Saturday, September 12, 2009

Angry Samoans: I was Todd Homer!

I knew Metal Mike was in the house when I entered the trendy emo/alternative/punk Middle East Upstairs and the PA was blasting "Oops I Did it Again" by Ms. Britney Spears. Time to Fuck indeed. The Angry Samoans landed in Cambridge on 9/11, but it wasn't a disaster. It was incredible; deranged and damaged, but incredible. The band took the stage promptly at 12:00: Billy Vockeroth grabbed the mike and urged audience members to come up on stage and tell bad jokes; this was done to kill time while a distressed and obviously obsessive compulsive Metal Mike Saunders checked every microphone, every instrument, every drum piece, every monitor, every patch cord, as if he were doing sound for Yes in The Round 1978. Wearing an oversized Oakland A's shirt and ballcap, tattered cutoff jeans and battered Keds, MM finally took the mike as Billy got behind the drumkit. The other guitarist was some old punk veteran who looked like Ted Falconi of Flipper (but wasn't), and the bassist was a mohawked mid-30's looking grizzled dude. No chicks in the band tonight. The final touch to Metal Mike's sartorial splendor was the fact that instead of wearing earplugs, the loon pasted a swatch of duct tape over his left ear!

The band (Metal Mike sans guitar) launched into "Electrocute Your Cock" and the large crowd went wild; many aging punkers mouthed the words and a respectable slam pit began. I'm right in front. Next up is "Right Side of My Mind", Mike wielding an ancient Telecaster that isn't even plugged into an amp; I guess he went direct to the PA but you can hardly hear him even though he's showing off some heroic Townshend moves. "Gimme Sopor" and "Gas Chamber" fly on by, and the other guitarist is doing the Gregg Turner vox while Billy fills in impressively as Todd Homer from behind the kit. Next up is the volley of "Little Black Egg", "BBC", "I'm in love with your Mom", "Hot Cars", "Todd Killings", and "Time to Fuck".

Now Metal Mike wants to play drums! Billy comes out as the frontman as they do a bizarre set that begins with a snazzy Las Vegas type number called "Tequila/Knowledge", Billy crooning along while a Zappa-like "Dance Contest" is held onstage between a very fat goth girl and a tall skinny emo punk; Billy gives the girl five bucks and the band launches into "You Stupid Asshole", "I'm a Pig", and the Subhumans' "Slave to My Dick". Billy is intense as a frontman; with his bald head he looks like an octogenarean Ian MacKaye spewing out "3-4 You're just a fucking whore!". Metal Mike the drummer can best be described as Idiot Savant or dare I say Autistic: he totally keeps the beat, locked into his own zone, occasionally pausing for a stick twirl or a Stray Cats strut standup pose. What a freak!!

Back to the regular format, the Sams plough through their catalogue, Mike haphazardly picking up the guitar to play, sometimes in the middle of a song. Funny thing is, he keeps putting it in and out of its case which is onstage (more neuroses probably). He also strips off his A's shirt to reveal an incredible T-shirt of Ozzy Osbourne backstage around 1975, cradling a guitar (unheard of Sabbath photo); above the photo is the Angry Samoans logo from "Inside My Brain".

Back to the setlist:
"Steak Knife", "Lights Out", "You Stupid Jerk", Homo-Sexual", "Carson Girls", "Inside My Brain", "Baby One More Time " (intro)/"Time Has Come Today", and "Hazeman's Brain is Calling".

Then comes my moment in Angry Samoans history, as MM asks for both a male and female volunteer to sing "The Ballad of Jerry Curlan"; I'm onstage in a flash without thinking, gripping the mike like a lifeline. I may have flubbed a few parts in the mellow section but Billy was backing us up just in case; the swearing parts I howled on the floor (a la Turner's liner notes), as Metal Mike ground out the chords on his guitar above me. My moment in punk history is now sealed (second only to dueting with Hank Rollins on "Police Story" in a biker bar in Worcester, MA in 1984).

Finally, "They Saved Hitler's Cock", "Not of this Earth", "Permanent Damage", "Pictures of Matchstick Men", "Psych-Out 129", "Get off the Air", "Wasted", "Nervous Breakdown", and the closer "My Old Man's a Fatso". No encore. 32 songs in 62 minutes. Awesome.

I also got to snag the Metal Mike Anal Setlist: professionally printed, with graphics of the "Inside My Brain" album cover. And for merch, all they had was stuff for the ladies: custom Samoans bras, panties, girly tops, skirts, and tube tops. CDs only 5 bucks. Stickers 50 cents. Good deal.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Film Review: Drag Me To Hell

Good ol' Sam has stuck to his guns and stayed with the EC Comics/Pulp Horror Fanzine template that made Evil Dead 1 & 2 so great and everybody's in an uproar. OF COURSE "Drag Me to Hell" is awesome. Now I know people who know people who know Sam VERY WELL (as in editor Bob Murawsky, dog) and no way was he going to fuck up a little horror flick, because he's no doubt the same dude who made the Super-8s with Tapert, Ivan, Ted, and Bruce Campbell back in the 70s in Detroit with his dad's beat up Delta 88. Only now he's got some CG action going (but not TOO much). No doubt those jaded by all the brutal horror stuff out there are screaming about how something that's PG-13 (and it's a STRONG PG-13) with no blood and guts can't be scary and disturbing. Well, kids (and they are kids), this movie's not for you. It doesn't "push the limits" or "make a statement" in the postmodern sense of the nu-horror. What it does is deal with HELL (as in HADES) as a real frickin' fiery possibility, and if that's not heavy in the Miltonian sense of the old-horror, then what is?

