Review- Grease (1978)

Review- Grease (1978)

Along with most other households in the UK for members of Gen X (the best generation by the way), we had the soundtrack for the film Grease. When the film was finally shown on UK TV I recorded it and watched it fat too much. It was a ‘go to film’ for a time when I was young.

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But this was stopped when I asked my brother’s new girlfriend if she liked the film and soundtrack. She frowned and said ‘It’s a bit tacky…’ This stayed with me. How could I have been into something so lacking in sophistication and tacky?! My love for Grease abruptly ended.

I found myself recently revisiting the film when it was shown on TV again. Would I cringe and snigger whilst wondering how I could have possibly have watched such rubbish as a child? No! I loved it!

For those who have been living under a rock since 1978, the film concerns the holiday romance between Danny Zuko and Australian Sandy Olsson. As Sandy finds that her family are staying on in America rather than returning to Oz she starts at Rydell High School, not knowing that Zuko attends there. She also doesn’t know that he is the leader of a greaser gang known as The T-Birds. This leads to the tough and streetwise Danny she meets rather than the sensitive and caring Danny she knew from her summer holiday. Sandy is taken under the wind of a girl gang known as The Pink Ladies led by the inimitable Rizzo.

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The true star of the show, Rizzo

I love how theres another layer to the wit within the film that completely went over my head when I was a kid. Grease is full of filthy references as the teenagers characters (most of whom look like they’re actually at least 35) are unabashedly full of hormones and lust (except the pure and virginal Sandy). And so we get fantastic ‘blink and you’ll miss them’ gags such as a car door being slammed on Danny’s erection at the drive-in after he tried to get it on with Sandy and the appearance of the cling film during the Greased Lightning sequence.

And then theres the music which is just as steeped in nostalgia and a lost era as the film’s visuals and narrative are. And just like the rest of the film, the songs are just as funny. Possibly the greatest of these is the Beauty School Dropout sequence resplendent with Frankie Avalon. Surreal, hilarious and utterly inspired.

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But there are also poignant musical moments such as Sandy singing Hopelessly Devoted To You and Rizzo’s There Are Worse Things I Could Do. This isn’t a one note movie.

Grease originally started as a stage musical on Broadway  in 1972 and was instrumental in a revival of all things 50’s Americana in the 70’s which continued with American Graffiti and Happy Days. The film imbues the same wistful nostalgia which is gleefully part fact, part fiction as times gone by normally are when viewed through rose-tinted glasses. This doesn’t matter a jot however as Grease is still a fantastic piece of escapism.

In fact, theres very little difference between this and say, John Waters’ Cry Baby which just goes to show what a fantastic era both films draw inspiration from and how close to the bone and risqué they are.

Grease has also been the subject of many different kinds of film analysis. My favourite is the one that sees it as a lesbian text with Sandy being ‘femme’ and Danny being ‘butch’.

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Butch and femme

Grease is a film that was the highest grossing of 1978, with the soundtrack being just as successful when it came to record sales. And it was utterly justified.

Watching Grease after so many years was like being visited by an old friend.

***** out of *****

Review- La Dama Rossa Uccide Sette Volte (The Red Queen Kills Seven Times) (1972)

Review- La Dama Rossa Uccide Sette Volte (The Red Queen Kills Seven Times) (1972)

Hooray for Facebook. I was browsing pages devoted to cult cinema as I’m prone to do during my downtime and I saw a post about the Giallo gem, The Red Queen Kills Seven Times and realised that I had never seen it. And lo and behold it was on YouTube in both Italian or badly dubbed English.

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This film concerns two sisters, one good, one evil. Their spacious abode has a very disturbing painting on the wall that evidently influences the black haired evil child, Evelyn to act terribly towards her blond haired more rational sister, Kitty. The artwork has a backstory- the evil Red Queen depicted in the picture was killed by her sister but the murdered then rises from the grave and becomes murderer, killing seven people linked to her death.

