Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Night Tide (1961)

Although Curtis Harrington's B-movie debut got slightly dusted with time and is rarely being revisited by movie geeks nowadays, it's off-beat, dreamy atmosphere and occult undercurrent combined with avant-garde cinematography, make it a perfect film challenge for those digging in vintage obscurities and forgotten gems. Made on a shoestring budget and filmed on a location in Venice Beach, California in glorious black & white, "Night Tide" was released in 1961 by American International Pictures and instantly flopped. From perspective of today it doesn't seem strange, because it wasn't much of a cheesy, drive-in flick, providing whole lot of cheap thrills by default like 15 ft women, teenage werewolves, giant crabs or octopusses from outer space – typical exploitation themes for late 50's early 60's AIP repertoire.

By filming a soft mystery, we couldn't grasp till the end and that never would be fully explained, Harrington sparked off instead an occult thriller, which harnessed esoteric tools like Tarot, Greek mythogy and Hitchcockian suspense via experimental cinema tools which he mastered well working with Peter Hamid, Maya Deren and Kenneth Anger on their legendary shorts and then making his own experimental works. In fact, Curtis Harrington was one of Anger's closest friends taking part in "Inauguration Of The Pleasure Dome" (1954) together with other occultists belonging to Agape Lodge of O.T.O. - para-masonic order dedicated to practising Thelemic group rituals of Aleister Crowley. It's when shooting the movie with Anger, he got to meet Marjorie Cameron – John W. Parson's wife – whom he later invited to act as a witch from the sea in "Night Tide".

The whole plot of the film, which draws American sailor on a leave in a seaside town (Dennis Hopper) meeting a beautiful girl working in the circus (Linda Lawson), who he finds out soon is a dangerous femme fatale with an account of two lost boyfriends, both killed in an unusual accident, being herself deeply convinced to be a siren, plays out fundamentally in The Dream Time – a space and time continuum, where imagination is as real as flesh and bone. Harrington's cinematographic experiment with possibilities of setting the action in a sacred space is generally outlined by drifting characters of this bizarre game – sailor, circus people (with retired English captain as a siren show master), witch from the sea and finally the siren herself (girl who doesn't know neither where she came from nor where she's going to). These faint silhouettes – despite their soap bubble quality – pull the viewer deeply into the neverland, where he's supposed to confront the subconscious eye in the eye... exactly what Kenneth Anger and Maya Deren proclaimed in their own works.

Except occult musings, this fascinating film could be seen as a sort of late beat generation offshoot definitely owing a lot to beat experiments with form. It's countercultural derivation becomes strikingly evident in the first scene, when main character randomly meets his soon to be object of desire in a jazz cafe starting out a casual conversation, while bebop jazz is played live in the background. The whole frame of two people just kind of hanging out and falling in love could be actually seen as very beat – it just happened "on the road". Although "Night Tide" has a very tight narration, based on a sound screenplay, Harrington favours rather picturing atmosphere, using minimal dialogues, which serve mostly as the only anchors of a firm reality – barely an offset of The Dream Time. That's where he comes in fact near to Maya Deren's ritual masterpieces like "Meshes Of The Afternoon" or "Ritual In Transfigured Time", which hold onto life of the subconscious in an intriguing manner, with an exception that the latter ones drop linear structure totally.

After all, "Night Tide" is a very unusual picture staying off the rails by going B-movie strictly down the experimental line. Worth noticing is Dennis Hopper's acting as well, rarely brought up in any summary of his – however you wanna look at it – long film career. He's still pretty far from this outrageous, jibbery, drug-fueled style of late 60's, that went on the record around The Glory Stompers" (1968). Here he goes completely with the mood – a rebel soul swinger, who can make his tone of voice significant or suggest something barely with face mimics. It's hard to disagree, that in "Night Tide" Hopper was still one leg in the 50's, getting effortlessly theatrical as if still playing "Macbeth" in Old Globe Theatre, San Diego. His later, condensed fury is totally absent here. Clean face, straight walk, subtle speaking and last but not least almost adolescent emotions. I really enjoyed watching him here and if you feel like checking him in this Harrington's obscure flick, definitely go for it!

Monday, 27 February 2012

Angels' Wild Women (1972)

This sleazy 70's flick directed by exploitation legend, Al Adamson – who beforehand scored one of genre's favourites, "Satan's Sadists" (1969) – features Ross Hagen as Speed, a leader of rough biker pack, accompanied by couple of busty babes – real wolverines. They live to fuck and fight! They're gonna show you boobs, but you never touch these treasures without paying and it goes without saying that sometimes you need to sacrifice your dick to their kinky desires and keep your cool, while they're riding you on, otherwise you're in deep shit, pal... that's about female characters in "Angels' Wild Women" – pure exploitation of tits & ass passed as life of sex, drugs and violence, making a fundamental plot. It's basically, another "Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!" lame ripoff, but set in post Manson's Family America.

Intrigue is blunt, acting is a joke and backdrop serves an essence of rustic minimalism to put it diplomatically, but who cares? Our babes hang around having good time with rednecks while their boys plan a biker run with another ugly bunch. Eventually they hit the road and go on a heavy bendover during which they down shitloads of beer, smoke weed and ride sandy hills of California for fun, even exchanging half-witted ideas how to make some real cash. Yeah, baby! But their wild women are bored, so they plan to visit a hippie farm, ruled by Mansonesque type guru, who doesn't waste an opportunity to help one out with a golden shot of heroin – he actually lives off pushing H. This refreshing twist is directed in a very crude way as we might expect, but at least it makes you giggle.

Initially girls are kicking back on the farm and one almost falls in love, but soon they're in danger and it's too late to say bye! They're getting locked up by the cultists with their dying friend – they're gonna be all sacrificed in a bloody ritual. Al Adamson must've had very clear idea what was selling in American drive-ins at that time. I think it went like that... Hey guys, why don''t we mix these sexy biker chicks with Summer Of Love veterans, living in the mountains and pushing heroin for living? That's a hell of idea, man! Still, that shit must've been selling well back then, especially during Corman's women-in-prison offensive! Otherwise, they wouldn't give it a proper DVD release, which now is unfortunately out of print, so you need to keep looking if you wanna give it a hug.

In the end "Angels' Wild Women" could be classified as a poor imitation of "I Drink Your Blood" (1970), but more on the flashing tits side. That would be the only good reason to dig this flick as the breasts are big and natural! If you've seen the poster, you definitely get it – especially here lies the value of this inane flick. Fans of "Pigkeeper's Daughter" will appreciate it by default, while those ones who've seen other biker "gems" starring Ross Hagen like "The Hellcats" (1967) or "The Sidehackers" (1969) would probably wonder why he never pursued this hot rod musical line after acting against Elvis Presley in 1968. No idea, man! Any clues?

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Death Proof (2007)

Another part of Tarantino's and Rodriguez's concept double feature – Grindhouse, was named "Death Proof". After Rodriguez managed to wrap up the production of "Planet Terror", Quentin followed with his own idea of molesting drive-in fantasies, concerning mostly early 70's road movies & slasher classics. In a way he landed with a fine piece of modern exploitation movie as it ticks all the boxes... the only remaining question is who actually re-opened these boxes first? Was it Tarantino with "Jackie Brown" and "Kill Bill" – the latter one being basically a homage to Filipino early 80's exploitation movies like "Cleopatra Wong" or "The One Armed Executioner" – or were they Japanese artists like Takashi Miike or Kinji Fukasaku? I'd rather point to Japanese, cause one of the flicks, which pushed Tarantino to reinvent the genre, was in fact „Battle Royale”... but that's for journalists and book writers to cover.

