On SCALPEL

John Grissmer’s sleazy 1977 thriller is ripe for rediscovery

Every dreamy thing you’ve heard about the 1970s in regards to it being a Golden Age of American cinema is 100% true, with audiences hungry for edgier offbeat movies, thus birthing a market for various madmen to make lower-tier, downmarket stuff and still have plenty of eyeballs waiting to receive their wares. And with the MPAA’s newly minted ratings system – born after the new wave of more extreme stuff like Bonnie and Clyde, Midnight Cowboy and A Clockwork Orange dared to make their way onto mainstream screens – still in its wobble-kneed infancy, plenty of nasty little numbers squeezed through the cracks and sneaked away with mild PG (or the similar GP) ratings; this, despite the fact that many of these pictures were not geared for kids or family viewing and often were choked with sleaze, suggested smut and decidedly mature melodrama.

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On NOT AS A STRANGER

Stanley Kramer’s 1955 melodrama offers one of Robert Mitchum’s most nuanced performances

With his lazy-lidded resting face and macho. swaggering gait, Hollywood has rarely ponied up a more unique looking superstar as Robert Mitchum. And the actor’s off-camera life was just as singular. He was a tough talking rebel of the highest order who made no apologies for his manners and famously snubbed his nose at the very system that supported him. Most of you know the infamous story of his 1948 pot bust, where when asked by a frenzy of reporters upon his release how he liked prison, he retorted “It’s like Palm Springs without the riff-raff.” While other actors of the time would have withered from the scandal and had their careers clipped, Mitchum owned his perceived transgressions and emerged not only unscathed but even more successful. Mitchum was indeed a bad boy, a baddass…and a great goddamn actor.

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On EATEN ALIVE

 

Umberto Lenzi’s cannibal classic is a gory, goofy dose of vintage Italian terror

Out of all the vile, debaucherous post-Mondo Cane Italian junglesploitation movies ground-out in the 1970s and 80s, Umberto Lenzi’s 1980 chunk-blower Eaten Alive (Mangiati Vivi) is the one that Canadians love the most. Why is that? Because it’s the only one – perhaps the only Italian horror movie, full stop – that actually sets part of its action in the country, opening as it does in Niagara Falls, with a poor sod getting a poison blow-dart spat into his neck.

Now, this point may seem a silly way to open up a discussion about a Lenzi-lensed gorefest but it’s subjectively important for me, glutting as I did on all of these sorts of films as an impressionable teenager. Seeing my country represented on-screen in an Italian gore movie – which then felt as though they were being beamed in from another dimension entirely – was disorienting and gave the film a sense of tangible reality that other pictures of its ilk lacked. None of this is to say that Eaten Alive is better than other more notable films like Ruggero Deodato’s punishing Cannibal Holocaust or earlier Jungle Holocaust or even Lenzi’s own notorious dick-ripper Cannibal Ferox, but it does have the distinction of being the weirdest entry in the cannon and not just because of the curious Canadian connection. No, Eaten Alive is an utterly insane dose of jungle horror delirium that earns its unsavory reputation, ladling on the flesh-ripping, tempering it with animal snuff and tying it up with a charming rapey bow. And yet the entire enterprise is so daffy, it’s impossible to take it terribly seriously.

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On ALICE SWEET ALICE

Discussing Alfred Sole’s 1976 American giallo masterpiece

I’ve been writing about and discussing co-writer/director Alfred Sole’s dark, effectively upsetting 1976 psychodrama Alice Sweet Alice for some time now. I first learned of the film when sifting through an early ’80’s edition of FANGORIA magazine, wherein there was a small, black and white still from the film of what looked like a charred human head.

It looked real. At least to me.

And I needed to know what this film was.

Leonard Maltin’s video book, a once indispensable pre-internet reference tool for young, burgeoning cinephiles, gave it a shrug review and two pithy stars. But then again, the book did the same for Taxi Driver, so that did not deter me.

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On THE BLOOD SPATTERED BRIDE

A look at Vincente Aranda’s hallucinatory lesbian vampire film

In the late 1960s, as the old guard died off and a new wave of filmmakers slowly, surely seeped into Hollywood – and Hollyweird – American audiences became hungrier for more daring sorts of entertainment. Political and social upheaval was swelling, the 6 O’clock news dragged dying soldiers from the front lines in Vietnam into people’s living rooms, films like Bonnie and Clyde and Midnight Cowboy brought more explicit content into the mainstream and hardcore porn was championed by beloved prime time staples like Ed McMahon and Sammie Davis Jr. It was fertile ground for cinematic expression and with the vibrant, experimental films from Europe being suddenly embraced by this new American pack of creators, sexually aware, violent  and earthy movies made for adults became industry standard. And with American distributors acting on this sudden liberal surge, European genre filmmakers began really pushing boundaries. Look at the work of Jess Franco, Jean Rollin, the sexier side of Hammer Horror, Alain Robbe-Grillet , Dario Argento, Sergio Martino and others, all taking advantage of their homegrown movies being marketed around the world and all of them introducing more potent taboo-breaking imagery into their lurid narratives.

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On SHOWGIRLS

Paul Verhoeven’s notorious Vegas stripper melodrama Showgirls might be a horror movie in disguise

Decades after 1967’s Valley of the Dolls and decades prior to 2016’s The Neon Demon, Dutch director Paul Verhoeven‘s Showgirls, the over-the-top tale of ill-gotten fame, busted dreams and the skeezy, grimy underbelly of Las Vegas, dragged its garish arse across screens across the world. That the heavily-hyped project (a reunion between Verhoeven and his Basic Instinct writer Joe Eszterhas) fell flat on its busted back, much like Gina Gershon’s Cristal does in the film, just made its myth all the more potent. And though Showgirls has been universally reviled and is now rather forcibly embraced as a cult film, the misleadingly-marketed movie is really yet another in a long line of Hollywood horror films masquerading as something else entirely.

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On DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS

 

A musing on Harry Kumel’s elegant, erotic vampire masterpiece

Ever since Gloria Holden first made ghoulish goo-goo eyes at her girl victims in 1936’s Dracula’s Daughter, horror films have been fascinated by the lesbian vampire. Blame J. Sheridan LeFanu, the Irish writer whose risqué short story Carmilla broke the boundaries of homo-erotic bloodsucking and whose taboo allure helped eventually launch this evolving spate of increasingly explicit dark fantasy pictures, many of which reared their horny heads in the considerably more liberal 1970’s. UK horror studio Hammer were the first ones to really make their muff munching mark with Roy Ward Baker’s LeFanu adaptation The Vampire Lovers and other films, like Jose Laraz’s almost hardcore 1974 epic Vampyres and Vincente Aranda’s The Blood Spattered Bride continued to push the envelope, mixing fangwork with female nudity to grand (and grandly exploitative) effect.

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