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Evelyn just being Evelyn
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The painting

A brilliantly funny sequence during the film’s opening credits shows that the teasing of Kitty by Evelyn continues throughout their childhood. The teasing carries on into adulthood. But during one incident Kitty accidentally kills Evelyn.

Real life seems to imitate art however when a figure dressed in a red cloak appears and starts to murder those connected to Kitty in gruesome ways. Who could this person be? Is it really Evelyn who has risen from the grave?

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This is classic Giallo with gorgeous direction, innovative and VERY gory kills and style oozing out of every frame. Listen for the fantastic cackle the Red Queen gives after each murder as she relishes her evil deeds. She reminds me of Tura Satana in Faster Pussycat Kill! Kill! who used to laugh loudly after doing something reckless and thrilling.

The film is also sleazy as hell. This is one of the things about Giallo that I love the most- the impeccable interiors, perfect hair and make-up, the gorgeous aesthetics. In short, stylisations that are in stark contrast to the messy dabblings of the main characters.

Barbara Bouchet in The Red Queen Kills Seven Times (1972)
Kitty- immaculate hair and make-up

Theres a wonderful Scooby Doo moment near the end with a mask being pulled off to reveal a true identity (not the caretaker in this instance) and massive plot points being spat out faster than a snitch giving evidence. One of the final scenes does for rats what Jaws did for sharks. It’s fantastically gross.

The use of the colour red evokes the horror masterpiece Don’t Look Now which was made the year after this film. Had Nic Roeg seen this brilliant film prior to making it?

This film is great fun. And has a soundtrack to die for (no pun intended). I look forward to buying the Arrow Blu ray.

4 stars out of 5

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 24- Horror Hospital (1973)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 24- Horror Hospital (1973)

When I saw that Robin Askwith headed the cast of this British 70’s horror flick I instantly thought of the brilliant bawdy comedies The Confessions series which he starred in and were delightfully mucky and low-brow. Perfect for the era. If Mr Askwith could prove a huge hit with the sexploitation brigade surely he could score big when it came to another low brow form of entertainment, the horror film.

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Horror Hospital and The Corpse Grinders- what a double bill!

Here he plays Jason Jones who works in the music industry but after his manager rips off one of his songs he decides to escape via a company offering getaway breaks (‘Hairy Holidays’!) and heads away from London and the music scene. He meets a girl on a train and they get on handsomely. She is even going to the same ‘health farm’ that he is headed to.

And so the adventure begins. Even the ticket collector at the station they arrive at is like someone from a Hammer horror film. However, this holiday destination is actually a hospital in which the residents are wayward hippies and permissive types who are then lobotomised.

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The resulting adventure is part horror film, part groovy campathon which it accomplishes with relish. There is a cast of various oddball supporting characters that are just as entertaining as the main players and there are great touches such as the car fitted with a huge knife that shoots out to behead anyone brave enough to try and escape.

This film captures a great time in British film when films were made for the young with their content being just as boundary transgressing as the youth of the day themselves. Hence genres such as bawdy, racy comedies and bloody (but humorous) horror was the order of the day. A golden era.

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As lurid as the paisley underpants Askwith wore in the Confessions movies.

***and a half out of *****

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 21- The House With Laughing Windows (1976)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 21- The House With Laughing Windows (1976)

A young man who can restore frescos (ancient works of art) arrives to restore one such artwork but finds events within the remote town to be far from normal. Indeed, they are downright bizarre. Does the fresco hold any clues? Does it depict what people have been led to believe it shows? Will the events directly affect Stefano?

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This Italian film is one hell of a gorgeous (and VERY disturbing) journey. Not only do we get the backstory of the artist who first painted the fresco but also the freaky events that are happening in the Valli di Commacchio area that the action takes place in. 

