I was 14 and the exact right age to watch Taxi Driver for the first time. The perfect movie about alienation being watched by a moody teenager who felt completely alienated.
I would regularly venture from my hometown of York to the bustling neighbouring city of Leeds and it was on my next excursion after seeing Taxi Driver that I sought out the UK quad poster in a film memorabilia shop called Movie Boulevard (unfortunately long gone). The perfect movie (it’s still my favourite film to this day followed by John Carpenter’s Halloween and John Waters’ Female Trouble) had to have the perfect poster. And it did.
Lead character Travis Bickle walking down a New York street, completely alone in one of the biggest and busiest cities in the world. The tagline ‘On every street in every city there’s a nobody who dreams of being a somebody’ is one of the poignant and apt in film history.
It’s strange how a film and it’s iconography can take on a life of it’s own. The ‘You talkin’ to me?’ line is one of the most quoted amongst cineastes and the general public alike but is also misunderstood and misinterpreted when taken out of context. Stills from Taxi Driver have also been taken out of context and made into posters to be hung on teenager’s walls. Strangely they seem to dwell solely on Travis holding guns which is alarming. I’m glad the studio made UK quad emphasised the loneliness aspect rather than the macho/firearms angle.
I remember one of the first films my family rented when we first got a video recorder (VCR to my American buddies) in 1983 was the Charles Bronson sleazefest 10 To Midnight. OK, I know it sounds weird that such a lurid piece of exploitation was hired for a cosy night of family movie watching but (luckily) my Dad thought that the Daily Mail moral panic when it came to film violence and the dreaded ‘video nasties’ was just plain bs. Thus I got to see 10 To Midnight and such fare from the age of 8 and onwards. And I turned out OK. Right?!
10 To Midnight was released on Guild Home Video- ahh, the memories of the Guild introductory pulse theme tune…of the many pieces of music which remind me of just how awesome the 80’s were this is one of them.
I hadn’t seen this piece of celluloid slime in a long time and so I thought it was well overdue for a rewatch.
The plot involves a homicidal maniac called Warren Stacy (an extrordinary performance by Gene Davis who had starred as a transsexual hooker in the masterpiece Cruising three years previous) who kills women who rebuff his advances and the cop Leo Kessler (Charles Bronson) who is determined to catch him. By a bizarre twist Stacy sees Kessler’s daughter at the funeral of one of his victims (an ex co-worker who gave him the cold shoulder and paid for it) as she was a childhood friend of the deceased.
Is the film as grimy, perverted and kick-ass as I remember? In a word- YES!
One thing that I found particularly interesting about the film on watching it again was how it perfectly mirrors the general moviegoing public’s populist tastes of the time. 10 To Midnight is a perfect hybrid of both vigilante film and slasher movie which was brave as the filmmakers could have just played it safe and churned out another Charles Bronson vehicle starring a functional but uninteresting adversary.
Instead they made a film with a killer who was just as interesting and quirky as Bronson’s character. In fact, Gene Davis who plays Warren Stacy gives a performance that truly goes the extra mile! It’s a freaky turn that is comparable with Betsy Palmer in Friday the 13th or Andrew Robinson as Scorpio in Dirty Harry- performances that are so full-on and brilliant when portraying mentally unstable people that they are utterly believeable but without curdling into camp or pantomimesque theatrics.
Not only were the vigilante and slasher genres popular at the cinema but also with the home video audiences of the day. The video was rapidly building in stature and earning a reputation as a ‘must have’ piece of technology for every home. Thus video shops started to spring up everywhere with the more extreme genres proving to be the most popular with the general public. Ahh, the golden days when video shop shelves were filled with wall to wall horror, action and kung-fu movies, each with lurid and sensationalistic cover artwork. The makers of 10 To Midnight knew this all too well and so made a movie that perfectly tapped into this creatively and without making some obvious cynical cash-in.
You’re probably thinking that as this is a Charles Bronson movie you know the kind of formula to expect. But this film actually subverts that narrative. Instead of a Death Wish vibe this film actually has a Dirty Harry-type storyline in that instead of being a ‘civilian who fights back’ here Mr Bronson is ‘the cop who bends the law to apprehend the bad guy’ but with a sting in the tail.
This narrative is always problematic. Kessler is only acting on a hunch when he thinks he knows who is carrying out the murders of the women in the film. The viewer has the advantage of the ‘all seeing eye’ of the film to confirm that Warren is carrying out these sadistic homicides but Leo doesn’t. Kessler bends the rules in a number of different ways with regards to Stacey during the course of the film based on this ‘hunch’ which in real life would make for terrible policing.
In fact this ‘all seeing eye’ awarded to the film’s audience is something that elevates this movie from just being a stock post-Death Wish Charles Bronson film. We get to see the devilish deeds of Stacy and how much of a depraved, sleazy and warped character he really is. In other words, he’s perfect for an early 80’s exploitation movie.
Stacy’s character points the film firmly towards slasher movie territory. Theres also a nod towards the ‘true crime’ genre of documentaries and pulp paperbacks as the film and Warren’s character seem to be influenced by real life felons and ‘serial killer as celebrity’ culture.
