Sunday, 4 June 2017

Exclusive interview with filmmaker Keith J. Crocker




I’m honoured to present a new interview with Long Island filmmaker, teacher and historian...Mr. Keith J. Crocker. Keith is the director of The Bloody Ape (1997) and Blitzkrieg: Escape from Stalag 69 (2007), teaches adult education filmmaking, genre courses, and regularly does cinema and tv related presentations.  He is also responsible for two particurly important horror/(s)exploitation resources – The Exploitation Journal fanzine and the Cinefear website (http://www.cinefear.com/home.html).


In the halcyon days of horror/exploitation zinedom, Keith co-founded The Exploitation Journal. First published in 1987, what made EXJ a standout from the rest of the pack was that it featured amongst the first in-depth articles on Andy Milligan, Michael and Roberta Findlay, Jess Franco and Joe D’Amato. Back when hardcore fans of exploitation and drive-in cinema had to rely on fanzines for their information before everything could be found in one click, they could count on EXJ for carefully researched material written in an inimitable, entertaining, occasionally hilarious style (as opposed to the avalanche of tedious imitation zines that followed consisting of text ripped off verbatim from mainstream horror mags, repetition of facts everyone already knows ad naseum and sloppily-written film reviews).

Beginning as a typewritten, photocopied zine, The Exploitation Journal gradually transformed into a more professionally produced, desktop-published read, whilst continuing to fill its pages with quality articles on diverse subjects such as Victor Israel and AIP biker films and rare interviews with the likes of producer Don Davison, director Norman J. Warren, actors Mel Wells and Carol Speed, and more). As well as special issues dedicated to Spanish and Mexican horror films, American drive-in filmmakers, and The Last House on the Left. Keith also helms Cinefear Video, one of the longest-running sources for rare and unavailable films, operating since 1992. A collector’s site run by fans for fans, Cinefear is dedicated to first-rate, highly knowledgeable and quality service. If they don’t have it, there’s a 99.99% they’ll find it for you....


Keith’s debut feature film The Bloody Ape is an incredibly ambitious homage to sex and violence soaked exploitation cinema. Shot on Super-8 film, Crocker sticks two fingers up to the ‘keep it safe, keep it politically correct, keep it pretty’ brigade by giving his film an intentionally ugly, flawed, scuzzy look and atmosphere. The authentic no-budget ‘grimy’ look is welcomingly reminiscent of the works of such aueters as Andy Milligan, H.G. Lewis and S.F. Brownrigg, when one didn’t need $100,000,000, CGI every 2 minutes and daddy’s connections to make an entertaining film. Crocker goes to town packing in as much mayhem as possible in its 77-minute running time – the cast of scummy, repulsive charmers  hurl bile-filled insults around whilst the blood and sex-crazed Ape crashes around suburbia tearing limbs and pawing women. Following The Bloody Ape, Keith created a miracle out of a micro-budget again with Blitzkrieg: Escape from Stalag 69. Aside from being a throwback to the short-lived Nazisploitation craze of the mid-late 1970’s (with references to the Ilsa films and The Beast in Heat amongst others), Blitzkrieg was also inspired by the classic WW2 play-turned movie Stalag 17, a character-driven satire.

I first met Keith in 2013 when he found me on Facebook via a then friend of mine, saw that I was a writer specializing in European horror/exploitation cinema of the 1970-80s, and invited me to write reviews of Cinefear product. Along with John Harrison (interviewed elsewhere on this blog), Keith was instrumental in inspiring me to really get back into again (I’d been on a hiatus from 2007-13 due to personal reasons), something which I’ll always be extremely grateful for. Many thanks to KC for taking a break from his busy schedule to answer my questions. And as always, telling it how it is!!!




What is your earliest memory of seeing a movie theatrically, if you can remember the first film you ever saw?

The Albert Finney version of Scrooge (1970), which I actually had seen in 1971. I was six years old. My older brother took me. His girlfriend worked the ticket booth, hence it was a free ride. We sat in the balcony. I was scared to death (the hooded figure of the grim reaper was too much for me to take). The film was on a double bill with Blue Water, White Death (1971), which we didn’t stay for. I also remember seeing an awful Peter Sellers comedy called Undercovers Heroes (1974). It stood out because it was the first time I ever had seen naked women on the big screen (or naked women in general).

How and when did you discover and really get into horror/trash/cult cinema?

As a youth, my family tended to watch TV programming as there was six of us kids to keep amused. We watched Chiller Theater, which showed horror movies on our local station channel 11. This show ran from the 60’s through the early 80’s. The movies horrified yet they stayed in my conscience collectively. They were therapeutic; they helped me get over childhood fears. We’re talking movies like Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931). But the movie that scared the hell out of me was The Beast With Five Fingers (1947). That severed hand crawling about sent me over the edge. I swore that hand was going to come creeping up my wall. In the theater I was seeing movies like Burnt Offerings (1976), The Tenant (1976) and Tidal Wave (1975).

Then we got cable vision. There was a channel called Escapade. This channel would later become the Playboy channel, at that point it turned to shit. But as Escapade, it was my film education. They took movies straight out of the drive-in and right into my home. I had a chance to see all the Corman Nurse pictures. I got to see the Russ Meyer films. Italian gangster movies like Ricco, The Mean Machine (1973). Here it was re-titled Cauldron of Death. I got to see the Radley Metzger films. My mind was blown, I wasn’t coming back. Then I had seen a double bill of Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Freaks (1932) in a theater in 1978. I decided I would be a filmmaker from that point on.

When did you first discover a like-minded ‘community’ of fans/collectors of these films whom you could correspond and collaborate with?

Not until I went to college. I certainly had friends in primary school that liked horror and sci-fi, but none that were passionate enough to seek it out or make it. So it was in collage that I really started to meet people who could be called fans. Prior to that I was making films with friends, but you could quickly lose friends putting them in your films (LOL). In college we were all there for the same reason.


What are your fondest memories of your time as co-founder, editor and writer of THE EXPLOITATION JOURNAL, one of the best and most respected genre fanzines of the 1980s and 90s?

