Saturday, June 23, 2007

Get Twisted

It was more than a decade ago that Something Weird Video released the first volume in an ongoing series of trailers called TWISTED SEX. There are currently 22 different volumes, each running over 90m in length, but it doesn't appear that the series is destined for an official DVD release. Instead, SWV continues to offer the compilations for $10 each, on VHS and DVD-R. The full set, along with SWV's other fascinating trailer compilations, can be found here and I give them my strongest recommendation.

I recommend the TWISTED SEX compilations, and also another equally fascinating comp called THE LATE LATE SHOW, because -- at their best -- they are like archaeological digs into a buried world of lost, or nearly lost, cinema. No one who truly loves movies can fail to become absorbed in the revelations they have to show and tell us. The trailers used to fill out THE LATE LATE SHOW, for example, are from primarily European films so obscure to American sensibilities -- stuff like X-RAY OF A KILLER, HEADLINES OF DESTRUCTION and THE BLACK MONOCLE-- that it's like a window into an alternate universe.

A couple of nights ago, I decided to load up the first volume of TWISTED SEX for the first time in at least a decade, giving myself something to watch while I decided what I really wanted to watch. It only took a few trailers for me to realize that I had already made my choice, and I stayed with it for the whole 100 or so minutes. Leaving the program's erotic content out of it, which is considerable and sometimes extends to full frontal nudity for both sexes, I found myself primarily absorbed in what these trailers have to tell us about those sidestreets of cinema history that have never been thoroughly investigated and may never be. One such case is MADAME OLGA'S MASSAGE PARLOR (1965), the fourth and final entry in American Film Distributing Corporation's notorious "Olga" series, which now survives only in the form of the promotional trailer included here and other excerpts that were used to pad AFDC's compilation film MONDO OSCENITA. Also currently believed lost are two Barry Mahon titles promo'd here, FANNY HILL MEETS LADY CHATTERLY and FANNY HILL MEETS THE RED BARON. Though it's no longer lost (thanks to the efforts of Something Weird mogul Mike Vraney), the trailer for Andy Milligan's VAPORS -- a collection of high-contrast still images -- gives the film the aura of something lost, something eluding us even as it falls within our grasp.

As interesting and poignant as it can be to witness scenes from lost movies, I find it just as remarkable to encounter familiar voices and faces in the unlikely environs of sexploitation and its ballyhoo. For example, the trailer for STRANGE COMPULSION (a 1964 film evidently influenced by PEEPING TOM as well as Sacher-Masoch) is narrated by Les Tremayne, an experienced radio and voice actor (he narrated FORBIDDEN PLANET and dubbed RODAN) principally remembered by children of the Seventies as the avuncular co-star of SHAZAM. Then there are the sightings: someone who may be Robert Alda is glimpsed in the trailer for ALL WOMAN (1967); the famous NYC photographer Weegee shows up as the unlikely star of THE IMP-PROBABLE MR. WEEGEE (1967), seemingly set in Paris; John Beck, a member of the classic psych band The Seeds before becoming an actor, can be seen in a clip from Barry Mahon's GOOD TIME WITH A BAD GIRL (1967); Richard B. Schull drowns a woman in a toilet and gloats about it in the promo for WATCH THE BIRDIE (1965); and RE-ANIMATOR's David Gale can be seen with Jennifer Welles in the trailer for A WEEKEND WITH STRANGERS (1971). I have to wonder if Farley Granger himself ever knew that he was the star of something called BAD GIRLS, apparently a reissue retitling of an Italian giallo picture alternately known as THE SLASHER IS THE SEX MANIAC and PENETRATION.

