Sunday, August 26, 2018


There is a new Blu-ray company in the UK - Nucleus Films (headed by Marc Morris and Jake West), launched not long ago with unique, limited edition Blu-rays of Jess Franco's THE EROTIC RITES OF FRANKENSTEIN and THE DEMONS. Now I must bring your attention to the latest two releases in their "European Cult Cinema Collection": Mel Welles' LADY FRANKENSTEIN (1972) and Giulio Questi's DEATH LAID AN EGG (1968) - both of which are being made available for the first time in their original director's cuts (in both cases, widely suppressed) and their more familiar theatrical release versions. These are both Limited Edition pressings of only 1000 copies. I understand that popular editions will also be issued at some point, but I imagine with fewer extras - and the extras here add immeasurably to their enjoyment.

Readers of VIDEO WATCHDOG may remember that, back in Issue #78, we ran a lengthy interview with writer-director-actor Mel Welles, touching on his entire career from acting for Roger Corman, mentoring Michael Reeves, working in the Italian dubbing industry, and also working as a director on several films made abroad. I also wrote for that issue a detailed reconstruction of LADY FRANKENSTEIN, which has generally been available for screening since its 1973 release in an 84 minute reduction supervised by Roger Corman, who released it through his then-fledgling company New World Pictures. Now you can see for yourselves the 15 minutes that were cut from the film and which reinforce its standing as a more serious accomplishment. The 99 minute version has been transferred from the original camera negative and is presented in both Italian and English (its primary language, as Welles assembled his cast with post-synchronization in mind) 24 bit LPCM audio with optional English subtitles.

The extras include the 84 minute version; an informative and entertaining audio commentary for the director's cut by Alan Jones and Kim Newman; "The Truth About LADY FRANKENSTEIN," a 2007 German television documentary (42m) including extensive on-camera interviews with Welles, Rosalba Neri and Herbert Fux; "Piecing Together LADY FRANKENSTEIN," a 35m featurette in which historian Julian Grainger recounts the film's history; "The Lady and the Orgy," an 8m featurette about Mel Welles' spell in Australia, during which time he reissued the film as part of a theatrical Spook Show; alternate "clothed" footage shot for Spain and international TV broadcasts; a photo-novel; a list of BBFC cuts; a stills and paper gallery; video art; a brace of international trailers, TV spots and radio spots - literally everything you could possibly want related to this title! In case you're wondering, none of the extras mention the film's similarity to the Bill Warren/Jack Sparling story "For the Love of Frankenstein," which appeared in VAMPIRELLA #4 - published early enough (April 1970) to have been a direct influence on Welles' and Edward di Lorenzo's screen story.

When New World released LADY FRANKENSTEIN at its truncated length, and with Rosalba Neri's established name inexplicably changed to "Sara Bay" (and with a blonde woman pictured in the ads), the very nature of its exploitative drive-in oriented presentation encouraged the film's audience to look down on it. To finally see LADY FRANKENSTEIN at its full length, especially with Mel Welles' own hopes and intentions laid out in the accompanying documentary (which he hosts and narrates), is to better appreciate its true stature and ambition. It extends Joseph Cotten's presence in the picture, lends breathing room to its stately art direction, its picturesque locations, and also helps to underscore some of its miraculous content, such as the location's visitation by a rare summer snow, which added tremendously to its visuals. Welles, who died in 2005, explains that he was a life-long admirer of the classic Universal horror films, but that as a young fan he found they did too little to rationalize their story elements - like how Dr. Frankenstein was able to motorize his laboratory without electricity. So, when he was finally put in charge of his own Frankenstein production, he determined to find ways that would make sense of all his previously unanswered questions. The film's full length also gives its various character arcs - Joseph Cotten's as the Baron, Rosalba Neri's as the daughter and newly certified surgeon, Paul Muller's as the assistant, Mickey Hargitay's as the police inspector, and Herbert Fux's as the grave robber - more generous fleshing out, so the fateful decisions they make feel less arbitrary. It's not a perfect film - the climactic battle is between two characters who have just had major brain surgery! - but at its original length, it is certainly more impressive. There is a genuine feel for the Gothic fantastique in its design, and the film has more time to devote to the gradual unveiling of Tania Frankenstein's true cruel and selfish nature. The monster itself has always been something of a disappointment, but I must admit - after decades of Frankenstein films that have only served to degrade the franchise - this film's monster actually does manage to stand on the right side of the demarcation line and hold its own as a Frankenstein monster.

DEATH LAID AN EGG is another kind of film altogether. For decades, since fans started trading bootleg cassettes back in the early '90s, it has accrued a reputation as a strange and arty giallo film, but I don't think it's really that, at all. It's a willfully idiosyncratic film, though - if you stick with it - it tells its wacky story fairly directly. If we accept that it first opened in January 1968, it predates what we know as the giallo, what the giallo became after the arrival of Dario Argento in 1969. Dissociated from a few identifiable Argento tropes, it's actually an adroit political satire about the amorality of big business. It opens with a fascinating series of random images, thrown out as if the camera is a roulette ball as yet undecided who our protagonist is going to be. These are the guests of the so-called Highway Motel (actually Rome's lavish, then-new Rome Hilton hotel - the same place where Franco & Ciccio work as bellboys in Mario Bava's DR. GOLDFOOT AND THE GIRL BOMBS): an exhausted man self-administering eye drops, a man greeting the morning by committing suicide, and a Peeping Tom, all getting repeated screen time until the scenarist settles on Marco (Jean Louis Trintignant), who seems to be murdering a call girl. Marco, whose bloody transgression is witnessed by the Peeping Tom, leaves the "motel" as efficiently as the businessman he is. He's married his way to an executive position in "The Association," a bizarre company whose goal appears to be making chicken a staple not only of daily diet but existence. Marco's born-to-money wife Anna (Gina Lollobrigida) is pushing their company into the future, automating the murder machine that is their business (expect some graphic chicken processing images) to the stewing anger of its former workers, gathering like dark clouds outside their fences, and developing a weird sort of living, headless, wingless McNugget mutation to reduce their costs.

Nucleus includes the shorter "giallo version" in their set, but they were able to locate the last surviving 35mm print of its original full-length cut and incorporate that material (again, 14 minutes' worth) with their master from the original camera negative of the shorter version. Finally seen as its director intended, it is plain to see that Questi was making a film about how we are bombarded as a society by Big Business, about the obscene results that occur when the human (and therefore animal) elements are excised from industry. Marco's plight is that of an executive who is in many ways morally debased but cannot agree to the increasing amorality of his business. One of the key excisions now restored is the complete performance of Renato Romano, who plays Luigi, introduced as an old friend of Marco's, but who - in my reading of the picture - is gradually revealed as his reproaching alter ego - the Marco he might have become had he taken a different direction in life. (Looking like a fatter, more disheveled Trintignant in a plaid jacket, Luigi makes vague references to roads that split into two, is able to recognize Marco in the dark and find his way to his home without knowing his address, etc.) There is no need to spoil the ending, but the film's giallo status is disqualified in an interesting way, so there is really no intention of "deconstructing" a genre that had actually yet to find many of the tropes improvised here. This is an aberration of the truncated cut.

