Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Death Game & Pop Life


"With love, there is no death"-Christopher Tracy

"Fuck death."-Anyone who has lost someone they loved.


Mortality. The word alone is enough to elicit depths of worry and dread, not unlike loss, illness and family reunions. It's one of those things most do not want to think about but the cycle of living has a way of wafting it all right under your nose. The scent is one part charnal house and one part weighted awareness. The more our loved ones, heroes and heroines shuffle off this mortal coil, it is hard to not feel, to quote Love & Rockets, haunted when the minutes drag.


Personally, I have an acceptance/hate relationship with death. It's the great inevitable and an essential part of life. You can't really escape it, so making moderate peace with it is a good idea. Yet, even though many view it as simply a transition to something else, whether it is heaven, limbo, Earth again or the great void, it flat out sucks for those of us who are still here. The dead ultimately are fine. They have moved on but yet it is us who are left to sift through the ashes, sometimes literally.

Out of the assortment of heroes and loved ones alike that I have lost in the past few years, the thing that haunts me the most are the lost acts, ideas and art that never came to fruition. When a close friend of mine passed away in '08, one of the things that hurt the most was all of the great writing he never got to do. He had some amazing ideas and coupled with his innate charisma with words and intrinsic understanding of film and music, there would have been some sheer magic he could have created. This is where I loathe death the most, though it's the worst the kind of hate, because it does not change a thing.

All that said, a lesson for the living that I repeat time and time again is that the best use of death is motivation. We're still here to burn the ashes, create, love, scream and fight for ourselves and our work. Art isn't just for the artist, it's for those who aren't here quite yet and for those who can't be here. Let's rock.

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Critics and the public alike have always had a strange relationship with pop music. The former tend to, for the most part, glower at it and hiss like a foamy-mouthed feral cat. The latter can alternately love with a blind, cult-like devotion, only to hastily switch to storming the internet with lit torches in hand. It's weird that such a fairly safe genre can elicit some pretty extreme emotions, but that is part of the fascination with pop music.


I was lucky enough to grow up in a fairly schizophrenic-musical environment, so genre snobbery is something quite alien to me. Metal, punk, klezmer, country, pop, exotica, etc etc. If the song is good, it's good. So when I heard The Flaming Lips cover of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" with Miley Cyrus and Moby, I was astounded. Not because of Miley but because it is really, really great. Not thing I went into it expecting it to be horrible, I was just not expecting it to wow me like it did.

This kind of collaboration may seem like it is from Mars, since the Lips are this fairly respected, psychedelic-art-rock band and Cyrus used to be Hannah Montana and has the sad distinction of twerking on Alan Thicke's son. However, if you think about it objectively, there is something kind of brilliant about that. The Lips are too weird (and probably "old") for Cyrus' demographic and she is too pop-tart for their core audience. Which makes it even more interesting because it is a real creative risk for both parties. Granted, it's one for a good cause, since a portion of the sales are going to the Oklahoma City based non-profit, The Bella Foundation, which helps low-income, elderly or terminally-ill pet owners with veterinary costs.

Some of the negative reactions to both the collaboration and the fact that Cyrus and Lips frontman Wayne Coyne (who looks like the world's grooviest professor/magician) are good friends, reminds me a lot of the critical and public flotsam that ensued when Metallica and Lou Reed worked together and released "Lulu." "Lulu" was an intense and brave album that was also quite good and definitely the best thing Metallica had worked on in several years. The only real thing that either Lou or Metallica had to gain was the feeling of creating a work that they personally loved. Over time, hopefully, both "Lulu" and the Lips cover of "Lucy" will be seen as ballsy creative moves with some gorgeous, rich moments intertwined.  (Also, for a really terrific article on the recent negative critical reaction to Coyne in the media, please check out Katy Anders' piece on her fabulous blog, Fascist Dyke Motors. Then read everything else on there because she is THAT good.)



© 2014 Heather Drain




Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Future of Cinema Meets Article Round-Ups



2014 has already been one of the strongest and strangest years I have had, well, ever. Older projects are getting filled out and delved into further, while new ones are starting to take root. The best part is that I am only halfway getting started.

