Tuesday, February 07, 2012

RAW MEAT more fun than a barrel of corpses!

"Man the doors" is what is mumbled by the cannibal known as "The Man" played wonderfully by Hugh Armstrong who terrorizes a London subway stop in what looks like a Hammer Films hold-over which of course it isn't.

I had only briefly heard about this movie eons ago. It wasn't until I discovered it on Netflix and read up on it, that it peeked my interest further. I think DEATH LINE was a better title rather than the American title RAW MEAT which comes across more like a torture porn film than a cult classic like it is.

I didn't know what to expect, cannibals running amok in a London underground with Pleasence and Lee as the leads, sign me up! Diving into this I was not only surprised about how fun it was, but the production value was incredible.

Donald Pleasence plays Inspector Calhoun who is a snarky fun character that is needed among the raw and disturbing setting that is the other half of this story. I found myself laughing quite a number of times with his comments to Norman Rossington who plays his side kick Det. Sergeant Rogers. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost must have seen this film growing up, watching Pleasance and Rogers' back and forth has eerie similarities to Pegg's and Frost's on-screen relationships in their films.

Christopher Lee shows up for about a nano second as a MI5 spook who tries to throw Pleasence off the case of a missing "OBE" played the great James Cossins, though he's in the film for less time than Lee is. Regardless, Lee's and Pleasence back and forth barbs are fun with Pleasence delivering the last line "Fuck off" to Lee under his breath.

We then jump to what is a decent into hell. Cinematographer Alex Thomson (EXCALIBUR, LEGEND ) takes us to the lair of the cannibals. We follow a long silent arduous journey through the labyrinth of tunnels and rotting corpses to find The Man weeping over his dying wife. The set pieces and atmosphere are incredible. Thomson's lighting only kisses the art direction, giving them enough textual and visceral life in creating a perfect unsettling experience for the viewer.

The other side to this story has our heroes played by David Ladd and Sharon Gurney who are the catalyst of this story. They are perfectly fine playing the "straight  man" roles and are needed of course to bring the story to fruition. But my money was on Pleasence, Rossington and Hugh Armstrong who knock this flick out of the park.

If you're looking for a classic Hammer style film or even just good fun, RAW MEAT delivers!

Sunday, February 05, 2012

MANIAC still holds up as an unsettling masterpiece after 32 years

Much like the original TEXAS CHAINSAW which impacted me growing up, so did this film. It's unrelenting slow pace carries us to witness the unfortunate death of several characters making this an incredibly striking film that has stayed with me.

20+ years later I revisited this movie again last night. My memory began kicking into high gear on what scene was coming next and what to prepare for. But what I was too young to understand or even acknowledge at the time was the care that everyone took in making MANIAC come to life. Regardless on how you may feel about the subject matter this is a little masterpiece much like HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER (1986). MANIAC was made between $48K-$150K back in 1980 and shot on super 16mm with a small crew and a lot of favors being pooled together.

It lends it longevity to several bolts of lightning that struck during this time. One was the relationship between director William Lustig who was in his early 20's and by no means a seasoned director, yet legendary character actor/friend Joe Spinell (ROCKY, GODFATHER 1,2, TAXI DRIVER) etc. found something in Lustig and went with it when presenting him with the idea of doing a horror movie such as MANIAC. Lustig himself admits in the commentary that he gave Joe some pointers, but said overall that this was, "Joe's movie, Frank Zito was his character that he created." Sometimes the best direction is letting the actors do what they do best.

From the various docs I've now watched and material I read in the last 24 hrs. Joe wanted to be a headlined actor and with Hollywood putting him in movies as a character heavy. He wanted more than that. So he came up with the story of Frank Zito a building superintendent that suffers from a host of mental illness and child abuse who goes on a killing spree in New York trying to fulfill the void left by his dead mother.

Most of the film was shot guerilla style even the infamous Savini head blown scene. But when the film comes back to Zito's apartment it's as if we've entered a the fun house of a literal maniac. Deep purple walls that are reminiscent of the Joker's colors to strange surreal paintings hanging on the wall to the copious amounts of mannequins that Zito uses for his own dress-up sessions and tea parties.

Veteran FX artist Tom Savini came to this project delivering 120% The old school effects are affective and stomach churning not to mention they go on and on which in this day and age is a rare commodity in film. To Jay Chattaway delivering an unforgettably scary, sympathetic soundtrack which is available btw on amazon.com for $114 bucks. A hot item for die hard fans. To cinematographer Robert Lindsay who captures perfectly the gritty, dark 70's feel of New York we all know and love as cinefiles.

