Wednesday, September 28, 2016

R.I.P.: Herschell Gordon Lewis – Godfather of Gore, Part I: 1953-60

15 June 1926 - 26 September 2016

"He seen somethin' different. And he done it."

A seminal force in the world of trash filmmaking, he is considered the inventor of the modern gore film. (In theory, a position he holds with David F. Friedman, but when the partnership ended Friedman's true interest proved to be sexploitation.) To use his own, favorite words: "I've often compared Blood Feast (1963) to a Walt Whitman poem; it's no good, but it was the first of its kind." And a truly fun gore film, too — which makes it "good" in our view.
Unlike Blood Feast and his "better movies", many of the projects he worked on are unbearable cinematic experiences; but more than enough of the others are sublime, otherworldly, like the best of Ed Wood, Juan Piquer Simón  or John Waters. Were it not for innovators like him, A Wasted Life probably wouldn't be.
One of the truly great has left the building. A career review will follow — but first, a few films that may or may not have something to do with the Godfather of Gore.

Look to the Land
(1953, prod. John Barnes)
At the Internet Encyclopedia of Cinematographers, on the page for Haskell Wexler (6 Feb 1922 — 27 Dec 2015), they point out that Wexler had something to do on an Encyclopædia Britannica short documentary entitled Look to the Land (1953), one of the cinematographers of which was a "Gordon Weisenborn", the director of this short, who later went on to direct the HG Lewis production The Prime Time (1960). The IEC states: "Gordon Weisenborn (= Herschell Gordon Lewis)".
If GW were indeed HGL, this Encyclopædia Britannica short would be one of the earliest films that HG Lewis directed.
Over at the Internet Archives, they explain the short: "Presents the viewpoint that America has often unwisely used its land and forest resources, that all people are dependent upon the land and must, therefore, be directly concerned with problems of conservation. Documents the misuse of these resources and the resulting problems, as the Wanderer (narrator) visits a New England farm auction, the Connecticut Valley, an Alabama cotton farmer, a Dakota farmer, a Wyoming cattleman, and a timberland region. Illustrates the interdependence of all the people in a river basin. Includes folk songs as background music."
Look to the Land (full short):
But you know what?! "Gordon Weisenborn (= Herschell Gordon Lewis)" is wrong! Gordon Weisenborn (20 Mar 1923 — 4 Oct 1987) was real person of his own, not a pseudonym.

Halloween Party
(1953, prod. Gordon Weisenborn)
Another Encyclopædia Britannica short directed by Gordon Weisenborn, not Herschell Gordon Lewis.
Full Short:

The Naked Eye
(1956, writ. & dir. Louis Clyde Stoumen)
A documentary about photography narrated by Raymond Massey. According to imdb, and various websites that parrot imdb, HG Lewis was an associate producer on this project — something we could not confirm. But if everyone thinks it, it can't be wrong, right?
The Naked Eye was nominated for an Academy Award in 1957 as Best Documentary Feature; it lost out to Jacques-Yves Cousteau's The Silent World (trailer).
The First 9.38 Minutes of
The Naked Eye:

Carving Magic
(1959, dir. HG Lewis [?])
Sponsored film from Swift and Company about how to accurately carve meat. According to Rick Prelinger's The Field Guide to Sponsored Films, this 21-minute or 13-minute film (it was released in two versions) was directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis, making this the earliest film we could find that he directed.
Recognize the men? It's Harvey Korman (Blazing Saddles [1974 / trailer] and Munchies [1987 / trailer] and more) and HG Lewis film regular William Kerwin. Among Kerwin's non-Lewis movies of note are the trash classics Six She's and a He (1963 / half the movie), Sting of Death (1965 / scene), Playgirl Killer (1967 / trailer), Flesh Feast (1970 / trailer, with Veronica Lake), Sometimes Aunt Martha Does Dreadful Things (1971 / credits), Dear Dead Delilah (1972 / Off with her Head), The Single Girls (1974 / trailer), Whiskey Mountain (1977 / trailer), Barracuda (1978 / trailer) and more, more, more.
Carving Magic for 21 minutes:

The Prime Time
(1960, prod. H.G. Lewis; dir. Gordon Weisenborn)
Aka Summer Madness, when later shown as part of a double feature with Lewis's directorial effort, Living Venus (1961). 
Plot, at Mubi: "A bored young girl (Jo Ann LeCompte) looking for excitement gets involved with nude modeling, drugs and a rock band." Also features the unknowns: Frank Roche, Ray Gronwold, and Maria Pavelle.
Mildly famous for being the film debut of Karen Black: blink and you miss her role as "Betty - Painted Woman". That's her to your left, below.
The Gordon Weisenborn page says, "[...] the first feature shot in Chicago in over 40 years  The Prime Time — with sequences that included skinny dipping, catfights and rockabilly. The film was produced and funded by adman, radio and TV producer, and part-time professor Herschel Gordon Lewis. The directing of the film has been erroneously credited Lewis, who would eventually go on to direct erotica and horror films."
Going by the full plot at TCM, it's a soap opera bad gal trash. Regrettably, we couldn't find a trailer online. But Jo Ann LeCompte (below) does look good. "A jumpin' rock combo plays "Teenage Tiger" (lyrics by Lewis, performed by "The Dodos")" [The Exploding Kinetoscope].
You can get the flick at good ol' Something Weird, where they say: "The Prime Time contains all the makings of a great j.d. grinder. The beat slang and a rock combo belting out the non-hit tune "Teenage Tiger" are alone worth the price of admission. [...] The Prime Time marks the first association of Lewis with David F. Friedman, billed as 'Production Supervisor in charge of Advertising, Publicity, and Exploitation'. Together they would collaborate on eleven more features and change the face of exploitation film history. A.k.a. Hell Kitten."

Go here for Part II: 1961-63
Go here for Part III: 1964-66

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Short Film: Ghost Burger (Great Britain, 2013)

Here at A Wasted Life, we love claymation. And claymation plus gore, even better. Way back in Aug 2009, as our "Short Film of the Month" we presented a bloody masterpiece entitled Bloody Date by the Japanese Takena Nagao. Among Nagao's many other claymation gore shorts is another (we thought) unsung gore-mation classic, Chainsaw Maid (2007 / short film). And that short, in a convoluted way, has led us to our "Short Film of the Month" for this month, September 2016, Lee Hardcastle's Ghost Burger.
See, a few weeks ago we noticed Chainsaw Made II (2010 / short film) [and, actually its sequel Chainsaw Babe 3D (2012 / censored film)] floating around the web, both of which use characters from Nagao's short, but are made by Westerner named Lee Hardcastle. (Dunno how much one filmmaker knows of the other, but as they say in German, "That's not our beer.") Personally, we don't find CM II as good as CM I, but it did lead us to searching out other shorts by Hardcastle, and we eventually reached Ghost Burger, perhaps one of Hardcastle's most ambitious projects to date, complete with rounded-out characterization, plot development, and lots of claymation and gore and sick humor. We loved it!
Oddly enough, Ghost Burger is actually a sequel! In 2012, Hardcastle participated in the "independent anthology horror comedy film" The ABCs of Death (trailer), contributing one of the most popular of the 26 shorts, T Is for Toilets (film), about "A little boy [who] is afraid of the bathroom toilet." Ghost Burger — or at least parts of it — are of a sequalistic nature, showing the further "adventures" of the boy, who survived his toilet experience ...
Be what it may, Ghost Burger also stands well on its own as a damn fine piece of goremation. Enjoy!