Before I segue into my "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World"-style post, one thing I have wanted to briefly write about is a discussion that has come up and more and more regarding film versus digital. Seeing quotes from directors who should know better proclaiming the digital wave as a sign that "cinema is dead," I have instant PTS of hearing a litany of old people griping about change. You know the drill. The younger generations are sending the world straight into dumbass hell, while their parents and grandparents grind their dentures on butterscotch candy and abandoned dreams. It's as old as time itself. Saying cinema is dead is tantamount to telling all the struggling filmmakers out there that they are screwed and might as well give up. But one thing they don't teach you in school is that the biggest element you need to survive in any of the creative arts is pure, undiluted tenacity. Someone tells you cinema is dead, then prove them wrong and make the best movie you can dream of. I grew up worshipping at the twin altars of silent film mavericks like Robert Weine as well as Indie Cult gurus like John Waters because these are artists that took what could be perceived as limits and instead, created new frontiers. Rip it up and start again.

I will always champion film preservation till my last breath. I love film stock with all of my cineaste heart, especially all the beautiful grain and texture it can possess. But there is a middle to be met here. You can love film, as well as embrace digital. After all, what makes real cinema is the right mix of vision, lighting, good editing, sound, heart and flat out testicular/ovular fortitude. These elements can cohabitate on any format. 

In other words, take care of the past, look to the future and never ever give up.

                                                                       +

Now, speaking of the past, here are some of my favorite things that I wrote about in the past several months.



The Dance of Reality/La Danza de la Realidad

One would be hard pressed to think of a finer gift from the universe than a new film by Alejandro Jodorowsky and this year, we got such a present. Even better, is that it was well worth the nearly 25 year wait.

Getting to write about this brilliant and heart-burrowingly great film for Dangerous Minds was a pleasure, matched only by getting to talk with the man himself. With generous thanks to both my fantastic editor and Jodorowsky's lovely PR guy Matt, I got to speak on the phone with the director/personal artistic godhead for an interview about his latest film. Sadly, our connection was pretty spotty lending to a fragmented conversation that was heavenly when it did connect and frustrating when it did not. The fact that it did last almost 30 minutes is both a testament to the seeds of a good conversation and (more than likely) the man's saint-like patience. But even with the wonky connection, Mr. Jodorowsky was incredibly gentle, assertive and nothing short of wonderful. (Also, quick thanks to my friend David Arrate for his audio assistance.)


Back Issues: The Hustler Magazine Story

Hands down, one of the best documentaries I have seen in a long time, Michael Lee Nirenberg's film is smart, fun, kinetic and has its own thumbprint while exploring one of the most subversive American magazines ever. Keep on eye on this guy, because I have a feeling this is just the beginning for the young filmmaker.


Massacre at Central High

After writing about Rene Daalder's powerful and still controversial feature film, I found out directly from Cult Epics that they are indeed prepping to release it. This will be the first legal domestic release this overlooked gem has had in decades.


Sugar Cookies

Bless Vinegar Syndrome for not only releasing this underground-meets-overground film but also for giving it such a gorgeous release. Every frame in this feature could be put on a wall in an art gallery. Great, great stuff.

Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg, which also includes book projects, recent podcast appearances (Thank you Mike White, Rob St. Mary and Frank Cotolo!) and an event that equals my Jodorowsky experience in a multitude of ways. But I'm here to sell the sizzle, folks, not the steak. So in the meantime, enjoy!

2014 © Heather Drain


Monday, June 30, 2014

Print Your Own Revolution: Jon Szpunar's XEROX FEROX


DIY. Three delicious letters that hold more power than entire scripts consisting of the rest of the alphabet. The ethos of do-it-yourself is one that has spearheaded everything from political revolutions to cultural movements. The former in the past could inspire things like rioting and decapitation. The latter could be slightly more gentle, with one of its many forms resulting in the zine movement. This inspired an assortment of writers and simply enthusiastic fans creating their own magazines. This shined brighter in fewer fields than film, with horror and cult movies becoming a huge part of the DIY periodical zenith. At last, a tome dedicated to this rich, fun and occasionally troubled field has come out, all thanks John Szpunar's meticulously put together XEROX FEROX: THE WILD WORLD OF THE HORROR FILM FANZINE.

