Monday, 24 February 2020

Black Angels (1970)

I’m back on YouTube with a brief look at the 1970 biker flick Black Angels aka Black Bikers from Hell

A rowdy, chaotic, good old, beer drinking biker flick, Black Angels stars John King III of Psycho from Texas fame. Should all you John King III fans out there want to stage your own John King III film festival ...well it wouldn't take up too much of your time, although he had small roles in other movies and TV shows, Black Angels and Psycho from Texas were to be his only substantial acting roles before his death in the early 2000s. The other face you might recognize here is James Whitworth, whose gnarly, bearded, wild man persona would later be used to even greater effect in The Hills Have Eyes. Yep, Papa Jup plays a biker in this one, which pits black biker gang The Choppers (played by real life bikers) against white biker gang Satan's Serpents, who go against expectations by being fervently anti-racist. When John King III's character tries to play racist agitator he is immediately shot down by one of the bikers who tells him "if you were an artist you'd know that black and white go together".

Now, if you thought the 1960s TV series Honey West asked too much of Anne Francis by having her act alongside a bad tempered, violence prone ocelot, have pity on the poor actors here who have to share the screen with one very pissed off cougar. The cast of Black Angels certainly had balls, and they were fortunate the cougar didn't get at them. Comic relief comes in the form of a biker who is trying to train a raccoon to smoke a joint, and the biker mama who resents being called a slut and prefers the term nymphomaniac.

In true exploitation film fashion it all ends in a mindless orgy of shootings, stabbings and pitchfork impalings, followed by a song lamenting the senseless violence in society. Black Angels director Laurence Merrick was a fascinating character, to put it mildly. A Zionist with alleged links to the Israeli defense forces and the US government. Merrick was also a footnote to the Manson family murders, having been around the family during the making of Black Angels in 1969, and having also been Sharon Tate's acting teacher for a while. Unusually for a director of low budget exploitation movies Merrick would go on to win an Oscar for co-directing the 1973 documentary Manson in 1973. There would be no happy ending for Laurence Merrick however, in 1977 Merrick himself was murdered by a mentally unbalanced aspiring actor who believed Merrick was using black magic to thwart his acting career. Truth is often stranger than fiction, and equally as tragic.

Saturday, 22 February 2020

Grizzly 2: Revenge…The Predator…The Concert

37 years after it was made and abandoned then, it seems the world is finally going to get a finished, official version of Grizzly 2: Revenge (previously known as Grizzly 2: The Predator and Grizzly 2: The Concert). This new edit of the film had its premiere in LA on the 17th Feb 2020, which nobody seems to have been aware of till after the fact. Of course anyone watching the trailer for Grizzly 2: Revenge (2020) on Youtube and under the impression it is a 2020 film will probably think "it's amazing what they can do with de-ageing these days, Charlie Sheen, George Clooney and Laura Dern, just look the same as they did in 1983".

There was a fan edit floating around a few years ago, which got round the fact that the leaked Grizzly 2 work print was missing most of the special effects footage by inserting in bear attack material from the original film. Which kinda worked. I'm guessing someone has done something similar with Grizzly 2: Revenge, only in an official capacity. This probably explains why the fan edit disappeared from YouTube, and why the film's producer has been trying to get the work print footage taken down from Supposedly Cannon took an interest in finishing and releasing the film in 1987, which would have been a marriage made in heaven. Grizzly 2 is a very Cannon-esque movie at times, the ending is straight out of Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo, except that the concert gets gate crashed by a giant teddy bear. Maybe Cannon would have released it as Grizzly 2: Furball Boogaloo.

Pathetic bit of name dropping: Bruno Tonioli, who also makes a ‘before they were famous’ appearance in Grizzly 2, once chipped in to a Twitter conversation I was having about the film. Hopefully Bruno, who takes on the difficult and against type role of a dance choreographer in the film, has made it into the Grizzly 2: Revenge edit.

Friday, 14 February 2020

Stair Lift to Stardom

Let me introduce you to a whole new rabbit hole: Stairway to Stardom. The brainchild of Italian-American nightclub singer Frank Masi, this public-access television show shined a low-fi spotlight on the good, the bad and the hopeless of New York amateur talent. Singers, dancers, magicians, celebrity impersonators, comedians and all manner of Rupert Pupkin type wannabes did their thing in front of the Stairway to Stardom cameras, against a threadbare backdrop of cheap plants and fug ugly furniture.
Once seen, impossible to forget turns include Gloria Huddle with her ‘is that a cockney, australian or deep south’ accent and unique interpretation of ‘Operator’ by The Manhattan Transfer, Lucille Cataldo- with her black bin bag apparel and irritatingly catchy, self penned number ‘Hairdresser’ (“what….a….tease, teaser Louise, teaser Louise”), the tortured, tearful Precious Taft and her mid-monologue breakdown “I only thank the benevolent god for being wiser than me, because if a son existed now, I swear…I’D BASH HIS BRAINS AGAINST THE GODDAMN RADIATOR”. Then there’s the mysterious, balaclava wearing ‘B.J- The Messenger’, making a rappin’ contribution to the war on drugs, and not forgetting Masi himself who doesn’t so much sing a song, as emotionally act it out with every bone in his body.

A cynical, cruel mind might suggest the show would have been more accurately titled ‘Stair Lift to Stardom’, but it is impossible not to warm to Frank Masi, a clearly all round nice guy, who genuinely believed he was making the world a better place by putting this show on air, and insists on dishing out his catchphrase “that was beautiful” to even the train wreck acts. Everything and everyone was beautiful in Frank’s eyes. Sadly neither Frank Masi (1925-2013) or the show (1979-1992) are still around, but 27 full episodes and many, many clips from the show lie in wait on the Stairway to Stardom Youtube channel, ready to make the masses smile, laugh, cry, cringe and frequently drive them to the point of madness and beyond. I’ve always been curious if anyone on the show actually made it to the big time, the only person I’ve ever seen outside of the context of the show is Don Costello, a baldheaded comedian with a penchant for pantomime drag and ‘take my wife’ jokes, who also had bit parts in The Toxic Avenger and Splatter University…what a stairway to stardom!!!!

