Attack Girls Swim Team Vs. The Undead (C, 2007) aka Joshikyoei Hanrangun, Attack Girls Swim Team vs. the Unliving Dead, Nihombie 2, Nihonbi 2, The Girls Rebel Force of Competitive Swimmers, Undead Pool Okay, admit it -- you don’t really need to know any more about this movie than the title, and maybe that it’s Japanese. You’re probably already looking for a copy and if I’m lucky you’ll come back and read this review later. I know this because that’s what I’d be doing. Anyway, this Japanese shot-on-video exploitation fest follows the might-be-horrific-if-they-weren’t-so-silly events that transpire when Aki, a pretty-but-strange new girl in school, and the members of the girls swim team, are faced with shambling hordes of classmates and faculty who’ve been turned into zombiefied homicidal maniacs by injections of a supposed vaccine. The swim team is spared because the chlorine in the pool water counteracts the vaccine. In spite of this outbreak, Aki and another girl use birthmarks to determine that they’re separated-at-birth sisters, which for some reason inspires them to perform a long and realistic lesbian scene (marred only by the fact that Aki makes awful squeaking sounds when she has sex -- it sounds more like dolphin talk or even balloons being rubbed together than ecstasy). They finally join the rest of the swim team, who suit up in one-pieces and go on the warpath. Aki gets attacked by a flute player who can control her with his music (even though he doesn’t appear to actually know how to blow into a flute), but Aki fights back using swimming equipment. Be sure to stay tuned for the nonsensical-but-funny secret weapon scene. Overall it’s ridiculous and stupid, but it delivers pretty much what you’d expect from a movie with that title, so, score! Lots of gore (although it’s mostly of the cheap show-blood-splashing-the-wall-while-the-interesting-stuff-happens-out-of-frame variety) and everything-but-pubic-hair nudity. It wouldn’t surprise me if this was made by pornographers trying for a breakout project.
Gran Torino (C, 2009) Rumored to be Clint Eastwood’s last film as an actor, which would be a major shame because it’s a perfect reminder of how much I like seeing this guy on the screen. It’s kind of a combination of All In The Family, Slingblade, and Death Wish III. Clint must have made this in answer to all those people who clamored for another Dirty Harry movie while also making “get off my lawn” old-man jokes. Clint at 78 plays Walt Kowalski, a retired auto worker and Korean war veteran who’s just lost his wife. The rest of his family doesn’t want much to do with him because he’s a grumpy old grouch, and also a racist (although if the truth be told, he’s more misanthropic than racist, really -- even though he flings a lot of politically-incorrect language around, he doesn’t seem to have much use for most white folks, either, and he uses the same ethnic insults on the people he does like). So, he’s left alone in a Detroit neighborhood that’s being taken over by Hmong Asians, some of whom have been forming their own gangs as protection from (and then criminal competition with) other inner-city gangs. When the local Hmong gang tries to force his teenaged neighbor, Thao, to join the gang by making him steal Clint’s vintage ‘71 Torino, Clint has to start interacting with the neighbors… and finds out he likes them more than his own kids. He also finds a chance to undo some of his parenting mistakes by mentoring Thao, who needs a role model. But things get more violent with the gangs, and Clint decides that the only way the kids next door are going to have any kind of chance in life is if he takes some drastic action. It’s pretty predictable (I guessed the ending as soon as I saw the trailer) and shamelessly manipulative, but Clint’s got such presence (even being older and frailer he’s believably tough, and doesn’t have to pull off any superheroics) and the film’s extremely good at what it does; when it wants to make you laugh, you will, and even though I didn’t tear up, at least half the other people in the theater were grabbing for Kleenex). You won’t care much if you saw the ending coming, because it’s a good story, not a Shyamalan-style puzzle box. A definite crowd-pleaser, and hopefully not Clint’s last, because he’s still got it, big time.
Heavy Metal Parking Lot (C, 1986) It’s hard to say exactly what makes this simple 16-minute documentary so freaking great, but it became a legend in underground tape-trading circles, and most people who’ve seen it get obsessed with it. The first day I got a copy I watched it three times, then twice the following day. Most amazing is the simplicity of the whole concept: a couple of filmmakers took a video camera to the parking lot of a Maryland civic center on May 31, 1986, to film the crowd waiting to get in to see a Judas Priest/Dokken concert for their cable access show. What they captured was a time capsule, an incredibly hilarious unintentional comedy, a strangely endearing sociological document, a nostalgia trip for anybody who was a high-school metalhead, and a tape-trading phenomenon. The kids they interview are mostly drunk, silly, very enthusiastic losers, so high on various substances, metal, and camaraderie that they’re completely uninhibited and make total asses of themselves… yet it’s also basically harmless fun so you kinda like these dorks even while you’re laughing at them. You will witness such goofs as the Zebra man (a guy in a zebra-striped spandex outfit who rants against punk rock and Madonna while praising heavy metal), a goober with a Steve Perry helmet haircut who sings “Living After Midnight,” a jock-looking 20-year-old who makes out with his 13-year-old girlfriend, some scary (and horny) girls who want to “jump Rob Halford’s bones” (let us know how that project turns out), a guy named Graham (“like a gram of dope and shit”) who says “Let’s legalize drugs, that’s a fact!”, and others. Lots of embarrassing haircuts and fashion choices, worn-out Camaros, beer consumptions, and loud avowals that Judas Priest RUUULES! The DVD includes a lot of extras, including a great “where are they now” update (revealing that Zebraman now looks like Matt Lauer), plus similar (although not nearly as magical) documentary shorts, such as “Neil Diamond Parking Lot” and “Harry Potter Parking Lot” and “Heavy Metal Basement,” which is over 40 minutes of watching a middle-aged metalhead show off his memorabilia, mostly Judas Priest albums. That segment is way more compelling than it should be, entirely because the guy seems like a nice fella and his enthusiasm for his hobby is infectious. Anyway, even if you’re not into metal, this is a must-get film.
Hell Ride (C, 2008) If you’ve ever wondered what somebody means when they say someone’s “trying too hard,” you now have the perfect example rat’cheer. This movie wants really, really badly to be out-cool-style Quentin Tarrantino, Robert Rodriguez, and Guy Richie put together, but in the attempt it becomes cornier than a vegan’s dookie. In fact, it officially closes the door on a few things that are officially on-notice-as-no-longer-badass: slow-motion shots of guys casually walking away from something exploding without glancing back, a guy tossing a Zippo into a pool of gasoline someone’s sitting in, and guys talking while pointing guns at each other now have officially been done to death as of this movie, so dig the grave, hang the wreath, say your bye-bye’s. The dialogue is straining so hard to make every line Faster Pussycat Kill Kill-ish that it bears no resemblance to the way anybody actually talks anymore; it’s as artificial as Greek drama and has a fascination for playing with the repetition of words (if you can get through the “fire” sex conversation, the “number” conversation, or the “business” talk without rolling your eyes, then damn, you’ve got strong eyes). As for the plot, there’s not really one. Two bike gangs, the Victors and the Six-Six-Sixers, have a beef over a bro who got killed, and also over some keys to some cash that’s been in dispute since 1976. (1976, by the way, is probably considered a god by these filmmakers). All kinds of conflicts and double-deals lead to lots of riding, fighting, and shooting. In its defense, it is shot really well, and there are some great bikes, and the action scenes aren’t bad even if they’re pointless. The acting’s pretty bad even though the cast isn’t - Dennis Hopper, David Carradine, Michael Madsen, Vinnie Jones, Eric Balfour, and some talented lesser-knowns who are confined by having to act like cartoons. There are also some decent eye-candy female talent on display, too. It’s bad mostly because it had potential that was wasted, but it’s not boring, at least.
My Bloody Valentine (C, 2009) Sorta-remake of one of stateroom’s top unsung classics, with some great 3D effects to boost the octane. The plot’s basically the same, but it’s almost dispensed with so they could fit in more splatter. A homicidal miner who went on a killing spree after being trapped in a cave-in apparently returns ten years later to pick up where he left off. Wearing anonymous mining dear - helmet, gas mask, coverall - he kills about as many people as the running time can handle without just turning into a video game. The body count is massive and they’re not shy about the gore, either, which the 3D exploits to maximum effect -- lots of blood, eyeballs, and jawbone-chunks get flung in your face like you’ve got a front row seat on the night Gallagher loses his mind. There’s also a surprising amount of full-frontal female nudity. Even though the original has less gore (even the unrated version they finally released, which is splatter-laden), it had a lot more plot, characterization, and atmosphere, and it easily remains the classic version. Still, this remake shouldn’t disappoint anyone who didn’t have unreasonable expectations. The gore gets a little over the top, but manages not to come across as parody, which would have sunk it. The allure of this is going to suffer on home video, because the 3D was really the big draw (I’m a huge fan of the original, but since I know what the remake game is like, the 3D’s all that dragged me into the theater) but the pacing and splat should make it worth any gorehound’s time, even flat. See the original first, though -- it was a movie, while this is a pretty good carnival ride.