With all the best of Italian horror/gialli, it also makes you want to go to Italy and experience such a seemingly fantastic and aesthetically pleasing way of life. The photography is magnificent. I’d love to see this film on the big screen. 

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The locales are sumptuous, the characters are left field to the max (at times I kept think of the films of Jodorowsky) which all adds to the overall vision and atmosphere of this gorgeous film.

I’d love to speak about the conclusion of the film but that would massively spoil the entire film for those of you who haven’t been lucky enough to see it yet. Also, if I tried to write down what happens you probably wouldn’t believe me. Just to say- it’s surreal, can’t be predicted and gets under your skin and inside your head and remains there long after the actual film has ended. Fantastic.

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****and a half out of *****

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 16- House of Whipcord (1974)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 16- House of Whipcord (1974)

It’s 1974. A French starlet who isn’t averse to modelling with no clothes on is seduced by an enigmatic young man who asks to take her home to meet his parents. However, his home appears to be some kind of old institution like a long forgotten prison. And this is exactly what it is. His mother is the sadistic Governor of her own prison where her son takes flagrant examples of the new ‘permissive’ society so that they can be punished and even executed because of their lax ways.

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This is Within These Walls on steroids. I love the fact that there is a notice at the start of the film that reads “This film is dedicated to those who are disturbed by today’s lax moral codes and who eagerly await the return of corporal and capital punishment.” This is obviously a film that is parodying and sticking up two fingers to the puritanical types who didn’t like that the society of the time was becoming more permissive and free, the ‘Bring Back Hanging’ brigade. Britain was moving away from it’s more conservative ways and some weren’t happy about this as they flocked to fill the letters pages of every national newspaper. Precedents were falling and were set to fall even further as during the 70’s. One prime example of this movement that directly affected film was Mary Whitehouse and her Caravan of Light both of which would try to get exploitation films like House of Whipcord banned. Whitehouse was massively active during the Video Nasties furore that would occur during the next decade.

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But within the film’s duration there are currents of dissent as prisoners held at the institution secretly plan to overthrow the evil wardens and hopefully escape this kangeroo prison. This film adheres to but also subverts the conventions of prison genres but especially the ‘women in prison’ genre and only excludes lesbianism which maybe for the time in Britain would have been a step too far for that still conservative time. Had it have been included then the film may have fallen foul of the BBFC. The theme of an uprising is one of the prime tropes of this genre and I love that this was so brilliantly depicted. But I also love the result of this which ironically delivers back to the prison the woman who had successfully escaped.

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Special mentions go out to Barbara Markham as the deranged Governor and Sheila Keith as one of the sadistic wardens. House of Whipcord was called Flagellations abroad. Quite. 

Another Pete Walker masterpiece. Now, can we have a Blu Ray boxset of his back catalogue please?

****and a half out of *****

 

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 4- Abby (1974)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 4- Abby (1974)

A Blaxploitation Exorcist rip-off.

A pastor goes to Nigeria and accidentally unleashes an ancient malevolent spirit. Oops. His daughter-in-law back in America then starts to change from being a God-fearing, wholesome wife to becoming a possessed randy harlot. 

This film is such good fun. The pastor is played by William Marshall who was already known to Blaxploitation audiences as Blacula. Austin Stoker also stars who would later feature in John Carpenter’s masterpiece Assault on Precinct 13 a couple of years later. But it’s Carol Speed as Abby who steals the show. She seems to truly relish her role and brings some much needed spice and vigour to it.

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There’s groovy interiors, snappy dialogue and effects that look cheap and nasty even by Exorcist rip-off standards. In fact they make Beyond The Door’s FX look highly innovative by comparison. But that’s all part of the fun.

I love the fact that the exorcism at the film’s conclusion takes place in a downtown bar.