Director Giulio Questi - writing the script with Franco Arcalli (who went on to script Louis Malle's "William Wilson" for SPIRITS OF THE DEAD, ZABRISKIE POINT and THE PASSENGER for Antonioni, Liliana Cavani's THE NIGHT PORTER, Bertollucci's THE CONFORMIST and 1900, Sergio Leone's ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA and numerous other A-list curiosa) - could rather be said to be deconstructing the "Continental Op" films of the 1960s, given the film's antiseptic set design, wild costumes, and the absurd central images of the Chicken and the Egg, emblems of the endless riddle of which came first. (The film also features Ewa Aulin, whom I once identified as the Queen - if it has one - of "Continental Op.") Its attention to the perversions of secretive companies and businessmen, the amorality of science and business, weird mutations and the personalities that breed them, seem neatly yet independently coincidental with David Cronenberg's earliest work in STEREO (1969) and CRIMES OF THE FUTURE (1970). This relationship is further emphasized by its characters' progressive dissociation from humanity (pay close attention to Lollobrigida's random soliloquies about yearning for some kind of physical transformation - very Cronenbergian), and the fractious, atonal music score of avant-garde composer Bruno Maderna.

In this case, the extras include the 91 minute giallo edit; another Alan Jones/Kim Newman commentary (quite invigorating, sometimes cheerfully confused idea fest, in which Kim fires off a convincing association between the ending of this film and another better-known film in Arcalli's filmography); Italian and English 24 bit LPCM audio with English subtitles; "Discovering Questi," a 20-minute monologue by BFI disc producer James Blackford about his interesting personal journey with Questi's slippery filmography; "Sonic Explorations" (24 minutes), in which DJ Lovely Jon discusses Bruno Maderna's contribution to the film with real passion; a 13-minute archival interview with Questi; a 5-minute appraisal of the film from Italian critic Antonio Bruschini; a list of the BBFC censor cuts; and all the trailers and paper galleries you could want - plus a reproduction of the special DEATH LAID AN EGG issue of Craig Ledbetter's fanzine EUROPEAN TRASH CINEMA, including reviews of the film by first-time viewers Stephen R. Bissette, Jeff Smith and yours truly. I was relieved to see that my review has held up well, and my opinion of the film hasn't changed all that much, though the restored footage gives me a clearer notion of its intentions.

Both films were financed by fund-raisers and complete alphabetical Thank You lists of the sponsors are also included. This level of work must be encouraged and supported, so hasten on over to

(c) 2018 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

The Midnight Movie Monographers: TIM MAJOR

I conclude my series of Midnight Movie Monograph interviews with the gentleman coming up to bat (literally and figuratively): Tim Major, who immediately earned by respect and my envy by choosing to write about Louis Feuillade's silent crime serial LES VAMPIRES. Like most other contributors to the MMM series, Tim is a published horror-fantasy author in his own right, whose works include CARUS & MITCH, INVADERS FROM BEYOND, YO DON'T BELONG HERE, and short stories published in various anthologies. His latest novel SNAKESKINS is coming from Titan Books in the Spring of 2019. He also has a blog called Cosy Catastrophes, where you can read more by and about him. His manuscript for LES VAMPIRES is just now going to press, and should be available within a month or so. You can secure your copy by pre-ordering now... 

Tim, if you were to be asked by someone who had never seen LES VAMPIRES - say, a young person with a possible aversion to black-and-white or silent cinema - WHY they should take an interest, what would you answer?

I struggle to understand anybody that says they have an aversion to black-and-white films, though I’ve encountered several people who’ve said as much. I guess I don’t really believe that they’ve particularly tried, or that they’re expressing a subconscious issue with something subtler related to filmmaking styles. Like subtitling, monochrome tends to become unnoticed once you’re immersed in any film, I think. I have more sympathy with people who struggle to get along with silent films. I don’t want to make a statement about ‘pure’ cinema, but for me silent films – or those that are unafraid of silence, such as Tarkovsky’s films – are often the most magical cinema experiences. But I understand why some people might not be able to surrender fully to silent cinema, other than comedies. Despite intertitles, silent cinema often provides few cues to guide the viewer through a story. It’s precisely that lack of guidance, the requirement of dwelling on mise-en-scène, that I enjoy. Also, fuck story.

That doesn’t answer your question, though. LES VAMPIRES is an anomaly, and I feel strongly that it succeeds without the requirement of considering it within the context of the film canon. It isn’t particularly reflective of the progression of filmmaking style in 1915 – let’s not forget that Griffith was working on THE BIRTH OF A NATION, developing a directorial and editorial language that would become prevalent, at precisely the same moment that Feuillade was producing LES VAMPIRES. It exists in a strange hinterland between early, ‘primitive’ cinema and the mainstream/Hollywood style that would become so common. To a large extent it fed the imaginations of the Surrealists of the 1920s and 1930s, and yet it also contributed to a template for the crime film and the action spectacular. Despite this, it feels like an example of a path that cinema didn’t take, in the sense that story is only a vehicle for peculiar set pieces, and coherence of plot is essentially irrelevant. Dreams and disorientation are foregrounded, spatial logic and character motivations are often gleefully ignored. Watching TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN last year, I had a strong sense that Lynch was directly calling back to these same preoccupations and Feuillade’s disregard for storytelling convention.

Ultimately, I think people should take an interest in LES VAMPIRES because it’s hypnotic and mind-expanding, yet also entirely down-to-earth and funny as hell.

