Pamela Voorhees, The Pregnant Man and The Deep Fried Rat: The Pre-Video Years of a Cult Movie Loving Crackpot

Pamela Voorhees, The Pregnant Man and The Deep Fried Rat: The Pre-Video Years of a Cult Movie Loving Crackpot

I often think about my love of cinema, where it began and the influences on it, both film-based and what was going on around me.

I was born in February 1975. My arrival into the world coincides with the day on which Stephen Murphy the BBFC’s secretary first saw a new independent film called The Texas Chain Saw Massacre with a view to providing a certificate for it. It feels apt that my birth coincided with an event connected to such a sordid masterpiece which remains one of my favourite films to this day.

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On hearing of a new arrival into the world most people want to hear information that I’ve always thought was a bit random and really boring. Who gives a flying fuck about a baby’s weight? I want to know what was showing at the local cinema.

Thankfully the information I was looking for regarding my own arrival onto this planet was awaiting me in the Central Library in York amongst the archived local newspapers on microfilm.

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Film listings for a new future cineaste/exploitation film fan

I’m thrilled to report that when I was born the films being shown were veryyy me! And before you ask, one of them wasn’t The Omen.

There was either the Safari suited, high camp antics of eye-brow raising Roger Moore as 1970’s James Bond in The Man With The Golden Gun or a sex comedy double-bill consisting of Line Up and Lay Down (!) and Nurses on the Job (!!) Both choices I’m more than happy with.

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Safari-suit Bond- the pinnacle of camp
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A sex comedy double-bill. Another pinnacle of camp. Perfect cinematic choices for my birth.

The cinema these masterpieces were being shown was the Odeon Cinema in Blossom Street in York which remains my favourite cinema of all of the movie houses I’ve been to.

The Odeon was opened on 1st February, 1937. You can see how much of an exquisite building it was by it’s very architecture. A gorgeous building by any standards with it’s distinctive Art Deco form and shape, this was seen on it’s construction as an outstanding addition to the Odeon family.

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The Odeon in the late 80’s

The Odeon is situated on one of the main streets in and out of the city and more importantly, it’s on the route that my father would use when driving us home after going to the city centre. I remember driving past this cinema even before I was old enough to start frequenting the place with my family. Driving by I’d see the garish, alluring and beguiling posters outside. Just the posters alone had the power to scare the fuck out of me as a child with the colourful and nightmarish artwork for horror films leaving the deepest imprints in my young and very furtile psyche. It was just one glance of the poster for the double bill of The Incredible Melting Man and U.S. TV movie The Savage Bees that prevented me from sleeping for several nights in a row.

I also distinctly remember seeing the poster for The Fog in 1980 (I must have been five years old) and that really freaking me out. Again, sleepless nights followed.

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One of the other things I loved about cinemas in those days was that they didn’t just have amazing posters for the films they were showing but also lobby cards which showed key scenes of the films being shown within. Lobby cards seem to have died a death these days but I always loved them especially when they were for the horror fare of the day. If a poster could invoke fear in me then going up close and peering at some of the horrific and disturbing scenes that took place within these cinematic shockers was also an amazing experience for an over imaginative small child.

One of my earliest memories is of my 5 year old self running to where the posters and lobby cards were outside The Odeon to gaze for the longest time at the artwork for a new film that had just started to play there. That film was called Friday the 13th and it was again, 1980. The lobby cards prompted many questions. Who was the kindly old woman enveloped in the misty woodland? Was the killer a dab hand at archery? Hadn’t the girl in the canoe seen Joe Dante’s Piranha?! I’d never dip my hand so casually in a lake like that…So many thoughts ran through my fevered little brain.

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Friday the 13th Lobby Cards. I pored over these for the longest time trying to figure out what they portrayed in the actual film

There was actually a Kentucky Fried Chicken opposite The Odeon and so because of this proximity a unique urban legend came into being. Even though it’s a slight variation on an already well known yarn, the people of York insist that this actually happened. Some say they even know the people involved. It goes like this-

A young couple decide to go to collect KFC and then dash into The Odeon opposite with their greasy meal. The film they are going to see has already started and so they order their food, pay and rush into the cinema to buy their tickets and find their seats. They do this and find that the house lights have already gone down and the place is packed. They somehow manage to find two seats together in the rammed auditorium and start to chow down on their KFC. Because the film has already started the couple can’t see what they are eating and just tuck in regardless. The young woman notices that what she thinks should be a piece of chicken tastes funny. It also doesn’t feel like a leg or breast. Sure, it’s coated in the Colonel’s secret coating but chicken it must definitely aint. With her eyes now started to get used to the darkness of the cinema she sees that in fact what shes been tucking into looks very strange indeed. She decides to take some of the coating off with her fingers and is horrified to see what is concealed underneath- and of which she still has a piece of in her mouth. She has been eating a deep fried rat! She screams, her male companion screams, the audience screams.

The ‘deep friend rat’ is an urban legend that is well-told the world over and can be applied to any fast-food joint but seems to be specific to KFC (much to their chigrin). There was even a case recently whereby someone posted the same story as fact, even with pictures as evidence. But when asked by KFC’s management for further evidence or closer investigation, the story’s perpetrator seemed backwards in coming forward with further details. Social media, the internet and emails are perfect for the further advancement of urban legends in the cyber age.

