s precisely the documentary feel that allows the viewer to abandon need for explanation and join the fictional victims in full panic mode. In Eaten Alive, only confusion results.

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Finally, as ludicrous as the plastic croc is in this, I will say it is pretty absurdly amazing every time it appears on screen. Also, the crescendo of carnage in the final scene is intense enough not be missed. Unfortunately, it’s the only scene that even comes close to the level of anxiety that Chainsaw produces.

Although not quite a “for Hooper completists only,” and not among his top films, I would definitely recommend checking it out.

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FEAR X (2013)

Fear X

2013, Denmark

Starring: John Turturro (Harry), Deborah Kara Unger (Kate)

Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

Viewed: Streaming

Transfer Quality: I would say…good? Looked like a DVD basically.

I’ve been a fan of Refn’s work since I first saw Drive. When Only God Forgives came out to middling reviews, I went to the trouble of actually buying a digital copy instead of waiting for a DVD or BD release, since it wasn’t playing in any theaters around me. I loved it for seemingly all of the reasons many reviewers hated it. Since then, I’ve played close attention to Refn’s new releases and his unique film streaming service, byNWR. For some reason, though, I never took a deep-dive into his work before Drive. When a friend recommended that I watch Fear X, I jumped in almost completely blind; the only knowledge of the film I had was its title, poster, and the Rotten Tomatoes aggregate review score that pops up when you Google it (58%).

I was disappointed, at first, with the beginning of Fear X. The basic premise is straightforward: protagonist Harry Caine, played by John Turturro, is a mall cop whose wife was shot and killed without explanation. There are some long, moody shots that prepared me for a meditative, thoughtful film, but the first half hour was populated with cut-and-paste thriller plot motivations and tropes (a dead wife, a man pouring over camera footage, the obligatory shot of news paper clips and photographs stuck to a wall used as shorthand to communicate the protagonist’s obsession). However, there were small moments that captured my attention enough to continue, like brief visits from widow Harry Caine’s murdered wife and an inexplicable cut to an abstract red mindscape.

I appreciated scenes in the beginning of Fear X much more after viewing the entire film. Many of them border on parody, but rather than being humorous, they deliberately couch you in the comforts of genre while depriving you of its joys. The most explicit example of this is a quintessential diner scene. Harry finds a small-town restaurant where he questions a waitress about an individual he believes is connected to his wife’s murder. There is a shot of Harry sitting down with a cup of black coffee and a plate of apple pie. On the wall behind him is a big mural of an American flag. The scene ends with a slow zoom on the flag, making the scene’s intent obvious. It made me wonder, “Do people really go to diners alone and order apple pie and coffee?” Probably, but not as often as cinema would have you believe, and, perhaps, even less so when they’re on the hunt for a murderer. It’s not laugh out loud funny, but it’s clever and signals Refn’s intentions.

As I watched, I started to realize that this isn’t a thriller at all. It’s an anti-thriller, a story about a world where vengeance is impossible and, even more importantly, knowledge is out of our grasp. This goes for both Harry and the viewer. Fear X certainly isn’t a movie for anyone who wants easy answers, because there aren’t any to be found. As Harry pushes forward on his quest to know why his wife was murdered, his anger and frustration grow. We watch his feelings get increasingly intense until it’s no longer possible to interpret what is being shown to us literally.

Watching this film from 2003 after being introduced to Refn’s work in 2011, I couldn’t help but see the signs of him honing his craft as a director. There is some serious obsession with heavy unnatural lighting, blood orange creeping on red in particular, though not to the extent of his more recent work. Harry, like many of Refn’s characters, is a man of few words, and his motivations are extremely simple. He walks a path from point A to point B, going along with whatever he needs to get there without undue deliberation while the camera lingers and zooms just to the point of discomfort, without overstaying its welcome.

While Fear X is not as refined and definitive as my favorite Refn movies, it stands on its own merits and has interesting ideas that subvert genre expectations. This is not a graphic movie; when there is violence, it is intentionally restrained, awkward and uncomfortable. Some of the scenery, with colors that manage to look beautiful despite their garishness, and dialogue delivery, often stilted in a naturalistic way that doesn’t usually play well on the screen, remind me of Dario Argento’s giallo cinema. The ending is unsettling and cathartic at the same time; it is this uneasy mix of both that makes Fear X so effective. The movie seems to tell you that you will never have the answers or catharsis you want, but never allows you to accept that. Bonus points for being creepy right until the end; be sure to stay for the credit roll accompanied by copious security camera footage utilized throughout the movie proper.