One of good things about Tarantino's effort is that we don't really have to sweat in order to crack the easter eggs. We get shoved all names down our throats as the characters start chatting on the screen and just drop them. Direct inspirations for the basic road frame of "Death Proof" would be such classic films as: "Vanishing Point", "Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry" and "White Lightning" while a slasher factor embraced by the artist would probably wink at such cult 70's flicks as: "Bay of Blood", "Friday The 13th" or "I Spit On Your Grave". As it became a sort of sport in film journalism to chain-link as many titles as it's possible in your super cool review of any genre movie, I'm gonna stop my guess hunting here and get down to it!

I liked "Death Proof", which doesn't mean it was as good as Tarantino's other dishes. I was actually pretty far from fulfillment experienced by watching "Pulp Fiction", "Reservoir Dogs", "Inglourious Basterds" or even "Kill Bill". Having said that, it's entirely possible that "Death Proof" is the worst movie Quentin Tarantino ever made... but it still does the job by delivering the viewers a fresh take on a classic exploitation formula, which made it's comeback since! I'm gonna remind you that famous Roger Corman's formula consisted of three things – sex, action & humour! It came directly from working with American International Pictures, but then got developed even more when Roger started his own company – New World Pictures and knocked out many brainless flicks, considered cult movies today! As Tarantino has deep affinity for this old school of exploitation, he shot his own picture borrowing from it, but using modern standards and his own, wild imagination.

The plot of "Death Proof" is obviously very simple, because you cannot toss a New Giallo on the mass market these days. Sophisticated intrigue would make people drop on the floor in the theater from brain activity overload caused by tension. Tarantino just took the classics onboard and by playing around came with a story of a stuntman-killer named Mike, who has a passion for stalking & finally slashing hot chicks with his death proof car. Character played by Kurt Russell is a fine example of psychotic maniac, his role is as professional as it gets and might be seen as the biggest acting treat of the whole movie. Then we get to watch the chicks, a great package without a doubt. There are eight hot girls, while only four are to survive. As Mike hits the first four victims with his death machine – which gives Quentin an occasion to show this bloody sequence in a replay from many angles – ripped limbs are flying around in handfuls and gals die at the spot! The only thing for Mike to do afterwards is to jump the state as he cannot keep low profile in Texas anymore!

A scene changes and Mike is now in Tennessee. The time comes for real heroines – four smalltime actresses or stuntgirls. A protagonist of the pack is played by Zoe Bell – a professional stuntgirl, who was doing a double for Uma Thurman in "Kill Bill" and thus was a perfect choice for a character of the stuntgirl (easy as that). In "Death Proof" Zoe really shows off her line of work skills by riding on the hood of Dodge Challenger speeding 180 mph and making sure that stuntman Mike will get what he deserves for his naughty behaviour! There are some good dialogue lines in the movie referring mostly to pop & film culture and great music, which saves the day! At least here Tarantino didn't drop below a certain level. The Coasters, Jack Nitzsche, Joe Tex and the whole world of surf, soul, pop rock and indie lost gems. Lap dance done to "Down In Mexico" is one of the very best scenes of "Death Proof" reminding me of cartoonish sleazy vibe of "From Dusk Till Dawn". What can I say? "Planet Terror" comes as a much better shit in Grindhouse package, but then even classic drive-in packages had their lower end. I'd recommend to opt out if you don't like watching exploitation revival flicks at all!

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Pink Angels (1972)

While 70's drive-in cinema is the one that doesn't lack cult oddities, there are flicks in this basket that will easily make all B-movies instructors drop their fruits. One of these peculiar pictures is called "Pink Angels" not without a reason as it overshadows a biker movie theme with genuine queer touch. As the legend says, the movie was made by a group of UCLA film students led by director Larry G. Brown, who later scored obscure, cult slasher "The Psychopath" (1975) and faded away just to re-emerge once from the depth in the 80's. It's definitely one of these rarities, that won't necessarily become a reason to pass a word about it to all your friends, but good enough to give it a try at home while toking up some good shit. I'd recommend it mostly to biker movie completists and gay community, not necessarily cross-excluding target groups!

In classic exploitative tradition we get a small bunch of burly bikers, who hit the road. This time it's a bit different though as we find out soon they are a gang of cross-dressers on the road to Los Angeles, where they hope to get some fun on a hectic drag queen party! Shopping is another thing they're into and real fever starts when their eyes catch some classy high heels, fancy dress or a new lipstick (very best scenes of the movie). However, life's not easy for a queer biker in the land of free and in order to survive in Nixon's America of christian values, they need to keep rather low profile... but that sometimes gets out of hand as the road adventures put them in danger of revealing their true identity to police forces, hookers, hotel porters and other bikers, who are dedicated to riding their choppers in full-blown aura of primal machismo!

This early example of queer exploitation (if such a fantasy ever made to be a subgenre) and definitely one of queer cinema unknown treaures is essentially a teasing biker movie with few laugh-out-loud scenes. The road this flick goes down is a typical genre scenario – the guys ride and have fun with obligatory love-in set in the middle – this time it's tweaked a bit and includes table cloth, red wine and cheese! The Man keeps an eye on the angels though – a kind of veering element for a biker movie, which resembles very much early blacksploitation flicks. Behind the scenes there are still forces of order, which are dead set to bury all long-haired freaks, weirdos, acidheads and queers six feet under.

This right wing agenda is personified in "Pink Angels" by a rigid US military general, residing in his anonymous, but very powerful office – we get to know him mostly be exposing flashes as he contributes very little to the action serving mostly as a metaphorical tool. He's majesty is deadly serious about his mission, always being shown with American flag in the background. Most of the time he talks to his people or takes orders from above, which is a countercultural false mirror of establishment's morality and politics. When our queens finally get to Los Angeles, chased by brutal bikers, with whom they just partied the day before leaving them wasted, but with a little bit of make-up, a die-hard recognition of traditional morality takes turn and slowly crawls out from underneath in order to bust their weird asses!

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Vixen! (1968)

Can sexploitation get political? It definitely can if we put Russ Meyer's crazy mind to it. After all, he proved it beyond doubt by making one of his most controversial movies – "Vixen!", starring gorgeous Erica Gavin. Produced on a shoestring budget of $76.000, it grossed more than $6 mln in couple of months, establishing Meyer as one of the most important personalities of American independent cinema. "Vixen!" was for many reasons a real turning point for US film industry, but first of all it was a first motion picture ever to be rated X – only 18+ people were able to enter the cinema in order to check it out... and the theaters, which showed it were virtually scarce.

Second of all, screening of the movie has been put on hold or picketed with a rumble by local conservative & christian organizations all around USA. They were terrified with a picture, that actually showed real sex – although this tension went down significantly over next 40 years, it didn't really change much as pornography in theses circles is still considered devil's tool to corrupt minds. Although from today's perspective "Vixen!" is just an awesome B-cinema classic, it's cheap thrills retain raving 60's vibe due to Meyer's unequivocal sense of style. Still, this shit never really made a buzz comparable to worldwide famous „Deep Throat”, premiered two years later. However, the latter one paradoxically cashed in less in short period, which shows that keeping low profile sometimes can make you a real favour.

Despite hitting soft spot of the bigots, Meyer was right on time with „Vixen!” as high 60's were exploding in a fire of the cultural revolution and everywhere you looked personal was becoming political (as countercultural slogan has put it). Let's not forget that divorce, abortion and anal sex were illegal back then almost everywhere around the world – 70's were to change it due to fierce fight of freedom organizations, which pulled off a big social offensive and finally reformed outdated laws. However, in 1968 „Vixen!” was still fighting a front of it's own by pushing the borders of what could have been shown on the screen and eventually it won by putting a first softcore movie on the map. This was a glorious moment, which actually paved the way for 70's erotic film industry and made sleazy sexploitation subgenres like women-in-prison a key asset for all independent production studios in America, Europe and Japan.

