When you recognise a murder weapon which could implicate a hacksaw wielding murderer who’s already killed two other people, what do you do? You go to stay in a remote secluded clifftop villa with your friends, that’s what! Nothing could go wrong…
This is a fantastic slice of giallo directed by Sergio Martino in 1973. It’s all here- the sumptuous locales, the amazing insistent music score, the deft and stylish cinematography and direction. But, best of all, there’s one of the most disturbing and iconic killers in giallo history (which is really saying something). And not only does he look great but he also kicks ass.
This film expertly builds tension with some scenes reminding me of the later Halloween. I wonder if Carpenter had seen this film before making the 1978 classic. I sure as hell hope the makers of the new Halloween film have seen this film (I bet I know the answer to that question but I’ll wait until this film is released to either have my hunch confirmed or refuted).
An example of this tension within Torso would be the scene in which the lone survivor is in the villa with the killer thinking that there’s no one else there. She’s locked in her room but decides to try to get the key which is still in the lock on the outside of the door to fall onto a sheet of newspaper which she’s slid underneath. This way she can slide the key under the door and try and free herself. But then…you’ll have to watch the film to find out what happens. It’s a great scene in a great film.
When it comes to giallo everyone seems to know the work of Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci and Mario Bava and for good reason. But Sergio Martino is an example of another giallo director who doesn’t get the attention he deserves. This is a shame as his work is stellar. And Torso is a great ‘in’ for the horror fan wanting to investigate his work.
I was looking forward to this movie. Someone who had seen it in the States said that it was ‘grim’. Another said that it ‘stayed with you long after you’ve finished watching it’.
Having watched the movie I can now say that it is grim. But not in a good way. It’s the most pretensious, overly dramatic and ultimately vapid film I think I’ve ever seen.
In fact it reminds me of when I was at university studying film analysis. There was a drama department within the arts faculty. You just knew that the small minority of quiet and introspective drama students would go far whilst you got the feeling that those who were loud, strutting and attention seeking weren’t interested in acting at all but only in being centre stage. At the end of the year the drama students had to write and stage their own production which they would also act in.
Hereditary felt like the kind of end of year production that one of the extroverted dramatists would have produced if it had then been picked up by a film production company and allowed to pollute cinema screens worldwide. Hysterics are ramped up to the max whilst tension and depth, y’know the things that good horror should hinge on are nowhere to be seen. In fact, the only tension I experienced were by a couple near me who insisted on talking during the film. And they left halfway through. I was gutted and felt like running after them to try to persuade them to come back in.
With Hereditary the film also seems to throw so many ideas into the pot that it really is a case of ‘Let’s throw all these ideas at the wall. Some are bound to stick!’ It didn’t work. In this age of remakes, sequels and reboots, especially within the horror genre, original and new ideas are paramount. It can still be done. Some critics and reviewers think this film might be the start of such a renaissance. It isn’t and I pity them.
I’m now going to watch Muriel’s Wedding- a genuine masterpiece that doesn’t squander Toni Collette’s considerable acting chops.
Hereditary is loud, hysterical, hyperactive and desperate for your attention. It’s clearly the James Corden of horror films.
Harry is on his way to a country holiday home with his new ex-model girlfriend, Diane when they cross paths with a rowdy car-full of drunken yahoos who try to intimidate them. After the couple run them off the road and ruin the suspension on their car, they are tracked to their country lair with the angry men proceeding to invade this picuresque idyll.
Violence and rape ensues as the hillbilly gang seek revenge. In the course of events Harry is actually killed and Diane is raped when trying to escape. But then Diane turns the tables single-handedly and in brutal fashion.
They are elements of both Last House on the Left and Straw Dogs within this film’s premise (in the UK, this film played as part of a double bill with the latter film) but theres also enough to distinguish Death Weekend from these two films. Theres a strong feeling of the ‘haves vs have nots’ thats interesting. The hillbilly gang see what they don’t have within the house and their lives and instinctively seek to destroy and tarnish it.