I’m very proud of every venture I entered into. The Exploitation Journal is one of those ventures that I’ll adore and hold close to my heart till my dying day. The EXJ started with Joe Parda and myself in 1987. It was our way of informing and lightening up a very close-minded film department. In many ways, when it began, it was the college’s unofficial school newspaper. Finally, the college could no longer ignore it and wanted us to produce it on their grounds provided we open it up to the whole film department. We didn’t want to do that, we felt it would ruin what we set out to do, so we refused. We ran an exploitation film festival at the college. We used a projection unit hooked up to a VCR. The video boom was at its height. We showed Caged Heat, Forbidden World, Erotikill (Loves of Irina) and Night of the Bloody Apes. The folks who attended this festival were gob smacked. They had no clue what hit them. It was truly a highlight of my life. I did 25 total issues of EXJ. The first eight we sold mail order. Then we picked up distribution. Parda worked on issues 1 through 15. George Reis worked on issues 16, then volume 2, 1-7. Then I did volume 3, 1-3 solo. I brought it in for a landing in 2005. All our distributors were out of business. The fanzine was over. It was great while it lasted.

What’s the most extreme reaction to a horror/exploitation film that you’ve personally ever witnessed?

That’s a very interesting question. Movies like Nightmare (in a Damaged Brain) left audiences numb. They walked out like they were run over by a car. I had seen Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein in 3-D in 1982. The audience went nuts, they ate it up. Most of them had remembered the 1978 re-release.  The movie that literally had people walking out of the theater was David Cronenberg’s remake of The Fly. Not since The Exorcist has a movie had that an upsetting reaction from a mass audience. It was one of the last really powerful films I had seen screened in a movie theater.


When did you first cross over from the VHS format to DVD?

I was a die-hard. My first DVD player happened around 2000. I bought it from a friend at work who was getting rid of his first machine. While I certainly grew to accept the world of DVD (I had to if I was going to continue running Cinefear Video), I had become so used to Beta and VHS which held domain for close to 20 years. I was also very leery of laser rot, I had seen what happened to laser discs and figured the same would happen to DVD. I had felt that video represented the types of movies I watched just fine. Certainly there was a lot you could do with DVD that you couldn’t do with VHS (namely all those extras they include). Blu Ray though is a whole other matter. For the type of cinema I like, it tends not to do those films justice at all. I honestly do not believe that exploitation cinema looks better cleaned up. In fact, Blu Ray exposes every fault imaginable in films. It takes away the shadows and often ruins the mood of a film. I’m not saying Blu Ray shouldn’t exist, but it shouldn’t be applied to all forms of cinema. For films already shot in HD, fine. For epics that were shot well, no problem. For Andy Milligan, not really. For H. G. Lewis, not really. Get my point?

How do you find the current genre scene in general as compared to say, two decades ago when it was the early days of the World Wide Web and still largely based around print zines and snail mail correspondence?

The world of fandom is and will always be ripe with assholes. This applies to all forms of fandom, not just film. But a fan base is like a window left open, you have no clue who is going to come crawling in. Pre-internet, you could always escape easier, you could get away from people you didn’t want to deal with. The internet is like an open wound that keeps getting infected. It exposes you to every type of poisonous person out there. Now, because I have to maintain a public profile, I have to be on social networks like Facebook.  Facebook, in my opinion, is a cancer. I have hundreds of followers, yet in all reality I wouldn’t want to know 75% of those people. In fact in most cases I have no clue who the fuck they are. Most of the people on Facebook are false faces, they are full of shit about themselves. Others are chronic complainers; they use Facebook as a therapy session, only no ones getting paid to listen to them. And still others use it to argue politics and religion, two topics that no one dares to raise at a dinner table simply because there is no middle ground there. Facebook confirmed for me my misanthropic mindset. But it also showed me that I’m 100% correct. That said, I honestly miss pre-internet fandom. Everyone was an archeologist in those days; we were all looking for relics. Now we’ve got people who want to be owners only. Fandom belongs to them and no one else. The Internet has made fandom petty.


What are your all-time favorite films (of any genre) and whom do you believe are the greatest directors of all time?

Freaks and Night of the Living Dead both blew my mind. My feet never touched ground again after those two. I had seen a theatrical re-release of the Exorcist in 1978, prior to my seeing it that film was a legend. Regardless of what I had heard, The Exorcist is a very hard act to top. I also had a chance to see a re-release of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre in 1980. I had never seen such an intense picture in all my life. If you notice, these films mean so much more to me because I did get to see them theatrically. The key to me is being able to see these films in a theater. The experience was just so much more intense. I also had the pleasure to see films such as The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly shown at a film festival, same with The Wild Bunch. Again, it changed the way I viewed film. I love too many films to list them all, and I love them for many different reasons. As far as filmmakers go; Alejandro Jodorowsky, Andy Milligan, Stanley Kubrick are just a few of my faves because they don’t compromise with their visions. I thought Mike Findlay was a super unique filmmaker. I love dudes like Chano Urueta, Rene Cardona Sr. & Jr., Rafael Baledon because they were Mexican surrealists forced into making Mexican commercial cinema. There horror films are just completely unique. I also really enjoyed most (not all) of Jess Franco’s out put, as well as Jean Rollin. Anyhow, folks don’t want to be reading weeks worth of my answers so I’ll stop this now (LOL)

You have an incredible collection of both movies and film memorabilia (posters, lobby cards, books, clippings, and much more). What are some of your all-time best bargains or freebies you had with obtaining these?

I was blessed in many different ways when it came to collecting. But first let me state that I never, ever really wanted to collect anything! It’s true, owning things does way you down in many respects. That said, I use my collection when I teach, so in many ways that helps me justify some of what I have. The first genre posters I ever received were giving to me by my brother’s friend, who knew I liked horror films. In that batch of posters were one sheets for Blood Orgy of the She Devils and Shadow of the Cat. We also had a poster dealer who had a shop in East Meadow. He was a gruff old marine who served in WWII. He had no or very little interest in horror film material, but he had tons of it. Of my greatest prizes from him was a one sheet for Snuff, which listed the films premier and the theater it premiered at. The poster cost me $2.50 at the time. Care to guess what it’s worth now? And that was pretty much his price range for movies of that sort; I paid $15.00 for a half sheet of the film The Man Who Could Cheat Death. There was also Big Reel magazine. Both myself and George Reis picked up 35mm trailers for movies such as The Incredible Two Headed Transplant, Lady Frankenstein, Master of Horror and countless others for $5.00 dollars a piece. One of those trailers goes for over $100.00 now. I’m lucky because I happened to be at the right place at the right time.

