Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Love Like Blood: Jorg Buttgereit's Nekromantik 2


Every genre of film has its presets of expectations. If it's a Western film, you expect dusty landscapes and dirty cowboys. If it's a Horror film, you expect some amount of screaming, blood and at least one false scare. If it's a love story, then you expect romantic pathos and a boy and a girl to meet and fall in forever, soulmate-esque love in spite of a few dramatic interruptions. Etc etc. All of this is why I love it when a filmmaker can take these little category boxes of film, wield a boxcutter to a bunch of them and then with some duct tape, construct something actually quite fresh and different. With this build up, you may not expect that the film I am segueing to is Jorg Buttgereit's sequel to his underground dark comedy/horror film, Nekromantik, but segueing I am! (Of course if you actually read the title to this article, then you already knew where I was going with all of this. In that case, never mind.)

Sequels are generally a bit of a creative gamble. Is it a crude way to lure in the rubes? Sure, if the minds behind it are bankrupt. A truly good and worthy sequel is one that can use all of the right elements from the first film and utilize that as a template to build a better garden. With a brilliant and fun director like Buttgereit at the helm once again, Nekromantik 2 is a fascinating film intertwined with one of the strangest love stories ever told.

The quote of “I just want to master life & death, ” courtesy of Theodore R. Bundy, better known as Ted Bundy, one of the most infamous serial killers from the past forty years, begins the first frame, right before a flashback to Rob's (Daktari Lorenz) climactic (literally and metaphorically) hari kiri scene from the first film. Nekromantik 2 truly begins with a stylishly dressed and slightly nervous looking young woman walking around a cemetery near a bombed out looking building. The deeper she goes, the more lush the vegetation grows, until she ends up in a more secluded section where Rob is buried. In some perfect cosmic kismet, the first film's death-obsessed protagonist ends up being dug up by a lovely lady with similar post-living obsessions!


Digging him up, she's able to move his corpse into her extremely colorful and tidy apartment. The grotto-grunge of Rob's apartment from the first film is replaced by clean, sunny walls and modern, neat-looking furniture. Jars of assorted body parts/mementos from Rob's dayjob are now an assortment of skull centric paintings and medical x-rays used as art as décor. The red haired woman, Monika (Monika M.), lays his body out and kisses him wetly with some tentativeness and a lot of barely held back erotic charge, before she begins to undress him. Meanwhile, we also meet Mark (Mark Reeder), a lanky looking young man on his way to his dayjob of dubbing over rangy-looking porn.

The dreamy edging into psychedelic camerawork that marked all of the love scenes from the first Nekromantik starts to return as Monika attempts to make love to Rob's blackened-by-rot form, but coitus interruptus arises as she physically gets ill and cannot resume the lovemaking. In short, Monika has the heart and drive for sexually loving the dead, but not quite the stomach. There's something about Rob, though, that makes her clean up his body, with her red lacquered nails tenderly touching the imprint of his fatal gut wound and dress him in fresh clothes. As Mark tries to plan a film date with an eternally tardy friend of his, Monika poses with Rob for her Polaroid with a self-timer, grinning like a new girl smitten with amour.


But life's strange glory comes into play yet again, when Monika happens to walk by the Sputnik Theater where Mark is waiting for his date. Impatient, he chats her up and offers Monika the spare ticket. Going to watch some bizarro world version of “My Dinner with Andre,” entitled “Mon Dejeuner avec Vera” (aka “My Lunch with Vera”), that consists of a highly chatty man and a less chatty woman, completely naked and eating eggs, Monika and Mark quickly hit it off. Soon, Monika will face the weirdest case of being “torn between two lovers” ever, only to be outdone by one hilarious and volatile resolution.

"Nekromantik 2" is a an intriguing and worthy sequel to its infamous and well made progenitor. The fact that Buttgereit switched the focus from a heart-sick and head-sick young man in the form of Rob, to the love-sick and balanced-in-her-own-strange-way, Monika, is unexpected and really smart. The eroto-death factor is still there, but with Monika, her own flesh won't allow her to do what her heart wants to. Even more intriguing is when she tries to dispose of Rob as she and Mark start to get more serious, Monika grows emotional and keeps Rob's head and genitals. (The latter comes into play with some great twisted humor, as she puts it on a plate, wraps it in plastic and places the severed member in her fridge like well-loved leftovers. Which is pretty fitting, now that I think of it!)

