Day 1- 31 Days of Halloween- Night of the Juggler (1980)

Day 1- 31 Days of Halloween- Night of the Juggler (1980)

We’re off to a flying start. This lurid slice of exploitation truly delivers. It’s fast, frantic and batshit crazy!

A young girl thought to be the daughter of a very prominent and stinking rich businessman is kidnapped for a $1m ransom. But the wrong girl is snatched and her father is James Brolin. Bad move.

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Insane poster for an insane movie

This really is one of the great New York movies with the city being portrayed as it really was in 1980- down at heel, dangerous and jam packed full of ‘characters’. Witness the scenes that take place on 42nd Street. The Deuce has never looked so wild and utterly alluring. The scene in the strip joint is worth the price of admission alone.

Brolin is at his Amityville Horror best resplendent with the same long hair and beard as in that previous movie. His performance is kinetic, untamed and unpredictable to say the least.

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Never go ‘full feral’. Never go ‘full Brolin’.

The kidnapper is played by Cliff Gorman and is just as off-kilter and feral. You want to see what a great actor Gorman was? Compare his portrayal here to his turn in William Friedkin’s masterpiece The Boys In The Band. A brilliant and very underrated actor.

This movie is as grimy and wired as the city it takes place in at that timepoint. And I loved every part of it. Now, can we have a Blu ray release please?

4/5 out of 5 stars

Article- The Motherlode: Prisoner Cell Block H on ITV

Article- The Motherlode: Prisoner Cell Block H on ITV

30 years ago to the day something extraordinary happened. Let me elaborate. I grew up in York in the UK. My local TV station was Yorkshire Television who were the first UK regional station to transmit twenty four hours a day. Because of this during the night and early hours of the morning they would show some of the most eclectic fare imaginable. One night they might show Spawn of the Slithis, another they might show a Warhol movie, the night after it might be a series of rare Scorsese short films. In between whatever they showed they would transmit 70’s and 80’s Public Information Films and ads for sex lines.

It’s Monday 3rd Oct, 1988. I forget what I was recording on my VCR but it was what was after it that made my jaw hit the floor. I was suddenly watching a late 70’s/early 80’s drama depicting Australian women in denim serving time in a Melbourne prison. The programme was of course Prisoner Cell Block H, a programme that I had seen listed plenty of times but never thought of taping to investigate. For a fan of exploitation cinema and cult movies the discovery of this programme was the equivalent of hitting the jackpot. This was also my first taste of ‘Ozploitation’.

This first episode that I watched was (I later found out) episode number 125. This was a great point in the whole trajectory of Prisoner’s history to start watching it. At this point Prisoner had just entered it’s ‘Imperial Phase’- characters had been clearly defined and established, there was a firm nucleus of these characters who the audience recognised and had grown to love. Hence there were viewers favourite prisoners (Bea, Lizzie, Dor and relative newcomer, Judy) and favourite ‘screws’ even if some of them weren’t goodies (Vera ‘Vinegar Tits’ Bennett is far from a pleasant character but audiences loved her being vile and sour just as much as they did fellow officer Meg Morris being all ‘sweetness and light’). These characters were eagerly watched by viewers as they moved through different situations and encountered opposition from various characters who entered their orbit.

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The Imperial Phase- familiar characters loved by the audience

This was also a great episode to act as an introduction as it featured one of Prisoner’s greatest characters- Noeline Burke. If you want to experience how brilliantly funny, well written and acted this inmate was then please do investigate her scenes here.

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Noeline Burke. Genius, just genius.

I started to watch every episode after this. I had my fingers crossed that this first episode that I had recorded by mistake wasn’t some kind of fluke. I was relieved to find out that it wasn’t. Every episode was consistently brilliant. The characters were hugely likeable, the dialogue crackled with character and the storylines were by turns intelligent, perceptive, daring and sometimes downright outrageous. I was looking for sex, violence and gritty fare. I had found the motherlode for this in Prisoner Cell Block H.