If you want to follow me further down the rabbit hole marked ‘public-access TV’ there is Beyond Vaudeville (1986-1996) . 48 hours after watching it and I'm still undecided as to this episode's highlight. Is it the 'miscellaneous dancing' of deadly serious cosplayer Suzanne 'Underdog' Muldowney. The facial responses to her act by former child star Mason Reese, who grows so bored by her antics that he takes to reading a book about Star Wars instead.
Then there is David, who is meant to be the show’s co-host but is more its Ron Mael character, he rarely speaks and prefers to glare contemptuously at everyone. Against stiff competition I think you'd have to hand the award to David, if only for his violent reaction to having a Bay City Rollers album thrust under his nose.

Evidentially the Beyond Vaudeville boys had a thing for exploitation movies, as posters for the likes of Slaughterhouse, Alien Predators, Alvin Purple and Plutonium Baby adorn the walls of the set in later episodes. I'm not sure if its flattering or insulting to have a shared characteristic with Frank and David, but at least you can add 'Quentin Crisp and the poster for Plutonium Baby' to the list of things you never expected to see in the same room.

Thursday, 6 February 2020

Satans Lust (1971)

Some films leave behind no real clues to their maker’s identity other than of course what is contained in the films themselves. In the case of Satans Lust, we can deduct that its makers had a twisted sense of humour, counted horror movies and the occult as pastimes, had only the basic idea of how to make a movie, and had a big, big thing about lingerie. Oh, and little time for punctuation, don’t go expecting anything as fancy as apostrophes here, this film is called Satans Lust not Satan’s Lust.

Satans Lust was one of thousands of films saved from the dumpsters of America by Something Weird Video, a company currently in the process of winding down its operations now, but one that leaves behind an amazing legacy of exploitation film preservation. For sure, the positives of Something Weird Video far outweighed the negatives, but the negatives were definitely there. I do remember ordering from them in the pre-internet days, and while my first order passed without any problems, a second order from them failed to materialise. Subsequent attempts to reach them by snail mail (remember this was pre-internet) was only met with a blunt letter effectively saying “we sent your video out, not our fault if you didn’t get it”. As a result I tended to favour picking up bootleg copies of their releases, rather than dealing with the company directly. Which is a shame as obviously I’d have rather been putting money into the pockets of the people who were saving so many films from oblivion, rather than the people who were stealing from them. What with there always being the risk that your tapes would never arrive though, the alternative of visiting various Film Fairs in the UK and picking up Something Weird bootlegs from there, remained a far more attractive, play it safe option.

Something Weird stuff, as well as the output of similar companies like Alpha Blue Archives, Luminous Film and Video Wurks and The Incredibly Strange Filmworks, were heavily bootlegged on the UK collectors circuit back then. Giving Brits a second hand look at some of the archival explorations that were being made in the States. Everything from long lost sexploitation like The Curious Dr Humpp and Confessions of a Psycho Cat, to the films of Jose Mojica Marins and then obscure horrors such as The Bloody Pit of Horror and The Horrors of Spider Island. The real eye openers however were the violent, frequently horror themed hardcore sex movies that Something Weird Video dabbled in releasing and Alpha Blue Archives seemed to exclusively deal in. The likes of Forced Entry, The Devil Inside Her, School for Dead Girls, The Haunted Pussy, Sex Psycho and Hardgore collectively gave you the thrill of experiencing cinema at its most extreme, taboo bashing and beyond the pale.

Satans Lust was the joker in the pack of these hardcore excavations. It’s a film that manages to play its horror elements straight while also being an outlet for an especially juvenile sense of humour- this is after all a film in which one of the main characters is called Manheim Jarkoff. Shot in early 1970s Hollywood, Satans Lust sees Pamela Goodright (Judy Angel) and her chemist beau Wayne (James Mathers) investigating the suspicious death of their old school friend Carla. The realisation that Carla couldn’t drive –due to her being colour blind- makes her fiery death behind the wheel of a car seem most unlikely. Sure enough Carla has been snuffed out by a Satanic coven headed by film producer Manheim Jarkoff, and assisted by Edith, a 300 year old Salem witch, and their idiot henchman Boris (Ron Darby). Jarkoff’s film production company, the non-so subtly titled ‘Satanic Film Productions’ is but a front for the coven’s debauched black masses. At which the company’s female employees, like the ill-fated Carla, are tied spread eagled to an altar, dildoed by Edith –who dons a strap-on for such occasions- and finally burnt alive with lit torches.

It might initially appear the unlikeliest of comparisons, but the more I watch Satans Lust, the more I can’t help be drawn by how much it resembles one of those creaky old Monogram horror films from the 1940s. The bland, romantic leads, the Hollywood setting, the Eastern European villain with his smoking jacket, outlandish schemes, hypnotic powers and weirdo underlings. Strip away the fucking, and ignore the fact that it’s in colour and Satans Lust would fit right in with The Corpse Vanishes, Invisible Ghost, The Ape Man and all the other cheap, weird movies Bela Lugosi made in order to get high. Satans Lust’s leading lady Judy Angel, was an early star of American hardcore films who’d come to prominence in Howard Ziehm’s Mona- the Virgin Nymph, and appeared visibly older than the porno chic stars who were destined to eclipse her. The real casting surprise in Satans Lust however is George ‘Buck’ Flower who plays Jarkoff. In a lengthy career as a character actor Flower was rarely out of work, usually playing winos or grandpas. Flower was a regular in John Carpenter films, showed up in B-Movies and even Hollywood fare like the Back to the Future series. Prior to such high end gigs Flower had also been a mover and shaker in LA’s softcore industry, appearing in Harry Novak sexploiters and Ilsa She Wolf of the SS, usually under the porn-de-plume ‘C.D. LaFleur’. A friend of mine worked on a 1990s film that had Buck Flower in its cast, and remembers him being “a pain in the ass” to deal with, who kept trying to upstage the lead actors. Behaviour that saw him being mostly cut from the film in question.