Recommended for people who like asking questions without expecting answers in return.

(NL)

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THE FIFTH DAY OF PEACE (1970)

The Fifth Day of Peace

1970, Italy

Starring:  Franco Nero (Bruno Grauber), Richard Johnson (Capt. John Miller), Helmuth Schneider (Col. von Bleicher), Bud Spencer (Jelineck)

Director: Giuliano Montaldo

Music: Ennio Morricone

Viewed:  Streaming

Transfer Quality: Horrible, VHS to digital

A transfer so bad only Franco Nero could save it? That was my only hope when I turned on this miserably low-quality VHS to digital conversion. I’m already not a big fan of war movies, well at least not poorly transferred bad ones. Of course, I love Catch-22, Apocalypse Now, Where Eagles Dare, etc. …but cropped for TV war schlock is a tough sell. I can sit through the lowest budget paper plate UFO sci-fi flick or 5th generation VHS copy of a ketchup splatter slasher and still feel like I’ve used my time productively, but bad war movies I cannot abide. Case in in point? …see my Combat Shock review, haha. Anyway, Nero’s involvement practically required me to check this one out, but honestly I wasn’t expecting to get more than 10 minutes in before switching flicks.

To my surprise—horrendous transfer aside—this turned out to be a pretty brilliant take on the war film genre that hooked me in from start to finish. Sure, there are a few vertigo inducing nighttime scenes that the VHS to digital conversion renders absolutely unwatchable, but those only kept me constantly wondering how great it would be to experience a clean 35mm print screening of this.

The film opens at the end of WWII in a Dutch concentration camp converted to house German POWs by Canadian Allies led by Captain Miller (Richard Johnson). If that weren’t ironic enough, the whole story takes place after the combat has ended. I mean, it’s a war movie with no war. Only the participants’ vestigial tension remains as they struggle to make sense of their roles in what happened and what will happen next. What’s revealed in the end is not only a commentary on the futility of war, but also on futility of the human condition: man’s eternal struggle between freedom and control.

We find Captain Miller, already ambivalent about his return to civilian life and the loss of status that will entail, simultaneously repulsed and fascinated by Nazi top officer Col. von Bleicher, masterfully portrayed by Helmut Schneider. Col. von Bleicher is obsessed with maintaining military order and continues to discipline his troops as though the stukas were still wreaking havoc over Poland. Captain Miller desperately wants to claim the moral high ground of the Allies, but is ultimately torn as he struggles to fill his role as commander and to control the camp. In contrast, we have Nero’s character, Bruno Grauber, and his fellow deserter Corp. Reiner Schultz (Larry Aubrey). Two deserters who, despite almost starving to death on their journey, enjoy a relatively blissful few days as kitchen assistants in the camp before their cover is blown and they are dragged into the POW barracks with their countrymen. The Colonel, of course, wants them executed and made an example of. Grauber, having tasted freedom, struggles to expose the absurdity of the troops still playing war as his and Schultz’s lives dangle in the balance.

Of course, Nero steals the show with his classic everyman, pushed to the brink by the injustice of it all ranting and pontificating. But, effectively, he spends most of the film relegated off screen or yelling something or other from his solitary confinement cell while the Captain and the Colonel decide his fate. In the end it’s the battle of wits between the two commanders that really drives the narrative. So meta!

Top-notch Morricone soundtrack and great performance by Bud Spencer as the kitchen supervisor, Jelineck, really rounded out the package here. Check this out!

(DC)

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THE MIDDLE AGES • Self-titled LP

THE MIDDLE AGES • Self-titled LP

Ripe Records

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You say you like the punk rock? If so, you’d be wise beyond your years to pick this long player up. It’s so good, or should I say great? I say great, because like any great punk rock this record makes you believe in all that is good about the music and everything that surrounds it.

