Monday, October 27, 2008

DEEP THROAT Director Damiano Dies

Director Gerard Damiano as seen in the 2005 documentary INSIDE DEEP THROAT.

One of my favorite cultural blogs, Jahsonic, is reporting the death of Gerard Damiano, the notorious director of DEEP THROAT, at the age of 80. Further online research shows that he died Saturday night, October 25, of complications from a stroke.
To call Damiano a writer-producer-director would be cutting him short: he was also an editor-production designer-actor-composer-cable carrier and special effects guy. He wasn't the most polished filmmaker of his generation, as he freely admitted, but no one could accuse him of being uninventive within his means. While most other adult filmmakers were thinking exclusively about different ways to showcase the sexual act, Damiano brought a wealth of imagination to a genre that didn't require it. In the process, he extended the possibilities of sex onscreen and underscored the value of fantasy and imagination in the meeting of two (or more) bodies.
As the prime mover behind DEEP THROAT, he created the most famous adult film of all time, a picture that scored regular mentions in its day on THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JOHNNY CARSON and ROWAN & MARTIN'S LAUGH-IN, later lent its name to a significant supporting player in the uncovering of the Watergate scandal, and continues to be a subject of interest and controversy almost forty years later. I'm reminded that my "Throat Sprockets," the graphic novel chapter that appeared in the debut issue of Stephen R. Bissette's TABOO, was bootlegged in Spanish under the title "Garganta Profunda" -- meaning "Deep Throat." (This annoyed me because it suggested to Spanish readers that my storyline was about a protagonist having a vampiric reaction to seeing Damiano's film!) I don't know that Jerry Damiano can be said to have changed the world, but his work certainly had an impact that is still being felt.
Damiano isn't often credited as a fantasy director, but his XXX cinema was pregnant, shall we say, with fantasy: THE MAGICAL RING (1971), THE DEVIL IN MISS JONES (1973), MEMORIES WITHIN MISS AGGIE (1974, which featured a ghost), LET MY PUPPETS COME (1976, which is exactly what it sounds like), ODYSSEY: THE ULTIMATE TRIP (1977), the sf diptych THE SATISFIERS OF ALPHA BLUE (1980) and RETURN TO ALPHA BLUE (1984), NIGHT HUNGER (1983) and, of course, DEEP THROAT (1972) itself. Just before working with Linda Lovelace changed his life, Damiano also took a stab at a "legitimate" (non-porn) horror film, LEGACY OF SATAN (1972, released 1974).
In 2005, Damiano was interviewed for the Brian Glazer-produced INSIDE DEEP THROAT, a major studio documentary about the phenomenon of that film's original release. For reasons that are now hard to fathom, DEEP THROAT briefly captured America's imagination and made hardcore pornography not only acceptable but chic. I remember this period particularly well because, in the mid-1970s, at a time when the film could not be screened here in Cincinnati (as indeed it probably still can't), a 16mm collecting friend loaned a print of DEEP THROAT to Donna and me -- yes, the first and last time I saw the film was on the living room wall of our first apartment. Donna was working a day job at a local hospital at the time, and the film was such a tantalizing part of the zeitgeist that she had no problem with inviting a select group of female co-workers to a private screening at our apartment. Sadly, my presence at this gathering was not welcome, but Donna gave me a very entertaining recap of everyone's comments during the screening after her guests went home. Within the last couple of years, we confided this story to a couple of other local friends, who surprised us by admitting that they, too, once had possession of a 16mm print and used to screen it for their friends!
While I don't think DEEP THROAT itself is anything to "write home about" (and neither did Damiano, apparently), what was written home about it makes for a fascinating time capsule, and this makes INSIDE DEEP THROAT is well worth seeing. It's also a humbling... nay, devastating exposé of the illusory nature of fame and the personal costs that are all too frequently paid for even a fleeting taste of the limelight.
The most inspired title of Damiano's zany career: 1989's SPLENDOR IN THE ASS.

Friday, October 24, 2008

A Halloween Gift from VW's Shane Dallmann


Greetings, friends--

To pave the way for Halloween, and to pay tribute to a fallen--but NEVER to be forgotten--friend, we of the MANOR would like to share a special project with you.

Officially unreleased (for now), THE WOODEN GATE was the second feature length effort from Labcoat Productions. This "evil in the woods" tale from the makers of FLESH EATERS (previously exhibited as an "independent cinema" special at the MANOR) was filled with local (Monterey County) talent, with writing/directing chores shared by Christo Roppolo and yours truly.