Also, this isn’t a case of the good vs the bad- when Diane arrives at the house by the lake she very quickly realises that Harry is a slimeball personified. Hes a swinger who has invited Diane to the house for one reason and that isn’t holding hands and going for long walks. We see him taking pictures of Diane as she gets undressed and showers as the mirrors in the swingers paradise masquerading as a country house are all two-way. Diane finds out this later when one of the gang stumbles upon the pictures that the pervert Harry has taken unbeknownst to her.
Also, just before the gang invades the house Diane is just about to leave as she learns that although Harry had told her that there were other guests who would be joining them, in fact this was a lie. Harry appears to be just as repellent as the gang members who are just about to kick the door in- its just his social class that separates him from them.
This film is also made noteworthy by the cast with Brenda Vacarro and Don Stroud deserving special mention.
A very good film that deserves a really good Blu ray release. In fact, this would be ideal for Scream Factory.
I’ve been digging through copies of my local newspaper The Yorkshire Evening Post and have exhumed some amazing ads for some of the exploitation films that perverts like me love so dearly.
One series of movies that played well in Leeds was Friday the 13th. And the newspaper ads certainly don’t disappoint.
When Friday the 13th played Leeds in 1980 the other films that were playing the same cinema were Don’t Answer The Phone and Airplane. How fucking cool was that!
When Friday the 13th Part 2 played in Leeds it was paired with Prophecy as the second film. Other films showing at the same cinema were Excalibur, a special preview of a new film called Raiders of the Lost Ark (I think that film sank without a trace as I’ve never heard of it) and a double bill of The Gauntlet and Taxi Driver. I would have gladly gone to see ALL of those films.
1982 brought Jason in 3D to the city of Leeds. Other films showing at the same cinema then were 10 To Midnight, The Exterminator, American Gigolo and Mad Max 2. Again- I’d emerge from this cinema roughly 12 hours after stepping foot in the place. All great films.
1984 brought Part 4: The Final Chapter (the best and most brutal Friday the 13th film in my opinion). It also played in a double bill with Nightmares with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Supergirl and Losin’ It playing on different screens. Can you imagine seeing the Final Chapter and Supergirl on the same day?! Sweet dreams are made of this.
A movie that goes one way but changes direction massively.
In fact before the plot twist that occurs I thought this was a film about the most unlikable and privileged kids I’d ever seen on screen. In fact they’re so privileged that when they got to college they would be the biggest social justice warriors, I thought as I drifted away from the dull film.
In fact the only tension or frisson in the first half hour was more centred around the couple next to me who kept talking throughout the film. They stopped after I suddenly shrieked ‘For fucks sake! Shut the fuck up!’
But then the film has a huge volte face regarding its plot and it touches upon something that is still taboo in real life and on film- killers who are children. In fact, as soon as the film started to touch upon this film I instantly thought of the case of James Bulger. I was genuinely shocked to see the use of a can of paint in the film. Anyone who knows about the proceedings of Bulger’s death will know that paint figures predominantly. Was this coincidental or intentional?
The film could have now developed into something much darker, brutal and savage. It doesn’t exploit this brilliant plot twist and is a bit too obsessed with gloss rather than grit. The last 15 minutes are extremely contrived and more Hollywood than horrorshow. This is a shame. The very end of the film is funny but this should have been a vivid display of gallows humour rather than a jokey conclusion to a good but not great movie.
A wasted opportunity. But not a failure- in this era of reboots and reboots (the curse of modern film), any trace of originality and innovation should be cherished.
If you want to see a much better ‘killer kids’ film watch Bloody Birthday. The best Christmas horror films are still Black Christmas, Silent Night, Deadly Night and Christmas Evil. If you want to watch a movie about vapid, overprivileged kids, you’re asking the wrong person.
I had the honour and privilege to be able to see Predator (1987) in 4K and on the big screen the other day. It felt like visiting an old friend.
Predator belongs in Arnie’s Imperial Phase which for my money runs from the Conan films up until Red Heat. At this time he was making action movies that defined the genre, pushed its boundaries but fully exploited their future status on the medium of video- in other words they were violent and gory as hell.
Predator works on so many different levels.