How did LES VAMPIRES first come into your consciousness? Did your awareness of the film and its imagery precede your seeing it - if so, how did the viewing of it change or enhance that perception?
Like many people half-interested in film history, I suspect, a few key images from the film had appeared on my radar: the fantastic promotional poster featuring a caricatured Musidora/Irma Vep wound within a question mark, and the famous image of Marfa onstage in her bat costume. And, like most people, I assumed that it was a horror film. My first experience of any footage from the film was via Oliver Assayas’ terrific IRMA VEP, in which a director attempts to remake LES VAMPIRES. The director, played by Jean-Pierre Léaud, introduces to Maggie Chung (as herself) the criminal Irma Vep played by Musidora via a clip from Episode 6, ‘The Hypnotic Gaze’. It’s a wonderful snippet, showing Irma sneaking along a hotel corridor, then being ambushed by rival gang leader Moreno, and that episode remains one of my favourites of the serial. Watching the serial proper for the first time, I was surprised by the non-appearance of Irma Vep until Episode 3, and also the humorous tone, the constant deviations from the investigation of what at first appears to be the central mystery, and so on…

You could have chosen anything - what was it about LES VAMPIRES in particular that made you decide upon it as your Midnight Movies Monograph selection?

love it. When I first watched it, I eked out the episodes, often rewatching the same one several times before progressing to the next, savouring them. I watched the episodes in hotel rooms when travelling for work. I watched them at four in the morning with my newborn child lying on my belly when he refused to sleep. And I wanted to immerse myself more fully, to document how the serial made me feel, and I regretted missing the opportunity to do so as I came to each episode for the first time. The puzzle-box elements, the confusing relationships between different spaces, the in-camera split-screens... I wanted to understand what Feuillade was doing, or at least explore why each of these things left me breathless. Most of the art I love leaves me a little puzzled, or contains some aspect that I can’t unravel fully – for example, Tarkovsky’s STALKER, Skolimowski’s THE SHOUT, or even other media: Captain Beefheart’s SAFE AS MILK, Nabokov’s PALE FIRE. They can’t be deciphered neatly, so they deserve being revisited. 

Is there a reason why you chose LES VAMPIRES over, say, Feuillade’s FANTOMAS?

I like FANTÔMAS well enough. In fact, I saw episodes of that serial before LES VAMPIRES, as in the UK it’s far easier to purchase on DVD. I’d read the Penguin Classics collection of some of Marcel Allain’s and Pierre Souvestre’s Fantômas stories, and enjoyed them very much, leading on to my reading E. W. Hornung’s Raffles stories, and Maurice Leblanc’s Arsène Lupin tales – the latter is my favourite criminal antihero. Something is lacking in Feuillade’s translation of FANTÔMAS from book to screen, for me. The plots aren’t devious, the lead character isn’t dangerous. In comparison, LES VAMPIRES succeeds because it doesn’t adhere to strict genre conventions. Mystery is used as a structural device only on and off. Feuillade gives in to his tendency to go with the flow, resulting in outright weirdness and the rejection of any neat conclusions.

It’s quite a commitment to make to a single film, so I guess this also raises another question: What does your selection of LES VAMPIRES say about you?

As I’ve said above, writing this book allowed me to indulge myself in understanding why I fell in love with the film in the first place. The fact that LES VAMPIRES has a 7-hour running time felt like a point in its favour – while it’s daunting to devote oneself to a single film, surely with so much content there would continue to be things to say… There was also the chance to explore the historical context – the Great War was being conducted on Paris’s doorstep: several actors in the serial disappear abruptly due to being conscripted to fight on the front lines; the streets of the city are desolate. The underdog status of the film appealed to me too. It’s accepted as an important work and a key film in the development of cinema – however, as a film to watch it seems far less established in the public consciousness. It strikes me as fascinating that it can be revered and yet relatively rarely seen. Other than the poster, the most famous image of LES VAMPIRES is of a vampire bat preying upon its prone victim, and yet: i) there are no mythological vampires in the serial, ii) the image actually shows a sly recreation of events in a play-within-the-film, iii) the vampire is not the famous Irma Vep, but dancer Marfa Koutiloff. This confusion for would-be viewers is entirely in keeping with the majestic befuddlement of the film.

You made the decision to approach this book not just as a historian, or a fan, but as a novelist - you include some original fiction in it. Was this an early decision for you, in approaching the subject, or did it come about in progress?

That’s an interesting way of putting it. I’m not sure I’m confident enough of myself as a novelist to suggest that I approach anything in that capacity. I’m certainly not a historian and my interest in film is purely enthusiastic. However, the decision to respond to the film partly via fiction felt very natural. Partly that’s because that’s what I do, partly it’s because writing this monograph took the place of writing a new novel in summer 2017 (I moved house twice that year, so a more fragmented project suited my available working hours), partly it’s because I would struggle to express my reaction to the film in solely factual terms. 

So, I’d always intended to include ten pieces of short fiction, one following each of the ten episodes of the serial. The nature of the stories developed over time. Rather than write ‘fan fiction’ or repeat elements of the film, I created a character, Louise Foyard, who combines the two lynchpins of LES VAMPIRES: Louis Feuillade and Musidora. Her adventures are fragmented and disoriented, and recall aspects of the film only obliquely. I tried to write the pieces quickly, in strict sequence after writing the analysis of each episode, to reflect the serialised production of the film. One of the pieces was actually written many years ago, as a nod to Feuillade’s usage of his earlier, abandoned projects, such as the lengthy sequence in Episode 6 that cuts away to the adventures of a fictional character in Spain in 1808.

In responding to LES VAMPIRES as a novelist, what about the film most intrigues you - the crime? The action? The fetishized Musidora aspect?

The disorientation. All of the elements you mention are terrific – Musidora’s stunt work! – but the overriding marvel of the film, for me, is its woozy, dreamlike tone. 

Musidora is endlessly fascinating, onscreen and off: in a future project I’d love to explore her life in far more detail. Feuillade, too – his journey from the seminary to military service to journalism to filmmaking is interesting, not least because he was Gaumont’s artistic director for many years as well as having directed five hundred short films by 1914. That kind of output is inspirational: the ability to create, move on, create, move on.

As a novelist, LES VAMPIRES and the aforementioned TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN have acted as twin inspirations recently. They’ve made me realise that plot is generally not what I show up for. 

I was interested to see that, in listing your most inspirational writers, you included mainstream as well as science fiction and fantasy writers. How do you think the influence of these writers expresses itself in your work?
This harks back to my first answer about people refusing to watch black-and-white films. Why would anybody silo themselves off into a single genre, in terms of reading, watching or creating? My earliest influences were genre ones: DOCTOR WHO was my first real obsession; John Wyndham and H.G. Wells were my gateway into adult fiction. But to a large extent these fictions are centred around ideas or high concepts, as are the works of other writers I love, such as Italo Calvino or Paul Auster. I’m equally as engrossed by strong character pieces. If pushed, I’ll often name John Updike’s Harry ‘Rabbit’ Angstrom series of novels (beginning with RABBIT, RUN) as my favourites. I only wish I had the confidence in my writing to dwell on single moments to the degree that Updike is able to. Nabokov’s LOLITA was the novel that opened my mind to the power of fine prose. I like mysteries very much, but I find Patricia Highsmith’s messier, character-based psychological crime novels more interesting than whodunnits. My horror influences are far more cinematic than literary, having begun with a delicious fear of Talos in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS; I was never a reader of horror novels when I was growing up. An example of a modern novel I adore would be Jeffrey Eugenides’ MIDDLESEX – it has a big central idea, but it’s entirely a character piece.

The short answer to your question is that I don’t know. I like grand ideas, but without a focus on character in my own writing, I’m adrift. 