There’s no such holding Flower back in Satans Lust as he hams it up outrageously, ranting and raving Satanic mumbo-jumbo in what sounds like a mixture of cod-Latin and cod-Chinese “ABO-CO-CO-CHUNG-YARHO”. Buck Flower is the life of the wild party here, clearly having a ball playing a character who is equal parts Bela Lugosi and Brother Theodore, with a nutty Dwight Frye laugh thrown in for good measure. While fellow character actor Strother Martin might have raised eyebrows with his Satanic turn and brief full frontal flash in 1971’s The Brotherhood of Satan, this pales in comparison to Buck Flower’s looney antics here, which includes a great deal of presiding over black masses, wearing a cape and little else. Initially Satans Lust appears to be keeping Flower at arm’s length from the hardcore sex, with a scene where Jarkoff hypnotises Pamela then screws her in his office actually allowing him to leave his trousers on. Even in this respect Satans Lust isn’t entirely consistent though, with at least one later scene –in which Jarkoff and Boris are both being blown by Edith- where Flower is clearly participating in for real sexual activity.

Another review of Satans Lust that I’ve read speculated that Flower might have also been this film’s director. Since everyone involved in the film is now either dead, as in Flower’s case, or long since vanished into the LA night, it’s likely that speculation is all this can ever be. Still, it is an intriguing theory, Flower certainly wasn’t a stranger to ghost directing, working second unit on several early 70s skinflicks and even the 1983 Pia Zadora vehicle The Lonely Lady. The unrestrained, unstoppable grandstanding Flower does as an actor here, would also make sense if he and the director were one in the same. Another peculiarity is that while the film is highly generous when it comes to giving all of the other actors close-ups, Flower himself is entirely filmed in long and medium shots. Even without his trademark hobo beard though, Flower’s pudgy frame, distinct voice and character actor features all give the game away.

The directorial style of Satans Lust alternates between amateur indifference and frenzied enthusiasm. Some scenes are flatly filmed in single long shots with zero camera movement, adding to the comparisons between this and the thread barest of 1940s horror films. At other times Satans Lust suggests those behind the camera were in danger of a heart attack. Anything involving female underwear is guaranteed to get this film’s pulse racing. A nothing special scene between Wayne and Pamela suddenly comes alive when Pamela sits down on a couch, prompting the hitherto static camera to crash zoom onto her legs in pursuit of a peek at her stocking tops. Erotic camera placement also comes into play during a later scene where Jarkoff hypnotises Pamela into performing a striptease for him, which is shot from ground level looking up between the actress’ legs as a lustful Manheim Jarkoff ecstatically bellows his demands. “Miss Goodright take off your Miss Goodright take off the blouse...take off the panties Miss Goodright, huh,huh,huh,huh”. Satans Lust has no qualms about sharing its fetishes with the world.

Such horny, inspired moments tend not to extend to the regular sex in the film, which sees Satans Lust revert back to indifferent mode. Scenes of the aged, patsy faced Judy Angel making love to her boyfriend Wayne, a hairy, overweight, mustachioed guy, are as erotic as watching Joe Spinell going at it with Regina Carrol’s mum. What you tend to remember the most about the Wayne/Pamela sex scenes are the slow-motion close-ups of Wayne’s face in supposed ecstasy, his greasy hair swinging from side to side. As Wayne, James Mathers is one of those guys who carries himself like an ape, arms dangling down, legs slightly apart at the knees. Seeing him lumbering around the Satans Lust set in this ungainly manner causes you to wonder if the poor chap has lost a bunch of bananas. Credibility and good taste be damned, Satans Lust insists on portraying Wayne as God’s gift to women, who quickly manages to talk Pamela into sex (“just let me be your daddy”) and awakens long dormant romantic feelings in Edith. Yes, getting the hots for this sweaty anthropoid is all that is needed for Edith to put aside hundreds of years of servitude to the Devil. As well as possessing the craziest eyebrows in the movie, and rocking a proto-goth chick look, Edith has the ability to transform herself into a black cat. One minute, a confused, fresh out of the shower Wayne is trying to shoo a pesky moggy out of his bathroom, the next moment he is being confronted by a sexy witch, who hypnotises him into going down on her.

The Satans Lust soundtrack is as insane as anything happening onscreen, incorporating everything from horror movie sound effects to ‘Marcia without hope’ and ‘Death of a Soldier’ from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly soundtrack and incongruous, easy listening album cover versions of ‘I Will Follow Him’ and several Beatles numbers. In a typical example of the film’s perverse humour, a scene that calls for Jarkoff to lube Pamela’s tight ass is scored to ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ (the other Beatles numbers in the film are ‘Yellow Submarine’ and ‘Good Day Sunshine’). The freaky is what really finds favour in Satans Lust, whether it is a character being turned into a skeleton while they’re in the process of frigging themselves with a candle, or the appearance of the Devil, who throws a tantrum at Edith (“witch, oh witch, hear me have fallen from the throne of evil, you must be punished or destroyed!!!, you have had love with a mortal, hahahahahahaha”) and insists on her being flagellated for her sins.

For all its Satanic theme and horror movie incident though, Satans Lust registers as more silly and mischievous than dark and heavy, possessing the kind of zany quality associated with Ray Dennis Steckler circa Rat Pfink A Boo A Boo and Lemon Grove Kids Meet the Monsters (though there’s not remotely enough fellatio in Satans Lust to give serious consideration to Steckler being behind the camera here). Satans Lust is like being invited to an early 1970s Hollywood Halloween party, populated by good natured sex maniacs with an occult fetish...whip out the strap-on Edith....put on the easy listening Beatles album Manheim...light up the torches Boris...hey, the ape is taking his clothes off. Corny and unoriginal as it sounds, this film really knows how to raise hell.