THE WOODEN GATE features guest appearances by directors Jeff Burr (THE OFFSPRING, LEATHERFACE, STRAIGHT INTO DARKNESS) and Jim VanBebber (DEADBEAT AT DAWN, THE MANSON FAMILY)--and also boasts the final role of our dear friend Jonelle Snead (as "Lucy"). Refusing to let a terminal diagnosis keep her down, Jonelle gave the part everything she had.We couldn't do anything about said diagnosis--but there WAS something we could do for her. It was 2004, we were still working on the movie, but Jonelle had greater concerns--she needed a place to live. At the time, MANOR was transitioning from the Barbary Coast Theatre to the R.O.P. Studio, but the Barbary was still available for our concept--an independent genre film festival in the name of charity--with all proceeds going directly into a fund for Jonelle's temporary residence (we were all willing to help, but couch-crashing and car-bedding weren't the way to go).

The MANOR crew hosted the event. Christo and I supplied FLESH EATERS. Gary Ambrosia (Super Genius Productions) served up his WWII thriller THE ANGELS OF DEATH ISLAND. Jeff Burr screened THE OFFSPRING and Jim VanBebber premiered THE MANSON FAMILY... without a doubt, the nastiest piece of work ever run in the name of charity!

Also on the card was horror-host/storyteller/FRIEND Carpathian (of the Patient Creatures), who regaled the audience with amusing anecdotes and a heartfelt tribute to Jonelle (who, despite initial misgivings, proudly attended the event front and center). The WOODEN GATE cast and crew joined the MANOR team for setup, concessions, cleanup and everything else under the sun, while fellow hosts and friends coast-to-coast donated special auction items and video encouragements.

I will always remember this event--but more important was the aftermath: we did, indeed, secure lodgings for Jonelle (in the company of a registered nurse, no less) for the space of several months before she was relocated to pass away in peace and comfort at the local Hospice House (now known as Westland House) in October of 2004.

So whither THE WOODEN GATE? As frustrating as it has been for the cast and crew, we have been holding out for a PROPER release of our sophomore effort rather than go the "self-publishing" route. At one point, we held out hopes that a certain genre-affiliated DVD company would take advantage of the fact that it was releasing several other properties associated with Jim Van Bebber... but after several months of what amounted to stalling and teasing, their appointed lackey finally admitted that they'd never actually planned to do anything with it.

Whoa--whoa... stop... getting bitter here and that's not where I meant to go. We are shopping THE WOODEN GATE (which sold out the Osio Cinema in Monterey for its Halloween premiere) to a worthy distributor and it's going to happen. But this weekend, on the anniversary of Jonelle's passing, we're going to give it to you FREE.

The MANOR timeslot will kick in with a special introduction and some cartoon fun at 10 Pacific... delaying the start of the feature mayhem to approximately 30m into the show. We did that for a reason--THE WOODEN GATE is one EXTREME piece of work. No hardcore sex or anything like that... but everything ELSE is a go. So as we're fond of saying, "Give the youngsters a book to read."

This is an unofficial MANOR episode--an "independent cinema" special which will run UNCUT and UNINTERRUPTED. Save for our intro material, we will NOT be breaking in and "hosting" it. You'll be getting THE WOODEN GATE full-strength for this pre-Halloween weekend ONLY.

You can meet several of my "Gate-Mates" through my Myspace profile. You'll find lead actor Douglas Matthews as "Douglas," co-players Alfonso Milla and Kat Reina (as "El Chingon" and "kittykat") and special makeup effects mistress Robin Shaw (as "KAT").

And if so moved? Please make a donation to the American Cancer Society--or to the MANOR's current charity of choice, www.twotrees.org (tell them DR. CREEP sent you).

Friday (Oct 24) and Saturday (Oct 25) 10PM Pacific

Saturday (Oct 25) and Sunday (Oct 26) 5AM Pacific

Monterey cable channel 24 (AMP) or on-line at http://www.ampmedia.org/

Choose "Programs" and then "Web Stream" for Channel 24

All my Halloween best,

Shane "Remo D." Dallmann

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

"Se telefonando"

No less a musical authority than FILM SCORE MONTHLY's John Bender considers this song, written by Ennio Morricone and performed by Mina Mazzini, to be the most sublime few minutes in the history of pop music. He directed me to this 1966 performance on YouTube, which reminded me that I knew the song well (if not by name) from various Morricone anthologies and have never failed to be moved by it. What's especially wonderful about this live performance is that you can tell that Maestra Mazzini knows perfectly well that she has found her defining moment of stardom and, for three minutes and change, she rides that wave in a state of perfect joy and confidence. May we all be so well prepared when our moment comes.

Monday, October 20, 2008

First VIDEODROME Review

While doing my morning net browsing, I was pleased and surprised to discover the first review of my new book VIDEODROME that I've seen on Steve Bissette's S.R. Bissette.com site. (Pictured on the left is a photo not included in the book, showing me interviewing actor James Woods on the set.) Go ahead and click on the review, then come back after reading it and I'll comment.

As with his earlier review of MARIO BAVA ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK, Steve is wonderfully enthusiastic and commendatory about the book itself ("a brilliant dissection of the collaborative creative process at work, hence of interest to anyone who is either a creator themselves or eager to understand the creative process") and his review is one that any writer would be pleased to receive. He also has some strong opinions on the subject of what he sees as my ratification of "pejorative terminology" -- in this case, my identification of VIDEODROME as a conceptual granddaddy of the subgenre we know today as "torture porn" -- and I'd like to take a moment to respond to this.