The film is the perfect example of a comic book come to life on celluloid. The film possesses the kind of exaggeration and imagination that normally couldn’t satisfactorily be translated to film. Predator shows that these forays into the surreal and its larger than life action sequences can be successfully conveyed. All of the characters could equally be seen in comic book panels as much as they could be on film. The film is so gung-ho that it feels like a war comic crossed with a shoot em up video game at times.
The Predator’s thermal vision that the audience is privy to is also a comic book device.
Another sequence that is reminiscent of a comic book is when Dillon’s arm is cut off but continues to fire a gun.
Also, just as action and horror movies were massively successful on video in its infancy and its growth as a medium, Predator combines elements of both genres and turns them up to 11. The sequence involving Dillon’s arm is a great example of a sequence that appeals to both action and horror fans.
In fact the film is extremely subversive as it starts as a jungle commando action vehicle but then suddenly changes direction. This could have failed to work and come across as forced and completely contrived if handled in the wrong way. But instead it works brilliantly.
The horror and more specifically the slasher conventions within Predator show that the film wasn’t just appealing to the fans of action movies. The Predator’s handiwork is shown as the jungle crew discover the skinned bodies of others hanging upside down. The crew soon find themselves to be the quarry rather than the hunters in the same way that a group of teenagers would be in a stalk n slash movie. They are easy meat.
The film also contains the same kind of kills found in a slasher movie with skulls, intestines and exploding heads all featuring.
Another slasher staple that features in Predator is the unmasking of the killer which of course prompts Dutch to exclaim ‘You are one ugly motherfucker!’ The unmasking sequence is especially a staple of the Friday 13th films in which Jason Voorhees is regularly unmasked to reveal his true face.
Predator also goes the extra mile when it comes to its action genre ingredients. There are guns and muscles aplenty. But where Predator tries to excel when it deals with these components, in doing so it instantly becomes very very homoerotic.
There must have been something distinctly gay in the air in some Hollywood quarters in 1986/7 as two other unintentionally/intentionally homoerotic films were also made around the same time- Top Gun and A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge.
In fact, Predator is so proudly masculine, homoerotic and therefore camp that to take any of these variants further would topple the film headlong into the genre of gay pornography.
It doesn’t take a lot for the ultra masculine to turn ultra homoerotic and camp. Let me illustrate- think of a clockface as representing all of the different variants of masculinity- 1 represents the camp, effete and effeminate (two examples are Quentin Crisp and Julian Clary) and 12 represents the ultra masculine, musclebound and testosterone soaked (Arnie, your average MMA fighter, the larger WWE wrestlers). There isn’t that much of a distance from 1 to 12 on the clockface is there? Also, just because a man might be camp or effeminate doesn’t mean that he isn’t without balls of steel. Do you think it was easy for Julian Clary and Quentin Crisp to be openly gay and effeminate when they first came to light in the public gaze? No- it took guts and moral fortitude. They are far from being submissive sissies. There are paradoxes at the more extreme positions on the clock.
Whilst number 12 on the clockface is seen as the most masculine its also, paradoxically very camp and homoerotic also. The male who wishes to assert his masculinity more potently will build up his physique and muscles. To display this ‘uber masculinity’ he will expose his body more thus paradoxically instantly appeal to the some members of the same sex. He wants to accentuate his masculinity and has at the same time become more camp, desirable and homoerotic because of this.
This heady brew of the masculine and homoerotic is first seen in the film when Dutch comes across his old friend Dillon again. A handshake turns into an epic display of biceps and a very manly (and very camp) arm-wrestle. You could be forgiven that this is in fact some kind of 1980’s gay porno movie.
The camera seems to relish and luxuriate upon the male cast in the film. There are many shots of gleaming muscles, sometimes clutching huge guns. Predator is a glistening, sweaty jerk-off fest for the gay gaze.
The bead of sweat rolling down the ample chest of the character of Billy is one such example of this. The same character later on in the film decides to ‘take it like a man’ by slitting open his well built chest to prompt the predator out of hiding so that they can go one on one. Its a startling display of machismo that is instantly appealing to the action fan and those who are sexually aroused by such testosterone fuelled exhibitionism. ‘Taking it like a man’ means something very different in gay circles. The pitcher becomes receiver. He decides to ‘receive’ the alien.