Tad: Busted Circuits and Ringing Ears (C, 2008) “I’m a jinx, I’m a jinx, bad luck follows everywhere.” No offense to Nirvana at all (they’re brilliant), but Tad is really the band that should have made Seattle a big deal. Unfortunately, this band’s phenomenal talent was matched only by their astronomical bad luck, which this documentary explores skillfully, from being sued over album covers (my 8-Way-Santa has the banned cover, lucky me!) to being dropped by record labels for weird reasons (right when they were supposed to get huge), to drug problems within the band. A very well-done production on a very worthy subject, who are unfortunately forgotten by most. I saw these guys open for Primus in New Orleans (they blew Primus away) and Tad had the crowd chant “Fuck Sub Pop” because they were supposed to send T-shirts for the merch table, and didn’t. More Tad bad luck! Help them make up for some of what fate robbed from them by seeking this DVD out.
Uncle Goddamn (C, 1987) Infamous underground “Redneck Torture Tape” filmed by a North Caroline family who amuse themselves by pulling really evil “pranks” on their drunken Uncle Robert. Uncle Robert appears to be a hardcore alcoholic… and with family like this you can understand why he’d drink. He passes out a lot, or drinks until he barely knows where he is, and theny spray his face with silver spraypaint, piss in his beer, wrap tape around his head and then tear it (and much of his hair) off, blow pepper up his nose, and repeatedly risk a trailer fire by squirting lighter fluid on him and setting it alight. His barely-aware response to all this cruelty is “Goddamn yew!” while his family all laugh it up. There are also scenes of other family members making idiots of themselves by yelling at wrestlers on television. This is supposed to be funny, but it’s really more sad and pathetic. Jackass is funny because it’s made up of willing participants, but this is just victimization of a pitiful wretch by a bunch of sadistic idiots. Plus, it’s so badly filmed that it gets on your nerves, with all the looping. It’s just not safe to give some people access to a camera. I got this cheap and it still wasn’t worth it.
Movie Reviews - Baby Cart at the River Styx, Baby Cart in the Land of Demons, Baby Cart to Hades, Badlands, Bang
Much of the footage was later used in the American dubbed release, Shogun Assassin. Second Lone Wolf and Cub film, in which Itto Ogami is hired to kill a man protected by three brothers known as The Gods of Death. Unfortunately, Ogami is also the target of a clan of female Yagyu ninja who try to hypnotize him with colored cloth, throw razor-lined hats at him, and even attack him with radishes. With the help of Daigoro and the infamous baby cart of doom, he gets past them, but is left near death from blood loss. After some touching scenes with Daigoro resourcefully caring for his comatose father, Ogami's enemies kidnap the child and almost toss him down a well. After getting through this pitfall, Ogami boards a ship carrying the Gods of Death, each of whom uses a unique weapon - one uses a metal claw, one mailed fists, and one a spiked club. The ship is set on fire, but Ogami escapes to face the Gods of Death in a desert showdown. One of the best in the series: existential, dark, beautiful, and very, very bloody. Don't miss a chance to see this, or any of the others in the series. (This film is more commonly known in America as Shogun Assassin, but in that form it's re-edited to include footage from the first Lone Wolf and Cub film, Sword of Vengeance. Narration by Daigoro was written & added as well.) -zwolf
Baby Cart In the Land of Demons (Color, 1973) AKA Kozure Ôkami: Meifumado ("Crossroads to Hell") Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in the Land of Demons, Sword of Vengeance V
One of the best in the Lone Wolf and Cub samurai film series. Assassin Ogami Itto and his toddler son Daigoro meet several men on the road who will each pay a fifth of his fee and tell him a fifth of his assignment; the catch is, he has to kill each of them in battle to prove that he's the man for the job. One of them even falls into a fire and relates his story while he's burning to death. On the way to his mission (which is to kill an abbot and recover a document that would destroy a clan), Ogami loses track of Daigoro, who gets mixed up with a female pickpocket. It's a very well-done subplot and perhaps the most powerful episode in the series: Daigoro takes a beating in order to teach the pick-pocket a lesson and turn her away from crime. Ogami does his job, even though he's got to go through a couple of small armies to do it. There's a little less blood than usual, but the fights are still amazing - brutally violent but at the same time artistically beautiful. -zwolf
Baby Cart To Hades (Color, 1972) AKA Kozure Ôkami: Shinikazeni mukau ubaguruma ("Perambulator Against the Winds of Death") Lightning Swords of Death (the dubbed American version), Lupine Wolf, Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades, Baby Cart in Hades, Sword of Vengeance III
Ogami is contracted to get revenge on a governor who had betrayed a clan lord in order to gain control himself. This governor tries to trap Ogami, but he underestimated him - a whole army isn't enough to take down the Lone Wolf, as long as he's got that baby cart handy. The third film in the series addresses a new problem facing the bushido system - guns - and set the trend of having Ogami take on an entire army at the climax. The finale here is probably the most memorable action sequence in the series, and the body count is astronomical and very graphic (one of the decapitations is one of the best such effects I've ever seen). There's also a powerful subplot with Ogami defending a girl who killed a pimp, even if he must endure a beating and water torture at the hands of the Yakuza in her stead, and another subplot detailing Ogami's respectful dealings with a samurai who worries that he's been disgraced. -zwolf
Badlands (C, 1973)
Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek turn in some of their best performances in this one-of-a-kind film based on the Charlie Starkweather murder spree. Charismatic (and weird) garbageman Sheen runs off with his girlfriend Spacek and they go on a killing spree that manages to be both chilling and strangely poetic. One of those movies you can't see enough times, so don't miss a chance to see it. Terrence Malick's direction is very unique and close to perfection. -zwolf
Bang (C, 1996)
This extremely low budget (I'd be kinda surprised if it was into four figures) shot-on-video crime drama is like a poor-man's Reservoir Dogs with a few low-brow comedy elements thrown in. Four police officers are kidnapped by some Crip-like gangsters with bandanas on their faces (but with holes cut in 'em so they can still smoke!) They're beaten up with nunchuks (wielded by co-producer El Timo, who's a really sinister-looking long-haired black man) and once an hour the masked guys come in, play some really bad rap song about "Little Boy Blue," and shoot one of the cops (I don't think they could even afford blanks - the shots are mostly sound effects). In the meantime the cops reflect on what bad things they did that may have brought them to this impasse (one stole some drug money, another messed with a married woman, one humiliated a motorist by making him wet his pants, etc.) - turns out they're all wrong. It's very amateurish but it's not all bad - it'll keep you entertained for 90 minutes despite its serious shortcomings (like pickup trucks that have to stand in for cop cars, etc.). The acting is decent, but the climactic kung-fu fight between co-producer El Timo and writer/ director/ producer King Jeff is one of the most absolutely hilarious things you'll ever see. El Timo and King Jeff also did the music and editing. Overall it's not bad at all for a home-job, really. I was never bored, and these guys make up for a lot with their obvious enthusiasm. The opening (reminiscent of the long waiting-for-a-train sequence at the beginning of Sergio Leone's Once Upon A Time In The West) is pretty funny and at least shows you that you're in the hands of guys who care about what they're doing. JeTi Films is based in Louisiana and also brought you another short movie called The Murder Men, which is also worth a look. Both are available on DVD in a box set called Livin' Da Life, which gives you ten movies on DVD for 'bout twelve bucks, so you can't go wrong. -zwolf
Movie Reviews - Baron Blood, Barood, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, The Battle of the Bulge, Bay of Blood
This is a Mario Bava horror film and that's the main thing you need to know, because all Bava is essential. A young man named Peter visits his ancestral home, "The Castle of the Devils," in Austria. His ancestor was the notorious Baron Von Kleist, who tortured to death hundreds of villagers, often impaling their bodies on the roof of the castle. Peter brings an old manuscript containing an incantation written by a witch named Elisabeth Holley, whom the Baron had burned to death. She left it as a curse to resurrect him from the dead. Just as a joke, he and Elke Sommer go to the castle and perform the ritual. When bells start tolling and something rattles the door, they revoke the spirit. Later they find a hidden room with a ruined portrait of the baron, and they try the incantation again. The manuscript is blown into the fire afterward so they can't revoke it, and a wheezing, pain-wracked thing in a black cloak and a slouch hat crawls from a grave outside. Von Kleist was subjected to a lot of torture before death, so he's in bad shape, broken and bleeding. He gets medical attention from a local doctor, then kills him and sets out on a rampage, killing several more people by hanging and iron maiden. Soon afterward a wheelchair-bound Joseph Cotton buys the Castle of the Devils and Sommer goes to work for him, restoring the castle while being stalked through its halls by the baron. They go to a local witch for help in sending the Baron back, and she invokes the psychedelic spirit of Elisabeth Holley, who says he can only be destroyed by his own victims. In a beautifully-atmospheric sequence, a little girl gets hunted through forest paths near the castle - in one brilliant shot she drops an apple and the camera tracks it down the hill until it ends up with a shot of the Baron's tortured hand gripping a tree. Joseph Cotton (doing his best Vincent Price) gives them a tour of the castle and springs a few surprises on them. Beautiful, authentic locations, a little gore (although rather restrained when you remember that just before this Bava had filmed the splatter-laden Bay of Blood), and a welcome throwback to Bava's earlier supernatural horror films. Baron Von Kleist is, of course, based on Vlad Tepes, the real-life Dracula. The Baron's makeup (by Carlo Rambaldi, who also made E.T.) and outfit are a nod to Vincent Price's in House of Wax. -zwolf
Barood (C, 1998)