The first time we see him in the film he’s getting ready to go out for the night. He’s very good looking, has a perfect body and is very vain with it. There’s a vibe of Ted Bundy crossed with a proto-Patrick Bateman (American Psycho) about him. Stacy even drives a VW Beetle which was synonymous with Bundy.
We then see him chatting up a couple of young women in a cinema but only to make sure they recognise him and can later vouch for his whereabouts. He’s constructing his own alibi whilst the audience can see what he really does. He sneaks out of the movie theater through a bathroom window once the film has started, stalks a woman who rebuffed him at his work picnic (!) and murders both her and her date at a lakeside location. This scene is very important to the film as a whole. It establishes that this is as much a slasher movie as it is a Bronson action flick. The fact that the young woman and her partner were mid-carnal encounter hammers this home even further with such an act being a sin within the slasher genre.
It also establishes a key feature of the killer and the film’s sleaziness as a whole. He likes to strip naked prior to killing his victims. In fact, there were two versions of this film made- one in which Davis is completely naked in the murder scenes and another in which he is only wearing briefs. This tactic would make sure that there was at least one version of the film which could be shown on TV without it being deemed too sexually explicit.
With this first murder, notice the way the woman is killed with the camera invading her body space and the prolonged, almost uncomfortably long time that it takes for Stacy to actually bump her off. This allows the audience to fully see her terrified reaction to her impending fate. The film milks this for all it’s worth especially with the fact that both victim and murderer are naked. You get to witness how twisted and perverted Stacy really is with the audience getting the impression that he is enjoying the build up to the murder almost as much as the actual deed itself. The terror he evokes from his victim is very much the foreplay to the terrible deed itself.
When Stacy climbs back into the cinema he flushes down the toilet the rubber gloves he was wearing when he killed the lakeside couple. This is another interesting facet of the film. The movie shows the killer to be forensically minded. This was years before the multiple CSI series brought that aspect of policing and criminality into the sphere of entertainment. We later see more examples of Stacy being forensically aware as we witness him thoroughly washing the knife he uses to kill the roommate of the previous victim whose diary Stacy goes to seize. Stacy even uses rubber gloves when we see him making dirty phone calls from various public phone booths as to not leave fingerprints on the receiver.
When the diary of one of Warren’s victims (who is also one of his workmates) exposes the deceased’s true feelings towards him (‘a creep’) this makes him a suspect in Kessler’s eyes even though the journal also mentions other men in a less than flattering light. Leo and his partner, McAnn decide to visit Stacy at his apartment. It’s when asking to use the toilet that Kessler has a look around in Warren’s bathroom. He spies some porno magazines (these are shown to be gay porn- is Warren, in fact, a closet homosexual? Has the killer placed these there as a red herring for any potentially preying eyes? Are the filmmakers trying to imply that this is why he hates women?) but more importantly, a device used for masturbation.
A major factor to the film’s overall sleaziness is that theres an equal emphasis on sex as there is on violence. We even got some Freudian film analysis as Kessler exclaims that in this case the knife used in the murders symbolises the killer’s penis. Not bad for an exploitation film.
Warren is interviewed.In one of the most notorious scenes of the film, the sexual aid is brought out with Bronson sarcastically asking what the appliance is used for before roaring ‘It’s for jacking off!’ It’s during this meeting that we find out about an incident from Warren’s childhood that adds to Kessler’s sense of unease about him- he cut a small girl, was reported to the police by the girl’s mother and so as retaliation smashed one of her windows and threw a dead cat inside. Kessler also becomes a bit too ‘hands on’ during his interrogation of Stacy, at one point grabbing his head to make sure he looks at pictures of the murdered women. Leo is firmly from the ‘act first, ask questions later’ school of policing. But, whilst a policeman like Leo may be great in an exploitation film from the 70’s and 80’s, would we really want such authority figures operating in real life?
Kessler is willing to bend the rules and even resort to violence to get a confession. This is extremely problematic and will backfire on Leo later on in the film.
Kessler asks his superior to get Warren brought in on a spurious charge that he didn’t commit just to keep him off the street where he might kill more women (even though Leo doesn’t know for sure that he’s the killer). McAnn has a dual role in the film. Not only is he Kessler’s ‘by the book’ police partner but he also acts as some kind of moral balance to Kessler’s ‘make my day’ gung-ho method of policing.
Kessler’s view on law and order is also extolled when he states that he sees the law as protecting the ‘maggots’ such as Stacy as if they were ‘an endangered species’ after he learns that a lack of concrete evidence would prevent Warren from being arrested and tried in a court of law.
Stacy stalking the nursing apartment complex where Leo’s daughter Laurie lives and making the nuisance phone calls also mines into events that a lot of viewers could relate to that are very much of their time. During the early 80’s these kind of calls were all too commonplace with telephone companies not yet having mastered the practice of tracing where a call was coming from. Sourcing a call in those days was a laborious task and hadn’t really advanced from the same method so brilliantly depicted in Bob Clark’s masterpiece Black Christmas in 1974.