DMTH reminded me of an extra long episode from George A. Romero's "Creepshow", a nasty morality play where bad choices lead to bad situations lead to...well...eternal damnation. Our heroine is a basic faceless do-gooder who gets trapped in a no-win deal that she'll never get out of. The "hero" is non-existent, as Jason Long's eternally suffering boyfriend actually ends up the one who actually "drags" her into the abyss at the end (I won't tell you how, and it's not really his fault; what Sam's dealing with here is fate with a capital F). They even throw in a cool mystic/fakir right out of a carnival (another EC Comics device), who tries in vain to aid the damsel in distress. Add a deranged seance (with shades of Ellen Sandweiss in "Evil Dead 1") that includes a talking goat, a pet sacrifice (complete with Raimi-esqe dry humor), and a Ten Commandments level grave resurrection and you've got a powerhouse of a little movie. And the ending? Awesome.

So go, make fun, say Sam Raimi made a "little" horror movie that people shouldn't care about. I say this is a heavy movie, man. There's theology, philosophy, grand drama of Dostoevskyan dimensions. Crime and Punishment, War and Peace, What goes around comes Around....

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Film Review: Martyrs

"Martyrs" is the latest uber-horror-gore film from France, which means it MUST be awesome, no? The critics are drooling and twittering over this, so I had to check it out; for a first at Grim Horror, I had a viewing partner in crime, Dave Depraved of Grindhouse Releasing. We soaked up every drop on Dave's dad's 8000 inch hi-def screen and it wasn't pretty.

It starts out ok, where we see (in that typically modern torture porn hazy color-saturated quick jump pov flashback style) that some little French girl has been unimaginably tortured (but not sexually, as if that makes it all the more incomprehensible and hideous) in some Eli Roth inspired factory of dripping horror. She escapes, and becomes bff with another girl at the orphanage, and we are given the prerequisite flashbacks and whatnot. Cut to 15 years later and a seemingly normal family is having breakfast in the French countryside. Enter the abused girl, grown up all Rambo style, and she blows away Ma, Pa, and the two kids with a shotgun in nouveau horror broootal fashion. Apparently the farmers were the original torturers. But all is not as it seems of course. Her friend comes to the house for the cleanup and they are beset upon by some ambiguous attic-dwelling creature out of my beloved horror hack Richard Laymon's "The Cellar". The cinematography is all dark and whatnot like most horror movies these days and we're not sure if the mutant beast is in her mind or is another torture victim in the house, but it doesn't really matter; things eventually come to a point where the original torture girl kills herself (we don't really know why, but this is France, right?) and the friend becomes a pawn in the game of the evil torture freaks. This is where I completely lost touch with all seriousness as Dave and I turned the movie into an episode of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 meets Philosophy 101

It seems this farmhouse is like torture central, a veritable museum of torture, with underground deprivation chambers, goth-inspired torture wear, and ersatz Einsatzgruppen shock troopers. Then there's "Mademoisselle", who looks like Pink Floyd The Wall's Mother as channelled by Devine, who spouts off Clive Barkeresque ponderisms about the importance of pleasure and pain, and transcendence through suffering. The screenwriters have obviously read the Cliff Notes for Nietzsche and seen lots of Marilyn Manson videos so they know what they're talking about. The final third of the movie is the girl friend ascending to martyrdom through ultimate suffering, until she finally reveals the secret of the universe. It's very brutal, very philosophical, very bloody, very French, and very boring. THESE FILMMAKERS HAVE SOMETHING IMPORTANT TO SAY!!

I liked "Inside" alot, and I even liked "Haute Tension" (despite the "twist" ending). They were intense movies like a roller coaster of doom; no message to impart to the viewer, just sheer horror on a very small scale. "Martyrs" brings in a whole subcultutre of pretentious decadence that just falls flat. Everybody's jaded, and the clique we see at the end of this movie is the same as the Italians in "Salo" and the businessmen in "Hostel". Totally empty. oo)))

Friday, April 3, 2009

1980: The Greatest Year Ever?

40 of the best from 1980. We just don't see this level of quality in 2009, do we?

Add in the number of awesome horror flicks of 1980, and it just might be the best year ever!

Iron Maiden: "Iron Maiden"
Black Sabbath: "Heaven and Hell"
Ozzy Osbourne: "Blizzard of Ozz"
Motorhead: "Ace of Spades"
AC/DC: "Back in Black"
Judas Priest: "British Steel"
Van Halen: "Women & Children First"
Rush: "Permanent Waves"
Blue Oyster Cult: "Cultosaurus Erectus"
Diamond Head: "Lightning to the Nations"
Saxon: "Wheels of Steel"
Thin Lizzy: "Chinatown"
Accept: "I'm a Rebel"
Scorpions: "Animal Magnetism"
Ted Nugent: "Scream Dream"
UFO: "No Place to Run"
Hawkwind: "Levitation"

Black Flag: "Jealous Again"
Dead Kennedys: "Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables"
Misfits: "Beware"
Minutemen: "Paranoid Time"
Discharge: "Realities of War"
The Clash: "Sandinista!"
The Damned: "The Black Album"
The Jam: "Sound Affects"
Ramones: "End of the Century"
Angry Samoans: "Inside My Brain"
Circle Jerks: "Group Sex"
DOA: "Something Better Change"
X: "Los Angeles"

Joy Division: "Closer"
Devo: "Freedom of Choice"
U2: "Boy"
Talking Heads: "Remain in Light"
Elvis Costello: "Get Happy!!"
Pete Townshend: "Empty Glass"
Bruce Springsteen: "The River"
Throbbing Gristle: "Heathen Earth"
David Bowie: "Scary Monsters"
John Lennon: "Double Fantasy"

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Fulci Lives! Torben Rules!

Bob, Sage, and Dave over at the mighty Grindhouse Releasing have unveiled another masterpiece in the 2 disc set of Lucio Fulci's lost classic "Cat in the Brain", out today. In Fulci's "8 1/2" he plays himself, plagued by his own movies. This self reflective film becomes even more insane when one realises that the maestro cannibalises (ahem) scenes not only from his own pictures ("Touch of Death" and "Ghosts of Sodom"), but also from others, such as Andrea Bianchi's "Massacre" (which Fulci worked on). Total gore for the hounds in this giallo. Grindhouse does it up right (as usual) with incredible restoration, amazing unseen interviews with Fulci, and footage of his 1996 Fangoria appearance just before his death. Liner notes are by daughter Antonella Fulci, author David J Schow, and Eli Roth. Pick it up or die!