"Vixen!" is one of the coolest Meyer's flicks – an overspill of beauty, hot sex and political satire. Bizarre by any standards, the movie features a rustic, Canadian scene... as we are led to believe with propaganda style voice-over and leafy backdrop. Deep down in the forrest lives a young married couple and two bikers hang around (how would ever 60's exploitation movie pull it through without the bikers?) Vixen is pictured as an oversexed, always horny, female creature, who lives to make sweet love... apparently to everybody she can. She fucks Canadian ranger, when her husband-pilot is away, but when he comes back one day with a married friend and his wife, Vixen will fuck this fresh and handsome male body as well... she is after all on a mission to make everybody happy and that's basically main plot (who needs more anyway?)

However, there's more than that as this classy sexploitation flick expands genre's possibilities in a fascinating way. After Vixen is done with her husband's friend, she goes after his wife – a pretty and busty blonde, who is so desperate to have sex, that she'll try it with woman for the first time (fantastic lesbian sex scene). Then Vixen fucks her own brother (one of the bikers) and almost gets raped by his black buddy – an American biker , who's always on the edge, constantly teased and mocked by Vixen's racist comments. When this is finished, we expect that she'll have a nice time with a Canadian bear, but there's nothing like it as Meyer corners us instead with an off-beat political twist! A figure of professor O'Bannion appears on the scene. He reveals his communist sympathies to the black guy, who beforehand jumped the US draft and fleed to Canada. Then he tells him about Cuba: "(...) where people of all colours are equal and where revolution is still in the air (...)". Finally, they terrorize the pilot and force him to go all the way to Cuba, while we get to hear most hilarious politically soaked lines ever featured in exploitation movie (even better than satirical dialogues in "Big Bird Cage"). Personally, I fuckin' loved it!

Monday, 20 February 2012

Breakfast with Hunter (2003)

Arguably, the best documentary on Hunter S. Thompson made till this point! While you might have had a good time watching recent stuff like "Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson" (2008), "Buy The Ticket, Take The Ride" (2006), "Hunter S. Thompson – His Final Hours" (2006) or even reaching for obscure documentary like "Fear and Loathing in Gonzovision" (1978), produced by BBC – this film by Wayne Ewing is your champion. After all, if you want to have a sneak peek at someone's life, who's better than a neighbour? Ewing was luckily based in Aspen, strictly inside Hunter's crowd and he happened to take part in writer's daily life. He lived near, he appeared when called up and most importantly he was a great documentarist, hanging out with a camera since late 70's and capturing all these moments, that could have been turned into heavy shit afterwards.

„Breakfast with Hunter” is a real gem of personal documentary making, being praised by many Thompson's fans as the one, which managed to get through the mythical wall of smoke. It shares Thompson's life as we were in his room, drinking Chivas Regal, smoking weed and occasionally being victims of his unstoppable temper. This is it, man! We hear Thompson mumbling with his famous Southern accent (a legendary perk actually), getting pissed drunk on scotch, sharping teeth on the brutes and jabbering high whenever one of his romantic visions kicks in. The legend finally appears in flesh and bone. We're not led again through Hunter's wife, son and editor interviews, invited to go public with their judgements and feelings, which used to be tangible, but by that time they got nailed by director, they cooled off and became yesterday's newspaper. We're shaking hands with Hunter here and that's what makes this film a purely valuable experience!

Ewing gets us mostly through late 90's in Hunter's life, departing around the time when our cult persona stood ugly trial for alleged drunken driving in Aspen, sliding through 25th anniversary party for "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" book in New York and Louisville and finally closing in on the premiere of Terry Gilliam's film adaptation starring Johnny Depp. Film's occasional flashes from the past like Hunter's race for sheriff's chair in 1972, help well to fix the narration. We'll never probably witness Hunter closer than we do here... leaving out his unforgettable books and maybe two written biographies. As the most apparent Thompson's kickside comes again Johnny Depp. We may clearly notice here how close they were and how well their spirits resonated. This was yet before Depp became a big Hollywood star, for which we have to point again to "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" (1998) as a turning point for his professional career. After all, I don't think that Johnny Depp would disagree as Hunter's influence on his life is undeniable, cemented later on by financing Hunter's eccentric funeral – writer's ultimate fantasy.

This outstanding footage contains absolutely magical moments like that one, when Hunter is paid a visit by Alex Cox and his script writer – first team assigned to direct "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" – whom he hated enough after two hours of "conference" (this timing is obviously softened on the screen) to throw their coats on and show them out. He despised the animation idea, personally rendered as a cartoon, which I think resembled too much of his nightmare – "Doonesbury". That's when we see "the story" breaking down into single moments, which later glue together and ride on. These events eventually were to bring Terry Gilliam to the picture, who came up with a vision that was to Hunter's liking and became a cult movie. Another one of my favs is Hunter frivolously juggling with an open whisky bottle in a trailer, where the actors usually take a break. He's smashed and spills it all over making Johnny Depp laugh as a child – one of these famous teenager pranks Hunter loved, which became his character's official trade mark – a minor, but perfect insight into his style of doing things.

I doubt you'll find any more personal documentary on Hunter and I'm quite convinced you're gonna dig it if you're Thompson's ardent fan. This film makes me wanna quote few lines from "Kingdom Of Fear" (2003) stating all which Hunter S. Thompson stood for in his life and what eventually added to his depression: The news is bad today, in America and for America. There is nothing good or hopeful about it – except for Nazis, warmongers, and rich greedheads – and it is getting worse and worse in logarithmic progressions since the fateful bombing of the World Trade Towers in New York. that will always be a festering low-watermark in this nation's violent history (…) Fly high, doctor!

[This great documentary can be purchased from Wayne Ewing's website]

Friday, 17 February 2012

The Rum Diary (2011)

It took a bit for Johnny Depp to wrap up and screen this personal tribute to his great friend – Hunter S. Thompson, but it proved to be worth his while. Despite market odds and endless postponement of the premiere, the effect of his actor's and producer's work uncovers a very funny and romantic take on Thompson's novel, widely recognised by fans and critics as his worst book. Speaking of book and movie correlation, I need to stress that coin's flipside is still in Depp's favour as he scored the points by proving a screen adaptation can be far better than a book on which it's based, if you tweak and shape it up a little bit. Certainly, there can be no good film without a good story. Neither the book or the film are genuinely good stories in this case, but if I was to choose one, my money would land on the film! I advise you to check it out even if you didn't like the book, cause it reveals a lively vibe of it's own.

"The Rum Diary" was started by Hunter S. Thompson around 1959 in Puerto Rico to be edited and finished around 1962 in New York, where he went into writing another novel shortly, "Prince Jellyfish", which has never got published as a whole, however it's excerpts have made it to "Songs Of The Doomed" (1991). "The Rum Diary" has been returned to Thompson by every publisher it was sent to at that time – virtually nobody was interested in giving it a go. Eventually, it stayed in the drawer till 1998, when Hunter pulled it out convinced by his agent Douglas Brinkley to do so. He didn't really support the idea initially, but cocaine and booze checks were running high so did the lawyers' fees, hence he couldn't refuse this little extra cash. It got smartly packaged by the publisher as a missing link to gonzo journalism, but this really doesn't matter as Thompson's fans would buy just anything to go through some stuff unpublished before. That's how Hunter basically made it through late 80's and 90's with Gonzo Papers series.