The final kayro syrup that holds this film together ultimately is Joe Spinell delivering the goods. After watching all the hub bub around this movie when it came out it's a shame that his performance wasn't recognized more. I went back to watch the commentary today and between listening to the stories and watching Joe again. There is a reason why this guy has gone down in history as one of the most memorable killers in film ever.

MANIAC is not for everyone, but if you do decide to venture out to rent it or stream it. You will be in for a mad candy treat that will sit in the confines of your subconscious for many years to come.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Not Quite Hollywood

 This was the second doc from director Mark Hartley that delivers to a lot of us an inside look into the world of Australian cinema during the late 60's to 80's. Packed with boobs, pubes, tubes and a little kung fu as the tag line states and it ain't kidding.

Wonderfully crafted between gathering hundreds of clips from these gems that in some cases never saw American theaters and with interviews ranging from George Miller, John Seale and Steve Bisley to name a very few this is an unabashed good romp. With my notepad beside me I scribbled down title after title and am looking forward to discovering some of these flicks for the first time.

Tarantino of course is peppered throughout flapping his gums, but thankfully Hartley uses him well. And even though the genre is a Tarantino "love fest". His comments playing along side the clips shown dare I say validate his points to the untrained eye.

What I like about Hartley's docs is the unabashed interviews where people don't toe any line on what they feel is politically correct to say about one another's work. You have film critics blatantly wishing certain producers and directors would go away forever to the filmmakers themselves lashing back at these very critics as well as actors who make off the cuff comments about working on certain pictures.

One segment they dive into is the Dennis Hopper film MAD DOG MORGAN where Hartley is able to interweave bits of an interview he did with Hopper before his passing. Though his recent interview is not incredibly insightful it does add to the lore of his behavior in that particular movie and subsequently what we have heard over the years with his reckless behavior.

Much like MACHETE MAIDENS and AMERICAN GRINDHOUSE the filmmakers accumulate shots of posters from that time period which always fascinated me as a kid because as you can see from the tiny collection I gathered here. These movies look like the most badass pieces of cinema. I feel Hollywood much like the car industry has moved towards creating benign adverts to an increasingly mediocre product. Where as in the grindhouse era for example you have these amazing works of art to represent a movie whether it's content was good or bad you always remember the poster. For me one example was ROAD GAMES, the Stacey Keach, Jamie Lee Curtis movie which I've never saw, but if asked I could easily recall the poster art from when I was a kid wandering through the shelves of my local video store.

NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD is a perfect slice of a time in film history when it looked like it was a hellova lot of fun to make movies.

Friday, February 03, 2012

American Grindhouse = Blood + Boobs + Violence

Continuing my education into the flip-side of the Hollywood corporate entity. I watched this doc by director Elijah Drenner last night. Always having a limited knowledge of the "Grindhouse" era, I thought it just was during the late 60's to late 70's, a phenomenon where schlocky exploitation movies were churned out to the drive-in and 24 hr movie theater house crowds.

Oh how wrong I was. That is only a speck in a history that stems from the creation of the moving picture. This tightly woven doc starts with the early days of exploitation at the start of cinema, expanding to the late 70's where the tables turn and Hollywood begins to exploit the Grindhouse subject matter creating some of the biggest box office successes of all times, JAWS and STAR WARS. This was the beginning of the end for these mom and pop venues and forever
changing the way these movies were made and distributed.

Narrated by Robert Forster including interviews with John Landis (who is not so snarky in this doc), William Lustig, Joe Dante, Herschell Gordon Lewis and Jack Hill to name a few. All have wonderful stories about the Grindhouse way of making movies and the PT Barnum atmosphere that surrounded their creations upon release.

Scattered into the mix and adding tidbits of perspective are film historians Eric Muller, Eric Schaeffer and probably the cutest film historian ever to be interviewed Kim Morgan.

As I was taking notes the whole time on what films to catch up on. One of my favorite that they discussed only but briefly is LORD LOVE A DUCK from 1966 starring Roddy McDowell, Tuesday Wells (oh, my!), Harvey Coreman etc. I've seen this film several times in my life and it's truly a spectacle to view. A twisted comedy that in retro spec I never realized how saucy and jaw dropping some of the scenes they get away are. Then again it's been a good 15 years since I saw it. Time to re-visit and have a good 'ol belly laugh!

Sadly there are only a few of these type of theaters still around mainly in LA and NY though heavily depleted from it's heyday and I would bet don't run 24-7 anymore. In their places now are couches with 24-7 cable and internet access where you can stream and watch in the comfort of your home.

There is something to be said to sit with an audience during a midnight showing of EVIL DEAD 2 and it's pretty fucking incredible.