XEROX FEROX begins from, where else, the beginning, with its chapter/interview formatting starting with such genre film writing legends as Steve Bissette, Bhob Stewart, Gary Svehla, Tim Lucas and Chas Balun, as well as the young Turks that came along a little later, like Bill Landis, Keith Crocker, Greg Goodsell, Mike McPadden, Shane DallmannTim Paxton and Andy Copp. And they are just the tip of the iceberg! In fact, each individual profiled in this book ranges in personality, approach and aesthetics. From old school Universal Monsters moon-eyed love to a celebration of all things grue-filled and naked nubile flesh, all of them are unified by one very important thing. The sheer drive and need that only the purest of passion and enthusiasm can breed. It's like obscenity. Hard to define but you'll know it when you see it.

Matching the subjects enthusiasm is the sheer amount of research and care that both Szpunar and the book's publisher, headpress, put into this work. It is an instant historically important tome and a needed read for both genre film fans and nonfiction writers, young and seasoned alike. These are stories that were needing to be documented and bless all involved for doing just that. Hopefully, it will be a touchstone for other like-minded compendiums to bear fruit. Imagine XEROX FEROX-quality books covering the music zines, the poetry zines, the DIY comics, etc etc. All of this is art that is not really that old but yet is in continual danger of being lost due to its fringe, low-budget origins.

The only real negative with this book is how little women are featured. No singular woman is mentioned. It would have been nice to see someone like Maitland McDonagh get mentioned, since she's a great writer who has been in this field since the 1980's. Michelle Clifford does at least get mentioned in conjunction with Bill Landis, since she worked with him on the latter stages of Sleazoid Express, as well as being the main figure behind Metasex. This isn't necessarily Spuznar's fault, but is more of a symptom of a bigger problem that is the boy's club of genre film writing where women have been relegated more to the sidelines, only to be dusted off for the occasional female-centric bone thrown their way. It can be a well meaning thing, but the best surefire route to equality is just to treat a female writer like you would a male writer. But all that aside, this is a fine book that will inform and inspire those of any category. Long live the DIY press!

© 2014 Heather Drain

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The South Will Never Rise Again

Flashback all the way to the hallowed early 2000's. I still had a stomach for constructs like internet message boards, with one of the best being the one at Patty Mahlon's loving and meticulously constructed William Girdler website. It was on that very board where I first read about a Long Island erotic atrocity known as “Lulu & Friends” aka “Valley Stream Slut.” This film was helmed by a true Renaissance man, Keith Crocker. Keith, in addition to being the man responsible for the fabulous “The Exploitation Journal,” an early and seminal horror/cult zine, he also has directed some of the most unique and balls out features like “The Bloody Ape” and “Blitzkrieg:Escape from Stalag 69.” 

DVD Cover art of Crocker's "The Bloody Ape"
 Getting to know Keith via this message board, I was always impressed with his storytelling abilities, especially when related to his experiences as an independent filmmaker. The stories were often unflinching about the non-glamorous aspects of the business but always were tinged with a wink and a nod kind of humor. In short, they were a fun and terrific read. Out of all the great stories Keith wrote about on that long dead-in-the-ground forum, the tale of his one and only foray into the seemingly seamy world of X-rated film making was as harrowing as it was hilarious. Little did I know that years from then, that I would be watching this infamous film in the comfort of my own living room.

Lulu meets one of her "friends."
Not too long after reading about Keith's tales of “Lulu” and her randy friends, I had also read a review of an equally sexually inept adult film on the Girdler-Board sister-site-of-sorts, the now long defunct Brains on Film. That website's main man, Larry Joe Treadway aka Professor Tread, was one of the funniest and most unique film writers on the internet at that time. Out of the sizable body of review work he built up, it was his write-up of one of the most striking, brain-scratching and life-affirming-in-every-wrong-way-possible films, courtesy of the impressive film library at Something Weird Video. A film that, once seen, will stay with you like a drunken hug from your Southern uncle. That is, if your Southern uncle also happens to be wearing a beat up and stained Halloween superhero costume.

Something Weird Video's DVD release of "Bat Pussy."
The film in question was 1973's “Bat Pussy.” A film so obscure that the odds of its cast and crew ever surfacing are about as good as finding a photo of Frank Sinatra testifying against the Mafia. Dialogue rich with white trash psychodrama bordering on burma shave with the biggest “star” being an issue of Screw magazine, “Bat Pussy” is a film whose description will never do justice to what your eyes and ears will see and hear. I will, of course, though, give it my best shot. (It is a real shame that Tread's review of it is MIA since it has remained one of my favorite pieces of film writing ever, with him describing the movie as “John Waters' Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf. That might be the most accurate statement ever written about “Bat Pussy.”)