The Middle Ages don’t crank out blazing fast punk, but that’s not to say they don’t rock and roll with abandon. It’s just they don’t bludgeon your skull with riffs and frantic speeds. Their power lies in super tight songs that bounce and careen around the room lodging themselves into your mental faculties for later recall hours after listening, and have a way of making you fiend for more. Give “Whoah Yeah” a spin and hear what I’m getting at. The dual vocals give these songs an extra punch. But they’re not delivered in an X way, or even a Nausea way. The Middle Ages have enough class to be their own band.

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The vocals are clean and direct, and they sound so good together as when they go out on their own. The guitar stings at times, and rips like a saw blade other, and that bass sounds f’n sweet, as it holds the whole unit together, and the drums are undeniable. The guys are a perfect union. It’s down right life affirming. (MA)

Please send me your releases for review, and zines, if you have one. Thanks. PO Box 25604, Los Angeles, CA 90025

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Justin Dratson: JD   Nate Wilson: NW   Matt Average: MA

BLACK MOON RISING (1986)

BLACK MOON RISING (1986)

Director: Harley Cokeliss 

Writers: John Carpenter, Desmond Nakano

Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Linda Hamilton, Robert Vaughn , Lee Ving, Bubba Smith, Dan Shor, William Sanderson

Viewed On Prime-Good Transfer

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The highlight of this movie is seeing one of Linda Hamilton’s boobs in the love making scene .

I’m not sure how I’ve never seen this one, I feel as though I’ve watched just about every other ridiculous action thriller made in 1986.  I was really surprised by just how far fetched and down right stupid the story is considering John Carpenter was involved in the writing.  Most of the time I’m not even sure what’s going on… Something about a CIA guy played by Tommy Lee Jones, who somehow gets mixed up in a car theft ring and the woman working it.  One of the cars stolen is a futuristic test car that Tommy has hidden some government secret in.  After it’s been stolen… He’s on the case. The acting is actually pretty good with tons of B list character actors thrown in here and there.  Lee Ving is pretty hilarious as an enemy of Tommy’s and sporting a Members Only jacket in one of the scenes.  The music/soundtrack is down right terrible. This film really is just about as 80s as you can get, reminding me of Knight Rider meets Rockford Files (Devon is getting a boner).  The highlight of this movie is seeing one of Linda Hamilton’s boobs in the love making scene .  (NW)

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Nate Wilson: NW  Devon Cahill: DC  Matt Average: MA

 

DEAD MANS LINE (2018)

DEAD MAN’S LINE (2018)

Directed By: Alan Berry

Viewed on Prime-Good transfer

Dead Man

“I’m a 44-year-old man.

I’ve never been drunk.

I’ve never been married. 

I’ve never been engaged. 

I’ve never gone steady.

I forsook marriage because I had a lot of responsibilities.

FUCK THESE PEOPLE!

They played God! And Lost!!”

I dig the way this documentary was put together.  Most of it is footage that was used (and some not used) from local TV and radio.  As you watch the film its almost as though you are seeing things happen in real time due to the incredible amount of film that was shot during this ordeal.  The footage mostly is able to tell a lot of the story on its own, allowing it to layout before you.  

This is a mostly unknown story about the very strange 1977 hostage taking of a mortgage president (Dick Hall) in Indianapolis Indiana.  Tony Kiritsis was an angry 44 year old “working class” man who thought he’d been set up by Hall’s company to ruin his life.  He went to the mortgage company, wired a shot gun around Dick Hall’s neck in such a way that if Tony was shot or subdued by the police or S.W.A.T. the gun would go off killing the hostage.  He then proceeded to parade his hostage up and down the streets of Indianapolis.  His use of vulgarity on the phone with radio stations, and picked up on live television  broadcasts must have been shocking for the time period.  What develops is nothing less than a media spectacle that turns into a 60 hour circus.  The documentary does a great job at telling the story of Kiritsis without making it confusing.  If you’ve never heard about this, I’d say this film is a great way to get educated about this bizarre case.  (NW)

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Nate Wilson: NW  Devon Cahill: DC  Matt Average: MA

GOTHIC (1986)

GOTHIC (1986)