Bollywood revenge flick in which a woman's husband was killed by a mob boss who's so ruthless he even puts hits on people who cut him off in traffic. For years this woman carries on a vigil, praying for revenge. Meanwhile, the gangster's daughter Neha is a pop star, but she's bratty and shows up late for a show, so the revenge-crazed woman's son, Jai (Akshay Kumar) - who, through a stroke of only-Bollywood-would-have-the-balls-to-try-to-suspend-your-disbelief-this-far luck, is also a pop star - shows up and does the show instead, dancing around with his pants on fire (and that's not hyperbole - I mean, the guy's pants are literally burning) to a song that cops riffs from "Smoke on the Water." Neha has her up-and-coming gangster (and son of a corrupt police captain) boyfriend Sanjay try to kill Jai, but they screw it up, resulting in some insane car antics (some of which you can tell are inspired by Mad Max - the rest are just madness, period!). Then some guy imitates M.C. Hammer and Michael Jackson to open for Neha... who, much to her chagrin, is teamed up with Jai. Even though Neha tried to kill him, Jai thinks she's kinda cute so he tries to strike up a romance with her. She plays along and goes skiing with him... but only so some more of her gangster buddies can try to snuff 'im. Jai kung fu fights a guy and there's a crazy ski-and-motorcycle (on snow?) chase, followed by a snowmobile explosion fest where Jai saves Neha's life. She regrets all those assassination attempts and tries to lure him back with some musical number that seems based on that "Hush little baby, don't say a word, mama's gonna buy you a mockingbird" song. Jai is a dope, so it works. His mom finds out that his girlfriend is the gangster's daughter. Also, the gangster has promised Neha to Sanjay. And if these weren't complications enough, Jai becomes a policeman and swears to avenge his father's murder, unaware that his fiancee's father is the killer. It's a completely impossible and unbelievable situation that'll make orphans of damn near everybody before it's over, but what the hell, it's a movie and they can get a lot of drama out of this kinda thing, so just shelve your disbelief completely and go along with it for the entertainment factor. Remember: Oedipus Rex ain't exactly plausible, either, and that's a classic. Plus, the crazy plot results in lots of explosions, kung fu, automotive mayhem, broken glass violence, double-crosses and frame-ups, gunfire, a dance number with people dressed in bug costumes, and plenty of ruthless vengeance. It's slowed up by the melodrama and musical numbers in some places, and there are spots where you may scream "we get the idea already, Jesus Christ, give it a damn rest!", but overall it'll probably kick yer chubby ass. If nothing else, check out the last 20-30 minutes, which is a very-ridiculous nonstop battle between Jai and a bunch of wrestlers and kung fu experts in a fiery RDX factory. It's some of the craziest action you'll see anywhere. Seriously - Ringo Lam would look at the last reel of this thing and go, "Well, that's a little excessive, isn't it?" -zwolf
This animated feature (an outgrowth of the TV cartoons) is much better than any of the live-action movies. While Bruce Wayne has personal troubles of his own (he's in love), Batman is wanted by the cops for bumping off gangsters. 'Cept the one really doing the gangster-snuffing is another caped figure called The Phantasm, who moves around in a mist and has a big blade for a hand. The Joker is all mixed up in it, too. Intelligent and well-written script and dramatic, atmospheric artwork... even though it's fine for kids, adults will enjoy it, too... maybe more than kids, since the plot is pretty complex and serious. The cartoon series did a better job with the Batman character than the "real" movies ever did. -zwolf
The Battle of the Bulge (C,1965)
One of those big-ass all-star war movies, this one serving up Henry Fonda, Robert Shaw, Robert Ryan, Dana Andrews, Charles Bronson, George Montgomery, and Telly Savalas, and its epic look demands to be seen in letterbox format. It's rather slow going for a war film at first, and sometimes kind of artificial (poor backscreen effects during driving or flying scenes, German soldiers breaking into song during inspection, phony German accents). It takes about an hour before there's any action, but then you get some fairly decent tank battles. Panzers are rolling in, crushing all resistance, and when the Americans try to blow up bridges to halt their progress, German spies ruin the plans. Then the railroads try to rush in some artillery to handle the tanks, and the Panzers put the quietus on that plan, too, making things look pretty bleak for the good guys. But, o' course, you know the Allies won that one, so the suspense ain't gonna kill you, unless you want to see what Hollywood solution they come up with. You may not believe it when you see it... Still, this manages to be some solid entertainment, even if it's not one of the WW2 masterpieces and not all that historically accurate. -zwolf
Paranoiac gorefest by Mario Bava that's not his most polished work, but still may be his most influential, since it's the direct inspiration for all those Friday the 13th movies, which not only took the basic idea - the stalking and slashing of thirteen victims - but copied some of the killings to the letter. Victim-fodder includes four goofy vacationing college students (including one big silly German girl named Brunhilda who's like the human equivalent of that girl rabbit who always wants Bugs Bunny to "give to me large kiss!"), a guy who collects insects (and makes friends with them), his tarot-reading wife, a guy who fishes for squid, and others. The killings (which spare nothing - this is groundbreaking gore) include machetes in the face, throat-slashing, two bodies speared while having sex, stabbings, stranglings, decapitations, and more, all in close-up and with Bava's wonderful sense of color and lighting. The plot is scant - people are basically snuffing each other over a piece of prime real estate - but the film usually catches criticism for overuses of the zoom lens. Eh... it's not a problem. All this... and a funny surprise ending. Not Bava's masterpiece (for me, that'd be Kill Baby Kill), but definite must-see stuff for splatter fans. -zwolf
Engrossing, action-packed war film following soldiers landing on an island in the South Pacific and slugging it out with the Japanese, who make them work for every inch they gain. Pretty gory for its day, showing limbs torn off and some pretty unpleasant deaths, making the point that war is hell. First they land on the beach under heavy fire, then fight their way through the fields and into the jungle. There they get a little rest, giving us a chance to see flashbacks (be sure to look for the romantic encounter that gets broken up by a father: he's probably the absolute worst actor I've ever seen - he only has about three lines and fucks every one of them up). The captain (Cornell Wilde, who also directed) has to try to keep everyone human and on track. They find out the Japanese number in the hundreds and plan to attack dressed as American troops to cause confusion, and they have to find some way to put a stop to it. Not a whole lot of plot, but other than that it's all you could ask for out of a war movie. At times it's artsy (lots of still pictures pop up to illustrate memories or fantasies) and at times it looks a little bit cheap, but I was never bored, and for that I have no reservations about recommending this one. -zwolf
The Beguiled (C, 1971)
Moody Southern gothic psychological pseudo-horror featuring the classic team of Don Siegel directing and Clint Eastwood starring. Clint's a wounded Union soldier who's taken in by a school full of Southern belles during the Civil War. They hide him and take care of him because he's stringing them along, using their loneliness to manipulate them. It works well as long as he's able to juggle them, but he's a little too horny for his own good (thanks to that hussy Carol, who's pretty hard to resist) and he gets caught by one of them. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and his little Shangri-la turns into a nightmare pretty quickly. Dark-themed and beautifully shot, with some surprising twisted stuff (Clint kissing a 12-year old, school mistress Geraldine Page using one of his injuries as an excuse for some sick vengeance, etc.) Very well made and packs a chilly cumulative effect, partially due to the very underplayed theme song which Clint sings (or mutters, really). Not Clint's usual action flick, for sure, but definitely worth checking out. -zwolf
A Bell From Hell (C, 1973) AKA The Bell of Hell, La Campana del Inferno
Obscure Spanish horror about a sociopathic guy who's released from the asylum and comes home. He takes a job at a slaughterhouse, then soon quits, saying he's "learned enough." Then he begins playing a series of evil pranks. The first is a weird riff on Saki's story "The Open Window" (look it up and read it, 'cuz I'm not gonna tell ya 'bout it). Then he sets in on his aunt and his cousins, who had him committed. Supposedly he wasn't really insane and they just framed him to get access to his money, but his behavior makes you wonder if perhaps the madhouse was where he belonged. He tells one woman that he hooked a microphone to her bed, then says he'll tear out his eyes out of guilt... then does it! But it's just makeup effects to horrify her. When she faints he takes off her underwear to make her think he raped her while she was unconscious. Then he rescues a girl who actually is about to be raped, so maybe he's not all bad. But he probably is, since he soon starts outfitting his basement as a slaughterhouse and then sprays attractant on her face and unleashes a swarm of bees. While she's being stung he terrorizes her daughters. For this, one of the townspeople sets up vengeance against him involving a new church bell. The movie's great but was apparently cursed, because on the last day of filming, director Claudio Guerin Hill fell (or possibly jumped - stories vary) from the bell tower used in the film, and that may be part of the reason this has slipped into obscurity. It was once a part of WOR's great "Fright Night" package, before their station turned to crap, and the videotape (also apparently containing an edited-for-TV print) could occasionally be found in out-of-the-way video stores. Sinister Cinema currently carries it on DVD-R, which is good, because it has some creepy moments - especially at the end - and deserves a look. -zwolf
Below (C, 2002) AKA Das Haunted Boot, U-5666, Run Screaming Run Deep
Basically, a ghost story movie set on a submarine during WWII. An American sub picks up three survivors from a torpedoed hospital ship: a British sailor, a British nurse, and a wounded German who doesn't last very long. They're going along, hiding from German warships, and deciding that the sub just might be haunted... as if it's not scary enough avoiding sonar and grappling hooks and depth charges, they also have to deal with record players turning themselves on, lots of bad luck, the ship deciding to steer itself, and mysterious crew deaths. The submarine-movie aspects overwhelm the ghost stuff and some of the situations seem lifted directly from Das Boot (which may be unavoidable; U-571 also cribbed heavily from it) but the dialogue is good and it keeps moving. Not terribly original but effective and well-handled. -zwolf