Monika is an unusually complex character, especially for being a woman. In the cinematic landscape, whether we're talking mainstream pap or underground DIY, women are more of than not, relegated to ether bitch, sex/brain starved nymphet-nympho, frumpy friend or Holly Sunshine: Pretty Girl Worthy of Love. So to see a female lead chase her heart and desires that play far outside the boundaries of what is “normal” (or legal for that matter), is pretty great. Especially as her relationship with Mark starts to show more cracks, with him unable to give her any sort of climax, Monika is forced to feed her need. Granted, I'm not saying “Ladies, start digging up your soulmate!” or anything, but there is an undercurrent of affection and respect for this character that is refreshing. Monika M. is likable as the lovely and chic girl with the strangest desires of profound morbidity. There is an understatedness to her performance that works quite well and helps keep the film anchored in an even keel. 

 

The filmmaking quotient is even better here, with Nekromantik 2 featuring more of budget with the former's 8mm format being replaced with a more glossy looking 16mm print. That may sound like a sell-out to a less-slackful underground film fan, but given that the plot is more of a love story, a fact even mentioned by Buttgereit himself in the intro to the lovely Cult Epics blu-ray release, it makes more sense for it visually to look bright and crisp. The first film was more of a tonally extreme film, so the 8mm format was perfect for it. The camerawork and editing are even tighter, with some especially great use of movement in the “hunt for Rob” cemetery sequence near the beginning. One big link between the two films is the amazing soundtrack, featuring more stellar work courtesy of Herman Kopp and “John Boy Walton,” both returning from the first film. The fact that such beautifully composed music is intertwined with a film about necrophilia is all sorts of subversive sweetness.

Speaking of great music, one of my personal favorite scenes is the musical number that seemingly pops out of nowhere with Monika singing “Squelette Délicieux” like a post-modern Zarah Leander. The fact that the title loosely translates to, “Delicious Skeleton,” makes me love this scene all the more. Beatrice M.'s cameo (Betty from the original Nekromantik) is also a hoot.

It's that combination of humor, heart and a willingness to explore transgressive imagery and taboo topics that sear Nekromantik 2 into the minds of any viewer worth his or her salt. There's still a bit of the requisite gore and animal death, though neither are quite as heightened as they were in the first. (A warning to the squeamish, the animal footage involves Monika and her lady-gang of death-loving friends watching footage of a dead seal getting dissected. It's really gross but given that the animal was already dead and the video in question looks clinical in nature, it is still a far cry from the cruelty-tango of the Italian cannibal films of the 70's.)

It is inconceivable to think that out of the two Nekromantik films, this was the one that was quickly seized by German authorities, just a mere 12 days after its initial release. To the extent that they even attempted, and mercifully failed, to find and destroy that actual negative. The reasoning? It allegedly “glorified violence.” Never mind that the first one had more violence or even worse, the numerous Hollywood action films that were more inherently immoral in their revery of death and maiming. Especially coming off the heels of the 80's, where people were consistently being used as pure blow-up fodder for the beefy, gun wielding hero du jour. Case in point: Which film has a higher body count? Nekromantik 2 or any of the Rambo films? Exactly.

Luckily for us, Nekromantik 2 is still here and is out via another gorgeous blu ray release from Cult Epics. If there's a supplement you would want, this film has it, from director commentary to a behind-the-scenes-featurette to trailers and even a moment of silence via a home video peek into Jorg and friends' road trip to Ed Gein's gravesite. This whole release is a fitting tribute to a great film and director.

Nekromantik 2 is further proof that out of the unholy hordes of indie filmmakers that emerged out of the 1980's, few are true auteurs like Buttgereit. There was and is no director out in the cinematic landscape quite like him. Even if 8,000 foolhards tried to imitate him, they would fail because a real artist has their own unique fingerprint and that is Jorg Buttgereit all the way. 


Copyright 2015 Heather Drain 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Library is Now Open: Brad Stevens' "The Hunt" & Art Decades Issue #2



There were few sanctuaries as enticing growing up as the library. Stuck in a small working class burg and feeling like I was destined for pariah-kid-stasis, the library was an oasis that held many secrets, wonders and, most importantly, methods of escape. It still holds a bit of that power for me today, especially when it comes to glancing around and scoping out the variety of materials. Sleek tomes and colorful paper magazines lining up in a pristine formation and awaiting your eyes and hands.

