Sunday, 2 August 2020

Babbling about Bedabbled magazine

A few words about Bedabbled , the British Horror and Cult Cinema magazine

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Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Night of the Bloody Transplant (1970)

Night of the Bloody Transplant is an ancient gore film, made in a particularly snow bound looking Michigan, about a pioneering doctor whose attempts to perform a heart transplant are hindered by his peers, but aided by his trouble making brother, whose run in with a hooker leaves the Doc with an ideal candidate for heart surgery. Made by entrepreneurial have-a-go filmmakers who even managed to talk real life policemen into being in the film…not every ballsy, indy filmmaker out of Michigan can have the career of a Sam Raimi though, and after just one more effort, a softcore movie called ‘Judy’, also made in 1970, Night of the Bloody Transplant’s director David W. Hanson appears to have thrown in the towel. From a modern day perspective, it is odd to see a heart transplant operation discussed as some kind of taboo, unheard of procedure.  An aspect to the film that even in its day must have seemed dated, considering that the first heart transplant had been performed back in 1967…which does make you wonder of The Bloody Transplant had been sitting on the shelf for a few years before its credited 1970 release date.

The tone of Night of the Bloody Transplant is decidedly 'amateur theatre' occasionally enlivened by HG Lewis type splatter, as well as the vomitous inclusion of real life heart surgery footage in the tradition of films like Night of the Bloody Apes and Castle of the Creeping Flesh. There is also padding designed to shine a light on local talent ...tone deaf singers, burlesque dancers, nude body painting etc you a rough idea of what passed for entertainment in chilly Michigan back then. To be honest, it makes you wish they’d just shot an entire film’s worth of these showbiz hopefuls and junked the mad doctor/horror film stuff.  Would this film have ever resurfaced on video in the early 1980s without the exploitable ‘early gore film’ aspect though?...probably not.  Saying that this is hardly a well known film these days anyhow…for years I thought Night of the Bloody Transplant was simply a video re-titling of Doris Wishman’s The Amazing Transplant.  Has my life been greatly enhanced by the knowledge that The Bloody Transplant and The Amazing Transplant are two separate films?...probably not…but like all the other regional horror curios, Night of the Bloody Transplant isn’t without its time capsule appeal…although given how cold the exteriors look in Night of the Bloody Transplant, maybe its more of a snow globe than a time capsule.     

Thursday, 23 July 2020

The Best of Bedabbled

The Best of Bedabbled – featuring writings by me on The Yes Girls and Sweet & Sexy- is now available from

“The Best of Bedabbled! collects a selection of articles from the early issues of the magazine of British Horror and Cult Cinema. Initially published in runs of 100 between 2011-14, the first four editions of Bedabbled! are now long out-of-print. Each issue was themed, and this new compendium is split into four sections honouring each theme. The Best of Bedabbled! contains writings on classic, obscure, misunderstood, sleazy, weird and just plain odd movies from a time when all those descriptions made for a normal trip to the cinema. Films featured include Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny and Girly, Bloody Kids, Unman, Wittering and Zigo, Nothing But The Night, Virgin Witch, Satan’s Slave, The Devil’s Men, Disciple of Death, Incense for the Damned, Dance of the Vampires, Vampyres, Dracula AD1972, The Satanic Rites of Dracula, The Yes Girls, Straight On Till Morning, Sweet and Sexy and Cool it Carol! PLUS BRAND NEW REVIEWS of The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea, Night Hair Child, Death Shock, Eye of the Devil, Devils of Darkness, Vampira, Permissive and Prostitute. 100 pages of cinematic wonder, wrapped up in a homicidal tea-time cover by Rik Rawling!”

Monday, 20 July 2020

The Mermaid’s Curse (2019)

I never thought I’d live to see a film that simultaneously reminded me of the work of both Jean Rollin and Guy N. Smith, the unlikely achievement of The Mermaid’s Curse, a film that also manages to tap into two of men’s biggest fears: women and being cannibalised by them!

Workshy, is something the director of this film, Louisa Warren, is never likely to be accused of. Despite only having film directing credits going back to 2018, Warren currently has 13 feature films to her name. That is more feature films than her British horror namesake Norman J Warren managed during the course of his entire career. In another career parallel, both Warrens began their filmmaking careers in the world of softcore erotica, before finding their career footing in low-budget horror instead. Louisa Warren’s earliest screen credits, Dirty Work, which she directed, and Darker Shades of Elise, which she produced, being attempts to mine the then lucrative 50 Shades of Grey market.

This fishy tale takes us away from the bright lights and BDSM of London and to the seaside town of Worthing, West Sussex, where according to local legend men folk are being lured to their death by the seductive singing of a cannibalistic Sea Siren (Rebecca Finch). Most women love a sailor or a cage fighter, but couldn’t eat a whole one. However, the Sea Siren of Worthing is the exception to the rule, and proves the extent of her carnivorous appetite in the opening scene of the film, when she devours a randy cage fighter and his girlfriend, who’ve crept onto Worthing beach for a bit of the other. The discovery of the cage fighter’s blood splattered Hyundai the next morning, brings not only the attention of the police, but Jake (Tom Hendryk), a young American journalist who works for a local newspaper. Investigating a cannibalistic sea siren, proves to be just the diversion that Jake needs, his private life having itself hit turbulent waters. Jake recently walked in on his girlfriend cheating on him with his roommate Cameron (A.J. Blackwell), another American who while not meant to be a cage fighter, certainly comes across like one, as the two men go at it hammer and tongs, getting in each other’s faces and threatening “don’t ya push me” as if they’re about to jump into the ring.