But I digress. Most of my trips to the cinema during my childhood and teen years were to The Odeon. I loved seeing films in such a venue that was steeped in history and gorgeous to boot. I could almost feel the history of the place as people who had been lucky enough to see some of my favourite films (and that I would have been too young to see at the time of their release) would have delighted in the magic of seeing such cinematic masterpieces as Taxi Driver, Jaws and The Exorcist (fast forward and this would change with The Exorcist as there was a one-off screening and on my 18th birthday (of all days!) It was almost like it was scheduled especially for me! And so in February 1993, even though it had snowed, my friends and I went out on the town and then went to see the film with a packed house (the film was still banned on video in the UK at that time). Whilst the print was in appalling condition and most probably one of the same prints used on the film’s original release in 1974, it had lost none of it’s power. I’ll never forget leaving the cinema, bidding my friends farewell and precariously going to find a taxi whilst wading through snow and trying not to break my neck whilst walking like Bambi over the ice underfoot. Oh, and I remember being really fucking scared because of the film!

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In these innocent days of my early childhood a couple of Odeon visits really stick out in my mind for some reason. I think it’s because these films were perfect for kids- even kids who would have no chance of getting into screenings of the horror and exploitation films he’d preferred to have been watching even at a very early age.

One screening I went to when I was 5 years old was for Robert Altman’s Popeye and I absolutely loved it! The perfect casting, the set designs, the songs- the cartoon series I loved so much was effortlessly and almost eerily brought to life.

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Another cinematic excursion to the Odeon that I look back on with real fondness was a double bill of a pre-Terminator Arnie and Kirk Douglas in the zany Cactus Jack and the live action kitsch fest Spiderman and the Dragon’s Challenge. This was originally a two-part television special made for American T.V. but was spliced together to make a feature film to be shown theatrically outside the U.S. Hence, how I had the good fortune to be watching it. Spidey was played by Nicholas Hammond, one of the Von Trapp brats from The Sound of Music. The film was so bright and colourful that it was akin to a Pop-Art Warhol print come to life. I seem to remember that Spidey’s webs looked like white rope. Myself and all lovers of cinematic cult fare need this film and the films that preceded it (Spiderman and Spiderman Strikes Back) to be released on Blu ray tout suite.

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It was at The Odeon that not only did I fall in love with film as a medium but also the sense of occasion involved in going to see a film. There was the excitement of the snacks on offer, the stench of popcorn meaning only one thing. It was also the trailers for the upcoming films and then the Pearl and Dean advertising for products such as Fry’s Turkish Delight, Westlers hotdogs and Red Mountain coffee. Then it was the wonderfully kitsch and camp ads for local businesses in York such as Indian restaurants and local pubs/nightclubs. The glittering world of York’s nightlife! It seemed so sophisticated. Theres a great sample of similar cinema advertising here. And here is a cinema advert shown locally in the 60’s in Plymouth advertising the local nightspots. It has to be seen to be believed! It’s all about the camp bleach blonde bartender. Something tells me he might be a Friend of Dorothy.

But there was also another cinema in York in those days that I also went to. The ABC cinema was right in the city centre on a street called Piccadilly and whilst it didn’t have the history, grandeur or sense of occasion that The Odeon had, I also went there and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

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One of my earliest cinema going experiences here involved my father taking me and my two older brothers to go and see the newly released Superman 2 (which I didn’t like as to my 6 year old eyes the film was too violent- how things would change when it came to my tastes in cinema!) and way too loud. But other than those reservations, I had a great time. My Dad then took us to see executed highwayman Dick Turpin’s grave which is nearby. All in all, a great day.

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For more on the curious case of the burial of Dick Turpin, click here. It’s just one more story from the blood-soaked history of York.

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Another major source for my burgeoning passion in film was, of course, the television. Whilst I couldn’t get in to see the X certificate films at my local cinemas, there were no restrictions to me seeing any of the films shown on TV, whether they were intended for children or not. Hooray for lax parenting!

I remember vividly the first ever screening of Jaws on UK TV. According to the internet this took place on 8th of October 1981 which means that I was 6 years old when I saw it (it was actually certificated A when it was originally released in 1975 meaning that it wasn’t suitable for children under 11. This was changed to a PG years later, but recently was controversially upgraded to 12A as it was felt that PG was too lenient. Which, I suppose, is a testament to the brilliance of the film). This was a HUGE event and garnered mammoth ratings with 23.25 million viewers tuning in, one of the biggest ratings ever for a film shown on TV.

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I also remember similarly huge ratings for the first time Superman: The Movie was shown on UK TV. This was also a pivotal event for not just myself but for most of the population.

Thankfully when I was growing up my father didn’t believe the theory that children watching late night movies that might be violent or disturbing in some way could negatively affect a child and so I was allowed to stay up late and watch the likes of Carrie, The Omen and Dirty Harry when they were shown. I realised that most of my school friends didn’t have parents who were this liberal or maybe just didn’t give a shit as I’d say to them ‘Did you see (insert name of some film usually with an X certificate) last night?!’ to be met with blank stares or a slow, jealous shake of the head.

Not everything that influenced me in those days was film based but still fed into my love of cult cinema and all things fucked up. I was and still am an avid reader. Sometimes I sped through books so fast that my father used to take me to the library more than once a day (really!). It was here that I came across a book that was perfect for a young freak with a taste for the macabre.

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Usborne’s Guide to the Supernatural World was a compendium made up of three earlier titles (Vampires, Werewolves and Demons, Haunted Houses, Ghosts and Spectres and Mysterious Powers and Strange Forces) and was pretty much a bible for me from that moment on. It’s one of my favourite books and I still dip into it for pleasure and for life-affirmation purposes.

My knowledge of everything supernatural was expanded immeasurably with this tome as my eyes pored over the gaudy illustrations whilst taking in every detail of the text.