Yorkshire TV’s history of showing Prisoner (as it was called in Australia) was very good. They were the first UK regional TV station to show the programme in the UK.

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Original TV listing for the first episode showing of Prisoner on Yorkshire TV, Monday 8th Oct, 1984

They had started showing it in 1984 when the programme was still being made and shown in Australia (it ran from 1979 until 1986 in Oz).

My friend who I had grown up with had actually told me about seeing the first episode when it was first shown and gleefully regaled the plotline to me involving the ‘baby that was buried alive and found by tracker dogs just in time’.

After watching Prisoner for several months on Yorkshire TV I suddenly had a brainwave- what if other regions had started showing Prisoner from different time-points. One region could have just started showing it from the very beginning whilst another might be up to a later point in the programme’s history. I had another TV aerial which allowed me to watch programmes on another regional station (Tyne Tees). I found out that they showed Prisoner on a Thursday as opposed to the Monday in Yorkshire. When I tuned in I was astounded to find out that they were showing episode 30 and so I had the luxury of almost starting from the beginning of the programmes history.

In no time Prisoner was starting to gain popularity as seemingly everyone from students (Prisoner regularly featured in the NME end of year Reader’s Poll in the Best Programme category) to OAPs started to religiously tune in every week. There were estimates that weekly viewing figures for the programme in the UK ranged from anywhere between 3 to 10 million. When shown in America it had primetime viewing figures of 39 million.

But there were still those who didn’t get the programme and just saw it as cheap trash. They probably came to see Prisoner after hearing that it was another Aussie soap and so surmised that maybe it would be like Neighbours and Home and Away. Rumours of wobbly walls started around this time. Which is very strange as Prisoner was filmed in the headquarters for Channel 9 the company that made it in Australia. And for what it’s worth, I’ve watched Prisoner in it’s entirety several times. It may have been rushed in places (and these occasions were few and fair between) but Prisoner was shown twice a week in Oz- thats two hours of telly to be made and so the cast and crew never had the luxury of multiple takes and plenty of time to shoot these in.

Also, if you watch other soaps from this time period you will see similar techniques, imperfections and production practices at play. I’ve seen shaking sets and moving bannisters/staircases in Coronation Street before. But then maybe this is why Prisoner was criticised as sub-par or cheap in the early days of it being shown on ITV- it’s Australian and maybe this was pure snobbery on the parts of the minority of British critics and viewers who didn’t like it. The same criticisms would never have been levelled against home-grown fare.

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To understand Prisoner and enjoy it is not just to recognise the conventions of the ‘Women in Prison’ sub-genre but also to understand ‘cult’ viewing in the first place. Prisoner is so sophisticated that it can fit into multiple categories with their own viewing demographics all at once- soap opera, drama, exploitation vehicle with heightened storylines and a pessimism/realism not seen on many other TV programmes at that time.

Another great thing about Yorkshire TV showing Prisoner before any other region was that they didn’t think to check the programmes content. When word spread that there were some scenes or storylines that were close to the bone and needed to be possibly cut, they had already been shown on Yorkshire and devoured by yours truly. Hangings, decapitations, brandings, shootings- they all featured and in many cases in graphic detail.

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Even 30 years on Prisoner Cell Block H is still my favourite TV show. Do yourself a favour- if you’re a fan of all things exploitation, ‘cult’ and extreme watch Prisoner. You’ll be glad you did.

All of the episodes of Prisoner are on YouTube. Start here.

My Prisoner clip YouTube channel is here.

Yer bloods worth bottlin’.

Review- Vigilante Force (1976)

Review- Vigilante Force (1976)

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An army vet is employed as a police officer to bring down crime levels in a small town. But he quickly becomes the problem rather than the cure.

This really is a B movie and reminds me of the blander half of the double-bills you used to watch in cinemas back in the day.

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It’s interesting to see Charles Cyphers pre-Halloween and John Steadman pre-Hills Have Eyes though.

Other than that it’s a bit of a yawn.