Wandering around Worthing beach in the early morning, the lonely, heartbroken Jake proves to be the ideal candidate to fall under the seductive spell of the sea siren, whose beauty and singing are able to turn red blooded men to jelly...although given the south coast setting maybe that should be...turn red blooded men to jellied eels. When Jake encounters the Sea Siren on the beach, she isn’’s fair to say...looking her best. The result of a night on the tiles that has left her with a couple of stab wounds, courtesy of a fisherman, who managed to get a few slashes of the knife in, before the Sea Siren gobbled him up. Taking the injured woman home with him, Jake is persuaded against calling an ambulance by the Sea Siren. Then when Jake’s back is turned, (rushing out to the nearest off-license to pick up medical supplies) the Siren turns to self medicating by seducing and devouring Cameron. A turn of events that does wonders for the Sea Siren’s complexion, the devouring of human flesh, curing both her injuries and restoring her to her former beauty, her body having a habit of decaying if she doesn’t get a regular fix of flesh and blood.

As romance blossoms between man and siren, Jake quickly becomes consumed by his obsession for the mystery woman, and alienated from his friends and workmates...which isn’t hard to do when his new girlfriend is intent on eating all of them.

The Mermaid’s Curse is one of two films Warren made in 2019, linked by the theme of doomed romances that even from the outset are clearly not going to end well. Its thematic companion piece being Warren’s sci-fi movie ‘Cyber Bride’, in which a widower commissions a robotic replica of his recently murdered wife, only for her to malfunction and turn on his friends, neighbours and pet dog. Both films share the same leading lady, Rebecca Finch, who leaves her mark in two similar, but very difficult roles. Cyber Bride needing you to buy into the idea that Finch is in fact a machine, while The Mermaid’s Curse requires her to play a major role largely mute, yet Finch’s alluring, otherworldly presence as an alternatively sensual and violent character is one of these films’ strongest elements. The Mermaid’s Curse and Cyber Bride, both definitely represent a step in the right direction for Warren, the pair are lively, involving and busy films, suggesting that the pacing issues which marred some of her earlier forays into horror, are being ironed out. For additional oomph, Warren trots out a few other sea sirens, who keeping the blood flowing by emerging from the sea to chow down on more horny revellers, and occasionally move inland to stalk their prey through the back alleys of Worthing. There is also a subplot, involving an old sea dog Mr. Andrews (Tony Manders), whose wild, initially disbelieved tales about the ladies of the water appear to tie the sea sirens to the Salem witch trials.

The Mermaid’s Curse is actually a remake of a film from 2015 called ‘Deadly Waters’. An early Scott Jeffrey production that starred Becca Hirani in the siren role....both of whom have gone on to become significant players in 21st century British horror. Hirani, acting in genre films, sometimes under the name Becky Fletcher, and directing and producing under the name Rebecca J. Matthews. It is not uncommon for modern British horror filmmakers to revisit their old films, and attempt more moneyed and professional takes on the same material. 2017’s House on Elm Lake is a remake of a 2014 film called Lucifer’s Night, and Hirani/Matthews’ recent 2020 film The Candy Witch reworks a few of the themes of 2017’s Mother Krampus. It would certainly be interesting to compare and contrast The Mermaid’s Curse with Deadly Waters, but...despite only being five years old...the earlier film appears to have disappeared into the great blue yonder.

The Mermaid’s Curse follows in the footsteps of recent Scott Jeffrey films by being a brand of British horror that is slightly tailored to the American market, presumably with an eye on selling the film at places like Walmart and US streaming services. In the past British horror films that have gone down this route have had to completely forgo their nationality, making their entire casts adopt US accents and disguising their locations by favouring interior shooting. A position that left many British horror films from the 1980s and 1990s...Slaughter High, Breeders and Grimm... distinctly lacking in personality and atmosphere. Fortunately, more recent genre films by Warren and Jeffrey aren’t quite as compromised. If anything Warren and Jeffrey seem to be having their cake and eating it, making films that are rich in very British atmosphere and locations, yet keep the US market sweet by being filled with young, American characters. The Mermaid’s Curse, like Jeffrey’s Cupid and Don’t Speak, taking place in a version of Britain that is heavily populated by Americans, whose accents don’t always ring true. The only cast members who are exempt from American accents in The Mermaid’s Curse being the actresses playing the sirens, characters who communicate using gargling, fishy noises, and more mature cast members Tony Manders and Kate Lush who are allowed to play their roles with their British accents intact. The discrepancy between the film’s locations and its characters does prove to be a source of awkward amusement in The Mermaid’s Curse, as Warren and her cast stage a plot that often feels like it should by taking place on the sunny beaches of California, rather than a freezing cold, off-season Worthing. In reality, the selection of rocks and pebbles that dares to call itself a beach, the deserted pier and amusement arcade settings, have more in common with the southern, seaside seediness of Pete Walker’s The Big Switch, The Flesh and Blood Show and Michael Winner’s Dirty Weekend, but Warren and Co valiantly do their best to sell the location as a credible spring breaker destination. In the world of The Mermaid’s Curse, young horny Americans turn to Worthing, West Sussex as a place to party hard. A cute, catchy l’ttle pop song, which sounds like something Madonna or Kylie Minogue might have recorded circa 1989, accompanies three doomed Americans as they ecstatically win a cheap cuddly toy on the pier, roast marshmallows, make out on the beach and go skinny dipping, before their inevitable encounter with the bloodthirsty sirens.

