On MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE

Words on a rock ‘n’ roll trash horror classic

It’s taken Stephen King’s MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE thirty years to get any sort of authentic respect and I don’t even think it’s quite there yet. Thing is, I’ve loved it since the first time I saw it and, as it features a full soundtrack by iconic Aussie rockers AC/DC, heard it. Leonard Maltin gave it a BOMB rating and virtually every other critic of the period saddled it with the same sort of sneering disdain.

To be an 11 year old boy in 1986 and stand up and say “FUCK YOU! I LOVE MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE!” took courage. I ran the risk of spinning into the roll of cinematic social outcast, shunned by my peers and ridiculed by my pals.

But I’ve never really been one to give a gear what anyone else thinks about me so what the hell.

MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE is a hubcap headed, gas spitting 1986 sci-fi action trash classic; the first and – if you believe his publicly uttered promise since then – only film to be directed by one of the most influential and Important fantasy/horror fiction writers in history. The film was indeed one of the worst reviewed studio pictures of its time and it has since been either ignored, reviled or smarmily dismissed. And while the diesel powered shocker is indeed nowhere near a decent creeper and is a pretty odd choice for one of the major forces of literary fear to choose as his maiden film voyage, I think it’s a fascinating example of the working class hero King aesthetic in full, perversely amplified effect and truly believe that there’s more going on in the picture than perhaps even its director understood.

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On EXTREMELY WICKED, SHOCKINGLY EVIL AND VILE

Joe Berlinger’s tragic, disturbing portrait of the final days of Ted Bundy is a quiet masterpiece

Director Joe Berlinger has long traded in making movies that juxtapose perceptions of truth vs. the actual truth while sifting through the messy, often mind-bending micro-truths that pulse between those two often radical extremes. From his acclaimed, award-winning documentary work like BROTHER’S KEEPER and the near-revolutionary West Memphis Three-chronicling PARADISE LOST pictures, to his once derrided, now considerably more respected horror film BOOK OF SHADOWS: BLAIR WITCH 2, Berlinger refuses to settle for easy answers and is even less interested in easily-cast judgements.

The misunderstood and troubled BLAIR WITCH sequel is a particularly fascinating work, exploring the way those who commit dreadful crimes are often able to delude themselves, swallowing their own lies enough that they actually believe them. In the case of that picture, the theme is embedded with the body of a supernatural story but in Berlinger’s latest film, EXTREMELY WICKED, SHOCKINGLY EVIL AND VILE, the tale told is fact-based, chronicling as it does the final reel of serial killer Ted Bundy’s reign of barbarism and deceit. Based on the book THE PHANTOM PRINCE by Bundy’s then-girlfriend Liz Kendall, the movie opts to use as its point of entry both Kendall’s intimate perceptions and observations of Bundy’s behavior as the law closes in, and also the way others in the media and elsewhere did. Because the capper and hook of Bundy’s public legacy was that no matter how much smoke seeped from his gun, he hid all culpability under a greasy sheen of mock-outrage and liquid charm. How could a man this intelligent, attractive and articulate possibly  be the monster he was accused of being?

Maybe its because Berlinger chose this as the way to illustrate his tale, using actor and co-producer Zac Efron as his Bundy-puppet, that some critics and audiences have attacked the picture (which incidentally, is currently streaming on Netflx). Its possible they are missing the point of Berlinger’s faux-romanticised portrait or were expecting/demanding a more blood-spattered glimpse into the gynecology of Bundy’s horrific crimes. Generally speaking, audiences want absolutes. Especially now, in this often hysterical culture of outrage, where facts, empathy and investigation are second to the instant reward of shared anger, of being able to easily identify and crucify “the enemy”. That’s not what EXTREMELY WICKED, SHOCKINGLY EVIL AND VILE offers. What Berlinger wants to do with this story is go so much deeper, not into WHAT happened, but HOW something like this could ever happen and, at the end of it, realizing that sometimes…there is no answer. Evil is not absolute. And the path to it and through it is often not easily charted.