A Better Tomorrow (C, 1986)
A John Woo film starring Chow Yun Fat... and that should be enough to tell you that you should watch this if you get the chance. This was Woo's first big hit (it broke box office records in Hong Kong) and looks cheaper than more-familiar Woo/Fat films like The Killer or Hard Boiled, but it's still a powerful gangland saga with incredible bullet-riddled action sequences. Two brothers - one a cop, one a gangster - get at cross purposes when some mobsters kill their father in retaliation for something the criminal son did. Chow Yun Fat is a criminal friend - he pulls of a hit that's kind of similar to one he did in The Killer, taking out a dozen or so guys, pulling pistols out of potted plants instead of changing clips. There's a lot of tragic melodrama mixed in with the mayhem as the cop brother treats the criminal brother like dirt, even though the criminal brother loves him more than anything and has changed his ways. Things pick up by the climax for sure - total gunfire holocaust. Followed by a sequel - A Better Tomorrow II, also directed by Woo - and a prequel - A Better Tomorrow III: Love and Death in Saigon, which saw producer Tsui Hark taking over directorial duties. A little stiffer than Woo's later films (it sometimes resembles some of those old Italian gangster films, mainly in the editing, I think) but still with all the stuff you watch Woo for. -zwolf
Widow Ida Lupino runs a boarding house since her husband died in WWI (she's not that old - the movie's set in 1918) and her boarder is going on vacation as her new handyman, Robert Ryan, shows up. Her dog is suspicious of him, and for good reason - he's a train-hopping psycho who killed the last woman he worked for and doesn't even remember doing it. He seems like a pleasant-enough guy, but every time he has a minute to himself he twinges with madness, and it quickly becomes obvious that he's a seriously troubled guy - he's very fatalistic and has a persecution complex. Ida's bitchy teenage niece doesn't help matters any by taunting him, and he starts ranting to Ida about how the army rejected him and she figures out she made a bad mistake hiring this guy; he can't even remember where he lives and is just totally unable to function, and he's locked them both up inside the house and is getting increasingly bitter and violent... Very tense film noir plays out in real time for the most part, gets started fast and keeps on building, with stark, claustrophobic direction and a real sense of menace. -zwolf
The Beyond (C, 1981) AKA E tu vivrai nel terrore L'aldilà, L'aldilà, Seven Doors of Death
Considered by many to be Lucio Fulci's best film, this is a catalogue of extreme gore effects. The plot is similar to that of City of the Living Dead: one of the seven gates of Hell (this one under a Louisiana mansion) has opened, causing the dead to walk the earth and various other unpleasant supernatural things to happen. There's really not much to the plot - it doesn't make a lot of sense - but there are some incredible scenes along the way both artistically creepy (encountering a blind girl on the long, empty Lake Ponchartrain bridge, a house full of the shadows of the dead walking in the rooms (looks a lot like the famous "arrival of the exorcist" scene in The Exorcist) and astoundingly gory (eye-gouging - from front and back! - spiders tearing at a man's face in extreme close-up, dogs tearing out throats, chain-whipping avulsions, acid eating faces, zombies being shot in the head, etc.). I don't know if this is really Fulci's best film - Zombie seems to be the one I re-watch most often - but it's definitely a must-see for anyone interested in Fulci or in Italian horror in general. One of the greatest and most extreme gore films. -zwolf
Beyond the Mat (C, 1999)
Well-done documentary on professional wrestling was pretty controversial upon its release because Vince McMahon, owner of the World Wrestling Federation, fought to suppress it. Why, I'm not certain, because it doesn't say anything particularly bad about the business in general, and the days of "kayfabe" are over. The film covers mainly Mick "Mankind" Foley (and is partially responsible for him deciding to go ahead and retire from the ring, because he saw the effect that the brutal beatings he was taking in the ring was having on his loved ones who had to watch it), Terry Funk (whose career just can't seem to find a stopping place even though he's in his mid-50's and his body's wearing out) and Jake "The Snake" Roberts (whose career is on the skids because of his personal hell of drugs - he's a crackhead - and bad family relations). Other stars like ECW's New Jack (ya gotta love this guy... and be terrified of 'im!), Chyna, Spike Dudley, Koko B. Ware, The Rock, Droz, indy star Mike Modest, and other wrestlers and promoters get some camera time as well, and you get to see that even though wrestling isn't completely "real," it's not nearly as fake as you'd think. It's pretty tough to watch Mick Foley getting a huge gash in his head stitched up and not see that there's definitely a reality quotient. Well-done and should be fascinating viewing even for non-fans, although o' course wrestling fans are the ones who'll really mark out over it... as Paul Heyman might say, "This is a shoot!" The DVD also includes commentary tracks featuring Mick Foley and Terry Funk, both of whom offer very entertaining and informative info, as well as coming across as genuinely cool people who just happen to have psychotic jobs. -zwolf
Bhoot (C, 2003)
The title means "ghost" or "spirit," and that's what this Indian horror film is about. The story is pretty simple (and somewhat similar to the story in Raat, which probably influenced this film): a couple move into a new apartment, where the previous tenant had killed herself by jumping off the balcony. The wife starts seeing her walking around the house, which scares the hell out of her and eventually leads to her becoming possessed by the ghost, who has some unfinished business to attend. The husband doesn't believe she's just mentally ill and calls in a (spookily beautiful) medium to exorcize the spirit. The special effects are minimal (the possession is done with scary acting alone - no pea soup or make up other than dark lack-of-sleep circles around her eyes) and there are some effective shocks caused by ghostly people stepping out of rooms, etc. Use of music, sound effects, and camera angles maintain an ominous atmosphere, and the bit just before the end credits leaves you with a creepy feeling. It also includes (like Raat) a sequence in a movie theatre, which has enough overheard-dialogue from Spider-Man to possibly support a copyright-infringement lawsuit. It's not super-scary (although it probably worked better in the theatre) but is a welcome addition to the post-Sixth Sense ghost genre and hopefully will lead to more Hindi horror. This one - rather bravely for a Bollywood film - didn't include any musical numbers at all. -zwolf
Bird With The Crystal Plumage (C, 1969) AKA Bird With The Glass Feathers, Phantom of Terror, The Gallery Murders, L' Uccello dalle piume di cristallo
Early Argento giallo film, and the first of a trio of animal-titled thrillers (with Four Flies On Grey Velvet and Cat O' Nine Tails) that set off lots of copycat films in Italy. Tony Musante is an American writer who just wants to get out of Italy, but as he's trying to leave he witnesses an attempted murder through the front windows of a gallery. Since he's a witness the cops won't let him leave the country, and apparently the murderer wants to make him leave this plane of existence before he can remember the details of what he witnessed, because (as in Deep Red) something in his memory is nagging at him. Finally discovering the killer's identity obsesses him so much that he risks being killed to uncover it. Not quite the shock-machine that Argento later became famous for, but it's still an effective warm-up for those, and one of the trendsetters for giallo. Mario Bava's influence (especially from Blood and Black Lace) is in evidence, and it's also kinda spaghetti-Hitchcock. There's not much gore, but Argento makes up for that with wince-inducing situations, such as a suggestive knife attack and a razor assault that makes effective use of sound-as-gore. Intelligent plot improves with repeated viewings. -zwolf
Back in the 90's, when I was managing the Penny Lane in Old Town Pasadena, CA, store owner Steve Bicksler - whose love of classic animation made my interest in the genre seem a joke - hepped me to this 1930s classic: Swing Wedding, which includes some overt drug use that I'd never noticed, even though I'd seen it many times as a kid.
A trumpet player smashes his horn, grabs one of the valves - which morphs into a needle, and then spikes right into his arm with it! Wowzers! The whole scene becomes a chaotic, drug-hazed trip before the end of the 'toon... There are caricatures of Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, and many other then-current popular black entertainers, which would be very cool, except that they are depicted in such seemingly-racist style... Consider this an artifact of the long-bygone Golden Age of Animation...
I’m sure that everyone’s now aware that Amazon.com is selling something called the Kindle, a “wireless reading device.” It’s being hailed as “revolutionary,” “simple to use,” doesn’t require monthly wireless bills, holds 200 titles, is light enough to hold up with the crack of your ass if you have moderately strong glutes and a disposition toward weird behavior, and all kinds of other gizmo-freak-pleasing features. They’re pushing this thing so aggressively that you can’t look up any regular book without them cramming “Hey, y’know, this thing is available for the Kindle, the Amazing New Wireless Reading Device!” right down your throat. Amazon is touting this product with all the misplaced pride of a lunatic gloating over a bucket of dung. And, like baby sparrows, the public (most of whom seldom actually read) seems to be opening wide their throbbing little gullets for this thing as if a “wireless reading device” actually is a new and revolutionary product.
Does anyone really need me to point out that we’ve had wireless reading devices pretty much since, ohhhhh, bipedalism? A cave painting is a wireless reading device! Every paperback you own is a wireless reading device! Simple to use, no monthly fees… and guess what, budreaux, if you drop one of those mamajamas on the street you’ll still be able to read the motherfucker and won’t be out $359, plus however much money you’ve pumped into it buying titles. And for that base price you can buy a whole ton of books, especially if you hit library sales. And you’ll still be able to read ‘em in 10 years, by which time the Kindle will have been replaced by the next Gizmo O’ The Month (probably the SegwayKindle, The Book You Can Ride!)