The section that always pulls me first is the new fiction. There's the usual mix of chick-lit, science-fiction, historical dramas, something with a fantastical dwarf on it and some tawdry knock off of “Fifty Shades of Grey.” (Go ahead and feel free to channel your inner Kurtz here and go “...the horror....the horror.”) One of those tomes could very well be “The Hunt” by Brad Stevens. Brad first entered my stratosphere with his excellent work in the film writing world, including articles for my old periodical stomping grounds at Video Watchdog and his Bradlands column over at the British Film Institute's (BFI) website. “The Hunt” is his first fictive book and stands out as a unique debut. “The Hunt” centers around Mara Gorki, a writer whose work is massively successful overseas but is restricted in her homeland, which is a dystopian United Kingdom where women are treated like second to seventy first class citizens in every conceivable way.


The hostile atmosphere includes the legally imposed dress code of no pants or shorts for women over the age of 18, including corporal punishment via caning if broken to the rabid verbal abuse from various men of the cloth. However, the capper being the titular “Hunt” itself. Basically, a handful of very wealthy “gentlemen” pay for the privilege to hunt for women in an abandoned section of the city that has been quartered off by the government. As opposed to that old chestnut, “The Most Dangerous Game,” instead of hunting to kill, these men like their kicks on the sexual-sadistic side and track down these women, who are all drafted in by the government. There are rules, included intentional murder being one of the few actual taboos, but in a near future where women are basically regarded as mentally stunted vessels for the anger and damaged id impulse of key men who have been rewarded for their misogyny as opposed to being educated against it, things get on the vile side fairly quickly. It's a lesson that Mara learns intimately when she ends up being recruited.

Now from that description and those similar to it that you can read elsewhere online, you might be getting images of some ghastly Eli Roth film meets “A Handmaid's Tale.” The latter is somewhat close to the mark but you can mercifully kill the former. While Steven's does not pull any punches when it comes to the specifics of torture, his language neither lingers or delights in it. His prose in general is very clean, neatly written and yet has a quiet warmth and pulse to it that makes it all the more compelling. It's an unusual mix to see that kind of writing when it comes to such extreme material. The common tendency is to glory in the guts and agony and have the prose practically wiggle with every shriek, moan, leer and scream. But that is not the literary voice here and it is Stevens' restraint coupled with his clear love of his female characters, especially Mara and her partner, cineaste and film writer, Yuki Morishita. (A relationship the two naturally have to keep secret, since homosexuality is also forbidden.)

Speaking of, his handling of Yuki and Mara's relationship is quite sweet and feels authentic. “The Hunt” also features some extreme snarking on E.L. James fan fiction gone awry, “Fifty Shades of Grey.” As a whole it's a disturbing and smart read with solid characters, a bit of conspiracy theory and a peek into a future that doesn't feel too unreal whenever you see another news story about women all over the world having acid thrown into their faces, murdered for being a victim of rape or being robbed of the choice to be in control of their own body.


Now that you have a book picked out, you gotta have a magazine to go with it. With its striking cover and lush formatting, the second issue of the brand new periodical, Art Decades, is a fine choice. After its strong debut issue, Issue 2 continues in the fine tradition of loving art, unearthing past artists and celebrating the ones that are currently creating. The starting gate lets you know that the contents are gonna be good, with the following Joe Strummer quote taking the helm: “The way you get a better world is, you don't put up with a substandard any thing.” It's a bold move from such a young mag but bold is good and it sure as hell is better than boring.

The first main article is an excellent piece by Tara Hanks entitled “Pauline Boty: Pop Artist & Woman.” It's such a strong piece, offering fascinating and needed insight into one of the most under-looked pop artists that emerged out of the 50's and 60's. Boty was hampered by her gender, since while the art world is still fairly male dominated now, it is still miles ahead from the uber-macho atmosphere back when she was alive and working. Dying at the young age of 28 did not help much either. On top of that, knowing that several of her works are still missing in action, makes pieces like this one so important. A good article is a fun way to kill some time but a great article is one that plants a seed.

After that, there's the gorgeous photo layout, “My Time's Up,” based om The Raveonettes song of the same name. With photographer Whitly Brandenburg serving as the melancholy model backed by the twin muses of the aforementioned song and Jean Rollin's film “The Iron Rose,” it is one of the most standout visuals of the entire issue. Photographers Jeremy and Kelley Richey make great and dreamy use of the cemetery locale, as well as Brandenburg herself, whose presence has all the childlike beauty of a doll but with the air of one who has seen and felt something far older than her physical age.