The houseshare of nurses also points the film towards the ‘slasher’ genre. There have been other examples of this conceit used in stalk n slash films before and since with one of the most innovative being the movie Slumber Party Massacre in which girls are in a confined space which provides easy pickings for the deranged psychopath. Within 10 To Midnight this scenario also echoes real life events, primarily the Chi Omega murders carried out by Ted Bundy after he escaped from jail. Bundy appears to have massively influenced this film and it’s narrative.
But before the film shows this sorority house invasion by Stacy we see more of the corrupted version of ‘justice’ which is engineered by Kessler. He goes into the crime laboratory whereby he sees the lab technician smoking marijuana. He tells the tech that he will turn a blind eye. Obviously this will work both ways later on as when Kessler asks for the tech to retrieve a file for him he sneaks into the DNA evidence room and extracts a sample of Stacy’s blood. Kessler’s thinking is that if he is willing to turn a blind eye then the lab technician will surely do the same for him.
When blood is suddenly found on the forensically fastidious Stacy’s clothes, Warren is informed of this by his crooked lawyer. He doesn’t react to this news well and becomes extremely agitated and violent. We get the feeling that with Stacy taking such pride in being methodically precise with all of the circumstances surrounding his killings, this forensic indiscretion is known to him to be both false and an example of him being framed. This news is a distinct slap in the face for him and the professionalism of his methods.
Kessler meddling in affairs by trying to engineer the justice he desires so much sets into motion a domino effect of events which 10 To Midnight is brave enough to depict. Within a vigilante or rogue cop film we normally only see the positive effects of such law bending rather than what can go wrong.
Stacy’s lawyer, Dave Dante, states to Kessler’s ‘by the book’ partner McAnn that he believes that the blood was planted on his client’s clothes. McAnn follows up on this with the lab tech who mentions that Kessler disappeared to the room where the blood samples are kept. When McAnn mentions this to Leo he confirms that he did plant the blood on Stacy’s clothes.
Because of this Leo confesses during Warren’s trial that he did in fact plant the evidence himself. The film then shows the dire consequences of such actions- the waste of public money for the trial being held, Warren Stacy being set free when he could be guilty of the alleged crimes (something that the audience knows to be true but the film’s characters don’t for certain), the fact that Kessler has snubbed his nose at due process. Leo is then fired because of his actions. Such resultant actions that occurred because of Kessler’s meddling with justice shows that the movie is much more than just 42nd Street and drive-in fare. It’s great to see that the movie is well-rounded enough to show that such tactics can have the opposite effects instead of what was hoped for.
Dante also tells Warren something very telling during their pre-trial consultation. He advises his client to ‘act crazy’ as a last resort. This could involve saying that he thinks he is in fact two people and hears conflicting voices from both- a ‘bad’ personality telling a ‘good’ personality what to do. It’s a widely held presumption that a criminal can have a cushier time serving their sentence in a mental facility rather than permanently looking over their shoulder in a maximum security prison where a prisoner’s survival isn’t always guaranteed. This view also resonates with similar views held in real life. A prison guard overheard Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe tell his wife Sonia that if he just convinces the jury that he is ‘mad’ and not ‘bad’ then his sentence served in a psychiatric hospital will be a doddle and he could even be released sooner. Another nod to real life ‘true crime’ culture that the film references.
On being set free, Stacey rings Kessler to taunt him about his deeds backfiring. He also intimates that he will continue with his terror campaign. This in turn spurs Leo on to wage war and intimidate Stacey in a number of ways that include breaking into Warren’s workplace and placing crime scene photographs on the staff noticeboard for all and sundry to see, driving next to Stacy to unsettle him, loitering outside Stacey’s apartment block (McAnn again acts as Leo’s conscience and approaches him to tell him that he shouldn’t be there) and breaking into Warren’s apartment and sabotaging his stereo so that it starts playing loud music when Stacy enters. These are deliberate intrusions of Warren’s territory by Leo and a clear indication that Kessler can infringe on Stacey’s private space just like Warren has to countless other women.
Stacey knows that Kessler is watching his every move outside his apartment and so decides to shake him off so that he can deal with a more prescient task- the dispatching of Leo’s daughter as an act of superiority over him and to hit Leo truly where it hurts.
The audience gets a sudden detour into nocturnal downtown L.A. with it’s peepshows, hookers and grindhouse theaters. Stacey picks up a hooker fully knowing that Kessler will follow but then slips out of a window in the motel he has lured Kessler to. He then goes to Laurie’s shared accommodation.
This is where the slasher component of the film comes to the fore again. In an incredible moment of self-reference, the nurses in the houseshare even refer to Stacy as ‘the slasher’ when McAnn is setting up a tap on their phone for when Stacy calls them again.
Whilst Kessler is on the phone urging one of Laurie’s roommates to not open the door to anyone, another roommate is opening the door to what she thinks is a delivery of roses for Laurie from McAnn. But this is instead Stacy, naked and armed with a knife. He even has his trademark rubber gloves on, forensically aware to the end.
This sequence is quite extraordinary even within the extreme genres of the vigilante movie and the slasher film. Firstly, it’s audacious that a film should attempt a scene with a killer who is completely naked and somehow manage to do so whilst not inadvertently exposing any of the villain’s ‘crown jewels’. In a number of shots this is even done by the filmmakers with tongue firmly in cheek (pun not intended). Witness the scene where the killer’s modesty is masked by the body of one of the roommates being held close to him. In another, Laurie is under a bed hiding from Stacey but watching his every move. His manhood is hidden from view when he steps in front of a bedpost.
