Tuesday, June 18, 2013


"It wasn't the greatest picture in the world, but it had sprocket holes and it could run through the machine." - Dave Friedman on "The Living Venus," the first 'film' he made with his equally legendary partner Herschell Gordon Lewis, the 'Godfather of Gore.' Frank Henenlottera story in his own right, directed this fast moving and enthralling documentary on H.G. and the phenomenon he created. H.G.'s films are truly awful, committed to celluloid with a decided taste for money and disregard for art, which makes him the ultimate Dada hero with an incredible 'oeuvre' to show for it! The doc gives you a play by play in the often told story of how H.G and pals cultivated this most disreputable, but highest grossing side of horror cinema. They don't talk about the live Grand Guignol theater he ran in Chicago for a time, but do interview the late Daniel Krogh, who worked on Lewis' later films and wrote "The Amazing Herschell Gordon Lewis, and His World of Exploitation Films," which is where I read about the live stage stuff. Another great quote surfaces when Lewis cinematographer Andy Romanoff talks about the shoot of "A Taste of Blood," H.G's calling card to Corman that almost got him hired up to the second tier of b-movies. Andy's romance with a starlet led to his attempt to light her stylishly, taking his time in doing so. Lewis then retorts: "The problem I had with Andy Romanoff was, he wanted to make a good movie!" This doc is of key interest to anyone who gravitates to the cult, the horror, the underground, the depraved, the weird, and the outre, especially in terms of films and filmmaking. Should have been made 20 years ago at least! Thank you Something Weird for making this happen, and all the cast, crew etc. Highlights include H.G.'s son Robert talking about his father, like the story he tells about how pops was nearly beheaded while filming at a demolition derby when a stray tire missed him by an inch and how 'hilarious' it was. And also every time earnest "Blood Feast" star Mal Arnold is on screen to tell his tales with innocent abandon. Surprise revelation that almost deserves a whole other documentary is the pieced together story of Lewis' erstwhile star Bill "Rooney" Kerwin, a career b-move actor, bit-player, alcoholic and "sex maniac" who eerily mirrors Bob Crane as described in Paul Schrader's "Auto Focus." Allow me to add that for all his seeming ineptitude, H.G. knew what he was doing every step of the way, whether you liked it or not. Cinematic quality was not his main goal of course, and when you consider what he was after and how he achieved it, you realize his brilliance. Moreover the side product of all this, believe it or not, is that some of these films, from "Blood feast" to "2,000 Maniacs, "She-Devils on Wheels," and especially "The Wizard if Gore" are actual masterpieces in their own rights, for a variety of reasons, intentional, or not! Long live H.G.L., who celebrated his 83rd b-day last Saturday, June 15th, 2013.

Sunday, June 16, 2013


Finally saw this fabled biker movie, and I was floored. Some had hailed it as 'batshit crazy' and while it's not exactly EL TOPO or POSSESSION, it definitely has an odd tinge. Case in point, the opening visual gag that sets the tone where the biker gang surrounds the car of an old couple that suffers a flat tire (when you see it you'll know what I mean). The plot plays with our expectations, as does the (decidedly low-budget) sound design. And it tells us that all is not as it seems. The bikers, who are usually anarchistic bad guys, here while still chaotic are in fact the downtrodden pariah of an oppressive society. Turns out the town, well really the cops, are the evil empire, and those said pigs, actually one of them in particular, frames the bikers for a heinous crime that was actually committed by that cop ~ stand in for the establishment, in turn - the fucked-up system, man! It is quite bummer-inducing that the bikers have Nazi swastika flags at their hangout (if it had been Buddhist symbols then it would have been okay), but granted, that's a biker movie trope, so I'll give the filmmakers a very lenient break. Anyhoo, when the baddies hoodwink an otherwise upright citizen to join in on their knee-jerk reactionary assault on the bikers, all hell breaks loose. This leads to a crazy double-edged revenge showdown. The finale is super violent, and executed cinemeatically in tone with all the layers of text and subtext, perfectly capped with an ambiguous, ultimately philosophical ending that leaves you, well, uh, dumbfounded. I believe the DVD is out of print, but you can watch the whole thing on YouTube:

Saturday, January 5, 2013


One thing I'm really enjoying about the current era is how deep we're mining the veins of our pop culture past. Folks keep digging up a seeming cornucopia of underground treasures and aesthetic revelations. I've heard a fair share of Brazilian garage and psych, Tropicália and whatnot, so was pleasantly surprised today when I discovered this groovy, trippy, oft-fuzzed out eclectic group...

