Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame- Slithis (1978)

Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame- Slithis (1978)

One of the best things about Yorkshire Television, when I was growing up, was the eclectic fare that made up their schedules. At night they showed the most wonderful and unexpected films you could ever imagine. They also showed films you had never heard of before that were either unavailable on video because of some silly oversight or they were caught up in some rights limbo which denied their exposure to a wider audience.

I used to scour the TV listings and use the timer on our prehistoric video machine during the 80s to record anything on late that sounded vaguely of interest to a cult film fan like myself. And there were plenty of movies offered up that I found interesting.

One such was Slithis from 1978, a monster movie that I’m so glad I recorded.

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There’s a monster on the prowl in 1978 Venice Beach who starts by killing the dogs in the neighbourhood but then starts killing humans. But don’t worry. There’s a local journalism teacher (!) and some of the nerdiest scientists you’ve ever seen who are on the trail of the sub-aquatic being named Slithis, a product of a leak from a local nuclear plant.

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Nerd scientist

This is amazing cult film goodness. A man in a rubber suit is always better than the CGI monsters you see in modern-day horror films. I love Slithis’ look and the way that the film’s lighting and colour palette changes dramatically whenever he makes an appearance. It’s important to light your leading man in the best way possible.

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Slithis is ready for his close up…

I also love the locale of Venice Beach that was used with the settings being so beautiful and full of such eccentrics, bohemian types and winos. You get the impression that these extras were captured on film just the way they were which is fantastic. I wish I was a meths drinker in 70’s Venice when Slithis was doing the rounds. But I digress…

There are also scientist types who give you the impression that they aren’t actors at all but just knew the director and were asked to appear. Their acting is erm, raw. Think Edith Massey but rawer (and if you think that’s some kind of insult, you obviously know nothing of my cinematic preferences. It’s a compliment of the highest order. No ‘so bad it’s good’ nonsense here!)

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An interview with director Steve Traxler

I was amazed by Slithis when I first saw it and I get more and more from it with every screening. It would make a great double-bill with the equally brilliant Blood Beach. Both self-aware and brilliantly executed horror movies from the ’70s which also contain a deft sense of humour.

But as if this wasn’t enough, I then learnt that Slithis had his own fan club! Yes, you heard that right. HIS OWN FAN CLUB!!!

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I loved what I read about the publicity used regarding the release of this film. Every patron would receive a Slithis Survival Kit on the purchase of tickets to the movie. This kit (in reality a pink or yellow piece of folded cardboard) included information regarding joining the Slithis Fan Club, how patrons could help promote the notion that Slithis is, in fact, a victim (he is, after all, the product of nuclear plant leakage) rather than a foe and, most importantly, the information that if you keep the kit on your person at all times or stash it under your pillow at night then Slithis would know and won’t come to pay you a visit when he inevitably stalks your neighbourhood.

You could even send off for a Slithis 8×10, a Fan Club membership card and merch order form.

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As if that wasn’t enough, the campus screenings of the film (notice where the film played and that the film’s producers already knew the demographic who would dig Slithis the most) would involve someone wearing the actual costume from the film for the occasion.

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Here’ssss Slithis! The suit gets an airing at a screening

There’s a great press clipping of one such screening with a picture of Slithis walking alongside students from the University of Nebraska.

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This is all very William Castle (actually, Castle would have gone one further and not told anyone about the costume and had someone wearing it jump out unexpectedly at the audience towards the end of the screening) and that just makes me love the film even more.

Do you remember showmanship? Do you remember films that were, y’know, fun?!

That’s Slithis. And it’s a terrific monster movie to boot.

31 Days of Halloween- Day 31- Are You In The House Alone? (1978)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 31- Are You In The House Alone? (1978)

Gail Osborne is a 16 year old who starts dating Steve Pastorinis who goes to the same school as her. It’s also around this time that she starts to receive abusive notes stuck in the grills of her school locker and also abusive telephone calls.

For a film, let alone a TV movie to deal with an issue such as stalking in 1978 was very brave indeed as it hadn’t entered the public consciousness yet and was largely an alien concept. But Are You In The House Alone? deals with the subject very intelligently and exposes it for the vile, terrifying and horrific practice that it actually is.

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But the movie also deals with other issues such as Gail’s parents struggling with their marriage following her father losing his job. This again is dealt with brilliantly and feels integral to the plot rather than just feeling like padding to fill up the running time.