According to Wiki, "Lee Hardcastle (born January 21, 1985) is a British animator who specialises in stop-motion techniques. He is famous for his handmade independent animations. His work includes original remakes of emblematic 1980s action and horror films as well as parodies of animated series and video clips. His work is known for its violent and gory content." Gory is perhaps an understatement. You can watch more of his shorts at his YouTube page.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Airborne (Great Britain, 2012)

(Spoilers.) There seems to be a theme underlying this independent "horror thriller", and the filmmakers make sure you know it within the first minutes with the voiceover — voiced by the movie's international name "star", Mark "Luke 'I look like I need a drink' Skywalker" Hamill — which points out a universal fact: sometimes bad things happen to good people. And let it be known: if you are a good person, and you watch this movie, your action gives more credence to that statement. For: Airborne is a total piece of feculence, and if you watch it, you are submitting yourself to a bad thing.
The basic plot is so familiar that one can't help but feel that one has seen it before, perhaps on some ancient episode of The Twilight Zone (1959-64) or The Outer Limits (1963-65) or Ghost Story (1972-73) or Night Gallery (1969-73), to name a few familiar examples of the type of TV on which the basic plot has probably been used before. Wherever the plot came from, it was surely done better there. As written by Paul Chronnell (Dude, do the world a favor and give up scriptwriting!) and directed by Dominic Burns (a man best known for being a zombie extra in Cockneys vs Zombies [2012 / trailer] and playing "Alex" in  Strippers vs Werewolves [2012 / trailer]), Airborne is not very thrilling, not very scary, not very suspenseful, not very well acted, not very well shot, not very funny, not very enjoyable, and .... well, think of something that you like to see in a movie, and put the word "not" in front of it. As previously mentioned, Airborne is a total piece of excretion.
And that despite some nice faces that normally indicate the slight possibility of entertainment. No, Mark Hamill is not meant here, as it is generally his voice that can be found in an occasional good movie, not his face. Two less familiar names but more familiar faces that earn some whisky money in Airborne are the character actors Julian Glover (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade [1989 / trailer], James Bond For Your Eyes Only [1981 / trailer], Mirrors [2008], Tom Jones [1963 / trailer], Quatermass and the Pit [1967 / trailer], and Theater of Death [1967 / trailer]) and Alan Ford (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels [1998 / trailer] and Snatch [2000 / trailer]), both of whom must have been desperate for a drink the day they signed the contract for this turkey. Alan Ford in particularly literally phones in his performance, recreating the obnoxious loud-mouthed boss gangster character for which is basically known. (He is surely a one-take actor, because he surely is still in character even when he fucks up.) Gemma Atkinson and her boobs — seen below, not from the movie — are also in the film, but the latter remain covered and thus she makes no impression. (Besides, who knows her outside of Great "I only did it as a protest vote" Britain?) For that matter, no one makes any impression in this movie, other than maybe the guy who bashes his head against a wooden crate until he pulverizes both. He makes an impression and then dies. But that in no way saves Airborne from being a total piece of excrement.
But to give acting kudos where deserved, truly special notice must be given to director Dominic Burns for possibly doing the most unconvincing American accent ever while briefly playing the slightly plump passenger Bob. (Be proud, man, you were like totally convincing as whatever it was again you were. A teacher? Child molester? Weight Watchers representative?) Luckily, as Bob is the first to disappear, one need not suffer his thespian abilities and non-performance long. (One wonders if Dominic Burns shouldn't look elsewhere for employment, like in real estate or janitorial work, for neither acting nor direction appears to be his forte. Weight Watchers representative would probably not be an option, however, going by how his clothes fit.)
One knows that the Airborne is going to strain logic when a motley, tiny gathering of a handful of passengers fly out of an empty airport at which every other flight has been canceled due to an incoming storm and the flight control room has no windows. On board is also a mysterious crate marked "Fragile", and a variety of viable red herrings so that one is not automatically sure: 1). Who the killer is, and 2). That the killer is supernatural.
Yep, Burns & Chronnell have their cake and eat it too by cooking up a narrative that includes both a natural and supernatural force behind the mounting bodycount, but fail to either present or make any of it convincing. (Some things, perhaps, might have made more sense were the sound better, but it is as crappy on the DVD as Airborne is obviously low budget.) Why, for example, after thousands of years, does the evil spirit suddenly get out of the vase it's been trapped in for centuries? Some deaths would literally mean that one character had to be at two places at the same time. The mildly Muslim-looking, sudden-replacement steward (who flip-flops unconvincingly from wimp to manly once too often) is way too cheap a trick, and for his final scene he would have had to be able to walk through walls. The love bit between the good stewardess (Gemma, maybe?) and the not funny good guy (Simon Phillips) is also a bit gagging, but at least good for a giggle. How can it be that everyone and their uncle seem to know how to fly a jumbo jet? And why do none of the shots fired ever go through the target and pop a hole in a window or something? And can planes really fly straight when someone opens the emergency hatch mid-flight? Yep, Airborne is a total piece of shite.
In the end, however, above and beyond the technical and narrative and thespian flaws, the biggest flaw of Airborne is that it isn't interesting, isn't suspenseful, isn't much of anything other than boring. And as the supposed winner of a British Lion Award at the 2012 British Independent Film Festival  — or so it proudly claims on the DVD cover, as you can see, though one could well imagine the claim is a lie — Airborne is damming evidence that: 1). The British independent film scene must be in a bad way; and 2). The jury was populated by either friends and family of the filmmakers or blind, deaf and dumb idiots. (A jury of second- or third-cousin American Republicans, maybe? It would explain everything, actually.)
In any event, be forewarned: Airborne is truly a slice of cow patty.
Has nothing to do with Airborne,
but let's hear it for Cow Patti:

Monday, September 12, 2016

Duel (USA, 1971)

(Spoilers.) Whether one likes the big-budgeted mainstream compost Spielberg releases every other year is one thing, but what cannot be argued about the man (despite his ever-increasing number of filmic duds) is his understanding of how to make movies. Duel, his first TV film — one of two, if one excludes his Colombo episode, Murder by the Book (1971 / trailer), a rarely screened film-length episode of The Name of The Game (1968-71) entitled LA 2017 (1971 / fan-made trailer), and the even rarer movie-length failed pilot, Savage (1973 / music), before moving into the realm of theatrical releases with Sugerland Express in 1974 (trailer) — is probably the first of his projects to really give an idea of what was to come. For despite being written by the great Richard Matherson, the man responsible for such favorites as The Incredible Shrinking Man (1956 / trailer), The Pit and the Pendulum (1961 / trailer), Die! Die! My Darling (1965 / trailer) and much, much, much more, the success of Duel is arguably due less to the oddly predictable script than to Spielberg's effective direction. (Be what it may, the possibility does exist that the predictability of the story has less to do with Matherson's script than the fact that so many versions of the basic "terrorizing trucker" — or "terrorizing car" — concept have been made over the years that the plot has almost become archetypical.)
Starring Denis Weaver, a man who began his acting career in as the ineffectual motel manager in Orson Welle's great Touch of Evil (1958 / trailer) and is primarily remembered for his 1970's TV persona Sam McCloud, Duel is a visual presentation of road rage gone wild, made years before the term itself was even invented. The nightmare of every car-owning American comes true when Weaver, as the John Doe-like average man named, well, David Mann, an unprepared, unsuspecting and somewhat unsympathetic and wimpy businessman driving a red Plymouth alone across California, is confronted with a murderous truck driver who, for no apparent reason, continuously tries to kill him. Weaver's nemesis takes on an almost unworldly aura in that the large diesel truck is a filthy, old timer of unidentified origin and because nothing more than the arm or cowboy boots of the driver are ever seen.
Aside from the fact that Weaver passes the truck early in the film, the truck driver has no apparent motive for his single-minded murderous intention. Is the driver simply an evil psycho? A killer from hell? Bored? The scene in which the truck helps to get a stranded busload full of obnoxious children started up, however, convincingly conveys that the attack against Weaver is purely personal.

