On THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT

Lars von Trier’s brutally violent serial killer confessional is a film only he could have made

No matter the genre Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier hides behind, he’s almost always making a horror movie. The troublemaker director’s aesthetic – blending pseudo-documentary, hand -held camera POV with rapturous sequences of fantasy – almost always pushes his work into the realm of magic-realism and whether it be the story of a simple woman driven to sexual and religious frenzy (BREAKING THE WAVES), a working-class blind, musical-obsessed mother sent to death row (DANCER IN THE DARK) or a hopelessly depressed girl whose miseries echo the coming apocalypse (MELANCHOLIA), all von Trier pictures trade in his art of disorientation and dread and all evoke his single-minded desire to illustrate the beauty, terror and humanity hidden within events both ordinary and extraordinary.  That almost all of his protagonists are female is interesting (and has indeed caused some reactionary viewers to incorrectly label him a misogynist) and only serves to add another layer of fascination to his deeply personal, challenging and unique creative identity.

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On ALIEN: COVENANT

Another look at Ridley Scott’s visionary science fiction film

It’s appropriate that Ridley Scott’s mutated ALIEN prequel/PROMETHEUS sequel ALIEN: COVENANT begins (and ends) with the mention and music of Richard Wagner. The wildly influential German composer’s life, writings and operas were an early and steady influence on Adolph Hitler and it’s thought that the future Fuhrer’s skewed, sociopathic philosophies on “racial purity” and his festering anti-semetism stemmed from this obsession.

“Wagner’s line of thought is intimately familiar to me,” the Nazi party leader once said.

“At every stage of my life I come back to him.”

It is important to mention this, because Scott and screenwriter John Logan’s remarkable, high-minded and misunderstood blend of splatter-show and cerebral science fiction is about these very themes, of ego, narcissism, spite and jealousy propelling a quest to alter the path of creation to suit a singular agenda. Fueled by these things, Hitler inexplicably rose to power and in his quest to dominate, also murdered millions of innocent men, women and children. All in the name of a psychotic desire to meddle with natural order, to “play God” for no other real reason than to appease his obsessions.

And so it goes with David, the “synthetic” played by Michael Fassbender who we first met in PROMETHEUS and who we are re-introduced to here, in the prologue for ALIEN:COVENANT. The film begins with David opening his eyes and meeting his “father” Weyland (Guy Pearce).

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On NIGHTWING

A look at the underrated 1979 evil bat thriller

Director Arthur Hiller’s NIGHTWING is one of a handful of films that trade in the terror of killer, disease-ridden bats, a loose, unofficial subgenre that seemingly doesn’t command much fan enthusiasm.  And while 1974’s future-shock chiller CHOSEN SURVIVORS remains my winged-rodent romp of choice, NIGHTWING flies not too far behind.

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On MANDY

Acclaimed hallucinatory horror drama is now on Blu-ray

There’s a primal, animal power that propels director Panos Cosmatos’s acclaimed experimental horror head-trip MANDY. A kind of danger pulsing beneath its arcane imagery, bubbling-forth from its moaning electronic music and arch, hissing dialogue. The film just feels alien. It feels evil.  It courses with a sort of seething darkness and descends into such brain-swelling madness that you can almost smell it.

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On GODMONSTER OF INDIAN FLATS

A look at the legendary 1973 killer sheep cult movie

It’s not easy reviewing a film as singularly fucking insane as Fredric C. Hobbs’ jaw-dropping 1973 freak-out GODMONSTER OF INDIAN FLATS.  So much has been written and spoken about the picture, mostly by people saddling it with the dreaded “so bad it’s good” handle and certainly, it would be easy to dismiss this Something Weird Video favorite as a slab of inept trash made by desert-touched madmen who lapped up too much LSD in the late ’60s. But GODMONSTER is anything but a bad film (more like a baaaaaaad film). Rather it’s an almost experimental, totally unpredictable and fever-pitched horror-western that seems beamed-in from another dimension and it simply refuses to behave by any conventional film structure standards. It leaks a kind of authentic, hard-wired weirdness that so many other phony baloney “cult” filmmakers have forever tried hard to capture, but that’s impossible to fabricate. And while it often feels like a forgotten Alejandro Jodorowsky movie, I’d much rather watch GODMONSTER than THE HOLY MOUNTAIN any day of the week.

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Interview: Nicky Henson on PSYCHOMANIA

A conversation with the star of the classic British exploitation movie

From its first dreamy frames, as a gang of leather clad, skull faced bikers poured into black leather come charging over a mist drenched hill in slow motion, to its final surreal wind down, with men, women and motorcycles morphing into massive tombstones, to all its cheeky, wonderfully lunatic mayhem in the middle, cinema history has never, ever seen the likes of a picture quite like Don Sharp’s unapologetically mental PSYCHOMANIA.

Released in 1971 (in some markets on a double bill with the equally nuts WEREWOLVES ON WHEELS) and made to crassly ride the coattails of EASY RIDER, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD with perhaps a dash of ROSEMARY’S BABY added for supernatural spice, PSYCHOMANIA (filmed as THE LIVING DEAD and also known as THE DEATH WHEELERS) is an artifact of post-mod, British kitsch, admired with irony and worshiped by millions, perhaps thousands, even dozens of cult movie fans around the globe.