Best SCREW Magazine plug ever!
You may be wondering what do these two films have in common, other than being two extremely low-budget, ultra-obscure adult films? Not much other than a sense of human sexuality going directly past eroticism and into a transcendent netherworld that will leave you mystified, giggling and wondering why your sex drive just took a left turn to Albuquerque and is never coming back!

With “Lulu & Friends,” Crocker was given a lot of unenviable cards in his deck. Sure, his leading lady, our titular Lulu, is enthusiastic and gets an absolute A for effort. Her acting is a bit rough but she does try, with the highlight including a crude and funny spectral encounter. Actually, the women in the film all get an A for trying. One of her friends, a very attractive, dark haired beauty valiantly tries to get her boyfriend, whose bad haircut and horrible taste in underwear just screams coke head late 80's scumbag, to rise to attention. But it's no use. You really just want to reach through the screen and say, “Honey, it's okay. Go shower up and get a nicer man. One whose taste in bikini underwear won't make you instantly question where you're headed in life.” 

Bad decision making.
With “Bat Pussy,” the issue of male virility rendered flaccid despite the near-heroic attempts by giving women comes into play too. Unlike “Lulu & Friends,” where at least some of the couplings actually result in some sort of fruition, “Bat Pussy” is like one mobious strip of bickering and a man, the only man in the whole bloody film, whose failure to achieve any sort of usable erection starts to feel like it s an unintentional metaphor for our failure to ever achieve true greatness in this life. Or maybe he just had whiskey dick. You never know.

In lieu of a pretty brunette, we have our hero's wife, a pale, bouffanted Shirley-type who vacillates between trying to turn on her man and bitching at him. With lines like, “You wouldn't know how to eat pussy if it was your dead grandmother's” (!!!) and “You don't love me, motherfucker!,” you can maybe understand why he is having a bit of a difficult time getting aroused. In fairness to her, what woman wants to hear her redneck amour droning on about how “we need to do this just like in the magazine” and that ever sweet bon-mot, “Darling, she meant nothing to me!”? 

Probably a relative.
At least with “Lulu,” there's a very loosely-restrained feeling of rompiness, rendered all the more surreal by Crocker's absolutely brilliant use of music. Honestly, the music saves a large portion of the sex scenes, which otherwise would be bordering on the unwatchable. Everything from funk classics to some incidental music most famous for being used on “The Little Rascals” movie shorts, all pop up throughout the film, as if it is an act of pure directorial alchemy.



That said, there is one mighty big advantage that “Bat Pussy” has and that is all in the form of its title character. Imagine Batman if he was a cornfed dame whose “lair” was a cement dinge-room, complete with a hobbity-hop in lieu of a car and the rattiest Superhero costume this side of “Rat Fink a Boo Boo.” If the words, instant awesome, came to mind then you would be correct! Here's a character that neither Marvel or DC Comics would want to touch with a 10-foot pole, which is their loss. Bat Pussy is all sorts of foul-mouthed, bent-moral wonder and yet, sadly, not even she can get a happy physical result from our hero. Her classy reaction? “You don't know how to fuck, motherfucker!” I hope this man got some good therapy afterwards, that is if he didn't end up buried under a bridge in Anywhere, Southern USA.

The splendor of the Bat Pussy Headquarters.
At the end of the day, while both “Lulu & Friends” and “Bat Pussy” may fail in the arousal department, they took, intentionally (“Lulu”) and unintentionally (“Bat Pussy”) their individual weaknesses and transformed them into a viewer experience that is as hilarious as it is harrowing and even Artaudian in its regard for the audience. Plus, both are still better than anything Julia Roberts has starred in. (Thank you, thank you and please, tip your piano player!) 

 ©2014 Heather Drain

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Counter-Revolution: A Mini-Tribute to Trumpeter Extraordinaire, Atlanta Bliss

 
The world of music is not unlike some strange, often decadent beehive. You have your preening lead singers and showoff guitarists, which are the equivalent to the mated Queen Bee. The music (and money) (and drugs) are the honey but what about the worker bees? They are the ones that do a lot of the work and yet, are often just relegated to drone status. But a great hive is nothing without its worker bees and one of the musicians who has had some of the absolute best line-ups is Prince. Rivaled only by Frank Zappa, Prince is one of those composers who has always had the best of the best in his band. From the Revolution to the NPG, dollars to donuts, if you're a musician who has worked with Prince, you are the true blue real deal.
 