Also out today, and even more obscure, is quite possibly the sleaziest piece of Eurotrash of all time, Denmark's "The Sinful Dwarf" (1974). A crazed (and obviously sinful) dwarf, played by former kiddie-show host Torben Bille, lives with his drunken, Carmen Miranda-obsessed mother in a boarding house. They keep young teenage sex slaves in their attic, get them addicted to heroin, and invite businessmen to pay money to taste their wares. They also deal smack on the side. The sexual depravity has to be seen to be believed. Back when Dave Depraved and I were brainstorming ideas for our "horror doom" band Blood Farmers, the grainy VHS copy of this was always visible in the haze of pot smoke. Fellow Doom brothers OGRE even used an iconic image of Torben on the cd of their album "Dawn of the Protoman". Thank you Severin Films for unearthing this lost masterpiece of sleaze!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Film Review: Twilight

Slap me, punch me, beat me, strangle me with clothesline, garrote me with rusty barbed wire, impale me on the inverted cross of death, disembowel me with a garden trowel, shoot me in the face with a double barrelled shotgun, crucify me upside down, bury me alive, stone me, cut off my eyelids with razorblades, carve "war" on my stomach with a kitchen knife, put my head on the axeman's chopping block, slap electrodes on my balls, cut out my tongue, pour Drano down my throat, castrate me during fellatio, decapitate me with a chainsaw, feed me to sharks, insert a burning red poker into my rectum till it comes out my mouth, cannibalise me, pull out my fingernails with a pair of pliars, dump me in a vat of acid, shove a quarter stick of dynamite down my throat and light it, bust my kneecaps with baseball bats, drown me in a bathtub, slash my throat with a straight edge razor, set my hair on fire, feed me to a pack of rabid dogs, pour gasoline on me and light a match, bash my brains in with a brick, ALL BECAUSE:

I LIKED "TWILIGHT" (even though my buddy Will Broadbent called it "High School Musical for Goths").

Then again, I liked "High School Musical" too...

Comment away:

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Film Review: Combat Shock

The greatest Vietnam war movie filmed completely in Staten Island, Buddy Giovinazzi's "Combat Shock" is also one of the bleakest, scuzziest movies ever made. Shot for $40,000 in 1984, the film is basically a visual reenactment of the harrowing no-wave 1977 classic "song" by Suicide "Franky Teardrop". Buddy himself has acknowledged this in interviews; both song and film describe a day in the life of Franky, a Vietnam vet living in squalor with his annoying wife and Agent Orange deformed baby. The no budget gives the film a gritty edge that makes it completely uncomfortable to watch. Buddy's older brother Ricky plays Franky perfectly: shuffling around battle-torn Staten Island in a black trenchcoat, with greasy long hair and scuffed-up Converse high tops, he is the epitome of the aimless loser. His only friend is a hopeless junkie who dies of an OD in a nasty scene, he owes money to a sleazy thug named Paco, he is rejected by his family, and his attempts at crime fail miserably. With nothing left but the horribly vivid Vietnam flashbacks, Franky gets a gun and methodically shoots his wife to death, shoots his mutant child in the face (then throws it in the oven), and shoots himself in the head. Movie over. Like its obvious influences "Eraserhead" and "Driller Killer", "Combat Shock" is a no holds barred descent into madness and delirium that still holds up after 25 years. Easily the best thing to ever come out of the Troma factory.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Film Review: Last House on the Left (2009)

"To avoid puking, just repeat 'It's almost a remake, it's almost a remake"

I had to do it. Went to the very first screening with 12 other idiots. Such is my love for the original, that I had to see what kind of travesty the "geniuses" of the modern horror film would make of the quirky but depraved Craven classic. After sitting through all 100 minutes (!) of this "reimagining" (as they like to call them these days), I can honestly say that if this came out today as a completely original movie, I'd probably say "that was pretty sick; not bad". However, as a remake it fails on all accounts. How shall I count the ways? Note: tons of spoilers, but who cares when such a crime against a classic piece of horror cinema has been commited?

1. The script, by a couple of young nobodies, is practically non-existent. Since the movie relies on nothing but action, gore, and people staring each other down, the characters are given NOT A SINGLE MEMORABLE LINE, therefore none of them are developed whatsoever as people. What was great about the original is that each of the "baddies" had their own personalities, with good and bad qualities. Here they are just generically evil. With nothing to work with, the actors (save Sara Paxton as Mari and maybe Monica Potter as her mother) have no choice but to be humorless and wooden.

2. The overall tone and look of the film is exactly in keeping with all the other "torture porn" modern horror trash out there: humorless, dark in tone and look, ultra violent and gory, but completely empty. Sure, it's "brootal", but so what? Might as well see "Saw 6" or "Hostel 3". If they're doing a remake, they could have kept a LITTLE of the original's campiness.

3. Mari lives! WTF? The rape is by nature unsettling, but a crucial difference with the original is that here Krug rapes Mari from behind and we see her crying face, but not Krug's. This doesn't pack the punch of David Hess drooling into Sandra Peabody's face. Also, he doesn't carve his initials in her neck (why?). Instead of Mari's comatose walk into the lake and subsequent execution, here she gets up from the rape, smashes Krug with a rock, and escapes into the lake swimming a mile a minute (she's a competitive swimmer). Krug manages to shoot her in the upper back, but she swims all the way home. Doc Collingwood heals her, and after dispatching the baddies, they take her to the hospital as the credits roll. Lame. Also, the baddies' "moment of remorse" is left out, an important omission, as it shows how in the original, the killers were humanized; here they aren't.

4. Junior ("Justin") is not a junkie, nor does he deliberately deliver the girls up to "Krug and Company". He's partying with them in the motel room and thinks the gang will be out for a while. He just seems like a dumb kid. In the end, he even betrays the gang by giving Mrs Collingwood Mari's necklace and Doc Collingwood Krug's gun. Instead of the crucial "blow your brains out" scene, Krug just stabs his son with a fireplace poker, but the Collingwoods save him in the end and he survives with Mari. Lame again.