Within the film there is also the spectacle of the slow striptease of Dutch. Throughout the course of the film Arnold appears in varying degrees of undress and displays more flesh and more muscle. There is also an unbelievable shot when the crew arrive in the jungle. Dutch crawls through undergrowth with the camera just above his body as he does this, resplendent with an amazing shot of his arse. Ever wanted to know what it would be like to be on top of the film’s lead character? The camera realises this for the spectator.
Arnold’s striptease cumulates with his character covered in mud (!) with a lit torch in one hand and giving a manly bellow to the heavens to alert the alien that he is ready for battle. Man vs alien- and no ugly extra-terrestrial is going to kick Arnie’s alpha-male butt. Whilst this scene is intended not only to signify the potency of the masculinity on display its also the ultimate in homoeroticism and camp iconography- a distillation of the whole film in one sequence.
Theres also the bromance/relationship between Mac and Blain. After Blain is killed there is a palpable longing on the part of Mac which suggests that he misses him for being more than just a fellow soldier. This pining between two male characters is reminiscent of Peter being distraught by the passing of Roger in George A Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. Or the ending of Brokeback Mountain. Yes, nothing gay here.
In fact Blain recalls the ‘macho man’ archetype in the same way that The Village People’s leather-clad biker does- moustache, sexually potent (Blaine describes himself as a ‘sexual tyrannosaurus’), whilst looking down on others who aren’t as masculine. Blaine refers to those people as ‘slack jawed faggots’ the way a leather fan might look down on the camper constituents of his community. Also, notice the use of the word ‘faggots’- Blaine doth protest too much. Or hes just trying to deflect from the obvious conclusions.
With the character of Blaine there also the issue of guns, the size of those guns and the ‘gun as phallus/symbol of manhood’ baggage that is imbued with such imagery. Just as Blaine has stated that he is a ‘sexual tyrannosaurus’ he qualifies this with the gun he carries- a huge gun that can fire countless bullets at once and has a barrel that rotates as its doing this. Blaine calls the gun ‘Old Painless’ and at one point says that its time to bring it out of its bag. This recalls the way a man might say its time to ‘unleash the beast’. Never has a gun represented a penis so obviously.
Also within the film there seems to be a celebration of gun size as an extension of manhood for each character. There are many shots of gleaming muscles and equally huge guns held proudly by each character. Theres also the incredible scene in which the muscled components of the crew fire their guns into the jungle when they happen to see the alien. The scene goes on for way too long, prompting the audience to question why this is. A joyous piece of action genre abandon? A display of unabashed masculinity? Or the film’s equivalent of a circle jerk? This scene is as close as the film can come to each character having his cock out to show who really is King Dong.
In fact the film early on introduces a female character into the proceedings to seemingly try to stop the film being a solely male musclefest. Shes also introduced to make the film homosocial- a female distraction from the otherwise all male action and to show that, ”y’know, we’re not actually faggots or nuthin’ ”.
Anna Gonsalves however isn’t the kind of weak and spineless female character who requires a man to save her from any encroaching danger. She is resourceful and an equal. She spends her formative scenes trying to escape from the crew but then is seen as someone more than willing to pitch in to save herself and the lives of the others in the crew from the predator. She is self-sufficent and with this all male crew, thats pretty much for the best. Saving women would take away from their self-love and exhibitionism.
Ultimately what was Predator’s demographic and who it was made for- the laydeez? Of course not. It was made for male action and horror fans. This vehicle of muscles and macho posturing with the odd splatter scene was made for men. It makes the film even gayer/homoerotic.
Even the behind the scenes stills from Predator were homoerotic. Hers a picture of Arnie holding a huge snake.
But whilst most of society was a homophobic cesspit when Predator was released the world seems to have changed since. Homophobia is thankfully being seen as unjust, outdated and as never being valid in the first place. Arnie is now a successful Republican politician. Whilst everyone was celebrating the amendment that allowed Gay Marriage in America people on Facebook were changing their profile pictures so that they had a rainbow flag filter. Arnie did the same. Most welcomed this. However some old school action fans did not. Arnie’s comeback was epic.