Usborne have just reissued another of their titles, The World of the Unknown: Ghosts which was just as influential in the late 70’s (see- there were other young weirdos just like me!). Let’s hope they see fit to reissue Supernatural World too. Copies are selling for a fortune on the internet. We need a reprint and pronto. It would sell just as well as Ghosts.

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But there was something a lot closer to home and all too real that provided a macabre backdrop to my earliest years. The county that I grew up in had it’s own serial killer that was at large with his earliest noted murder (but it’s rumoured that he killed earlier and more than has been publicly recorded) being in the year of my birth and not ending until his capture in 1981. Peter William Sutcliffe aka The Yorkshire Ripper murdered women who were out alone at night. One of my earliest memories was of watching the local news programme Calendar which was presented by Richard Whiteley (later the presenter of student and old person favourite Countdown) who was normally a jolly and happy kind of fellow. I knew something was wrong as on this occasion he wasn’t smiling or jolly but had a grave expression on his face as he stood in front of a board that had numerous women’s faces on it. He explained that yet another women had been added to the list of those poor women who found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. This victim was Jacqueline Hill, a Leeds student who was walking from where her bus had dropped her to her student lodgings (a matter of a few yards) but instead met her ghoulish fate.

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Because of the Ripper life had to be changed massively. There was an unofficial curfew for women and a feeling of omnipresent dread in the air until his capture. When I grew older and started going out as a teenager I’d always accompany female friends home and make sure they were inside and safe until I left. I never thought why I did this until much later- it had been because I has grown up in the era of the Ripper. It’s strange how life comes full circle. I’m now writing this in Chapeltown in my flat. This area of Leeds was a major hunting ground for Sutcliffe. The murder scenes for at least 4 of his victims are within walking distance of here.

This sense of dread was also all around us in other ways in the late 70’s/early 80’s. This was in the form of Public Information Films which were short adverts made by the government which warned the general population of the dangers of any number of potentially lethal activities as varied as mixing different types of tyre on your car, letting your child talk to strangers, putting down a rug on a freshly polished wooden floor…you name it. My favourite was The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water which was voiced by Donald Pleasance and warned of the dangers of children playing near rivers and lakes and what could happen.

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This PIF scared the shit out of me and reminded me of another childhood source of sleepless nights, a paperback of The Lord of the Rings that was knocking around our house resplendent with becloaked soldiers riding nightmarish horses each with glowing red eyes.

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I loved the Public Information Films that were specific to Bonfire Night with the dangers of playing with fireworks being another source of trauma for children up and down the country.

Missives from on high of how to prevent catastrophe in your life weren’t just made for the TV screen either. There were plenty of leaflets, posters and literature around at this time that could educate the populace of how to avoid potential disaster.

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There was plenty of imagery that I found so attractive as it would appeal to any fan of cult cinema and particularly the horror/slasher genre. The threat of some crime being committed to either you or your property was very real with an unspecified shadowy figure (the best example being depicted in the ‘Watch out! There’s a thief about’ campaign) seen approaching (a great example of this was the two black boots walking on breaking ice in the excellent ‘Neighbourly Nell’ Public Information Film) or running away.

One poster that I used to see on the wall in doctor’s surgeries, chemists and libraries was the design classic of The Pregnant Man.

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Another moral panic that I remember vividly from my early childhood concerned the dangers of rabies entering the UK. Cue distressing images of rabid animals attacking children and humans frothing at the mouth due to the disease. And this wasn’t just in print.

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And then there was Protect and Survive. This was a campaign regarding what to do if there was a nuclear holocaust. This booklet would be sent to every household if the button had been pushed and certain psychopathic world leaders wanted the ultimate in narcissistic supply. Details on how we were all to hole up in our self-made bomb shelters with only our loved ones and tinned food for company were outlined. There were even details on what to do if someone in your enclosure had passed away and how their body could be disposed of.

And here, for your perverse pleasure, is the full booklet. I’m sure in these times of lockdowns and Coronavirus we can pick up some worthwhile and strangely relevant tips.

The threat of nuclear war was everywhere in the late 70’s and 80’s. To quote those purveyors of style and hair dye Duran Duran from their number 1 single Is There Something I Should Know, ‘You’re about as easy as a nuclear war.’ Just one push of a button and we would be pushed into a dystopic netherworld.

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There was even a drama, Threads made about what that post-nuclear holocaust would look like. It wasn’t pretty and remains a powerful, brilliant and extremely difficult to watch masterpiece. I recommend you to find it but proceed with caution.

But back to film. Another rich source of cult film goodness was to be found in our local newspaper, of all places. Film adverts were placed in here by the local cinemas that showed artwork (sometimes different from the posters) that was, in the case of horror and cult films, lurid in nature and again, utterly alluring to me.

As it would happen, other cult movie fans were indulging in the same pleasures with the excellent book Ad Nauseam being released not so long ago- a compendium of newspaper ads advertising the kind of movies I relished seeking out the ads for.

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Just as there were newspaper print ads, there were also TV adverts for upcoming and films that were currently playing. Some of these were just as disturbing as the films themselves. I remember seeing a TV spot for The Shining that was possibly the scariest thing I had ever experienced up until that point. On seeing it again, I still feel the same. It’s a terrifying experience.

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Whilst all of this quenched my growing passion for cinema and particularly cult cinema, there was an upcoming innovation that would change everything! That was, of course, VIDEO! And such a momentous event deserves a blog entry all of it’s own…

Cinema Wishlist- Films I’d Love To See on the Big Screen

Cinema Wishlist- Films I’d Love To See on the Big Screen

I have an ever-changing mental list of films that I’d most like to see on the big screen. A few entries on this list I’ve been lucky enough to actually see in a cinema such as Halloween 3: Season of the Witch, Cruising, The Hills Have Eyes (the masterpiece original, not the remake shitfest), Mommie Dearest, Friday the 13th Part 3 and YES! it was in 3D, Last House on the Left… The film that was at the top of my list (Female Trouble) is about to be ticked off when I go to see the film at my local cinema tonight.