Director: Ken Russell

Staring :Gabriel ByrneJulian SandsNatasha Richardson 

Viewed Streaming on Prime-Great transfer

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Man, this was a very strange movie. I started off sort of hating everything about this flick for the first 15-20 mins and then suddenly I started to see the beauty of the camera work, the cool locations, the cool lighting etc.  The story then really started to get me enthralled and into the flick.  I mean, to be able to create a story that is based on how Marry Shelley’s Frankenstein was conceived is pretty awesome in itself.  It’s done in sort of a compilation style where everyone staying at Lord Byron’s mansion are to come up with a ghost story to share with the others.  The stories are all told not in the traditional sense.  Its all just one story fueled by and discovered by the use of hard drugs (opium), and sex (free love).  Oddly enough it is the acting that might keep me from thinking this is a brilliant film.  It feels to me as though everything is just over acted, and over dramatized.  Perhaps that was intended to make the viewer feel as though they were seeing it as a dream like story that wasn’t real?  Or perhaps I’m reading into things too much, I don’t know. What I do know is that I went into this hating on it (almost turning it off), to then getting so wrapped up in the story and the twisted personality of Lord Byron that I didn’t want to turn away.  Not the greatest film in the world, but it’s one I’ll never forget.  The ending is pretty awesome.   The title Gothic is pretty lame, and cheesy in my opinion.  It’s not clever, and just seems obvious.  If you can get past the negatives that I’ve played out here you’ll most likely enjoy Gothic.  (NW)

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Nate Wilson: NW  Devon Cahill: DC  Matt Average: MA

BUTCHER, BAKER, NIGHTMARE MAKER (aka Night Warning) (1981)

BUTCHER, BAKER, NIGHTMARE MAKER (aka Night Warning)

1981, USA

Starring:  Susan Tyrrell (Cheryl Roberts), Jimmy McNichol (Billy Lynch), Bo Svenson (Detective Joe Carlson), Julia Duffy (Julie Linden), Bill Paxton (Eddie)

Director: William Asher (Michael Miller, uncredited)

Music: Bruce Langhorne

Viewed:  35mm / Aero Theatre Horrorthon

Print Quality: Not great, but watchable

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I remember the chills that ran down my spine the first time I dropped the needle on Mercyful Fate’s first EP and was totally blindsided by that blistering guitar solo that opens “Corpse Without a Soul.” I mean the song opens with the fucking solo! Thirty years later, my experience watching the opening scene of Butcher Baker Nightmare Maker was almost exactly the same. The first 3-minutes of this film are just so intense that it leaves you wondering where can it possibly go from here.

Turns out that one of the things that make that opening sequence so distinct is that it was born of a different director and cinematographer. Apparently, Michael Miller (Jackson County Jail) shot that bit with Jan Du Bont (Private LessonsDie Hard) but both were fired and replaced by veteran TV show director William Asher and Robbie Greenberg (Lucifer’s WomenSwamp Thing) to finish it out. Somehow the final product works, though…and then some!

But then again, how could it go wrong with the brilliant casting of Susan Tyrrell (Forbidden ZoneAngel, Open All Night) and Jimmy McNichol (those fabulous McNichol’s) in the leads and Bo Svensen (The Inglorious BastardsInglourious Basterds) as the pathologically overconfident homophobic detective thrown into the mix.

It’s difficult to summarize much of the story without ruining half the fun, but I assure you Tyrell delivers and absolutely crushing, must-see performance as Aunt Cheryl, whose incestuous lust for her nephew Billy (McNichol) leads to some delightfully insane and ever-escalating consequences. William Asher deserves equal respect for his perfectly paced slow burn of Aunt Cheryl’s unraveling that builds to psychotic crescendo that is purely unforgettable cinema. Kudos, too, to the anachronistically positive portrayal of homosexuality embodied in Billy’s basketball coach Tom Landers played by perennial TV actor Steve Eastin. This film was truly ahead of its time.

For me this was the real standout in the Aero Theatre’s Horrorthon line-up this year and immediately skyrocketed to the top of my list of must-see movies to recommend.

It’s just nuts that this film still flies somewhat under the radar almost 40 years after its release.

(DC)

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Nate Wilson: NW  Devon Cahill: DC  Matt Average: MA