This scene also goes the extra mile as it feels extremely uncomfortable to watch just like the earlier lakeside murder sequence. The extreme terror of the women going through these traumatic proceedings is there for all to see and feels like a nod of the cap to films like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre or Last House on the Left. This kind of gritty and unflinching capturing of sheer fear was, with this film, transported from the sidelines of drive-in and grindhouse cinema and now made an ingredient within a mainstream Hollywood film with a ‘name’ leading actor. That was a very brave move to make.
Within this sequence it’s obvious Stacy is getting off on the terror he is evoking and so he takes his time before the actual dispatching of his quarry to elicit as much pure fear from them as possible. These scenes feel necessary to the plot because of this rather than being a cheap and very sick device. This isn’t just the pornography of terror.
The end of this sequence is also noteworthy. Laurie evades Stacey’s clutches by hitting him where it hurts- but not where you think with him being naked. As Laurie tries to leave the apartment she is grabbed from behind by Stacy but retaliates by scolding his face with a pair of curling tongs that were being used just prior to Warren’s home invasion. Aside from kicking him in the balls, this is the worst place to attack someone that the film has established as being so vain.
We then see the leadup to the final scene and confrontation between Stacy and Kessler. This involves seeing Stacy (still naked!) chasing Laurie outside (thankfully for Stacy the street is very quiet). Warren is catching up with her when we see her run into the arms of her father. When Leo admonishes Warren for his actions, Stacy tries to say that he only did them because of Kessler’s treatment towards him which cajoled him into further action. Warren then adopts the ‘I’m mad!’ narrative that his lawyer prepped him with earlier. The police arrive but Warren momentarily evades their clutches only to be shot dead by Kessler.
This final scene is the perfect meeting point of the slasher and the vigilante movie genres. The bad guy is meeting justice from the gun of the flawed good guy who has assumed the mantle of ‘judge, jury and executioner’. The bad guy is naked. He’s also just exclaimed to the world how insane he really is and that when he gets out he’ll continue his murderous ways.
Apparently Kessler and Stacy were supposed to fight at the end of the movie. However, Bronson objected to this as he didn’t want to roll around with a naked man!
10 To Midnight also has two other distinct advantages that seal it’s ‘classic’ status.
Firstly, it’s a Cannon Film- an obvious seal of exploitation excellence.
Secondly, ‘esteemed’ film critic Roger Ebert despised 10 To Midnight when he reviewed it which, if nothing else, should propel any self-respecting exploitation fan to want to investigate the film further. Did he not know that his review would actually send gorehounds to the cinemas in droves to see it? Tell me if these titbits from his review don’t whet your appetite-
”This is a scummy little sewer of a movie, a cesspool that lingers sadistically on shots of a killer terrifying and killing helpless women…”
”The movie lingers on the faces of screaming women. It revels in its bloodbaths. Gore spurts all over the screen. The final sequence is so disgusting that I wrote the first sentence of this review in my mind while I was watching it.”
Nice job, Roger. I’m there!
10 To Midnight is out now on Blu ray on the ever brilliant Scream Factory
A movie directed by a young Francis (Ford) Coppola and produced by Roger Corman.
A genius plot-
One night, while out rowing in the middle of a lake, John Haloran, and his young wife Louise, argue about his rich mother’s will. Louise is upset that everything is currently designated to go to charity in the name of a mysterious “Kathleen.” John tells Louise that, if he dies before his mother, Louise will be entitled to none of the inheritance. He promptly drops dead from a massive heart attack. Thinking quickly, the scheming Louise throws his fresh corpse over the side of the boat, where he comes to rest at the bottom of the lake. Her plan is to pretend that he is still alive to ingratiate her way into the will. She types up a letter to Lady Haloran, inviting herself to the family’s Irish castle while her husband is “away on business.”
But then after this something happens that changes the course of the whole film (I’m not going to ruin the film for potential viewers). This was a brave move a la Psycho and Night of the Living Dead.
And it works brilliantly. In fact, everything about this film works amazingly. It’s a great film with a great premise, gorgeous cinematography, uniformedly good performances from a cast of unknowns and direction that deftly straddles both drive-in cinema and the Nouvelle Vague. This is part Homicidal (this was made to cash-in on it’s success) and part Carnival of Souls but whilst retaining it’s own identity. Theres a strong Giallo feel to proceedings- the gloved killer with an ax, the sinister doll symbolism.
The location used deserves a mention. A spawling castle in Ireland with a scene that takes place in a Dublin bar make this film even more special. It feels like part film, part time capsule. The costume design of the film is also something to behold- classic men’s suits (think Sean Connery as Bond and Michael Caine in The Italian Job), chic women’s miniskirts and the best bleached blonde 60’s haircuts seen in any film of the period.
Theres ‘good bad’ and theres ‘bad bad’. This is definitely ‘bad bad’.
The Megalodon was a huge shark thought to be extinct. A research expedition into deeper levels of the ocean finds that ol’ Meg is still alive. Megsy then decides to move away from these deeper ocean depths and invade the shallower depths of the sea which the expedition came from in search of human chow.