Dig that punked out homage to Hendrix guitar refrain. They are most known for backing Gal Costa on some early live shows (thanks Julian Cope). Who? Some chick from the state of Bahia who made it big as a groovy singer of course. And you know who else seems to be from there? This band that is responsible for my two favorite Brazilian sides!

Amazing track, right? Crazy killer guitar and wah wah work, just rocking and groovy in an 'out of this world' kind of way 'cept it's from Brazil. So anyway, here's Gal, looking stoned...

Not sure who reissued the Os Brazoes album, but it's seeping through the plattersphere. I guess it's available here.

Friday, December 28, 2012

APPENDIX colon RIGHT BACK AT YA! More 'Favorite that's Not' questions from ZZC...

Below are my answers to my follow up questions inspired by the super-fun time survey / quiz offered by LERNER INTERNATIONAL ENTERPRISES here.

1) Favorite revenge movie that's not POINT BLANK, GET CARTER, or ROLLING THUNDER:

Revenge is indeed a dish best served cold, meaning the seeker of vengeance should remain calm, cool and collected as they carefully plan, and extract the most satisfying punishment possible. Revenge is also the impetus for so many spaghetti westerns, kung fu and other such action / exploitation films. It's probably one of mankind's most base instincts, right next to love. It's a formula contingent on catharsis. Certainly the slow boil of Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West is a masterpiece thesis on these concepts. 

But I'm going to proclaim what is sure to be an unexpected response as to one of my favorite revenge films. It is from a cold place, with a chillingly dry sense of humor, yet also exudes pathos that belies its characters' near-numbing nonchalance. In barely 70 minutes, Aki Kaurismäki's The Match Factory Girl (1990) tells the tale of a mousy female factory worker who leads a drab existence, is further wronged by life, and tries to get even. The fleeting moment of joy she enjoys when she wears a new dress and meets a mysterious man is soon shattered into tragedy. So what does she do? She quietly hatches a plan to avenge herself against the man that stole her last glimmer of hope. A large part of Kaurismäki's ouevere describes a certain temperament; characters bear a lackadaisical affect, perhaps partially due to living in a land that is sometimes almost without day, and sometimes almost without night, depending on the season. This is what comes across as particularly Finnish, the resignation towards one's fate in this climate. This attitude is reminiscent, conceptually at least, of the Japanese concept of mono no aware - 'to accept the passing of things.' Cold, as in 'a dish best served...' is a perfect way to describe a lot of Kaurismäki's work. And yet, his films derive much humor out of the desperate tedium his characters endure, surprisingly balanced with just the right amount of sentimentality (though some of his films are much more overtly predicated on playing our heart strings). Meet our heroine Iiris...

2) Favorite martial arts movie that doesn't star Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Jet Lee, Sammo Hung, Gordon Liu, Donnie Yen, or Tonny Jaa (Chuck Norris and Steven Seagal films don't count):

My first response is a little tricky. I have claimed The Prodigal Son (1981) one of my favorite kung fu films for years. Yuan Biao is the star, though director Sammo Hung has a supporting role as a kung fu teacher. It's a great mixture of kung fu, comedy, and pastiche meets parody, the way it self-consciously comments on, and makes fun of the genre, while satisfying its tropes with glee. Yuan Biao, Sammo Hung and Jackie Chan were in a frighteningly rigorous Peking Opera school together where they honed their physical abilities and affinity for pranks that makes their movies so much fun. There were two kung fu flicks I caught late night on channel 5 (way back when they still showed such stuff) that instantly became perennial favorites. 5 Superfighters (1978) is one of the most stripped down, near existential Shaw Brothers fight flicks in my mind. A baddie goes from town to town ridding the land of what he calls 'bad kung fu.' This guy is evil. He just fights for the sake of fighting, much like Tatsuya Nakadai's amoral samurai in Sword of Doom (another favorite). It's also a revenge film, as he beats a kung fu master, whose serious loss of face causes his three young students to seek revenge, allowing for lots of training sequences and displays of different styles. It's a period piece, and the villain wears a cloak, so it's got that superhero / melodrama sort of feel. But basically it's lots and lots of kung fu.  Monkey Kung Fu (aka Stroke of Death) (1979) is a great kung fu comedy caper flick that gets off to an intriguing start with a small time thief learning the eponymous style from a mysterious old man in prison. It includes a great scene in a brothel, and is a generally rousing, funny adventure.