I was one of these victims and didn't really swear after making through it, instead I just put it back on a shelf pondering this peculiar mixture of alcohol extravaganza and sloppy writing. Downbeat style of the book shows clearly a growing depression of a rookie journalist, who found himself on the crossroads with little ideas where to go and how to handle his career. It's as bad as it gets. Hemingway's and Fitzgerald's styles are retraced, crossed and rewritten, but the efect resembles bleak xerocopies of Robert Frank's photos. Thompson's characters are poorly drawn while narration is giddy and dull as a pavement. There's nothing here really to admire, but if it's the only Thompson's book you've read, I guess you need to fill the gap quickly.

"The Rum Diary" is basically an insider's prose. We're being served with daily exploits of bunch of losers, dropouts and winos trying recklessly to lick the last drop from a glass before the curtain drops and everything tumbles down into a black hole. There are no drugs, no acidheads and getting laid is very hard – these themes belong to another land called gonzo, that was years to come at that point. The book is actually so void and boring, that it becomes frustrating in the end! As far as Thompson's oeuvre is concerned, I'd put it in line with "Hey Rube!", another writing disaster but from a different planet. It's definitely something of Hunter's first leap into the world of literature, a writing exercise, like "Junky" was respectively for William S. Burroughs – in fact there are many similiarities. It lacks undoubtedly Hunter's later psychedelic madness, his insightful comment and fascinating, twisted sprint through galaxies of social and political reality. What we get in "The Rum Diary" comes in fact nowhere near "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas"... it's just a bummer.

Bruce Robinson's film is loosely based on the novel and I'm deeply convinced it's a good thing in this case. Ross Kemp character (Hunter's literary alter ego played by Johnny Depp) is not as gritty as pictured in the book and the backdrop follows the same logic leaving out the scruffy details. Apart of that, a screenplay brings drugs to the screen – Ross and his buddy Bob get loaded on acid – which kind of reitarates Terry Gilliam's "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" scenes and forks out Thompson's countercultural message. The money problems – crucial for the book – are smoothly resolved by Kemp's interaction with Mr. Sanderson and most of the original characters don't get to be developed in a script at all. This lightens up film's narration allowing director to follow the romance plot and show off Kemp's rebellious spirit a bit more. While almost two hours long movie may leave you wasted sometimes, action tools in "The Rum Diary" save the day letting us enjoy the ride smoothly. No real bumps to my eye at least. Acting is fair, getting very good in few particular scenes – cast knows well the shapes and the lines passing either on tragic or on comedy side depending on the context.

While this movie is not gonna crack your head open, it's not gonna bust your balls either. However, this middle shelf quality grows out essentially from Thompson's mediocre story. It's been fixed, but you cannot make fireworks out of a lighter and a wood chip – a small fire is the only possibility. If the story doesn't sparkle, even good acting is not gonna help much as it cannot boil all the elements together by itself. The most important thing is, that Johnny Depp produced a movie he liked and that Hunter would probably enjoy to see as well. By delivering "The Rum Diary" he made an official tribute to one of the greatest writers of the last century, his friend and tutor. By following a possible-to-do line and not trying to shoot the moon by going into production of let's say "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72", he accomplished a fine example of cinematic judgement. This seems great thing to do after all and that's one of the reasons why "The Rum Diary" defends itself firmly. Well done, colonel!

Hunter S. Thompson (1937-2005)

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Django (1966)

A man from nowhere, wearing black, wades through the desert dragging a coffin tied up to his belt. As he approaches three stubborn vigilantes, preparing to execute a beautiful woman, he decides to free her by killing all of them with a lightning speed of his colt… that’s how legendary "Django" starring young Franco Nero begins. A picture shot on a very low budget and joke of a script by Sergio Corbucci has become since a top cult spaghetti western and one of the most famous genre movies ever. Following the success of Sergio Leone’s trilogy, it spawned more than 30 spinoffs in the next two years… and after amost 50 years came back short-circuiting Quentin Tarantino’s wires, who just went into production of his new film – "Django Unchained" (to be released December, 2012).

One of the reasons why popularity of this movie went through the roof at the time of it’s release was an unprecedented spill of sheer, cinematic violence... cause when Django finally opens his coffin, he pulls out a sucker-killing-hell-of-a-heavy-machine-gun, which becomes THE TOOL of delivering justice to a bunch of KKK crooks, who beforehand took over a small western town using excessive force. When you see a first bullet fired you just cannot help but ask (and I did too, really) how Corbucci ever managed to knock out such a crackpot idea? Django’s body count hits 84 in about two minutes – not even Corman’s 70’s jungle movies were able to do that sequentially – becoming the highest movie overkill scene for another decade... and there’s still a famous cutting off an ear scene with a neat zoom on a knife ripping through the flesh and the blood dripping. It’s all anchored in pure exploitation realm!

Although for the last 50 years our tolerance for film violence has raised much and "Django" is a piece of cake now getting 15 rating at most in most of the Western countries – not without the help of 70’s & 80’s exploitation cinema – in 1966 it was a much more shocking experience for the viewers, which nonetheless tapped very accurately into Baby Boomers’ state of mind. A revolution was in the air, the violence has become a fact of everyday life and the counterculture wanted to bring the old world to it’s knees. Django was a perfect personification! He was doin’ it with his monster machine gun getting as close to the militant dreams as it was possible on the screen. We might say he preceded the facts of life, cause when the Weathermen started waging their war against the system in 1968 – they did it with an equal faith in their unstoppable force.

However, when Arhur Penn’s auteur flick, "Bonnie and Clyde" with Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway was released in the USA next year to a mixed reception – older cinema goers were puzzled by lack of moral judgement in film’s narration – it’s characters couldn’t even come near Django’s DIY implications. One of the directors who tried to match movie’s success, was Lucio Fulci. He shot his "Massacre Time" (Italian title: "Le colt cantarono la morte e fu... tempo di massacro") with Franco Nero the same year "Django" was made, but although he incorporated as much bestiality as he could in this western, he simply accomplished a higher value product. His story breaks down as a twisted show of human cruelty involving much more complex actor’s creations than we find in "Django", which if we take away all the shooting, comes simply as a tale of a drifting gunslinger, who goes after easy cash… while his exploits are supported by a wicked soundtrack theme – a crucial point for many fans.

Although "Django" was definitely a breakthrough for Corbucci and for Nero respectively – not saying that Ruggero Deodato working here as a second unit director made his way in as well – it was their later collaboration to up the hidden, artistic potential of the genre. Movies such as "The Mercenary" (1968) or "Companeros" (1970) were beautifully directed pictures with a complex, continually swinging intrigue and fascinating action twists. These amazing spaghetti westerns are filled with peculiar humour and countercultural musings, most often supported by Ennio Morricone’s soundtracks. If we are to compare "Django" with these ones or with dark pieces like "Big Silence" (1968) starring Jean-Louis Trintignant and Klaus Kinski, sandbox play rather comes to mind. If anybody seriously claims "Django" to be the best spaghetti western ever made, I’d suggest watching few other movies of Corbucci before irreversibly settling on that.

Full movie

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Hells Angels On Wheels (1967)

One of the most famous 60’s biker flicks, still being around due to Jack Nicholson’s leading act and the original Hell’s Angels doing cameo ride while the film credits are rolling. In fact, it was the first feature movie in which Hell’s Angels MC appeared – for about one minute we can clearly see Sonny Barger and the Oakland’s chapter. Directed by Richard Rush, who later scored such cinematic treasures as "Psych-Out" (1968) or "Getting Straight" (1970) and photographed by Laszlo Kovacs (credited in movie as Leslie), who obviously made a great film career later on by delivering a string of top notch movies including contercultural classic "Easy Rider" (1969), "Five Easy Pieces" (1970), "Harold and Maude" (1971) and "Shampoo" (1975), it tapped effortlessly into the youth market. In fact this duo just couldn’t go wrong, hence the effect of their work has retained a minor cult status till today.