If I can indulge my inner Unabomber for just a minute, let me lay out a pet conspiracy theory of mine (and, kinda, George Orwell’s, although I hate to implicate him for what might just be some old-man, things-were-better-in-my-day, get-off-my-lawn paranoia on my part).
One of the great tragedies of mankind was the burning of the library at Alexandria, and frankly I think we’re on the cusp of a repeat. This time, the fire will be dimmer and slower… only as bright as a cathode ray tube. And things like the Kindle are, appropriately enough, kindling. Short-sighted and trend-happy humans are investing way too much faith in e-books, Kindle versions, and an upcoming Google project that’s gonna bitchsmack the publishing world like something bubonic. Yeah, it’s “convenient,” it’s nifty gimmick-wise, it’s probably even fun, but there are so many drawbacks to this, it’s insane.
First and most obvious, the incredible impermanence of computer-based stuff. Ever try to retrieve something off of one of those old-school five-inch floppies? If you can find working hardware to load the disc anymore, then good luck finding the software to read it. Even 3.5’s aren’t standard equipment anymore. Still got Atari cartridges laying around? Yeah, I bet. But your Atari doesn’t work anymore, does it? You can but gaze whistfully at that Blasteroid cartridge and remember what fun was like. Well, the same thing’s going to happen to most of these e-books and e-journals in a decade or so. The media will change (CD-Roms are already quaint now, and hey, remember the zip-disk?) and the web will change and all that shit will be inaccessible. If you’d’ve gotten paper, though, you’d still have it. I’ve got pulp magazines from the ‘30’s, printed on the cheapest paper possible, and you can still read ‘em, no problem. Here's proof I scanned myself. Wireless reading device, no batteries required, will still work after society crumbles and the zombies take over.
Second, and more sinister, is the “Winston Smith Factor.” With e-books and e-journals there need be only one master copy on a hard drive somewhere that everyone will access. This makes it easy to change history, just by dicking with the master copy. If some agenda-driven fanatic wants to say the Holocaust never happened, or erase Charles Darwin’s facts, now they can. It’ll be a Wikipedia-world, where Big Brother is a convenient download.
To top all of this off, Kindle books and e-books are still expensive, even though you’re getting NOTHING. No product - you’re just paying for “access” which they can take away whenever they want in the case of e-books - and yet they charge you like it’s costing them something beyond author royalties and “publisher” profit. No ink, no paper, no transport, no distribution, no brick & mortar storage space, minimal staff (hey, it eliminates jobs, too - no wonder corporations are pushing this junk) and yet it costs you almost as much (or more if you count paperbacks) as the real thing.
While undeniably the height of human advancement technologically, this is still all part of the new dark ages. How much of history comes from letters people wrote, diaries they kept, contemporary newspapers and periodicals, etc.? Now we’ve got e-mail and websites that have the shelf-life of yogurt. It’s convenient, it’s fun, you can do some neat things with it (like this-here thing I’m writin’ - yes, I’m aware of the irony of posting an anti-technology rant on a blog, but I never said I wasn‘t an ass), but it’s all robbing from future historians and, therefore, everyone else. Those who don’t - or can’t - learn from the past… will get its old tricks pulled on them by those who did.
On the good side, though, by 2100 we’ll have found the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq (they’ll probably have turned up sometime in 2004), and our grandchildren won’t have to be embarrassed. Whew! Forget I said anything.
Anyway, here are some reviews of books you might want to check out… ON PAPER, goddamnit.
Here Comes A Candle - Frederic Brown. (Millipede Press, 1950)
Oddly-constructed, brilliant crime novel in which a disturbed loser named Joe Bailey is racked by internal conflict as he tries to choose between his romance with a nice girl and a life of crime that could make him rich, but also ruin him morally. On top of this dilemma, Joe is plagued by the idea that he caused the death of his father, and also a morbid fear connected with the nursery rhyme “Here comes a candle to light you to bed, here comes a chopper to chop off your head.” Eventually Joe has to make some tough decisions, but whatever choice he makes will still leave him vulnerable to his own quirks, as well as the forces of fate. Brown intersperses interludes of “mixed media” into the novel, telling certain sections in the form of radio, film, or stage play scripts, or even sportscasts and newspaper clippings. An interesting experiment, and masterfully handled. It works as a crime novel on one level, but is also a metaphorical, literary novel exploring the psychological conflicts in mankind - good vs. evil, love vs. sex, ambition vs. morality, what’s really most crucial toward satisfaction and fulfillment, and how the past (or at least perceptions of it, which aren’t always valid) can shape (or warp) the present and future. Brown handles all this complexity without even a hint of pretension; in fact, it feels a bit like he’s playing it all as a very black joke. Recommended. ****
Gun Work - David J. Schow (Hard Case Crime, 2008)
Horror novelist Schow turns to hardboiled crime in this action-packed post-Tarrantino novel, in which a gun expert named Barney tries to repay his old friend Carl, who once saved his life. Carl calls Barney down to Mexico to help free his wife, who’s been kidnapped. Barney provides excellent and expert assistance, but unluckily for him the whole shmear is a set up and Barney is captured, tortured for months, and nearly killed. He survives and, with the aid of some luchadores, seeks vengeance. Schow’s typically-hip prose is sometimes too smugly impressed with itself and some of what’s supposed to be badass just comes across as geeky. Some of the gun-worship, for instance, reads as much like a woman describing a Dior gown as it does a guy describing a firearm, and you’ll likely roll your eyes at some of the faux-macho prose-posturing, because he’s just trying too dadgum hard. Other times, though, it works exactly the way Schow wants it to, and sections of the book are intense and unputdownable. Others are comic-bookish action blitzes that feel like the climax of a Mack Bolan Executioner novel… but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Some of Schow’s strange obsessions pop up again and I got a little déjà vu (he has a thing about people with modified, missing-finger hands), but mostly I was glad to have something to read from a guy I wish was more prolific. Despite a few shortcomings, it’s a great (and very harsh and harrowing) revenge tale with a good cinematic feel (if Robert Rodriquez hasn’t already bought the screen rights, he should) and a reminiscent-of-Spillane climax. It’s also probably the most violent Hard Case Crime book to date. *** ½
The Woods Are Dark - Richard Laymon (Leisure, 2008, originally 1981)
Richard Laymon’s second novel (now finally complete instead of the heavily-edited version released in 1981) is a chaotic backwoods horror piece in the Hills Have Eyes vein. Unwary visitors to a small town are abducted and chained to trees in the woods, to appease a tribe of cannibalistic savages called Krulls. The Krulls eat anyone (even each other), wear human skin and use bones as tools, and (because this is a Laymon novel after all) are preoccupied with violent, nasty sex. Laymon doesn’t flinch from rape scenes, and even the civilized people we’re supposed to be rooting for quickly give in to primitive urges and start raping and slaughtering. There’s not much plot or even much suspense to this; it’s an experiment in seeing how much gore and depravity he can fit into a brief amount of pages, kind of like a story from an old shudder pulp. Laymon pours it on thick, but somehow it doesn’t work quite as effectively as most of his later novels, even though it’s still well within his formula. Still, Laymon fans will be happy to have this author’s-intended version available, and it’s a good, fast read for anyone into hardcore horror. ***
Duma Key - Stephen King (Scribner, 2008)
Decent King horror in which a man who lost an arm and suffered a brain injury in an accident moves to an island in Florida to recover. He discovers that he has an amazing talent for painting… and that his paintings have some amazing powers. And it’s all tied to something that happened to one of his neighbors (now an Alzheimer’s patient in her 80’s) when she was a little girl. And the thing responsible is stirring to life again… and it’s incredibly evil. This is perhaps King’s best work since Bag of Bones, but it does still have a few of the traits that taint his later works -- a bit too much repetition, too much cheesiness and schmaltz in the characters, too much “magic,” and it could be improved by shedding about 200 pages (which could probably be done by taking out all the references to the "shells talking under the house")… but for the most part, it’s a good story and for the first half or so it’s un-put-down able… and even when it starts to flag it’s not painful or anything. The ending, however, is the most incredibly stupid thing he’s done since It. I actually get a little concerned about him when he can’t realize that such ideas are just idiotic. You feel a little bit cheated when you’ve read all those pages and then you get handed this oh-Jesus-Christ climax. But the first 2/3rds of the book were good enough to make me glad I gave Big Steve another chance, after not reading him for a few years.