5. The killers don't take the girls into the woods for torture deliberately; Mari causes them to crash the car in the woods, and they are stuck there. There is no "piss your pants", no enforced lesbianism, no real torture at all. Phyllis ("Paige") is stabbed as in the original, but there is no disembowelment or amputation of her hand.

6. Weasel ("Francis") dies, but there is no castration, and the infamous "dentist" dream is left out. Instead he is stabbed, has his arm shoved down a garbage disposal (?!!?), and given a claw hammer to the head. More mundane is Sadie's death; instead of the catfight with Emma Collingwood, she is simply shot twice in the head. Boring.

7. Doc Collingwood doesn't set any of Craven's trademark "traps" for Krug. Sure, they were goofy in the original, but it was fun amidst the carnage. This movie takes itself so seriously, that Krug and Doc have a battle royale all over the house that goes on forever. In the end, the Collingwoods subdue Krug, paralyze him by some kind of surgery, and stick his head in the microwave (which mysteriously works with it's door open!), where it explodes. Come on, people, no chainsaw? And they call this a "remake"?

8. Finally, ex-Disney and Lifetime Network uber-babe Sara Paxton strips down briefly to bra and panties, but no nudity, even during the rape. Come on, people.

Saturday, March 7, 2009


I just saw an amazing video of the great Vancouver punk/hardcore band DOA from 1980 and was reminded of just how choice they really were back in the early 80s. Often overlooked for not being "core" enough, they (like Black Flag and Dead Kennedys) were literal trailblazers, touring relentlessly when there was no network at all set up for bands visiting foreign lands. I saw them in 82 or 83 and they put on a hell of a show with their politically charged yet fun twin guitar assault. Joey Shithead always seemed like your goofy, lunk headed next door neighbor, ready to share a beer and fuck some shit up. But inside, you knew he was smarter than that....

And the records! 1979's "Triumph of the Ignoroids" 12" and the "World War 3" 7", and the holy trinity of 1980-1982: "Something Better Change", "Hardcore 81", and "War on 45". I always loved The Clash, but it seemed around 1981 or 1982 they started to get their heads up their asses musically. DOA stepped in to fill the void. Anthems like "The Enemy", "Fucked Up Ronnie", "13", "Woke Up Screaming", "Smash the State" and "America the Beautiful" blasted 80s complacency and rocked to boot.

Finally, there's Chuck Biscuits. He was 15 YEARS OLD on the 1980 video that I saw, and was as amazing as Keith Moon in 1969, I shit you not. There's even footage of him at 13 (!) thrashing away at an anarchist rally DOA played in 1978. Most people (idiots) think of him as the "Danzig" leather guy, but he was in DOA from 1978 to 1981, he played with Black Flag for the infamous unreleased and untitled 1982 "metal" album, and he bashed away for Circle Jerks in 1983 and 1984. I met him during this period and he drew me an awesome cartoon self portrait on the back of a gig flyer. I still have it. Nice guy all around.

DOA are still out there kicking butt, and Joey even wrote an entertaining autobiography about his life in music and politics, called "I, Shithead". He still runs a DIY label (Sudden Death Records) that has been reissuing the DOA back catalogue and other underground Canadian bands. Do yourself a favor and pick up "Bloodied But Unbowed", 19 classic tracks from 1980 and 1981; punk DID matter once, and DOA is one reason why.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Film Review: Death Game

I remember watching this nasty seldom seen women's lib gone bad flick whilst blasted on LSD back in '89 or '90 and being totally freaked out. It's psychedelic journey into male degradation, female madness, murder, and total anarchy was perfect for my warped and deviant sensibilities at the time. Well, kids, these days I'm straight edge to the (hard)core, and 1977s "Death Game" (aka "The Seducers" and "Mr. Manning's Weekend") STILL freaks me out. The simple story of generic family man George Manning tormented by two teenage maniacs in a surreal home invasion from hell is psychosexual drama at its finest.

The film opens with a bizarre upbeat song about "Dear Old Dad" set to a backdrop of a little kid's drawings of a happy home, with Mom and Dad, Spot and the proverbial Picket Fence. We are then introduced to the Mannings, an affluent, happily married couple living in San Francisco whose son is off visiting Grandma. It's George the architect's 40th birthday, but the celebration is cut short when Granny calls to say that the kid has come down with appendicitis and is headed for emergency surgery. Mrs. Manning packs up and leaves, but George stays home (for reasons unknown) for a lonely 40th. Little does he know what chaos the night will bring...

George (the great character actor Seymour Cassel, looking like a total 70s porn star) is chillin' in his fab living room, listening to ethnicky jazz on his 5 grand stereo, smoking butts and drinking scotch, when the doorbell rings. It's a torrential rainstorm out and 2 nubile blondes are at the door looking to use the telephone as they are lost. Agatha (Sondra Locke, 29 playing 17) is clearly in charge as she barges into the house, furtively casing the joint while simultaneously charming the vulnerable guy. Following her somewhat timidly is the voluptuous, wide-eyed Donna (Colleen Camp, 22 playing 15), who is in obvious awe of George's wealth and possessions. Within minutes, the girls have taken over the house, playing with the stereo, messing with the humongous fishtank, and chowing down on some food. The chivalrous George says they can go upstairs to dry off while waiting for their ride (which of course never comes). When they don't come down after some time, he heads up and finds them in flagrante delecto in le hot tub. A cheesy threesome scene ensues, all soft-focus and sensual (Camp's breasts are much in display), with some light lesbian action; George has just had the stereotypical male fantasy, and he's going to pay for it.

The next morning George offers them a lift to the nearest bus station, but they won't leave so easily. They dress in his wife's clothes and fix breakfast. The first sign that all is not right is that when the girls eat, they act like pigs, shoving food in their faces, not using utensils, and whipping maple syrup and ketchup all over the place. When George takes them to task, Agatha ferociously accuses him of raping them and says they are minors and he must pay. To make matters worse, the child-like Donna professes that she is "in love" with George and that they should be together "forever". Though he manages to eventually get them to a bus station, when George finally arrives home that night (in the pouring rain again), there they are, lying in wait, ready for some estrogen laced revenge.