This has made me rethink and rejig my Cinema Wishlist. And here, for your enjoyment, it is…

1. Supergirl (1984)

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The film I probably rented the most on VHS back in the 80’s when I was a kid. The Superman franchise takes an unexpected turn with this tale of his female cousin, Kara who lives on Argo City (a huge piece of Krypton which survived after it’s explosion) who has accidentally lost the omegahedron (an artefact that gives the owner huge power and could be lethal in the wrong hands). And so we see Kara come to Earth in search of it and become Supergirl in the process.

The special effects haven’t dated very well but who cares? Everything that makes Supergirl such a treat is in place- great dialogue, an all-star cast (including Simon Ward, Peter O’Toole, Brenda Vaccaro, Mia Farrow, Peter Cook…) and great cinematography and locations which really establish the feeling of small town America so lovingly.

But the jewel of this crown is that Faye Dunaway plays Selina the self-styled white witch who has come into possession of the omegahedron. FAYE FUCKING DUNAWAY!!! I think of La Dunaway’s filmography as being split into two very distinct categories- the critically acclaimed movies that are examples of brilliant cinema that she has acted in and greatly contributed to (examples of this include Chinatown, Network, Bonnie and Clyde) and then the other category in which Ms Dunaway stars in films that are some of the greatest examples of cult cinema in which she hasn’t just contributed greatly but stolen the show by being larger than life, going batshit crazy in her role when she needs to and not just going the extra mile but the extra five miles. Examples include such brilliance as Mommie Dearest, The Eyes of Laura Mars and The Wicked Lady. Guess which category Supergirl is in?

Supergirl is the rarest of things- intentional camp which works really well. Mostly in cult cinema terms when a big budget film becomes defined as camp it’s in fact strayed off-course and found itself being an uneditable mess and utterly terrible to boot. Cinema goers may appraise it as ‘so bad it’s good’ as camp wasn’t intentionally sought as a tone but camp is what the filmmaker got, whether they like it or not!

But in Supergirl the entire cast knew right from the get go that this film was supposed to be camp and boy, do they go for it! And most importantly- they succeed.

Also, Selina’s character has her own fantastic environ set piece which is an abandoned fairground which looks very sinister but also a pretty cool place to reside.

The dialogue is a knockout. It wouldn’t surprise me if John Waters penned the screenplay under a pseudonym. There is some real comedy gold in this film. One example- when Selina reminds her sidekick played by Brenda Varraco that she’d be nothing in the dark arts without her, she remarks ‘If it wasn’t for me you’d still be reading tealeaves in Tahoe!’

2. Walkabout (1971)

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A film that is contained in one of my favourite film books of all time ‘Movies of the Seventies’ by Lloyd and Robinson. A great book that provides a wide ranging overview of many different genres, it also pays particular attention to some individual films and analyses them whilst providing stills of scenes from that movie. One such film was Nicolas Roeg’s Aussie classic Walkabout. The film was shown out of the blue in the late 80’s on late night regional TV and because I had already read about in in this brilliant book I recorded it. And I’m so glad I did.

A well to do man tales his son and daughter out of school with the promise that they are going on a picnic. They drive out of Sydney and into the outback. As his kids start to prepare the picnic their father unexpectedly starts firing shots at them with a gun before setting the car on fire and turning the gun on himself.

We then see the children the next day after they have been aimlessly wondering through the barren terrain. They encounter an Aboriginal boy who decides to accompany them on their journey.

This is an amazing film with stunning photography which Nichols Roeg has spliced, manipulated and completely buggered around with to illustrate themes such as the disorientation the children are feeling and the forward and backward passing of time. We see the father’s suicide in reverse and later see a flock of birds flying backwards.

Time and the brutality of civilisation seems to be another theme that is explored within the film with the civilised youths being paired with the uncivilised Aborigine. In one scene we see hunters killing numerous animals and wildlife which really hammers home this brutal intrusion of those who are supposed to be more advanced yet aren’t.

This film was tied up in rights hell for years which prevented it’s release on home video. But the requisite number of years have passed and it was finally issued to an gobsmacked public who could finally see this classic. It’s now rightly on Criterion Blu-ray- it’s place as a bone-fide classic firmly established and recognised. Walkabout is another Roeg masterpiece.

3. King of Comedy (1982)

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Rupert Pupkin is obsessed with becoming a famous comedian and is also obsessed with the late-night talk show host Jerry Langford. And he’ll do anything to get his shot. Anything.

This 1982 Scorsese film was a first glimpse into the crazy world of fandom, celebrity obsession and follows it through to it’s darkest conclusions. This was unexplored territory at the time and so some thought of this film as overdramatised, exaggerated and how the events depicted could never happen in real life. This seems incredible now as Scorsese’s film has been shown to be, if anything, a conservative depiction os how dark this world can be.

Another criticism of The King of Comedy by critics was that it feels quite flat compared to other Scorsese films. Thats because Scorsese employs a lot of techniques and styles found in television as this is the axis of the film’s narrative rather than him utilising overelaborate cinematic techniques.

Watch out for Sandra Bernhard’s role as Masha. She almost steals the film from right under De Niro and Lewis’ noses.