Broken Summers - Henry Rollins (2.13.61 - 2004)
Absorbing journal entries chronicling Henry’s 2002 tour, then his plan to do a benefit CD of Black Flag cover songs to benefit the West Memphis Three, how he got the CD together, and the subsequent tour supporting it. Not only was this an excellent read, it sounds like there’s a CD and a couple of WM3 documentaries I need to seek out. Mission accomplished, Hank, and well done. *** ½
House of Leaves - Mark Z. Danielewski (Parthenon, 2000)
Utterly obnoxious experimental literary work that takes tricks from The Blair Witch Project and Nabokov’s Pale Fire, runs them through a process of typographic weirdness that’s not quite form-over-content but sometimes comes damn close, and spits it out as a symbol-rich, begging-to-be-interpreted horror story/object d’art that has just enough sex, profanity, and drug use to avoid being pretentious. Basically, a not-terribly-well-balanced guy named Johnny Truant finds a manuscript in the house of a dead old man and becomes so obsessed with editing it that he becomes insane. The manuscript - also obsessive, also possibly insane - is a study of a documentary called The Navidson Record, which is about a filmmaker’s house that contains shifting, infinitely-large, freezing dark rooms, stairways, and hallways, despite the fact that the outside of the house is small. He films explorations into these rooms, which become nightmarish. The problem is, the documentary doesn’t actually exist, and even if it had, the author couldn’t have seen it because he was blind. The book itself takes on characteristics of the house, expanding in some sections so only one or two words are on each page, or the words are printed at odd angles, in boxes, or backwards. There are also pictures, poems, letters, and words in color, and there are at least two stories going on -- the story of the film, and the story of Johnny’s editing, drinking, getting laid, becoming crazy, etc. Parts of it are interesting, and other parts are so boring and pointless they defy you to read them. Much of the book is about obsession, which is appropriate enough because reading it requires obsession as well, since it’s 700 pages of sometimes-technical detail. It’s sometimes brilliant, sometimes maddeningly tiresome, but (usually) worth the effort, since it will make you think. ***
Salad Days - Charles Romalotti (Layman Books, 2000)
Epic novel about a small town misfit who finds an identity in punk rock, manages to influence a few similarly-disaffected classmates, starts a band, joins another band, tours, gets somewhat famous, and then moves on (but not totally). It’s a great book for those of us who were small town punks (the first half being much better than the second - I wasn’t all that intrigued by the being-in-a-band stuff, but then I was never in a band, so, that’s probably why-for). There’s lots of familiar band-name-dropping to give you warm fuzzies. It's weird to have nostalgia evoked by a scene in which members of The Descendents fart in a restaurant, but, it happens. The book is overlong (it’s only 300 pages, but with wall-to-wall 9-point type) with too much time devoted to the tedious details of tour diaries (those can be fascinating, but only when it’s a real band). Also, the first-person narrator, Frank, is sometimes a pretentious wuss who spends too much time obsessing about chasing dreams and such. But, flaws aside, it’s pretty compelling reading for the most part, if you have a punk background. I’m not sure a regular solid citizen would get much out of it or understand Frank at all. Anyway, it’s a good read, and better than Romalotti’s Rash, which also wasn’t bad. The writing is sometimes a bit clunky and self-impressed, but there are also lines good enough to make you want to copy them down somewhere. ***
...well, everyone except for Richard. Richard was at the bar when I showed up early Thursday evening to drop off my gear. Richard was at the bar for the entirety of the show. Richard was still at the bar when the staff cleared everyone out so they could close up. Richard was decidedly older - and smellier - than the college kids who peopled the bar all night. Richard was drunk. And Richard needed a ride home... Somehow, the honor of playing chauffeur to an old smelly drunk fell upon me. Yep. Me, the only person there who does not live in Starkville has to drive its streets in the early, early morning, taking directions from a passenger whose command of the English language had been nearly lost - and was certainly tentative even before he started drinking. Our first stop was an abandoned house in the middle of town... not a good start. Then we headed all of the way out into the boondocks to a trailer in the middle of the woods. Luckily, he had found the right place + went inside to sleep it off... I headed back toward civilization (well, suchas can be found in Miss'ip'...), picking up a screw in my tire that popped out as I tried to leave town, leaving me on the side of the highway at 3am... It all workt out from there, but I guess the nugget of truth to take from this is the old saw: No good deed goes unpunished...
Even with all of the drama, I heard some good music while driving all over the Deep South. Here's some of what my iPod threw my way during the roadtrip:
Nile - Die Rache Krieg Lied Der Assyriche
Wow... say what you will about metal; this whole album consistently blows my mind and this track is one of the best, creating a mood that's eerie + unique...
Soda Can - Au Gratin
Funky + spastic, these guys are Minutemen-esque in the best of ways... I put 'em in the same musical category as those guys, the Rhythm Pigs, Victims Family, Phantom Tollbooth... y'know, that killer three-piece punk-funk that tends to be manic + groovy at the same time.
Mongo Santamaria - Onyae
From Mongo's classic Afro-Roots, a crucial Cuban jazz collection of Mongo's first two releases as a bandleader on Fantasy... The sessions featured many of the stars of the late 50s Cuban jazz scene + get extra-nasty...
Stars of the Lid - Sun Drugs + The Artificial Pine Arch Song
Both pieces are from The Ballasted Orchestra, a masterful album of ambient musicscapes, texturally reminiscent of Eno's Music for Airports. Cool stuff, though I don't always find ambient music terribly conducive to driving long distances... Aarktica popped up as well + create a similar drone + thrum vibe.
Valis - Universe 2
Wow. Druggy + heavy + named after a Philip K. Dick novel/character/theosophic discussion point... how could I pass that up? How can you? Check 'em out!
Bob Clark (who also brought you the excellent Deathdream and the plague-like Porky's) laid the groundwork for the slasher-movie phenomenon with this genuinely creepy horror film about a psycho hiding in a sorority house and terrorizing the girls. He kills a few (there's very little blood; this movie doesn't need it) and acts very, very insane, making a series of truly disturbing and demented obscene phone calls using multiple voices and talking about a baby and somebody named Billy and making awful noises. You can easily see the influence of this on Halloween and especially When A Stranger Calls. The ending confuses everybody, but I like it even though I don't particularly understand it; it adds to the nightmarishness of it all. One of the cornerstones of a horror film education. -zwolf
Black Cobra (C, 1987) AKA Cobra Nero
Some Eurotrash bikers (short-haired, Kawasaki-riding posers who wear studded black leather jackets to the beach) go around robbing and killing for no apparent reason. One of them has pictures taken of him while trying to attack a girl (she wards him off with the camera's flash, even though he's wearing sunglasses... at night). Tough guy makes-his-own-rules cop Fred Williamson is assigned to protect the girl, because even though the pictures didn't turn out, the thugs don't know that. Usually Fred has more trouble dealing with his finicky cat Purvis than he does the bad guys, who give him time to somersault on the ground before every shot he fires. Guys also empty their guns shooting through doors. In other words, it's a stupid-ass by-the-numbers Italian action flick with all the things that entails, including a cheap synthesizer score and - yes - sequels! Definitely nothing special, but Fred Williamson does have a screen presence, and though you won't be thrilled, you won't be particularly bored, either. They oughtta be sued for copyright, though, because Fred pulls a direct not-even-trying-to-hide-it steal of the Dirty Harry "Do you feel lucky...?" speech. (Lead-plated bullets?!?) -zwolf
Black Demons (C, 1991)
Fraudulently passed off as a sequel to the Demons series, this is actually a late entry into the Italian zombie gore-flick genre, directed by Umberto Lenzi. Some students in Brazil are studying the music of voodoo rites, and one records a Macumba ritual. Visiting an old plantation, he foolishly plays it in a cemetery, and graves burst into flame, tombstones bleed, and the rotting corpses of former slaves burst up from the ground and start seeking prey, using axes, scythes, and bailing hooks, gouging out eyes and chopping in heads and pitchforking bellies. This is all great, but the only problem is, between the episodes of graphic mayhem you have to suffer the atrocious combination of some of the worst actors ever struggling to deliver some of the clumsiest dialogue ever penned. And it's not even dubbed this time. Still, fans of zombie epics are used to bad acting, and even though there are only six zombies, the makeup on them is great - it's always important to have creepy-looking zombies. And the gore effects are good. So, you may not mind overlooking the awkward scripting or such things as the zombies being able to sneak up behind people even though they're wearing clanking leg chains and would be reeking to high heaven... -zwolf
Black Gestapo (C, 1975) AKA Ghetto Warriors
A somewhat-militant black organization, the People's Army, is formed to take care of problems in their own community. It does good things at first, detoxing drunks, keeping pushers out, and trying to protect people from racist white gangster scumbags. But under the guidance of Col. Kojah (Charles Robinson) it turns into a violent vigilante organization, castrating white rapists (and flushing their balls down the toilet!) and cracking down on the mob... which soon results in a black vs. white mob war. But soon the People's Army is corrupt, not trying to get the crime out of the community but instead controlling it themselves, and because they've been trained as a military force they're even harder to deal with. One of their generals (Rod Perry, from Black Godfather) who's still dedicated to the original, positive concept has to stop this new incarnation on his own... with help from automatic weapons and explosives. Excessively-violent Blaxploitation from the Nazi-obsessed (and, ironically, Jewish) director of Love Camp Seven, Lee Frost. It's good, the action scenes are strong, but it ain't pleasant. -zwolf
J. J. (Rod Perry) and his friend get shot up trying to rob a house, and only J. J. makes it out alive, and only because he's saved by Big Nate Williams, a numbers boss who has plans for him. J. J. learns fast (while the credits are going, apparently) and becomes a big-time operator, wanting to get bigger. He aligns with a black activist who doesn't approve of him but agrees to help him since he says he'll run the drug pushers out of the community, even if he has to go to war with a white crime boss. This, o' course, leads to conflict, much of it violent and exotic, involving spears, blowguns, kung-fu catfights, and meat cleavers. Midline blaxploitation, but that's not bad since most of the genre's films weren't bad at all. Rod Perry was back the next year in the even more violent Black Gestapo. -zwolf
Gobsmakt - You Wot! - Step-1, 1998
It took me a while to listen to most of this kiwi-punk CD, because for about the first half hour as soon as the first song, “Here We Go Now,” would finish, I’d have to play it over again. And again. And again. What an obnoxiously great song. It’s like an old extra-methed Motorhead in a gleefully bad mood. It’s stupid as hell but ultra-catchy, rambunctious, and may make you want to go kick in your neighbor’s door and trash some of their belongings. If you're an idiot. Anyway, it’s kind of a cross between old Motorhead, The Exploited, and any really good (non-Nazi o’ course) skinhead band. These hoolies have their three chords down and ain’t afraid to use ‘em, and the sound is tightly sloppy (yes, that does make sense - just get it already) and belligerent, with every song barked in your face, daring you not to love it. The lyrics are about drinking lager, being a skinhead, threats (“You’re gonna get yer fuckin’ ‘ead kicked in!”), and a certain non-fondness for the police and politicians. I don’t think this band invented the style they’re using, but they may have just perfected it. It stays at a dirty, speedy roar throughout, even during the two ska songs, and it’s full of little gotta-hear-that-again-bits (like the opening drum-pounding then guitar pucka-pucka-pucka of “Crime ‘N’ Other Things). If you’d like to hear The Exploited get in an alley fight with The Oppressed, you’ll worship this. A lyric sheet would’ve been nice since the New Zealand accents get kind of thick. I’d fit this band in the Hard Skin category, where you might think they’re joking but you’re not sure they know that they are.