When the movie hit US drive-ins in 1967, distributed by AIP, it became a wildly successful endeavour. It got very favourable press reviews praising Nicholson’s role and director’s talent for picturing a society in transition. These opinions even now hold up, but only to a certain point. Rush definitely filled well his drawing, stylishly boiling the biker mixture of violent soul, rebellious attitude and dedication to booze, drugs and sex, but on the other hand became at large limited by the exploitative frame – this was after all nothing more, but a B-movie flash. Jack Nicholson’s acting is fairly correct, but it’s nothing you couldn’t live without as it seems that his smaller role in Monte Hellman’s acid western – "The Shooting" (released the same year) was performed with much more passion and dedication.

However, as a drive-in biker flick "Hells Angels On Wheels" passes full-on, only slightly falling behind such pictures as "The Born Losers" (1967) or "Hell’s Belles" (1969), which are kept in my mind as the best biker movies of the epoch. This is the shit to be recommended to any genre fan as it can hardly do any damage. The script draws a type of middle class dropout & biker – Poet (Jack Nicholson), who works as a gas station attendant, but cannot hold his horses enought o keep the job and casually joins the Hells Angels party when fired over verbal abuse of a customer. Although young and restless, Poet is still kind of uptight, hanging between the world of traditional morality and the revolutionary fire of chopper’s engine. This is spelled out by a biker mama, whom he tries to bed and then convince to drop the club, but who’s too deeply grounded in the violent world of MC to be up for a fresh start with a half-straight chap. Not an unique idea, but good enough for Jack Nicholson’s fans, who will find this role quite similar to his later performance in "Five Easy Pieces".

As the story drags on, we witness random brutality of the MC causing a fatal accident, which becomes a key for the plot. We face police prosecution against the club, we ride through California’s roads and deserts, see a genuine biker wedding and Poet’s biker baptism when he’s accepted as a prospect for the club. Although Poet becomes an officially accepted Hells Angels member eventually, tension he holds on to never goes away though causing open rivalry with club’s prez – Buddy (Adam Roarke) and opening a door to the dramatic finale marked with a nasty cock fight, which leads to a tragedy. The last scene – I need to stress clearly – is a real blunder in my opinion as it's clumsily brushing off this whole edgy vibe built beforehand leaving the viewer crying "why like this?" There are some other equally lame story solutions here, but nothing bugs me like this one.

Nevertheless, the thing worthy a genuine acclaim in "Hells Angels On Wheels" is Kovacs’ cinematography. A fluid, natural and very spot-on frames keep you in all the time. A real artist’s eye gives you the right perspective no matter if it’s a bar brawl, if they’re choppers riding in lines or intimate moments of the main characters. Although this was a time when Kovacs started getting weary of shooting exploitation movies, he gave them all he got anyway, for which these few pictures are so rewarding and easily separable from the concurrent, but sloppily made low budget lot. As the legend says, this movie became Sonny Barger’s favourite biker flick at that time. We might only wonder if he changed his mind after scoring "The Hells Angels '69" two years later?

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Scorpio Rising (1964)

"Scorpio Rising" is one of three most important Anger’s works, being crude and gritty like a coal in the same time. Still this amazing short comes across with a very peculiar social and occult agenda, concerning Aleister Crowley’s discoveries in the field of aeonic shift, which Anger harnessed to his artistic vision making great use of his reformed system of astro-psychology. Besides strictly magickal message this picture is a very enjoyable collage of "The Wild One" samples, vintage movie about Jesus Christ and homosexual-biker footage shot by Anger himself featuring fictional, outlaw MC… and you even get Elvis singing "Devil In Disguise" (great rockabilly classic). Going a little overboard you might say it was a first 60’s biker movie while it definitely had some proto-biker flick quality.

However, what makes it special is indeed it's mysterious message. Scorpio is rising… hmm? Bikers? Jesus? Elvis? How does it mingle? First of all Anger believed in a doctrine of art as magick, where every act reveals the Will, which brings Change. The movie was supposed to break open viewer’s head communicating something very significant. The old world was crumbling and the new one was being bulit! "Scorpio Rising" is in fact a prophecy of the cultural change, but to understand it better, you’ll have to inevitably dive for a second into the world of Aleister Crowley – probably the most important occultist of XXth century.

Scorpio is a zodiac sign – represented in the movie by a brute – while the sign is a symbol itself. As Crowley wrote in his books, Scorpio must be considered a fiery water element, an active one. It corresponds with Tarot Of Thoth card number XIII (Death), being ruled by "planet" Mars (symbolic representation of war and destruction instincts). As Crowley put it out, this card leads from putrefaction to exaltation, which means that element forces necessary change without a danger of being grinded in the process. Death card features a skeleton with a scythe (a biker) and a fish (Jesus), which represents swiftness and cold-blooded ability of survival. Anger played out both symbols to proclaim that in fact change will be brutal and vicious, but even if the old religions are already gone, the new energy possesses spiritual insight to lead the way. In the end he was right!

When you look at the high 60’s revolution (especially 1968), his insight comes sound and clear. Anger made his picture before the worst shit happened, but he felt the storm coming. He was even marching on Pentagon with his own platform trying to do his part. When you take all that into account, "Scorpio Rising" stands out as the only picture where speed-crazed, savage lads on choppers are being granted a spiritual status. I suppose that "The Born Losers" and "The Glory Stompers" never pulled off any correspondences of this sort, hence if you are seriously into occult cinema, this is a must-see for you!

Friday, 10 February 2012

The Touchables (1968)

Another obscure artifact from the swingin’ Britain era carries a bizarre title "The Touchables", which is probably one of the reasons it survived in bootleg circuit till that day – it definitely stimulates your neurons. The picture was pushed on American market with "Love in the fifth dimension" slogan, but never made a blast and has been omitted by all potential "reanimators" ever since. Amazingly it flew back to the surface with a wave of reborn psychedelia to amaze the next generation with it’s pseudo erotic flare and cheesy touch. Directed by Robert Freeman – an original photographer of The Beatles, who took a picture used as a cover of "Rubber Soul" (1965) – it brings to the screen four lovely 60’s models from Vogue Magazine (Judy Huxtable, Esther Anderson, Marilyn Rickard and Kathy Simmonds) starring as a mod/feminist posse and David Anthony as Christian, a rising pop star.

However, it dries up your wet dreams having very little to do with genuine sexploitation as nudity is practically absent. Some mild erotic, fetish games are a nice spark, but there’s too little to talk about something explicit anyway. What it sticks to instead are music, clothes and interior design, all neatly framed into a showcase of swingin’ 60’s scene… after all it’s a very minor cult exploitation movie. On one side we have stunning, but bored ladies nicking wax figures to keep themselves on the beat and on the other one some cartoonish gang capo, who extorts hard cash from the celebrity world and wants money from Christian’s manager very badly! These both threads intertwine and eventually create a very dull plot. Christian gets kidnapped by the gals during a charity wrestling match and taken away to a mysterious, Buckminster Fuller inspired, ball-of-inflated-rubber-hideout at the brink of a lake. There he’s tortured by getting teased, kinked, made out, laid and by other terrifying weapons of ars amandi… but we will never see the details, cause director probably didn’t want to get an X rating and dropped the sex bits.