What follows is 35 minutes of sheer anarchy. The girls subdue George with some well placed blows to the head, and while he is tied up they utterly trash his upper class existence. This part of the film is handled very bizarrely by director Peter S. Traynor, with heavy use of darkness, shadows, and quick cuts. Agatha dresses as a vaudevillian performer, and Donna wears nothing but Mrs. Manning's nightgown (the sight of the bosomy Colleen Camp bouncing up and down on the king sized bed had me in LSD terrors for days). They also put on garish clown makeup as they smash the stereo, wreck statues, tear up expensive clothing, and beat the crap out of the helpless George. The contrast between the two female characters is excellent, as one moment George is harangued with a feminist diatribe from Agatha, only to be followed up by the obvious Oedipal sexual advances of the girlish Donna. In one grotesque sequence, the girls dump TONS of sticky, wet, and sloppy food all over the bound man as he writhes and cries for help. It is disturbing to say the least. Oh yeah, they also manage to bludgeon a grocery delivery boy to death when he arrives and hears George's screams for help. They stuff his body into the gigantic fish tank while George looks on in horror, his once cozy life in shambles.

The final macabre scene is George's "trial", presided over by Judge Agatha, for the crimes of statutory rape, corruption of minors, and other imagined perversities. The scene is relentless as George begs for his life, to no avail. The sentence can only be death. Agatha raises a meat cleaver above George's head as the salivating Donna looks on, and....

I won't give away the ending (for once) because it is so random, so out of nowhere, and so absurd, that you have to see it for yourselves. Some people have said that it's ridiculous, but I think it is in keeping with the anarchic message of the film. Sometimes an ordered life needs chaos to bring it redemption, yet that chaos is still subject to some kind of bizarre karma in the end. "Death Game" is an unpleasant film, "torture porn" in reverse (before it even existed), but it has a serious message and is well done. And for those of you who have seen the ending, remember to look both ways before crossing the street.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Film Review: Alone In The Dark

Okay kids, it's November 1982, and you're lining up to see Friday the 13th part 3 for the seventh time when you notice the new poster. "Holy shit", you exclaim, "another slasher arrives on Friday!". There's a faceless lone axeman approaching a house surrounded by woods under a full moon, an awesome tagline, and it's got frickin' Doctor Loomis from "Halloween"! This has GOT to be an instant classic, right? Well it is, but not the way you thought it would be. Writer/Director Jack Sholder's "Alone in the Dark" was a slasher, I guess, but it broke a hell of a lot of the usual rules; both heroes and villains were very well developed characters with (dare I say) their own personalities and quirks, there is only one teenagers in peril scene (but it's a doozy), and there's no masked villain with childhood trauma (there's actually no axe and no woods either, despite the great poster). Instead you get 4, count 'em, 4 psychopaths, each with their own brand of insanity. And for the icing on the cake, the parallels to one of the greatest movies of all time, S.F. Brownrigg's 1973 shocker "Don't Look in the Basement", are blatantly obvious and hopefully intentional.

Dr. Leo Bain (Donald Pleasence, even more deranged and spaced out than in the "Halloween" movies) oversees "The Haven", a mental institution with a seriously laidback attitude towards potentially dangerous situations. For instance, the good doctor lets a delusional woman act as receptionist (shades of the great Annabelle Weenick in DLITB), he gives matches to an unstable pyromaniac, who immediately starts a bonfire (just as Dr. Stephens unwisely gives Judge Gene Ross an axe in DLITB), and to top it all off, Dr. Bain stuffs his fancy pipe with what he calls "Turkish Sensimilla" (I used to be a major connoisseur, but I've never heard of that one). The patients cannot be called "patients" or "inmates"; they are termed "voyagers". And off we go on their trip...

The only locked ward is the third floor, which houses just 4 voyagers. Frank Hawkes (Jack Palance, still a good 9 years away from his mainstream return in "City Slickers") is an ex-POW powderkeg who stares out the window looking demonically intense (a la soldier Hugh Feagin in DLITB). Ronald "Fatty" Elster (the late Erland Van Lidth, the opera singing baddie in "The Running Man") is a 6'6'' 300 pound pedophile with a slightly retarded expression and the demeanor of a child (parallels of "final boy" Sam in DLITB). Then there's Skaggs (aka "The Bleeder"), a rapo who gets nosebleeds every time he strangles a victim; he hides his face against the wall and we never see it. To save the best for last, there's Byron "Preacher" Sutcliff (Martin Landau, in possibly his greatest performance EVER), a religious zealot and also the aforementioned pyro. The film's opening scene, a dream sequence where Landau imagines himself in a fiery diner being split from crotch to craw by a grinning Pleasence (dressed hilariously as a short-order fry cook with a huge cleaver) is priceless.

As in "Don't Look in the Basement", the story starts when a new employee begins at the sanitarium. Instead of a cute nurse, it's bleeding heart liberal Dr. Dan Potter (then unknown Dwight Schultz, who would go on to fame in 1983 as "Howling Mad" Murdock on "The A Team"), who has moved into town with his equally liberal wife Nell (stage actress Deborah Hedwall), his smart aleck 10 year old daughter Lyla (Elizabeth Ward, who actually won a Best Actress award for this role at the "Catalonian International Film Festival" and would go on to play the Tracey Gold role in the pilot for "Growing Pains"; who says I don't give out awesome trivia?), and his punk rockin' younger sister Toni (Lee Taylor-Allen), who is recovering from some sort of mental breakdown. Unfortunately things are not great at work: the paranoid Sgt Hawkes has decided that Dr. Potter has killed off his predecessor Dr. Merton, and he's convinced the other 3 psychos that it's true. Potter shrugs it off despite the warnings of the 3rd floor attendant, who has heard the freaks planning to murder their new doc.