Saturday, 18 January 2020

The Beast and the Vixens (1974)

I tend to liken the people who made Bigfoot movies in the 1970s to the gold prospectors of the old West. One of them got lucky with that Legend of Boggy Creek movie, a huge box-office phenomenon, then suddenly what seems like hundreds of likeminded prospectors converged on the same area, hoping to strike it rich and make the next Boggy Creek. I once went through a period of trying to binge watch as many of the 1970s pseudo-documentary films about Bigfoot as I could, but can’t for the life of me tell you their titles now. They all tend to blur together in the memory after a while, an endless loop of vox pop interviews with folk who claim to have encountered bigfoot, stock shots of animals scurrying about and scenes of so-called experts trekking around the great outdoors...occasionally getting excited over some dried up faeces that they take to be bigfoot shit, only to discover half an hour later into the film that it is just yer’ standard animal crap.

These are films that leave you wondering how people didn’t vengefully burn down the drive-ins that played them, they must have bored the arses off people back then, especially those pumped for a rowdy, Saturday night, action packed drive-in experience. Today, these films tend to work better as Sunday afternoon TV watches, where all those picturesque views of the American wilderness and nature footage make for the kind of agreeable moving wallpaper that is easy to doze off to. Fortunately the bigfoot movie wasn’t entirely the domain of bores, bigfoot’s dick ripping, entrails throwing antics in 1980’s Night of the Demon got that film onto the video nasties list, and if you want to dive deep into the rabbit hole marked ‘Bigfoot XXX’ there is 1971’s The Geek...yes, a bigfoot movie with hardcore sex.

I tend to suspect that the identity of whoever made The Geek will forever remain a mystery, but it seems to have been born out of the thinking ‘all those boring, National Geographic type bigfoot movies would be greatly improved if people stopped every five minutes to have ugly, unsatisfactory sex...then at the end bigfoot shows up and turns out to be an ass crazy rascal who pops one of the female explorers in the ass’. That, I’d wager, is how The Geek came into this world.

1974’s The Beast and the Vixens treads similar cinematic turf as The Geek, albeit walking the more socially acceptable path of being a softcore, R-Rated, T&A movie, rather than hardcore porn. The Beast and the Vixens’ fragmented narrative party evolves around two swingin’ chicks Ann (Jacqueline Giroux) and Mary (Uschi Digart). In typical exploitation film fashion, aimless teasin’ introduces Ann...exterior shots of suburbia scored to cocktail lounge music...Ann rising out of bed...lingering cutaways to a clock...Ann smoking a cigarette...Ann staring into a mirror...Ann reading a note...more lingering cutaways, this time to a radio. Ann begins to take her clothes off, at which point the scene coyly fades to black. Cut to Ann in the shower, in another scene that’s seemingly centred around showing some skin, but stubbornly refuses to deliver the expected goods. 

It’s a peculiar start to a sexploitation film, setting up scenes that resemble dirty, homemade suburban porn, yet focusing on just about everything but female nudity. A decision made even more peculiar by the film’s complete change of heart not long after, where we go from scenes where female nudity seems essential but fails to materialise, to scenes where female nudity feels randomly tagged on...better get used to strange decisions in The Beast and the Vixens though, it’s a film full of them. Once the action relocates to a woodlands cabin, the film finds its sexploitation mojo as Ann and Mary begin knocking back the brandies, leading a tipsy Ann to start baring her breasts by the fireplace and making sexual advances to her best friend.

Fear not, straight male viewers however, as Ann and Mary aren’t real lesbians, they’re just man crazy heterosexuals who occasionally drink too much and end up in bed together. Ann brushes off the previous night’s girl on girl action as simply “a welcome change of pace”, while Mary admits “I don’t think if we’d have been so stoned we would have done it”. Having gotten that out of their system, Ann and Mary go off in search of a man, and not just any man either but primitive man, a book on the subject having stoked Mary’s interest in tracking down Bigfoot. Unbeknownst to them, the pair have already appeared on Bigfoot’s radar, Bigfoot having peeked in on the couple’s lovemaking the night before, which had also attracted the voyeuristic interest of an elderly hermit too.

Much to the no doubt relief of anyone who has suffered through all the bigfoot movies that prefer to keep bigfoot’s screen time to a bare minimum, there is a hell of allot of bigfoot action in this film. Even before the opening credits have rolled Bigfoot has already made off with a topless sunbather, adding her to the collection of gals he keeps captive in a cave. Unfortunately if you’ve exposed yourself to many of the pseudo-documentary bigfoot movies of this time, you’ll know damn well that the type of people who claimed to have encountered the creature were never as easy on the eye as the parade of Hollywood sexploitation starlets who get captured by bigfoot here –among their number being Sharon Kelly and Sandy Carey- and they certainly dressed more appropriate for the great outdoors than the sassy hot pants and white go-go boots sported by female cast members here. Then again, when did exploitation movies ever need to have any basis in reality.

Unlike the makers of The Geek, the people behind The Beast and the Vixens waved their right to anonymity, by leaving their names on the film. This was Ray Nadeau’s first (and would you believe last) film as a director. Nadeau’s background being in editing, while his biggest claim to fame was working as an extra on ‘Hill Street Blues’ and occasionally doubling for its star Daniel J Travanti. Producer Arthur A Jacobs had a background in 1950s B-Movie horror, with She Demons and Giant from the Unknown being his two most famous credits. Jacobs’ involvement in the film does explain why The Beast and the Vixens plays like a 1950s B-Movie that’s been sex-ed up for the 1970s with the addition of full frontal nudity, graphic sex scenes and hippie its heart though it’s just an old fashioned monster on the loose flick.

The presence of a rookie filmmaker, taking up his one and only residence in the director’s chair, does also explain the multitude of decisions in this film that are either going to hit you as endearingly wrongheaded or just plain ol’ frustrating. Uschi Digart is given allot to do, acting wise in this film, with pages and pages of dialogue being fed through the meat grinder that is Uschi’s thick, Zsa Zsa Gabor type accent. It’s a 180 degree reversal on Uschi’s usual lot in the film-world, where she was generally relegated to nude walk ons and frequently dubbed. Here however you can see Uschi bravely battling with dialogue that never sounded very coherent to begin with. As well as a particularly unflattering moment in the script that calls for a well-fed Uschi to slouch down on a couch and make the un-ladylike announcement “I’m stuffed”.