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Interview: Composer Alessandro Alessandroni

A vintage interview with legendary THE DEVIL’S NIGHTMARE composer

Italian composer Ennio Morricone deserves every accolade awarded him. The impact of his work in Italian westerns, horror, action, arthouse and mainstream American cinema (check out his now-iconic work in Brian De Palma’s 1987 classic THE UNTOUCHABLES) cannot be properly measured.

But a name that rarely gets mentioned in respect to vital European film soundtracks with as much reverence is Maestro Alessandro Alessandroni.

Born in Rome in 1925, Alessandroni (who sadly passed in 2017) was a multi-instrumentalist composer whose work spanned almost 50 films in a myraid of genres. Working with his friend Morricone, it was Alessandroni who supplied the signature twang guitar sound and haunting whistles in Morricone’s scores for the Sergio Leone “Dollars” trilogy. On his own, his signature sounds have defined the energies of horror films like Mel Welles’ kinky and atmospheric 1971 sexploitation number LADY FRANKENSTEIN as well as this writer’s personal favorite 70’s Europudding trash flick, Jean Brismee’s 1971 supernatural, erotic morality tale, THE DEVIL’S NIGHTMARE, which just received a beautiful, respectful Blu-ray release courtesy of Mondo Macabro.

I spoke with the brilliant Alessandroni in 2010 to discuss THE DEVIL’S NIGHTMARE and touch on some of his many adventures in Golden and Silver age Italian genre cinema. I’m happy to reprint that chat here…

CHRIS ALEXANDER: How did music become your life?

ALESSANDRO ALESSANDRONI: In the village of Soriano, where I grew up, there were small shops called Barber & Taylor shops and they had a myriad of instruments hanging on the walls. In between clients—or when there were no clients at all—anyone could play the mandolin or guitar or cello or clarinet….and that is how I started this journey. I am self-taught with no professional training.

ALEXANDER: Many fans know you from your work with Ennio Morricone on all those incredible Sergio Leone westerns, especially with respect to your trademark whistle. When did you discover your talent for whistling?

ALESSANDRONI: Well, it was quite by accident that this became my trademark. During a recording session of music for an early film I was involved with, (composer) Nino Rota asked if anyone in the orchestra could whistle—I was playing guitar then. No one came forward so I said that I could try but couldn’t promise anything. But it worked and that is how the quality of my whistle was discovered. By the time Ennio and I worked together, I was an expert!

ALEXANDER: Can you tell me about your initial work with Morricone? How free were you to experiment?

ALESSANDRONI: My work with Ennio was always engaging and always creative. Often I would suggest alternative styles in the execution of his written music, bringing in guitar – the whistling – some more rock influenced sounds.

ALEXANDER: Do you ever feel that you haven’t received enough credit for your work on those incredible westerns?

ALESSANDRONI: Oh yes, absolutely. But, that’s life, I suppose.

ALEXANDER: Can you describe those prolific days working in the golden era of Italian cinema in the 60’s and 70’s? It must have been a very exciting time…

ALESSANDRONI: In those years we had so many wonderful directors in this country – Fellini, Pasolini, Risi, Germi, Leone – and so many wonderful films were being made. After the success of A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, we Italian musicians were kept very busy because so many westerns were being made as well as horror films and other pictures that could be exported easily to America and around the world. Also, my choir The Cantoni Moderni di Alessandroni was very much in demand for films and recordings. Yes as you say, it was a very exciting and incredibly busy time and I’ll admit that I miss it.

ALEXANDER: One of my favorite scores of yours was for Jean Brismee’s 1971 horror film THE DEVIL’S NIGHTMARE. What are your memories of that picture?

ALESSANDRONI: I remember that film vaguely. It wasn’t too bad as I recall. But after some 40 years – and a lot of music in between – I don’t remember very much about my score!

ALEXANDER: Who did those haunting female vocals for the film’s opening theme?

ALESSANDRONI: Ah, that would have been my late wife, Giulia De Mutiis.

ALEXANDER: Your work in the same year’s LADY FRANKENSTEIN is also brilliant, fully exploiting that distinctive fuzz guitar. What did you think of that film and of its American director, Mel Welles?

ALESSANDRONI: That film is actually pretty good! One of my better horror scores, I think. I don’t recall working with Mel Welles, however. As was often the case, he may have left it up to me to create the sound as I chose appropriate without too much interference on his part.