The action begins in an embarrassing scene where Toni drags Dr. and Mrs. Potter off to a punk rock club to see The Sic F*cks (an actual band from NYC, who were really more Rocky Horror Picture Show than true punk rock). With the faux-slamdancing, wacky punkers, and the band singing "Chop Up Your Mother", it's very reminiscent of those goofy episodes of "CHIPS" and "Quincy" from the same year which warned against the dangers of the punk subculture. I guess Sholder was trying to show how the crazies are everywhere, not just in the loony bin, but the whole thing comes off as forced and goofy, like watching my Dad air guitar to Ted Nugent.
Anyway, while they're at the club a citywide blackout occurs, which results in not only massive looting and riots, but also the deactivation of The Haven's electric 3rd floor doors. The 4 Voyagers take off, killing their attendant and carjacking a doctor just arriving for the night shift (as in "Halloween"). They head into town and go to a looted sporting goods store for new duds and weapons. In a scene hotly debated by horror mavens, The Bleeder emerges wearing a hockey mask, rips out a guy's heart with a spear, and promptly vanishes into the night, never to be seen again (or so we think). Who came first, The Bleeder or Jason? "Friday part 3" was released in August of 82 and "Alone in the Dark" in November, but I'd have to call it a total coincidence, as they were probably written and filmed around the same time and for different studios. Unless there was corporate spying going on between New Line (AITD) and Paramount (F13), which I doubt, it's gotta be synchronicity.

The next day, Potter and Bain seem unconcerned about the escape, which of course is not a good thing. It's not explained how they got his address, but after randomly running down a bike messenger (in an unfortunately bloodless scene saved by Palance's contorted expressions behind the wheel), the trio show up at the Potters'. In another showstopping moment by Landau, he rings the doorbell posing as a mailman (uniform and all) with a telegraph for the doctor. Grinning insanely and twitching all over, he ogles the wife and sister while questioning them about the doctor's whereabouts. As this is a slasher flick (sorta), they don't even ask him where the telegram is, or question why he disappears into an ominous black van. Despite the ongoing blackout, Toni once again drags off her sister-in-law, this time to a Nuclear Disarmament rally (more total early 80s action), where they are promptly jailed. Back home, little Lyla arrives home from school to find an empty house, except for the drooling "Fatty" Elster, who stammers out that he's her new babysitter. She accepts this, but rebukes him when he awkwardly tries to hold her hand. This tense scene is especially excellent, and both actors do a great job; you honestly don't know what's going to happen when the director cuts away to Dr. Potter at work.

Potter has heard from his wife and sister at the jailhouse, and he calls the real babysitter, the oddly monickered Bunky (smokin' blonde Carol Levy, who would go on to star in Radley Metzger's "The Princess and the Call Girl" and "Les Fantasmes de Miss Jones"), to see if she can watch Lyla. Here's where the REAL stereotypical slasher scene comes in. Bunky finds Lyla alone and asleep so she calls her boyfriend Billy to come over. When he arrives she is naturally in a state of undress and they start going at it, with some ace topless work from Levy. I won't spoil it (for once), but major slashage ensues.

The ladies are bailed out from jail and arrive home with Tom Smith, a guy Toni hooked up with in jail (he gave them his space in line for the phone so they invited him for dinner, despite the fact that they know 4 psychos with a vendetta against the head of their household are on the loose). Doc Potter comes home, Lyla wakes up, a Detective Burnett arrives (who they also invite for dinner!), and it's SIEGE TIME! Arrows fly through windows and into chests, dead bodies come flying out of nowhere in typical slasher fashion, fires get lit, doors get barricaded; total "Night of the Living Dead" action. Dr. Bain shows up in his Cooper and tries to calm the voyagers down, but it's too late. When he tells Preacher "Thou Shalt Not Kill", Landau counters with "Vengeance is Mine!". And of course "The Bleeder" shows up and finally reveals his face in a plot twist you could see a mile away. All in all, some good ultraviolence, decent gore, and a great freakout scene by the already unstable Toni. In the film's greatest moment, when Nell gives Toni a valium in the midst of the chaos (as in medicating a mental patient), little Lyla the wiseacre says, "Mom, I think I could use a valium!". Her father's expression at that little outburst is also worth the price of admission. Tom Savini picked up a paycheck as well, not for the gore, but for creating a monster which Toni hallucinates before getting the lifesaving benzo.

"Alone in the Dark" is a great little movie. ALL of the actors are superb, which you can't say for most 80s American-made horror films. The humor and social commentary is simple, subtle, and very much of the time, but due to the histrionics of Pleasence, Palance, and Landau it's still an enjoyable ride today. The first time I remember being REALLY scared by a movie was in 1973, when as a 7 year old I saw Palance in the TV Movie "Dracula"; watching "Alone in the Dark" the other night brought that right back when Frank Hawkes started giving Doc Potter the evil eye in the day room.

As one final note, all this S.F. Brownrigg talk leads me to some shameless promotion. Fellow Blood Farmer David Szulkin, author of the seminal "Wes Craven's The Last House on the Left: The Making of a Cult Classic", is at work on a new book on Brownrigg and his films ("Don't Look in the Basement" aka "The Forgotten", "Scum of the Earth" aka "Poor White Trash 2", "Don't Open the Door!", and "Keep My Grave Open" aka "The House where Hell Froze Over"). Let's hope it comes out soon, as his first book (FAB Press) is a masterpiece of horror journalism.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Bad Craziness

15 Albums that make you want to Fuck Shit Up:

  • Black Flag: Damaged (1981)
  • Dwarves: Blood Guts & Pussy (1989)
  • Slayer: Reign in Blood (1986)
  • Negative Approach: Self Titled 7" (1982)
  • Napalm Death : Scum (1986)
  • Misfits: Earth A.D. (1983)
  • Pig Destroyer: Prowler in the Yard (2001)
  • Exodus: Bonded by Blood (1985)
  • Poison Idea: Record Collectors are Pretentious Assholes (1984)
  • Minor Threat: Minor Threat/In My Eyes 12" (1981)
  • Ramones: It's Alive! (1978)
  • Repulsion: Horrified (1986)
  • SS Decontrol: Get it Away (1983)
  • Turbonegro: Never is Forever (1994)
  • Dead Boys: Young, Loud, and Snotty (1977)