I really like The Loot (1980). With the twists and turns in its search for hidden treasure plot, it's like a spaghetti western transposed onto the kung fu paradigm. And great fighting!

Similar to how Tony Jaa and team revolutionized martial arts films with Ong Bak by showcasing a dynamic amalgam of Muay Thai and other styles, Welsh born director Gareth Evans, and star Iko Uwais brought us the exciting innovation of a fight film based around the Indonesian art of Silat in the surprisingly dramatic Merentau.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


Thank goodness for Mexican beer. Cheap and goes down easy (insert offensive comment here). Lately my go to has been Tecate. I bought one at the super market that was 'edicion retro 60's.' But Tecate is pretty punk rock, because I can't find a picture of the 'retro' can design online, so let's just look at a random image associated with the popular brewery:

Wait, that's not a can of beer! Ivanlandia, take us away!
The supermarket in question had a rack of those ironic vintage exploitation movie cards and I noticed this one:

Yes, it's an all but forgotten sleazy film noir. Weird how this reminds me of Glen or Glenda:   


I dunno, maybe it's the hair? Certainly Beverly Michaels was 100% woman. A b-movie glamour doll, she was a perennial blonde bad girl, and occasional muse of Pickup director / star, b-movie auteur Hugo Haas. This tawdry-looking picture is still not officially available on home video, but looks like a good one. Have to track it down and report later.

Find anything on Craigslist.

Craigslist Joe is a personal experience with a social conscious doc, in the tradition of Michael Moore, and Morgan Spurlock. This guy Joe goes on a trip for like a month relying completely on Craigslist for transport and lodging. He even found his camera man on Craigslist. Probably found the damn awful music he used on Craigslist too, under middle-of-the-road-schmaltz. Amazing that he proves human beings can be generous and trustworthy, or at least within the sphere of a documentary. It's fairly amusing and the whole concept is somewhat inspiring. As you might imagine, there's a lot of new millennium hippie types, some freaks, some flakes, and then some pretty revealing stories (like the guy who came to the states as a refugee and now volunteers in a tutoring center for refugee children). Joe's activities when he's in each place he visits are pretty much all found on CL too, ranging form helping out a new age store owner, break dance lessons, cleaning house for a hoarder, etc. One guy nails it when he explains his morning ritual of searching Craigslist and the various categories he checks off (from 'platonic only' to 'commercial transport'). Streaming on Netflix. Just went to the film's site and Zach Galifinakis' name is above the title. Okay?

Hysteria, not hysteric enough.

Hysteria (1965) is a middling Psycho rip-off produced by Hammer Films, now available from the fountain of cinematic rediscovery that is Warner Archives. Despite an absurdly contrived story, Hysteria has a polished look, and some impressive framing and camera work, (thanks certainly to cinematographer turned director, Freddie Francis), that keeps it sorta interesting. Hammer did horror, noir, and these sort of thriller / mysteries that, via their flirtions with perversion, are sort of a missing link to the giallo genre.

In Italy, we are not afraid to be sleazy, like those posher than thou Brits!
This is pulpy, seedy fare, though in this case with a more sophisticated glossy veneer.

"Wish I was in Ivanlandia!"
But still, a woman gets punched out, a guy escapes from a jealous husband that's actually a money scam, and our protagonist is an arrogant American rascal in swinging London. That guy is Robert Webber, a character actor mostly, who also stars in Italian 60's crime flick The Hired Killer, which sounds more exciting. Gotta seek that one out.