Out of the countless names on that list, the one that is often unfairly neglected is Atlanta Bliss aka Matt Blistan. Brought into the fold during the tail end of the Revolution by fellow jazz musician/badass, saxophonist Eric Leeds, Blistan's trumpeting skills added some rich dimension to Prince's music. At times sonically evoking such greats like Miles Davis, he provided a mix of old school jazz and new world funk to an instrument that very few associate with megafamous popular artists.


Plus, the cat's got style. Even from the often brief glimpses of him in assorted Prince related videos and live footage, the white and black suits, thick head of dark hair and a mustache that would have fit in perfectly on Tyrone Powers, all reek of a man cool enough to be called Atlanta Bliss and get away with it.

Blistan continued to play off and on with Leeds after his time with Prince, as well as appearing on a number of Paisley Park artists albums, including George Clinton, Mavis Staples and Carmen Electra. (How is that for brain frying?) There's not a lot of info about Blistan after the mid-90's period other than a great home video clip on YouTube of him tearing it up on "Brazil" at a business conference from the late 2000's. Hopefully this will be an article I can expound upon more in the near future, but until then, consider this a mini-tribute to a fantastic trumpet player, great musician and overall cool guy. Matthew Blistan, thank you for bringing it.



© 2014 Heather Drain

Monday, April 14, 2014

Seraphim & Erotic Lanterns: An Examination of Roberta Findlay's ALTAR OF LUST & ANGEL ON FIRE


The thing about being a pioneer is that the land you are cutting into is going to range vastly. The law of averages states that for every acre of rich, fertile soil you find, you are also going to discover some barren, rocky land too. This Peekarama double-feature, courtesy of the fantastic folks over at Vinegar Syndrome, showcases two films that are the very definition of this, with the one commonality being that they were both directed by cult film pioneer Roberta Findlay. This particular disc features 1971's ALTAR OF LUST as well as the 1974 feature, ANGEL ON FIRE. 


ALTAR OF LUST stars the fabulously named “Erotica Lantern” as Vivica. A petite and bewigged beauty, she reclines on a shrink's (Fred J. Lincoln) psychedelic paisley patterned couch and begins to tell him of her highly dysfunctional childhood. All was well for little Vivica until her father died when she was only 14. Her mother, besotted with grief, married a gold-digging oaf named Hans (C. Davis Smith). That's right, Hans. While he might have the name of a European pastry chef, Hans is actually one lecherous boar of a man. As soon as his wife dies, he follows a newly adult Vivica, who is resplendent in some really fantastic white go-go boots and ends up raping her in the woods. In a move to make us about as uncomfortable as Ms. Lantern must have been during the making of this scene, the cinematic violation goes on way too long, with the camera steadfastly focused on Hans' pasty-twitchy-man-ass. It feels hateful.

Finally, he finishes and leaves her traumatized in the grass. Abandoning her pig of a step-parent, as well as her dead mother's farm, Vivica moves to the City and almost instantly finds love in the form of Don (a pre-mustachioed Harry Reems). He's handsome, gentle and a wonderful lover, with the two getting serious enough to move in together. This results in some semi-simulated sex scenes that read fairly fun and passionate, including one especially cute and playful shower scene. 


Everything seems idyllic for the saucy lover-birds until one afternoon, when Vivica comes home to find Don in flagrante delicto with another woman, Marie (Suzy Mann.) To say that the couple are nonplussed by Vivica's appearance is a Plymouth Rock-sized understatement. In fact, Marie's instantly smitten and immediately starts pawing and “making nice” with Vivica, who does the sensible thing and walks out. Okay, that's a total lie. Nope, instead our heroine gets starkers and quickly finds that she is crazy about Marie's physical affection. To the extent that Don quickly is downgraded from ultra-lover to nuisance. 


This leads to Vivica's further angst, making her exclaim to her shrink, “Doctor. I'm a lesbian! Can you cure me?” He refuses to make a judgment call, but seems to change his mind by the end of the film when (Spoiler Alert) he decides to remedy her of these Sapphic leanings with some unorthodox therapy. Note, if your psychiatrist says things to you like “Think of me as a man, not as a doctor.” which is then followed up with, “It really works quite well.” get the hell out of the room and find a lawyer stat.