As the story moves ahead, Christian tries to escape in order to talk to his people, but he gets shot by one of the hosts and is forced to bed them all over again. Finally, the gangsters track him down through one of the girls visting her flat and invade this private paradise bringing chaos and destruction. However, one woman manages to break free and brings professional wrestlers to help out! The story ends happily and we can watch another movie. A real downslope of this soapy flick is the story, but its’ so flat that at least everybody can take it… but there’s "All Of Us", a stunning psychedelic ballad by Nirvana featured during the opening credits, somewhere in the middle and in the end. These guys were found by Robert Freeman through Island Records having their first album released at that time. They scored the song for "The Touchables" and afterwards cut their second album, named "All Of Us" (1968) – one of the most amazing UK psych-pop albums of the late 60’s. Another part of the soundtrack was provided by Traffic – a short instrumental piece used in a boat speeding scene.

If not for the music, the movie might be suggested to fashion or interior designers looking for the feelings and styles marking the epoch. When these do not matter, I’d watch it for the chicks, who make some connection with British celebrity world of that time. Kathy Simmonds was George Harrison’s girlfriend and broke many hearts while the other ones are just very pretty and in the end make this movie a pleasant experience on the visual side. I won’t say we won’t find any good frames in "The Touchables". In fact you can see clearly a photographer’s hand in most of the scenes, it’s just they alienate the viewer from the experience making it extremely distant. Lacking nudity, drugs or any kind of psychedelic freak-out, which mark shitloads of American exploitation flicks of that time, the movie fails to deliver it’s psychedelic-erotic message remaining one of these 60’s oddities enjoyed only by journalists, musicians or book writers.

[The movie can be purchased from Cinema de Bizarre]

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Hell Ride (2008)

It doesn't really surprise anyone that Quentin Tarantino has been casting his shadow on every exploitation revival flick released lately – the guy basically loves the same stuff we do and wants to see it back! Credited as an executive producer of "Hell Ride" – a modern take on an old school biker movie (who ever imagined a comeback of this gritty style?) - we heard he's factually done much more than that. Clearly, it made a good word of mouth and brought a lot of new people to the territory, which they wouldn't normally dare to come anywhere near. Boom and off we go everybody as these old exploitation formulas get their look refreshed and we're here to judge the effect. Only one red flag is up – a market niche fitting this style didn't really break the ground yet, hence things need to be stirred up a little bit. Most likely their way to these pictures will find eventually all crazy maniacs hangin' tough over obscure 60's/70's exploitation oddities, may they only get over all "new sloppines" involved.

To cut it short though, "Hell Ride" is not a good movie by any standards. Plot is thin, acting diluted and occasional nudity or often occuring violence do not make up for it's basic shortcomings. It really makes me wonder how good "The Glory Stompers" (1968) were. Does it hold any aces then??? Yes, a couple I'd say. It's strongest side is the cast including Michael Madsen (unforgettable performance in "Reservoir Dogs"), Dennis Hopper (acting out a great self-homage), Vinnie Jones (a cockney thug in "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels") and even David Carradine, who gets an episodic role. A gig is led though by Larry Bishop – an original member of the cast of obscure 60's biker flick, "Savage Seven" (1968) – who directs the movie as well. All these great actors are shown as furious, pissing-in-your-face bikers of two rivaling clubs – The Victors and The 666ers. This great potential of powerful creations is yet wasted by both directing and the script. What a shame, man (man, man)! Another heart-pumping move ahead is still a great soundtrack by Davie Allan & The Arrows, who didn't record new tracks – the classic ones are used and they still make a fantastic job. Biker sound rules, don't forget about it!

However, I didn't like many fuckin' things about this flick. The exposition of characters and both MCs through often used nowadays still shots with name tagging is just gross. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, but for my money it failed here. Another thing is nonsense dragging through meaningless episodes, which are neither catchy nor funny although they are blood-sheding and sometimes filled with nude babes. Some of these scenes can be enjoyed, but too little for my taste. The last but not least, I just couldn't eat these bikers mixed up with a bunch of high rollers as an underlying concept. Other elements of the plot are equally lame, we get Pistolero's (Larry Bishop) peyote trip, which basically means, that we have to stare even more at the unnecessary footage. Some characters are killed over dumbest lines you can imagine and after all, we are tormented with constant flashbacks from the past which take down the intrigue instead of developing it... not saying the story of a vengeance for murder we're fed here, is itself a real low point.

The best moment of the movie is when Eddie Zero (Dennis Hopper) comes into the game – few psychotic lines and suddenly everything looks bright. One of my favourite surf tracks ever – "The Rebel (Without A Cause)" from classic "Apache '65" album – starts when he eventually jumps on the bike lifting this scene a lot! The same applies to Vinnie Jones acting out a scene in a pigpen biker house (or whatever that is). To be honest I didn't much like the chopper riding scenes either, they come as pathetic if we put them next to the genre's most spectacular road shots (think "The Hell's Angels 69"). Who should see this movie then? Only the head losing for a flash of a chopper, genre completists, who will never have enough. They've seen so much baaad shit already, that this one is not gonna kick them in the balls. On second thought, maybe Dennis Hopper's fans as well, who want to see a legend of the counterculture starring in one of his last movies, riding the bike... and even asking for a joint. Otherwise, stay cool and away!

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

The President's Analyst (1967)

60’s not only paved the way for violent bursting gangster cinema and higly engaging auteur dramas tracking the widening generation crack, but also gave birth to a new sort of comedies playing or spoofing on middle class lifestyle, conservative beliefs and finally on their motherland – the counterculture. A reason inviting new forms was rapidly transforming market itself, into which big Hollywood productions suddenly couldn’t tap no more. When high budget lollipop musicals and melodramas were losing money, studio moguls were desperate to replace them with anything, that would keep them going, hence they were accepting ideas, which before would be turned down without even reading the script.

"The President’s Analyst" was one of these movies and although accepted for production by Paramount – a half-independent studio for Hollywood standards at that time – it was still subversive enough to make high-rolling fatties nervous. Written and directed by Theodore J. Flicker, till that time a well doing TV craftsman, it boiled up a whole range of creative ideas, that in theory would fry rebellious brains of Baby Boomers entering the cinema. However, soon after kicking off the production, reality shock sobered up the artist when FBI demanded their name to be dropped from the movie concerned about their image – since 1963 they were slowly becoming one of the most hated American institutions among the hipsters, acid heads and leftists, commonly accused of messing up with JFK kill. The names of key agencies in the script were hence replaced by silly sounding, but still effective in direct alluding – FBR and CBR.

Nevertheless, this exceptionally funny, off-beat comedy still managed to come across with it’s agenda standing out as one of the best genre movies of it’s time, which though initially flopped, developed a real cult with time. The plot concerns sudden shift in Dr. Schaefer’s life – a genuine New York psychiatrist played by James Coburn, strongly attached to his academic methods. He’s just passed a dilligence rundown, ordered by FBR and CBR, which made him effectively the official US president’s psychoanalyst. He promptly moves to Washington to start his new assignment, but after short period of high stress on-call work, due to being privy to the biggest national secrets he becomes extremly edgy and suspicious of everything around him developing heavy paranoia. Eventually he suffers a nervous breakdown and flees the capital with randomly met "typical American family". He heads to East Coast fearing for his life, which proves to be justified as FBR, CBR and dozen of other foreign intelligence agencies have just made him the most valuable man in the world by opening a hunt!