1.5 out of 5

Day 16- 31 Days of Halloween- The Tingler (1959)

Day 16- 31 Days of Halloween- The Tingler (1959)

A scientist (played by Vincent Price with his usual aplomb) discovers an organism that attaches itself to the human spine and feeds on the feeling of fear from the host person. The parasite is known to be present as it makes the spine of the person feel a tingling sensation. For this reason its known as a Tingler.

Add into this premise a plot line involving a couple who own a small cinema, one of whom is deaf and mute and another story strand involving the wife of Price’s character and her potential infidelity.

I was obsessed with the film’s director William Castle as a boy as I had read so much about the gimmicks he dreamt up to make the audience’s moviegoing experience something out of the ordinary and in keeping with a ‘roll up, roll up’ circus host as well as a filmmaker.

The gimmick for The Tingler was for some of the seats in the larger cinemas to have an electrical device attached underneath so that some audience members really did feel a tingling sensation at the end of the film when Price’s character has to announce to the cinema audience within the film that The Tingler is loose in the theater somewhere. Castle also employed planted screamers in the audience and people who were told to faint at specific points. A young John Waters famously went to see this film on its original release time after time but only after checking under every seat until he found a seat that had the device attached.

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As I had read plenty about Castle and his brilliant brand of showmanship it was almost as if this overshadowed the actual films. His films weren’t available in England when I first read about his work and so there was an agonising wait before I could see any of his filmography.

And here in lies his greatest gimmick. For all of the pranks and hoopla, his film’s are actually amazingly made, beautiful to look at and constantly achieve just the balance of terror, kitsch and camp.

The Tingler is no exception. It captures the opulence and majesty of 50’s American living in some scenes (check out the set design) but also a kind of affectionate simplicity of small town life symbolised by the gorgeous little moviehouse.

But then theres the pure hilarity of The Tingler which is obviously a large rubber bug. Its one of the funniest scenes in the movie when Price tries to convince fellow characters that The Tingler could in fact kill a man effortlessly and quickly. But then thats the magic of Price- a camp knowingness and deadpan delivery. A raised eyebrow from him says more than a hundred lines from an inferior actor.

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Even the introduction from Castle could be evaluated as high art if it was viewed merely as a short film rather than as an intro to his movie. The filmmaker warns people of what is to come and that they should scream for their lives if they experience what is being played out to them on the screen.

High art. C’mon Criterion- release a William Castle boxset already.

Burial Ground – Day 12 – 31 Days of Halloween

Burial Ground – Day 12 – 31 Days of Halloween

Zombies, gore and guts. Oh and spaghetti.


Whats noticable about this film is the incest subplot involving the effeminate manchild character called Michael played by Peter Bark. I didn’t know about this when I first watched the film. Its now seered into my mind for better or worse. This film is for titmunchers of all persuasions.
3 out of 5

 

Hanging On The Telephone

Hanging On The Telephone

The telephone has always held sinister connotations for me. I grew up in a time before mobile phones, when everyone had a landline and telephone systems were positively archaic. This primitive system meant that calls couldn’t be traced easily. This was perfect for every nutjob, crank or serial killer to call you. And this happened to people a lot! These kind of calls were a regular occurrence in our neighbourhood and indeed everywhere.

I also remember reading as a kid an article in Reader’s Digest about how everyday and seemingly innocuous appliances had traumatic effects on a few unfortunate select people. One involved a woman who always went into panic on hearing a telephone ring. This was because on answering the phone years before at her home she could hear her kidnapped husband being tortured.

Its interesting how this phenomenon of different kinds of telephone terror manifests itself in the horror films of the time. This is a further example of art imitating life and vice versa.

One prime example of telephone trauma in the horror genre occurs in the film Black Christmas. This film is seen as a forerunner of the slasher film as it was made in 1974 and concerns a group of sorority girls who are bumped off one by one in the sorority house they are having a party in before they all leave the next day for Christmas.