Loner Pupkin has many similarities with Taxi Driver’s protagonist Travis Bickle. Both films have been referenced in the recent brilliant film, Joker. I’d love to see King of Comedy on the big screen. If a cinema programmer really wanted to go the whole hog then why not put on a King of Comedy/Taxi Driver double-bill or even a triple bill with Joker. With the latter film’s popularity at the moment, the time is right.

4. Spawn of the Slithis (1978)

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A film I caught on late-night Yorkshire TV in the 80’s. And this is why I loved growing up with the truly fucked up stuff my local television station was showing!

A monster born of nuclear waste stalks the environs of Venice, California.

Not only do we get a great low-key and little known horror movie that features a guy in a suit, we also get the local weirdos, kooks and freaks of Venice that are intertwined into the story. We also get gorgeous cinematography which gives us a flavour of how far-out 70’s bohemian Cali really was.

Roger Ebert hated this film when it was first released. If I saw this poster outside a cinema I would be first in line to watch it. The film had it’s own fan club for the eponymous monster that is the film’s star. The film was shown at various college campuses across America during it’s initial release with the actual monster suit being used so that one of the film crew could dress up as Slithis for delighted (and possibly stoned) students. You got to watch Slithis with Slithis. Now that’s genius.

5. The Tingler (1959)

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In fact I’d love to see ANY of William Castle’s masterpieces on the big screen. And yes, if possible, utilising some of the many brilliant gimmicks that Castle employed in the name of entertainment and showmanship.

The ‘tingler’ from the movie’s title is a parasite that lodges in the spine of it’s host and feeds on fear. When the host is scared, the creature makes him/her ‘tingle’.

For this opus, Castle planted electrical devices under random cinema seats in the cinemas it was showing that would vibrate at a key point in the film’s plotline. Theres a great story of John Waters as a child going to The Tingler everyday for it’s theatrical run in a Baltimore cinema, making sure he was always the first in and checking underneath each seat until he found one with the vibrating devices under it.

But the biggest shock regarding Castle’s oeuvre is that his films, even without the gimmicks, work beautifully. Watch this movie and base your judgements just on the film itself. It’s beautifully shot and is extremely aesthetically pleasing. Vincent Price is perfect casting and check out the sequence in which the seemingly black and white movie lapses into colour for one scene. It’s a joy to behold.

Castle has now been reappraised as a great American auteur rather than just a schlockmeister. This film more than amply shows why.

6. Incredible Melting Man/The Savage Bees (1977)

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My history with this film goes wayyy back! My family were driving by the Odeon cinema in York in the late 70’s and I saw the poster for this double-bill of cinematic goodness. This was enough to give me nightmares for weeks! I was only 3 years old.

I got to see both films when I was still a kid when they were shown on TV. Again, nightmares followed. I love the fact that the made for TV movie The Savage Bees was actually shown on cinema scenes in the UK (the same thing happened with Spielberg’s genius Duel which was granted a UK cinema release resplendent with added scenes).

Rick Baker’s make-up FX would have made seeing The Incredible Melting Man on the big screen an almost hallucinatory experience. The film also has a keen eye for humour (check out the severed head/waterfall scene. It’s one of the sickest and funniest in horror history) but also for pathos. Steve West is now utterly tormented by his melting condition and the film makes the audience genuinely feel for him.

I need to see this double-bill on the big screen NOW!

7. Bloodsucking Freaks (1976)

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Where do I even start with this opus. I honestly think Bloodsucking Freaks is one of the best movies ever made and there will one day be an essay written by yours truly which will give the movie it’s proper due.

Sardu’s Theatre of the Macabre hosts Grand Guignol shows in which the goriest and most violent acts are depicted. We get to sample first-hand the kind of acts that are put on. Creasy Silo (!) a theatre critic is in the audience and denounces the show as crass, tasteless rubbish much to the chigrin of Mr Sardu. But is Mr Sardu’s show fake or real? We see that he also has much bigger plans for a much more ambitious show involving Miss Natalyia, an internationally renowned ballerina.

We get to see Sardu and his faithful sidekick Ralphus as they live day to day backstage of the theatre and how they plan for their spectacular spectacle which they are sure will shock the world.

This film was never released in Britain until 2014 even though it was made in 1976. Thankfully, when the internet and Amazon became popular, horrorhounds could order the VHS/DVD from America and cross their fingers that it got through customs.

Bloodsucking Freaks captures a time in film history when exploitation was king, 42nd Street was Mecca for horror/porn/kung fu fans and when sick cinema really was sick. It’s tasteless, shocking, VERY funny and camp as tits. Whats more, you’re always routing for Sardu and Ralphus with both roles being portrayed to perfection. The dialogue crackles with the film hitting a bullseye for every target that it aims at.

One day Bloodsucking Freaks will be held aloft and given the same respect and reverance that John Waters’ early films are now being awarded. Bloodsucking Freaks on Criterion alongside Female Trouble? I don’t see why not.

8. Halloween 2 (1981)

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I’ve been lucky enough to see Halloween on the big screen ranging from an original 1978 print copy that looked appalling right through to new prints which visually and audibly are a treat to behold. I’ve been lucky enough to see Halloween 3: Season of the Witch at a small screening a few years ago and so I’d love to see 1981’s Halloween 2 in a cinema.

This sequel takes place straight after the events of the original film with Laurie Strode being taken to the local hospital only to be followed by Michael Myers who wants to try and finish her off again.

Cue some truly unsettling scenes of Myers captured on hospital CCTV, further casualties in the form of hospital staff of all stratas (Michael doesn’t discriminate) and a cracker of a chase scene when Michael finally finds Laurie. The hospital forms a really eerie backdrop for the action, theres more great cinematography from Dean Cundey who also shot the original and a brilliantly updated electronic soundtrack by John Carpenter and Alan Howarth.