In the book's final chapter discussion of VIDEODROME's influence on contemporary horror trends, the phrase I actually use is "so-called 'torture porn'" and I hardly "dismiss these successors" with the "simplistic contempt" Steve mentions. In fact, my space limitations being what they were (I was contracted to deliver a 144-page book and was generously granted an extension to 160 pages), the whole discussion is limited to a single paragraph that is shared with its influence on films such as THE RING.

Steve may be needled by the fact that I've used the phrase without the "so-called" in some of my past VIDEO WATCHDOG writing, but I've always used it as a convenience, without any political bias nor, as best I can recollect, any critical bias. I see the term as analogous to one that I coined back in my 1980s writing for GOREZONE and FANGORIA -- "gornography" -- a humorous pun that, as a matter of fact, I remember Steve enjoying at the time. I suppose this is a particularly appropriate explanation of anything apropos of VIDEODROME, but Steve seems to have an entirely different subjective take on "torture porn" than I do, one that may well be more connected to reality (as most people perceive it) than my own. I've never seen it as anything but a descriptive term, poppy rather than pejorative, referring to films meant to arouse audiences with dramatizations of reductive cruelty. This probably has something to do with me finding the term "porn" more amiable and user-friendly than its more severe-sounding root word "pornography."

For all that, I've had letters on the subject in the past, which is why I took care to predicate the term with "so-called" in VIDEODROME. Even though I don't take the term as nergatively as some, I would hope this gesture shows a dawning sensitivity on my part to how other people perceive it and a resolve to use it with greater care and awareness.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Follow the Bouncing Ball

Steve Bissette writes beautifully, and meaningfully, about Fellini's SPIRITS OF THE DEAD segment "Toby Dammit" today at his S.R. Bissette blog. Check it out here.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Delirium Tremendous

At the time of its release in 1949, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's THE SMALL BACK ROOM was praised as a welcome return to the postwar realism that audiences had come to expect of "The Archers" after their Technicolorful, fantasmagorical THE RED SHOES. The respectful but compact reputation enjoyed by this intimate wartime drama overlooks one of its most startling achievements, a sequence in which aging munitions expert Sammy Rice (David Farrar) -- tin-legged, alcoholic, self-loathing and lovesick -- finds himself alone in a room with an unopened bottle of whiskey as every tick of the clock suggests that his lover Susan (Kathleen Byron) has stood him up on their usual Wednesday night together.

The sequence, designed by Hein Heckroth, uses a stunning photograph of Byron to nudge Sammy's feelings of being teased. (There are hints of the mad siren that Byron becomes in the finale of BLACK NARCISSSUS in the way her eyes are lighted here.) Cinematographer Christopher Challis, working with Powell, ensures that, as Sammy paces impatiently about his apartment on his hurting leg, that the bottle of whisky set aside by the couple to celebrate the eventual end of the war is positioned threateningly in the foreground -- as it is in Sammy's consciousness -- whenever Susan's taunting portrait isn't. It's helpful to know that Sammy can't handle whiskey and the local publican (Sidney James) refuses to serve it to him, no matter how much his leg pains him.

Suddenly, this "realistic" minor masterpiece jolts into expressionism with a remarkable series of composed images that find Sammy more ogreishly dominated by the ticking clock -- a device conveying a double meaning in a scenario about British officers striving to learn how to dismantle unexploded "Jerry" bombs without incurring new casualties. The mise en scène suggests that Sammy is now himself a ticking time bomb.

Criterion's DVD of the film (the subject of Ramsey Campbell's column in VIDEO WATCHDOG #146, now in preparation) includes a new video interview with cinematographer Challis, who recalls how shots such as these were filmed with split diopters and other means of keeping the two disproportionate sides of the screen in equal focus.


Note the wallpaper in Sammy's flat in this Dutch angled set-up, because it's going to change.

There is something about this profile shot of Farrar that strongly evokes compositions in religious art, emphasizing his test of spirit.
Now the bottle begins to multiply within the patterns of the wallpaper.

Then the wallpaper explodes into panels of ticking clocks.

Sammy finds himself crucified within their multiplicity.

Sammy is literally pinned to the wall by the looming bottle of temptation, now grown to enormous proportions as it bullies him.

As he squeezes himself free, he edges along the wallpaper -- note that the bottles integrated into the design have here assumed a more three-dimensional presence and tactility.

As he emerges from the pinch, Sammy is rendered into a complete coward by temptation, confirming his worst fears about himself -- which also show the way to his only salvation. Namely, he's nothing without Susan.
The hallucination sequence continues for quite a bit longer, but I don't want to spoil it for newcomers. What I will say is that the resolution of the sequence and the situation confirms, in its unexpected elements of irony, humanity and humor, why Michael Powell was one of cinema's most singular talents.

