Review- Nico Icon (1996)

Review- Nico Icon (1996)

Note- Nico Icon can be found here on YouTube. Please make sure you switch on the English subtitles before watching as some sequences are in French and German.

I first became aware of the singer Nico in 1988, ironically the year the singer passed away. I was becoming a huge fan of Siouxsie and the Banshees and a new book had been published about the band. The first few pages went through the early lives of the band members and the bands they were listening to as they were growing up. Of course one of them was The Velvet Underground and Nico. The picture published to illustrate this however wasn’t one of the iconic monochromatic shots of the band wearing shades, black clothing and looking absolutely cool with it. Instead, the image was of Nico but after see had dyed her hair and wasn’t the glacially beautiful blonde chanteuse anymore. The pic was from 1970 and she was dressed in a cape. ‘What Goth could have become if more people had taken Nico to their hearts’, I thought.

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Shortly after this I started listening to and loving The Velvet Underground starting with their iconic first album. Nico’s voice was a revelation. Her teutonic vocals with her own sense of phrasing and meter were mindblowingly original. In fact, after hearing this album I bought The Marble Index and my love for Nico and her career was born.

On seeing the documentary Nico Icon on YouTube I decided to investigate further.

And I’m so glad I did. The film fully explores Nico’s legacy and metamorphosis brilliantly from her time as a model (a profession she hated as she saw herself as a blonde smiling object and nothing more), her introduction to movies with her turn in La Dolce Vita no less, her introduction to singing and then becoming a staple of Warhol’s Factory crowd (Andy famously described her singing style as like that of an IBM computer with a Greta Garbo accent) after being introduced to Warhol by Bob Dylan. Her stint as chanteuse on The Velvet Underground’s iconic first album (not to mention her relationship with The Velvet’s lead singer Lou Reed) followed shortly after this with her solo career as a result.

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From model…
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…to Warhol endorsed recording artiste

I wasn’t prepared for the emotional pull that the documentary has. The scene in which Nico’s aunt is listening to I’ll Be Your Mirror and starts crying because of the beauty of the music and her late niece’s vocals is incredibly moving. The fact that Lou Reed’s lyrics are displayed on the screen via the film’s subtitles show just how gorgeous they are.

The melancholic and reflective aspect of Nico’s music is also explored with songs as achingly stirring as You Are Beautiful and You Are Alone acting as a reflection of Nico’s life. She was evidently her own mirror for the world to see.

The transformation of Nico from blonde bombshell to Angel of Death is also examined. With this metamorphosis people who said to her that the change was too drastic and made her look ugly were met with joyous proclamations from the woman herself. She loved the fact that she wasn’t a blonde object of beauty anymore for others to ogle, an object.

She seemed to hate life and to be looking forward to death. She infamously became a junkie with her addiction to heroine (what else for the guest singer with The Velvets) which meant she toured constantly to supplement her habit. James Young is on hand to tell tales of what it was like to be in her band during this period with one incident involving her deliberately handing him a tour’s worth of used needles for him to dispose of when they were approaching border control whilst in their tour bus. ‘She was the Queen of the Bad Girls’, Young states. She also loved the track marks, rotting teeth and bad skin that the drug had bestowed on her body. ‘That was her aesthetic’, Young opines.

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Nico in the 70’s. Nothing scary about this pic at all…

Nico’s son Ari from her relationship with French actor Alain Delon (one of Nico’s other former lovers expresses that Delon was descended from sausage makers and even though he became a famous actor there was no getting away from his true family vocation in life) is also interviewed. We hear the shocking revelation that it was her who introduced him to heroine and that whilst he was once in a coma, she came to the hospital to record the noises his life support machine made to utilise on her next album.

But throughout the documentary one thing truly shines through and that is the music itself. There has never been any other artist like Nico in terms of music and image. She was a true individual with a back catalogue that is alarmingly and consistently brilliant. Whilst her first album Chelsea Girl was material written by others for her, her second album and every subsequent album after this starting with The Marble Index, showed that Nico wasn’t just an amazing singer and frontperson but also an astonishing writer. Her imagery and obsessions are just as idiosyncratic as her persona and are utterly intoxicating. Fortunately this is captured in the documentary with all phases of her music career being given an airing. And that’s one of the greatest aspects of the film- it encourages the viewer to investigate further and fall full-on into the disturbing, beautiful and esoteric rabbit-hole that is Nico’s oeuvre. And it’s an amazing place to vacate.

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Her transition from the blonde Ice Queen to the Angel of Death is extraordinary enough and reminds me of the transition that Scott Walker made from pop star pin-up to serious artist who made the kind of music that music critics can’t salivate over more. Nico was even more exemplary as when she started writing her own material we were suddenly plunged headlong into her own world with it’s own meanings and rules. It was a sphere of frozen borderlines, friar hermits and janitors of lunacy. What does it all mean? Who knows. But it works beautifully. We were invited into the mindscape of an island, a question mark, a true maverick and, dare I say, a genius.

This documentary is so good that not even the very pretentious device of snippets of dialogue appearing on the screen as text just as a subject is saying them can even ruin or tarnish proceedings. Thankfully this isn’t employed too often but why it was used at all is beyond me.