This film made loads of money at the box office but was abruptly taken out of circulation when Warner Bros. issued a lawsuit as they stated that the film ripped-off The Exorcist a bit too much. Abby’s director William Girdler never denied this. The only existing prints are in very bad condition and it’s rumoured that a decent print hasn’t surfaced yet as possibly the lawsuit is still in place which prevents a decent DVD/Blu ray release. It’s also rumoured that the lawsuit also involved all copies of the print to be confiscated by Warner Bros. so that they could destroy it.

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I hope this isn’t true. I’d love this film to be released after being restored. In fact, I’d love a Blu ray box set containing all of Girdler’s films. He deserves to be recognised as one of the leading auteurs of brilliant exploitation films. 

*** and a half

Poster of the Week- Freaky Friday (1976)

Poster of the Week- Freaky Friday (1976)

This week’s Poster of the Week is one that is framed and adorns one of the walls in my flat! It’s artist Brian Bysouth’s extraordinary poster for the 1976 ‘body switch’ comedy Freaky Friday.

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The attention to detail is amazing with several scenes and characters from the film being depicted and drawn so well!

I’m so glad that a film that is now seen as a family viewing classic that effortlessly captured the goofy 70’s zeitgeist of it’s time should have a poster drawn with such love and imagination by an artist such as Bysouth. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if I saw this artwork outside a cinema back then and didn’t know anything about the film, I’d instantly venture inside to investigate further which is one of the effects of great film artwork.

To see portions of the poster in more detail please head on over to the excellent Film On Paper website.

It’s almost as if a great film inspires other great artwork for it’s advertising. Check out the German and American posters for the same film.

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How Freaky Friday was advertised in Germany…

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…and America

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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Poster of the Week- Carrie (1976)

Poster of the Week- Carrie (1976)

 

New feature! Every week I’ll be presenting one of my favourite film posters. I actually think of film art as art in it’s own right. I’m sure visitors to this website feel the same way.

This first poster is the iconic UK poster for Brian De Palma’s classic horror movie Carrie from 1976.

The UK quad poster was actually censored as it was felt that the shot of Carrie covered in pigs blood would be too graphic for the general public of the day. And hence why said pic of her was actually presented in negative.

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The uncensored poster resplendent with the original pic is shown below.

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But there was another poster that was made depicting a note from Carrie that warned people who had seen the film from warning their friends about some of the scares the film held so that the film wouldn’t be ruined by word of mouth.

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An iconic film with iconic imagery, Carrie is a classic on every level imaginable.

Top 10 Fan Made Movie Posters

Top 10 Fan Made Movie Posters

On my search for movie posters on the internet for my articles I come across a massive amount of fan made movie posters. Correction- I come across a massive amount of really good fan made movie posters. Heres a collection of the best I’ve seen so far (this could change as I stumble across more…)

And so, in ascending order…

No. 10- Captain America: The First Avenger

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Such a classic American hero gets a classical poster concept.

The Art Deco framing and reimagining for Cap works brilliantly well here as the lines synonymous with this genre also emphasise movement, action and speed.

The red, white and blue of Cap’s costume works really well against the monotone of the background’s gun metal grey.

No. 9- Friday the 13th Part 3

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How do you even think about reimagining a horror villain as well known as Jason Voorhees? Like this. Take only single colours (the blue background, the green of Jason, the red lettering that looks it has been written in blood- very Manson Family) and make the image as iconic as possible to reflect the film and central figure.

This is further demonstrated when you realise that it was this Friday instalment that introduced Jason’s hockey mask to proceedings (R.I.P. Shelley). This image further emphasises the iconic dimension to this.

The red and green also remind me of the red and green stripes of Jason’s sparring partner, Freddy Krueger. A nice touch. Red and green are also the colours used for 3D- which this film was shot in. Another nice touch.

No. 8- The King of Comedy

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Sometimes simple is best. This poster is minimalism used to brilliant effect. The painting of Pupkin is gorgeous. And that’s all thats needed.

