Monday, June 24, 2013

He is Legend - Richard Matheson Forever

RICHARD MATHESON - February 20, 1926 - June 23, 2013

The passing of Richard Matheson is an enormous loss. Beyond penning one of the most important works of fiction of the 20th century with his landmark novel "I Am Legend", he's also one of the most remarkable multi-crossover artists we've ever had. He wrote for WEIRD TALES, the seminal Pulp that propelled everyone from H.P. Lovecraft to Ray Bradbury to Robert Bloch into fame; then soon went into Television and most notably, alongside Rod Serling and Charles Beaumont, would serve as one The Twilight Zone's most frequent writers; and soon after would write a large bulk of AIP's most memorable Horror films in the '60s. The decades after were filled with new exploratory fiction and even a nonfiction book.
And the MOST significant of Matheson's contributions is one that's found in nearly all of his work, and it's the contribution that's had the greatest influence of all - whether he was writing a story about grandparents or vampires, children or serial killers, monsters or shrinking men, Matheson always injected a raw element of humanity to his stories and characters. Regardless of what other people thought genre fiction should be, Matheson took all the blood and grit that made Horror fun and applied real human experience to it. George Romero didn't say he ripped off "I Am Legend" when they made NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD for no reason.

If we had to credit one writer for championing serious emotional topics in genres that are widely considered to be trash, we would have to credit Richard Matheson. He is Legend.



One of my most obsessive traits is the constant feeling that I NEED to be in the right mindset to watch a movie.  It doesn't sound like a big deal, but I've spent countless hours in pre-viewing limbo, going through stacks of everything from Criterion blu-rays to bootleg VHS tapes that I've owned for 15 years trying to figure out the perfect thing to watch, the exact right movie at the exact right time - some call it madness.

Last night, after a rabid fit of indecision, I ended up taking a break from sifting that was so relaxing that I fell asleep.  Hours later, I suddenly woke up.  It was now 3 AM and figured I'd continue my search for the perfect movie to watch - when my yet-unseen Kino-Redemption blu-ray of Jess Franco's OASIS OF THE ZOMBIES started calling my name.  Kismet!

A couple of my Francophile pals likewise adore this one, while others (along with the rest of the human race) seem to think it's a steaming pile of crap.  I don't think anyone claims this as Franco's masterpiece, but because of its history and prominence (it was one of the first and most widely available Franco films on the home video market) it's been the false barometer by which some harshly judge the work of a truly masterful artist.  Regardless of its imperfections, I always liked OASIS OF THE ZOMBIES, and having rented the Wizard big-box a bunch in high school, I have nothing but pleasant memories of it.

That 3 AM magic was alive last night for sure, I soaked into OASIS OF THE ZOMBIES immediately and thusly became totally freaking hypnotized.  Clearly one of Franco's more "forced" productions, the film takes cues from Fulci's ZOMBI (though this amounts to no more than the zombies having live worms on their faces and raising up from out of the ground) and has a strong element of Adventure as the loose plot deals with competing parties in search of Nazi Gold.  The cheapness of the zombie make-up creates a wonderful smorgasbord of strangely artful designs, perhaps most of which is our friend above, whom at one point shows itself to be a faux zombie head literally being held up by a stick.  And obviously, I'd take these bizarre creations over any of the last decade's dreadful, over-done undead any day.

OASIS OF THE ZOMBIES is convoluted beyond belief, to the point where it's fun.  There's also an satisfying rawness to the cinematography by Max Monteillet - a thoroughly capable camera slinger who shot some of Rollin's finest films; namely LIVING DEAD GIRL and LOST IN NEW YORK.  And to an extreme degree, the blu-ray presentation from Kino-Redemption here is remarkable.  If you have even a remote sense of nostalgia for low budget films of this era, you'll no doubt be wowed by the glorious transfer this arguably-undeserving film received.  It's a definitive jobber in Franco's cannon, but that doesn't stop me from having a blast with this one. 

This is same thing people say to me when I tell them I love OASIS OF THE ZOMBIES:

And I love the actress who played Yolanda (on the right)!  She's in the film for only minutes but she's extremely funny.

Directed and written by: Jess Franco
Starring: Manuel Gélin, France Lomay

Sunday, June 23, 2013



A NIGHT TO DISMEMBER (1983), review by Mike Hunchback

America's 1960s maverick mistress of Exploitation Doris Wishman continued making films all throughout her life.  She filmed nearly all of A NIGHT TO DISMEMBER in 1979 with Samantha Fox starring, and allegedly before it was finished the film was destroyed by an employee at the going-out-of-business lab where the film was being processed.  Over three years later, the nearly 100% re-shot version that we know today was released.  The result is an awesome hodge-podge of gore, ineptitude, and narration - LOTS of narration.  If you're familiar with Wishman's '60s output you know her penchant of filming silently (often avoiding the face of whoever's speaking), overdubbing EVERYTHING in post-production.  She was insistent that this practice was essential to the artistic integrity of her work.  No, just kidding, it was because it was much cheaper and easier to overdub ALL dialogue.  Not that it works for even one moment mind you - but it was definitely cheaper and easier.