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Interview: Celeste Yarnall on THE VELVET VAMPIRE

An interview with the late actress about her seminal horror film

On Sunday, October 7th, the planet lost one if its prettier souls. The lovely, kind, brave and talented Celeste Yarnall passed away after a long, torturous battle with ovarian cancer, a condition she and her beloved husband, Nazim, raged against both in private and public. Pop culture will remember Celeste best as THE VELVET VAMPIRE in Stephanie Rothman’s same-named masterpiece and as one of Elvis’ girls in the 1968 musical LIVE A LITTLE, LOVE A LITTLE as well as for her appearances in STAR TREK, HOGAN’S HEROES and a myriad other programs. I knew her enough to know that she truly was a warm, lovely woman and she fought tooth and claw to beat the disease that eventually got the upper hand, though even at her darkest,Celeste lived a great, open and positive life.

Here then, is an interview I conducted with Celeste back in 2013 for DELIRIUM Magazine #1.

RIP beautiful Celeste.

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On MARY, MARY, BLOODY MARY

Words on the undervalued erotic vampire drama

Mexican horror filmmaker Juan Lopez Moctezuma’s 1975 American co-production MARY, MARY, BLOODY MARY is a true anomaly. On one hand, it’s an obvious – if somewhat late-from-the-gate – entry into the “lesbian vampire” cycle of exploitation film that reigned throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s. It certainly is kin to movies like Jess Franco’s VAMPYROS LESBOS, the Hammer Horror riff on Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Carmilla” THE VAMPIRE LOVERS and especially the Stephanie Rothman directed, Roger Corman produced Southern California sex-vamp oddity THE VELVET VAMPIRE. And yet there’s so much more going on within its meandering running time. And while it lacks the stylistic flourishes of earlier Moctezuma fever dreams like THE MANSION OF MADNESS and ALUCARDA, it is no less hypnotic and surreal, albeit in a much different, much more manic way. It often feels like a perversion of a 1970’s American prime time drama, complete with wonderfully tacky lounge music, eye-level framing and brightly-lit action.  Hell, even the fonts used for the opening titles feel like they’re ripped right out of FANTASY ISLAND.  But every time MARY, MARY, BLOODY MARY settles into some class of  clean, safe, even borderline banal groove, Moctezuma steers it into absolute insanity. There are plenty movies like it and yet…there’s nothing quite like it.

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On LET THE CORPSES TAN

Stylish, sun-soaked Italian-inspired thriller is an anti-genre film

Let the Corpses Tan, the most recent – as of this writing – style overload immersion into Eurotrash fetish excess from husband and wife filmmaker team Bruno Forzani and Helene Cattet is, aesthetically, more of the same sort of stuff they’ve been supplying fans for almost a decade. If you’ve seen their breakthrough film Amer and its follow-up The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears, you know what we mean. Taking the motifs and moments and rhythms and iconography from European genre films of the 1970s and literally remixing them with new narratives and subtext, Cattet and Forzani are at this point untouchable. It’s not fair to lump them in with other filmmakers who mine and mimic the same period – people like Quentin Tarantino or Rob Zombie – because this duo are artists doing something different, something far more abstract, more elemental and organic and avant garde. Their films are admirably dedicated to being so focused on valuing style over story that they often become a challenge to stick with, especially for the average viewer simply seeking a bit of escapism. But like their first films, if you do stick with Let the Corpses Tan, you probably won’t ever forget it.

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On THE ULTIMATE THRILL

Long lost “ski-sploitation” thriller is ripe for rediscovery

In the pantheon of stories distressingly over adapted and ripped-off for cinema, Richard Connell’s The Most Dangerous Game sits high on the list. The story tells the tale of a wealthy hunt-happy lunatic who shifts his interests into stalking humans to be his next trophies, setting his “guests” loose on his remote property to give them a sporting head start. It’s a great premise that has both an allegorical sting, a haunting anti-hunting soul and both hardcore action and blood-chilling horror.

And while there have been a handful of “legitimate” versions of the tome made (most impressively, the 1932 same-named Fay Wray riff), it’s the ripoffs that are the most fun, everything from 1982’s Turkey Shoot to 1993’s Hard Target to 1994’s Surviving the Game, movies that freely steal the premise and pervert it to their own ends. Lost amidst this slew of awesomely low-grade films is the totally bonkers 1974 sleaze-fest The Ultimate Thrill (aka The Ultimate Chase). The movie is directed by the late Robert Butler, a veteran TV hack (and we’re not saying that to be derogatory) who steered episodes of everything from the ’60s Batman show to Kung Fu to The Waltons to the small screen. But The Ultimate Thrill is one of his few feature film undertakings and I’ll be damned if it doesn’t feel like a TV movie, albeit one armed with a bigger budget that presumably paid for the hospital bills for the myriad hot dogging skiing stuntman who fly off mountaintops like clockwork.

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