This film contains the worst CGI since Escape From LA which just reinforces to me that this was made to make money and for no other reason. John Carpenter’s film at least had the excuse of being made when CGI as we know it was in it’s infancy.
The CGI in The Meg was so bad that a scene that should have contained a huge jump scare looked so fake and artificial just before said scare that you just knew something was going to happen. And it did. And zero forks were given.
This film also contains some of the worst most stereotypical and generic characters that I’ve ever seen- the cutesy little girl (far too irritating for her own good and deserves to become shark fodder), the edgy female scientist (tattoos, Lara Croft hair, probably a lesbian) the comedic black character (he makes Jovial Jemima look restrained. Time to send back your NAACP membership card, Page Kennedy).
Rainn Wilson has a face for radio, not for film. ”Why has he been cast in such a role?” I thought whilst watching this cinematic abortion. Then it hit me. His brash billionaire character who is in part responsible for bringing The Meg into our waters seems to be based on Elon Musk- someone else with a face for radio and a personality just as rancid.
Jason Statham is a great action hero. That is until he opens his mouth and undoes all of his good work. I have a theory- the more dialogue Statham has to deliver in a film, the worse the film is.
We get the obligatory scene of Jason just out of the shower and only wearing a towel. So what. A Google search for such fare is cheaper and more painfree than watching this movie.
There are also some of the most awkward ‘comedy’ moments that I’ve ever seen. Lines that aren’t funny and have never been funny being delivered completely ineptly.
The film also changes gear and intent about two thirds of the way through. From being a suspense filled horror film (which it utterly fails at) the film then thinks it can master the ‘Sharknado’ sub-genre of ‘oh so camp, tongue in cheek’ horror movies (it can’t even master this- some feat).
The Meg feels like a really anaemic, formulaic and boring straight to video movie from the early 90’s that has had millions thrown at it and given a theatrical release. It’s out of time and out of place. A bit like the megalodon really.
In the 80s with new horror films like The Evil Dead pushing the boundaries of the genre, television companies thought that older horror films ceased to be scary and so could be shown during the daytime. And so I saw Nosferatu which was made in 1922 one Bank Holiday morning. It couldn’t possibly frighten me, right?
It scared the shit out of me. And watching it again now it still freaks me out. An unauthorised adaptation of Dracula (the estate of Bram Stoker sued and wanted all copies of Nosferatu destroyed. Luckily this didn’t happen) this is beautifully shot and directed. In fact I could look at any frame from this movie and drool. This is an early example that a horror film didn’t have to be some kind of example of low culture but could actually be art.
Max Shreck’s Nosferatu is pitch perfect and the very embodiment of evil. This film stays in your head long after its finished with certain images being so striking and horrifying that they become seered into your psyche.
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?
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.
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.
I became a fan of Herschell Gordon Lewis after reading about his work in the RE:Search book Incredibly Strange Films book (if you don’t own this tome then buy it NOW!!! Its been a major influence and point of reference in my cult film adoration).
Around this time there was an episode of Jonathan Ross’ excellent Incredibly Strange Film Show devoted to Lewis and his work that I lapped up.
I then bought a copy of Two Thousand Maniacs on VHS in Forbidden Planet on first moving to London in the mid-90s. And boy, did it rock my world. Quirky, innovative, funny, full of character and gory as hell.
From that moment on I became dedicated to buying as much of Lewis’ work as possible. Next came Blood Feast and then She Devils on Wheels. Both masterpieces, both seminal films.
Whats more my other cinematic heroes seemed to hold Lewis up for canonisation just as I did.
I was gobsmacked when I heard that Arrow Video were to release a new boxset of his work. And from what I’ve seen its quite some boxset! Arrow Video go from strength to strength. I’m so glad they treat the films that I hold close to my heart with the respect and love that I know they deserve.
The good people at Dread Central have just released this boxset unboxing video for us to salivate over-
Heres what is in the boxset via the press release-
The Herschell Gordon Lewis Feast
[Blu-ray + DVD – 17 discs] (October 25th)
Limited to 2500 copies!
Director: Herschell Gordon Lewis
In 1963, director Herschell Gordon Lewis pulled a cow’s tongue out of an actress’ mouth on camera, and in doing so, changed the landscape of horror cinema forever. That sequence was just one of numerous gruesome gags featured in Blood Feast, the film credited as being the world’s first gore movie. It’s no exaggeration to say that the modern gross-out movies of today owe their very existence to the pioneering efforts of H.G. Lewis. But whilst Lewis is most widely celebrated for his blood-and-guts epics (Two Thousand Maniacs!, The Wizard of Gore et al.), there’s more to the prolific director than splatter.
From tales of sordid photographers (Scum of the Earth) to sex robots (How to Make a Doll), from biker girl-gangs (She-Devils on Wheels) to youths-run-amok (Just for the Hell of It), and from psychic witches (Something Weird) to hard liquor-loving hillbillies (Moonshine Mountain), the filmography of H.G. Lewis reads like a veritable wish-list of exploitation movie madness.