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Prior to this they receive a series of threatening and disturbing phone calls from the killer. In fact to call these calls disturbing is a massive understatement. These calls are so horrific that in the original UK cinema release of the film these calls were cut out of the film. Heres one example.

Another great example of the telephone used to get use is in the masterpiece Halloween by director John Carpenter.

Carpenter lovingly depicts a quintessential small town in America called Haddonfield in Illinois. Everything seems to be completely normal here in an almost Norman Rockwell type way. However the town holds a dark secret. Years before an 8 year old boy called Michael Myers killed his sister Judith with a butcher knife. And on Halloween in 1978 he has escaped and is returning home. And not to go trick or treating.

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The telephone establishes the normality painted by Carpenter regarding the town. Teenage girls call their friends to gossip and idle away the time. They also call their boyfriends like the character Annie does. Whilst their conversation turns to carnal delights the threat posed by the returning killer is unseen by Annie as she too busy planning an evening of hide the salami to notice the pale faced boogeyman who lurks at windows and to the side of open doors.

Here Carpenter subverts the quintessential everyday activity of calling a friend  or boyfriend. Just as the character Dr Sam Loomis (who presided over Myers during his time in a mental asylum and is now in hot pursuit of him) chillingly tells the town sheriff ‘death has come to your little town’. After this the viewer sees how the idyllic small town charm of atypical Haddonfield is once again about to be shattered and the viewer is made privy to this. The spectator can see the killer lurking behind Annie as she in engrossed in her phone conversation. We are watching the prelude to a massacre whilst the characters are blissfully unaware.

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The telephone later becomes an actual tool of murder later on in the film. As Lynda’s boyfriend has begun to act very strange indeed whilst dressed in a sheet like a ghost on reentering their bedroom she calls her friend Laurie. What she doesn’t know is that the person (or should that be entity) hidden from view is actually Myers. Just as she is about to speak to her friend she is strangled with the telephone cord. Laurie interprets this as at first a joke (she had received a call earlier from Annie which she had misinterpreted as an obscene call when all she could hear was chewing) but then decides to investigate further and heads on over to the house opposite where the call has come from thinking that this is another gag by Annie. Here the telephone has directly led to a characters murder by being used as a weapon and has also led another character to curiously enter the house where the murder has just taken place. Two birds, one stone. Almost. Heres Lynda’s demise. ‘See anything you like?!’

When A Stranger Calls was released shortly after Halloween and is based on the ultimate telephone based urban legend- a young babysitter receives a series of blood curdling obscene phone calls that get worse as the night progresses. She calls the police who try and fail to trace the calls to a precise location. As the teenager is close to becoming catatonic with fear she receives one more phone call. It isn’t the nutter whos been making her night of babysitting almost intolerable. Its the police. And they are calling to say that they have discovered that the calls are coming from inside the house!

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Whilst this plot device seems cliched these days, back in 1979 this was still pretty fresh as a film plot twist. It was handled by director Fred Walton with noticeable aplomb as the scene builds and builds with palbable tension which eventually erupts into one of the most tense scenes in horror history. In this clip the killer elaborates what he wants with his victim. And the result is utterly chilling.

This scene is interesting as the police are shown as condescending and just a little bit stupid. The fact that they don’t take the victim seriously only adds to the tension. The fact that they can’t trace the call quickly also gives the killer another advantage. The killer has a plan and is in complete control. He uses the telephone as an instrument with which to first destroy his victim emotionally and psychologically and then finish her off when he comes down the stairs. Two out of three isn’t bad.

The filmmakers knew that the ‘calls are coming from inside the house’ was so well known amongst American teenagers that they even used this plot device as central to the films advertising. They reckoned if audiences knew what was a major part of the film they’d flock to see the film rather than thinking that a huge plot twist was being divulged and stay away in droves. The filmmakers were right as the film was a huge success and rightly so. Heres a TV spot for the film.