Proceedings are rounded off with a rendition of Frozen Warnings from the album The Marble Index sung by John Cale at the piano. It’s an apt tribute to a singer who Cale saw as someone truly exceptional even if the world is still catching up on Nico’s genius. But with a new biography coming out soon it appears that the wheels are in motion regarding this. This documentary is a great starting point for the uninitiated and familiar alike.

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Essential and one of the best documentaries about one of the best and beguiling subjects ever to grace the arts. Even Siskel and Ebert gave the film two thumbs up. But don’t let that put you off.

5 stars out of 5

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31 Days of Halloween 2020- The List

31 Days of Halloween 2020- The List

It’s that time again even though we’re already living within some kind of freaky biohazard/contagion real life horror movie anyway!

Here’s my list for 31 Days of Halloween 2020. Each day I’ll be watching and then reviewing the following pieces of celluloid depravity-

1. Blood Link

2. The Honeymoon Killers

3. Day of the Dead (remake)

4. Abby

5. Land of the Dead

6. The Hills Have Eyes Part 2

7. Haunted House of Horror

8. Hellgate

9. Ringu

10. Bloody New Year

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11. The Sorcerers

12. Frightmare

13. The Exorcism of Emily Rose

14. Schizo

15. Village of the Damned

16. House of Whipcord

17. Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things

18. Children of the Damned

19. Dawn of the Dead (remake)

20. The Guardian

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21. The House With Laughing Windows

22. The Ambulance

23. Halloween 4

24. Horror Hospital

25. Zombie High

26. Diary of the Dead

27. Beyond Evil

28. Dr Terror’s House of Horrors

29. Carnival of Souls

30. Inseminoid

31. Onibaba

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Day 24- 31 Days of Halloween- Tombs of the Blind Dead (1972)

Day 24- 31 Days of Halloween- Tombs of the Blind Dead (1972)

Whilst on holiday Virginia bumps into her old friend and one-time lesbian fumble, Bet. Virginia’s ‘friend’ Roger asks Bet to continue with them on their travels but whilst on the train the next day Virginia is angry at the attention Bet is getting from Roger who insists that he and Virginia are actually just travelling buddies and nothing more. Virginia decides to jump from the train when its moving slowly through a deserted town called Berzano. Bad move. Berzano is home to a medieval Satanic cult who many centuries before were killed for their religious beliefs and sacrificial practices. The eyes of the worshippers who were all hung were pecked out by birds. These blind devil worshippers now come out at night from their graves to hunt for the living to feast on.

And so begins this Amando Ossorio Spanish-Portugese gorefest that was made in 1972 and helped spearhead a resurgence in Spanish horror.

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This film is a cracker- great locations, a downbeat tone to proceedings and its pessimistic as all hell. Whenever something can go wrong it does and badly! Theres also a brilliant pace to the film with the viewer never being bored by any sequences. All killer, no filler.

Watch out for the character of the morgue keeper who takes great delight in showing the dead bodies of the recently deceased to those who have to identify their bodies. Theres also a hint that he does unspeakable things to the corpses in his spare time. He seems to love his work and way too much!

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A special mention to the costume people and hairstylist. The characters in this are dressed in the grooviest of 1970’s couture with all of the women having gorgeous ratted up hair. Perfect 70’s Euro horror.

Oh, and watch the original Spanish version called La Noche Del Terror Ciego. The American dubbed version has scenes of gore missing as is the flashback to Bet and Virginia getting all lesbianic with each other. Its also resequenced and not as good.

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An astounding film.

4.5 out of 5

Day 2- 31 Days of Halloween- Battle Royale (2000)

Day 2- 31 Days of Halloween- Battle Royale (2000)

A class are transported to an island and its then disclosed that they have to kill each other with the last person left standing the winner.

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Brutal (as you’d expect) but also witty, humane and strangely poignant in places. This film is brilliantly acted, directed with style and is beautiful to look. Murder and deception has never looked so good. In fact the ‘killing for sport’ theme reminded me of one of my favourite films, Turkey Shoot.

And thats all I’m going to say. To say anything more would ruin the film completely. See it.

4 out of 5

Day 1- 31 Days of Halloween- The Nanny (1965)

Day 1- 31 Days of Halloween- The Nanny (1965)

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What a cracking film to start my 31 Days of Halloween with.

This is a British film which stars Bette Davis as a nanny for a family living in London in which a young boy has been sent away for supposedly killing his sister. The boy is due to be released after two years and return to his family home and under Ms Davis’ supervision.

The boy vehemently protests his innocence and insists that instead it was the nanny who committed the terrible deed. Is he right? Or is the nanny indeed guilty?

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Theres already the almost unspeakable taboo of a child killing another child within this film which gives the film a grittiness right from the get go. The household in question is steeped in gothic tension even though it is in fact light and airy. No Baby Jane mansion here.

Theres also the stifling formality of English life at this time. There are so many manners and formalities at play that are overwhelmingly suffocating and claustrophobic.

