I first discovered the documentary Who Took Johnny from Artforum magazine when John Waters named it as one of his Films of the Year for 2014. I found the trailer for it on YouTube and it REALLY freaked me out.
Johnny Gosch was a 14 year old boy who went missing whilst delivering newspapers in 1982. His parents reported his disappearance to the police but very quickly they appeared to just give up trying to find out what happened to him, where he is and if he was still alive. Johnny’s mother Noreen quickly became a one-woman crusade trying to do what the police should have been doing all along- trying to locate her son.
After seeing the film’s trailer I started to try to find the film but with no luck. And then the film was added to Netflix here in the UK!
The documentary doesn’t disappoint and is indeed just as brilliant as Mr Waters stated. There is so much credence to the saying ‘Truth is stranger than fiction’. This film epitomises it! Watch and be amazed, maddened and very, very surprised.
And another thing- this documentary isn’t for the faint of heart. Not just that but after watching this YouTube will start to suggest similar documentaries relating to similar topics to you. PROCEED WITH CAUTION! I have seen some of these other documentaries and just like this documentary they require nerves of steel. It’s a very dark rabbit hole to fall down.
I remember the Video Nasties furore like it was yesterday. With my father being an avid Daily Mail reader and staunch Thatcherite I felt like I had a front row seat with the then Tory government seeking to ban the very films I loved when they were released on video in the early 80’s.
I saw most of the media coverage regarding this as it happened. I’ve also seen the later retrospective takes on the moral panic regarding the so-called ‘Video Nasties’ but there is one documentary that perfectly captures the sense of fear, paranoia and scapegoating for the ills of society unfairly placed on these horror films which some were even calling ‘snuff movies’ (!) I’ve uploaded this here for your delectation. Please watch and prepare for your jaw to drop as you witness a frankly unbelievable episode from history in which, at the time, there seemed to be plenty of authoritative voices against these videos but none in the mainstream media who were standing up for them. It was akin to book-burning.
Hopefully we can learn from this sad era. It could never happen again. Or could it? With this documentary reminding us what happened, more and more this seems like an episode of unjustified censorship which can be consigned to history where it belongs.
Another one of my favourite VHS rentals as a kid was Terror in the Aisles. Essentially a compilation of clips from horror movies, this is That’s Entertainment for weirdos. And it works beautifully.
A major reason why this works is the sheer breadth of the films that are used from the old to the new, the well known to the obscure. There are also films used that aren’t strictly horror movies but are still examples of how suspense can be brilliantly generated in a film (Midnight Express, Night Hawks).
This film was also extremely popular in the UK as it contained clips from movies that were either banned by the BBFC (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre) or discreetly removed from video shelves by them (The Exorcist).
Another masterstroke by the movie are the links that involve horror royalty Donald Pleasance and Nancy Allen in a cinema pontificating on horror tropes and what makes them work. These sequences are priceless. Look out for a young Angel Salazar as a ‘feature moviegoer’.
Themes such as the villain and the victim/Final Girl are examined with the respective appropriate clips being used to illustrate the filmmakers points. Theres also a lesson in suspense by the master himself, Mr Alfred Hitchcock.
This is a great compilation for either the young horror hound looking for new thrills or the seasoned purveyor of all things cinematically depraved. I never thought this film would see the light of day on Blu ray because of the logistical nightmare associated with a compilation like this and rights issues. I’m very glad to say that I was wrong. A few years back Universal released Halloween 2 (1981) on Blu ray with Terror in the Aisles as one of the bonus features. An essential purchase.
When I learnt that there was a documentary all about Heather Langenkamp (Nancy from the first Nightmare on Elm Street film) and the whole fan phenomenon that surrounded the film and specifically her character I thought it sounded a very interesting concept.
But, alas, the reality is very different. Theres a reason I don’t go to horror fan conventions where the fans get to meet their idols and get 8” by 10”s signed and that is the cringe factor. The fans with the tattoos and the collections of memorabilia pertaining to their favourite films has always made me roll my eyes and here, unfortunately, the filmmakers give them a platform for the majority of the film. And it’s just as excruciating as I thought it would be when I learnt that this film was about the fans rather than the surrounding mythos of the Nightmare series.
There are some great moments that should have been developed into full segments in their own right. We see Heather signing different types of Krueger merch (the Freddy talking doll, the vinyl record that was released at the height of Freddymania of him singing cover versions). I’d love a documentary about how the cult of Freddy grew with a comprehensive round-up of the different merchandise that was produced to satiate Freddy fan’s needs back in the day.
Also, an analysis of how this could have developed around a character as perverted as a child killer needs examination. Freddy pushes the notion of the cinematic anti-hero to it’s furthest point. How could a character that in real life would have been universally reviled be revered by horror fans when he appears as the lead character in a film franchise. A look into that would have been amazing.
This feels like a Blu ray special feature and a very shoddily made one at that. The fact that this was released as a stand alone documentary is pretty shocking.
Whilst this film is billed as ‘Never Sleep Again Part 2’ it only goes to show how comprehensive and detailed the original epic length documentary was. Stick with that. And watch the original films. Especially the first one. Oh, and check out Freddy’s spin-off TV series, Freddy’s Nightmares. History has been VERY kind to this horror anthology series. It’s very underrated.
This is such a great documentary about Ozploitation films (exploitation films made in Australia).
All the great films and sub-genres are here- the bawdy Ocker comedies, the slasher movies, the films for petrolheads.
The main players are all interviewed and show that making these insane films was just as insane in real life.
I’m so glad that so much attention was devoted to Brian Trenchard-Smith. I think Turkey Shoot is the greatest Aussie film ever (take that Picnic at Hanging Rock).
But it’s not just Aussies who are interviewed. Jamie Lee Curtis and others are interviewed as they starred in prominent Ozploitation movies. Quentin Tarantino features as he’s a massive fan of the genre.
This doc is great for beginners and the already initiated alike. Theres so many films named that I hadn’t heard of that I’ll now be hunting down. Job done.
This is basically Never Sleep Again but for the Friday the 13th films. And that’s perfect. Each film gets talked about by cast and crew regarding how it was made, the ongoing battle with the MPAA that blighted the series later on and how well the films fared when released.
It’s always a joy to hear legends like Betsy Palmer and Tom Savini speak about their experiences. Corey Feldman (aka Tommy Jarvis) narrates and does a brilliant job.
A documentary about Danny Fields, the record industry A&R man/artist liaison/cultural barometer who was the friend of so many great bands and artists and more importantly, had a hand in making sure they could get record deals and record their music so that their genius could be shared with the world.
This documentary gets it just right- there are moments of animation to illustrate the narrative but these don’t overpower the film, there are many musicians and personalities who are either interviewed or spoken about but it doesn’t feel like some kind of bragging rollcall. There are also perceptive and very interesting insights into being gay in a small town and also when Danny had left home and was carving his adult life.
As for the artists, all of the groups and singers who changed my life are here. From hanging out with The Velvet Underground to working and socialising with The Doors, The Ramones, Jonathan Richman, The Stooges, Nico, MC5…This is a life spent in the thick an alternative American musical history and you feel privileged to be a part of this. There are also hidden gems that are priceless- a taped phone call with Nico, a recording of the first time Lou Reed is played The Ramones and how elated he is by it.
I bought Raw Power by Iggy and the Stooges at the age of 14 and it changed my life. And Danny Fields is partly responsible for this. This documentary helps to shed light on a hidden force who made this possible.