For all of the transatlantic aspects to The Mermaid’s Curse, it is a film that also illustrates the current cultural differences between UK and US horror fare. In the post Sharknado era, low budget US horror films tend to gravitate towards the winking, played for laughs, mockbuster approach, whereas for the likes of Warren, Hirani and Jeffrey, horror is a comparatively serious business. Some cringe worthy, but mercifully brief, meta dialogue at the start of The Mermaid’s Curse “if it were a horror film, you’d only die if you get your tits out” being Warren’s only concession to the tongue in cheek brigade. Either due to low budgets or personal preferences, CGI also tends to be eschewed in current British horror, in favour of the more traditional approach of throwing stage blood over actors. Warren in particular has an obvious fondness for very red looking stage blood, which personally I’d take over bad CGI any day. Even if it does at times admittedly look like characters have fallen victim to an explosion in a strawberry jam factory rather than a pack of sea sirens. The frequent visits to the shoreline, striking images of women emerging from the water and the tragic romance at the heart of the film lends The Mermaid’s Curse a certain Jean Rollin-esque quality, but it is equally reminiscent of the trashiest of 1980s horror paperbacks, what with its parade of dumb, sex crazy characters going to their deaths on British beaches. If you ignore the fact that its sea sirens rather than giant crabs doing the flesh-eating, this might be the closest anyone has come to putting Guy N. Smith on the screen. The dialogue tending to get a bit Garth Marenghi at times, “get away from me, you sea bitch!!!” being a standout in that respect.

While I’m unsure whether Warren herself is a horror buff, or someone who has merely drifted into working in the genre, The Mermaid’s Curse does appear to offer many call-backs to British horror cinema’s past. The Siren puts her sea sister underlings in their place when they attempt to feast on Jake, recalling Christopher Lee’s Dracula exerting his dominance over his vampire brides in Hammer Horror films, and the Siren’s appearance and sexual hold over men gives The Mermaid’s Curse the appearance of a small scale, bedsit version of Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce.

Within her own filmography, The Mermaid’s Curse is yet another Warren film to use ‘Querioo’ as a plot device. Querioo being a Yahoo/Google like internet search engine (right down to aping the Google logo) that characters in modern British horror films tend to turn to whenever they need to brush up on their knowledge of sea sirens, evil scarecrows, the tooth fairy, etc etc. I’m sad enough to look up whether Querioo actually exists, and indeed, there really is such an internet search engine. Inevitably though Querioo is less handy when it comes to researching monsters and the supernatural in real life than it is in the movies. To save you the trouble of doing so, running terms like ‘cannibalistic sea sirens of Worthing’ through the real-life Querioo, just brings you to the same handful of film industry links that running anything else through Querioo does. In Warren’s films however, clicking onto Querioo always leads to a cameo by Youtube star Shaun C. Phillips, alias Coolduder, who has managed to become a British horror film regular...seemingly without ever leaving his couch in Baltimore. These little cameo roles presumably being sent to the producers via Skype. For those keeping record, Coolduder has popped up as a cyber dating expert in Cyber Bride, a tooth fairy expert in The Tooth Fairy, a scarecrow expert in Bride of Scarecrow, and expanded his Brit horror career beyond Warren’s films by recently cameo-ing as a candy witch expert in Hirani/Matthews’ The Candy Witch. In The Mermaid’s Curse, Coolduder adds to his growing reputation as an all round know-it-all by bringing his excitable, rosy cheeked, enthusiasm to the role of a sea siren expert, whose viral video gets checked out by Jake and his ex-girlfriend on their laptop. Thanks to these Coolduder cameos there is a case for all these films being part of shared cinematic universe, whilst also positing Coolduder as the Youtube generation’s answer to Edgar Lustgarten.

Aside from keeping Coolduder in gainful employment, British horror cinema has been considerably raising its game recently. Low budgets and tight schedules haven’t stopped Warren developing an ambitious streak of late, even branching out into historical adventure movies, including the horror/historical crossover ‘Pagan Warrior’ which...would you believe...pits Vikings against Krampus. Hirani/Matthews’ films Pet Graveyard and The Candy Witch are- despite their off-puttingly unoriginal titles- well worthy of your perusal, and Scott Jeffrey in particular has been knocking it out of the park, with the strong run of ....Don’t Speak, Cupid, Clown Doll and The Final Scream. The latter of which features both Hirani and Warren in acting roles, the world of modern British horror films being a very small one... fer’sure. I doubt 2020 is likely to go down as anyone’s favourite year, but as far as British horror films are concerned, these are truly exciting times to be alive.