A trailer for something called THE BRUTES (1970) not only features German actor Klaus Löwitsch (DESPAIR) but turns out to be an exploitative US retitling of Roger Fritz's Mädchen... nur mit Gewalt, not a film I realized had achieved an American release. This movie is legendary among fans of progressive rock as one of the few films to be scored by the pioneering Krautrock group Can. It introduced the song "Soul Desert" from their album SOUNDTRACKS -- which can also be heard in the trailer, though not the same performance included on the album. Similarly, I noticed that the trailer for THE RAPE KILLER makes use of library music whose descending electric bass pattern I recognized from my past viewings of TWILIGHT PEOPLE and MY PLEASURE IS MY BUSINESS (with Xaviera "The Happy Hooker" Hollander). Also mixed into this highly-charged intoxicant are trailers for movies with titles like THE IMMORAL, STEFANIA, and THE WEIRD LOVEMAKERS -- which hail from the last countries you'd expect: Sweden, Greece, and Japan, respectively. (Okay, that THE WEIRD LOVEMAKERS comes from Japan is not so unexpected.)

It's an old defense that the kid caught with an issue of PLAYBOY insists that he's only perusing it for the articles, and a not-always-supportable argument among devotées of sexploitation cinema that such films often have more than eroticism to commend them. But watching TWISTED SEX VOLUME 1, I must admit that I spent almost as much time scribbling down notes as I did looking at the screen. So, apparently, did Robert Plante, whose nostalgic blog Chateau Vulgaria has been running intermittent write-ups about the TWISTED SEX series since last September. He's currently up to Volume 6, and his notes include valuable additional information about release dates and distributors. You can find them here.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Am I Still a Novelist?

In case any of you are wondering if I'm still a novelist, I sometimes wonder this as well. I'd certainly like to be, and I hope another eleven years won't have have to pass between my previous novel and the next. THROAT SPROCKETS was published in 1994, and THE BOOK OF RENFIELD is now two years old and counting. (Incidentally, Ryan Murphy's option on the Renfield book has expired, and we are now entertaining new offers for the screen rights.) I've begun work on a new screenplay, based on a book I'm adapting, but something deep inside me isn't feeling the profound satisfaction that I get from writing fiction, and I miss it. Now that I've finished editing my second monthly issue of VW in a row, the old fictive itch is asserting itself once again, beckoning me to complicate my life and deadlines once again.

You may remember that I've mentioned here in the past a novel-in-progress, one which I've actually finished several times but never fully to my liking, called THE ONLY CRIMINAL. I first got the idea for this book almost as long ago as I began researching the Bava book; it's the best idea I've ever had for a novel, but for some reason, I could never quite find my way out the other end of its maze. Some months ago, at the request of my agent, I sent her a nearly-but-not-quite-finished draft of the novel because she had found an editor who expressed interest. Last night before going to bed, I sent her an e-mail asking if there was an update. This morning, she copied me on the editor's response, which I reproduce here in full, minus his signature:

"Thank you for sending over THE ONLY CRIMINAL. I thought this was a fun, well-written book supported by a great, fantastical idea. However, I would have liked if the author focused more on one or two main characters, instead of jumping around so much, and began digging deeper into what the Only Criminal really is earlier in the book. I hope you find a good home for this project."

I must be getting old, because I can remember 1) when "fun", "well-written" books with a "great idea" were in demand by publishers, and 2) when editors still worked with writers on promising manuscripts to make the most of them. Those days, it would seem, are somewhere over our shoulder in the next county.

This editor didn't know my work, evidently, or understand the book, even if he derived pleasure from it. Like my other novels, THE ONLY CRIMINAL is about a central character and others in his immediate orbit, but it's more importantly about a global phenomenon tied to found artifacts of, shall we say, infernal provenance. That's my thing -- I've worked hard to make it my own, and according to the reviews I've received over the years, it's well-liked. You wouldn't ask J. G. Ballard to please resubmit his latest after beefing up the characterizations and leaving out the clinical lingo and psychosexual sociology, would you? And dig deeper into "what the Only Criminal really is earlier in the book"? Never mind that I begin asking that question as early as the first chapter!