That’s when the movie blows into a whimsical and soaring social satire as Dr. Schaefer is jumped at the front of NY restaurant by secret agents and runs for his life passing casually Cafe Wha? and getting into the near parked flower power van. Hippies – acted by obscure psychedelic group Clear Light – become a perfect cover introducing him to the countercultural lifestyle soaked in weed, acid and rock music. These beautiful scenes with Clear Light are a real find for 60’s psych fans as the group recorded only one brilliant album for Elektra Records in late 1967 disbanding shortly afterwards, therefore their footage is extremly hard to find. There in fact we get to feed on 60’s culture exploits being loaded up with back-to-earth cliches, psychedelic wisdom and LSD freak-out scenes, all flashing through well built underground vs. overground undercurrent, which will fuel the rest of the movie with light-hearted, but hip wit.

As the intrigue carries on, we read this old anarchistic truth in "The President’s Analyst" – competition often gets in the way of itself, especially in killing business – when Dr. Schaefer luckily saves his life. In the end he’s gonna combat forces of repression using his natural talent for telling people the truth and effectively winning their side. Even if they are secret agents, they still need to be treated, which helps to unroot the seed of ultimate technocracy being planted behind the closed door by The Phone Company – a bizarre symbol of business machinery looking up to depersonalizing a free individual – when their head quarter is tactically wrecked by the doctor and his patients-friends… but the question remains, for how long it’s gonna stop the oppressors?

This terrific flick stands as one of the most hilarious 60’s projects by any standards, which gently lines up with such comedies as "I Love You Alice B. Toklas" (1968), "The Party" (1968), "The Magic Christian" (1971), but might be treated as a perfect companion for hippiesploitation flicks like "Wild In The Streets" (1968) or psychedelic sci-fi spoofs like "Barbarella" (1968) as well. No doubt it’s an artifact of it’s time, but very prophetic in pointing at all the side effects of modern political order. A must-see indeed!

Monday, 6 February 2012

Evil Bong (2006)

Low-budget stoner flick directed by Charles Band, starring some pretty stoned, but unknown faces and great Tommy Chong on the top! As we might expect there’s heavy smoking involved, some great nudes and funny slasher touch. We are provided with cool scene transitions filled with marijuana screens, who wouldn’t like them? Plot is blunt, but what can we demand from a modern stoner movie, which has been made for pure fun? We do not really watch these pictures for cinematographic enlightenment, do we.

Film kicks off when a young nerd named Alister responds to a student-rent-a-flat ad finding three dudes, who do not really keep their nose in the books much preferring to spend 24/7 smoking sweet Mary! There’s a drop-out baseball player, surfer and a paranoid video games lover, who at first pick on the wimpy attitude of a new flatmate, but when ice is finally crushed they get by quite well… especially when a new player arrives at the scene – The Bong! A genuine 60’s item found through the "High Times" ad coming with a scary message, it’s evil, haunted and possessed, so beware young tokers!

As boys find the bong pretty much a religious artifact and they keep smoking from the mysterious tool, things start to happen and they’re being dragged into a dangerous game, mastered by The Sinister One – their souls one by one are sucked into the outside world, a pole-dancing club, ruled by the vicious Bong (a female character by the way). They still need to overcome a minor problem, when one of the boy’s grandpa pays a social call while guys are convinced their surfer flatmate is dead trying to hide his body ASAP.

As the bong drops the net of evil, even party with chicks gets a bit desolated and becomes a two couples play. When all characters eventually pass out and only Alister stays in this world, door suddenly opens and right there comes a hero to save them all – Jimbo (Tommy Chong), an old hippie, who's been bong’s owner for many years and knows it’s satanic powers too well. It’s definitely the best part of the movie as we have some unforgettable lines, very precious for Cheech & Chong movies’ followers. They are in fact the best crumbles we get here!

Jimbo lifts the action explaining to slightly stoned Alister that there’s a powerful voodoo curse on the bong, hands him "vitamins" and promises to help get the guys back. He pulls out a hammer trying to crush the bong into pieces, but in the same times he has to figh the urge to have a toke. The evil one quickly kicks it up a notch releasing a heavy cloud of BC Bud. Jimbo fights the buzz as he’s been building heavy tolearance for many years, but finally drops stoned. As he’s transferred into an outer world club, he smuggles a bomb on him, which is used to destroy the bong-daemon in finale. Everybody comes back to life and even Alister manages to get laid.

As you might expect, it’s not a particularly good story… but it’s not too bad either. Apparently, nothing's gonna beat classic Cheech & Chong's movies, but some chaps still need to smoke and watch trashy pictures, cause they're addicted. If you do not smoke, don't even try to dig it! Stoners exclusively!

Friday, 3 February 2012

Wild In The Streets (1968)

If you like these cheap genre flicks American International Pictures were doing in the 50’s and 60’s, but you never saw "Wild In The Streets", there goes the nugget! If you are into obscure movies, but not necessarily into hippiesploitation or drugsploitation, that might be hard rock for you as what your really get here are countercultural myths, dreams and slogans of the high sixties wildly mingled together – they’re certainly exploits, but a way of serving them is much different from one to which you got used to watching let's say beach movies… in different words Barry Shear kicked it up a notch very significantly and got us plenty of fun!

"Wild In The Streets" was one of the most revolutionary movies of it’s times (or at least I like to think that way) for couple of reasons. First of all, the budget hit $1 mln, which was very unusual for a 60’s drive-in picture. Second thing is that it got an actual 1969 Oscar nomination… for editing. "Big deal" you say, but Corman’s or Meyer’s movies never got one. Third thing is the message of the movie - socially subversive, even if screenplay dips it a bit in a fantasy realm. "The old has to die!" Who came across with it in a mainstream movie before? We have a lot of experimantal, occult movies trying to show the agenda of social and spiritual transformation like Kenneth Anger’s shorts, but there were no really Derek Jarman’s all front dystopia themes at that point and Godard was just starting to develop his socially critic, surreal formula on a totally different level. Besides everything I still love the fact that it’s basically about drugs and music fighting the good ole boys’ politics.

We are thrown into the world of a fifteen year old Max Flatlow, who’s becoming exhausted by his family void (his mother is played by Shelley Winters) and petty bourgeoisie habits. He is a genius though as by synthesizing LSD in his basement, he finally gains something worth monetizing and the cash goes straight for a purchase of a dynamite, used immediately to blow up his father’s car in an emotional act of teenage rebellion. Max is free to escape at last! Nine years pass and Max Flatlow changes his surname to Frost – in the meantime he became a rock’n’roll superstar and first American millionaire at the age of 19. He lives in a big villa in Beverly Hills together with his band The Troopers, who are his closest friends.

Among them there are: Sally Leroy – former children movie star and a nudist; Abraham Salteen – Max’s lover, vegetarian and acid head; Billy Cage – fifteen year old lawyer, accountant, the youngest Yale gradute in history. There are also Fuji Ellie – Japanese stenotypist, a great concubine and Stanley X (young Richard Pryor) – cultural anthropologist, author of a bestseller: "The Aborigine Cook Book". They get along pretty well practically living as a commune. Most of the time they roll joints planning to take over America with the help of their great popularity. They are not just fairy dreams as more than 50% of American population has less than 25 years and the young are definitely ready to blow up!

To make a long story short, Max gets into the politics by supporting a senatorial campaign of John Fergusson from California. He promises him to pass a right to vote fo everyody over 18 years old in return. Max goes for it, but decides to play his own game suddenly coming up with a much more radical proposition to grant it to everybody with 14 years finished. He promotes his agenda with a new song "14 Or Fight" and gets America into mass hysteria. John Fergusson plays along and they make a deal settling on 15 instead, but although he wins elections, he doesn’t want to keep his word.