I miss those days.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Machete Maidens Doc slashes it's way to my heart...

Australian filmmaker Mark Hartley directed this little nugget of a doc that for most people will be an eye opener into the original Grindhouse films shot in the Philippines from the mid 60's to the 80's. Anyone who is a fan of films will enjoy the interviews from present and past filmmakers who braved the East to bring films to the West drive-ins.

I will be following this up with Hartley's film, NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD and Hartley is currently in production on a new doc called, ELECTRIC BOOGALOO: THE WILD UNTOLD STORY OF CANNON FILMS which I'm sure will be a great third installment.

MAIDENS is a well cut and wonderfully condensed piece of film history that gives you the nuts and bolts of what it was like shooting in the Philippines during the Vietnam era as well as Marcos' reign into power and how the filmmakers were able to utilize his military to add production value to their extremely low budgets.

The interviews are unabashed with John Landis delivering some spit fire as well as R. Lee Ermey's dislike of how soldiers were portrayed in APOCALYPSE NOW to Joe Dante, Jack Hill and Roger Corman to name a few.

Some of the best quotes come from the maidens themselves, Pam Grier, Gloria Hendry, Andrea Cagan and Judith Brown again to name a few. All intercut with their past clips of work which makes this also very titillating doc and one I took notes on for films I want to go back and re-visit.

It's also incredibly cool that Hartley was able to interview Eddie Romero who was one of the forefathers in creating these gems. No matter how little money he had to work with or nutty the script was, Romero always tried to make it the best film he could. Though from the interviews he seemed to distance himself from these films as years went on.

You understand now why the current trend of Hollywood Grindhouse movies don't work. As close as current filmmakers try, there is no way in hell that they could get away with what the originals had to offer unless you completely produce it yourself and maybe if you're lucky find distribution or just sell it yourself. I think this movement has now changed to the "backyard movies" which embodies the same concept of gore, terrible writing, cheap monsters with the exception of the lack of nudity. 

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

CASHBACK is worth plopping down money to see

This was a film recommended to me quite a while back and I had almost forgotten about it until I discovered it on Netflix streaming (BTW is a killer service!)

Sean Biggerstaff who plays artist (Ben Willis) a guy who breaks up with his girlfriend ends up becoming an insomniac. To eat up the extra time in his life he decides to take on a night shift at a supermarket that is filled with a screwball cast of hooligans speckled between the periods of suspended animation that Ben throws his reality into.

The beginning starts off a little melodramatic and operatic at the same time transcends nicely into his foe world that he creates in his head or is it in his reality?

Ben's narration as in most films would become grating and pretentious. Here it's a loving touch to a very quiet and lost character adding an almost out of body experience.

CASHBACK is shot with a lot of care and attention to detail by director Sean Ellis. The moments of frozen time that Ben wanders through gives us pause as the viewer to accept what he is truly saying and feeling while being surrounded by the very beauty he captures in his work.

If nothing else you'll enjoy the smattering of beautiful naked woman posed in silence as Ben commits their images to paper.

Price's Last Man on Earth still better than ever!

Probably still my favorite adaptation from Richard Matheson's book I AM LEGEND. Matheson didn't think Price worked as Dr. Morgan, but his lumbering thin stature I thought lent itself very nicely, giving Price a virtual undead quality himself. The low angle shots of his celestial figure standing over the pit of burning bodies delivers an iconic image that has transgressed into other films. Even being shot in Italy, the architecture gives you the sense of a familiar city that you may have never seen.  
It's been a long while since I've seen this and frankly every copy I've tried to watch is of terrible quality. A shame really since the film is in public domain. It would be nice to see it treated better. I instead watched it steaming from Netflix and it was the best looking version yet.

There is no fat in this movie at all. It's cuts right to the chase and delivers on back story when needed. Though it would have been nice to flush out a little more bits and pieces. The acting is a bit broad with some of the supporting cast which is too be expected. But scenes where his daughter looses her sight is very creepy to watch. Price gives such a reserved performance you never really get if his character has no clue the impact of what has happening to humanity in the past flashbacks or that he has made himself so detached from society already he is unknowingly in survival mode before anyone has a clue on what to do. The reappearance of his wife knocking, saying "Let...me...in" still brings the chills which brings me to how much of this film was the blueprint for Romero's NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD shot four years later. They make a good double feature.

The end, though a little rushed and again could have been flushed out a bit still delivers better than it's predecessors. LAST MAN ON EARTH is still a classic film that has spawned a slew of interpretations and if this was the beginning of the end it's probably pretty close of what we should expect.