After an excruciatingly suspenseful bomb defusion sequence, THE SMALL BACK ROOM grants Sammy and Susan a happy ending. Exhausted but triumphant, Sammy finds the strength and self-respect to demand and receive the authority that's rightfully his, which Susan has been unsuccessfully goading him toward for the balance of the picture. He returns to his smashed-up apartment, where his homecoming is made magical by his discovery that everything broken -- including the picture frame that held Susan's taunting portrait -- has been fixed, replaced or put back in its proper place by his lover's caring hands. I've seen scenes in religious films of people ascending into Heaven itself that weren't filmed with half of this scene's payload of emotion and fulfillment.
Twice in the many years we've been together -- or, rather, as we've been reunited after the rare times we've been apart -- Donna has surprised me by imposing order on rooms that I've left in complete disarray (as I tend to do). Both times, I was extraordinarily moved by what she accomplished with this thoughtful gesture: not just a reordering of my environment, it was like being given a sense of restored well-being, the gift of a fresh outlook. For this reason, the finale of THE SMALL BACK ROOM held a special resonance for me, but the movie as a whole took me completely by surprise as one of Powell and Pressburger's most note-perfect studies of the human heart.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Swallowing TRUEBLOOD

Vampire Bill (Stephen Moyer) and Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) hit the slay bars in HBO's TRUEBLOOD.


As an admirer of Alan Ball's previous HBO series SIX FEET UNDER, I was somewhat underwhelmed by the September 7 debut episode of his new vampire-themed series TRUEBLOOD on that same network. The initial promotional use of imaginary commercials for vampire-related products didn't help, weakly echoing SIX FEET UNDER's own initial (and thankfully abandoned) use of tongue-in-cheek TV commercials for undertaker accessories. However, partly because it has such a great timeslot, I've stuck with the show -- based on Charlaine Harris's "Sookie Stackhouse" novels -- and have enthusiastically warmed to its well-thought-out imagining of a near-future world in which vampires and the living attempt to coexist.

With last night's episode "Cold Ground," TRUEBLOOD reached a climax of sorts with its most effective episode to date, full of genuine panic, pathos (at its most multi-leveled as Sookie cries while eating the remains of the last pecan pie made by her murdered grandmother) and passion (as she consecrates her advent into unsupervised adulthood by donning a nightgown any Hammer heroine would envy and racing to an intuited rendezvous with Vampire Bill, whom she finally allows to penetrate her orally with the vulnerable words "I want you to"). This episode, directed by Nick Gomez, achieved a level of greatness within its genre that made the sometimes awkward path it took to reach this high point seem more special and interesting in retrospect.

I've never been a particular fan of the Anne Rice approach to vampire fiction, or the rock star/leather duster-wearer variety of vampire that has cluttered the movies in their wake. I haven't read anything by Charlaine Harris either, but I'm beginning to think that TRUEBLOOD may be the most important addition to vampire cinema -- if television can be termed cinema -- since Count Yorga laughed at the crucifix wielded by his adversary. As the author of two vampire novels myself, I have my own ideas of what the subgenre should and should not be, and it pleases me to no end that another body of work has finally come forward that seems to share my ideals and wants to move the genre in a more correct direction.

TRUEBLOOD functions as social satire and metaphor, with the introduction of a Japanese brand of bottled synthetic blood called Trueblood allowing vampires to "mainstream" by nurturing themselves from product rather than victims, and the outsider nature of the bloodsuckers serving dual purpose as an illustration of antiquated biases against gays. In an especially clever subplot, vampire blood is being sold as an underground street drug called V, which is doled out on blotters and expands the consciousness and physical powers of the user like a combined hit of acid and Viagra. (Note: Kim Newman informs me that this same idea was explored in his novella ANDY WARHOL'S DRACULA, published two years before the first Sookie Stackhouse novel.) But what I find most consistently intriguing about the show is Stephen Moyer's nuanced portrayal of the 173-year-old vampire Bill Compton, a non-survivor of the Civil War, who speaks with a dead-accurate sense of Southern manners that convincingly embodies the sense of a character who has lived entire lifetimes and who, despite the obscenity of his condition, is struggling to preserve within his own demeanor a sense of values that make his pained existence somehow liveable. He may be the best vampire character to come along since Barnabas Collins, and the way he seems to speak from another era recalls the chills raised by Chris Sarandon in the 1992 Lovecraft adaptation, THE RESURRECTED. Bill's sometimes unbearably tense romantic link with the plucky and so-far-inexplicably-telepathic heroine Sookie (consistently good work by Anna Paquin) makes sense because, as damned as their relationship would seem to be, it's underscored by a mutual and specifically regional moral rigor that gives Sookie the peace of mind she craves (the thoughts of vampires cannot be overheard), and Bill the mirror he is otherwise denied in undeath.