For a film called The Mermaid’s Curse, the word ‘mermaid’ and indeed any part woman, part fish action is notably absent here. Although in fairness to Warren, The Mermaid’s Curse sounds suspiciously like a distributor insisted re-titling, Warren’s original, shooting title apparently being ‘Witches of the Water’. Call it what you will, this is a film that –in the minds of Americans who buy horror films from Walmart at least- will forever make Worthing, West Sussex synonymous with cannibalistic sea sirens. Quite what the residents of Worthing will make of it is anyone’s guess, particularly the chap who inadvertently cameos in the film by staring out of his hotel room window during filming. A man who may well go through life forever wondering why people were stripping down to Ann Summers underwear and talking with pseudo American accents on the beach that night- unless of course he logs on to Querioo for an answer.

Saturday, 11 July 2020

Natas: The Reflection (1983)

At times you have to wonder if some ancient Indian shaman didn’t lay a curse on …um…white man, decreeing that…um...white man never be able to horror movie folklore. It is a particular area of horror cinema that really seems to have brought out the dullest in filmmakers…as anyone who has seen Wendigo, Ghost Keeper, Satan’s Blade and Frostbiter will attest. There are certain creatures in horror films that have become synonymous with naff movies…Bigfoot and Nazi zombies for instance…but once in a blue moon a half decent Bigfoot or Nazi zombie movie will come along and save those entire sub-genres from being a complete dumpster fire…on the other hand I’m really struggling to think of any decent movies about the Wendigo, who itself appears cursed to never be the subject of a worthwhile horror movie.

Existing within the same ballpark as films about Indian curses and legends is Natas: The Reflection, which is one of those titles that has lingered in the back of my mind since childhood. I remember Natas mainly because of its VHS cover which had a Satanic figure transposed over a photo of a burning tree, and the fact that this was one of the earliest video tapes that my stepfather owned. This being the mid-1980s, when actually owning a VHS tape and not having to take it back to the rental store the next day was still a novelty. He’d picked Natas up from Pendlebury Market –now long gone, bulldozed, and made into an Asda- which every Wednesday had a flea market day where you could buy all these second hand goods, including old VHS tapes, on the cheap. Some of the other VHS tapes he got hold of there were Daughters of Darkness, the Belgium vampire film, which I have to admit I didn’t really appreciate at the time, and Titan Find, an alien rip-off starring Klaus Kinski during his ‘rent-a-sleazy euro villain’ period in 80s American movies.

Pendlebury Market

Natas: the Reflection was one of those obscure, American, regional horror films that it is likely no one would have ever heard of, had VHS not come along. It was a one-shot directing gig by an actor called Jack Dunlap, who never made another film, and co-produced this one with his wife. In true regional horror film tradition, Natas: The Reflection takes you down the kind of dusty back roads of America that you suspect were otherwise left untroubled by filmmakers. The film’s main selling point, cast wise, is that it stars a very old Indian, who in true carny tradition is actually billed as ‘109 year old Nino Cochise’ in the opening credits.

Natas: the Reflection concerns journalist Steve Granger, who has become obsessed with the Indian legend of Natas, a creature who according to the UK video release is “sentry to the gates of Hell, who stands guard over thousands of souls that can only be saved from an eternity of horror by the man who solves the riddle of ‘Natas the reflection’”. Steve’s obsession comes at the detriment of his professional and personal life; he gets fired from his job at a newspaper because of his indifference to anything other than Natas, and splits up with his girlfriend because she can’t cope with hearing about Natas all day either. So, Steve hits the road in his fantastically cool car, determined to prove that the world is wrong, and he is right, when it comes to the existence of Natas. You can’t help feeling that this film was born out of the same dogged determination and cavalier attitude as its protagonist, and that while everyone around him was telling Jack Dunlap that no one would be interested in a film based on the legend of Natas: The Reflection, he was gonna prove them all wrong, with possibly not the same amount of success that his onscreen protagonist has.

Natas: The Reflection doesn’t initially show a great deal of promise, with much of the screen time being dominated by Steve quizzing the locals about the legend of Natas: The Reflection and wandering around the great outdoors. It all feels as if Natas is going to pan out into one of those ‘Boggy Creek’ imitations, where the film is 95% travelogue of the American wilderness and only in the closing moments does anything of any remote interest happen. The pace is definitely laid back to begin with, as Steve leisurely treks around the Arizona desert, taking in the sights, the wildlife and the inevitable encounter with the 109 year old Nino Cochise. As you might imagine, Cochise plays an ancient Indian shaman, who gifts Steve an necklace that the film immediately wants you to forget about, but you just know will reappear at a vital point later on…it has deus et machina written all over it. By rights, Nino Cochise should have briefly put Natas: the Reflection into the record books. I believe the oldest person to ever appear on the big screen was a 115 year old in a movie from 1990, but Natas might have been entitled to hold that crown for a couple of years beforehand…had Nino Cochise actually been 109 at the time. There appears to be some controversy over Nino Cochise’s actual age and identity, he claimed to be the grandson of Apache chief Cochise and to have been born in 1874. However Cochise’s son Taza, isn’t meant to have married or had any children, and according to some sources Nino Cochise was actually a fraud called Robert Lee Majors, who was only 75 when he died in 1984. If the makers of Natas were taken in by Cochise though, they can at least take solace in the knowledge that they weren’t the only ones.