Within the film there is also a delicious generation gap which underlines this and presents a tangible ‘Old vs new’ scenario. The boy in question, Joey forges a friendship with a 14 year old girl who lives in the same building. She dresses like a hip 60s girl, all white lipstick and black eyeliner. When we see within her bedroom Joey gazes up at a Beatles mobile she has hanging from the ceiling and at one point we see her reclining on her bed reading a copy of the girls magazine Jackie which has a pin up of Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones on its back cover.

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Beautifully acted (especially Ms Davis of course, whose character has a pair of the ugliest eyebrows ever captured on film) and elegantly directed, this is one of Hammer’s finest films.

Of course this would only have been made with Ms Davis if Hollywood wasn’t casting the very best stars of yesteryear anymore. Every cloud has a silver lining. What was Hollywood’s loss was very much Hammer’s gain.

Joan Collins vs Santa Claus

Joan Collins vs Santa Claus

Tales From The Crypt was released in 1972- a horror movie made up of five different tales of terror.

One of these vignettes was ‘…And All Through The House’ a Christmas based story regarding a woman who has just bumped off her hubby for his insurance. But she has more to content with…You can watch it here.

This segment is noteworthy for many reasons. The fabulous story with a twist in the tail, the gaudy and quite fantastic 70s decor, the Tales From The Unexpected on crack feel to the proceedings.

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But the best ingredient is the casting of The Very Ms Joan Collins in the lead role. She is perfect in this (shes pretty much perfect in everything). Never has anyone looked so exquisite- even when shes being throttled by a maniac Father Christmas.

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For more 70s Joanie horror fun check out The Within Her aka I Don’t Want To Be Born aka Sharon’s Baby. One of the best movies of the 70s. And one of the most demented. But I’ll save that for a future blog post.

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Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971) -Day 17 – 31 Days of Halloween

Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971) -Day 17 – 31 Days of Halloween

One of the few Dario Argento films I haven’t seen. Until now that is.

And what a treat! A rock drummer notices that hes being watched by a mysterious stranger. He confronts this person in an abandoned opera house and after disarming him of a knife accidentally stabs him. This is all witnessed a photographed by an onlooker who wears a very unsettling dolls mask.


Cue many twists, turns and red herrings.

Even by giallos standards this is an amazing film- gorgeous locations, imaginative cinematography, brilliant quirky characters and last but not least, Bud Spencer is in this film. Bud Fucking Spencer! Whats not to like?


Another thing I love about this is that one of the characters is gay, camp and proud of it. Not once is he depicted as subhuman, deviant or somehow inferior. That means a lot- especially to a gay film critic. If Argento could imbue gay characters with some kind of dignity in 1971, why couldn’t Martin Scorsese recently in Wolf of Wall Street? Dario- loving your work.

I watched this on Shameless Entertainment’s Bluray release. Highly recommended- it does the film a real justice.

4.5 out of 5

Let The Right One In – Day 14 – 31 Days of Halloween

Let The Right One In – Day 14 – 31 Days of Halloween

An intelligent, original horror film is as rare as hen’s teeth nowadays. Hollywood seems content on remaking, rehashing and plundering the past glories of the genre with predictably mediocre and overexplained results.
Let The Right One In is one of those rare gems however. Set in snow laden 80s Sweden this is the story of a bullied child who befriends a young vampire. And then the sparks (and blood) fly.

Brilliant written, acted and directed- this film is never less than stunning. Its not often that a film lives up to its hype (The Babadook is an example. Horror fans were so hungry for a great horror film that they called it a classic. Its very good but not a classic) but this does. Its power lies in properly developed characters, silences and the audiences intelligence not being underestimated.

Gorgeous.
4 and a half out of 5

Chopping Mall – Day 11 – 31 Days of Halloween

Chopping Mall – Day 11 – 31 Days of Halloween

Corman romp about security robots in a shopping mall that malfunction and take it out on a group of teens who are there after closing time.

With this being Corman there are some great cameos from stable regulars like Mary Waronov, Paul Bartel and Dick Miller.


A great sense of humour and some gory moments. File under ‘cheesy’.

The Watcher in the Woods – Day 10 – 31 Days of Halloween

The Watcher in the Woods – Day 10 – 31 Days of Halloween

I remember watching this as a kid on VHS in the 80s and loving it.

Now as a gay horror fan whos all grown up watching the film feels different.
Firstly, its because the great gay icon Bette Davis is in it. Safe in this knowledge I know that this isn’t just any run of the mill performance in a horror film. Ms Davis makes every scene her own, reviting each line her own way and with her own meter. Its as if shes too big for the film. Every scene shes in is special.

The divine Ms Davis

Secondly, I now watch this knowing its a very rare gem- a Disney horror film. And whats really shockkng is that this is very scary indeed! And judging by the film’s alternate endings and the idea for the original opening scene (as yet, unavailable to watch) the film was intended to be even darker. I think Disney must have not wanted to completely sully their family friendly name with an out and out scarefest.

The monster from the alternate endings that was cut from the film

Atmospheric, haunting and intelligent. This is a must see. Just don’t underestimate its power. 4 out of 5