ALEXANDER: You’ve also worked with notorious Italian exploitation filmmaker Bruno Mattei on 1977’s SS EXPERIMENT CAMP. What was Mattei like?

ALESSANDRONI: Now that one was no great masterpiece, I can tell you that. In fact, I must admit that it was a very mediocre picture and I refer to both the film and the music itself. But I worked very well with Mattei and I found him to be a very nice man.

ALEXANDER: You worked on two adult films in 1980 with the great Joe D’Amato (Aristide Massachessi)…

ALESSANDRONI: Yes I did and you know, D’Amato was really amusing, a very colorful character. As far as my music on those pornographic pictures, the big difference was that, well I was obliged to think erotically, not horrifically. I think my work on those movies is pretty good and a lot of fun.

ALEXANDER: Your last credited film is 1998’s TRINITY GOES WEST. Any plans to return to film composing?

ALESSANDRONI: I would willingly compose more film scores but in Italy these days everything is motivated by politics for political ends. That is not for me. I am a free man and I would want my music free of obligations or constraints. Anyhow, I am glad that publishers are reprinting a lot of my music and that people are now buying the CD collections.

ALEXANDER: Your scores for horror films were so eccentric and interesting. Do you watch horror? Have you heard any music in horror that you really liked?

ALESSANDRONI: No, I have never watched or listened to horror except to compose for those horror movies I wrote the scores for. I simply followed my instincts. The bottom line is that I LOVE to create new sounds all the time and horror movies gave me great freedom to do that.

 

Interview: Veronica Cartwright

In conversation with the revered co-star of THE CHILDREN’S HOUR, ALIEN, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS and much more

Actress Veronica Cartwright has been casting spells in cinema since she was a little girl, co-starring at the age of 12 with heavy-hitters Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine in William Wyler’s controversial 1961 thriller THE CHILDREN’S HOUR and a tidal wave of entertainments made for both the big (THE BIRDS) and small (The Twilight Zone, Leave it to Beaver) screen.

Hers is truly a life spent in front of the lens. But it was in the 1970s, when Cartwright was in her late 20s, that she began to find her footing, starring in John Byrum’s sexually-explicit INSERTS, in director/star Jack Nicholson’s comedy western GOIN’ SOUTH and in a pair of films that history has proven to be two of the greatest science fiction horror movies ever made: Philip Kaufman’s nightmarish remake of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS and Ridley Scott’s groundbreaking ALIEN.

We had the honor of speaking with the funny, talented actress – she of those near-translucent, oversized blue eyes – about her many film appearances, including her blistering and outrageous turn in George Miller’s 1987 horror comedy THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK and so much more…

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On THE COMING OF SIN

JOSE LARRAZ’S ELEGANT AND DEPRAVED MASTERWORK

In the annals of exploitation cinema, Spanish filmmaker Jose Larraz had one of the more unique voices; a multi-hyphenate artist who dabbled in many mediums, including comic books, and whose filmed fixations on beautiful women and hot sex were matched for his interests in darker, more psychological explorations. And while his resume certainly boasts a more than a few middling efforts, his undisputed masterworks outweigh the weaker material. Joining the director’s essential ranks is his 1978 shocker THE COMING OF SIN, an  astonishing work of erotic horror that’s the depraved equal to his WHIRLPOOL and sensual kin to his most recognizable picture, VAMPYRES. THE COMING OF SIN is a balletic three-hander that forsakes plot in favor of fevered couplings and ratcheting tension and whose measured rhythm might turn off the average viewer seeking smutty Eurotrash thrills. But for the rest of us…look out.

The film (released in many markets under the riotous and misleading title THE VIOLATION OF THE BITCH) stars Lidia Stern as Triana, a beautiful but simple Gypsy servant girl whose masters “loan” her out to an older, sexually voracious artist named Lorna (Patrice Grant) at her beautiful country estate. Before you can say “The Rain in Spain”, Lorna is smugly boasting that she will refine Triana’s palette, teaching her how to read, to speak, to socialize. And to fuck. Because it’s clear from the moment the two women meet that there is a strong sexual connection and Larraz revels in sustaining that tension, creating a dripping erotic aura that only relaxes once his film veers into full blown mania.