Now, for the first time ever, Arrow Video is proud to present fourteen of the Godfather of Gore’s most essential films (including nine Blu-ray world debuts), collected together at last and packed full of eye-popping bonus content. So put your feet up, pour yourself a glass of good ol’ moonshine, and prepare yourself for a feast – H.G. Lewis style!
Fourteen of the Godfather of Gore’s finest attractions, newly restored from original and best surviving vault materials
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation of the features and extras on 7 Blu-ray and 7 DVD discs
Additional 2 bonus Blu-rays featuring 1.33:1 versions of Blood Feast, Scum of the Earth, Color Me Blood Red, A Taste of Blood and The Wizard of Gore [limited editions exclusive]
Additional bonus DVD: Herschell Gordon Lewis: The Godfather of Gore documentary [limited editions exclusive]
28-page H.G. Lewis “annual” stuffed full with Lewis-themed activities plus archive promotional material [limited editions exclusive]
Newly illustrated packaging by The Twins of Evil [Feast edition exclusive]
BLOOD FEAST (1963) + SCUM OF THE EARTH (1963)
Brand new introduction to the films by director Herschell Gordon Lewis
Audio Commentary on Blood Feast with Lewis and producer David F. Friedman
Audio Commentary on Scum of the Earth by Friedman
Blood Feast Outtakes
Blood Perceptions – filmmakers Nicholas McCarthy (The Pact) and Rodney Ascher (Room 237) offer their insight on Blood Feast and the importance of Herschell Gordon Lewis
Herschell’s History – archival interview in which Lewis discusses his entry into the film industry including Scum of the Earth
How Herschell Found His Nitch – Lewis discusses more of his early work in nudie cuties and the making of The Adventures of Lucky Pierre
Archival Interview with Herschell Gordon Lewis and David F. Friedman from 1987
Carving Magic (1959) – vintage short featuring Blood Feast‘s Bill Kerwin
Blood Feast Radio Spot and Trailer
TWO THOUSAND MANIACS! (1964) + MOONSHINE MOUNTAIN (1964)
Brand new introduction to the films by director Herschell Gordon Lewis
Audio Commentary on Two Thousand Maniacs! with Lewis and producer David F. Friedman
Two Thousand Maniacs! Outtakes
Two Thousand Maniacs Can’t Be Wrong – Tim Sullivan (director, 2001 Maniacs) on Two Thousand Maniacs!
Hicksploitation: Confidential – visual essay on the history of the American South’s representation in cinema
David Friedman: The Gentlemen’s Smut Peddler – a tribute to the legendary producer featuring – Herschell Gordon Lewis, filmmakers Fred Olen Ray, Tim Sullivan and Bob Murawski
Herschell’s Art of Advertising – Lewis shares his expert opinion on the art of selling movies and how to hook an audience.
Trailers for Two Thousands Maniacs! and Moonshine Mountain
COLOR ME BLOOD RED (1965) + SOMETHING WEIRD (1967)
Brand new introduction to the films by director Herschell Gordon Lewis
Audio Commentary on Color Me Blood Red with Lewis and producer David F. Friedman
Audio Commentary on Something Weird with Lewis and Friedman
Color Me Blood Red Outtakes
The Art of Madness – visual essay on the recurring motif of mad artists as killers in horror cinema
Weirdsville – film Scholar Jeffrey Sconce on Something Weird
Lewis on Jimmy, the Boy Wonder, his 1966 children’s musical
A Hot Night at the Go Go Lounge! – Lewis’ 1966 dance short
Trailers for Color Me Blood Red and Something Weird
THE GRUESOME TWOSOME (1967) + A TASTE OF BLOOD (1967)
Brand new introduction to the films by director Herschell Gordon Lewis
Audio Commentary on The Gruesome Twosome with Lewis
Audio Commentary on A Taste of Blood with Lewis
Peaches Christ Flips Her Wig! – the San Francisco performer on The Gruesome Twosome
It Came From Florida – filmmaker Fred Olen Ray (Scalps) on Florida Filmmaking
Herschell vs The Censors – Lewis discusses some of the pitfalls involving local censorship and the lengths to which angry moviegoers tried to stop him
Trailers for The Gruesome Twosome and A Taste of Blood
SHE-DEVILS ON WHEELS (1968) + JUST FOR THE HELL OF IT (1968)
Brand new introduction to the films by director Herschell Gordon Lewis
Audio Commentary on She-Devils on Wheels with Lewis
Garage Punk Gore – filmmaker and musician Chris Alexander discusses the films and music of Herschell Gordon Lewis
The Shocking Truth! – Bob Murawski on his lifelong love for Herschell Gordon Lewis and what he has learned from Lewis’ films
Lewis on his 1968 film The Alley Tramp
She-Devils on Wheels Radio Spot
Trailers for She-Devils on Wheels and Just for the Hell of It
HOW TO MAKE A DOLL (1968) + THE WIZARD OF GORE (1970)
Brand new introduction to the films by director Herschell Gordon Lewis
Audio Commentary on The Wizard of Gore with Lewis
Montag Speaks – a brand new interview with Wizard of Gore actor Ray Sager
The Gore The Merrier – an interview with Jeremy Kasten, director of the 2007 Wizard of Gore remake
The Incredibly Strange Film Show: Herschell Gordon Lewis “The Godfather of Gore” – episode of the Jonathan Ross-hosted documentary series focusing on Lewis’ films, featuring interviews with Lewis, producer David F. Friedman, actor Bill Kerwin, etc
The Wizard of Gore Trailer
THIS STUFF’LL KILL YA! (1971) + THE GORE GORE GIRLS (1972)
Brand new introduction to the films by director Herschell Gordon Lewis
Audio Commentary on The Gore Gore Girls with Herschell Gordon Lewis
Audio Commentary on This Stuff’ll Kill Ya! by camera operator and Lewis biographer Daniel Krogh
Regional Bloodshed – filmmakers Joe Swanberg and Spencer Parsons discuss the Midwestern roots and work ethic of Lewis’ output and how The Gore Gore Girls represents the shift into transgressive ’70s cinema that would dominate the American horror lan
Herschell Spills His Guts – Lewis discusses his career post-The Gore Gore Girls, why he left the film industry and his role as a leading figure in the copywriting industry
Gore Gore Girls Radio Spot
Trailers for This Stuff’ll Kill Ya! and The Gore Gore Girls
Wow! I need this in my life. Find it HERE if you live in the UK or HERE if you live in the US.