A NIGHT TO DISMEMBER resides comfortably in my own personal "SHIT-HORROR-MIND-FUCK" category, reserved exclusively for these bizarre no-budget gems wherein the chaotic mess of elements that makes up the film is so confusing and/or unfinished that almost everything that happens is fascinating because you have no clue why the hell it's happening.  The opening exposition of A NIGHT TO DISMEMBER feels like it goes on for maybe 40 minutes, madly switching time-periods and characters while constant narration over-explains it into total freaking nonsense.  The brain-numbing spectacle of super-boring walking around and the back of the head of whoever's talking  frequently alternates to the best non-effects gore this side of Andy Milligan.  Completely confounding displays of blood splatter and hacked-at rubber limbs lovingly crash into flesh getting ripped or stabbed, the red stuff pouring out in gobs for Gorehounds everywhere to praise.  As with the best of Wishman's work, A NIGHT TO DISMEMBER is one of those movies that makes the filmmaker's utter contempt for humanity obvious to its audience.  It's as if Doris thought that anyone watching A NIGHT TO DISMEMBER didn't deserve a good movie, so fuck 'em ... and I couldn't be happier for it.


Directed by: Doris Wishman
Written by: Judy J. Kushner
Staring: Samantha Fox, Diane Cummins, Saul Meth


THE WITCHING (1993), review by Mike Hunchback
 - with special thanks to Horror Boobs -

The glut of movies made for the SOV market is staggering, comparable to the teenage garage band phenomenon of the mid-sixties wherein kids from all over the world banged out privately pressed two song 45s in droves so vast that we still regularly uncover new material 50-plus years later.  One of many films coming out from prevalent '90s SOV companies at the time, THE WITCHING is a surprisingly fun entry into the world of shot/released on video Horror and is notable slightly for its behind-the-camera involvement of prolific video-meister Todd Sheets.  This one stood out to me foremost because of the rather well-written screenplay, which packs in tons of wildly over-the-top expressions and tongue-in-cheek troop-rallying one-liners; all delivered from the actors of THE WITCHING with surprisingly studied bravado. 

There's a few sublime moments in THE WITCHING.  While most of the Horror elements are very simple (Halloween masks and bubble-gum-machine green slime) there's still a couple shots that have that infinitely cool, Horror-hearted,  home-made, no-budget SOV magic - the french call it "je ne sais quoi".  Most memorable being the appearance of a white-faced Demoness in the family TV room, smoke swirling around her ethereally as she cackles at our verbose heroes.  There's some exceedingly creative cursing:

"You called me dickweed for no reason!"

"I ALWAYS call you dickweed for no reason."

"Yeah, but this time you sounded like you meant it!"

But apart from that, THE WITCHING is pretty clean and largely stays within the bounds of juvenile goofiness (Grandma is so senile she thinks the long-dead family dog is alive and well, and talks cute to it as she drags it around by its leash!).  It's also not a gore-fest - but the light-hearted momentum created by the obsessive campy writing will compel most from beginning to end.

Directed and Written by: Eric Black  Matthew Jason Walsh
Starring:  Auggi Alvarez, Mike Hellman, Frank Dunlay,

Dianne O'Connell, Carol Barta, Dana Pace, Veronica Orr

Friday, June 21, 2013

MANIAC (2012)

MANIAC (2012), review by Mike Hunchback

I WISH Someone Warned Me Not To Go Out Tonite ...

Tobe Hooper, George Romero, Wes Craven, William Lustig, and so many more, did not at first choose to remain outside of the Hollywood system.  They just wanted to make movies no matter what, and their pre-filmmaking status as nobodies allowed them no choice but to do so independently.  Among their celebrated efforts are TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, DAWN OF THE DEAD, LAST HOUSE ON THE THE LEFT and MANIAC - films that Hollywood would never have made at the time of their original releases, now all remade as big budget, big studio, nation-wide A films.

Sure, there's a feeling of offensiveness to remakes in general for Horror fans.  Though the argument isn't totally solid, Carpenter's remake of THE THING being the glaring example of the potential for remakes.  So why is it these remakes bother us so much?

The remake of MANIAC is an excellent example of why.  When I was in High School, my friends and I were obsessed with William Lustig's original MANIAC.  Obsessed, seriously.  We watched it over and over, showed it to everyone we could, wrote songs about, it quoted it (and its ad campaign) constantly - it was a little more than crazy now that I think about it. 