You’ve been involved with cinema as a director, writer and teacher for three decades now. What are some of your thoughts on the vast technological changes you’ve observed and adapted to in your involvement in these fields during this time?

Film separated the men from the boys. If we were still shooting film, the “Do it yourself” film market would not be over glutted. Any idiot with a smart phone shoots footage of something and then calls themselves “film makers”. Don’t get me wrong, there is a genius out there who more than likely can make a great film on a smart phone, we have yet to find them. I was trained on film, I hated the look of video, so of course my preference is to see film. However, technology and the world have moved on, and now it is actually impractical to shoot film. When digital video came along, I was happy because it was easier to attain a faux film look, hence why I shot my second feature on digital video. I’m not a fan of HD, I believe it is way too clean an image, and hence it’s a lot harder to set a mood when you can’t light a scene the way you’d do it if you were shooting film. That said, HD is a standard now if you want distribution, hence in the near future I will be forced to use it. The biggest problem with all of this home based technology is that a ton of idiots have invaded the arena but have brought nothing to the table. The worst thing in the world of arts is the “fanboy”. Fanboy filmmakers are a product of inbreeding. In other words, because there heads are filled with movies that are not their own, they seek out to replicate the type of movies they are fans of, not for a minute going out of their comfort zone and coming up with anything truly unique. Hence fanboy films have all the nutritional content of vomit. When I hear somebody brag “I’m going to make a slasher film”, the only thing that runs through my head is “why, it’s all been said and done to death”. Come up with something unique for Christ’s sake!


What general advice would you give to aspiring low/no-budget filmmakers hoping to establish themselves?

To be as original as possible, stop over tilling the fields, the field have been turned over too many times, there are no more nutrients left. Stop trying to recreate the past; it’s virtually impossible to do. Go forward, reach out to other subjects, and look to establish yourself as a force to be reckoned with. There are so many genres out there, so many subjects not covered, go out and fill in what is missing. Documentaries are about the only good films being made these days, so many subjects to document, and even more outlets for documentaries than ever before. Don’t go into this business expecting money. Don’t go into this business looking to be a millionaire. Those days are long gone. Go back in for the art of it, not the money end. DVD is virtually dead. Blu Ray is meant for specific titles with specific followings, and those sales suck as well. You don’t make shit with downloads, and downloads are hard to track. The film business has screwed itself royally; making money in it is murder!

What works or projects are you most proud of?

As far as my films go, Bloody Ape is the most popular among fans. I shot that feature on film, it’s had a reputation on the underground since the day it was released. It’s one of my most accessible films in terms of sheer enjoyment. It was basically my first child, and you can’t hate your first child. Blitzkrieg: Escape From Stalag 69 is of course my second feature, and it was shot on digital video. Esthetically it is my most accomplished feature, it miles above Bloody Ape in so many ways, yet it was only my second film. But I made it with my head in a completely different space than it was in during Bloody Ape; hence it’s a completely different film. And so it should. I’ll never make a sequel to one of my own films. I’ll never remake one of my own films. Every film should be different from the last one. Each story should be fresh and new. And of course, I bow my head to The Exploitation Journal. Getting those issues put together and out to the public was just incredible. Any asshole can blog. But not everyone can put together a magazine from start to finish and get it distributed. We did.

What are some of your current and future projects you’d like to mention? What do your foresee for the future of Cinefear?

Cinefear stays alive because I have a small but steady customer base. Most of my clients like to own films on DVD, they don’t want to rely on the world of streaming and downloads. Cinefear Video is 27 years old. I intended to hang it up at 25 years. But because I have no overhead, and because I have enough loyal customers who still appreciate my service, I’ll continue to run provided it never becomes an expense. The next film I’m gearing up to make is called Three Slices of Delirium. It’s based on two Edgar Allan Poe stories and one story from Russian folklore. It’s a fantasy film, very different from the other two I made. It’s also going to be a period piece and very expensive, hence crowd funding, something I’ve been looking to avoid. The other film I want to make is Rasputin on Campus. I’ve had this idea since the 1980’s. It will be my masterpiece if I get it off the ground. I have every intention to do so. But I am getting older and lazier, so lets see if my artistic side wins out or my lazy side takes over. Because I do have a fan base, and because my films have played theatrically, I do believe I can get both of these films sold. Also, I have an unfinished documentary on being a projectionist in neighborhood grindhouses. We interviewed quite a few industry people for it (folks like Jamie Gillis, Joel M. Reed and Carter Stevens among others). The documentary kind of debunks the fact the 42nd St was the only entertainment center of it’s kind. The truth was that wherever you go, every town had a grindhouse, every town had an area that catered to peculiar tastes. This documentary proves that theory. And yes, I’m already in the process of shooting what needs to be shot to finish that film.
Finally, name three individuals in the public eye, living or dead, who you’d invite to dinner and/or get blind drunk with?

Jess Franco (who I had met), Don Davison (who was my mentor, but I never did get to drink with him) and Ed Wood Jr (during those years where he was making porno loops). Each of those guys represent various facets of my life in some way shape or form, and I’d actually love to get them together for one huge party and let it all rip. But since they are all no longer with us I’ll have to dream on this….


Sunday, 14 May 2017

THE PYJAMA GIRL CASE (1977) review


The severely burned and mutilated corpse of a young woman clad in yellow pyjamas is discovered in an abandoned car wreck on a Sydney beach. Her face has been disfigured beyond recognition, and the only clues remaining which could possibly identify her are the pyjamas and a few grains of rice found nearby. Retired but restless Inspector Timpson (Ray Milland) is intrigued by the case, and sensing that the enquiry undertaken by his former colleagues is going nowhere – as they are more concerned with beating confessions out of potential suspects and wrapping things up as quickly as possible - he joins the investigation. Timpson's old-fashioned, methodical detective work turns out to be much more fruitful than that of the younger officers, and his efforts lead to piecing together the identity of the woman, Glenda Blythe, and unfolding the mystery of her tragic death.