Further suggestions, droogies?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Film Review: She Killed in Ecstacy

Believe it or not, there once was a time when Spain's trashmeister Jess Franco actually made good films. From around 1968 to 1975, he had decent budgets, great exotic locales for shooting, and a unique, almost psychedelic approach to cinematography and editing. Not to mention some seriously wacked-out soundtracks and many gorgeous (and even classy) actresses. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the trilogy of German-language films he shot in 1970 for bigshot producer Artur Brauner of CCC-Filmkunst Productions in West Germany. These three films, "The Devil Came from Akasava", "Vampyros Lesbos", and "She Killed in Ecstacy", all released in 1971, gave posthumous stardom to doomed Spanish beauty Soledad Miranda, Franco's first "muse", who died in a tragic car accident in August of 1970. Her mysterious allure, her ability to be classy, slutty, hippy-dippy, cruel, and romantic all at once gave her an onscreen presence Franco would never capture again (though he came close with the early films of Lina Romay, Miranda's official successor). Though "Vampyros Lesbos" is the most famous of the trilogy, in my opinion "She Killed in Ecstacy" is where the Franco/Miranda pairing jelled most intensely.

Much of "She Killed in Ecstacy" is narrated in a voiceover by Miranda, who plays the unnamed wife of experimental research scientist Doctor Johnson. In a series of flashbacks that are shown while Miranda stands on the edge of a cliff wearing a totally groovy outfit, her long brown hair blowing in the wind, we see her husband (played by Fred Williams, also in "The Devil...") being denounced and ultimately disbarred by a medical board of four doctors (all of the actors appear in all 3 movies, and one of them is played by Franco himself). His peers call him "insane", "immoral", "unethical" and, finally, "an animal", because he experimented on human fetuses (or something like that). Later they send some thugs to destroy his lab and rough up Soledad. Hubby goes totally insane, mumbling the words of the board over and over in a semi-catatonic state. His wife moves them to a deserted island off the coast, and they hole up in a huge fortess-like castle (where they got the money for this on a researcher's salary is never explained, but then again this is Franco). She tries to bring him around, but to no avail; while she is sleeping he slits his wrists. Her naked histrionics upon finding him in the bathroom are worth the price of admission alone. This marks the end of the flashbacks; from here on in it's all Miranda exacting her own special brand of revenge on those who destroyed her perfect marriage.

Before I go any further, I must mention that as in the other two films of the trilogy (most notably "Vampyros Lesbos"), the score is provided by Manfred Hubler and Sigfried Schwab; their psychedelic jazz gives the film a feel all it's own, and the music actually lends the movie more of an action film sensibility than that of a horror movie. Seeing Soledad chop guys up accompanied by a Funkadelicized jam is jarring to say the least. She first poses as a prostitute (looking great in a black cape and mesh stockings) in a local bar, luring Dr. Walker (Franco regular, and the original Dr. Orloff, Howard Vernon) up to his hotel room. There the great moralist turns out to be a spineless sexual masochist. Soledad does a bit of topless domination before pulling a stilleto out of her garter belt and slashing his throat. She then castrates him (off-screen). She leaves a note at the scene (inexplicably in English!) saying "1 animal is dead; 3 more will die". Unlike most Franco films, the pace is fairly quick and the running time short, so right away we see the sexy avenger in a bell bottomed tan pantsuit and blond bouiffant wig, posing as a rich and bored tourist at the spa where Dr. Crawford (the voluptuous Ewa Stromberg, Miranda's nemesis in "Vampyros Lesbos") is staying. She befriends the doctor, and they head upstairs for a drink. The uptight Dr. Crawford (of course) is really a horny lesbian, and the two go at it in an awkward coupling. While they are groping about, Franco inserts shots of Miranda and her husband making love to show us where her mind is actually at. At the moment of climax, Miranda picks up a zebra-striped pillow (this movie is groovy!) and smothers her lover. She killed in ecstacy indeed!

At this point the other two doctors have figured out what's going on, and go to the police chief, played by German TV legend Horst Tappert. He basically blows them off, saying "a dead guy can't kill anybody". All throughout the murders, we are also treated to some creepy scenes of Soledad lying in bed and cuddling her dead husband, promising revenge and that they will be together again soon. How she got his dead body there, and why it shows no sign of decay, is not explained, but again, this is Franco we're talking about. Logic totally breaks down in the death scene of the third doctor (Paul Muller of "Lesbos"); she pursues him in a church, and then outdoors as herself, before finally confronting him in a cafe. Suddenly they're in a hotel room and she has on a long blonde wig and sexy lingerie. Anyhow, they have the film's only real erotic moment, as he explores her small but perfect breasts and feels her up. Just as they get going, she comes up with a pair of scissors and emotionlessly stabs him in the back of the head. The blood running out of his mouth onto her naked thigh is a great shot.

Finally it's Franco's turn to die. He finds out about the 3rd murder and frantically races home, only to find his wife on the living room floor with her throat slashed. He passes out. When he wakes up, he is in Miranda's house, half-naked and tied to a chair. She enters the room dressed like Vampirella, brandishing a wicked-looking dagger. She then proceeds to give the greasy haired, sweaty Franco a lap dance, teasing him with the knife. Finally, she builds it up and starts slicing his chest and licking up the blood, eventually plunging the knife deep into his heart over and over. She then runs out to her car, where her husband's corpse is waiting in the passenger seat. Pursued by the police, who have been alerted God knows how, she drives for the cliff and over the edge they go. Sadly, Franco couldn't afford an explosion, so the climactic suicide and reunion of the doomed couple looks pretty damn cheap. Some pat words from the police chief, and "FIN".
Overall, this is one of Franco's best films, because he keeps the story simple, the shots are fairly normal (even his notorious zoom insanity is toned down), the music is great, the locations are beautiful, the gore is minimal (and thus not fake), and the pacing is not the usual snail's pace. Mostly, though, it's great because of Solidad Miranda. Her presence is astonishing; doomed, tragic, cold, and relentless. And of course hot, hot, hot.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