Speaking of The Raveonettes, if you're a fan of the Danish indie rock band, then you are going to l-o-v-e this issue, since the “Time's Up” spread is followed up with an in depth interview with the band, a small article from Kelley about being a fan, a piece covering their entire discography and yet another photo spread inspired by one on their songs. The latter is based on the song, “Boys Who Rape Should All Be Destroyed.” (Love the title and feels fitting after reading “The Hunt!”) The layout itself is very nicely photographed but lacks the gritty gut punch that one would expect, especially with having influences like Abel Ferrara and “Lipstick” director Lamont Johnson noted at the beginning. But just the mere fact that a layout exists entitled “Boys Who Rape Should All be Destroyed” exists and is in this issue is commendable in and of itself.


There's also a second part of Erich Kuersten's piece, “Lou Reed in the Seventies.” (The first part is in the debut of Art Decades, naturally.) It's a fun piece to read with a Gonzo lilt, even though I have some personal disagreements. (Giving “Metal Machine Music” one star is bad enough, but Reed's masterpiece, “The Bells” only meriting two? Two?!) On the film side of things, there is a brief but super-fun interview with the great Mary Woronov conducted by Dave Stewart. Ms. Woronov alone is a legend, but the fact that she name checks one of the most underrated Warhol's Factory associates, writer Ronald Tavel, makes it even more of a must read than it already was.


 An equally sweet treat is Kent Adamson's “Cannon Man,” which is his appetizer of a piece about his time with working for the legendary Menahem Golan, the man, whom along with his cousin, Yoram Globus, took over Cannon Films in 1979. It was their reign that produced an amazingly wide breadth of films ranging from Barbet Schroeder's “Barfly” and the way underrated “Last American Virgin” to many a vehicle for action stars like Chuck Norris and Charles Bronson. Adamson's writing pops and leaves you wanting to read more and more about his time with this truly unique character who left an undeniable imprint on film.


Back on the musical tip, there's also filmmaker/writer Salem Kapsaski's revealing and creatively stimulating interview with underground Italian musician Daniele Santagiuliana, as well as Steve Langton's terrific and memorable piece about seeing Joy Division live. (A pleasure so few ever will get to experience.) This issue also features more stunning imagery, some good poetry and even more great pieces by such talents as Marcelline Block, Silver Ferox and more.

Art Decades Issue #2 is a more than a solid follow up to its rock star debut and has planted seeds, some definable and others more mysterious, that will surely take some vivid and colorful bloom in the very near future.

This concludes our brief but hopefully enriching and teensy bit chewy trip to the library. Make sure to keep your slip and return the materials on time.

Copyright 2015 Heather Drain

Monday, March 16, 2015

A Tale of Food, Love, Desire and Man-Chickens: Bob Chinn's Hot & Saucy Pizza Girls


Picking the perfect title for your film or any creative work for that matter, can be incredibly tricky. A bland title will nearly guarantee your potential audience to take a pass. A misleading title, much like reaching for what you think is a hush puppy but instead is a cold, gross battered ball of corn, will only lead to disgust and highly irritate. (Seriously, why would someone do that? Cruelty has many, many forms, dear reader.) But a perfect title will pique your interest and give you a hint of what you are to expect from the work in question. Case in point, Bob Chinn's breezy 1979 film, “Hot & Saucy Pizza Girls.” There are, in fact, girls that are hot, saucy and work in a pizza joint in this film. But the “Pizza Girls” is more than just a food-sex pun of a film. Sort of. Anyways, let's begin!


The movie starts with a classic lit-up sign, promoting “Country Girl Pizza. We Deliver.” Cut to inside the rustic looking pizzeria where the restaurant's owner, John (John “The King” Holmes) is interviewing a potential new delivery girl, Ann Chovy (Desiree Cousteau.) The naive Southern Belle ends up wooing her new boss over with some physical charms and she gets to join the gang of ultra-lovely and highly sassy delivery girls, including Gino (Candida Royalle), Shakey (Laurien Dominique) and Celeste (Christine de Shaffer). If the film had been made a bit later and in a different region, we would also undoubtedly have Totino, Red Baron and Tony.


The girls start to make their deliveries for the day, with the customers ranging from one intensely enthusiastic hayseed (the always reliable Richard Pacheco) to a bored and lonely housewife (Vicky Lindsay). Meanwhile, a slight and shifty man in black is blatantly trying to keep tabs on the pizza girls' comings and goings. Turns out this gentleman, aptly named Inspector Blackie (John Seeman), is a detective determined to bust Country Girl Pizza for being a front for prostitution. While we're on the topic, the phrase,“pizza brothel”, might be one of the best to have emerged out of the valley of language in a long time. Say it out loud. Let it roll off the tip of your tongue. Now think about the connotations. Nice, isn't it?