The discussion of whether or not we thought MANIAC was "so bad it was good" or funny because it was so over-the-top eventually did come up, and I remember distinctly walking with my friend Eliezer and having a discussion that went something like this:

Me:  "Do you like MANIAC because you think it's funny?"

Eliezer:  "Um, no - but I don't take it too seriously either -"

Me:  "Yeah same here.  It's just like ... I think it's good, you know?  There's something about it."

I've always been a little obsessed by that line-drawing most of us seem to do, wherein we deem certain feelings of enjoyment as legitimate and others as embarrassing.  The thing was, we liked the original MANIAC.  We just did; we saw it at the right time, we loved Joe Spinell, we loved how New York City looked in all the grimy glory we could half-remember from seeing it as kids.  And, we were Gorehounds who's appetite had rarely been whetted as it was with Lustig's MANIAC.  The tones injected into MANIAC when it was made were so stylistic (it looks more incredible as the years go on) and earnest (particularly Spinell's acting) that 15 years later kids picked up the VHS and were able to get something out of it.  We didn't want something completely, actually, mindless - we never gravitated to the post-Mondo world of actual atrocity (too boring); no, we needed something with bite, something with character, and most of all something that had a filmmaker's personal stamp on it somehow - a practice which Hollywood films have barely had for decades.

I was open to Franck Kalphoun's 2012 remake of MANIAC, hoping it would somehow do something daring and fresh with Lustig and Spinell's baby.  Unfortunately, the elements taken from the original MANIAC are simply: a weird guy who has issues with mother kills a bunch of women and owns mannequins.  The griminess and raw, celebratory violence of the original film is traded in for super-fancy, super-clean, super-serious typical drek.  On almost every level, MANIAC 2012 was awful, the performances being the only thing that I wasn't offended by.  And I don't want to spend more than one sentence discussing the film's nearly 100% point-of-view directing - let it simply be said that this drastic of a limitation isn't commonly applied to films for painfully obvious reasons.  

When Hooper, Romero, Craven, and Lustig respectively made TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, DAWN OF THE DEAD, LAST HOUSE ON THE THE LEFT and MANIAC, they were all both consciously and subconsciously angry.  As happy-go-lucky as all of these guys can be, the muck and mire of being forced to make films so independently inescapably affects the tones and limitations of their work.  Hence, all of these classic independent films' penchant for mind-numbing gore, dark-as-night tones and completely unrestrained possibility.  And really, that's what pisses off us Gorehounds - the original versions of these films were made with anger, with grit and passion - and sometimes desperation seeped into what was ending up on film.  That's why these films have a dedicated fan base, that's why they've endured.  Most of the films in the genre have not, for the same reasons the remake of MANIAC will be lumped into vague memory as so many other misguided remakes have.

MANIAC (2012)
Directed by: Franck Khalfoun  
Written by: Alexandre Aja, Grégory Levasseur, C.A. Rosenberg
With: Elijah Wood, America Olivo, Liane Balaban,
Nora Arnezeder, and Megan Duffy

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


ARGENTO’S DRACULA, review by Mike Hunchback

To All You Soft-Hearted Gorehounds Out There ...

The main thought running through my mind as I watched ARGENTO’S DRACULA was:

“You know, I bet people would like this if it weren’t a Dario Argento movie.”

Then I quickly realized:

“No … No, no one would like this movie.  Maybe no matter what.  Except for me.”

The only other film in his career it’s comparable to is of course PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, another misfire for those who for some reason think Argento needs to make another DEEP RED, SUSPIRIA, INFERNO, TENEBRE, or OPERA; or even another animal-themed Giallo.  In my world he’s done more than enough, his half-dozen-to-ten masterpieces trump many other filmmakers’ entire flimographies and bashing the guy’s movies seems like the most fruitless of fan boy activities.   So, though ARGENTO’S DRACULA  is maybe not his greatest film, it’s wildly unique in its excessive style, and basically looks like nothing else.  This, plus the almost-blind devotion to the intrinsic value of a good bloody Vampire film, without a doubt charmed this soft-hearted Gorehound.

There’s an inescapable preciousness to ARGENTO’S DRACULA, and in a way it’s the kind of preciousness that is normally woven into dramas or love stories.  Here however, the unabashed mushiness is aimed in the direction of Gothic Horror and to the small sect of us moved by this kind of open adoration ARGENTO’S DRACULA satisfies greatly.   This is a film that comes off as having no pretensions or concerns to please whatsoever.  For better or worse, this is a testament to the fictional world that Dracula lives in, a tear-stained love letter to lunch-table-loners who spend their weekends with their noses buried in a Poe anthology.  Of course this is the kind of thing that most find silly; but if you’re like me and you have a soft spot for Gothic Romance as well as no grand desire for Argento to re-establish himself as “The Suspiria Guy”, then you’ll likely marvel at the heart-on-sleeve-Horror-adoration that can be found in ARGENTO’S DRACULA.