But Are You In The House Alone? also deals with rape, another taboo topic for 1978. It deals with it amazingly well with discussions regarding getting the rapist to court and obtaining a conviction against him being seen as being very difficult indeed.

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I love doing 31 Days of Halloween as it’s a great chance to revisit horror films that I have seen in the past but also to watch films that are completely new to me. Some of these I’m really glad I took the time to watch. A small minority bowl me over as they are just so powerful and brilliant. Are You In The House Alone? is one such film. When it ended I literally had to just sit and digest what I had just experienced and think about just how trailblazing the production was especially for that time and for the topics it depicted without any sugar coating or saccharine gloss.

Are You In The House Alone? is a very unsettling experience as it worms its way into your head and will stay with you long after it has finished. And it’s a rare instance of a TV movie rightly finding its way onto Blu Ray (thank you Vinegar Syndrome!)

Grade- A

31 Days of Halloween- Day 25- The Toolbox Murders (1978)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 25- The Toolbox Murders (1978)

This infamous film from 1978 starts with an anonymous man wearing a balaclava and going on a killing spree. He uses a different  tool for each murder such as an electric drill, a screwdriver and nail gun.

But then events take a bizarre twist as we get to see who the killer is and…to tell you anymore would ruin several surprises that the movie has in store. And it has plenty of surprises to shock us with!

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This film has such a notorious reputation and none so much as in Britain where it was firstly cut for its initial cinema release but then banned outright on video as it was then labelled as one of the more shocking video nasties.

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The UK video artwork

There is an authenticity to the killing spree we witness and with the film in general. The balaclava motif felt all so real as it was a staple of killers such as Ted Bundy who was prolific during this era. Also, The Yorkshire Ripper was killing women with the implements used in the film around this time which gives it an extra layer of horrific realness.

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The Ted Bundy murder kit. Notice the balaclava

Your jaw will hit the floor when you watch Cameron Mitchell’s central performance. It truly is demented genius.

I’m so glad that The Toolbox Murders is now appreciated as the fantastic piece of psychotic art that it truly is. Watch out for the 4K scan on Blu Ray. The film looks and sounds amazing and has finally gotten the treatment it so rightfully deserves.

Grade- A-

Review- The Driver (1978)

Review- The Driver (1978)

I saw this film in the best way possible back in the 80’s- on late night TV, lights dimmed with it being the last thing I watched before hitting the hay.

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Ryan O’Neal plays The Driver (no name is given for his character and this is the case for all of the lead characters), a man who is known to be the best getaway driver for any bank robbers who have the money required to hire him. Bruce Dern plays the detective who is trying to successfully arrest him. Isabelle Adjani is the leading lady billed simply as The Player.

Just as the leads have no names, their characters display a fantastic minimalism which is mesmorising to watch, especially Ryan O’Neal as the brooding, introspective lead. It’s possibly his best role along with his turn in Paper Moon. There’s also a great appearance by Ronee Blakley who of course would later appear in A Nightmare on Elm Street as the lush mother of Nancy Thompson.

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A major feature of the film is downtown LA, an eerie ghost town of neons, gorgeous architecture and brooding majesty. The allies and parking lots also feature in their dimly lit malevolence.

Another welcome addition to the film when it comes to it’s location is the inclusion of Torchy’s Bar which also features predominantly in When A Stranger Calls and 48 Hours.

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The Driver underperformed at the box office on it’s release and was almost universally panned by the critics although outside the U.S. reviews were more appreciative. When The Driver was released the film’s director Walter Hill was already working on his next film, The Warriors which garnered more positive reviews and performed better at the box office. Theres an interesting connection between the two films other than the director as well- listen to the music by Michael Small within The Driver and you’ll hear some of the creepy and unsettling psychedelic touches that Barry De Vorzon used within the soundtrack for The Warriors. Was this at Hill’s insistence for both films?

History has been very good to the film though with it now being regarded for what it is- a minimalist, urban thriller which feels in some respects like a modern version of a hard boiled crime flick from decades before. It has also gone on to influence many films in it wake such as The Terminator, Drive and Baby Driver.

The Driver is a fantastic film. When you watch it, watch it late at night.

****1/2 out of *****

Review- Despair (1978)

Review- Despair (1978)

Dirk Bogarde stars in this 1978 Fassbinder film as Hermann, a chocolate factory owner living in Berlin during the Weimar Republic who suffers from dissociation. He dreams of escape. On his travels he meets a homeless man who he thinks can imitate him in a scam. This will involve his faked murder so that he can escape his life. His wife will then receive a substantial insurance pay out because of his supposed death. In reality Hermann will vanish to Switzerland, live below the radar and start a new life. Will Hermann’s plan go without a hitch?