Anyways, further intrigue emerges as the cowpoke from earlier is buddies with a group of fried chicken enthusiasts led by Henry (Paul Thomas), who also has used the ebullient services of the pizza girls. Turns out, they don't cotton too well to the world of pizza encroaching on their great true love of fried chicken. Never has a hatred of pizza fueled such diabolical tomfoolery. The intrigue gets even weirder when the boys choose to employ the services of the San Francisco “Night Chicken.” Apparently this never seen but heard on screen fowl-tool-of-villainy is six feet tall and has a penchant for rape. (As all overgrown night chickens do!)


After one of the girls gets violated, John immediately knows it is the Night Chicken. We then find out from him that, “We have been after this chicken for ten years!” I guess local police weren't too worried about giant poultry sexually assaulting various people? Anyways, with the aid of his coworker and sidekick Bob (director Bob Chinn), John and company are determined to crack down on this truly foul fowl. Will the gang succeed or lose out to perverse man-birds and fried chicken enthusiasts? What about Inspector Blackie and the wholly guile-less Ann? For that and more, you'll just have to grab some hopefully non-carcinogen riddled popcorn and watch for yourselves! 


Hot & Saucy Pizza Girls” is an amazingly silly film but the best kind, since it knows it's ridiculous and completely revels in it. It is truly a fun, airy little film that has all the appeal of a naughty and light comic book. The fact that you have a subplot about women getting violated by a monstrous chicken and yet, the whole still plays very sunshine with no dark clouds, is nothing short of amazing. It helped, undoubtedly, having Bob Chinn at the helm. Chinn is most famous for directing a number of the “Johnny Wadd” films, which also brought “Pizza Girls” male star, John Holmes, to major fame and notoriety. The two men had a great rapport with each other and that definitely shows here, with Holmes being incredibly likable and quite funny as the manager of Country Girl Pizza. (Though it is Bob who gets the great line, “I just don't want to get fucked by no chicken!”) Speaking of funny, Richard Pacheco also merits a kudos for his eight-miles-outside-of-Hee-Haw cornpone bumpkin who sings “Get Along Little Doggie” mid-coitus. Eternally underrated John Seeman is funny and physically adept as the mysterious yet wondrously nerdy Inspector Blackie.


The titular pizza girls are all supremely lovely and likable, including such classic adult legends like Desiree Cousteau (“Pretty Peaches”) and Candida Royalle, as well as the equally wonderful but more on the cult side starlets Laurien Dominique and Christine de Shaffer (who was great as lunatic Babsy in Johnny Legend's mind-blowing “Young & Nasty Teenage Cruisers.”) Here they get to be sassy, gorgeous and funny, with Royalle and de Shaffer both carrying off a very strong, take-no-prisoners pizza delivering style. Cousteau is her usual charming Betty Boop by way of small town Southern USA self and looking every inch a 1970's version of a Vargas girl. 



The pseudo-twang-country music is fittingly goony, right down to it being listed as “Lousy Music,” that is credited to “Lon Jon.” (Surely, his real name.) The film is well shot, with all of the colors popping in a pastel yet vibrant type of way. Another stellar remastering job courtesy of the skilled folks at Vinegar Syndrome does not hurt either. Speaking of the DVD release, there's also a short but very informative interview with noted adult film director and “Pizza Girls” producer, Damon Christian. 


“Hot & Saucy Pizza Girls” may not reinvent any cinematic wheel or even the wheel spokes themselves, but it is a very cute, dementedly whimsical movie that features some good comedic performances and is the only film to date that has combined the notion of a pizza brothel with a menacing six foot chicken/creeper. That alone spells it out better than any paint by numbers nature velvet scene available at your nearest family oriented hobby store.



2015 Copyright Heather Drain

Thursday, February 19, 2015

You're Either In or In the Way: Duke Mitchell's Massacre Mafia Style


When it comes to crime cinema, there is real and then there's Duke Mitchell real and once you have witnessed that, you will never be the same. Imagine if Cassavetes was a famed lounge singer who once worked with a third-rate Jerry Lewis imitator in a schlocky Bela Lugosi film and then would go on to make two of the most volatile, straight from the soul-gut crime films in the history of independent cinema. That, ladies and gentlemen, is Duke Mitchell.