Do you think readers familiar with your work as a novelist will bring a special insight to your work on this book?

It’s lovely to imagine that somebody might deliberately move from my fiction to my non-fiction. I think it’s far more likely that somebody interested in LES VAMPIRES, or silent film in general, or horror fiction, might read the monograph and then, perhaps, take a punt on my novels or short stories based on the ten pieces of weird fiction. Even that seems a stretch. Frankly, I’m very happy for my book on LES VAMPIRES to stand alone. I’m proud of it, and I think it’s an honest attempt to unpick my love for the film, and I hope that my enthusiasm, if nothing else, is apparent and infectious. I’d be delighted to hear of anybody watching the film as a result of the book: it deserves to be seen and celebrated. It’s utterly wonderful.

(c) 2018 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Midnight Movie Monographers: SEAN HOGAN

The fourth book in the Midnight Movie Monographs series to be released was devoted to Gary Sherman's DEATH LINE (1972), known in its 1973 US release under the more aggressive title of RAW MEAT. Made on a compact budget, the script - about the discovery of a pathetic yet monstrous family of subterranean survivors who have, through cannibalism, managed to survive their abandonment after an age-old disaster in the history of the British railway system - managed to attract actors like Donald Pleasence and, making a memorable one-day cameo, Christopher Lee. Thanks to some respectful attention in the fan press, it was immediately recognized as what was then known as a horror "sleeper," one of those films that sometimes arrived without fanfare and awoke people to a promising new voice in fantastic cinema. Choosing this film for his exploration was Sean Hogan, a director/screenwriter/producer best-known for FUTURE SHOCK: THE STORY OF 2000 A.D., LITTLE DEATHS, THE DEVIL'S BUSINESS, and LIE STILL. He's currently adapting Kier-La Janisse's autobiographical film study HOUSE OF PSYCHOTIC WOMEN as a program for television, but he stole some time to answer some questions about his time on DEATH LINE...  

Writing an entire book about a single film is a tall commitment. What is it about DEATH LINE/RAW MEAT that got that commitment from you?

At the time, I wasn't entirely sure! I mention in the book that, when Neil Snowdon approached me about writing something for the Midnight Movie Monographs series, he sent over a proposed list of films he was personally keen to see covered (although he made it clear he was open to other suggestions). I checked the list and when I saw DEATH LINE on there, I immediately and totally instinctively decided that would be the film I wrote about, despite the fact that there are other films that spring more readily to mind when I'm asked about my particular genre favourites.

I suppose it was partly the fact that it seemed relatively fresh territory; I knew the film had some high profile fans, but equally it seemed as if it hadn't quite got its proper due critically. And yet, for me, it was a film that seemed to get more and more interesting as I revisited it over the years. I make the point in the book that it feels very much a part of the American New Wave of horror in terms of its concerns and overall approach; that's a period of genre cinema I connect very strongly to, and yet many of those films have already been discussed pretty thoroughly. Not only was this not the case with DEATH LINE, but its very 'Englishness' (whether from an outsider perspective or otherwise) made it something I felt more qualified to explore.

And then of course, there was Donald Pleasence's performance as Inspector Calhoun, which struck me as a landmark role, and unlike anything else I could think of in the genre. What I didn't know at the time was that Calhoun would end up being my way into the book itself...

Please explain.

I suppose I should firstly make it clear exactly what the book is: while there are supplementary sections of more conventional critical commentary and interview, the bulk of it is largely comprised of diary entries from Inspector Calhoun's private journal; that is, written by me in the (distinctive!) voice of the character. These entries span the narrative of the film and beyond; they try and explore DEATH LINE itself, but from the inside, while also taking some of the dangling plot threads and spinning them into a wider narrative that tries to remain faithful to the film's themes of power, exploitation and corruption. 

In doing this, I did weave in metafictional aspects and elements from other works that I felt related to DEATH LINE in some way; Harold Pinter's THE CARETAKER was obviously one (partly due to it being another seminal Pleasence role, but also because I felt as though Calhoun was a very Pinterish character, and that quite possibly it was largely Pleasence who was responsible for making him that way). Other works such as FRENZY and THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE crept in there as well. So there is a fair amount of material relating to other films, but those films are seen as part of the landscape Calhoun's story is unfolding against.

There is some discussion of other films as well; as I said above, I do try and look at it within the context of the American New Wave, and certainly there was some slightly rueful conversation between Gary Sherman and I on how DEATH LINE relates to other notable cannibal-themed films of the same period!

Yes, it should be noted that yours is the first book in the series to have been written with the involvement of the film's director. Do you recall your first viewing of the film? Did you know at that time that it was going to be important to you?

I do, but it was on late night television as a kid, so certainly I had very little idea then that it was going to end up being important to me. Doubtless the political/satirical aspects were probably lost on me at a young age, as well as the finer points of Pleasence's performance, but I do remember being struck by the fact that the so-called monster was a sympathetic, even tragic figure. As I said, it was a film that grew for me over the years; it was probably quite some time before I saw it again after that childhood viewing, and I do remember finally watching it when of an age to properly appreciate what it and Pleasence were doing; it was something of a revelation to say the least. I definitely recall being wowed by the extended take around the Man's lair, which struck me as displaying a level of directorial craft you don't often find in genre B-movies of the period.

Is there something about yourself, personally, that you feel made DEATH LINE a particularly meaningful picture? 

I'm not sure. I suppose that, as I returned to it over the years, I found more and more in it that chimed with my own developing ideas of how I wanted to approach horror; the attention to character, the political subtext, the willingness to avoid a simple black-and-white, Good vs Evil perspective. So it was definitely something that grew with me. Weirdly, I never felt as though I wanted to make particularly 'English' films, but the ones I've directed seem to have turned out that way regardless (certainly that's how people seemed to view them), so possibly the fact that DEATH LINE utilises the same approach as a lot of the US New Wave films, but does so within an English context, makes it resonate more with me.

In addition to writing non-fiction, you are also an original creator - you write and direct your own material. Aside from the fact that you have taken a novelistic approach to writing this book, in some ways, is there a place where DEATH LINE and your own creative work meet - a place where we might recognize shared concerns or perhaps an influence?

To some extent, yes - the episode I made for the portmanteau film LITTLE DEATHS is pretty explicitly about the same thing: the forgotten/ignored underclass rising up to devour the oppressive ruling class. I seem to remember remarking in an interview at the time that DEATH LINE probably had something to do with that. And there are certainly other scripts I'm currently trying to make that attempt to use the genre for sociopolitical ends in much the same way that Gary Sherman did.