No. 7- Double-Bill – The Birds and Up

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A fan made poster for an inspired double-bill coupled with absolutely gorgeous artwork. The colour of Up, the Gothic darkness of The Birds. The juxtaposition works beautifully.

The typography and aged look to the artwork works amazingly well also. I’d pay to go and see this double-bill anyway, but this poster would make me go and see both of these films even if I hadn’t heard of them.

No.6- Drive

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I’m loving that this artist has used Gosling’s stuntman mask and brought it to the fore for this poster. I’m also loving that he/she has referenced the iconic poster artwork and bald head motif from Dawn of the Dead resplendent with blood splatter.

I noticed the gore/slasher elements of Drive when I first saw it. It appears I wasn’t the only one. Bonus points for the weathered/vintage look to the poster.

No.5- Dr. No

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A sign of a great fan poster- it fools you into thinking that it was possibly conceived and conceptualised at the time of the film’s release but not used by the studio.

This is what has happened here- the artist has utilised the same style of artwork used at the time, assimilated it and come up with something just as brilliant but completely original.

You can tell that the artist knows this film and the series it belongs within inside out.

No.4- Jaws

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There are so much Jaws fan posters on the internet and there are so many that are utterly brilliant.

This entry wins out as it terrifies me. Freud would have a field day with this. The enormity of the shark, the unsuspecting woman who is oblivious to her fate, the black water the shark is lurching up from. The sea could be the psyche, the shark our deepest fears that are waiting to attack and consume us whole. But that would be a Tarkovsky film and not the Spielberg classic we all know and love.

This poster still gives me shivers as I’m looking at it whilst typing this entry.

No.3- A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2- Freddy’s Revenge

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Such a simple premise that no-one else thought to do it! The gay subtext of Freddy’s Revenge is brought to life and placed centre stage on this poster. Thankfully it’s done by someone who is extremely talented and brilliantly gifted.

There was even a ‘Drag pre-show’ before this screening and a discussion about ‘queerness in the horror film’ after it.

This film has become a gay classic as well as newly reappraised by the horror community. It may not have been the sequel to the first that fans wanted but this curve-ball of a film has rightfully now been taken to horrorhound’s black little hearts.

No.2- The Shining

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This fan poster is stunning. All the disturbing aspects of the film, all of the disturbing scenarios of the film and the utterly disturbing transformed persona of Jack Torrence are  all upclose and personal on this artwork. And the choice of style for this poster is perfect for this with each brushstroke evoking so much.

When I marvel at this poster I think of the brilliance of artists such as Lucien Freud and Jenny Saville. Really. It’s that good!

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‘Stare’ by Jenny Saville

No.1- The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

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Well, where do I even begin with this beauty?!

My eyes almost popped out of their sockets when I saw this for the first time. Quite possibly, one of the best movie posters (fan-made or official) I’ve ever seen. And loads to discuss.

When I saw this I instantly thought of the Disco-era of the 1970’s whereby a disco dancers moves would be collected together in one picture, the same figure side by side, showcasing the very best of their dancefloor poses.  I then remembered that was in fact a picture like this that was used to publicise Saturday Night Fever with John Travolta as Tony Monero being captured in various poses of disco brilliance.

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Five moves of Travolta, referenced in the TCM poster with five moves of Leatherface

Theres also a similar collection of poses of Juliet Mills from the horror masterpiece Beyond The Door that was used in the film and as a still.

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The colours on this TCM poster also compounded this Disco 70’s feel as well as the colours also echo the lit up coloured squares on the dancefloors of the era. This is a culture clash that has something in common- TCM came out at the same time as Disco was starting to take off and just two years before Travolta shook his groove thing and became a household name.

The rainbow colours also act as a signifier of the rainbow flag of the LGBT community. I don’t think Leatherface has ever been recognised as an icon of the trans movement even though he is biologically male but loves to apply make-up…to masks made of his victim’s skin. It’s unconfirmed where Travolta stands when it comes to all things LGBT.