The executive story editor on TRUEBLOOD is Chris Offutt, whom I credit -- rightly or wrongly -- with some of the brushstrokes I'm appreciating so much in Moyer's rich characterization. In his bourbon-voiced courtliness and subdued volatility, Vampire Bill Compton reminds me a lot of Chris's dad, the sci-fi/sword & sorcery/pulp porn scribe Andrew J. Offutt. Andy was the first professional writer I ever met, and very kind to me when I was a youngster; in fact, he contributed an amusing article surveying the then-current horror movie scene to the second issue of a film-related fanzine that I published in the early 1970s. I remember meeting Chris when he was just a kid at various Midwestcons as the eldest in a procession of youngsters that fandom knew as the "Offuttspring," trailing their pretty mom Jody like so many quail. He has since gone on to enviable success and respect as a literary (as opposed to genre) novelist and short story writer, and I was pleased and surprised to find someone with his credentials and knowledge of the South affiliated with this program. I don't know if this perceived nod to his dad is deliberate or subconscious or just a natural emanation of Chris's life experience, but there's a lot of the Andy Offutt I remember in Vampire Bill.

This is a show rich in characterization, inventiveness and incident, and I hope it can stay on track after so powerfully forking the road of Sookie's humanity. Even if it stumbles after this, these early episodes of TRUEBLOOD will continue to represent vampire cinema at its most clever and progressive.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Coralina Rocks with Video Watchdog


This link will take you to a YouTube audience video of Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni performing "Suspiria" onstage in Toronto with ex-Goblin keyboardist Maurizio Guarini's band Orco Muto, in 2007. To my astonishment, Coralina's intense performance -- which is accompanied throughout by a rear screen slideshow of images from Dario Argento films -- climaxes with two strangely included Herschell Gordon Lewis projections, the second of which happens to be the controversially gruesome cover of VIDEO WATCHDOG #60!
This first collaboration came as a huge surprise to Donna and me, and I suspect it will surprise Coralina too! In a still more impressive coincidence, this performance took place on August 24 -- the very day that we first received MARIO BAVA ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK from our printer in Hong Kong!

SWEDEN, HEAVEN AND HELL reviewed

If you feel like taking a dip into my review of Luigi Scattini's SWEDEN, HEAVEN AND HELL (Klubb Super8 Video DVD), appearing in the November 2008 issue of SIGHT & SOUND, here is a link to the online version.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Some Pictures From Coralina

My new sister Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni sent me a selection of photos taken by her camera at Cinema Wasteland and I thought I would share them with you. This first picture is her personal favorite from the weekend and, with all due respect to Lamberto (whom I waited 28 years to meet!), it's mine too. Inside the box, of course, is Coralina's own personal copy of the Bava book. I am so proud to be in this picture, I can't tell you.

Here's another angle of the group shot featuring (left to right) Brett Halsey, Donna Lucas, John Saxon, me, Lamberto Bava, Mike Baronas, dear Coralina and Mariano Baino. What a great moment.

Here is a shot from Saturday's Q&A with Lamberto and Coralina, where she answered questions about her own career and also kindly translated for Lamberto. He was the first director to cast her in a motion picture (DEMONS 2: THE NIGHTMARE CONTINUES), giving her the role of Sally, the bratty birthday girl who becomes a blood-and-pus-drooling icon of Eighties Italian horror. She was so happy to get the part, she wept and apologized profusely. This prompted Lamberto to advise her, "Don't ever change."

During the show, I saw a few different modellers approach Lamberto with tributes they had made with their own two hands. This superb facsimile of the mask from DEMONS -- I initially thought it was the original! -- is one of these tributes. He signed its interior lining and handed it back to its creator.

One of the products displayed on Brett Halsey's neighboring table was this action figure of his mosca-headed self from 1958's RETURN OF THE FLY. Whenever Lamberto saw this box, he would chuckle and cry, "Help! Help!" I'm sure that's what he's saying here now.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Lamberto Bava and the Family Cross

When I met Lamberto Bava at Cinema Wasteland this past weekend, I told him that I had two great fears about our meeting. One: that he would tell me wonderful stories about his father that I didn't know to include in my book MARIO BAVA ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK; and Two: that he would open the book, point to something, and say, as nicely as possible, "Uh... maybe not."