His directorial debut was 1974's Massacre Mafia Style, in which he also starred as Mimi Micelli, the son of Don Mimi (Lorenzo Dodo), a massively powerful mafioso who was deported back to Sicily when his son was only in his teens. Mimi marries a woman of “...simple Italian heritage, a Saint..” who bares him a little baby boy before she dies of cancer two years later. Now, being a widower with a 6 year old son and a graying father, Mimi plans to move back to the States and continue the family business. Namely, moving to Los Angeles and getting a firm hold on the bookies and pimps. Despite his father's warnings, Mimi goes through with the move, hooking up with his old childhood friend, Jolly (Vic Caesar), who is now a bartender. Mimi offers him a better deal than serving up drinks to the Hollywood fringe and Jolly quickly becomes his right hand man. 


He manages to muscle his way back in with his father's old crew via kidnapping one of the main guys, Chucky (Louis Zito.) After severing his captive's ring finger, Mimi gets the ransom money, releases Chucky just in time for his son's wedding and attends the family event. His beyond brass balls technique works and Mimi and Jolly are officially in business. Mimi's pathway to mafioso supremacy quickly grows slick with blood, with him even saying to Jolly early on, “Tonight we eat, tomorrow we shoot!”

It's not long before the gang want Mimi off their back and to calm all the murdering down. (Which is a huge testament, by the way, to how violent someone is when they have other mob guys complaining about the amount of murder going on.) Even his own father calls him, begging him to stop all of the killing. But when Mimi becomes the target of a double cross, it is only a matter of time for his life of crime and killing to take a monumental ancient Greek tragedy turn. 


Massacre Mafia Style is a gut punch straight from the heart. What Duke Mitchell was able to do with both this film and its masterwork of a follow up, Gone With the Pope, is singularly brilliant. You have this cross-pollination of extreme violence, gritty and highly un-politically correct language, Cassavetes style verite (more on that in a minute), artistry, intelligence and strangest of all, pure love. The latter is a lot like obscenity. It's hard to properly define but you know it when you see it and with Duke's work, it is all over the place. One of the best scenes of this caliber is when Mimi and his compatriots are having this big Italian lunch, prepared by one of the guys' mother. Mimi launches into this terrific monologue about how they are the ones that have disgraced this woman and all Italian mothers, with their violence and crime. It is such an interesting choice on Mitchell's part because with that monologue, he gives his character a depth and underlying moral tear that is not typically expected.

Speaking of dialogue, there are some real doozies here, with my personal favorite being the scene where Mimi and Jolly go to kill the “Greek” and are confronted with his massive bodyguard. After firing several bullets into the hulk of a man, who promptly keels over, Mimi says to Jolly, “You know I'm empty. Got any?” His partner says “I got two.” Mimi replies, “Give them to him.” Jolly does just that, finishing the hit. 


More tender audiences will probably have a tougher time swallowing some of the more racial language used throughout, a lot of which revolves around the pimp character, Super Spook (Jimmy Williams). But it is all true to life because you are dealing with characters who are rough, working class criminals circa the 60's and 70's. It would be false to have these guys suddenly be mindful of their language after gunning down x-number of people. On top of that, if you're really sensitive, maybe picking up a film called Massacre Mafia Style is not the best idea in the first place.

Going back to the Cassavetes theory, Mitchell used a cast of mostly non-actors whom physically fit their roles to a T, giving the film a more raw sort of feel. Which for a movie like this, is such a harmonious move. It graces the film with a sense of more realism that some of its more polished counterparts lack. This coupled with some of the highly intense and bizarre bordering on surreal acts of violence, make for a truly unique brew. The latter includes a man in a wheelchair hooked up via electrical cables to a urinal and another one literally crucified near the Hollywood sign. (The crucifixion scene sports some great intercutting with a religious choir, making the proceedings all the more ghoulish.) What's even more crazy is that both of these incidents are based on true events, with the wheelchair incident being something that Duke personally witnessed during his days as a singer, with the only exception being that in real life, the guy didn't die. In fact, much of the film was loosely based on true events, all gathered from friends and associates Duke had made in his music career. Cliches exist for a reason and truth really is stranger than fiction.