While the smart money would be on Uschi having some kind of run-in with Bigfoot, such an encounter never takes place. Instead Uschi’s character Mary and her friend Ann run into a carefree bunch of hippies, whose female members are played by more hard working gals of the LA smut movie scene. The most recognisable of the bunch being Susan Westcott, a porn veteran who played the title character in the sicko hardcore flick ‘Widow Blue’ aka Sex Psycho, a film that like ‘The Geek’ is a movie normal people ain’t never gonna know about. Westcott is a Stevie Nicks/Gaylen Ross lookalike, who always gives the impression of being slightly stoned in her movies, I like her allot. My favourite of the hippies though has to be Sarah, who in contrast to the laid back peace n’ love vibes been given off by the rest of the group, puts on a malicious, pissed off front. “If you expect to eat with us, you better get lost” is Sarah’s way of welcoming Ann and Mary into the fold. Sarah seems to especially have it in for Ann, who keeps making lovin’ eyes at Sarah’s man Hank.

Nothing confirms hippie sympathies behind the camera quite like the narrative being waylaid by a folksy, guitar ballad (see also: 1971’s Zaat). So, take it away Hank with a fireside performance of ‘Gypsy Mountain Madness’ (choice lyrics “I talk to trees, kiss the ground, dance out in the rain...down in this gypsy mountain heaven, you’ll have lovely dreams”). Everyone grooves to Hank’s ode to nature, everyone that is apart from Sarah, who scowls, crosses her arms and probably fantasizes about writing ‘Pigs’ on the cabin walls in Ann’s blood.
Apropos of nothing, The Beast and the Vixens then drops everything and momentarily decides it wants to be a Western, as Sarah has a dream that sees her and Ann having a Wild West shootout while wearing only boots and holsters. Snow is visible in the background of these scenes, good God these gals were really earning their pay on this one.

The Beast and the Vixens’ allegiance to the youth of the day means that finding favour here are the hippie gang, who spend the winter squatting at an off season boy’s camp, and keep themselves afloat by making belts and candles for the locals. The film also looks favourable upon Bigfoot’s best friend, the elderly hermit who has similarly dropped out of the rat race and embraced nature. Undoubtedly one of the film’s more memorable characters, the elderly hermit is clearly played by a young man who has been given a full Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments makeover, complete with fake beard and staff, but who also speaks in an over the top mess of an Irish accent “don’t ya be running away, come on back, I’m just an old man, I wouldn’t hurt a flea”.
Inadvertently bigfoot and the hermit manage to get the hippies into trouble. The hippies have been leaving food out for the pair, after Sarah spotted Bigfoot loitering about in the dark (as Hank tactfully explains “she got up late one night to go potty”). In order to replay this generosity, either the hermit or Bigfoot have been leaving them rare coins that the kids have been wearing as trinkets. Unfortunately the coins originally belonged to a pair of criminals Pete and Frenchie who hid them at the camp before doing prison time. Thanks to Bigfoot’s redistribution of the coins, Pete and Frenchie now have the kids in their sights. Pete vowing “I didn’t spend seven years in the stir, just to let a bunch of hippies make trinkets out of my coins”.

Bigfoot movies tend to either portray their title creature as a misunderstood, nature loving pacifist or a rampaging monster, but The Beast and the Vixens tries to have its cake and eat it. The film can never quite decide whether Bigfoot should be regarded as an honorary hippie or a savage beast. On one hand, Bigfoot robs from the greedy, materialistic bad guys to give to the hippies, but he is simultaneously abducting women and breaking up a bickering stroll in the woods between an Afro-ed soul sister and her white old man...maybe Bigfoot has racial issues...who knows. By the standards of men in the film, Bigfoot though is a fairly chaste character. He is no ‘The Geek’ that’s for sure. A grope of an unconscious Sandy Carey is as perverse as Bigfoot gets. Once he gets women back to the cave, he doesn’t really do anything with them, even bringing Carey’s clothes back to the cave so she can retain her dignity. Bigfoot’s bag it seems is just collecting for collectings sake.

By far the rudest thing about bigfoot’s cave is its entrance, which bigfoot seals shut while he is away by jamming it with dead bushes and woodland debris. Actions which make the cave’s entrance resemble...errmm... an intimate part of a woman’s body. If that symbolism was intentional you do have to wonder why they bothered, given that there is no shortage of what that cave’s entrance looks like in the film itself anyway.

Nadeau’s film first played drive-ins in 1974 in a cut down R-Rated version under its ‘The Beast and the Vixens’ title, presumably to cash-in on the Russ Meyer ‘Vixen’ movies. Cast members Uschi Digart and Sharon Kelly having both appeared in Supervixens. During the VHS era a significantly longer version of the film emerged on tape in America under the title ‘The Beauties and the Beast’ (with the Desperately Seeking Susan parody tag line ‘Desperately Seeking Yeti’). New to this version were additional shots of full frontal nudity (both male and female), the Western fantasy sequence, and several of the type of protracted, real time sex scenes more associated with Harry Novak’s Box Office International productions.
The 2016 DVD release from Fred Olen Ray’s Retromedia company collects the 71 minute theatrical version, and a composite uncut version that pieces together a 35mm print with footage from the 1980s VHS, bringing the running time up to 84 minutes. Also on the disc is the 1972 quickie, softcore adaptation of Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon, featuring Beast and the Vixens stars Uschi Digart, Sandy Carey and Susan Westcott, proof if ever it were needed that the LA softcore industry of the time was a very small world indeed.