Both things came to pass.
On the first count, he told me a wonderful story about Mario Bava's first encounter with horror cinema, which may have been the childhood moment that predisposed him to a fascination with the macabre. When Mario was a young boy, he lived with his family on the top floor of an apartment building. From the bed in his room, Mario could look out the window at a neighboring movie theater. On warm nights, the roof of this theater rolled back to let in the cool night air... but, from Mario's perspective, the opening of the roof revealed the theater screen. One night, the young Mario happened to be looking out his window when the theater's roof opened to reveal... F.W. Murnau's NOSFERATU (1922), which he proceeded to watch with a sense of mounting terror. The film clearly left its impression on the boy, who included an inversion of NOSFERATU's undercranked coach ride sequence in his official directorial debut, BLACK SUNDAY. Good story.
On the second count, Lamberto is unsure of the validity of the Mario Bava signature on the Brett Halsey photo included in the book's chapter on FOUR TIMES THAT NIGHT. I told Lamberto that it was the only signed photo of Mario I had ever seen, and he answered, "Maybe not his." Lamberto's reason is that everyone in the Bava family signs their name in a manner that includes what has become known as "the family cross" -- a cross worked into one of the letters. He showed me what he meant with his own signature, in which the L of his first name grows out of an initial cross. Later in the day, Lamberto watched me sign a copy of MARIO BAVA ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK for someone and saw that I drew a line through the middle of the S at the end of my name. "Since [I told you]?" he asked, smiling. But no, I explained that crossing my S started years ago, when I carelessly added the bridge too my A too far to the right. I liked the effect and kept it, sometimes as a dash after my S, sometimes as an elongated tail of the letter that extends across it, but more commonly as a line through my S -- the way I draw lines through my 7's in the European manner. I'm sure there are copies of the Bava book which I signed that don't have a crossed S, because the task of signing one thousand books required some variation to break up the monotony; likewise, I remember signing some of the books straight across and others more diagonally. That's why I believe the signed Halsey photo to be genuine. I know that I'm inconsistent and occasionally careless about the way I sign my name. But you can see what Lamberto means by comparing the signature on the book's title page, which has the family cross, to the one on Brett's still.
As we were preparing to leave on Sunday, Lamberto presented both Donna and me with signed photos of himself. The one he gave to me was signed, in Italian, "To Tim - an honorary member of the family." As the recipient of this tremendous compliment, I will do my best to live up to it by taking care to cross the closing S's in all my signatures from now on.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Our Weekend at Cinema Wasteland

This past weekend, Donna and I drove four hours north of Cincinnati to Strongsville, Ohio -- near Cleveland -- where we attended the Cinema Wasteland convention. Among the guests of honor was Maestro Lamberto Bava, with whom I have been corresponding and speaking by phone since 1980, twenty-eight years ago. Travel makes me nervous, but (as I told him in an e-mail a couple of weeks ago), Lamberto could not come halfway around the world to my state without me making the effort to join him. I am so glad that I did. This picture was taken within minutes of our first meeting at Lamberto's table.

There was an instantaneous sense of warmth and familiarity, and our rapport was immediate, happy and intense. I was with Lamberto for most of Saturday and until about 1:00pm on Sunday, and despite my general lack of Italian and Lamberto's fractured English, our communication was nearly non-stop. I love this picture because it captures some of that intensity.

I snapped this picture of Donna and Lamberto. They were charmed by each other and it was such a treat to see them interact.

While snapping some "official portraits" of Lamberto and I, Donna suddenly told us, "And now just look at each other." (She got a kick out of "directing the director.") Thus resulted my favorite picture of the two of us. There is a similar photo of Donna and me from the early years of our marriage, in which the look we're exchanging seems to miraculously summarize who we are to each other. This picture has a similar quality.

I guess this is our "John Bender meets Francesco de Masi" moment, but it wasn't a conscious recreation. The emotion here is very sincere. To communicate with Lamberto from long distance is one thing, but it was so much more meaningful for me to communicate with him in person. His eyes twinkle; he's a truly genial person, and it was a treat to sit beside him at his table and see him greeted by a constant procession of his admiring public. Most of what has been written about Lamberto's work in English has been of the "He lives and works in the shadow of his father, Mario Bava" school, and while that may be the general critical view, it's not a realistic view. I saw numerous awestruck people approach Lamberto's table and tell him that his movies -- his, not his father's -- inspired them to become artists, writers, painters, actors, or just horror fans. I felt so pleased for him.
My favorite overheard story came from a couple who run a day-care center, who told Lamberto that DEVILFISH was loved so much by their kids that one group actually watched it five times in two days! I'm sure that's the best review DEVILFISH ever had!

When Lamberto was talking with me, sometimes his English failed him and he asked fellow guest of honor Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni (the Dario Argento diva also featured in Lamberto's own DEMONS 2: THE NIGHTMARE CONTINUES and GHOST SON) to translate his thoughts. Meeting Coralina was one of the sweetest treats of the weekend for us, and I refer you to today's posting at the Bava Book Blog for more about this special lady.

Also present was Italian horror director (and Coralina's lucky companion) Mariano Baino, whose DARK WATERS was released here on DVD by No Shame in a deluxe box set with amulet. I haven't yet seen DARK WATERS, which Lamberto gave a strong and persuasive endorsement, but I much enjoyed meeting and talking with Mariano, who has an encyclopedic knowledge of cinema and likewise had that combination of warmth, friendliness and intensity.