The Bloody Sods - Up And Runnin’ -Step 1, 1997
This band is so fast and violent that when my fucked-up CD deck started skipping, I almost didn’t notice. They’re from Georgia but have something of a UK82 thing going, with relentless drums and deep-tuned guitars and rapid screaming about socially-relevant topics, like consumerism, manipulative media, genocidal government practices, racism (both on the part of whites and of blacks like Farrakhan), as well as personal stuff like drinking too much and having untrustworthy friends. All punk as fuck and delivered straightforwardly with great force. It’s noisy and chaotic without losing a groove, and even though I already liked it at first listen I can tell it’s only gonna grow on me even more. I’m proud to hear stuff like this coming out of the South. The shouted vocals (split between two guys) get a little one-dimensional (even though there’s two of ‘em) but it’s not a major problem, and the lyric sheet definitely helps, even though you can make out a good bit of it anyway if you listen close. There’s a reverent (though ‘bout twice as fast) cover of Blitz’s “4Q.” Good vicious stuff.
Boot Party - Head Stomp - Step 1, 1996
Amateurish, limited-talent somewhat silly sloppy NYC punk with goofy lyrics about not much of anything (whores, watching TV, venereal disease, getting signed to indy labels, police, etc.) It’s not boring or anything, I don’t hate it, but it sounds like somebody recorded it in their garage as a demo or something. The vocals are bad, and the guitar and drums are loose. The bassist seems to have all the skills here, and those aren’t going to blow you away, either. If they’d just come up with some better hooks and some lyrics that weren’t so dumb, the sloppiness could possibly work for it, since lack of talent can be the charm in some bands. Okay if you like that kinda stuff, just don’t get your hopes up expecting some kind of great oi band or anything (like the band of the same name from Fresno's supposed to be). Not to be taken too seriously (how could you with a cover of the Archies “Sugar Sugar”?) There’s also an unrecognizable cover of “A.C.A.B.” by the 4 Skins. As is, this is a severe test of Bisquit's Theory* I found a sample.
Husker Du - Land Speed Record (SST, 1981)
Wow. Even after exposure to insane black metal bands like Immortal, the speed at which Husker Du blaze along on their first album is still impressive. It’s a live album and the sound quality isn’t great, so even if they took the time for nuance in this sonic assault you wouldn’t be able to pick up on it. It’s a whirlwind jangle of guitars and yelled vocals, with an occasional comprehensible line like “It’s all lies anyway!” or “All tensed up!” coming through. I can’t imagine being in a room with these guys playing this stuff; it must have been overwhelming, more like a crowd control weapon than music. And they don’t even have any dead space between songs, just ripping into the next one before the feedback from the previous is done. If you’ve heard Husker’s later albums you might be expecting great songwriting skill, but what you have here is noisy hardcore that’s closer to Negative Approach than it is to Zen Arcade. It’s a blur, really, like proto-powerviolence. So this isn’t the best representative of the band to start with (forget chronology) but it’s still historically important and has some great stuff if you’re into hardcore. A lyric sheet would’ve been really, really nice, though, because they’re pretty cool when you look them up on the web. Here's a vid.
The Undead - The Riot City Years (Step-1, 1982)
Not to be confused with ex-Misfit Bobby Steele's band, this is a British group. Even though this is a UK82 band they’d don’t sound much like the Exploited, Varkukers, or UK Subs. It’s more of a mid-paced, sometimes-plodding, severe-sounding punk, distinguished mostly by a really weird drum sound that shows up in a lot of the songs - it sounds exactly like a basketball being dribbled! This guy’s drumheads must’ve been made by Wilson, ‘cuz it’s pure inflated-rubber boing-boink-boink. The sounds tend to like finding a groove and then dragging the river with it, kind of a marching/trance thing (which they may have been into, since there’s an electronica dub version of one of their songs on the CD; they probably would have been a house band if they’d started up 10 years later). There’s nothing really outstanding here, but it’s not terrible. The bonus tracks (old singles the band released) are the best part, a bit more lively than the sluggish album tracks. I couldn't find video of any of their stuff, so here's Squirrelbait doing "Sun God," which is a lot better than anything on this album anyway.
Last Year’s Youth - Yah Boo Fuck You Step-1, 1997
Sincere mid-paced UK punk stuck somewhere between the ‘77 and ‘82 schools, and also flirting with pop-punk, yet not sounding like a sell-out. It’s lo-fi and scruffy, with snotty vocals dealing with being punk and getting drunk, mostly, with momentary nods to politics (the Berlin wall, political phoniness, etc.). Mostly, though, it’s just anthems about the joys of punk-rock defiance. It’s also pretty happy and bouncy, even when the lyrics get angry. Standard, nothing bad on the whole CD but nothing that’ll blow you away, either. But the bassist’s name - Owen Money - deserves entry into the list of all-time great punk rock pseudonyms.
Badlands - The Killing Kind GMMM Records, 2004
What a weird CD. It’s perhaps most famous for pissing off fans of lame-ass poser Jake E. Lee, because he has a band of the same name and his fans buy this by mistake and then pitch big ol' hairband hissies about it on Amazon. Far more disorienting, however, is the way this Holland band alternates between tough-guy skinhead rock and gentle folk music. They’ll be singing about fighting violence with violence and advocating kicking in skulls of gun-toting bad guys and battling against prejudice. Then they'll shift gears hard enough to drop the transmission and do songs about wishing they could go back to being 10 years old, or “we’ve gotta work together for a better land” songs that would make perfect background music for some old 70’s public service announcement about picking up trash or something. The vocalist is great, although his style is an odd contrast with the harder songs; it’s like honeyed sandpaper or something, actual soulful singing even when the guitars start blazing away. It’s really indescribable; check out some of the sound files on Amazon, because you have to hear it to believe it. When I first got this I didn’t care for it much, but it grew on me enough where I eventually bought their other album. Definitely an acquired taste. This isn't from this CD, but at least you can sample the singing style.
Discipline/Argy Bargy - 100% Thug Rock Captain Oi, 2004
Brilliant skinhead split that delivers on the title’s promise. I’d already been a fan of Holland’s Discipline (because of stuff like this) and was scooping up their back catalogue, which is how I got this. The Discipline tracks, while a little “happier” sounding than some of their other material, don’t disappoint; total blue-collar rock and roll that doesn’t sound preoccupied with fitting into any punk or oi standard but does so beautifully anyway, with more-than-competent musicianship (this ain’t just three-chord stuff, yet doesn’t sound like metal at all), and Joost De Graaf’s perfect gruff singing (yes, he actually sings - it’s not the usual oi shouting). Every song is a sing-along anthem (and few bands can really write those), mostly about fighting at football matches on this one. Infectiously catchy and essential stuff. Argy Bargy was a new one to me, and my expectations weren’t high since I’m kinda “eh” on the Cock Sparrer song they’re named after (love Cock Sparrer, just not that song)… but when I heard this I started working on their back catalogue, too. Raucous, belligerent, rockin’ oi with more great not-afraid-to-get-complicated (without verging on metal, either) musicianship, and rough, heavily-British-accented shouting-yet-tuneful vocals that give it instant credibility and identity. The lyrics are all-the-way-fuck-you, which is great. “You’ll never understand the kids on the street/ You’ll never have a drink at the places we meet/ You’ll never have a talk with me man to man/ You’ll never realize I am what I am/ You can’t control us, you won’t deny us/ What gives you the right?” - how can ya not love that? Here's a live version. Watford Jon can also sing when he wants to - “We Ain’t Listening” is almost pretty, for a blunt object. Watch 'em do it live. There’s a lot of old-school rock ‘n’ roll (played a bit faster and more forcefully) in this, and it’s a good variety -- they give you six songs and they definitely sound like six songs, not just variations on a theme. The last song, “One More Drink,” is an acoustic drinking song/crime story that I bet the Dropkick Murphys would love to cover. Overall, a highly recommended split.