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On THE WITCHES

A closer look at an underrated Hammer Horror classic

Director Cyril Frankel’s 1966 supernatural drama THE WITCHES (based on the novel “The Devil’s Own” by Peter Curtis) might be one of Hammer’s most misunderstood and undervalued productions, with casual admirers of the venerable studio’s output often either ignoring or dismissing it. This is likely due to the film being released squarely in the center of Hammer’s “Golden Age”, when the company had had a near decade-long paydirt mining and perfecting Gothic melodrama and more sensational shockers. It defied audience expectations and needs, in some respects. But Frankel’s eerie mystery is more in-line with the studio’s post-PSYCHO “Mini-Hitchcock” thrillers, material like Frankel’s own queasy NEVER TAKE SWEETS FROM STRANGERS, but one armed with a supernatural twist and buoyed by two mature female leads in the cast. But unlike Hammer’s 1965 scenery-chomper DIE, DIE MY DARLING – in which an aged and deranged Talulah Bankhead out-babied BABY JANE – THE WITCHES is no pandering horror-hagsploitation potboiler. It’s something far more evolved and interesting (and I say that with ardent adoration of the hagsploitation subgenre).

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On INVASION OF THE BLOOD FARMERS

One of the most deranged American independent horror films of the 1970s comes to Blu-ray

Those who – like me – have cited Ed Adlum’s 1974 howler SHRIEK OF THE MUTILATED as the worst indie American horror movie of the 1970s, obviously never saw his 1972 go-for-broke earlier craptastic creeper INVASION OF THE BLOOD FARMERS. I’d missed it, though had certainly heard many scream its perverse praises for years and now, thanks to Severin Films’ recent release, we have a new remastered Blu-ray release in mass-circulation so that hardcore fans and newly minted audience members (like me) can lock their bloodshot glazballs upon it. Naturally, one has to have a healthy streak of masochism in order to fully appreciate the film’s downmarket charms but those bold enough to endure its 77 torturous minutes will be – for better or worse – transformed for life.

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On THE HUNGER

Flashing back to the stylish and undervalued 1983 vampire drama

Tony Scott’s 1983 vampire drama THE HUNGER, his first film and an adaptation of author Whitley Strieber’s bestselling, same-named book, is a marvelous picture; stylish, beautiful, sensual, elegant and, at its core, almost overwhelmingly melancholy. It’s no surprise then, that this hazy, dream-like work of neo-Gothic art faired poorly at the box-office, seeing as the dawn of the decade concerned itself mainly with post-STAR WARS and RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK spectacle and, in the annals of horror, gory, brainless body count pictures.

But THE HUNGER is something different. Something special.

In it, revered French actress Catherine Deneuve plays Miriam Blaylock, statuesque female vampire, a creature who we are lead to believe has endured centuries, forever gliding through time, never aging and living off human blood. But she doesn’t make this endless journey alone. Like Delphine Seyrig’s similarly graceful and parasitic Countess Bathory in Harry Kumel’s DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS, Miriam must always have a companion, a lover of her choosing whom is afflicted with a version of the disease that she has, the disease that blesses one with life eternal and an unnatural, murderous thirst.

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On JACK THE RIPPER

A brief look at both cuts of the undervalued 1959 shocker

The mystery of the Victorian-era serial killer dubbed “Jack the Ripper” has endured the ages, with countless fictionalized novels and films riffing onthe  sordid story of the fiend who once slashed his way through the flesh of London’s ladies of the night. The fact that “Saucy Jack” himself was never caught has only fueled the fantastical, with conspiracies ladled upon conspiracies as to who or what the murderer might have been, most potently in Alan Moore’s FROM HELL graphic novel and the freely adapted (and absolutely undervalued) Hughes Brothers feature film. But one of the more obscure remounts of the Jack the Ripper crimes can be found in Robert S. Baker and Monty Berman’s crackerjack 1959 chiller, simply called JACK THE RIPPER. Working from a script by Hammer Horror vet Jimmy Sangster, the film is a low budget but deft little murder mystery that sends ample chills up the spine, especially in its original UK theatrical cut, the likes of which is represented here – alongside the more sensational American re-edit – on Severin‘s snazzy new Blu-ray release.

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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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