I was so pleased to finally be in Lamberto's company that I never left his table except to attend to the call of nature. On Sunday, we got into the dealer's room early and I had a little time to visit some of Lamberto's immediate neighbors on Celebrity Row and that's when I discovered that, just a few seats to my right, all along, was none other than writer-director Jeff Lieberman! As a horror fan hitting all the drive-ins back in the 1970s, Jeff became an instant genre luminary with the release of SQUIRM, and he completed his Big Three with the cult classics BLUE SUNSHINE and JUST BEFORE DAWN. In reviews I wrote at the time, I compared Lieberman to David Cronenberg and the later release of REMOTE CONTROL (his VIDEODROME, if you will) supported the comparison. Jeff told me about some exciting new irons he has in the fire, and I look forward to seeing more of his work, which has always been original and healthy for the genre.

Sitting to my immediate right throughout the weekend was the great Brett Halsey, who starred in two Mario Bava films (FOUR TIMES THAT NIGHT and ROY COLT & WINCHESTER JACK) and also worked with him during the filming in some sequences for the Riccardo Freda costume adventure THE SEVENTH SWORD. I've known Brett via phone and e-mail for five or six years, and this was our first meeting. Now that the Bava book is done, I was able to broaden the scope of our subject matter and he told me some fascinating stories about working with Freda and he also gave me a surprising insight into the personality of the late Steve Reeves, someone I approached to be interviewed for the Bava book a few times without success. He told me that it was his understanding that Reeves' parents were deaf-mutes and that Steve himself did not learn to speak until he was seven years old. This is something I don't recall ever reading about, and it explains a good deal of Reeves' personal reserve. Brett kindly gave me a copy of John Murray's new book about his career (from Midnight Marquee Press) and I bought the new edition of his novel THE MAGNIFICENT STRANGERS, out of print since the 1970s, and newly revised and expanded in its current edition from I-Universe.

During our Sunday morning stroll along Celebrity Row, we met Betsy Palmer, who was wearing either her original Mrs. Voorhees sweater from FRIDAY THE 13TH or something very like it! Now 83, Betsy turned out to be a real sweetheart and hugged us both for commemorative photos. As die-hard fans of I'VE GOT A SECRET, we asked for some behind-the-scenes stories about her curmudgeonly co-star Henry Morgan (a personal favorite), and boy, did we get 'em! A short but very sweet encounter.

The surprise of the weekend came when Donna and I were heading to the elevators to get ready for dinner on Saturday, when I heard an unmistakable voice call my name from around the corner. It was Don May, Jr. of Synapse Films! Don (seen here at the right, with his partner Jerry Chandler in the middle) has been a friend and reader/supporter of VIDEO WATCHDOG since the beginning, then became a contributor of articles about HIGHLANDER and THE EVIL DEAD, and now he heads one of the most important independent horror/exploitation DVD labels around. As this photo shows, every moment I spent with these two guys was an absolute joy. Support Synapse Films and Impulse Pictures products! They tell me they'll be bringing Christina Lindberg to the next Cinema Wasteland convention!
I don't have a photo to commemorate the event, but during Saturday night's dinner with Lamberto, Coralina, Mariano and Mike Baronas (who brought everyone together at this event -- bravissimo, Michele!), our table was approached by an effusive admirer of Lamberto's whom I immediately recognized as Adrienne King, the female lead of the first FRIDAY THE 13th. It seems Adrienne is quite an admirer of classic Italian horror, knew all about the movie's debt to TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE, and we invited her to join us. She added still more excitement to an already happy and animated table, and Brett Halsey also dropped by, completing a perfect evening.

This weekend also allowed for a personal reunion for Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni and her aunt and uncle, Bruno and Rose Botti, whom she hadn't seen in about five years. She told me that they weren't very familiar with her work in movies, and the convention gave them an opportunity to see their famous niece in her professional element. They were very nice, friendly people, clearly very proud of their niece, and you can see how moved Coralina was to be in their company again.
As the clock ticked down the moments to the time of our departure on Sunday afternoon, we finally succeeded in assembling the Italian horror contingent for a commemorative photo. From left to right: Brett Halsey, Donna Lucas, John Saxon (so consistently in-demand at his signing table that we had very little time to get reacquainted), Tim Lucas, Mike Baronas, Lamberto Bava, Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni and Mariano Baiano. The photo was taken by John Saxon's fiancée Gloria Martel, a terrific lady, and I consider it one of the great keepsakes of my life.
In fact, once Gloria started setting up the shot, she was suddenly joined by a half-dozen other photographers... and as the flashes started going off, they were joined by other camera bugs who followed the bombardments of light over to our corner. Soon, our eyes were all dazzled by the blue afterburns of flashing cameras.