I love the mystery of this film. It really is a puzzle of a film and sweeps us along on it’s gorgeous journey. Twist follows turn and back again. 

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The whole cast are perfect with Dirk Bogarde being perfect as Hermann. The screenplay is brilliantly adopted from a Nabokov novel by Tom Stoppard with snappy and wicked dialogue that positively crackles.

The look of the film is muted and also beautiful because of it. It lends massively to why the film works so well as it’s visually and uniformly a treat for the eyes. Enjoy the ride which will keep you guessing until the final frame.

**** out of *****

 

 

 

 

Soundtrack of the Week- Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Soundtrack of the Week- Dawn of the Dead (1978)

A peach of a soundtrack to look at is the Trunk Record’s compilation of some of the De Wolfe library music that was used within George A Romero’s masterpiece Dawn of the Dead. The fact that Romero used muzak that would be played inside a shopping mall within a film set in a shopping mall was both genius and audacious.

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To use music that was intended as background music at best and drag it centre stage and use it within a film that would be placed under the microscope and examined closely by both critics and audiences was quite a gamble. Would the plastic music cheapen the film and dilute it’s power? Would critics and audiences alike ridicule the film because of  the music used within it?

The answer was a resounding NO! Romero’s vision was so precise, well defined and strong that the use of library music added yet another layer of meaning to the film. Hence we get the goofy genius of The Gonk by Herbert Chappell, the otherworldly and futuristic Figment by Park, the strangely introspective and minimalist Desert de Glace by Pierre Arvay and the melancholic Sun High by Simon Park all used to underscore and emphasise key scenes within the film.

Just as the tracks gave Dawn of the Dead more meaning, so the film also gave the tracks a new dimension of meaning. It was the cinematic equivalent of Andy Warhol’s silk screens of Campbell soup cans and their being analysed in art galleries after being taken out of the supermarket. Genius.

I’ve heard songs from Dawn also used in schools programmes, porno movies, episodes of The Sweeney and Prisoner Cell Block H. That’s a testament to the tracks brilliance and versatility.

This collection of these songs hangs together very well indeed and feels like revisiting old friends as Dawn replays in your head as you listen to them. Essential.

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See John Carpenter’s Halloween. Win A Toaster

See John Carpenter’s Halloween. Win A Toaster

I’m loving going through the Yorkshire Evening Post’s archives to reveal the ads used to publicise a film’s release. I fondly remember seeing these as a kid- little glimpses into a film’s grittiness and sleaziness when I was too young to actually see the film.

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Original Halloween ad for it’s Leeds screening in 1978

 

The other day I stumbled upon the original ads for one of my favourite films, Halloween.

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I also came across the original film review which was very positive (which it should have been!)

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Original Yorkshire Evening Press review of Halloween from 1978

In fact it appears that the film ran for quite a few weeks here in Leeds. The folks here have great taste!

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‘3rd Great Week!’

But I’m especially loving the fact that a competition was run in the newspaper to publicise the film. I’m just astounded that the prices couldn’t have been more topical for the film’s content- a new set of knives, an endless supply of coat hangers, driving lessons (although Michael Myers seemed to get by without these when he escaped from Smiths Grove).

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Hilarious contest. Can you complete the titles?!

31 Days of Halloween- Day 31- Dawn of the Dead (1978)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 31- Dawn of the Dead (1978)

The sequel to George A Romero’s Night of the Living Dead shows that the zombie epidemic has gotten much worse and society is on it’s knees. Two television workers plan to escape with two SWAT team members in the TV station traffic helicopter in search of…whatever they can find that’s better than their current situation.

There is so much to love about this friggin’ film. The tenement opening scene (the shoulder bite was cut by the BBFC as was the exploding head), the way the film suddenly changes course completely as the four fly off in the helicopter, the scene where they land to fill up the copter with fuel (theres the taboo of zombie kids being shot here. Theres also the amazing scene of the zombie having his head decapitated by the helicopter’s blades) and then we get to THE SHOPPING MALL!!!