After a few false starts, Natas: the Reflection suddenly grabs your attention once Steve finds himself in an old Western town populated by zombie cowboys and zombie saloon bar girls, all of whom speak with distorted helium/chipmunk voices…that tends to render much of their dialogue inaudible. Natas: The Reflection might be one of the few post-1968 zombie movies that doesn’t appear to be heavily indebted to Night of the Living Dead. These zombies can run, talk, drink in bars, flirt with strangers in the case of the girl zombies, and just generally go about their daily business. Natas is to all intents and purposes a traditional Western for a couple of scenes, in which all the secondary characters just happen to be zombies. One of the greatest attributes of Natas: The Reflection is its location; absolutely nothing about this old Western town says a film set to you. It looks authentically dirty, abandoned, a hundred miles from anywhere and a place that the world forgot about and left to rot. I’d be curious about what came first, the idea for the film, or this location…in other words did they stumble upon this location and decide to write a film around it, or did someone write a script set in a ghost town and was fortunate enough to find the perfect location. If it was the latter, they really lucked out, because the location does much of the heavy lifting when it comes to atmosphere in this film. At its best, I think Natas warrants comparison with Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural (1973), occasionally capturing the dreamlike, fairytale quality that Lemora had in droves. I don’t think Natas is quite the equal to Lemora, which is after all one of the great American horror films of the 1970s, but it taps into the same eccentric momentum, even if it can’t quite sustain it.

Natas: The Reflection may also be a master class when it comes to people doing stupid things in horror movies. No soon as Steve escapes a town full of bloodthirsty, murderous zombies, he goes about recruiting his friends for a revisit to a town full of bloodthirsty, murderous zombies…which they are all fine about and agree to. Then, when one of them is attacked by a zombie in a barn, they all immediately return to the barn to make sure the zombie is still not there! Given dumb decisions like that, you’ll be unsurprised to discover that it isn’t long before the zombie cowboys begin to drastically reduce the number of Steve’s friends. Although gore is certainly a long time coming, there is a nifty decapitation and a bloody stabbing scene for those willing to stick around. There is also a nude scene late on into the film that is hilarious in its gratuitousness, you can just tell that one of the film’s backers must have put their foot down and insisted that the film needed nudity, especially after an earlier, lovemaking scene had gone out of its way not to show any nudity.

In another example of how the characters in this film are none too bright, it isn’t until the very end of the movie that they work out the riddle of Natas the Reflection…which is that Natas, held up to the reflection of a mirror, spells Satan. A revelation that doesn’t even occur to them till after they’ve had a run in with Natas himself, who turns out to be this Satan like figure that lives in a cave. In keeping with the zombie cowboys from earlier on in the film, it is a little difficult to make out what Natas/Satan actually has to say for himself. Poor dictation is a reoccurring character trait for bad guys in this film, Natas/Satan being of the Brando school of heavily mumbled dialogue.

Given that Nino Cochise died in 1984 at the claimed age of 110, and is credited with being 109 in this film, Natas: The Reflection would therefore have had to have been made in 1983, although to be honest looks a few years older. Female cast members are still worshipping that Farrah Fawcett/Charlie’s Angels hairdo, the music and cars in the film are very late 1970s, and you’re left with the impression that either Natas: The Reflection stayed on the shelf for a few years or that 1970s culture just hung around a little longer in dear old Arizona. The title card of the film does have an out of place, early 80s video game appearance to it, and noticeably uses a different font to the rest of the opening credits, making you question whether Natas: The Reflection really was the film’s original title. Difficult as it to believe that this film may once have had an even worse title that Natas: The Reflection. A title that is way too dull and cryptic for a horror film, you suspect it would have done some business down at the drive-ins and grindhouses had they instead gone with a title like ‘Ghost Town of the Living Dead’ or ‘Saloon Bar Zombies’.

I have a feeling that its October 1984 British video release was the first time Natas: The Reflection had been seen anywhere. It doesn’t appear to have shown up in America till two years later, when it was put out in a VHS version hosted by Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. While I’ve never been big on riffed versions of films, I can understand why the powers that be decided Natas: The Reflection needed some extra, Elvira sized oomph to get people through it…like the AZ desert itself Natas does have a couple of dry spots.

For a film that left little impression on me all those years ago in the VHS era though, I was pleasantly surprised revisiting Natas: The Reflection. It is certainly a bit more lively and imaginative than I remembered. While you can understand why, in its day, this film was ignored and passed over in favour of the more visceral hi-jinks of Friday the 13th, Maniac or The Evil Dead, it is one of those creepy, slow burn, regional horror oddities that is well worth backwards glance in 21st century, Kemosabe.