In his brief audio commentary Fred Olen Ray speculates that The Beast and the Vixens might have been an Al Adamson style chop-shop production, made up of footage shot at various times and operating in completely different genres. The Beast and the Vixens is certainly a viewing experience akin to Adamson’s Dracula Vs Frankenstein and The Blood of Ghastly Horror, with various scenes taking stabs at being sexploitation, a crime movie and a horror film, plus an ‘introduction’ by a phoney expert which sets up the film as a pseudo-documentary. The only thing working against the theory of this being a chop-shop production is that these seemingly disparate elements of the film occasionally reference each other. Uschi never lays eyes on Bigfoot but has dialogue mentioning ‘primitive man’, and while the hippies aren’t destined to meet Bigfoot either, they do have a run in with Pete and Frenchie, whose sub-plot bleeds over into the Bigfoot material. The most likely explanation is that The Beast and the Vixens began life as a crime flavoured sexploitation film, centred around Ann and Mary finding themselves caught up in Pete and Frenchie’s scheme to get the coins back. Only for its makers to realise that the film wasn’t really coming together, remembered the producer had a raggedy old monster costume left over from his 1950s B-Movie days, and managed to salvage the production by turning it into a Bigfoot movie.

There’s no two ways about it, The Beast and the Vixens is an unholy mess of a movie, but at least it is a lively unholy mess. Maybe you have to suffer through many of the snooze inducing Bigfoot movies of the 1970s to appreciate it. Clumsy and borderline incompetent as it may be, you can’t deny that The Beast and the Vixens does what it says on the tin. It’s a softcore bigfoot movie that is wholeheartedly committed to filling the screen with nudity, sex and Bigfoot attack scenes. Guaranteeing at least that there is always something hairy onscreen, and even with her clothes mostly on and her strong accent in full throttle Uschi Digart is still preferable to wasting 90 minutes of your time watching some dullard wandering about the American wilderness in search of Bigfoot faeces.

Tuesday, 7 January 2020

Never Too Young To Rock (1976)

Never Too Young To Rock is the glam rock loving bastard child of The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour, its also an example of that rare beast...the British road movie, and inadvertently might also be the closest anyone has ever come to making a live action version of The Beano. Ignore everything negative that has ever been written about this film, all clearly penned by people whose arteries have gotten clogged up by 21st century cynicism, have an unhealthy allegiance to brass band music, and have long since lost the ability to connect with their 12 year old selves.

Whatever else can be said about the folks who made Never Too Young To Rock, they sure knew how to make a movie for 12 year old boys. NTYTR is a film filled with food fights, joke shop gags, a Scooby Doo level visit to a haunted house, glam rock musical numbers, the lampooning of adult authority figures, and no girls allowed...well not many of them anyway. TV presenter Sally James really being the only female considered cool enough to cut it in this boy’s own environment. Admittedly, you have to be in a certain mindset to enjoy a film like this...personally I’ve found it works best as a New Year’s Eve party movie, NTYTR’s combo of good time music, merriment and its inbuilt nostalgia value, tending to be at its most infectious at that time of year.

NTYTR ain’t got time for anything as sophisticated as back-story, impatiently establishing its totalitarian future/sci-fi movie premise with the opening proclamation of “In the late 1970s, Rock n Roll was to be banned from television. One young man, our hero, led the battle against this TV ban. He searched the country for the biggest rock groups to perform at a concert in support of his cause. But the enemies of rock n roll had other plans”, before throwing you straight into the madhouse. NTYTR often has the appearance of a Children’s Film Foundation production that had accidently forgot to cast any child actors, and had to make do with a couple of glam rock bands (Mud, The Rubettes, The Glitter Band) behaving like big kids instead, as well as calling in a few showbiz favours. The film being populated by cameos from the likes of Shelia Steafel, Peter Noone, John Clive and Nosher Powell. NTYTR’s leading man Peter Denyer was no stranger to behaving like a big kid either, having come to prominence with just that shtick on TV’s Please Sir and The Fenn Street Gang, so was a natural shoo-in for NTYTR’s dim-witted hero- who is literally called Hero.

NTYTR’s simplistic, could have been written on the back of a beer mat plot finds Hero taking to the road in his ‘Group Detector Van’ (a parody of the era’s TV Detector Vans) in order to track down pop bands and bring them together for a televised pop concert in the hope that this will persuade the authorities to rethink their TV ban on pop music. Having been outlawed from TV, The Rubettes have been reduced to performing out of the back of a truck, Mud have been farmed out to a motorway cafe, while The Glitter Band have lucked out the most and are starring in their own movie.

British pop music films love a curmudgeon, such characters are usually played by name actors or TV personalities, who spend these films moaning and grumbling about the music, only to be won over by it in the final reel. Gonks Go Beat had Kenneth Connor, The Ghost Goes Gear had Nicholas Parsons, and following in their footsteps here is Freddie Jones as Hero’s reluctant sidekick, the chronically complaining Mr Rockbottom. My pet theory about British pop films and their love affairs with curmudgeons is that such characters existed to give the dads -who’d been reluctantly dragged to the cinema by their kids- someone to relate to. Rockbottom is seemingly their mouthpiece, with his miserable mutterings about “long haired kids” who “sound like a load of cats”. On the sly, Rockbottom would like nothing better than for all this long haired music to go away, so that we can all go back to listening to Rockbottom’s beloved brass band music. NTYTR really, really has it in for brass band music. A type of music that in the eyes of this film represents all things old fashioned, conformist and worth rebelling against. The villains of NTYTR being a brass band, headed by Carry On alumni John Clive, who follow Hero and Rockbottom around in a steam engine.