Max puts up Sally as his own candidate for Congress and she wins by a landslide. They try to push the act together, but they cannot get the political support, therefore they decide to come up with a nasty plan – pour a jar of LSD into the Washington water supplies, which lets them set children advisers for every congressman, who just raise their hands as the act is being voted down. A parliamentary revolution follows with Max chosen as a president. America is turned upside down with LSD camps for poor farts, who just turned 35 – they have to experience a new life as reborn acid heads after being loaded up with heavy psychedelic doses… it’s obligatory, no excuses! As all acid dreams come through, social reality finally achieves it’s superior order… but there’s still a change waiting.

There’s a wild passion and humour in this movie, which are better detected when stoned. I guess that without a "particular approach" this pearl will never shine as it’s supposed to but… in the right moment it gives a lot of fun, which is probably the biggest value of it. Don’t try to search for the intellectual bits here, cause if you do so, you won’t be able to grab the essence of "Wild In The Streets" and will be left disappointed. Great side of the movie is the music composed and recorded by unforgettable Davie Allan & The Arrows (dubbed with a fictional name Max and The Troopers by Tower Records), their overlooked, fantastic garage rocker "A Shape Of Things To Come" swirls your head with a genuine guitar fuzz and is itself one of the reasons why this movie is a must-see for 60’s garage and psychedelia collectors and all people generally interested in 60’s counterculture, fashion and cinema.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Zombie Strippers (2008)

If you’ve gone through shitloads of classic genre movies, you definitely noticed that Lucio Fulci is the man, who made a first crossover between zombie genre and sexploitation in his cult classic "Zombie" (1979), pitched with a real market wit as a sequel to George A. Romero’s "Dawn Of The Dead" (1978). Honestly, I do not enjoy zombie movies a lot… still good ones come as a surprise. After all, it’s better to be nicely surprised than to be left truly disappointed. Saying this I have to admit I’ve had a lot of fun with trashy "Zombie Strippers", which delivers exactly what is spelled out in the title – topless & undead chicks stripping… and as they’re fuckin’ hot it makes your worthwhile. Is this movie funny? Definitely, even if jokes from time to time get flat-lame, cause what saves the day here is the unprentencious humour-nudity-gore formula. Who would actually believe, that so worn-out genre might still kick around and provide you such a giggle? Well, it does and at least it worked for me.

In the spirit of classic gore & nudity Fulci, director Jay Lee spins his flick around zombies, naked broads and machine gun overkill. It’s the nearest future and George W. Bush just banned public nudity making all strip clubs illegal (ho, ho, ho!)… while somewhere in Nebraska a top secret, governmental laboratory is researching a deadly chemo virus, that turns people into zombies. Soon situation sneaks out of control and elite, military Z-Squad is called in to solve the problem. Unfortunately, one of the Rambos gets bitten by an undead, making his way out ASAP in fear of being eliminated by his – till this point – combat companions. Before poor lad turns into zombie though, he gets to sneak into the underground strip club, ruled by metrosexual Ian (Robert Englund) and his Russian supervisor bitch, where rest of the action will take place.

Suddenly we’re in the middle of the action and we get to to see some sweet piece of ass as the gals come on stage and strip away their bikinis. The cast is pleasant with Jenna Jameson leading this gig, but all other actresses, either stuffed with silicone or not, are nicely kickin’ softcore eye-candy. When hard work turns into a nightmare and first stripper gets turned into a zombie, we’re jumping on a roller-coaster of better-or-worse ideas, how this will affect the business. As it occurs, nothing makes a better treat than spinning a tragedy into a buck-rolling machine, so when the owner takes the risk of keeping green coming with the brand new bloody zombie strippers show, that leaves the public ravishing – they want the undead chicks BADLY! This however effectively takes the wind off other strippers’ sails, who must jump on the bandwagon in order to keep the job. They work the floor as well, so when one is caught with a customer biting his dick off turning him and next the others into zombies, problems start to pile up. Initially, newly found undead customers are locked in the basement, but soon an orgy of terror will follow bringing justice to greedy fuckwads managing the club and all slut strippers themselves… hell yeah!

"Zombie Strippers" not only provides an overfill of zombies and nudes, but spoofs on all classic genre themes. We even find a homage to gangsploitation classic, "The Warriors" (1979), when one of the undead gals is rattling two bottles singing: "Warriors, come out to playyy-ayy!" So nice and kind of neat indeed. Although this is not the best exploitation revival flick, released recently, it definitely has a classic exploitation call and a lot of minor genre musings with twisted humour glazing on the top. As we might expect, it looks cheap, but not too cheap – something between "Blood Feast II" and "Planet Terror". The movie leaps from gore exploitation to comedy, but overlaps both with a healthy layer of nudity, which keeps it rolling when dialogue lines are getting sloppy (you don’t like nudity, don’t watch it just to complain afterwards). Some intellectual rocks like a scene with a stripper reading Nietzsche might seem blundering, but they don’t really spoil anything mostly drowning in the background in a moment they’re gone. Do you have to watch it? No, you’re not gonna lose anything, but if in the hood why not give it a sneak peek.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Queen Of Blood (1966)

I watch all flicks produced by American International Pictures religiously, cause I always hope to find another, obscure gem. Obviously, you have to be nuts to watch all of them – without even saying that some are practically untraceable – as in this low budget fantasy land there’s been done so much trash as you can imagine. However, with a cult figure of Curtis Harrington ("Night Tide") as a director and pope of exploitation - Roger Corman as an executive producer, you start to wander unwittingly about "Queen Of Blood"... what is it gonna be? When you're through, it occurs that this piece of cheap film baking is not that great as we expect, but will definitely find it’s fans. "Queen of Blood" is not a picture I particularly liked, but it’s sci-fi thriller inclinations will be appealing enough for other obscurity diggers.

As we know, Roger Corman was a great asset player as far as the set production was concerned. He used to buy the rights to science fiction films from Eastern Europe and then just cut’n’pasted all useful effects in the editing room in order to make his own productions less expensive and fast as in bullet factory... and he was really fast! Given this for granted you will know how he managed to pull off such a great cinematography in "Queen Of Blood" – when you see those paper rockets and grotesque outer space background, just think how many of his disciples were given the same stuff to incorporate into their movies. Well, it’s not an important thing anyway as we watch these blobs mainly for pure fun.

Still, we face a story here! It’s 1990 and the scientists of "International Institute Of Space Technology" just received a S.O.S. signal from an alleged alien ship, hence they promptly send their elite astronauts for help. Among this cream there are two brave characters played by Dennis Hopper and John Saxon – second one is much more confindent in his role as Hopper seems kind of lame. At firts they localize only one dead body on Mars, but a following mission spots a green-skinned, alien female on Phobos (make-up comes off a bit when camera zooms).

They ty to hydrate and feed poor thing to help her meet the standards of cultural conversation (everything for the science!), but she chooses to hypnotize them with spectacular x-ray eyes and suck their blood instead – in couple of days two astronauts wind up dead. They tie the vampire up, but her magic powers are better than this and she finally breaks free to fulfill her destiny by spreading a bunch of jelly eggs all over the ship… which - as we discover in the end - are the only hope for scientists to find out something more about the alien race as the space vampire herself bleeds to death from a nail scratch wound...

A screenplay is bullshit and acting very unconvincing, but it doesn’t blow the project totally, cause at least gothic horror mood is great. Unfortunately music works against the suspense and somehow the climax is nonexistent… after all you cannot shake off the feeling that you’re watching a blatant ripoff of Bava’s "The Planet Of The Vampires" (which is much better by the way). What can I say, folks? Watch it, if you really have to. Otherwise, leave it alone!