Things really were changing. Just as Arnie was finally embracing gay marriage and equality, was it possible that he knew that Predator was in fact a homoerotic musclefest all along? It would be great if someone from the Predator crew came forward to say that that this was actually the intention. Just imagine the uproar!
I woke up to the news a couple of days ago that Charles Manson had died. My gut feeling was one of loss.
Yes thats not the acceptable thing to say when a serial killer dies. And not just any serial killer but the capo of serial killers. A serial killer so conniving that he even brainwashed and groomed others to do the majority of the killing for him. Nice try, Charlie.
He was the person who caused the loss of many innocent lives, even the lives of victims not born yet (Sharon Tate was seven months pregnant when she was slaughtered). He also figuratively ended the lives of the members of his Family who still languish in prison after committing the crimes after being plied with LSD and coerced into committing these atrocities. Just as he set up an alibi for himself for the murders whereby he could demonstrate he didn’t kill anyone, he also tried to conclusively incriminate the Family members who actually did kill on the two nights of massacres.
And yet whilst he was utterly vile in action and deed, I experienced a strange sense of loss because he was and is so very interesting. His actions and deeds are now ingrained in American history and he is seen as ‘The Man Who Killed The 60’s.’ Yes, murder is abhorrent but with such a moniker, as Quentin Crisp observed about the serial killer Gilles de Rais, ‘its hard not to be impressed’. History is balance and Manson seemed to be a one man Yang to the flowers, peace and love of late 60’s America’s Ying.
His image on the cover of Life magazine was possibly the first time that the general public were given a glimpse of the man who had caused all of the carnage they had read about. It didn’t disappoint and perfectly captured who he was, what he had done and what he symbolised in American society. He was The Boogeyman and his iconic picture was enough to induce countless nightmares just like Myra Hindley’s infamous mugshot had a few years earlier over the pond.
The reactions to Manson’s death in the media and social media only heightened my sense of loss regarding it. Lots of people were crawling out from under their rocks to type ‘R.I.P’ but taking the time to exclaim to everyone that this in fact meant ‘Rot In Pieces’. And then there were those (and there were many) who took great delight in saying what they’d like to have done to Manson. One sticks in my mind more than others- a Facebook user said that he’d like to ‘bring Manson back to life so that I can beat him to death again with my bare hands’. Nothing sinister or dark there whatsoever.
Within a film group that I’m a member of the news of his death was reported with the group’s admin asking ‘Who should play him in a film?’ Someone responded ‘NO ONE! Why would anyone want to see a film about that psycho nutjob? Why try to romanticise his life?’ In other words this person was wildly trying to virtue signal and say ‘Look everyone, I have higher morals than a serial killer! I’m going to demonstrate them now! When do I get my prize?’ Thankfully not everyone agrees with this dullard.
My initial pang of loss was due to the fact that Manson permeated and overlapped with so much popular culture that I have loved since my teens. Yes he was a serial killer, yes he was interesting in the societal and historical framework of America but also he was really good value for money!
There are numerous great documentaries on Manson and his followers but the one that had the biggest impact on me was one called Charles Manson: Then and Now which I bought on VHS in 1992. I’ve transferred it to YouTube and it can be found here. Note the presentation- an audio track that is so high that its distorted, references to Manson’s influence on exploitation/drive-in films and alternative music (note the picture of Genesis P Orridge from his/her Throbbing Gristle days), sinister horror film incidental music. This is the stuff of mondo culture and I lapped it up as a teen and continue to.
After devouring this documentary I also picked up a copy of the excellent book Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi who was the prosecutor at the Manson trial. Thorough, exhaustive and amazingly researched. Also worth investigating is the book The Family by Ed Sanders (lead singer of the Fugs).
On a lighter note, a book that I picked up much later was this- yes, Columbo takes on the Manson Family. I’m still waiting for the Dirty Harry-Son of Sam crossover novel but it hasn’t materialised yet.
Whilst there were many Manson inspired B- movies that were hurriedly made around the time of Manson’s trial (documented well in the above linked documentary), the best film is Helter Skelter which is more a biopic of Manson and his Family’s life. This was actually a TV movie back in the day and earned massive ratings as viewers couldn’t wait to watch the grisly events unfurl. And the Moral Minority still take the moral high ground and get all Mary Whitehouse about such productions even though they are massively popular.