Rockbottom’s attempts to sabotage Hero’s quest- by among other things starting a riot between rival football supporters- inevitably backfires on him in a Wile E. Coyote fashion, with the added insult that the hopelessly trusting Hero mistakes Rockbottom’s actions as over-eager dedication to their cause “you shouldn’t be so keen Mr Rockbottom”. It would have been easy for Freddie Jones to merely phone it in and view appearing in a kid’s pop movie as being beneath him, but to his credit Jones throws himself into the role of NTYTR’s chief figure of fun with almost superhuman dedication, doing comedy pratfalls, falling over, being constantly run around, and at one point finding himself on an army assault course. That’s no way to treat a Shakespearian actor, but Freddie Jones takes whatever this film can throw at him. Jones’ beyond the call of duty dedication to the role is even more endearing, once you discover that it may have partly been motivated by the insistence of his young, pop music loving son –future actor Toby Jones- in the same way that Frank Langella taking on the role of Skeletor in the Masters of the Universe movie, and Kenneth Cranham playing Dr Channard in Hellbound: Hellraiser 2 was born out of begging from their younger family members.

Many of this film’s pop movie forefathers like Just for Fun, The Ghost Goes Gear and Sweet Beat are so square that they could have been directed by the former headmaster of one of their acts...not so with Never Too Young To Rock, which leaves you with the impression that the people behind the camera were as crazy, if not crazier, than the pop bands being showcased. Never Too Young To Rock is a joyful master class in undisciplined, anarchic filmmaking. Handheld camerawork, the use of fishbowl lenses and the random throwing of chickens into scenes are the norm here. A running gag in the film has the narrative being interrupted by stock footage of cannons being fired, or flash-forwards to other parts of the film, all of which are met with the confused response of “what was that?” by whoever happens to be on the screen. The film’s unofficial catchphrase, and one that your average viewer is sure to adopt as their own, and find themselves saying out loud multiple times during the film. “What was that?” moments include Hero and Mr Rockbottom stopping off at a service station, and finding it being manned by Merlin the Magician. An encounter with a Russian guard who patrols the border of Surrey, and Rockbottom leaving the Group Detector Van on rail tracks, only for the oncoming vehicle, a rail cart operated by ghosts, to magically pass through the van. Further spooky goings on await Hero and Mr Rockbottom during a visit to a haunted house.

All of NTYTR is reliably bonkers, but the film really, really loses its mind during the haunted house sequence. Eight glorious minutes of being brutally beaten by the silly stick, which includes Hero and Mr Rockbottom encountering a troupe of female ghosts who appear to have modelled themselves on Angel Blake, eyes peering through a cobwebbed portrait of Donny Osmond, Larry Grayson references, a cameo by DJ Peter Powell, natch’ lots of chickens being thrown about, and a ghost carrying its head under its arm, which makes a joke that must have inspired the film’s target audience to later ask their parents the awkward question “what’s a hysterectomy?”. These ghostly shenanigans culminate in a performance by Bob Kerr’s Whoopee Band, a Frankenstein group created from parts of the Bonzo Dog and New Vaudeville Bands, complete with Queen Victoria cosplaying drummer, who pull off the herculean task of raising the film’s level of eccentricity even higher.

If I do have a slight grievance with Never Too Young To Rock, it’s that it always leaves you wanting more of bona fide weirdos The Whoopee Band and less of the more commercial pretty boys The Rubettes. ‘Jukebox Jive’ aside I will admit to using The Rubettes numbers in this film as an excuse to go make a cup of tea or check up on what’s a haps on Twitter. The film’s slightly more mature companion piece ‘Side by Side’ (1975) is equally guilty of sidelining the band ‘Fox’ in favour of Stephanie ‘I was born with a smile on my face’ De Sykes. Somewhere out there in a parallel universe is a 1970s pop film that is entirely centred around Bob Kerr’s Whoopee Band and Noosha Fox, such a creation could never exist in this world however. Its awesomeness would just be beyond the capacity of your average human being, and likely have resulted in numerous heads exploding in cinemas, necessitating hours and hours of overtime for cinema staff in order to clean up all of the brain matter and skull.

Everything about Never Too Young To Rock smacks of 1960s casualties making a movie for the kids...only to realise that they had no idea how to make a movie, and instead palmed off on the audience some surreal malarkey featuring their favourite pop stars goofing around. In that sense NTYTR is a close blood brother of Ringo Starr’s Born to Boogie (1973), and the Starr/Harry Nilsson atrocity Son of Dracula (1974), two films that could collectively be known as ‘The Beatles sure knew how to piss away that Apple money’. Both Born to Boogie and Son of Dracula look like the leftovers from the booziest, rowdiest rave ups in town. Take a look at the cast list of Son of Dracula...Ringo Starr, Harry Nilsson, John Bonham, Keith Moon, Freddie Jones and Dennis Price...and wonder how London wasn’t drank dry that month. You’re in little doubt that their casts were having the debauched time of their lives behind the scenes, but the end results just fail to bottle that experience. Son of Dracula in particular is a difficult one to sit through. This is why I’d place NTYTR in the higher echelons of 1970s pop film relics, simply because the party atmosphere bleeds on over into the film itself. Whereas Born to Boogie and Son of Dracula are experiences akin to stumbling upon the greatest party in town, only to discover that no one will let you in, with Never Too Young To Rock not only do you get invited in, but everyone behaves like they’ve known you for years.

Of the bands, Mud –whose name was allegedly an acronym for ‘Maniacs Under Demolition’- are a bunch of natural born jokers. A band as unpretentious as an all day breakfast at a motorway cafe, headed by the impossible to dislike, soul of Elvis trapped in the body of a dart’s player figure that was Les Gray. Mud take to their roles as the film’s class clowns like a duck to water, relishing the chance to double as movie stars and comedians. Mud are one of the few bands to play an active role in what passes for a narrative here, aiding and abetting Hero by blowing away his adversaries with bazookas, or shooting them in the head (with, it should be pointed out, toy guns, keeping in mind this is a ‘U’ certificate film).