A mark that you’ve made a great movie is when your film spawns a number of imitators. One such movie is The Exorcist.
One such imitator is Beyond The Door. But whilst some imitators are pale and shoddy rip offs, this film is amazing.
Starring esteemed actress Juliet Mills this deals with her posession and pregnancy.
Cue plenty of body horror grossness, surreal scenarios (you haven’t lived until you see her eat a discarded banana skin) and much profanity. Add to the mix a potty mouthed child and you have a great cinematic experience. The film is also beautifully shot and staged. It has a feel all of its own.
Apparently Mills is extremely proud of this movie. And so she should be.
4 out of 5
This is the movie that made me into a major fan of horror and cult cinema in general. I saw this when I was 11 years old on its release onto video. Since then I watched it numerous times and know it off by heart.
With a film so ingrained into my psyche it would have very easy to watch it again for this review and miss out details and nuances that I would tend to subconsciously gloss over. Such is the tendency on watching a film so many times. I have therefore made a real effort to watch this again with fresh eyes and ears and imagine seeing it for the first time. Here goes.
One thing that strikes me is Wes Craven’s subversion of the horror genre. Like Halloween, this film is presented as a teen movie. Tina talking to Nancy about the dream she had the night before is punctuated by Rod talking about waking up with a hard on. The teen girls talk is penetrated (pun not intended) by a horny teen male’s talk of sex. But then Craven subverts the 80s teen genre with the brutality of the following events just like Romero subverted the horror drive in sub-genre with the brutality and pessimism within Night of the Living Dead. ANOES reads like a knowingly atypical 80s teen movie up until Tina’s quite extraordinarily violent demise.
The scene of Glen playing the airplane sound effect tape also plays like a scene from an 80s teen movie. Again, Tina’s death shows that this is no ordinary 80s horror movie depicting teens. Instead it stands out as an intelligent horror film that is just as violent as the most shocking video nasty Mary Whitehouse was trying to ban.
Not only is Tina’s death too graphic for an average 80s horror movie, its also too innovative. Tina literally climbs the walls and ends up on the ceiling. If Lionel Ritchie wants to dance on the ceiling then Wes Craven wants to portray a more realist depiction of the 80s- a bloodied victim being lifted skyward and killed on the ceiling.
Tina’s death also subverts horror film conventions like Psycho and Night of the Living Dead did. The female character we presume to be the female lead is dispatched of early on in the film just like Marion Crane was in the shower and Barbara was made incapacitated via her catatonic state.
Thus it is left to Nancy Thompson to become the film’s heroine. She fulfils all of the classic attributes for being a Final Girl. Where as Tina has been shown to have just had sex with Rod, Nancy is shown as chaste by rejecting her boyfriend Glen’s invitation for a game of hide the salami.
There are several incidents and signs that make Nancy realise the truth about the dream world, whatever happens in it and how elements from this world can be brought into the real world. The burn on her arm during the classroom dream, the single feather she sees floating out of her bedroom window, the cuts on her arm and the appearance of Freddy’s hat she retrieves in the dream clinic are all used for Nancy to gain knowledge which leads to Nancy eventually applying this logic to bring Freddy out of her dream so that he can be defeated. This demonstrates another Final Girl attribute- shes smart.
There is a sequence that shows where Nancy may have got her Final Girl attributes from- her mother. When Nancy is almost killed in the bathtub, Marge deftly picks the bathroom door lock. Maybe this resourcefulness has been passed down from Marge to Nancy. Later in the film Marge confirms Nancy’s Final Girl status by saying ‘You face things, thats your nature. Thats your gift. But sometimes you have to turn away.’ This also predicts the end of the film.
Nancy’s proactive qualities are also shown by her taking sleeping pills and drinking copious amounts of coffee. She doesn’t want to succumb to sleep and potential death until shes hatched a plan and had a crack at defeating Freddy.