RIP Ron Asheton

Ron Asheton was one of the true unsung guitar heroes in the history of rock. His psychedelic, jazz-tinged wah-terror fueled the first 2 Stooges albums, and his slashing minimalistic chords basically defined proto-punk, influencing tons of bratty kids in the 70s and 80s to form bands before they really knew how to play. Despite his bizarre fascination with Nazi imagery (his New Order project was incredibly maligned and misunderstood, though good musically), the overall consensus was that he was the most 'normal' of the Stooges, neither destructive to others or to self (he was the only one not addicted to smack in the 70s). He even had the class to trade the guitar for bass on "Raw Power" after Iggy insisted on bringing in James Williamson. Maybe he needed the money, but maybe he was just a cool guy. I recently heard a bootleg of their 'comeback' tour from a few years back and he was as wailing as ever, jamming out on every song from both albums. I guess it's ironic that the only 2 surviving members of the original lineup (Iggy and brother Scott Asheton) were the biggest fuckups back in the day. The Stooges are nominated this year for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, so let's hope justice prevails and Ron gets his revenge on the world of rock from beyond the grave.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Overkill (LA): "Triumph of the Will"

In 1985, SST Records was flying high. With albums and tours coming on strong by label luminaries Black Flag, Minutemen, Meat Puppets, Saccharine Trust, and Husker-Du, the indie was beginning to attract major critical and even commercial attention; just around the corner they would go on to sign big names like Sonic Youth, Bad Brains, and Dinosaur Jr. However, label owners Greg Ginn, Chuck Dukowski, Mugger, and Joe Carducci weren't content to let indie rock and hardcore rule the label. They took profits from many of their bigger selling acts and funded a number of records which stood in total opposition to the current trends dominating underground music in the 80s. In 1985, the label released low-key releases by such bands as DC3 (featuring Dez of Black Flag), SWA (with Chuck Dukowski), Saint Vitus, Wurm, Tom Troccoli's Dog (with Greg Ginn on bass), and Overkill. These bands, "born too late" (to quote the almighty Vitus), were all throwbacks to the classic rock and metal that the band members were into before they got involved in the hardcore scene of the early 80s. Critically reviled at the time (and to this day by many), these records sold poorly to say the least and, save Vitus, all of the bands lasted only a short while. In fact, a number of the releases ended up being posthumous statements of careers that might-have-been. However, on closer inspection and with some hindsight, one can see that these records, with their stripped-down sound and mixing of genres, presaged many of the aspects of today's Stoner Rock and Doom Metal scenes.

Overkill are one of the most forgotten of these bands. Starting out in 1981 as a metal-tinged hardcore band, the band featured drummer and chief songwriter Kurt Markham (who would later be a founding member of psych-rock band DC3), and vocalist Merrill Ward, a Black Flag roadie and original member of Nig Heist, SST's infamous "Porn Rock" collective. Thefirst Overkill single, "Hell's Getting Hotter", released in 1982 on SST, was more hardcore than metal, with all 4 songs under 2 minutes apiece. That year the band also took part in rock history when they opened for San Francisco's Trauma; it was at that gig that James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich approached Trauma's Cliff Burton to join Metallica. Infighting over Merrill's bizarre behavior (he would often light his balls on fire during performances) and participation in Nig Heist led to the vocalist being sacked in late 1982.

The music that would appear on the full-length "Triumph of the Will" was recorded in 1983 at a metal studio in LA, at the height of the thrash metal explosion. Markham, however, refused to follow trends, and while the songs are all pretty fast, they don't have the trademark palm muted riffing, shredding solos, epic song structures, and topical lyrics of the fledgling genre. Instead, what we got was metal-influenced hardcore, with all the fat nicely trimmed. When the music was recorded, their vocalist was Scott Kidd, who was fired in the middle of the session (before any vocals were recorded) for not being able to write decent lyrics, and for being a bonafide glammy cock rocker on stage, which the down and dirty members of the band were definitely not into. The tapes languished on the shelf and the band broke up. Markham started up DC3 with Black Flagger Dez Cadena, Merrill joined up with Flag's Chuck Dukowski in the despised SWA, and bassist Ron Cordy went on to fame (but not fortune) in Metal Blade's sleazy and cheezy Bitch.

In 1984, the band got it together again, realising the tapes were too good to waste, so SST got Merrill to provide lyrics and record vocals with SST producers Spot and Joe Carducci, who also remixed the music with their typical "less is more" philosophy. Released in early 1985, the result is an excellent platter of molten rock/metal/hardcore that is difficult to categorize; it's not thrash or even the "crossover" that was so popular at the time, but rather a stripped down, metallic biker rock. Most importantly the songs are catchy as all hell, with great guitar playing throughout (the riffs may be punkish, but the tone is definitely metal), and vocals that are like a less raspy (and more on-key) cross between Iggy and Lemmy. "Victimized", "Ladies in Leather", "Head On" (dig the Stooges reference), and "American Dream" (co-written by Greg Ginn) are the highlights, and "No Holds Barred" was even inexplicably released on Metal Blade's Metal Massacre 2 compilation. With its distictly untrendy sound and lyrics, and SST's typically offensive cover art and title, the album was a total bomb and the band didn't even reform to promote it.
"Triumph of the Will" (never originally released on CD) was out of print till 1992, when SST released a CD version under the moniker "Overkill LA", to avoid confusion with the immensely popular and immensely lame NYC thrash band Overkill (who had a trademark on the name). I found my copy, natch, in a bargain bin at my local store for about 4 bucks. It's definitely worth tracking down, perhaps on EBay, as SSTs Superstore no longer carries it. Like the other outre SST bands of the mid-80s, Overkill flew their freak flag high. I paid attention, even if nobody else did.