Whilst this film seems to revolve around the scenes involving the telephone there is plenty more to love it. Its not just the first and last scenes that are remarkable. The killer is played with unhinged brilliance by Tony Beckley who passed away just after the films release. Watch the scene in which his character stands naked in a public restroom and gazes into the mirror. This is one of those performances which really does go the extra five miles. Unhinged, psychotic and utterly brilliant.

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Watch also the performance of esteemed actress Colleen Dewhurst as the barfly who has more than a passing air of Bette Davis about her. After witnessing a bar room brawl she remarks ‘I ask myself why I still come to this dump!’ This film is a treat from start to finish and is a masterclass in tension both in the direction and the acting. High five to the location scout too- those shots of the tunnel being built which are part of Tracey’s walk home are so striking and beautiful.

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A slasher movie that was made in the wake of Halloween was Prom Night (1980). This film features the great Jamie Lee Curtis and whilst not being as brilliant as Halloween its still an amazing movie. The film is like a heady mix of Carrie, Saturday Night Fever (or should that be Roller Boogie) and yes, Halloween.

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There is a sequence in this film that is truly nightmarish as the killer (who could it be?!) calls each of the teenage characters who are preparing for that nights prom. The killer is in a sparse room with just a telephone, a list of each of the kids he wants to call and some gritty mood lighting. Add to this a stern and truly frightening music piece for this scene and you have one of the most unsettling scenes I’ve ever seen in a horror film. Part of this scene is in one of the film’s tv spots.

1982 spawned a low key and little known oddity in the shape of Murder By Phone (aka Bells). A phone can actually kill people just by them answering it. A madman has perfected a certain frequency that can actually kill people just by listening to it. This movie is camp but also a prime slice of cansploitation that looks great and is played straight. Yes, it was never going to win any Academy Awards for that year but thats a mark of excellence, right?

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The kills in this film are really something to experience and here they are.

As the 80s progressed telephone companies began to invest more in being able to track where a call was coming from. A major device used by horror movie directors was now gone. I actually learnt about how phone calls could now be traced from personal experience.  It was 1987 and I was 12 years old. Whenever my father went out at night (which was a lot as he had just divorced our mother and was going through a second adolescence if you will) my brother and I surrounded by his friends would scour the local paper for ads placed by readers. We’d then ring the unlucky people with (what we thought were) hilarious results. An example would be people who had placed an ad about a pet that was missing.

Me: ‘Hi. Have you lost a dog?’

Person who placed the ad: ‘Yes I have.’

Me: ‘Is he an Alsatian?’

Ad owner: ‘Yes it is.’

Me: ‘Does he have a red collar?’

Ad owner (now getting excited) ‘Yes he does!’

Me: ‘And he’s called Rover?’

Ad owner (now beside themselves with joy): ‘Yes! Have you seen him?!’

Me: ‘Yes! He tasted lovely’

And this point I’d slam down the phone. Myself, my brother and all of his friends would dissolve into laughter.

I was on a Saturday afternoon not long after that my father spoke to my brother and I. Someone from British Telecom had called. They had traced dozens of prank calls to our number and would be monitoring the phone line for the foreseeable future. If the abusive phone calls continued then they would ban us from having a phone line. We had been rumbled. My father bought a phone lock (we had one of those bright red telephones with a dial where the lock would be fitted) and used it whenever he wasn’t in the house.

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Leave it to fellow lunatic John Waters to revive the nuisance call on film. His film Serial Mom contains a sequence in which loving mother and psychopath Beverly Sutphin calls a neighbour, Dottie Hinckley who she hates for being domestically inferior in her eyes. Waters rightly captures the mixture of hatred, dark humour and distress involved to making nuisance calls and receiving them. This is probably the most infamous scene within an already impeccable movie. This scene is like a lovingly sick tribute to the art of the malicious phone call. I understand your love, John.

There have been other horror films about obscene phone calls that were made in recent years but most feel contrived and somehow unauthentic. I prefer the horror films involving telephone terrorism which were made when the threat of such an intrusive and foul act was still a reality for many people.

I’ll ask you again- have you checked the children?!