ALTAR OF LUST is one weak cup of tea. That said, thanks to the typically wonderful restoration job by Vinegar Syndrome, the film does look good. Certainly a million miles away from the murkier print in its previous release from Something Weird Video. The colors pop nicely and on top of that, there is some terrific voice over work. For starters, you get to hear the unmistakable dulcet, New York meets New England tones of Roberta's then husband Michael as the shrink. In fact, hearing Michael's voice ask questions like, “Did Don remind you of your father?” is a perverse treat for any fans of his own acting/directing work like The Flesh Trilogy. Roberta also does a good job voicing the eternally confused Vivica, at times out acting poor Erotica Lantern. (What a name, though!) 


ALTAR OF LUST was released in 1971, which was a weird cusp period for sexploitation. Hardcore was increasingly growing strong, starting with Bill Osco's groundbreaking 1970 film MONA, but many softcore filmmakers were not quite ready to take the full plunge. So here you have a weird blend of blatantly simulated sex, shots of erections, a brief unsimulated blow job and some fun with digits. Speaking of the art of physical love, I'm not sure if I have ever seen more un-reluctant simulated lesbian sex. You can almost feel the actresses thoughts, “What? I have to put my head down where? Fine, but I ain't touching it!” It gets even more sad when one of the lady-on-lady love scenes is cross-cut with a much more earthy scene with Harry and a belly dancer. (Though her somewhat fresh looking C-section scar is a bit jarring. To the point where I was yelling at the screen, “Be careful!” when he starts going down South.)

Ultimately, ALTAR OF LUST is more of an interesting relic from an era when softcore was awkwardly transitioning into hardcore. Thankfully, the second feature on this disc is miles ahead of the game.


ANGEL ON FIRE aka ANGEL NUMBER NINE opens up with a love scene between the handsome but highly dickish Stephen (Alan Marlowe) and Carol (Judy Craven). Their afterglow is quickly spoiled by Carol's declarations of love to her monumentally insensitive lover. Things get even more awful for the poor girl when she breaks it to him that she is pregnant, prompting him to yell and throw her out of his apartment. (What a peach!) 


Little does Stephen know that his life is going to be cut short, thanks to George (Marc Stevens) getting distracted behind the wheel while a lovely lass “attends” to him. Stephen gets hit, promptly dies and goes to heaven. It is there he meets Angel Number 9 (Jennifer Jordan), the same woman who was with George just moments ago. She informs Steven that while he was not horrible enough on Earth to warrant going to “the other place,” he was enough of a cad to not deserve Paradise either. Not yet.

To earn entry into Heaven, he will have to return to Earth as Stephanie (Darby Lloyd Rains), a beautiful blonde. Initially resistant, even remarking that “I'd rather be dead than be a woman,” he quickly changes his tune once the gravity of the situation dawns on him. Angel makes love to him and then sends him on his journey. Once Stephanie knows true love and heartbreak akin to what she/he caused so many hapless young women back when she was Stephen, only then can she return to Heaven proper.


Eager to use her new body, she immediately hooks up with a concerned and confused George, direct at the scene of the accident. Despite his constant statements of “You're really strange,” Stephanie's weird behavior is not enough to thwart him from knocking boots with her at his scumpit of an apartment. Afterwards, she goes home and gets further acquainted with her new womanly form. In the morning, she ends up seducing one of her male form's girlfriends, Linda (Day Jason.) She actually manages to convince Linda that she really is the reincarnation of Stephen and after that, they make love. Feeling some goodwill, Linda ends up connecting Stephanie to a successful fashion photographer named Jeff (Jamie Gillis.)


Stephanie ends up falling fast for the moody and darkly handsome Jeff and in no time, he charms her into his bed. Love soon becomes intensely unhealthy codependency with Jeff being an even bigger misogynist than Stephanie was when she was Stephen. The painful to watch downward spiral ends up proving to be too much for our redemptive heroine and she/he gets to ascend back to Heaven. 