Thursday, 25 June 2020

Extremes (1971)

Following the success of If… and Easy Rider, young, relatively inexperienced filmmakers with a jones for representing their generation onscreen suddenly found themselves en vogue with an industry that only a couple of years earlier would have probably crossed the street to avoid them. Two twentysomethings who benefited from this turn of events were filmmaking buddies Tony Klinger and Michael Lytton. Armed with equipment ‘borrowed’ from Lytton’s day job working on ITC shows, and with financing coming from exploitation film distributor Barry Jacobs of Eagle Films, the pair did a deep dive into the world of sex n’ drugs n’ rock and roll, and came back with the ‘shockumentary’ Extremes. Jacobs, who’d already displayed a keen eye for youth-oriented exploitation films with Groupie Girl and Bread, reportedly toyed with the idea of putting the film out under the title ‘Out-Bloody-Rageous’, a title presumably meant to anticipate any straight-laced cinemagoer’s reaction to the film itself. Jacobs eventually went with an ad campaign that emphasized the ‘X’ in the film’s title, simultaneously drawing audiences’ attention to its X certificate, in a manner that recalled Hammer’s publicity for The Quatermass Xperiment in the 1950s.

Whatever pennies Jacobs was throwing in Klinger and Lytton’s direction, proved to be money well spent. In exploitation terms, Extremes is a heavy number for 1971, pushing the boundaries of what was acceptable on British screens what with its female and male full frontal nudity, unsimulated intravenous drug use, gay sex scene and uncensored language. Entirely unfaked and shot guerilla style, Extremes certainly lives up to its title, documenting the lives of the most extreme characters the period had to offer. Hell’s Angels, hippies, homosexuals and heroin addicts are all part of the parade here.

Extremes is the type of film that could have only been made by people who were themselves young, had a devil may care streak and a taste for life in the fast lane. Shared characteristics with their subject matter that allowed Klinger and Lytton access to worlds that would have been strictly off limits to the older generation. Klinger and Lytton could boast greater authenticity than the trashy paperback books and fictional exploitation films that tried to cash in on the youth of the day. Those tended to be made by people who only observed the counter-culture from the sidelines, or read about it in the Sunday papers, Klinger and Lytton on the other hand actually befriended these people and rode on the crazy train with them. The irony is that the reality that unfolds in Extremes, actually far exceeds even the most lurid and sensationalist fiction of the era. Although it’s a product of the hippie era, there is a proto-punk mentality to many of Extremes subjects, who seize the chance to be as revolting, indecent and threatening on camera as possible, and clearly have their hearts set on grossing out society. Never more so than the Hell’s Angels who are initially the main focus of attention, and are introduced belching and fighting their way through a pop concert. Attempts to engage them in an intelligent conversation about the legalization of drugs is met with the put down “you sound like you’ve been poking your dick in the wrong place” and the equally blunt observation “if they legalize it, the cunts pay taxes, so what’s the point, I mean they get it now, so why bother, fuck em”.

It’s difficult not to admire the ballsiness of Klinger and Lytton, who spent the entire film in the company of volatile, violence prone personalities who could easily snap and turn on them at any moment. “We can’t be angels till we’ve proved ourselves, which is fucking difficult” explains one of the gang, with wannabe angels expected to “drink pints of piss…eat lumps of shit” in order to gain acceptance. Naturally, following around a bunch of not very bright, shit-faced Hell’s Angels at some ungodly hour in the morning buys the filmmakers a ticket to sex, violence and the odd provocative punk-ish comment “I think they should turn the House of Commons into a fucking sewerage farm”. Scenes with the Hell’s Angels carry such a thick sense of danger that they leave you feeling slightly guilty about being able to experience them without being on the front line yourself. The Boris Karloff and Catherine Lacey characters in The Sorcerers would have loved Extremes. Not so fortunate are our men in the field Klinger and Lytton, who are forced into the position of being helpless bystanders, and would be in no position to intervene were things to get out of hand…which of course they do. The angels go all Psychomania on two girls, whose flash car gets surrounded by the gang. The girls are taunted with “want a dent in your car”, “is it daddy’s” and are ordered to turn the car radio down. Just as Extremes threatens to become insightful, with one of the Hell’s Angels espousing his thoughts on race relations, rival gangs and hippie culture, his chain of thought is interrupted by another of the gang drunkenly falling off his bike. Soon after everything descends into chaos, an aged city businessman finds himself being accosted by two skanks who pin him up against a wall and flash their tits at the mortified old sod. A fight breaks out amongst the angels, someone ends up partly stripped and thrown in a canal, the soundtrack is dominated by the agitated voice of a nearby homeowner berating the filmmakers for shooting without permits, only to themselves be shouted down by one of the angels “I still recon you’re a virgin”.