This question also made me think about the book as part of a continuing line in my own work, and I realised that in looking at Calhoun through the lens of Pleasence's role in THE CARETAKER, I was yet again roping Pinter into my own stuff. The last film I directed, THE DEVIL'S BUSINESS, is basically a horror cover version of THE DUMB WAITER, and I cast Susan Engel, who appeared in the first ever production of Pinter's first play THE ROOM, in my first film LIE STILL. So his work has also always been a strong influence. Not that this has anything to do with DEATH LINE per se, but the Pinteresque elements I find in it are obviously one reason why I respond to it so strongly!

Clearly, in adapting Calhoun as a character or narrator, you are giving voice to a personal attachment to his character, and the film itself by extension - but do you also discuss the film in your own autobiographical terms? When I was writing my own book for the series, this was something Neil Snowdon urged me to do.

I don't really think so, not as I understand it. I don't think I would or could ever write something like Kier-La Janisse's HOUSE OF PSYCHOTIC WOMEN, which I admire a lot (and actually adapted into a TV pilot screenplay), but which seems to take autobiographical criticism about as far as it can go. All I can say is that, because I chose to come at the film from the inside, and tried to extend some of the themes and issues it addresses in my own particular metafictional fashion, there is undoubtedly a certain sense of pessimism and political anger that I share with DEATH LINE, and which does make the book a very personal work, if not traditionally autobiographical. 

Over the years, has the film been properly appreciated, in your opinion?

On the whole I'd say no, although that may now be starting to change somewhat, especially after the release of the remastered Blu-ray. My feeling is that it was a film slightly out of time and place; it has much more in common with the US films of the period than those being made in the UK, but was never given its due as a New Wave genre film because of being set in England, and being so thoroughly English to boot - I can't imagine what US audiences would have made of the character of Calhoun. (The hamfisted RAW MEAT edit can't have done the film's US reputation any good either.) Similarly, it feels more downbeat, more political and more graphically violent than most of what was being produced in the UK at the time (Michael Reeves' work being an obvious exception). So I feel as though it fell between two stools somewhat and was not properly recognised for years. I think it probably did develop a cult reputation in the UK after a while (there were a number of lesser-known horror films that a lot of people from my generation can excitedly remember stumbling across on late night television), but certainly up until quite recently it was still a film I could recommend to a lot of people that they weren't at all previously aware of.

When DEATH LINE came out here in the States as RAW MEAT, I remember CINEFANTASTIQUE gave it a rave review, which put it on my radar early on. In those days when someone new came along affiliated with a terrific horror film, we fans took their names to heart and expected great things from them - people like David Cronenberg, Jeff Lieberman, and even Oliver Stone. While the director of this film, Gary Sherman, has continued to work within the horror and fantasy genres,  he hasn’t acquired the reputation of being an auteur, though he has actually generated a lot of his own work as a writer. Do you see him as an auteur? Does DEATH LINE share concerns expressed in his other work?

From what I understand, it seems to be one of those familiar cases where an independent filmmaker struggles to maintain their voice once they begin working within the system. I didn't really discuss his other films with Gary, but I know a lot of what he wanted DEAD & BURIED to be was removed by the studio - the balance of black comedy and horror he achieved in DEATH LINE was very distinctive, but I think they balked at him trying to do the same thing there (just as Sam Arkoff did when he cut DEATH LINE down into RAW MEAT). I do think you can see him in VICE SQUAD - the same leftist sympathy he shows for the exploited Man in DEATH LINE is extended to the women working on the street in that film. And obviously POLTERGEIST 3 was just an unworkable situation on so many levels.

Yes. VICE SQUAD is pretty terrific.

I guess for me, he never quite achieved the heights of DEATH LINE again - it was one of those lightning in a bottle moments, but circumstances meant it could never entirely be repeated, although there's plenty to admire in some of the other films. From speaking to Gary, I know how strongly he feels about a lot of political matters, which does seem to me to translate into much of the work. Many of the other horror directors of his generation that are usually recognised as auteurs have plenty of work that seems fairly impersonal - compare THE DARK HALF to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, or INVADERS FROM MARS to THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE - so I think someone who makes a film as identifiably, eccentrically personal as DEATH LINE does deserve the same consideration, even if he couldn't always preserve that voice on larger productions.

Are there any ways in which you think your regard for the film has been affected by the adventure of writing about it at length?

Really, it just made me appreciate it all the more. I had to postpone the writing of the book for a year because of some difficult personal circumstances, and I spent a lot of time that year wondering exactly what I was eventually going to write and if I even still wanted to write it. When I finally hit upon the approach I wanted to take, I knew that I would have to not so much analyse the film as inhabit it. And while Inspector Calhoun might not exactly be the most savoury role to inhabit, writing in that voice was hugely enjoyable. It just felt very freeing, and inspiring, and exactly what I needed to do after everything that had happened, and so I have to give credit to the character that Gary and Donald Pleasance and Ceri Jones created, because it all started with them. It also made me consider the film as a whole from different perspectives, to understand new things about it, to realise what had worked as intended and what perhaps was not quite intended but still ended up working, and ultimately just to appreciate what a remarkable film it is. Which I suppose brings us full circle to your first question - I didn't quite know why I wanted to write about it when I first took the commission, but in writing the book I certainly found out.

DEATH LINE by Sean Hogan can be found for sale here.

(c) 2018 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Midnight Movie Monographers: MAURA McHUGH

Irish writer Maura McHugh is an award-winning creator of horror and fantasy fiction in various forms: short stories, plays, screenplays and comics. Her first story was published in 2004 and, since then, her short fiction has continued to flourish in magazines and theme anthologies, while her work in comics has included collaborations with Kim Newman and Tyler Crook (WITCHFINDER: THE MYSTERIES OF UNLAND), Star St. Germain (THE NAIL), and Leeann Hamilton (JENNIFER WILDE: TULPA) and Stephen Downey (JENNIFER WILDE: UNLIKELY REVOLUTIONARIES). The titles of two of her fiction collections in particular, TWISTED FAIRY TALES and TWISTED MYTHS, with their evocations of endangered innocence seem to point the way to her own Midnight Movie Monographs selection - David Lynch's TWIN PEAKS FIRE WALK WITH ME (1992)...  

At present, there are four books out in the Midnight Movie Monographs series. Of those initial four titles, yours made the most immediate sense to me - because it's an acknowledged cult film, and also because it's a film that offers more than enough food for thought to generate a book. Given that you could have chosen any horror or fantasy film to write about, was it an easy choice for you?

Initially, I drew up a short list of films I'd like to write about and sent it off to the series editor Neil Snowdon. We had a short conversation and settled on TWIN PEAKS FIRE WALK WITH ME (TPFWWM). We decided on it before the new series was announced. In fact, because of the wealth of information about TWIN PEAKS, and the the two series preceding the movie, it was an intimidating choice. It added a great deal of work to the project. But I was prepared to do that as I admire the movie so much.