In fact, instead of just seeing this on the big screen, can someone please programme a triple bill of the first three films? There would be massive demand for it. That might just make up for the awful Rob Zombie remakes/reimaginings.

9. The Cure In Orange (1987)

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I got into The Cure in 1986 when Standing on a Beach was released. It was love at first listen. The Cure in Orange was released shortly after this but alas, there were no screenings at my local cinema.

However, I bought the home video when it was released. This is quite possibly my favourite incarnation of the band playing a career encompassing setlist with the amazing architecture at the Theatre Antique d’Orange in France as a backdrop. The Cure were HUGE in France at the time and so the concert is rammed full of fans and the brilliant reaction from these fans brings out the best in the band.

Add to this the fact that the concert film was shot by the brilliant director of The Cure’s videos at this time, Tim Pope and you have a winning combination.

A few years ago Robert Smith mentioned that The Cure in Orange would be released as part of a Cure live DVD box set. This hasn’t materialised. This works to our advantage. We now live in an era of Blu ray. Any media shot on film looks especially great when released in High Definition on this format. It would be great for director Tim Pope to go back to the original film negatives and remaster them for a Blu ray release along with a Pope/Smith audio commentary and maybe a CD release also.

There have been cinema screenings of The Cure in Orange in the States. There needs to be some in Britain too.

10. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

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Roald Dahl is a legend. One of my favourite books of his when I was a kid in the 80’s was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, wherein eccentric chocolate factory owner Willy Wonka has placed six Golden Tickets in random Wonka Bars. The lucky recipient and a guest of their choice will gain access to his fantastical chocolate factory for an all-immersive guided tour. One of the lucky children to find one of these tickets is poor but kind-hearted Charlie Bucket who decides to take his grandfather.

I’m so glad that Dahl’s masterpiece of kids fiction was translated into a film that lives up to the filmic potential that the book hinted at. Before the film was made the book must have seemed virtually unfilmable as the book was so outthere but the film more than copes with the lofty imaginative standards set by the book.

The film was named Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory rather than sticking to the book’s name and it is TRIPPYYYY! The LSD soaked sensibilities of the late 60’s permeate the look, feel and visuals of the film. The film is also a musical and the songs are just as brilliant as the visuals on offer.

But these drug induced aspects of the movie don’t get in the way of the story being told. The morality of Dahl’s story regarding being a good human being rather than a spoilt brat whether these qualities manifest themselves in children or adults is still present but isn’t overly sugary or overegged.

The casting is pinpoint perfect with Wilder stealing the show as Wonka (lets not go into the disasterous turn by Johnny Depp in the terrible remake by Tim Burton).

A visual feast that entertains, tugs at the heartstrings and makes having acid flashbacks a very real possibility.

Incredible Melting Merch

Incredible Melting Merch

I love it when I find the unexpected on the internet.

Such as this merchandise that was made for the release of the brilliant horror film The Incredible Melting Man in 1977.

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Why on Earth would a film company commission a children’s costume for a film that was rated for Adults Only?! Did they know that in fact loads of kids would flock to see the film even though it was horror as long as they had a responsible (ahem) adult in tow?

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I love this merch.

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I love forward to unearthing more inappropriate but brilliant movie related goodies soon.

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Day 30- 31 Days of Halloween- The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies (1964)

Day 30- 31 Days of Halloween- The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies (1964)

Layabout crazy cat Jerry (played by the director Ray Dennis Steckler under the hilarious pseudonym Cash Flagg), his girlfriend Angela and his friend Harold go to the seaside to visit a carnival there. After getting their fortunes told they see the fortune tellers sister Carmelita who is a stripper. Jerry is seen by Angela to be staring a bit too intently at Carmelita and so leaves in a huff with Harold. With them gone Jerry decides to go and watch Carmelita’s strip show (the carnival has it’s own nightclub that holds such entertainment. The name of this establishment is, wait for it, The Hungry Mouth which rivals only The Flaming Cave Lounge from John Waters’ Female Trouble in terms of a brilliant name for an establishment of that kind).

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Jerry is then lured to Carmelita’s dressing room where he is hypnotised. This then turns Jerry into a ruthless killer of which afterwards he has no memory of. He had in fact killed two characters whilst he was in his murderous trance-like state. He also tries to throttle Angela to death the next day.

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Hypnosis!

Carmelita’s plot is then revealed. She has been throwing acid into people’s faces which turns them into zombies (!) and then keeping them captive.

But Jerry then decides to confront Carmelita as he keeps having flashbacks and knows that something isn’t quite right ever since he visited Carmelita at the carnival. This all builds to a very eventful climax.

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Carmelita uses the same foundation as Donatella Versace

This is pure Drive-In B movie goodness. Theres so much to like here. The hypnosis scenes, the hallucinatory dream sequence Jerry has, the zombies, the song and dance sequences at the nightclub (one of the girls can be seen chewing gum as she performs her dance moves. Now that’s attention to detail and classy to boot!).

The film also has a colour palate which can make your eyes water. I had several acid flashbacks whilst watching this gem.

I first found out about this film from reading the cult film bible Incredibly Strange films from Re:Search publishing at the tender age of 14. This book treats Steckler as some kind of god in much the same way more pedestrian film fans look up to John Ford. And they’re right. Steckler is an Orson Welles for the perverse.

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And John Waters is a huge fan.