A reoccurring problem with Extremes is the lack of clarification over just what is happening onscreen. Klinger and Lytton tending to favour a hands off approach to documentary making, employing the bare minimum of voiceover narration and unspooling the footage pretty much as filmed. An approach that often leaves you having to grab your deerstalker hat to try and piece together what is being put before you, frequently without success. Were those two wild gals who flashed at the old man hanging around with the angels, or were they just in the vicinity and caught Klinger and Lytton’s attention, it’s never made clear. A further excursion into London similarly leaves the audience deep within the West End Jungle without a map. There is footage of what appears to be a student protest, under heavy police guard, but it’s unclear what they are protesting for or against. At this point Extremes becomes the cinematic equivalent of listening in on the tail end of heated arguments, without fully understanding the context. Bad vibes are everywhere as filming rolls on into the night. Klinger and Lytton’s nose for danger is all present and correct, everyone they meet appears drunk or confrontational, often both. A bearded, intense, wildman appears to be blowing his top over race relations, but as the film only captures him mid-rant, it is hard to say for sure. “There’s no race thing, it only appears to be a race thing in the papers” he tells an elderly black guy, before laying into the police and black MP David Pitt, echoing Enoch Powell be prophesying “blood will flow in the streets”. Suddenly there are police sirens. As the Extremes crew rush towards the crowded scene a young man breaks free of the crowd, bolting past them. An eye-witness fills in some of the missing details for the Extremes crew “blood all over his face…he used a knife on him, stabbed him in the neck and that”.

After the explosive violence of nighttime London, the film cuts to the comparatively peaceful, hippie bliss of the second Isle of Wight pop festival. Early morning shots of festival goers waking up, setting up tents, wandering around picturesque fields and coastlines. It’s not long though before Extremes reverts to cynical type, and starts tearing down the illusion of this being any kind of hippie utopia. Everything shitty about pop festivals is focused in on by Klinger and Lytton’s lens. Extremes must be fairly unique for being a documentary covering a pop music festival, that couldn’t give a flying fuck about the musicians. There isn’t a second of footage of the bands that actually played the Isle of Wight festival in the film. Instead Lytton and Klinger take in shots of hippies being hustled through a turnstile, iron fences, barbed wire, tons and tons of garbage on the floor, people in boiling hot cars caught in a traffic jam on the way to the festival. A sign reads “urinals – don’t piss in the cubicals”. As you might expect from a film made by a pair of jack the lads, who were on the payroll of an exploitation film distributor, any shots of hippie chicks walking around with their tops off are considered holy here. Ariel views of hundreds of tents make the pop festival look as unsanitary and uninviting as a refugee camp. Since no live acts were caught on camera, the actual music in Extremes was put together after the fact, including tracks purchased from a down on their luck, pre-fame Supertramp, and contributions by ace movie soundtrack composer Roy Budd, who’d just scored ‘Get Carter’, a film produced by Klinger’s father Michael.

No one emerges from Extremes smelling of roses, including Klinger and Lytton themselves. Their vox pop interviews represent the most worthless, waste of film, moments that Extremes has to offer. No one seems to want to give Michael and Tony the time of day, many decline to be interviewed or turn away from the camera, at best people regard the pair with polite irritation. Hanging out with Hell’s Angels seems to have rubbed off on Michael and Tony, who get their kicks by bugging one of the Queen’s guards, knowing full well that the poor bastard isn’t allowed to respond to the public. “I’m not supposed to speak, mate” is his monotone response to their questions. An American businessman initially plays along, giving not very interesting sound bites “I like to talk to young people, but I don’t enjoy young people…don’t put me on the spot” before losing patience with these jokers “you just keep talking to me”. Most of the pairs’ attention seems to be focused on chatting up and/or shocking a pair of American girls “what about the young people, the drugs, the sex, and everything…and the depravity, would you participate in both…freely” sniggers Klinger.

In nighttime Piccadilly Circus though, the action is anything but heterosexual. A pair of shameless gays smooch, as a straight guy looks on, pulling pained expressions of disapproval. A hysterically funny, handbags at dawn, bitchfest kicks off between two queens. “What would I wanna screw you for…a fucking bitch” shrieks one, for all of Piccadilly Circus to hear. Evidentially size does matter, especially in the after dark Piccadilly Circus of 1971. “Fucking great queen, you ain’t even got fucking six inches down there” protests one, prompting the other to unzip his trousers in order to prove the mouthy bitch wrong. Tempers calmed, and with libidos needing to be satisfied, the pair retreat to the safety of a nearby park, where they end up putting on a live show for the Extremes crew. “These are two queens, homosexuals, fairies, AC/DC, anything you want to call them” explains Klinger “they’re here, it’s a good enough reason for us to be here”.

Extremes then cuts to the man with the worst job in London, patrolling the underground toilets after dark. Crouching down on a piss soaked floor, he peeks under the occupied cubicles. Since this is intercut with the drama taking place above ground in Piccadilly Circus, you automatically assume that Dan, Dan, the Lavatory man is trying to catch guys cottaging, but it is actually the area’s junkies he is on the lookout for. Extremes’ camera once again spares you no sordid detail, whether it is blood splattered on the cubicle door as a result of people shooting up in there, or the hole in the backside of Dan, Dan’s trousers that allows him to contribute some unwanted bare flesh to the film. An old, cadaverous junkie finds himself cornered in the cubicle by Dan, Dan, making his last stand by feebly complaining “fucking cunts….fuck off”. Outside, a younger junkie stumbles around outside of the London Pavilion, eventually flaking out against the cinema’s marquee for ‘Goodbye Gemini’ a horror film about a pair of young people who come to London and get fucked up….art mirrors life, eh?