Glenda (Dalila Di Lazzaro), a beautiful but troubled Dutch immigrant, has a rather complicated love life – she is having simultaneous affairs with fellow recent arrival Antonio (Michele Placido), a penniless but hardworking Italian; Antonio's best friend, slimeball Roy (Howard Ross); and the cashed-up Professor Douglas (Mel Ferrer). Glenda eventually marries Antonio, hoping that their union will lead to the happiness she desperately seeks. However she quickly becomes disillusioned as she sees herself and Antonio tied to their menial waiting jobs and living in a cramped Kings Cross apartment forever and resumes her liaisons with Roy and the professor. Glenda's impulsive desires for love, attention and the trappings of a comfortable lifestyle lead to her life spiralling out of control, humiliating sexual degradation…and to her brutal death. But who committed the horrific crime? Inspector Timpson knows the answer – but will he survive to see Glenda's killer brought to justice?


A stylish, unique murder mystery from former art director Flavio Mogherini, The Pyjama Girl Case is loosely based on a true crime that took place in Australia in the 1930's. Though often catergorised as a giallo, the film is one of the more unorthodox entries of the subgenre as it steers clear of expected key elements – there is no rampaging black-gloved killer, no trail of bloody, over-the-top murders and no baroque Italian architecture (the story is set in contemporary 1970's Sydney). Despite its lurid title, those expecting a sensationalistic, gory late entry in the giallo cycle might be let down by The Pyjama Girl Case, but the film is actually a highly ingenious 'whodunit', a fascinating character study, a police procedural, and a visually striking experience.

The plot is split into two halves; the first is the investigation into Glenda Blythe's murder, and the second is the story of the doomed woman’s life up until it ended (which is revealed in flashbacks). The pleasant, sun-drenched cinematography of Sydney's landmarks, beaches and parks contrasts sharply with the film's downbeat and occasionally voyeuristic and sleazy tone (including a memorable scene of the baffled authorities putting Glenda's naked corpse on public display in a glass case, attracting hordes of sweaty, morbid curiosity seekers). A subtext of the movie is isolation – in Glenda and Antonio's case having to adapt to a new, unfamiliar country (wonderfully realised in shots of the couple wandering around the strangely underpopulated city streets and Opera House, creating an alien, lonely atmosphere and dwarfing the characters by their surroundings).

The Pyjama Girl Case features a solid cast, the standout being Oscar winner Ray Milland as the cantankerous, world-weary Inspector Timpson. Milland steals the show by injecting humour into his character - his expressions and mannerisms when having to deal with a procession of oddball and sexual deviant characters are priceless. Dalilia Di Lazzaro is excellent as the doomed 'Pyjama Girl' Glenda; a former model usually cast as decorative eye-candy, clearly relishes the chance at actually being required to 'act' and though Glenda is often impulsive and irresponsible, Di Lazzaro manages to bring depth and sympathy to the role. Also worth mentioning are Michele Placido as the gullible, hopelessly lovestruck Antonio  and Howard Ross in typical oily form as meathead Roy, who gives the naive Antonio helpful pointers on women such as : "If you want their respect you have to slap them around a bit, treat them like dogs and let them know who their master is".
The Pyjama Girl Case is an innovative and successful rework of the giallo genre with an uncharacteristic plot structure, intriguing twists, and above-average performances, as well as an air of morbidity and quiet desperation that tends to creep up on the viewer rather than immediately pack a punch.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

'Lost Girls: The Phantasmagorical Cinema of Jean Rollin' to be published August 2017


I'm very proud to have participated as a contributing writer to the upcoming book Lost Girls: The Phantasmagorial Cinema of Jean Rollin, to be published by Spectacular Optical in August 2017. A collection of essays on the cinema of Rollin written entirely by female film critics and historians, this will no doubt be one of the most anticipated genre titles of the year.
**LATEST INFORMATION HERE INCLUDING PRE-ORDER DETAILS, FULL TABLE OF CONTENTS AND SAMPLE PAGES HERE**
https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/lost-girls-the-cinema-of-jean-rollin-film-feminism#/


From Spectacular Optical:

"...this collection of essays covers the wide range of Rollin’s career from 1968’s LE VIOL DU VAMPIRE through his 2010 swansong, LE MASQUE DE LA MÉDUSE, touching upon his horror, fantasy, crime and sex films—including many lesser seen titles. The book closely examines Rollin’s core themes: his focus on overwhelmingly female protagonists, his use of horror genre and exploitation tropes, his reinterpretations of the fairy tale and fantastique, the influence of crime serials, Gothic literature and the occult, as well as much more. Curated and edited by Samm Deighan (DIABOLIQUE), contributors to LOST GIRLS include some of the most important critical voices to emerge over the last decade of genre journalism: Alexandra Heller-Nicholas (SENSES OF CINEMA), Kat Ellinger (DIABOLIQUE), Virginie Selavy (ELECTRIC SHEEP), Alison Nastasi (SATANIC PANIC: POP-CULTURAL PARANOIA IN THE 1980s), Marcelline Block (ART DECADES), Rebecca Booth (DIABOLIQUE), Michelle Alexander (CINEMADROME), Lisa Cunningham (THE LAUGHING DEAD: THE HORROR-COMEDY FILM FROM BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN TO ZOMBIELAND), Heather Drain (DANGEROUS MINDS), Erin Miskell (THAT’S NOT CURRENT), Gianna D’Emilio (DIABOLIQUE)—and more to be confirmed.