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The shopping mall/man trap

The mall is one of the greatest locations ever used in a film. Imagine having this shopping centre at your personal disposal with everything inside being free and your property. I love Romero’s social commentary regarding this. The dream of consumerism quickly rings hollow as do the images being conveyed within the advertising produced before the zombie epidemic. Within the extended cut of Dawn (which is just as good, if not better than the original theatrical cut of the movie) the female character Francine is the only person who wants to leave the mall when the topic comes up of whether to move on or not. The men state that they have everything they need here and so should stay but Francine says that the mall is ‘a rut. A trap’. Ans she’s completely right.

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The four main characters

The zombies continue to come to the mall (Stephen mentions that ‘this was a big part of their lives’) which is a brilliantly wry observation by Romero. In this film the living dead have a very aesthetically pleasing blue tinge to their skin. Within the film the blood is redder than red making the film fully realise it’s comic-book vision. But it’s more than this. The film looks like a series of Pop Art paintings come to life. Andy Warhol had plenty to say about consumerism and mass production (his studio was called ‘The Factory’). It’s almost like he was art director on this opus.

But aside from all of the insights and allegories, this film is just great, great fun! The kills are innovative, disgusting and completely brilliant (Tom Savini returns to make-up and special effects duties and this film is probably the best demonstration of his work). Savini also stars as the members of a biker gang who try to take over the mall and seize it from the main four characters.

Wanna see a custard pie fight between bikers and zombies? Wanna see a zombie Hare Krishna, nurse and nun? Wanna see John Amplas (the lead from Romero’s earlier ‘Martin’) as a Pop Art Hispanic dude? It’s all in this film- and much much more.

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A zombie gets a custard pie in the kisser

I also love the character arc for Francine and the bromance between Peter and Roger.

This film has it all. Seriously.

5 out of 5 stars

Day 21- 31 Days of Halloween- Patrick (1978)

Day 21- 31 Days of Halloween- Patrick (1978)

A gorgeous slice of Ozploitation that is extremely well made, acted and written. A young man named Patrick is in a coma after killing his parents three years earlier. A new nurse named Kathie has been assigned to tend to him and they strike up a relationship through a typewriter that Patrick can telekinetically control and through the only bodily function that Patrick can control- his ability to spit (one for yes, two for no). Strange things start to happen in Kathie’s life regarding the husband shes recently separated from and the doctor shes just started seeing. Could Patrick be responsible?

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I love a movie in which the lead character is in a coma but strangely gives a great performance in that state. In fact all of the cast are great and if you’re a fan of Australian TV then you should be able to recognise most of the actors. I recognised the actors who played Captain Barton the Salvo Army man, Evelyn Randell and Irene Zervos from Prisoner Cell Block H.

The setting of the sinister hospital wouldn’t be out of place in an early Cronenberg film. The building seems to constitute another character in this film and a very foreboding one.

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This is a favourite film of Quentin Tarantino, fact fans.

4.5 out of 5

Day 19- 31 Days of Halloween- Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Day 19- 31 Days of Halloween- Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

A remake of the 1958 classic gets a 70s update.

The premise is the same but the reasons behind it are different. It seems like each incarnation of this film reflects the unrest of each society it was made in.

This film depicts the 70s swing towards pop-psychology and psychiatry that was popular at the time. The psychiatrist characters played by Leonard Nimoy and Jeff Goldbloom brilliantly convey this angle.

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But the film also shows American society and its people in disarray. Post-Watergate and post-Vietnam politics and the related disillusionment fuel the characters and general feel of this film. No one knows who to trust, what the truth is or who/what to believe in anymore.

Paranoia is also a key component in this movie. This makes the film a very intense watch and quite exhausting at times. Whilst I love this film its a movie I have to be in the mood to watch. It seems like tiny nuances and interactions that characters would normally take for granted are given thought time, credence and then magnified. An example is when Brooke Adams character is bumped into. There is then a sequence in which Adams and this character are walking away from each other down a corridor but take turns to look at each other over their shoulders.

There is also a sequence where Adams is walking around San Francisco and passes a bust city bus. Every single passenger is looking right at her. Is the camera capturing reality or the internal and paranoid thoughts of Ms Adams?

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The paranoia and suspicion escalates until we get to one of the most famous unsettling endings in movie history.

Brilliantly acted, written and directed. This really is a prime slice of time capsule filmmaking then is strangely as relevant today as it was in the 70s. This is also one of the best San Francisco movies ever made. The city looks amazing and provides a gorgeous backdrop to the film’s events. Added kudos for the mud baths locale.

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Look out for the cameo by Robert Duvall as a priest on a swing and the man-dog that suddenly appears who is a weird fusion of a banjo playing character and his dog earlier in the film.

4 out of 5.