Helter Skelter is available on DVD and well worth obtaining. It stars Steve Railsbeck who was in Turkey Shoot. If this doesn’t act as a high enough recommendation then I don’t know what will. He is Charles Manson.
Manson also cast a shadow over the work of John Waters which I started watching when I was 13. In the film Multiple Maniacs, Lady Divine holds Mr David in check by continually reminding about that night in the Hollywood Hills and the people they supposedly killed- a reference to the Tate-LaBianca murders that at that time hadn’t been solved or attributed to Manson yet. Waters would later attend the Manson trials.
Also in the film Pink Flamingos Divine walks past a wall that is spraypainted with the moniker ‘Love Tex Watson xx’ Waters’ next film Female Trouble is even dedicated to Charles Watson. The story regards a criminal and eventual murderer, Dawn Davenport who equates crime with beauty and fame. She is encouraged to be even more extreme in her actions whilst keeping them in line with her beliefs after being groomed and brainwashed by Donald and Donna Dasher. This brainwashing is very reminiscent of Manson- in Female Trouble liquid eyeliner takes the place of LSD as a mind-altering lubricant for this grooming and puppetry. Also within this film there are the scenes in which Davenport disrupts court proceedings just like Manson did by screaming the word ‘Liar!’ at certain points. She also makes statements as to her own magnitude and her sense of self-worth.
But Female Trouble’s most perceptive observations are regarding fame and crime. Theres really not much difference between Elizabeth Taylor being filmed and photographed by the press in an airport terminal and Charles Manson receiving the same treatment on his way to court. Yes, Manson was responsible for the murder of several people. Some people would say Elizabeth Taylor’s later celluloid forays were the artistic equivalent.
Waters later said that he regretted his flippancy regarding Manson and his Family in his films as he got to know Leslie Van Houten who hes now friends with and believes is now ready for parole. I’ve never seen Waters more serious in his interviews except when speaking of Van Houten who he says was just a pawn in Manon’s overall scheme- a disillusioned middle class girl who wanted to rebel and came into contact with Satan himself. Shes now free from the magnetic hold of Manson but serving life in prison for her involvement whilst briefly under the influence of a master manipulator. An account of Waters’ friendship with Leslie is a chapter in Waters’ book, Role Models (an amazing book. Highly recommended).
Another aspect of Manson and his legacy that I found intriguing was his position as a countercultural icon. Once Manson’s face and crimes were well known his image would appear on all manner of merchandise to be lapped up by the darker components of the counterculture and those who wanted to stick two fingers up at authority. You’re an angry teenager who wants to shock all those around you and give Mom and Dad a coronary? Buy a Charles Manson t-shirt. This action was akin to the first London punks wearing a swastika. They might not have been Nazis but they wanted to shock and outrage. The older generation who had used the ‘I fought the war for your kind!’ line would be apoplectic with rage at a fashion accessory like a swastika armband. Job done.
But there were also those in the counterculture who looked to Charlie as some kind of religious leader just like his Family members did. A major source of his twisted philosophy were his lyrics. Yes, Charlie was a singer, musician and lyricist. His songs are actually pretty good. But I’ve never subscribed to this ‘Charles Manson, philosopher’ schtick. Hes too much of a fucking nutjob for that.
So, Charles Manson has died. The end of the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970’s. Altamont, Nixon, Vietnam…Charlie’s place in this dark period of American historical events is assured.
Please don’t take the moral high ground by suggesting that reading and watching about Manson and his dark, warped place in American history is bad. Through examination and analysis maybe there are clues to the prevention of such a bloodsoaked chain of events ever occurring again. And if there aren’t signs as to this and you’re not a moralistic twat on Facebook then you’ll realise that its still just a really interesting topic, no matter how grisly.
It seems to me that its the people who try to suppress and prevent others from investigating the darker incidents from history that have more to hide and conceal themselves. After all, Fred West’s favourite movies were exclusively made by Disney as he didn’t approve of violence in films. And we all know how fucked up he was.