Thursday, 13 April 2017

Interview with writer and film historian Robert Monell


Many rabid Eurocult film fans would have seen the name Robert Monell at least once when reading up on the subject, as he is a veteran film writer of four decades, and undoubtedly one of the most talented and prolific journalists specialising in the European horror, cult and arthouse genres. Throughout his career, his articles and essays been published internationally in books, newspapers, magazines and online. A few books Robert has contributed to are Francesco Cesari’s Il Caso de Jesus Franco, Tim Lucas’ All the Colors of the Dark and Jay Slater’s Eaten Alive: Italian Cannibal and Zombie Movies. Robert’s enthusiasm for cinema has led him to become involved with all aspects of filmmaking – he’s also directed and written short films and plays since 1971. Also respected as one of the world’s leading authorities on legendary Spanish director Jess Franco – his knowledge of the man and his movies has probably never been rivalled. He is the creator and webmaster of I’m in a Jess Franco State of Mind, which has been the number one English-language web resource on the cinema of Jess Franco for over ten years. Robert was kind enough to take a break from his busy writing schedule to have a chat...


What are your all-time favourite films (of any genre) and whom do you believe are the greatest directors of all time?

Hard questions. I am interested in all kinds of films from experimental, to genre, to classic Hollywood, to Eurohorror, to Japanese science fiction, to German expressionist classics like Nosferatu to B cult films of the Corman factory and even the Warhol factory era. The stuff that interests me the least is contemporary mainstream fare. Every year to two there might be one interested film. Haven't seen that many in the 21st Century so far, but I found Jim Jarmusch's Limits of Control, Lynch's Inland Empire and Refn's Only God Forgives very interesting. But they are hardly mainstream. I have long been fascinated by the surrealist school of filmmaking, especially Luis Bunuel's films of the late 1920s. Un Chien Andalou which he made with Dali, was a huge influence on my very first film, made in 1971. His grim Los Olvidados, shot in the slums of Mexico City is one of the greatest film's I've ever seen. Also Jean Cocteau's Blood of a Port and Orpheus, an idol of Andy Milligan also, who wrote a play about him. They were early Independent surrealists, funded by wealthy people they lobbied for funds. I like Pasolini a lot, especially Teorema, which was the first Art film I ever saw, and his period films like The Arabian Nights and Salo. I like people like Jack Smith (Flaming Creatures) who founded gay cinema and performance art, but he didn't give a shit about promoting himself, an attitude I appreciate. I also like extreme genre stylists, like Sam Peckinpah's explosive westerns and crime dramas and the Japanese crime dramas and blood spattered historical action films of Teruo Ishii. He was a real outlaw who also worked within strict studio guidelines. I don't differentiate between Art films, experimental, Hollywood, Japanese or Euro genre films, they're all cinema to me. Some people who like Art films from Europe look down on genre films like 2000 Maniacs or a Doris Wishman film. I don't. Doris Wishman's outtake masterpiece A Night to Dismember, is one of my favorite films because she breaks every rule of polite filmmaking to get it done her way. It's kind of a Z noir gore film featuring a hardcore actress who has no sex scenes. And it's only a bit over 60 minutes. I love short films. When I interviewed Ray Dennis Steckler, another series Z idol, he told me that no film should go over 50 minutes. I tend to agree with that. Recently I've gotten into the situational school of experimental films from people like Guy Debord, who had no commercial ambitions whatsoever. I also like Italian horror, specifically The Horrible Dr. Hitchcock, which might be my all time favorite from that school.

You are well-known to be one of the world’s leading authorities on the works of the late, legendary Spanish director Jess Franco. What are your own personal favourite films of his, and which titles would you recommend to a ‘first time’ JF viewer as an introduction?

I used to hate Jess Franco based on some US television broadcasts of some of his films. The two I remember most vividly were Count Dracula and The Castle of Fu Manchu, they both just seemed incredibly shoddy and lazy in terms of direction. I swore I'd never watch one of his films again, I was a big fan of Hammer horror at the time, but that all changed. The Franco films I really like are not the ones he made with Harry Alan Towers and Christopher Lee but his very low budget crime films and horror y sexo like Eugenie de Sade with Soledad Miranda and Lorna the Exorcist with Pamela Stanford and some of his 1980s films which are not well known. Also his earlier Necronomicon (titled Succubus here in the US) and Female Vampire, a very poetic film with almost no dialogue. His best films are purely visual and filled with classic jazz music and his own very bizarre compositions. I would recommend The Diabolical Dr. Z to anyone wanting to get into the world of Jess Franco. A good place to start, a fun, stylist and unique medical horror film.

How and when did you discover and really get into horror/trash/cult cinema?

At the Drive-in movies I used to go to in the mid 1960s into the mid 1970s. Watching things like Blood Bath, The Conqueror Worm, Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb, Destroy all Monsters, then the famous double bill of Twitch of the Death Nerve and Slaughter Hotel, Mario Bava's Kill, Baby Kill! also impressed me at another Drive-in visit. I saw Andy Milligans' Torture Dungeon and Bloodthirsty Butchers as a double bill and wondered how anyone could make such poorly acted and photographed films. Films like Private Parts, The Devil’s Wedding Night and Death Race 2000 were all mid 1970s cult films I remember seeing and enjoying at those showings.

When did you first discover a like-minded ‘community’ of fans/collectors of these films whom you could correspond and collaborate with?

In the late 1980s when I started going to video stores after getting a VCR and renting all kinds of things. I heard about "zines" and started to look for them and read them. Then I stated publishing my own reviews in zines like Blood Times, European Trash Cinema, Spaghetti Cinema, Euro Bis, Westerns All Italiana, etc. I've also had articles published in the Italian publication Nocturno and in books such as Eaten Alive, published in the UK and Il Caso de Jess Franco, published in Italy, for which I wrote the foreward. I also contributed material to the Tim Lucas Mario Bava biography, All the Colors of the Dark. My longest publication was when I wrote an entire issue of European Trash Cinema, Special #2, on the film career of Italian genre specialist Riccardo Freda. Before all this, in the 1970s and 80s, I wrote a lot of short film scripts, some of which I made into films. I also wrote a number of plays in the 1980s, some of which got staged readings. I recently resumed writing film scripts.

What are your fondest memories of your time as a contributing writer for Craig Ledbetter’s European Trash Cinema, one of the most respected fanzines of the 1990s?