Available at the internet's number one DVD retailer DIABOLIK DVD:

Directed by: Dario Argento
Written By: Dario Argento, Enrique Cerezo, 

Stefano Piani, Antonio Tentori
From Bram Stoker’s DRACULA
Starring: Rutger Hauer, Asia Argento, Thomas Kretschmann, 

Marta Gastini, Miriam Giovanelli, Unax Ugalde

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Part exploration, part confession, part magic trick, all Exorcism. Jess Franco Forever.

Jesus "Jess" Franco
1930 - 2013

When I was 15 years old, I wanted to place an order for VHS dubs of some rare Exploitation films.  I had been reading Psychotronic for a while at that point, and what was once an unidentifiable urge had manifested itself in the realization that there was indeed a universe out there of bizarre cinema, the likes of which I had not yet known.  There were these mystifying ads in Psychotronic, packed densely with way-too-small text and emitting an air of actual and genuine sleaziness. 

I had seen “Evil Dead” and “Day of the Dead” about a billion times, I had made all of my friends suffer through whichever silent German Expressionist film I could get a tape of, but I still felt there was … something else out there.  Something sicker, something more.  The unsavory titles that crammed the ads full were particularly indicative of this “other world” of film.  I only knew of a director named Jess Franco through the elegant, dreamy Vampyros Lesbos and his less popular Count Dracula with Christopher Lee and Klaus Kinski, but these ads seemed to have literally dozens of different Franco films. 

Curiosity had reached its breaking point and I needed to order some of these tapes … “Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun” what the fuck was this stuff?

In any case, in 1995 when you wanted something mailorder, you needed a check.  I filled out a sheet of paper with the films I wanted, got a little cash together and before leaving for school one day I asked my father for a check in exchange for the cash,  so I could get some videos. 

My father had been supportive of film fandom in the past, but after I left for school that day he opened that letter to see exactly what kinds of films I was going to be ordering - needless to say, that letter never got sent and I was scolded pretty hard when I got home.  I guess the ads in Psychotronic seem somewhat unwholesome to the uninitiated.  The memory of my defense is still clear in my mind: “This movie is by a guy who directed a Dracula movie with Christopher Lee, how 'bad' could it be!?”

As the years went by and I got old enough to make my own pilgrimages to Kim’s in the city, I saw dozens of Franco films.  Then dozens more.  My adoration for him grew - this filmmaker could hit notes of artful composition, powerful sexuality, and deep bawdy humor in the span of a minute - yet these notes were merely by-products.  Clearly Franco was a rare man who was actually using filmmaking the way a Jazz musician improvises.  There’s a part of the infrastructure of a “song”, it has the melody sometimes, there’s echoes of a familiar riff, you hear the hook now and again, but these elements are just part of that big dizzying swirl of emotion being poured out from the soul through a horn.

Part exploration, part confession, part magic trick, all Exorcism.

The feelings that are involved in my absolute love for Franco’s work are not only hard to explain, but also somehow too personal to externally identify.

Today though, a part of my feelings for Franco’s work has made itself clear.  If Franco’s uncountable contributions had to be boiled down to one singular notion, if we're to name one lone factor for which his work is valuable, it would be this -

In a world where we’re told to walk the line or fail; in a world where we can literally lose our livelihood, our comfort, and even our lives if we don’t adhere to the status quo, we are given strict guidelines for what “success” is.  The acceptable parameters of “success” are dictated around us with no room to experiment, and in desperate confusion so many of us lose the ability to ignore these suffocating lines of distraction, the daily battering rams that drive us into bleak repetition.  So many of us are so mesmerized that those among us who shout out are the “crazy ones”.

The thing I realized this morning, the thing I realized just now, is that when faced with of all this, despite these enormous and complicated pressures to conform; Jesus Franco Manera simply chuckled, turned his back, and made another film.  And then another film.  And then another film …  With his incredible history of ups and downs, deaths of loved ones and soul mates, studios and producers, money and no money and NO money, Franco never saw the option to give in.  I’d have to guess that that idea never even occurred to him.  He had his own terms for “success”.   His success was not born of spite, desire for recognition, for fortune - it was never about anything besides making that next film.  Finding that new place on celluloid, no matter what other people would think or say. 

Though it goes against our deeply ingrained idea of “success”, I’d like to offer a personal opinion that I will hold dearly for the rest of my time here, and that is that there is no artist more successful than Jesus Franco Manera.  And even more gloriously, to emulate his success means to permanently enter the terrorizing, blissful, un-ending battle of being true to yourself.  No matter what, always.