This picture was snapped dozens upon dozens of shots later, just as we thought we had finally finished. Then one of the many photographers, a member of the Cinema Wasteland staff, suddenly exclaimed, "This is too good to pass up; I'm getting in on this!" -- then handed his camera to his girlfriend and sidled through the tables to stand in front of the group. More pictures ensued. And then more people joining the group to be photographed ensued! The expressions in this candid shot -- the way Donna and Mike and I are laughing, the way Coralina is looking at me, the way John is looking at the Cinema Wasteland staffer who wants a piece of this historic moment ("Oh yeah? You want a piece of this?") -- capture the spirit of the weekend in ways that the posed shot doesn't, and that's why I cherish it just as much.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Rolling Stones Do Lovecraft

Didja ever wake up to find

A day that broke up your mind

Destroyin' your notion of circular time?

It's just that Evil Eye

... that got you in its sway.

Words: "Sway" by the Rolling Stones, written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, from the album STICKY FINGERS (1971).
Images: "Dreams in the Witch-House" (2005) by Stuart Gordon, based on the story by H.P. Lovecraft. From the series MASTERS OF HORROR, available from Anchor Bay Entertainment.
Note 10/9/08: I've had a few e-mails from helpful readers who inform me that, according to the song lyrics posted on whatever website, I've got the lyric wrong and that the real line is "It's just that demon life has got you in its sway." I know, I looked around for lyrics, but finally went with what's on the actual recording. "Demon life" may have been part of a rough draft, it might even be in the background vocals, but it's not what Mick Jagger is singing. I have the album and I studied the recording carefully prior to, and even after, posting. It's a common saying that the evil eye or malocchio has one in its sway, or thrall. "Demon life" in this context would make no sense. Granted, Jagger sings the song like he's a couple of bottles of cognac to the wind, but I believe "evil eye" is fairly plainly heard, considering how some entire other verses are slurred.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Farewell, Cirio Santiago

Cirio H. Santiago, in a 2007 photo from the Search for Weng Weng blog.


The PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER has reported the death of Filipino exploitation master Cirio H. Santiago, best-known as the line producer of New World Pictures' popular WIP quartet of THE BIG DOLL HOUSE, WOMEN IN CAGES, THE HOT BOX and THE BIG BIRD CAGE (the first and last of which were directed by Jack Hill). As a director, Santiago was also responsible for such legendary '70s drive-in fare as T.N.T. JACKSON (scripted by Dick Miller), COVER GIRL MODELS, FLY ME, VAMPIRE HOOKERS and FIGHTING MAD. The DAILY INQUIRER report, written by Marinel Cruz, reads as follows:

Filmmaker and producer Cirio Santiago, who award-winning Hollywood director Quentin Tarantino considers a big influence and inspiration, died Friday night of complications from lung cancer. He was 72.

Santiago, who was diagnosed early this year, was pronounced dead at 11:50 p.m. at Makati Medical Center. His doctors declared respiratory failure as the immediate cause, his sister Digna, an official of the Film Development Council of the Philippines, told the Inquirer by phone on Saturday.

Like Cirio, Digna is a film producer for the family-owned Premiere Productions.
At the time of his death, Cirio was chair of the Laguna Lake Development Authority.
Cirio’s son Cyril died of testicular cancer six months ago, said Digna. “Cirio became very depressed.”


She said her brother was taken by ambulance to the hospital on Sept. 18 after he complained of difficulty breathing. “His family learned of his condition in March, after his son, Cyril, was buried,” Digna said. “He didn’t even tell us, probably because he didn’t like too much attention.”
He is survived by wife Annabelle; children Christopher, Cathy, Claudine and Cirio Jr.; and siblings Digna and Danilo.


Cirio was cremated on Friday. A Mass will be held tomorrow, 10 a.m., at Santuario de San Antonio in Forbes Park, Makati.

Cirio, who also used the screen name Leonard Hermes, was chair emeritus of Premiere Productions. In 1995, he was president of the Philippine Film Development Fund.
In 1960, he was one of the Ten Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) of the Philippines, for Movies.


Among Cirio’s better-known films were T. N. T. JACKSON (1975) and FIREHAWK (1993). In the 1980s, he made low-budget Vietnam war movies, working with American producer Roger Corman and directors Jonathan Demme and Carl Franklin.

Several of these B-movies have become cult favorites, cited by such “renegade” Hollywood filmmakers as Tarantino. During his first visit to the country last year, Tarantino sought a meeting with his two “idols,” Cirio, and Filipino director, Eddie Romero. Tarantino proudly announced that he had based some of the characters in his iconic film, KILL BILL, on those in Cirio’s earlier movies.

At the time of his death, Cirio was filming ROAD WARRIORS [sic, actually ROAD RAIDERS], produced by US-based 147 Productions, as the sequel to his [1983] sci-fi flick STRYKER. He was to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Film Academy of the Philippines next month.

Among Santiago's other productions were THE BLOOD DRINKERS, EBONY IVORY AND JADE, UP FROM THE DEPTHS, BLOODFIST I and II, and DEMON OF PARADISE. Thanks to Joe Dante for sharing this news with me.