Well, I had my own column, which I named Trashman on the Prowl, in which I could cover whatever I wanted. I had a lot fun writing about obscure genre stuff which wasn't available on video or DVD back then, and some of which still isn't. Also doing the special Freda edition was an achievement since it took a lot of time and research. I also am proud of an interview I did with the late Spaghetti Western actor Charles Southwood (Roy Colt and Winchester Jack) who told me a lot of interesting stories about working with Mario Bava and many other European directors.

Who are your current favourite film writers?

I try not to read other contemporary writers. There aren't many film publications I read anymore. I used to like Film Comment back in the 1970s a lot and some foreign magazines like Giallo Pages and Continental Film Review. My all time favorite critical writer was Susan Sontag, who wrote about everything from Japanese science fiction to Bresson to the New York Underground. Her piece on Jack Smith and the New York Underground of the 1960s is essential. I don't relate to the present day mode of conventional film criticism. It all reads the same to me. They all use the same words, phrases and have the same look-at-me attitudes. I do admire writers Alain Petit and Francesco Cesari as writers on Jess Franco and Roberto Curti on Italian Cinema. And Nzoog Wahrlfhehen whose knowledge of Spanish cinema is outstanding. 

What general advice would you offer to writers of cinema discussion and criticism wishing to establish themselves?

I would advise them not to get into film criticism if they think they are going to make a living at it and to write about what they are passionate about in a unique way and not read other contemporary film critics.

You’ve been involved with various forms of media for over four decades to date – writing for books, newspapers, magazines and online, filmmaking, directing plays. What are some of your thoughts on the vast technological changes you’ve observed and adapted to in your involvement in these fields during this time?

I started writing film articles for a local paper in 1971. I was reviewing mainstream US movies then. But mainstream cinema was much more interesting back then. I got paid pretty well. A few hundred dollars a week of articles, reviews and interviews. Then I got into magazine publications in the late 1980s, but that's changed a lot. Many have folded. The Internet has changed everything. I still make films, but with a cellphone! I still write scripts and have collaborated with the Russian filmmaker Alex Bakshaev on some projects. He's a real visionary. One of the world's best contemporary directors. A true original. It's more difficult to make films now. You have to make video, unless you're Quentin Tarantino. And there's a world of competition out there with the Internet. Hard to get attention. Even big budget films get lost in the shuffle today.

I know you’ve met a fair few individuals in the public eye – actors, directors, musicians. What are some of your most memorable ‘celebrity’ encounters, good or bad?

Meeting and having a few drinks with Nicholas Ray in 1972 was memorable. He was working on his experimental film in nearby Binghamtom N.Y. I met him at the Everson Museum and then had several meetings with him. He didn't seem to be in good health but he was very engaging and direct. He hated mainstream films as much as I did and I remember him praising Bunuel and some European directors. I also met Sam Fuller in 1981 and watched his German made crime film Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street with him sitting nearby. He was a great raconteur and he very encouraging to me when I told him I was a writer and independent filmmaker. He even gave me the address of his agent. He was very generous and had an anti-Hollywood attitude which I respected. He was a unique genre stylist. I also got a chance to have a number of long distance phone conversations with Jean Rollin when I conducted an interview with him in 1990. It was a bad time for him, he was ill and trying to find film work but he was very generous with his time and sent me a large package of behind the scene photography from his film career. He was a very gentle, humble and film obsessed person. A real cult movie fan.

What works or projects are you most proud of, and what are some of your current and future projects you’d like to mention?

Probably the European Trash Cinema issue on Riccardo Freda which I wrote and the web series which I wrote and was filmed in Voronez by Alex. It's actually on Blu-ray in Spain. Also some of the plays I wrote had some very good readings which provoked some memorable audience feedback. My main projects now are to complete a feature style film script and work on some fiction rather than journalism. I also got my name on the credits of a Jess Franco film, his final one. I never expected that and thank the producer, Ferran Herranz.




Friday, 7 April 2017

Tina Russell's 1973 autobiograpy 'Porno Star'


Thanks to Keith Crocker, I recently had the chance to read the ultra rare Tina Russell 1973 autobiography 'Porno Star'. At the time Tina and her then-husband Jason Russell were amongst the most prolific and well-known stars of the dawn of the adult film industry. Filled with her on and off screen exploits, Tina also had much to say about her co-stars and directors (thinly disguising them under easy to guess pseudonyms), including Harry Reams, Marc Stevens, Jamie Gillis, Gerard Damiano and Andrea True. Unfortunately only a couple of years later her life would dramatically unravel. Jason Russell left his wife, in a particularly cruel way, for the underage Jean Jennings. A shattered Tina, whose adoration of Jason is clearly expressed in the book, descended into a spiral of chronic alcoholism and depression, resulting in her tragic premature death at 32. Though largely forgotten today, Tina Russell is to me personally one of the most memorable adult stars because she had an inner and outer beauty, intelligence and charisma which stood out in a predominately generic industry. For a wealth of info on Ms Russell, the invaluable Rialto Report podcast on her life and death is a MUST.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

A chat with legendary Melbourne writer John Harrison





Next up in my ongoing series of interviews is a chat with good friend and fellow Melbourne writer, John Harrison. Also a film historian and collector, John has written for countless publications (including Weng’s Chop, Monster! International, Filmink, Is it Uncut? and the much missed Fatal Visions and European Trash Cinema). He’s also completed liner notes and essays for countless DVD and Blu-Ray releases, penned the best-selling Headpress book Hip Pocket Sleaze: The Lurid World of Vintage Adult Paperbacks, and contributed to the true crime volumes Death CultsBad Cop Bad Cop and Guns, Death, Terror. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of this local legend’s body of work...he also regularly introduces movies for Melbourne film society Cinemaniacs, self-published a number of fanzines including one of Australia’s very best, Reel Wild Cinema!, is an optioned screenwriter, and appeared in an episode of the ABC series Collectors.
One of the most talented writers in the cult cinema and pop culture fields, John’s work is never anything but top class. Anything with Harrison’s name on it is definitely worth seeking out as his writing is immensely entertaining, informative and enjoyable to read. He is currently co-writing two books on actress/singer, former Hollywood stunt woman, and the lovely Mrs. John Harrison Marneen Fields, and is also preparing to write the definitive biography of the extraordinary former evangelist preacher and actor Marjoe Gortner.