Founded by music biz mover and shaker Laurence Myers in the early 1970s, GTO films pretty much had the glam rock era all to itself as far as the big screen was concerned. GTO’s glam era movie output including this film, its aforementioned older brother ‘Side by Side’ (1975) and the now black sheep of this family ‘Remember Me This Way’ (1974) an entire movie all about the evil one. Aside from their in-house pop music themed productions, GTO also handled a surprisingly diverse array of movies. Distributing everything from The Groove Tube, to Lina Wertmuller arthouse fare to Alan Clarke’s Scum and horror hits like Fade to Black, Don’t Go In The House and Phantasm. On account of Phantasm’s legendary ‘If this one doesn’t scare’re already dead’ tag-line, it is tempting to suggest GTO should have advertised Never Too Young To Rock with ‘If this one doesn’t get your feet’re already dead’.

Myers co-produced Never Too Young To Rock with Greg Smith, who was in-between ‘Confessions of a’ films and towards the end of his marriage to Lynda short, if ever there was a man in need of a diversion, it was Greg Smith in 1976. Smith is something of the forgotten man of this film, he is a no show in the behind the scenes footage unearthed for the DVD release, and doesn’t even warrant a mention on the DVD’s yak track. Then again, Greg Smith is something of a forgotten hero of the British film industry in general. Maybe this is the way Smith would have wanted it, he was by all accounts an intensely private individual, one who masterminded many a crowd pleaser but preferred the role of the man behind the doesn’t make it right though. When he passed away, I vividly remember some prick on the internet dismissing him as “the poor man’s Peter Rogers”. A comment that has bugged me for years, and doesn’t at all do Smith justice. Don’t get me wrong I’ve spent many a happy bank holiday monday vegging out to Carry On films, but post 1979 was there really all that much to Peter Rogers’ career other than living on former glories. Greg Smith on the other hand remained a vital force within the industry, who enjoyed success on TV with the Shillingbury Tales and in the West End with the Buddy Holly musical ‘Buddy’. Even within the film industry there was always more to Greg Smith than the Confessions series, what with excursions into glam rock here and sit-com spin-offs with the Dad’s Army movie. Towards the end of his life Smith even had plans for an ambitious reboot of his 1977 tragi-comedy ‘Stand Up Virgin Soldiers’ updated to a modern day, Middle Eastern setting. An idea that the similar themed Hollywood film The Hurt Locker (2008) would later enjoy success with. And yes, he did also make The Boys in Blue, but c’mon we all have our off days, and as far as their final decades are concerned to me it was Peter Rogers who was the poor man’s Greg Smith.

Only an idiot-dunce would praise Never Too Young To Rock for its ‘realism’. Any basis in reality here gets shown an open window early on, presumably sent on its way by a head butt from Nosher Powell, yet its version of Britain couldn’t have been all that removed from what life on the road must have been like for bands back then. The film’s landscape is one of greasy spoon cafes, ungodly digs, samey council estates and lengthy, rain soaked journeys into the back of the beyond. Cheery and hypoactive as the film is, NTYTR is perversely hell bent on emphasizing its miserable locations, rather than downplaying them, with even the chipper Hero acknowledging at one point “this depressing, dismal dampness”. There is nothing glamorous about the Britain of NTYTR, apart from that is the musicians themselves. The colour coordinated Mud and the cape wearing Les Gray, the futuristic apparel of The Glitter Band and the doo-wop throwback look of The Rubettes all suggesting men with superpowers, men from another planet and men from rock n’ roll’s past have assembled to save us from the bleakness of 1976’s Britain.

For a film made in the oft-maligned 1970s, and concerned with the especially tarnished area of glam rock, Never Too Young To Rock manages to dodge all the entertainment killing aspects that have since brought that period into disrepute. The film lucked out by choosing one of the ‘nice’ DJs, Peter Powell, to cameo in the film, rather than a groper like Dave Lee Travis or –heaven forbid- Jimmy ‘DJs Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things’ Savile. All that glitters in the film is fortunately not Gary, the film capturing The Glitter Band after Gary Glitter had split from the group. NTYTR is free of the kind of associations that now obviously mar GTO’s Remember Me This Way, and to a lesser extent Side by Side, which has an S&M striptease scene scored to Gary Glitter’s ‘I Love You Love Me Love’.

The whole ‘we have to prevent the parents from banning Rock n’ Roll for the kids’ plot never quite rings true though. Granted, the punk era would later provoke a censorious backlash from the older generation, but did anyone really regard the acts here as a threat to British society. Mud come across as the types who’d be more likely to be knocking back pints with the dads, rather than being run out of town by them, and as for The Rubettes well...they weren’t exactly The Baader-Meinhof gang were they? Many of the bands here had already peeked commercially, and if truth be told NTYTR feels more like a ‘let’s get the band(s) back together again’ type of movie, with pop groups who were fading into obscurity being rounded up and put back on television to remind the British public of their greatness.

As chart success was beginning to dry up for these bands, the film effectively serves as a greatest hits package, with Mud working their way through ‘The Cat Crept In’, ‘Tiger Feet’, ‘Rocket’ and ‘Dynamite’, The Glitter Band ‘Angel Face’, ‘Shout it Out’, ‘Let’s Get Together Again’, ‘Just for You’, and The Rubettes ‘Tonight’, ‘Sugar Baby Love’ and ‘Jukebox Jive’. The legacy of Never Too Young To Rock is littered with sad stories, all of the bands here were destined to play out the rest of their careers on the 1970s nostalgia circuit, The Glitter Band remain tarnished by their long ago association with Gary Glitter, writer Ron Inkpen died young in 1977 having never fulfilled his dream to make a blasphemous X-rated animated film called ‘The Big G’. Greg Smith, Peter Denyer, Mud’s Les Gray and Dave Mount have also since passed away, and 2019 saw us lose Freddie Jones as well. 

We’ll always have the big finish of Never Too Young To Rock though....glam rock going out in a final blaze of glory, as Mud, The Glitter Band and The Rubettes combine to belt out the title track. Ten singers, four drummers and six guitarists, joined by Merlin the Magician, the Angel Blake dancers, football hooligans, Hero, Rockbottom and a few chickens, all there to pay tribute to the forever young, rebellious spirit of Rock n Roll “bless my soul, this is rock n roll, you can’t keep the bedroom locked, hey ma, you’re never too young to rock”. Remember them this way.