When did you first see the film? What was your initial reaction? 

I watched it on DVD after it was released, and I loved it - as much as you can love a horrendous fever dream! Lynch is one of my favourite horror directors, because his films always affect me deeply. His ability to instil unease and sever your anchors to safety are unparalleled.

TPFWWM was not a commercially successful film, despite following close on the heels of the TV series. But it seems to have had a profound influence on the way subsequent films began allowing themselves to tell their stories - allowing more fantasy to interweave with reality, allowing for more ambiguity and darkness. What do you see as its particular importance?

I think people forget that TWIN PEAKS landed like a missile into the rather humdrum television landscape of 1990. This is long before we had "event series" like we get today, when cinema was the prestige platform for actors. HBO did not start making outstanding TV drama until later in the 1990s. 

TWIN PEAKS masqueraded as a murder mystery procedural, with offbeat characters in a small town atmosphere, but it was wrapped up in a surrealist vision of the malleability of reality. Mark Frost and David Lynch (when they were in full control) were a great team as they had Frost's expertise with the television format and dialogue married with Lynch's skewed artistic visuals. It was a hugely innovative series for American television at the time. It opened up what was considered acceptable for a network TV audience.

It also came at a time when the Cold War went into rapid defrost, and a new millennium was visible over the horizon. TWIN PEAKS appeared like a cosy 1950s cartoon sitcom world, but it was a bright facade plastered over a dark seam of betrayal and exploitation.

Then along came the movie in 1992, and Lynch (with script co-writer Robert Engels) ripped back the layer and exposed the murder and abuse at the centre of the TV show. It was a huge shock to the fans, and the critics. Many of the people who loved TWIN PEAKS were probably unfamiliar with Lynch's previous work, and the fact that he does nothing the same way twice. We got an avant-garde, violent, reality-smashing movie centred on a poignant and profound performance by Sheryl Lee as Laura Palmer, spiralling toward her inevitable death.

Is there a scene in the film you found particularly captivating?

There are a number of scenes that transfixed me at the time. The scene where Mrs Tremond and her grandson appear to Laura in full daylight, which is the first moment during Laura's sequence of the film where her boundaries of reality are fully breached. Then the subsequent dream sequence where they guide her through the various entrances into the Red Room. This leads to Laura understanding exactly what is happening to her. And of course the 'Pink Room' sequence, which induces that sense of being in an altered state.

Has your response to the film changed over time? Did the act of writing the book change the way you look at it?

I re-watched all of Lynch's work, and in particular the way he evolved up to TP:FWWM. The movie is a turning point for him, but it made it harder for him to get his projects made. I think it also resolved him to continue making the films he wanted to make. Pouring over his work and watching the film very carefully multiple times deepened my appreciation of his methods. He creates a structure but opens himself up for synchronicity and trusts his artistic instincts, even if his images don't make 'sense' to others (or even to him). Lynch is an artist first and foremost. He paints the image and hangs the painting - then it is up to the audience to interpret.

There are so many different ways that a writer can approach writing about a specific film, and there might even be more ways available to someone like you, who also writes their own original creative work. In writing about this film, what decided the approach you took to writing it?

Over the years I've done a lot of academic work, so I really enjoy watching films, analysing them, interrogating my reaction to them, and learning from them. This informs my own creative work. Lynch has been an important touchstone for me. 

Yet, I never thought of doing anything but a deep dive into the film - there is enough strangeness in TPFWWMI was like Laura entering the picture frame and going through the door, and it was a disturbing world to enter. I had quite a lot of dreams about the film, so it began to inhabit my mind when I was writing about it. 

I could have engaged with this in a more creative way, but I would only be a second-rate Lynch. Instead, I was grateful for the inspiration without co-opting it.

Did the process of writing your book result in any particular eurekas you’d like to point out, or hint at? In other words, was the process of writing the book illuminating for you?

Every project brings unique challenges and moments of revelation. This is the first long-form critical work I'd written since my MA thesis, so there's always the fear that you will not be up to the task. I wanted to do a good job because the film has meaning for me. 

Writing it deepened my admiration for Lynch's attitude to creating art: do it and move on to something else. If you want to return to your universe, go at it from another angle. What compels you? Do it even if it's unpopular. It's hard to play the long game, but time has proven Lynch correct in his approach to TP:FWWM. But are most of us willing to go through a career desert to stick to our principles? Sometimes we can and sometimes we can't. Of course, Lynch just turns to painting, or making music... or any of his many other creative outlets. Film is not his first mode of expression.

What approach did you take to writing about the film? Personal, subjective analytical, journalistic? Do you write about it in the context of David Lynch’s other work or mostly as a stand-alone work?

I looked carefully at what Lynch was doing in all his work leading up to TPFWWM, and when I was writing about the film, I also remembered to take it as an intact artifact. Yes, it is part of the TWIN PEAKS world, but it is an exceptional piece of art that exists at an angle to the original series.

I tended to engage with it on a visual/emotional level: what was on the screen and how did it make me feel? Nothing is on the screen is accidental. Lynch places everything exactly (he makes a lot of the props himself) - but that doesn't mean he understands why he does it. He's often trying to conjure a non-rational experience, so he trusts his artistic instincts without second-guessing how he achieves it... at least, that's my impression!  Plus, the soundscape of all of Lynch's films are hugely important and informative, so I also listened to what the film was saying that way. 

Did you start writing with a knowledge of what kind of book it was going to be, or did that come about via process?

Funny enough, often the structure will reveal something to you. I worked out I wanted an introduction, a section on Lynch, a section on his career up to TWIN PEAKS, and the largest section to be on TPFWWM. During this process I realised that this broke down nicely regarding the 'poem' in the film: 

Through the darkness of future's past,
The magician longs to see.
One chants out between two worlds...
'Fire walk with me.'

Each line became a subtitle for each section. And it fit.

I pondered the work for a long time before edging up to writing it. It wasn't written in a linear fashion... some sections prompted thoughts on previous sections, but mostly the TPFWWM part was written in one intense period. I pretty much isolated myself from the world (except for electronic communication) when I was writing it. It was just me, the laptop, and Lynch's work.

I read quite a lot of the published critical works about Lynch in the run-up to writing, but I paid more attention to Lynch's creative output, and his accounts of his career and work. I ignored most of the online outpourings.

I know how to write an academic text, but I wanted to walk the line of writing an accessible piece of work that was informed but not weighed down by research. I wasn't interested in tearing down other theories. I was hoping to open up and explore the film, not collapse it to one interpretation. The film pretty much defies that approach anyway.

One of your original works of fiction is a collection called TWISTED FAIRY TALES, and I can’t help drawing a connection between a work like this and a work like TPFWWM, which in some ways is about the inner life of a young woman, a girl, and the perversion or twisting of her innocence. Are you drawn to this film because it resonates with aspects of your own creativity, or inner life - or might it be the other way around, with Lynch’s work inspiring you?