I first met John in 1998 when I stumbled across a copy of Reel Wild Cinema! when lending a box of zines from a friend. Immediately impressed by the mag’s writing and content, I wrote John a letter complementing his work and also included a copy of my own – embarrassing in comparison – horror/music/alternative culture zine Archetype Malice. John was kind enough to reply and sent me some back issue of RWC. In subsequent years I noticed his presence on the World Wide Web with his ‘The Graveyard Tramp’ Ebay store (formerly a mail-order business) and excellent blog Sin Street Sleaze, but it was only until early 2013 when I reconnected with him on Facebook that we became friends. This also inspired me to start writing again (I’d been on a hiatus from 2007-13), something which I’ll always be extremely grateful for. Many thanks to John for taking a break from his busy schedule to answer my questions!!!


What is your earliest memory of seeing a movie theatrically?
Hmmm, I guess my earliest moviegoing memory was my grade school English teacher taking me and a couple of other classmates to the long-gone Astrojet Cinema at Tullamarine Airport to see Conquest of the Planet of the Apes in 1974. He was a bit of a science-fiction nut I guess, and recognised that in me and the other kids as well. It wasn’t a school sanctioned outing or anything. My parents were fine with it. Can you imagine the uproar these days if a school teacher turned up at a 10-year-old student’s house to take them to the movies on his own?!?

It was a great experience. I still remember the excitement and anticipation, hearing the theme music and seeing the opening shots of the apes actually being projected onto the cinema screen curtain, as they were still parting as the movie started.

How and when did you discover and really get into horror/trash/cult cinema? When did you first discover a like-minded ‘community’ of fans/collectors of these films whom you could correspond and collaborate with?

It kind of relates back to the previous question and answer. I was a fan of comic books and TV shows like Batman, Superman, The Munsters, etc. for as long as I can remember, but a defining moment was when I was ten and turned-up for school one morning at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Primary School and our class was ushered into one of the houses which the school owned next to the property, where we were told we were being treated to a movie, thanks to a classmate named Bradley French, whose father was some programming big-wig at Channel Seven at the time. I sat there mesmerised as a 16mm print of Beneath the Planet of the Apes was screened onto the white wall, and my life as a genre film buff has never really been the same since! Not long after that I discovered Marvel’s Planet of the Apes comic book magazine and the Scanlons bubble gum cards at the local newsagents, which helped trigger off the collector in me.

Which genre fanzines/magazines you found of special interest in the 1980s/1990s?

I read Fangoria for a while in the 80s, those early issues were great, but I started getting a bit tired of seeing Freddy or Jason on the cover of just about every second issue. My interest in genre magazines and fanzines really waned in the mid-80s, I was more reading books like Michael Weldon’s Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film and RE/Search’s Incredibly Strange Films volume.

Thankfully, things started picking up again late in the decade, with the appearance of Psychotronic Film and, more locally, Michael Helm’s seminal Fatal Visions, both of which were highly influential on me, both as a fan and a burgeoning young genre writer. Then the 90s saw a real explosion in publications that had passionate, informative writing and a presentation to them that was somewhere between fan and pro-zine. Craig Ledbetter’s European Trash Cinema, Michael Copner’s Cult Movies, Tim Paxton’s Monster! International, Tim Lucas’ Video Watchdog, etc. There were also the UK magazines like Flesh & Blood and Delirium. The internet was only in its extreme infancy at this point, so you still had to depend on the printed word to find the bulk of your information.

It was a real treat going into Minotaur and Alternate Worlds and seeing their magazine racks filled with these magazines and more, while at the same time continuing to obtain the more traditional fanzines by mail, especially local zines like David Nolte’s Crimson Celluloid, Kami’s Sprak!, Dann Lennard’s Betty Paginated and Andrew Leavold’s Stumpy.
You have an incredible collection of movie and pop culture memorabilia (posters, lobby cards, books, figurines/models, clippings, and much more) What are some of your all-time best bargains or freebies you had with obtaining these?

Bargains are few and far between today, sadly. Sometimes you might come across a cool old vintage movie tie-in paperback at the local goodwill store. And when you find a cool item on eBay at a good price, outrageous postage costs will often sour the deal if the item is outside Australia. But when I was a young teenager in the late-seventies there was a shop at the top of Swanston Street called Space Age Books, who specialised in sci-fi/horror and fantasy books, and they had a box filled with original posters and lobby card sets that, even at the time, seemed like a real bargain. I picked-up lobby card sets for films like The Deadly Manits, Hammer’s The Phantom of the Opera, Blacula, William Girdler’s notorious Abby, etc. They were all less than $5 a set! I also bought a lot of individual lobby cards for various 1950s sci-fi and horror films, I still have many of them with their 25-cent price written in pencil on the back. Those were the days!

What’s the most extreme reaction to a horror/exploitation film that you’ve personally ever witnessed?

Hmmmm…I remember seeing a double of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Evil Dead at the Astor Theatre around 1984 and one lady running out screaming and retching during the climax of Chainsaw (when old Grandpa is trying to hit Sally over the head with his hammer at the film’s climax), and I also recall two women behind me storming out in disgust during a screening of Pasolini’s Salo at the Lumiere in the late-90s, during one of the periods when the ban was lifted on the film.

And putting on the Palace Explosive VHS tape of Bloodsucking Freaks for a room full of people usually resulted in a few interesting reactions. You often found out who your true friends were at that point!

What are your all-time favourite films (of any genre) and whom do you believe are the greatest directors of all time?

Among my constant list of favourites: Blood Feast, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Bless the Beasts & Children, Alien, The Exorcist, The Naked Prey and When You Comin’ Back, Red Ryder. I could easily rattle off another hundred titles off the top of my head when it comes to perennial film faves!

Favourite directors, for a variety of reasons, include Herschell Gordon Lewis, Stanley Kubrick, Terence Fisher, Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci, Russ Meyer and so many more!