This plan also shows Nancy’s Final Girl attributes- and her boyfriend’s ineptitude. Nancy asks Glen to stay awake and stand guard over her. She wants to go into her dream, grab Freddy and bring him into the conscious world. He fails, falls asleep and Nancy is left to battle Freddy alone. The fact that she isn’t killed shows her strength and the fact that she can do this alone. Its also a subversion of horror film cliches. Rather than having a guy defeat the killer, Nancy will do it herself.
There is another example of Nancy’s resourcefulness being highlighted at the expense of inept male characters. Nancy brings Freddy into the real world and as he stumbles into each of the traps she has laid she calls out for help to the cop watching her house. Its only after her repeated screaming for help and saying ‘Get my Dad, you asshole!’ that he says ‘I’d better get the Lieutenant…’ Men are seen as impotent, inactive and ineffective.
The scene which precedes it in which Nancy lays the traps in her house for when she brings Freddy out of the dream sphere. This has to be one of the most empowering scenes in horror history. Craven loves his booby traps with them being an ingredient of both Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes. But they have never felt so satisfying as in Nightmare. This is true Girl Power rather than the fake manufactured kind peddled by The Spice Girls in the 90s.
The scene in which she shows the peak of her Final Girl qualities is the penultimate scene with Nancy showing Freddy that she feels no fear towards him anymore and turns her back on him- the ultimate act of power and defiance. She literally takes away his power and becomes all powerful herself.
Freddy Krueger’s cruelty manifests itself throughout the film. This man was a child molester and murderer ‘the most loathsome of creatures’ as Craven said and the seriousness of this isn’t passed over. Freddy likes to inflict harm to himself to disgust and repulse his victims. Hence he slices off two of his fingers when pursuing Tina and slices himself open during Nancy’s school dream. Both of these acts are done whilst smiling sadistically. Freddy seems to revel in the Grand Guignol act he can transform his body into.
There are also signifiers towards the sexual and violating nature of Freddy’s crimes- the scene where he says ‘Come to Freddy’ to Nancy and then flicks out his tongue vulgarly is repulsive in the extreme. Also the scene involves Freddy’s tongue coming out of the telephone receiver demonstrates another violation. The most obvious example of Freddy’s sexual intent of his crimes is when Nancy is in the bath. Freddy’s glove appears from in-between her legs. This scene depicts Nancy as victim in the most vulnerable of situations in the same way that Hitchcock did with Marion Crane in the shower.
And yet these aren’t the only examples of Freddy’s need to violate and invade. He wants to intrude into the different spheres of his victims lives- their homes, schools, even their bedrooms. And yet his biggest violation is the sphere of their sleeping lives. By violating this sphere he can affect their conscious non-sleeping spheres also.
Craven seems to be critiquing Reagan era America within the film. The neighbourhood is shot to look idyllic on the surface- gleaming white houses with no trace of any dysfunction at all. Advertising at this time was saturated with these kind of images.
However, Craven is ironically sending up the images seen so frequently in the adverts of the day. Scratch beneath the surface of the characters living in these houses and theres parents hiding a secret and the lynching of a child murderer after several of their children had been murdered by him. Maybe this influenced David Lynch and his portrayal of small town life in Blue Velvet.
The ultimate signifier that things aren’t quite right in this idyllic town is that whenever the neighbourhood is shown in this Norman Rockwell way, the angelic little girls are shown to be actually jumping rope to a rhyme about Freddy. This is a crack in the shiny veneer of the manufactured lie.
Another way in which Craven is showing the rancid underbelly of Reagan America is through his depiction of the law in the film. Policemen are shown to be either inept and pathetic, sometimes dangerously so. Rod Lane dies in police custody and is of Hispanic descent. This painfully mirrors news stories then and now as this is still a pertinent issue. This is portrayed in the film as the loaded look Rod’s father exchanges with Nancy’s cop father during his son’s funeral when the priest says that ‘He who lies by the sword must die by the sword’.
The example of the policeman who is supposed to standing guard over Nancy outside her house as she brings Freddy into the real world also shows that the police are inefficient and this can result in lives being lost. Institutions valuable to American society under Reagan aren’t functioning properly.
There is also another valuable insight into American society at the time of the film’s production. When Tina is killed in her bed, Rod sees no killer just Tina being killed by an invisible force. This is eerily like a filmic representation of AIDS, the invisible killer that is killing thousands of people in their beds. With hindsight this is telling of the mentality of the Reagan led era- it was decades before Reagan even acknowledged AIDS as a disease that needed to be combatted even when people close to the Reagans such as actor Rock Hudson was dying of the disease.
The fact that the film depicts a female character as resourceful, strong and assertive as Nancy also goes against the female gender role the Reagan era wanted women to aspire to. It wanted women to be wives, mothers and homemakers. They should have no aspirations or ambitions let alone possess or demonstrate any redeeming qualities.
Watching this film again was a treat. I loved the film as a child and my opinion hasn’t changed. The film is multi-layered, insightful and above all a kickass horror film experience.
Heather Langenkamp’s amazing portrayal of Nancy heads a brilliant cast. The photography is stunning as is Charles Bernstein’s menacing synth score. Only the rushed and lacklustre ending marrs the film.
This rightly deserves to be seen as a horror classic.