The closest I can explain is that Lynch is one of the only directors who puts up on the screen how the world feels to me a lot of the time. That doesn't mean I've been in the violent horrors he often depicts, by the way, in case people are worried for me! It's a sense of recognition. Many films are enjoyable or challenging, but they are often disposable or forgettable (and there's nothing wrong with that, either). That's not how I experience Lynch's work - even those that are not entirely successful. 

Have you given thought to another film you might care to write about at this length? 

Yes I have, but TPFWWM would be a hard act to follow. There are so many layers to Lynch's films, and they are receptive to multiple viewings. I highly doubt I would take the same tack with another film project.

If I've learned anything from Lynch, it's "Don't repeat yourself."

(c) 2018 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

The Midnight Movie Monographers: JEZ WINSHIP

Like John Llewellyn Probert, Jez Winship first appeared as an Electric Dreamhouse author as a contributor to WE ARE THE MARTIANS: THE LEGACY OF NIGEL KNEALE, with his essay "Quatermass: Rebirth and Resurrection." As a professional librarian, photographer, and broadcaster for Phonic FM in Exeter, he claims he hasn't yet acquired the personal confidence to think of himself as a professional writer, but - in addition to having racked up an excellent Goodreads score, on the strength of his book on George A. Romero's MARTIN - he has also annotated the work of the Folklore Tapes Collective and written the biographical notes for the first release by The Children of Alice - James Cargill's post-Broadcast work with Roj Stevens and Julian House. Jez is presently embarking on his next Midnight Movie Monograph, devoted to Jaromil Jureš' exquisite VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS... 

Jez, you wrote first Midnight Movie Monograph to be published. Therefore, you wrote your book without a specific model sitting in front of you. What sort of guidelines did series editor Neil Snowdon give you?

Neil is a good friend of mine. We first met when he was running a video rental store in Exeter in the South West of England. It was called Brazil, after the Terry Gilliam film, and was filled with offbeat delights. As soon as I walked in and we started chatting (I remember him leaning on the broom he was cleaning up with, like a thoughtful caretaker), I knew I had found a fellow spirit. The Midnight Movie Monograph series came into his head after he had left Exeter and headed back up north with his wife Lili and daughter Mina. I had written extensively on a blog called Sparks in Electric Jelly, which Neil had set up before bowing out to pursue other directions and handing it over to me. I think it was my writing for this which led Neil to choose me as the first person to write for the Monograph series. Quite an honour and a declaration of faith considering I wasn’t (and still am not, really) a professional writer. We talked about the project from the initial germ of the idea through to its approach towards practical realisation. I was entirely behind Neil’s idea that these books should be written from the standpoint of enthusiasm and love. People writing about films which meant a great deal to them. Whilst we found the BFI Modern Classics series admirable in many ways, we agreed that it would be great to have a series which dealt with films on the cult spectrum, and particularly within the genres of the fantastic, which took a less academic approach. I was particularly weary of the standardised academic language to be found in these books and in other volumes, evidently written by people who had been on film studies courses and who had absorbed the accepted style and set of references. So hopefully no high-falutin’ references to Baudrillard or Benjamin, Deleuze or Derrida. But no converse anti-intellectualism either. Just make the ideas you own. In a way then, the BFI Classics were the counter-example. I admit I may have had the odd mini-rant to Neil about academic jargon and the exclusion of emotional response from the clinical autopsies which constitute some analyses (and the competitive "I’ve seen more films than you" kind of cross-referencing, which attempts some kind of taxonomy of the cinema). There’s value in this, certainly. But film is nothing without the emotional response. And that is a very personal thing. Our favourite films invite a highly personal response; they connect with us on a level which overlays the contours of our particular emotional landscape as we sit there in the darkness. We agreed that it was this personal perspective, possibly including elements of autobiography that we wanted. Firstly, how did this film make you feel, and then an examination of why it elicited that response. Which, as I suggested from the outset in my book, would probably reveal something about the author, both to her or himself and to the reader.

Your book is about George Romero’s film MARTIN. Why do you think you were attracted to this film, in particular?

MARTIN had long been a favourite film of mine and one which meant a great deal to me as a fairly reclusive, introverted teenager. I found John Amplas’ performance particularly compelling and, whilst I wouldn’t say I identified with the character (he is, after all, a compulsive killer), I felt a great deal of sympathy for him. I also found the evocation of a decaying town and community fascinating. It was a film which set a mood, one of autumnal melancholy and I found that this mood chimed perfectly with my state of mind at the time. It still does, to be honest. Other favourites of youth haven’t stood the test of time, but MARTIN definitely has. One of the reasons for choosing it as my subject was a desire to revisit it and discover just why this might be. A process of self-discovery, in a way. Mentally travelling back to my rather lonely and isolated youth, when cinema was such a vital and spiritually nourishing place into which to retreat. Neil knew from various conversations that it was a favourite film of mine (of both of ours, in fact) and suggested I write about it - for which I am very grateful (hence the dedication of the book). He really is the most considerate and encouraging of editors – and friends.

How did you first discover the film? Was your enthusiastic response to MARTIN immediate? 

I’d read about it before seeing it, probably in STARBURST, a British magazine devoted to science fiction, fantasy and horror cinema. Oddly enough, the first Romero film I’d seen was THE CRAZIES, which had been shown a couple of times as part of the BBC’s Saturday night horror double bills. These are now semi-legendary, and introduced many people of a certain generation to classic horror (just ask Mark Gattiss and the other members of The League of Gentlemen). I had also seen DAWN OF THE DEAD, I believe, which was available at the local video rental shop. But the first opportunity I had to see MARTIN was during a George Romero all-nighter at the celebrated Scala Cinema in Kings Cross, London. As a boy growing up in the London suburbs, this was a regular haunt of mine and served as my cinema school (actual school was shit, so my proper education occurred beyond its confining walls). MARTIN was the film I was really looking forward to. It must’ve started screening at about 2:00 in the morning. I’m fairly squeamish, particularly when it comes to the slice of a razor blade or any other sharp edge for some reason, and I have a vivid memory of feeling distinctly queasy to the point of nausea at the initial drawing of blood in the train carriage. But once I had recovered, I was immediately entranced, drawn into that melancholic mood and lulled into a state of dreamy early hours enchantment by the slow, hypnotic pace at which the film unspooled (and oh, how I’d love to see that fabled 3 hour cut). It was immediately elevated into my personal canon alongside other Scala favourites such as La Belle et La Bête, WINGS OF DESIRE, IF… and SOLARIS. It must have been on the telly soon afterwards, because I remember it becoming a staple of my late-night viewing on the clunky top-loading family video recorder. As with much-loved records whose scratches become a familiar component of the music, the hiccups and elisions caused by pauses and stops on the antediluvian machinery became part of the repeated experience on this increasingly clapped-out video. This repeated viewing etched it firmly into my impressionable young brain. And I’m all the better for it, I think. 