You’ve been involved with various forms of media for a few decades to date – writing for books, newspapers, magazines and online. What are some of your thoughts on the vast technological changes you’ve observed and adapted to in your involvement in these fields during this time?

Obviously the internet was the thing that changed thing irrevocably, and both for the better and the worse. It’s great to have such an easy platform to be able to get your writing and thoughts across to a potentially huge audience, and with a bit of basic HTML knowledge anyone can build a really nice looking website or blog in an afternoon. And that is the blessing and the curse. Everyone has and is entitled to their opinion on things of course, as long as they are informed opinions I will always respect them, but there is also a lot more misinformation being spread, rumour reposted as fact, and plagiarism is more common because the internet has made it a lot easier for people to steal your work without credit or permission. Some people unfortunately still believe that because something is posted online then it is not considered ‘real’ writing, and is up for grabs with a simple right click.

The old hand-typed, cut, paste and photocopy fanzine took a lot more time to produce, and cost a lot more money and would be lucky to reach a couple of dozen people, but the end result really made all the blood, sweat and tears that went into it. It doesn’t feel that special to have a website or blog because everyone else has one, but not everyone has gone to the lengths of actually putting out their own hardcopy publication. I know that personally I felt a much greater satisfaction from collating and stapling an issue of my Reel Wild Cinema! fanzine together – laying out the pages on my bed, desk, couch and floor – than I ever have from posting a new blog entry. Though, importantly, I do get more satisfaction from my actual writing today, and obviously I am happy that my work has a chance to be a lot more widely read that it was in the old fanzine days.

What general advice would you offer writers of cinema discussion and criticism wishing to establish themselves?

Just to write about subjects you feel the most passionate about. Even if you are writing about something that has been thoroughly covered by other people, if you have a unique angle or perspective, it will always make your work seem original and fresh and engaging. Also, don’t be afraid of covering the more obscure subjects that you think may have limited interest – some of the best non-fiction books and articles I have read, and documentaries I have seen – have been about subjects that I had little previous knowledge of, or interest in. As a writer, it’s always a buzz to hear that your work has helped make someone a fan of something, whether it’s an individual film, book, etc., or a whole genre or body of work.

I know you’ve met few individuals in the public eye. What are some of your most memorable ‘celebrity’ encounters, good or bad?

Thankfully I haven’t had a bad experience with anyone, but some are more friendly towards their fans than others. Some of the best encounters I have had were with Fred Williamson, Robert Englund and John Waters. And getting to interview H. G. Lewis for my Hip Pocket Sleaze book, even though it was only via phone, was a dream come true. I also corresponded for a while in the 1990s with legendary sexploitation filmmaker Russ Meyer, and had a few entertaining telephone conversations with him. He invited me to visit his Hollywood home next time I was in the area, but sadly we lost contact as the dementia started to take hold of him.

What works or projects are you most proud of?

That’s an interesting question, and a tough one to answer. As a writer yourself, you probably know the thrill and pride you feel when a new project is finished and published, and often your latest work is your favourite. But then after a bit of time passes and you look back on something, you start to pick it apart more and think of things you could have done to improve upon it. But at the same time, that is a good sign that you are growing as a writer.

Obviously my Hip Pocket Sleaze book, which was published by Headpress in 2011, is something I am still immensely proud of. And I love the work I did for Something Weird Video in the late-90s/early-2000s, writing reviews of their amazing catalogue of titles for their VHS and DVD covers and sales catalogues. It was always a thrill when a box of five VHS tapes would arrive from Something Weird for me to cover – it was always such a delightfully odd, random mix of titles. There would be a gritty B&W sexploitation roughie (Olga’s House of Shame), a seedy and sick Harry Novak production (Hitch-Hike to Hell), a dubbed piece of Eurotrash (The Seducers), a collection of creepy old classroom education shorts, and a long-lost Ed Wood porn flick (Necromania). It was a real film education, and I am still proud that I got to be a part of this important film label, if only in a small way. My Something Weird video tapes are definitely a personal highlight of my collection.

But mostly I try to focus on my current and upcoming writing, and trying to make that the best thing that I have done, and the best that it can be.

What are some of your current and future projects you’d like to mention?

I always seem to have multiple projects on the go at any time, but that is a lot more preferable than having nothing to work on! 

Coming up in the near future, I have written the booklet essays for a couple of upcoming vintage ‘Ozploitation’ Blu-ray releases – Snapshot and The Survivor - being put out locally by Glass Doll Films. They are due out in March and April. I will also be doing an introduction to one of my all-time favourite films, Stanley Kramer’s Bless the Beasts & Children, when Melbourne film society Cinemaniacs screen it at the Backlot Cinemas on April the 8th this year. I’m really looking forward to talking about this vastly underrated movie, watching it for the first time in a cinema and seeing how the audience reacts to it.

I am also keeping busy with a number of book projects. I am currently co-writing two books with my lovely wife Marneen Fields, who is an American singer/composer, actress and former Hollywood stuntwoman. One of the books we are working on, Rolling with the Punches!, covers her film and television work in detail, with some great stories and recollections, while Cartwheels & Halos is a more of a biography that delves into Marneen’s personal stories of survival and inspiration, as well as her music and movies. A fair chunk of both of these books has already been written, and Marneen has an amazing archive of photos that will richly enhance the text. We also plan to do a few film-related events together, as we did in 2016, introducing a screening of The Gauntlet (which Marneen performed stunts on) and appearing on the TV Movie discussion panel at Monster Fest.

And finally, I have my own individual book project, Wildcat!, which looks at the film career of child evangelist-turned-actor Marjoe Gortner, whom I have always had a fascination for ever since I first saw him in The Food of the Gods when I was a kid, and finding out about his unique past only increased my interest in him. I have been busy researching and interviewing a number of people who worked with Marjoe over the years, and am attempting to track down the elusive man himself. Wildcat! Is scheduled to be published by Bear Manor Media in the US, hopefully in 2018.

People can keep-up with my writing and other projects by visiting my blog at: www.john-harrison.blogspot.com.au

Thanks!