After years of minor cult notoriety due to its run under the title of The Executioner back in the 1970's, Grindhouse Releasing is doing Massacre Mafia Style justice, with help from Duke's son, Jeffrey Mitchell and releasing it this month on a 2 disc set. It is a true shame that Duke Mitchell never got the praise and attention he deserved for his directing work while he was still here, since he died at the young age of 55 back in 1981, but there is no time like the present to raise a toast to the man and marvel at this blood soaked cinematic patchwork quilt sewn together with thought, hard work and love.


Copyright 2015 Heather Drain


Monday, February 16, 2015

Animal Man: Kim Fowley, We Miss You


I'm trying to remember the first time Kim Fowley came up on my conscious periphery. He, of course, was up on my subconscious periphery from conception onward, as he was for anybody born from the 1960's to now. His pale, long fingers and electric brain contributed to works from artists as diverse as Helen Reddy, his proteges The Runaways, Kiss, Frank Zappa, Alice Cooper and Warren Zevon, just to name a tiny handful out of hundreds. So, the likelihood of your primordial brain being touched and infected by something Kim Fowley had a hand in is incredibly strong.

But I think he must have popped up on my conscious periphery with my friend Scott. We had connected via a film fringe culture message board and hit it off. We started talking about Kim Fowley and it just took one look at his credentials and realizing the oodles of songs he had a hand in that I already loved, coupled with some amazing pictures, which included a then current Kim posing with a weird clown and teddy bears, for it to be instant love. Scott and I would exchange the coolest and strangest Kim Fowley pictures and stories we could find, with the both of us having just the utmost reverence for the man. Scott once wrote that Kim was like the bastard son of “Klaus Kinski and Boris Karloff,” a descriptor that the man surely would have loved. But Scott's gone now and so is Kim.


Born in the early Summer of '39 to Shelby Payne and noted character actor Douglas Fowley (who was in my personal cinematic touchstone, the Timothy Carey dancing epic Bayou aka Poor White Trash), Kim was an outcast from the beginning, as noted in his feverish tone poem of a bio, “Lord of Garbage.” But it is the ground of the outcast that usually springs the best and wildest blooms and there is no better example of this then Kim Fowley. He was a one-man music creating blitzkrieg, finding much fame as a producer, songwriter and a performer in his own right. Phil Spector might be more famous, especially for his work with some key girl groups, but you know what? Kim worked with girl groups galore, ranging from The Murmaids' incredible single, “Popsicles & Icicles” to spearheading the ultimate teenage rock band, The Runaways. Even better, Kim never murdered anybody (to my knowledge) and retained his impish bordering on sardonic sense of humor to the bitter end. 


Fowley, in so many ways, was the Warhol of rock and roll. Both men were brilliant, made great art on their own and yet, often operated as creative conduits that attracted all manners of colorful and talented people. One great Fowley quote that lends well to this Warholian aspect of his genius is the following:

“I’m so empty that I don’t have distractions. If somebody has substance or has developed something, I have the time for them.”

But even that doesn't quite cover it, because Kim Fowley was one magical human being whose dualities would have made him an amazing cult leader, dictator or shaman in another life. In this one, he was rock & roll's numero uno zeitgeist that might as well have risen out of the sleazy, beautiful and vital primordial ooze that all truly great ground breakers emerge from. He was a hero to some and a villain to others and this you can etch in blood and bone, there will never be another like Kim Fowley.

You are missed, Animal Man.


For a superb introduction to the scope of Fowley's work, please check out the fantastically groovy Mal Thursday and the "Kim Fowley Trainwreck-a-Go-Go" episode of his internet radio program, "The Mal Thursday Show."

2015 Copyright Heather Drain

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Lost, Found & Future: A Peek into Vinegar Syndrome



The phrase “lost film” is one of the saddest in the English vernacular. For being such a young format, it seems inconceivable that any movie could already be vanished to the ether of time. Of course, most know that a large portion of silent films were lost due to both intentional negligence, since film was considered a culturally disposable medium, and bad storage habits, leading to severely deteriorated prints. Due to the flammable nature of the nitrate, some prints would even spontaneously combust!

There's a new type of lost film, though. There are films that are barely old enough to collect a pension check that are marked as missing. People didn't really know better back in the early days, but what is the excuse for the past forty or fifty years? The flammable type of nitrate film stopped being used after 1952, so it's not really the case of movie prints literally bursting into flames. But then what is it? 


A lot of it is direct kin to the same kind of thinking that dates back to the early 1900's. Film was not considered “respectable” therefor it wasn't viewed in terms of preservation. Fast forward several decades later, with the tide changing enough for people to start thinking in terms of cinematic preservation. Ironically enough, most preservationists were thinking in terms of “respectable” films. Genres and subgenres, like adult, sexploitation, horror and underground, were, much like those early silent reels, were regarded as disposable and crude entertainment.