How do you view the film in relation to Romero’s other work?

It feels like a very personal film for him. I know he regarded it as such, and that it was a favourite of his. The relatively low-key tone and the stretches of narrative, which are devoid of explicit action, allow for a reflective mood and impressionistic, observational style. It’s a film in which Romero is able to observe and examine the surroundings in a manner considered more ‘arthouse’. But the same themes re-occur. One of the reasons I love Romero is that he addresses social, economic and political issues in a non-didactical and unobtrusive way. They are incorporated within the wider narrative without dominating it, without making a capitalised "Issue" of  things. As someone who grew up in and felt wholly alienated by the '80s of Reagan and Thatcher, I was always drawn to the counterculture of the '60s and early '70s. Romero definitely feels part of that (he never lost the pony-tail). The politics feels more explicit here, if not quite on a Ken Loach level. But there is definitely a keen eye for the depredations of life in a declining town in the industrial rust belt. These political dimensions are never exactly buried in Romero’s other films, however. So whilst MARTIN stands out in some respects, in others it is part of the wider oeuvre. I also find Romero’s female characters fascinating. I’m not sure whether he was a feminist, but he certainly takes into account the radical changes taking place in the ideas of gender roles and women’s place in society during the '70s. MARTIN is Christina and Abby’s story as much as it is anybody’s. The writing of strong female roles certainly connects it to Romero’s other work.

I assume you’ve seen the film numerous times over the years. Has it changed, or continue to evolve for you, over successive viewings?

It has, yes. I can still remember the impact it had on me as a teenager, and I certainly haven’t watched it with the fervent frequency I did then. I think I’ve come to appreciate more the subtleties of the social dynamic which are unobtrusively suggested in the film. Familiarity with the story has also given the space for concentrating on different elements of the film, such as the style and the editing, particularly of the black-and-white dream/memory sequences. I also came to realise how much Donald Rubinstein’s music had added to the creation of the overall music. Much as I came to realise that Bernard Herrmann’s music had been a major factor in my enjoyment of many favourite films of my youth. It’s a funny thing about films which made a huge impact early in life and which you come back to at intervening intervals intervals in subsequent years. There’s an accretion of experience and emotional development (hopefully!) which transforms each viewing, the personal sedimentary layers which inevitably make it very different each time. But underlying it all, that initial encounter still comes through. It can be a tremendously powerful and cathartic (and sometimes unsettling) experience. 

What do you think your choice of MARTIN may tell the reader about you, its author?

I think any book in this series will tell us something about the authors, given the personal response Neil is aiming for. I certainly feel a personal connection with MARTIN. My choice of it - which, in the context of the Midnight Movie Monograph ethos indicates that it is a film I have a great and abiding love for - probably indicates that I feel a great deal of empathy for the outsider, the marginalized, the lonely. And a great deal of antipathy for the reactionary forces of self-righteous repression, unbending conservativism and self-serving authority. The howling mob with their blazing torches.

Did you find it difficult, to write about a single film at such length? 

Actually, no. I think the approach I took – a narrative breakdown with numerous diversions into tributaries of biographical, cultural and historical detail – made the process, if not easy, then at least continuous. And once I’d laid the groundwork with research via the local public and university libraries (handily, I work in the local one and so have access to the capacious underground "stacks"), I found I had no shortage of material. I think that my familiarity with the film, my love of it, helped. It was just such a pleasure digging up these new layers, shining a light onto areas about which I had previously been ignorant. As I mentioned in my Introduction, there is always a danger in a close study of something you hold dear that some of the magic aura it has always emanated will dim. But that was not the case – entirely the opposite. I love it all the more for what I discovered. Hopefully the book has the same effect on readers who love the film too.

As you were writing your book, did you notice your appreciation for the film changing, or deepening in unexpected ways? 

Yes, partly due to my discovery of the background to its creation. The communal nature of the endeavour, the closeness of cast and crew and the connection made with local actors, film-makers and characters seemed to provide an alternative to the isolation and social decay which the film depicted. That quiet idealism, an idealism put into undemonstrative practice, made me admire and respect Romero and his film all the more. 

What approach did you take to your book? Did you interview any of the film’s personnel directly, or rely on subjective analysis and documentation, or is it a purely personal appreciation and invocation of it?

It was a purely personal appreciation. I read from various sources, but part of the non-academic approach which Neil is aiming for involves a more direct reaction from the writer. Less of the "so and so says this about the film" cross-indexing. So my book is massively subjective, but hopefully not waywardly so. I was keen to bring in references from the world beyond film too. I’m not too keen on cinema when it becomes overly self-referential. I prefer a broader cultural approach which takes in art, music, literature – everything, really. I didn’t interview any of the film’s personnel. As a non-professional writer, I didn’t feel confident enough to approach anyone.   

It's interesting you say this, because I recently got to meet John Amplas, the star of the film, and asked if he was aware of your book. He was not only aware of it, but he had a copy of the book with him and spoke of it enthusiastically! Have you been in direct communication with him?

Yes, I have. I think it was probably meeting with you that prompted him to get in touch. He sent me a Facebook message expressing how much he liked the book, and in particular affirming that its depiction of the communal, collaborative nature of the film’s making was accurate. It was a huge thrill hearing this from him, the ultimate accolade really. I sent him an email in response, and it was very gratifying being able to tell him directly how much his performance had meant to me. Although I think he will have gathered that from the book. Neil had sent me a link to an Amazon review in which the reviewer had indicated that it was John Amplas who had guided her to the book! What better recommendation! 

Your next book in the series has been announced as VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS. Is there connecting tissue between MARTIN and this film, that makes it of similar importance to you?

VALERIE is a film which I came to rather later in life. It has a similarly personal importance, which again is why it’s a good choice for the Midnight Movie Monograph series. I was pointed to it by a band who mean a lot to me, Broadcast - and by their late singer Trish Keenan, in particular. I’ve not really thought about it before, but I suppose there is a connection of sorts, given that they are both about characters crossing the threshold into maturity. But whereas Martin is an urban (or suburban) film, VALERIE is very much a rural fantasy. So I guess the similarity ends there. Although they do both have vampires of a sort. VALERIE is something more of a challenge, in that I feel I have to absorb a good deal about Czech history and culture before I can truly embark, even if that becomes largely part of the invisible bedding. I’ve amassed a certain amount of material already, so I’m ready to go. With Broadcast’s "Valerie" playing on repeat in the background.

MARTIN by Jez Winship is available for ordering here

(c) 2018 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.