ANGEL ON FIRE is a reverse negative of ALTAR OF LUST in that it is a really, really good movie. The story, taking a few cues from the 1964 Tony Curtis film GOODBYE CHARLIE and hence, later on influencing the 1991 Blake Edwards comedy, SWITCH, is smart and plays out like it is driven from both the heart and the mind. For being helmed by a director who has been quoted saying that she would never want a woman on her film crew, ANGEL ON FIRE is a strong, pro-woman film that delves into the true heartbreak of bad relationships. It's not the obvious heartsickness of being in love with someone who will never return your affection, but the deeper sadness of not loving and respecting yourself enough to know that you deserve better. Women were (and still are to some degree) coming from a background where your definition of self was attached to a man. As if you're almost a ghost, all sad eyed until Mr Husband Potential shows up and makes you whole. It's a bit of a generalization but one with large, booming seeds of truth.


 There's also the sexual orientation play, with the former macho man Stephen suddenly eager to break his virginity with a man. As Stephanie, he dives into sex with the lanky-handsome George, even remarking something to effect, “mine was bigger.” Which is a funny touch of bravado, since he/she is saying this to Mr. Marc “10 1/2” Stevens. A lot of guys who are very “fucking A” with their masculinity usually are hiding something, whether it is an insecurity in sexual ability or a deep rooted attraction to the most forbidden fruit for the North American mook: another man.

The cast is top notch with the always wonderful Darby Lloyd Rains, who is best known for her lead turn in Radley Metzger's masterful NAKED CAME THE STRANGER, ruling as Stephanie. She's passionate, likeable and at times, heartbreaking, truly showing the transformation from the assholish Stephen to the redeemed Stephanie. Jamie Gillis is both sensual and frightening as the ultimate spoiled fruit of a man, Jeff. In contrast to our torn heroine, Jennifer Jordan is strong as Angel Number Nine. The supporting cast are all great with industry legend Eric Edwards popping up as Angel Number Ten, looking every inch the male ideal of a seraphim.

Once again, bless the folks at Vinegar Syndrome for not only releasing this historically and creatively important set, but for obviously caring about a type of film that most critics and historians to this day still turn their nose at. Remember folks, cultural revolution is always closer than you think.


© Heather Drain 2014




Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Carnies, Boobs, Cab Calloway & the 6th Dimension: Richard Elfman returns with Forbidden Zone 2


Words like “sequel” and “reboots” fill my heart with wholly cynical dread, complete with me quoting John Hurt from "Spaceballs", mouthing “Oh no! Not again!” Given the bloated six-headed beast that Hollywood has become, burping and farting up remake after sequel after reboot, I think this reaction is most natural. Just when I feel completely and thoroughly turned off to the idea of such creatures, a sequel comes along that actually feeds me some curiosity and hope. Who better to supply such twin elementals of joy than Mystic Knight of Oingo Boingo founder and the man responsible for one of the greatest cult musicals ever created, “Forbidden Zone,” Richard Elfman?

Thirty plus years later, Elfman has created a fundraising page via Indie-a-Go-Go for this very special and unexpected sequel. The immediate question that may come to mind with a sequel to “Forbidden Zone,” is how? Most of the core cast, namely Susan Tyrell and Herve Villechaize, have shuffled off this mortal coil and given the Max Fleischer from Mars approach that the original possessed, one has to wonder, how could anything possibly live up to all of that?


But the stills, including Elfman himself as one fabulously scummy circus clown gone to seed, look promising. The premise is pretty spectacular, involving amazons, inbred corn-pone mommas, wee sized royalty, interracial romance involving a character named Pythagorus Jones, a giant army of cloned pinheads and Elfman's daughter-in-law and former “Dharma & Greg” star Jenna Elfman performing an aerial dance described as “ballet of the chicken.” Also, there are some great pictures on Richard Elfman's Facebook of his clown, Papa Jupe, getting wailed on by fringe culture/stage phenom Jesse Merlin (“FDR: American Badass”). Even better is that the music promises to be a mix of old standards with originals courtesy of Richard's younger brother, sonic genius Danny Elfman. (Whom any of you cool enough to be in the know will also remember playing the most suave version of Satan ever in the original “Forbidden Zone.”)

Interestingly enough, there's no mention of Matthew Bright, who was both one of the main writers, as well as pulling acting duty playing both Rene and Squeezit Henderson (under the exquisite pseudonym, Toshiro Baloney) in the original. But the fact that Richard is at the helm, along with smartly creating a universe of new characters, all of this promises to be anything but boring. This is one sequel that has all the potential to thrill one's black little crusty-cynic soul with big bright hope.