Defiance - Rise Or Fall Punkcore, 2004
This band doesn’t disappoint. It doesn’t surprise, either, but if you already like them you won’t mind. They’re like The Casualties, but ten times tighter and much better in the songwriting department. Violent, high-speed streetpunk with all kinds of axes to grind about society, the usual stuff against war and outbursts of frustration about boredom and futurelessness. There ain’t a happy song in the bunch yet it’ll probably put smiles on your face anyway, even if they’re the kind of smiles you get while flinging a Molotov. Mike Arrogant has a good shout and proves he can use it to carry a tune in sonds like “Doing What You’re Told.” You can check out a pretty stupid video of that here. There’s a nice cover of Menace’s “All Screwed Up” (which is great, although still no patch on the original - Menace’s version is one of my favorite songs, so, good choice anyway). The only thing bad about this CD is that I’m going to have a hard time making mix tapes for the car from it ‘cuz I’d want to include all the songs. Great slash ‘n’ burn raging punk.
The Worthless - Slow City - Taang, 2000
Total Angry Samoans worship. If I didn’t know better, I’d almost think the Samoans had reformed. Very catchy, bouncy, old-style punk, like a blend of Samoans and the U.S. Bombs, all scruffy and not-to-be-taken-too-seriously punk about hating cities, being goofily alienated, and stuff about girls and beach parties. It’s infectious and there’s not a bad song on it.
The Eat - It’s Not The Eat, It’s the Humidity Alternative Tentacles, 2007
Discography of a unique, poppy Florida punk outfit that operated in the first half of the 80’s. It’s mostly fast and tongue-and-cheek lo-fi garage rock, and is catchy as hell more often than not. Some of it is hilarious (“She’s Pissed Off” is a classic party story: “There was one little girl in a corner all alone, you know she looked so sad/ Had to ask Sherri what the trouble was and I couldn’t believe what she said/ ‘She’s pissed off ‘cuz my brother wouldn’t fuck her! She’s pissed off ‘cuz my brother wouldn’t fuck her!’”) and a few songs are so stupid-yet-catchy that you may actually get mad at the band for making something so embarrassingly goofy stick in your head like that (god damn you, “I’m a young guy” song!). And “Communist Radio” should probably be included in any serious mix tape you ever wanna make for anybody to try to explain what punk sounds like. Proof! And you gotta love any band who comes up with song titles like “Manatee Smacker,” “Psychotic McHale’s Navy,” “M80 Ant Death,” “Nixon’s Binoculars,” or “Ballbusters On Parade.” Since this is on Alternative Tentacles, you know there’s some considerable intelligence lurking behind the goofiness, too. The first disc is all studio stuff, and there’s a second disc full of live material. You can’t go wrong with this.
* Bisquit's Theory is an idea put forth by the late great Randy "Bisquit" Turner of The Big Boys, who said that even the worst bands have at least one good song in 'em.
Movie Reviews - The Black Raven, Black Sabbath, A Blade in the Dark, The Blair Witch Project, The Blanchville Monster, Blank Generation
Cheapo PRC old-dark-house mystery with always-sinister George Zucco as a criminal called the Black Raven who runs an inn which is also called The Black Raven. During a bad storm, several people get stranded there, including an eloping couple, the bride-to-be's shady-politician father, a bank embezzler, an escaped con with a vendetta against Zucco, and Zucco's brother, Glen Strange (who was also with Zucco in The Mad Monster). When one of them gets murdered, everyone's suspect, and there's also a hunt going on for some supposedly-hidden gold. This results in more killing. Very cheap and creaky, but keeps moving. -zwolf
Black Sabbath (C, 1963)
Mario Bava's favorite among his films is a trio of horror stories based (supposedly - and minutely at best) on works by Chekov, Tolstoy, and Maupassant. The order they're in depends on if you're seeing a reworked American print (A Drop of Water, The Telephone, The Wurdilak) or the original Italian version (The Telephone, The Wurdilak, A Drop of Water), which is on DVD. "The Telephone" is a somewhat-familiar (nowadays - it was novel in '63) tale of a woman being threatened by a psycho who keeps calling her and who seems to know everything she's doing. "The Wurdilak" stars Boris Karloff as a Russian vampire who preys on those he loves most. And "A Drop of Water" is about a woman who steals a ring from the ghastly-looking corpse of a medium, who returns to get it back... None of the stories are especially surprising or brilliant, but the stylishness of Bava's direction is, and it makes this movie a horror powerhouse that's essential viewing. This is one of Bava's best, and that's 'bout as big a recommendation as any film will ever get. -zwolf
A Blade in the Dark (C, 1983) AKA La Casa con la Scala nel Buio, House of the Dark Stairway
What a cool pre-credit sequence! A kid ("Bob" from House by the Cemetery - he's in every Italian horror movie somewhere) is dared by two other kids to go into a dark basement in pursuit of a ball... You can tell that director Lamberto Bava learned a lot from his father Mario, as well as Dario Argento. And, as shown by his influence on his father's film Shock, he has a thing for Exacto knives. A composer who does scores for horror films moves into a creepy villa to get inspired for his work, but may get more inspiration than he bargained for. Soon after he moves in a woman is slashed to death through a chickenwire fence, and he notices weird whisperings in the music he's been recording. Later another woman is killed (pretty disturbing - not so much because of the gore, though it's strong, but because of the killer's crazy reaction to the event). The composer begins to suspect that killing are going on - he keeps finding evidence - but before he unravels it, he may become a victim. The dubbed dialogue is bad, with bad vocal choices - one woman has sinus problems and the killer sounds like Mickey Mouse - and the pacing isn't so hot (too much time spent watching this guy mix tapes), and the ending is just tossed-off and predictable, but there are still some strong shock scenes and an overall creepiness, perhaps more reminiscent of Dario than of Mario... -zwolf
Blair Witch Project (C, 1999)
Hey, you really can make a good movie in your backyard! The Most Profitable Movie of All Time (cost like $30 grand to make and grossed hundreds 'n' hundreds o' millions... that's a return-on-investment of... let's see... a real whole bunch!), and you probably already know as much about it as me and I've seen it a dozen times. Basically, it's one of the most original horror movies in years (although the "found footage" concept has been used - anybody remember Cannibal Holocaust? And did anybody watch the even cheaper $900 feature, The Last Broadcast?) and it may save the sagging horror genre 'cuz (A) it's actually scary, not funny, and (B) there are no special effects at all. Unless stick figures and piles of rocks are special to you. Plot is simple: three college kids go out into the woods to research the legend of a witch, and they get lost and stalked by something unseen, and end up... well, let's just say they're never seen again and all they find is the footage they shot, which makes up the entire movie. But, on this one ya can't really stop with just the movie. There's a cool website for info on the legend, a comic book recounting the history of the Blair Witch, a book detailing the search for the missing students, and even a "soundtrack" CD with the goth songs that were on the tape left in Josh's car. (The CD has some extra footage you can watch on a computer - just in case you don't have one, it's just Josh wanting to try to signal planes, and Heather and Mike telling him he's nuts). There was also an "In Search Of"-style mockumentary that aired on the Sci-Fi Channel and another short film called Burkittsville 7 that aired on a cable service (that one's mostly about Rustin Parr). This doesn't quite live up to the hype, but the hype was so heavy that nothing could. And, even though the movie does get a little tiresome with all the "oh damn we're lost in the woods" stuff and only really gets tense in the last ten minutes, this one is a definite must-see. The unsteady camera work caused some sensitive members of the audience to puke, and the intensity of the film caused one girl in the theater I was in to start crying... that's so cool! -zwolf
The Blanchville Monster (B&W, 1963) AKA Horror
A young lady returns to an old gothic castle to find that the father she though had died in an abbey fire is actually alive, but horribly scarred, insane, and out to kill her because he believes an ancient family prophecy that their lineage will end if she reaches the age of 21. He sneaks around at night, hypnotizing her into walking around the grounds, trying to lead her to a tomb and trying to convince her that she's dead. He puts her into a death-like state in hopes that she'll be buried alive, which was enough to get this marketed as being based on a story by Edgar Allen Poe. The pace is a bit too slow, but this Italian/Spanish co-production does manage a lot of gloomy, morbid atmosphere. -zwolf
Blank Generation (C, 1979)
A birth-of-a-rock-star movie about punk (or New Wave, really - Richard Hell ain't all that punk) is kind of a weird concept, given punk's no-rock-stars philosophy, but that's what we've got here. Punk also-ran Richard Hell stars (backed by the Voidoids) as Billy, a down-and-coming punker getting a record contract and rising on the 1979 NYC punk scene while trying to maintain his relationship with waaaaaaay-too-goddamn-pretty-for-him French girlfriend Carole Bouquet. This isn't easy since her temper explodes over absolutely nothing on a regular basis. Both of their careers suffer; he's distracted by being dissatisfied with getting what he wanted, and she's distracted by being too pretty for him, I guess. They break up and she goes on to conduct astoundingly pretentious interviews about cinema, and Richard keeps playing the same three or four punk songs over and over. The film meanders along until it finally gets so pointless that Andy Warhol shows up for a couple of minutes (mainly to just sit there and pretend he's *not* there - how brilliantly artistic of him!), and Richard and his girlfriend make up beause... why not? Directed by Ulli Lommel (The Boogeyman) and not really about much of anything. There's no real story and nothing really happens but I suppose that's the point. Not badly made, though, and the musical numbers are decent. -zwolf
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