4 out of 5 stars

Day 17- 31 Days of Halloween- Basket Case (1982)

Day 17- 31 Days of Halloween- Basket Case (1982)

Duane books into the sleazy flophouse Hotel Broslin with a large basket. It’s contents consist of his deformed twin brother who he used to be conjoined with. Both Duane and his twin are hellbent on enacting revenge on the surgeons who separated them against their wishes.

Basket Case will always occupy a special place in my dark little heart. When my family first bought a VCR in 1982 we rented two films. One was the cartoon of Captain America from the 60’s. This choice was intended for 8 year old me. And whilst Cap is very cool, it was the other film that intrigued me.

CAPTAIN AMERICA 1966 VHS

It was rented to be viewed by the rest of my family when I had gone to bed. It was Basket Case. The forbidden always seemed more alluring to me. And after much pouting and pleading I was allowed to watch the film. It was an amazing night of mind-expanding and gleefully deprived family viewing.

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The film hits every bullseye it aims for. Theres humour (check out feeding time for the basket’s resident), gore (each attack is bloody as hell and very inventive) and well rounded characters whether they’re the main players or the supporting cast. In fact a film could be made based on any of the film’s characters and it would rock.

Whilst the film does contain very black humour this doesn’t dilute the horror sequences which pack a real punch still. In fact, Basket Case has an air of sleaze, filth and edginess that reminds me of another masterpiece, Bloodsucking Freaks. Both films capture a time when 42nd Street and The Deuce reigned supreme. Basket Case even takes us into one of the grindhouse cinemas. We even get a cameo by Sonny Chiba!

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The big reveal

Basket Case is The Evil Dead’s low budget filmmaking genius with John Waters’ writing brilliance. I can’t think of any higher recommendation to a fellow lover of warped cinema brilliance than that.

5 out of 5 stars

Day 2- 31 Days of Halloween- The Horrifying Experiments of the SS Last Days (1977)

Day 2- 31 Days of Halloween- The Horrifying Experiments of the SS Last Days (1977)

Is this-

a) A beautifully acted, nuanced and sensitive portrayal of the horror of the Nazis and those unlucky enough to have crossed paths with them?

or b) A badly acted slice of exploitation resplendent with terrible dubbing and almost no budget?

I’ll give you a clue- look at the film’s name! This is also known as The Beast in Heat (it’s on the UK Video Nasties list under that title) and Gestapo’s Last Orgy.

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I’d love to give you a summary of the plot but I don’t want to be banned from this platform.

Be sure to run a bath before watching this. You’ll need it.

But when you know exactly what you’re letting yourself in for this movie ticks all of the depraved boxes regarding lurid and boundary pushing schlock filmmaking. Imagine watching this back in the day on 42nd Street or on VHS in the early 80’s in the UK. Your mind would have been well and truly blown.

And by a weird turn of fate it’s uncut on YouTube! Enjoy (if thats the word).

4 out of 5 stars

Review- Snapshot (1979)

Review- Snapshot (1979)

I first learnt of this film as it was called The Day After Halloween and marketed as a sequel to John Carpenter’s classic. It isn’t. But it’s still a really interesting movie.

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I came across this soundtrack whilst browsing for vinyl in the mid 90’s in London. I didn’t know of a film that had cheekily billed itself as an unofficial sequel to Halloween.

Angela (played by Prisoner Cell Block H’s brilliant Sigrid Thornton) is persuaded to ditch her low paid hairdressing job and enter the world of modelling. Nude modelling.

This could have been a generic ‘nice girl gets led astray’ film but it isn’t. Theres too many genuinely unexpected twists and turns for it to be predictable. An example- Angela is stalked throughout the film by her creepy ex-boyfriend- who just so happens to drive a pink ice-cream van!

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There’s an air of unease and menace that runs through the whole film that gives it a truly unsettling feel.

Watch out for the ending- it’s very unsettling indeed.

4 out of 5

Another Reason to Hate Millennials- The Room (2003)

Another Reason to Hate Millennials- The Room (2003)

My local cinema, The Hyde Park Picturehouse here in Leeds regularly shows cult films. I was looking forward to seeing The Room as it had regularly played at a lot of the cult film cinemas like The Prince Charles Cinema and so I thought it must be some kind of newly discovered classic.

The screening I went to was almost sold out. I noticed that the rest of the audience were at least 20 years younger than me. Millennials. Not a good sign. I wondered if they could stay off social media on their mobile phones for the duration of the movie. Or if the concession stand would double up as a safe space for the evening.

And then it started.

Lets get the film’s plot out of the way first. Man is engaged to woman. Woman finds man boring and sleeps with his best friend. Fiancee confides to her mother that she doesn’t want to marry man. Woman tells friends that hubby-to-be got drunk and beat her. This continues until the end of the film where at the man’s birthday party he finds out about the affair and later blows his brains out.

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The Room is a movie that shouldn’t be getting any attention of ANY kind. It makes your average straight to video film feel inspired. Is it a cult because of the depths the film plummets in terms of acting? Is it the wafer-thin plot that is almost non-existant? The cheap production standards? No- The Room doesn’t deserve any attention because its what a cult film should never be. Its boring.

Anyway- back to the cinema that I’m watching the movie in. The audience then starts to indulge in something that I think should be heavily penalised in a cinema. I feel like gagging just typing these two words- audience participation. This is the reason why I don’t go to see one of my favourite films, The Rocky Horror Picture Show when its showing on the big screen. Don’t get me wrong- I love the fact that a heterosexual man finds a legitimate reason to wear suspenders and heels in public rather than just in private. But when assholes in the audience start shouting lines at the screen and stand up to do dance moves so you can’t even see the friggin’ film then I start to get all punchy.

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The Rocky Horror Picture Show- one of the best films ever made. Do I wanna see fans try to outperform Tim Curry? No.