Despite how unsympathetic Weaver is at the film's beginning, Spielberg does an excellent job at getting the viewer involved in his plight. By the end of Duel, one actually begins to cheer Weaver's character on when he finally is forced to kill or be killed. Alive and alone, tossing pebbles onto the wreckage of the truck and his Plymouth in the raven below him, there is no doubt left that this man's life will never again be the same. The milquetoast is now burnt hard.

True, there are a few small flaws. Billy Goldenberg's music is abysmal, but then, there must be a reason why the composer has seldom moved beyond TV scores. Luckily, the score is used sparingly. Likewise, more than once the viewer is left wondering why Weaver doesn't simply turn around and go home, but after a certain point it is obvious Weaver couldn't turn around if he wanted to. Other small flaws, like self-repairing sunglasses and a nonexistent, forever-unpaid cafe bill also pop up, but the overall thrill of the film easily lets such minuscule mistakes, so typical of rush-job TV movies, be overlooked.

An excellent B flick that doesn't overstay its welcome and keeps you at watching, Duel lives up to its reputation as a good movie ... and extremely excellent TV movie. Originally running at 74 minutes, the film was pumped up to 90 minutes via the addition of a few new scenes — such as when the trucker tries to push Dennis Weaver's car into a passing train and Weaver's phone call home — and released theatrically in Europe. Supposedly, the short story upon which the movie is based is in turn based on a true event that happened to Matherson himself some years previously, when a truck terrorized him on the way home from a golf game.
Now to one day find out whether his lesser-known TV horror movie, Something Evil [1972 / trailer], is any good.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Clown (USA, 2014)