This kind of ignorance and pigheaded elitism is borderline chilling, but there is a silver lining. As more and more people are debating the future of cinema, there are those who are working hard to fight for the preservation of all film. Especially the type of films that have gone on unloved in mainstream circles for too long. Front and center on this right path is Vinegar Syndrome


Unearthing everything from arthouse gems (Nelson Lyon's “The Telephone Book,” Theodore Gushuny's “Sugar Cookies”) to ultra obscure cult films (Stanley Lewis'Punk Vacation”) to adult film classics (Alex DeRenzy's “Pretty Peaches,” Roberta Findlay's “Angel on Fire”), as well as lurid oddities (Bill Milling's “Oriental Blue,” Howard Perkins' “Baby Rosemary,”), they are more than a mere distribution company. Giving the kind of love and care to prints that is normally reserved by companies thrice as old and twice as big, Vinegar Syndrome first come upon my periphery with their Blu-Ray release of “The Lost Films of Herschell Gordon Lewis.” Being someone whose teenage years were spent reading and re-reading and then reading some more books like Michael Weldon's “The Psychotronic Video Guide” and Re/Search's “Incredibly Strange Film Book,” this was a release right after my own heart. 


A simple basic release of such previously lost H.G. Lewis films like “Black Love” and “Linda & Abilene,” would have been more than enough. Especially when you take into account how many a cult film fan had all but given up on these titles ever surfacing. But, even better, not only did they surface but on a lush, re-mastered release to boot. It felt like a gift and it was that key that unlocked for me, the world that is Vinegar Syndrome


 In keeping with their forward-thinking means of preserving and distributing these fringe gems of the past, Vinegar Syndrome have started a fundraiser via Indiegogo. The VinegarSydrome.TV project is a motion to bridge their incredible library of cult films with the digital age by creating a video-on-demand channel for such a treasure trove of cinema. Given that their title database is going to grow by at least forty more titles this year, it is a undoubtedly a project worthy of any film lover's attention.

Now....let's all go to the movies! 


2015 © Heather Drain


Thursday, January 1, 2015

No Such Thing as an Act in Vain: The Golden Age Appreciation Fund


This world is many things. In the splendor of life, this existence can be beautiful, harsh, strange, sad and wondrous. For many artists, life is all of this times nine. There's no 401K plans and financial instability will more often than not, be an ever constant presence and yet, it is this blood-born drive to create, to express, to scream, to whisper and to be seen that drives you to create even when your more financially pragmatic loved ones and friends are shaking their heads and asking when are you going to get a “real job.”

The only true shame in being an artist is the number of those who have dedicated the prime years of their life to expression, and still end up having to struggle in their later years. In the 50' and 60's it was the bluesmen who laid out the blueprints for a large part of modern music and yet, rarely, if ever, saw a dime for their hard work and toil. All that despite the fact that there were definitely people making an obscene amount of money off of them, meanwhile the artists themselves often lived in near poverty.

There are too many sad variations of this tale in all the arts, but one area in particular involves the men and women who took creative, personal and societal risks and forged new ground in the adult film industry. A sad but true factor is that our society is still devolved enough to shame consenting adults whose only “transgression” has been to have been naked and having a fairly good time on camera. When you think of all of the real atrocities that happen on this planet every single minute you breathe, consensual adults having sex should really be nonexistent on the list of things to be offended by.

Luckily, a trio of kind souls have started a new non-profit entitled The Golden Age Appreciation Fund. Founded by Mark Murray, whom along with his lovely wife Miranda, organized the original Golden Age fundraiser back in 2013, Ashley West whose work, both as a writer, an up and coming documentarian and the primary force behind the groundbreaking and essential The Rialto Report and Jill Nelson, who is the tremendous author of the quintessential biography on John Holmes (A Life Measured in Inches), as well as the definitive tome on women in Adult film (Golden Goddesses). These three have come together and created this organization, in which 100% of the donations goes directly to the artist that they are aiding.

In a world where artists and performers who have earned others millions of dollars and given countless joy to a world wide audience, they should not have to worry about basic necessities in their later years. So if you're a fan of the classic era of this genre or just someone who wants to support artists who are having to go through the harder aspects of life, please check out the Golden Age Appreciation Fund

Copyright 2015 Heather Drain