And this is what happened with The Room- attention whore audience members trying to outdo each other by shouting out lines, laughing at moments that weren’t funny either intentionally or unintentionally (not that you could tell a lot of the time as you couldn’t hear over the noise being made) and throwing plastic spoons at the screen (just don’t ask). It was all so contrived- ‘I read on Facebook that you do that kind of thing at this movie!’ Then in that case have a screening for your friends in your halls of residence TV room. Imagine the poor cinema usher having to pick up all of the plastic spoons that some privileged student arsewipes threw at the screen- and all in the name of mediocre cinema supported by those trying to be ‘ironic’ *gag*.

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My favourite scene from ‘The Room’- the end is in sight.

I have no problem with audience participation for some cult movies- as long as the cinema warns people beforehand that this is going to happen. This could be a trigger warning for non-millennials and people who just actually want to sit through the movie and be able to fucking hear it.

I think there should also be some screenings of films that have a tradition of ghastly audience participation where this kind of behaviour isn’t permitted. These screenings should be clearly advertised in advance. Cinema ushers should patrol the aisles with electric cattle prods or tasers so that one whiff of a plastic spoon and the perpetrator could be zapped and then ejected (into the care of the local police who would charge them with disorderly conduct no less).

Going to see a film doesn’t always have to be a case of buy your ticket, buy your snacks, find a seat, watch the film. It can also be a feat of showmanship where the fun isn’t confined to what goes on just on the screen. Think of William Castle and the genius gimmicks he used to to elevate an already brilliant film into a unique experience. John Waters was a Castle fan and used a gimmick himself- the Odorama card for his masterpiece Polyester. A number would appear on the screen in a certain scene and you’d scratch off the number on the Odorama scratch n sniff card you got when buying your ticket. Number 2 was exactly that- shit! This kind of showmanship was inspired, in most cases wasn’t done to detract from a dud of a film and the director was still calling the shots rather than some douchbag audience members trying to steal the limelight.

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‘Emergo’: A skeleton that flies above the audience unexpectedly during House on Haunted Hill (1959)

But whilst I love cult cinema and midnight movies, many of the legitimate examples of this genre have a quality in common that The Room will never possess- in many cases they’re brilliant movies that really are worthy of adoration by those touched by their genius.

The people who go to screenings of The Room and profess to be fans of the film are adherers to the adage that some films are ‘so bad they’re good’. I’ve written about that HERE. Why celebrate bad cinema? A cult film should be so good, its brilliant and so you feel the need to tell all and sundry about why thats so.

A couple of years ago the same cinema showed Pink Flamingos. The audience were the same as any other going to see a cult film at The Hyde Park Picturehouse- keen cineasts who know about the film being shown, fans of the film already but also that strong minority (usually students) who have heard about Pink Flamingos being a ‘cult’ film so it must be ‘really bad, right?!’ I’m a huge John Waters fan and was ready to stab anyone who dared to laugh at the film instead of with it. And you know what? There was not one titter, guffaw or groan at the film’s expense from the peanut gallery. The audience was united in being won over by this cinematice masterpiece. They laughed at all the right places and gagged at the appropriate scenes of filth too. The power of Pink Flamingos- it was shocking in the 70s and if anything, in these times of the youngsters of today being offended by everything and being of an ultra-sensitive disposition, its even more shocking. But its also riproariously funny- a quality which has converted even the most staunch cinema snob to Waters’ genius. ‘Jesus! That was actually brilliant!’ said one student to her friend on leaving the screening. Praise indeed.

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Pink Flamingos. Still the cult movie motherlode.

Please don’t resurrect any old piece of mediocre crap resplendent with bad acting and no plot and elevate it to cult status. Theres enough beige fare in popular culture as it is.

If you’re a fan of The Room you need to see more cult films- and good ones. If you’re a fan and go to screenings, throw plastic spoons at the screen, shout ‘Meanwhile, in San Francisco’ and try to dazzle fellow audience members with your wit, you’re a fucking tool.

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The Room- 1 star out of 5- because its something any film should never be- fucking boring.

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 9- 31 Days of Halloween- Phantasm (1979)

Day 9- 31 Days of Halloween- Phantasm (1979)

I first heard of Phantasm when its sequel came out. Barry Norman reviewed it and admitted that he hadn’t even heard of the first film. Neither had I.

Fortunately my sister in law had a friend who had closed down their video business and so gave her a lot of the videos he used to rent out. She lent me two films that could be classed as life-changing. One was The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The other was Phantasm.

The film starts off like standard horror fare- sinister goings on at a small town American mortuary. But then the film starts to get more and more surreal. Its like a lot of the film inhabits a dark dream-like world.

Check out the scene where the lead character goes to see a local seer. Add to that the chase scene in which Michael chops off The Tall Man’s fingers and takes one home. This film is most famous for the flying silver spheres within the funeral home. These spheres certainly don’t disappoint.

And then theres the soundtrack which fluctuates between gritty analogue synths of doom and funereal organs. I found the soundtrack on CD and within the sale section of a local and long gone record store.

One of the best purchases I’ve ever parted money for.

Angus Scrimm as The Tall Man deserves recognition as one of the scariest and most sinister baddies of all time. Hes unrelenting, otherworldly and the inhabitant of many viewers nightmares.

Back in the day this film was shown not just individually but also as a double bill with John Carpenter’s The Fog. Two amazing kick-ass horror films right there.

This film was remastered and released at cinemas across America last year. And it deserved the 4K treatment.

File this film under ‘underrated’. Also file it under ‘masterpiece’.

5 out of 5.