Less than five minutes into this movie, a relatively minor character named Denise (Elizabeth Whitmere, of The Watch [2008 / trailer]) states, "I hate clowns." We feel pretty much the same way. We don't suffer from coulrophobia, but nevertheless we have never found them the melancholy- or happy-looking creatures that populate the paintings of Camille Bombois, Walter — excuse us: Margaret — Keane, or the forgotten Chuck Oberstein (buy his work while you still can). We've usually found clowns to be scary and unnerving, maybe demonic or psychotic, like those found in movies as diverse as Spawn (1997), Zombieland (2009), Camp Blood (1999), Killjoy (2000), and Rob Zombie's filmic duet, House of 1000 Corpses (2003) and The Devils Rejects (2005 / trailer). (And that despite having known some professional clowns, all of whom worked primarily in terminal wards. Seriously.) Clowns simply make us feel uncomfortable — which is why the minute we stumbled upon the trailer above a few weeks ago, we knew we had to see the movie.
Much like, say, Tooth Fairy (2006 / trailer) and Darkness Falls (2003 / trailer), or even more so like Santa's Slay (2005 / trailer), Saint (2010 / trailer) and Rare Exports (2010 / trailer), Clown takes an icon and converts it into a horror movie. (We're still waiting for someone to tackle reinterpreting the Easter Bunny.) Here, we learn that the clown of today is a bastardization of an ancient demon known as the "Klein" (said "clean"), a cave-dwelling creature that ate children in the winter months. Yep, Clown is one of those rare horror films in which kids die — in this case, not just one, but many. (Reason enough to pop this baby in the DVD player the next time your siblings bring their obnoxious kids with them when they come to visit.)
Clown is also one of a sub-genre of horror flicks that is popularly referred to as “body horror”, a term that some claim was coined by the University of Glasgow's film journal Screen in Vol. 27, No. 1, Jan–Feb 1986, an issue devoted to the topic. (Less gullible and older folks might remember that the term "body horror” was already being used to refer to the early movies of David Cronenberg — his classics Shivers (1975 / trailer) and Rabid (1977 / trailer), among others — way back in the late 1970s.) Basically, such films deal with the uncontrollable, unwanted, and unstoppable mutation of one's own body by an invading outside force (vs., say, an outside force simply chopping one's head off with a machete). In such movies, the main character usually remains sympathetic and an object of pity up until the conversion is total (see, among many, any given version of The Wolf Man (1941 / trailer), From Beyond (1986 / trailer), Slither (2006 / trailer), Leviathan  (1989), or the classic bad film The Incredible Melting Man [1977 / trailer]), or death occurs (see, for example, Splinter [2007] or Thinner [1996]). Clown is no different, in both senses.
Here, the successful real estate agent but hapless dad Kent (Andy Powers) wants nothing more than make his son Jack (Christian Distefano of Cut Bank [2014 / trailer]), a clown fan, happy. When the scheduled hired clown can't show up, Jack takes advantage of a found clown suit to spring in and ensure Jack's clown-themed birthday party is a success. But the clown suit is not a suit: it is the skin of the demon "Klein", and not only does it no longer come off, but the demon slowly but surely possesses the milquetoast daddy. And daddy is hungry...
What sounds like a joke of a plot works primarily because it is played straight. True, the movie initially has the feeling and flavor of a black comedy, but even before the death of the first child the laughs start getting caught in one's throat. Kent's spiral downwards and loss of self, though initially good for a smirk or guffaw here and there, soon turns tragic, and the bodies begin to multiply.
If the narrative is not truly new or completely unexpected (to give credit: at least two scenes — both occurring in the motel room Kent takes refuge in — were unexpected to us), it is told linearly and economically, without unnecessary frills or cinematic excesses, but more than enough blood and, often enough, dry humor or unsettling horror. Indeed, a few disturbing scenes and interludes leave a nasty after-taste, despite being anything but gratuitous. How far would you go, for example, to save your husband and father of both your son and unborn child? Wife Meg (Laura Allen of From Within [2008 / trailer] and Hysteria [2010 / trailer]) is confronted with this question, in an interlude that is surprisingly uncomfortable on a psychological level. Indeed, though both Kent and Meg are basically one-note characters, they manage to illicit remarkable sympathy from the viewer, which makes the transpiring events all the more tragic and terrible as the movie progresses.
Clown is an effective and professionally made horror thriller that takes a slightly ridiculous idea and evolves from a drily humorous black comedy to an occasionally disturbing if not involving horror film built around the death and destruction Kent’s conversion causes. By the movie’s end, the not totally ridiculous plot offers everything one wants in a horror movie (suspense, fear, shocks, laughs, blood, etc.) and, of course, room for a sequel. We liked Clown, but then, we hate clowns.
Interestingly enough, Clown is one of a small amount of movies that had their origin in the faux trailer fad that followed the release of Rodriguez and Tarentino's Grindhouse (2007 / trailer) double feature (featuring Tarentino's snooze-a-thon Death Proof and Rodriguez's great Planet Terror). A select group, to say the least, as the only others we know of are Machete (2010 / trailer) and Hobo with a Shotgun (2011 / trailer) — though we are sure there're more. Supposedly, in 2010 filmmakers Jon Watts and Christopher D. Ford uploaded their fake trailer for Clown (found at the bottom of this review) with the blurb "From the Master of Horror, Eli Roth", a joke that tickled Mr. Roth's fancy so much that he ended up actually producing a real movie based on the trailer, this flick here. And while we do admit we used to sort of find Mr. Roth bonkable, we're not a fan of his movies (indeed, we hated Hostel [2005 / trailer] so much that we actually haven't bothered ever to watch another of his movies). To put it bluntly: thanks to Clown, we might finally give his other films a chance now — both Cabin Fever (2002 / trailer)* and The Green Inferno (2015 / trailer) do suddenly sound promising again.
Original, fake trailer
for Clown (2010):
* Still, can someone tell me again: for what reason, other than greed, is a film remade after only 14 years? (Cabin Fever, 2016, trailer.) What's next? Reservoir Dogs (1992 / trailer)? It's at least older and features a few dead actors...
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...