This careless little paragraph got me angry enough to spend the day doing something I haven't been able to do in longer than I would care to admit: I finally finished THE ONLY CRIMINAL to my own liking. It was much closer to being finished than I suspected, and perhaps part of me hadn't been willing the cut the cord until now, until the Bava book was behind me. I sensed what still needed to be done the other day when it occurred to me that I might conclude the climactic chapter with a passage I had used to finish a novel I wrote back in the 1970s and never tried to publish, a segue from my own words into words and images imported from the Bible. I did this, and voila, it fit like a missing jigsaw piece. THE missing jigsaw piece. I excitedly spent the rest of the afternoon polishing some other areas, changing some street names and such, and now I feel the book is as good as I can make it -- at least as good as I can make it until it finds its way beneath the wing of strong editorial guidance. If such a thing still exists. I believe it does.

I've printed off a copy of the manuscript and I intend to ship it out tomorrow to another agent who has agreed to consider me as a client. It's time for a change. I'm hopeful; it's a special book. In the meantime, please be so kind as to light a candle for me and THE ONLY CRIMINAL... or I may just give T.O.C. your address.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

VIDEO WATCHDOG #132 at the Printer

Here's your first look at the cover of the next issue of VIDEO WATCHDOG, which we finished in the early hours of the morning and delivered to the printer later today!

I think the cover of this issue, with its Charlie Largent-created centerpiece, gives a very good indication of what fun it is. (Click it to see it giant-sized.) We're not calling it one as such, but this is very much one of our "All Review Issues." David J. Schow (who hearby joins the elite group of writers who have had their names on the cover of our magazine) contributed a wonderful piece on the delicious Season Two of THE WILD WILD WEST; Bill Cooke delivers his long-awaited coverage of THE TARZAN COLLECTION 2, with its half-dozen RKO productions starring Johnny Weissmuller; Shane Dallmann roars back with reviews of Classic Media's GOJIRA, GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN and MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA discs; and, by popular demand, "Things From the Attic" returns with my vintage tape reviews of some Paul Naschy rarities, the crazy Ed Wood-scripted THE REVENGE OF DR. X, and TOWER OF SCREAMING VIRGINS (one of the first letterboxed tapes ever to hit the market). And that's still just the beginning!

You can read all about it on the "Coming Soon" page of the VIDEO WATCHDOG website, and sample the opening pages of our WILD WILD WEST and TARZAN coverage, as well!

Incidentally, if you're keeping track, this is the first time we've featured Boris Karloff on the cover of VIDEO WATCHDOG since our fifth issue, back in 1990. That issue included the first published excerpt of MARIO BAVA ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK, and we enjoy the symmetry that this will be the issue on newsstands as that book finally becomes a reality.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Into the WTF Zone with Larry Blamire