It’s all building up to Extremes’ strongest moment, an unflinching look at the tail end of heroin addiction. The sequence opens with Klinger’s voiceover admitting that he felt sick filming it. “Here you see the living dead, evidence of hard drugs and their effects, look closely before thinking of joining in”. Bill, an older junkie with glasses has taken in a youthful ward, who does all the talking. “They used to call me the abscess king in this house” admits the younger guy, who recalls getting into hard drugs while working as a male nurse. On the sly he’d steal morphine from his day job and shoot up on a daily basis, but short sleeve nurses outfits and his track mark collection eventually brought the good times to an end. He and Bill have a mutually beneficial relationship. Since Bill’s eyesight is shot to hell he needs a younger pair of eyes around to shoot him up, in return the younger guy got a rundown roof over his head. The younger guy prides himself on being an expert worksman, as he shoots up Bill with a filthy old needle that he’d just pulled out of his own shoulder. “It’s just a knack I’ve got for hitting people” he admits, but his own fucked up body has a different tale to tell, what with his open sours, abscesses and collapsed veins. He confesses to nearly having lost a leg at Christmas time “at the hospital I never met such cunts…because I wouldn’t take a suppository, the sister came up and said either you take the suppository or we don’t give you any gear…so naturally I took the suppository”. Extremes then gives you the grand tour around their living conditions, a dirty mattress on the floor, pornography on the walls, carpets long since stripped from the bare floor, doors bashed in as a result of an earlier police raid…you’re left with the impression that both men will likely die in that room, probably with a needle sticking out of their arm. In terms of shock value, this sequence has more power than any anti-drugs film doing the rounds in schools during the 1970s and 80s.

Extremes winds down with a return to the Isle of Wight pop festival, where the film’s subjects finally turn on the men behind the camera. It’s filming naked pop fans that turns out to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Klinger and Lytton excitedly grabbed their camera when they spotted hundreds of festival goers heading to the beach and stripping off en masse. Only it seems, some of the crowd objected to being filmed in the nude, and began pelting the Extremes crew with rocks… footage of which remains in the film. Licking their wounds, Klinger and Lytton came up with the ingenious solution of stripping off themselves, allowing them to slip back among the naked masses incognito, and resume filming. Extremes ends with hundreds of naked people grooving around in the sea, while a police helicopter hovers above, futilely trying to get them all to put their clothes back on. The kind of big budget, action movie spectacle that would have been beyond the film’s budget to stage. Barry Jacobs, who measured a film’s quality by the amount of boobs that were in it, and was known for impatiently asking filmmakers “what reel has the tits on it”, must have been in his element. Hundreds of people taking their clothes off in his movie…and for free as well. The end credits thank Jacobs and ‘the police sometimes’.

Extremes doesn’t so much document its era, rather sticks its fingers into the era’s wounds and watches the puss flow out. It’s one for those with a strong stomach for the squalid, an obnoxious, dirty, pimple faced punk of a movie that frequently spits in the audience’s faces, don’t be surprised if you occasionally want to spit back. Extremes is a reminder that while the past was a different country, it was every bit as fucked up as where we are now.
Extremes is meant to have had a VHS release in the early eighties on the ultra-obscure Knockout video label, a tape so rare that not even the most ardent pre-cert video collectors have ever managed to unearth a copy. After remaining dormant for decades, the film eventually resurfaced in 2017, when a combi-pack containing the film on DVD and a copy of the soundtrack on CD was released. Incongruous photos of John Sebastian and The Who’s Pete Townshend, taken at Woodstock, appear on the cover. The good times and flower power optimism of those images being a far cry from the early 1970s comedown nature of Extremes itself. Extremes doesn’t embody the idealism of the 1960s, it serves that decade’s severed head to you on a plate.

Saturday, 13 June 2020

Death Has Blue Eyes (1976)

Despite its giallo sounding title, this Tigon released, Nico Mastorakis directed WTFery, instead spans sexploitation, political thriller, buddy movie and horror, as two freewheeling con men get caught up with a blonde psychic who has been targeted for political assassination, after apparently witnessing a murder and inadvertently reading the mind of the killer. Death has Blue Eyes begins as an ode to male hedonism, as the two protagonists party, cheat and hustle their way around 1970s Greece, smashing plates, getting drunk and encountering butt naked housemaids, sweary parrots and sexy female racing drivers along the way. Somehow such amorous hi-jinks (notable for featuring as much male nudity as female), eventually give way to a film that antisapates The Fury and Scanners when it comes to using violent telekinesis as a plot device. The blonde with the titular blue eyes having the ability to yank pursuers off motorbikes, cause people to burst into flames and even be used as a human bomb.

Death Has Blue Eyes is very much a young, horny, guy's movie, with Mastorakis filling the film with fast cars, loose women, Cold War era espionage, pop culture references (Serpico, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), and above all else the male fantasy of flying through life by the seat of your pants, devoid of any worldly responsibility. Pursuit by helicopter, motorbike and numerous car chases hint at Mastorakis' future in 1980s direct to video action movies, but as anyone who encountered Death Has Blue Eyes on UK video (where it was known as 'Para Psychics') will testify, this groovy, hyper-sexual, genre cocktail is a far cry from Nick the Greek's later, more conventional American fare.