If writers blog when they aren't writing, what do filmmakers do?
Well, if you're Larry Blamire -- the actor-writer-director responsible for the cult favorite THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA (which netted him the coveted Rondo Award as "Monster Kid of the Year"), JOHNNY SLADE'S GREATEST HITS, and the recently completed TRAIL OF THE SCREAMING FOREHEAD -- you recognize the absolute freedom, ease of access, and final cut made available to you by YouTube.
And you go for it.
Blamire (pictured above, reportedly at the precise moment he conceived his next project) is currently having "way too much fun" writing, directing, and occasionally acting in his latest creation, TALES FROM THE PUB, six episodes of which are presently available for free viewing on YouTube.
What exactly is TALES FROM THE PUB? Allow me to answer that question by posing a few others... Have you ever had a blackout that snipped five unaccountable minutes out of your life? Have you ever suddenly noticed that your beer is gone? Have you ever been aware that you are being stalked by invisible stalkers? Have you ever noticed how such things are even more likely to occur if you happen to be in the local pub? Weird, huh?
Glomming onto that weirdness as if it was the very pulse of our lives and times, Blamire manages to tackle these questions and many others in these episodes, which run under three minutes and are hosted by Truphen Newben, our creepily debonair guide into WTF Zone.
Six episodes are currently available. In the order of their release, they are "The Other Glass", "The Premonition" (featuring Jennifer "Animala" Blaire), "The Invisible Unseen", "Past Life", "Puppet for Your Thoughts" (starring TWILIGHT ZONE alumnus H.M. Wynant), and "Message from Beyond." Other LOST SKELETON alumni Brian Howe and Andrew Parks also frequently appear.
According to Blamire, there are currently another 10 episodes of TALES FROM THE PUB already in the can, and scripts for another 20 awaiting production. I, for one, can't wait to see them and hope there are plans afoot to collect them all on DVD someday. Each episode is a tiny gem of absurdist filmmaking that entertains while tweaking our tendency to leap to fantastic explanations for the most commonplace occurrences and brain farts, while also making textural nods to the show's real point of reference: the John Newland-hosted ALCOA PRESENTS, better known by its syndication title, ONE STEP BEYOND.
When I first saw THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA, I was immediately charmed beyond all expectation but, because it was a spoof of '50s sci-fi/horror cheapies, it was hard to tell anything from it about Blamire's real abilities as an actor, writer, or director. Even so, I could recognize that his brand of satire was genuinely witty as well as unabashedly silly, and that, as an actor and writer, he was remarkably well in touch with his inner child. These characteristics also run riot through TALES FROM THE PUB. It's not just Ed Wood; there's some Buñuel and Dalí in there, too. (And Larry is a gifted artist, aside from his other accomplishments. Check out his production art for his dream project STEAM WARS if you doubt me.)
Because it's a straightforward comedy rather than a spoof, Blamire's second theatrical feature, JOHNNY SLADE'S GREATEST HITS, gives a somewhat clearer view of his abilities and potential. It's not necessarily better than LOST SKELETON, but it is more polished, and you can see Blamire capably meeting the challenge of working with more experienced screen actors in a more professional setting. This mob comedy, which features numerous actors from THE SOPRANOS, has won all kinds of awards at independent film festivals, but, for some reason, hasn't had any luck finding proper theatrical distribution. Never mind those pesky details: the film is available from as a letterboxed DVD-R and also as an authorized download. And it's well worth seeing.
John Fiore (the guy who died on the toilet in THE SOPRANOS) produced the film and stars as Johnny Slade, a faded middle-of-the-road singer who finds his career unexpectedly jump-started when he accepts an unrefusable offer from a club owner (Vincent Curatola, THE SOPRANOS' Johnny Sack) to headline. The catch: he has to perform a new song each night, and only once -- the lyrics handed to him by the Boss. These absurd songs (lyrics by Blamire, natch) are actually coded instructions to hitmen posted in the audience, embroiling Slade in mafia crossfire while also garnering him unlikely celebrity among wacko music fans who can't wait to hear what unique thing he might sing next.
JOHNNY SLADE'S GREATEST HITS was a work-for-hire; Blamire didn't generate the idea, he didn't write it solo, nor did he have final cut on the project. Consequently, the film has some weaknesses it might not have had otherwise, but it's nevertheless funny, entertaining, and, like Blamire's other work, it has a lot of heart as well as a surrealistic streak. Vincent Curatola is hilarious -- a terrific deadpan comic -- and so are the songs and a montage of Johnny's past triumphs on vinyl (including "The White Album"). I can't imagine any SOPRANOS fan not wanting to see it; now that the show is history, I recommend it as a one-stop shopping solution for that craving that kicks in on Sunday night.
In future years, I think it's likely that people will look back on the films and shorts Larry Blamire is making now with an affection similar to that which we feel for Roger Corman's early work, which was similarly silly but with undercurrents of sophistication. I already feel it, and can't wait to see TRAIL OF THE SCREAMING FOREHEAD, a furrowed forage into the worry lines of paranoid '50s sci-fi which has been described to me as "Douglas Sirk meets Jack Arnold" -- which they probably did, as they were both under contract to Universal-International at the same time. Perhaps they even hoisted a few together once or twice... in a pub.
Hmmm... Now what would Truphen Newben make of that?