Thursday, December 24, 2009
This piece was originally posted on AMCtv's Horror Hacker site, which is why it's skewed towards US/English-language release.
I'll be posting my Ten Best of the Decade list soon.
And finally, as the holiday season finally begins to wind down, I'd like to put in a plug for one of my favorite documentaries of the decade: What Would Jesus Buy?; it documents the ongoing progress of performance artist/social activist Bill Talen's efforts to rip the scales from the eyes of compulsive consumers via his alter-ego Reverend Billy's Church of Stop Shopping. It's funny and so on-target that it hurts.
I must confess upfront that I was never a fan of Spanish actor/producer/director Paul Naschy (born Jacinto Molina; he adopted his nom d’ecran at the behest of a German distributor) and his hairy histrionics. But I’m saddened by the news of his death after a long battle with cancer. Naschy was was 75.
Naschy figures into two of my indelibly vivid grindhouse memories… one of which didn’t even involve an actual grindhouse. In 1973, intrigued by a creepy newspaper ad for something called Sisters, I made my way to a fairly respectable, if slightly rundown, theater on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. It wasn’t in the swank part of the Upper East Side; in fact, I’m pretty sure it was East 86th Street, which was then a low-rent shopping strip studded with movie theaters that only a few years later — right around the time I was a student at Hunter College, which was (and is) on Lexington Avenue and 68th Street, a couple of subway stops south — had devolved into real pits. Anyway, I thought Sisters was pretty great, even if the then-unknown writer/director wore his movie-geek crush on Alfred Hitchcock a little too obviously.
But Sisters was preceded by trailers for a whole lot of crap, including some ridiculous-looking thing called Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror that looked like some bottom-of-the-barrel 1950s b-movie , except that it was in color. Where did they get that fruity voice-over guy? Vincent Price at his campest sounded butch by comparison. What was with those Saturday matinee, monster movie come-ons scrawled in spooky type? “See The Wolf-Monster! The Vampire-Doctor! The Ghoul-Woman!” Please.“A super-shock spectacle of hideous horror in chill-o-rama 70 and gory color?” For God’s sake, who would go see such a thing?
Well not me, that's for damned sure. It was years before I caught up to La marca del Hombre-lobo (1968), the first of some dozen-odd movies featuring of Naschy as reluctant werewolf Count Waldemar Daninsky, and I can’t say it particularly impressed me. But props to Naschy for being so unabashedly into the classic movie monsters — apparently seeing Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943) at the age of 11 was a life-changing experience — even if comparisons to Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney Jr. were more a product of fanboy fantasies than critical perspective.
Flash forward to 1979, by which time I was a regular denizen of the gloriously seedy grindhouses that lined the late, great Times Square. The ones that didn’t even bother to buy tiny one-by-one inch ad space in the down-market Daily News or New York Post: The only way to know what was showing was to take a stroll down the Deuce on Friday morning.
Which is how I happened on Nurse Sherri (1978), which proved to be a super cheap and stupid Al Adamson movie...
Dig those scratched-into-the-emulsion effects. But then there was House of Psychotic Women, aka Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll/House of Doom/Los ojos azules de la muneca rota (1972), the first Naschy movie I saw on a big screen. It turned out to be a terrific Spanish/French giallo in which rootless ex-con Gilles (Naschy), who’s just served a prison term for rape and fantasizes about strangling women, blunders into a caretaking job at the isolated farm of three weird sisters — beautiful Claude, who has a creepy fake hand; imperious, wheelchair-bound Yvette, who requires the care of a live-in nurse; and nymphomaniacal Nicole, played respectively by Euro-tarts Diana Lorys, Maria Perschy and Eva Leon.
Nicole is upfront with her expectations of Gilles: She wants him in her bed as soon as he's done with his more mundane chores. But it’s pretty clear that her sisters could also use some sexual healing. Oh, and their father committed suicide, their mother went insane, Yvette has a new nurse because the old one was murdered and there’s a serial killer who targets blue-eyed women on the loose.
It all works out about as well as you’d imagine… and I never again want to see Naschy — whose resemblance to John Belushi is remarkably distracting — milk another cow. That said, after having seen many other Naschy films in the interim I feel confident saying that it’s among the best credits of his lengthy career. Not that you'd know it from this awful trailer, whose sole objective seems to be concealing the fact that the movie wasn't made in the USA.
Sadly, that’s about all I have to say about Naschy: For the most part, his lumpen charm eluded me. But I was genuinely moved by these two obituaries. The first is by Arbogast, whose blog Arbogast on Film is one of my must-reads, and the second by Tim Lucas, whose Video Watchblog needs no introduction.
Monday, December 14, 2009
We're located between two sizable hospitals and there's a firehouse nearby, so sirens are a regular thing... it's remarkable how quickly they become part of the white noise of the city. I do a weekly radio segment on an Atlanta-area radio show and the wailing has become a running joke. I know it confirms their worst ideas about New York, so virtually every week I hear myself saying, "Just so you know, that's an ambulance going to the major hospital center a couple of blocks from my apartment..."
But I have to say, I'm a little unnerved by the sheer volume of flashing lights outside my windows just now. Not so unnerved that I'm doing anything about it, though.
Friday, December 4, 2009
I'm not sure I agree with the National Board of Review that Up in the Air is the best movie of 2009, but it's a smart, grimly funny and grown up movie.
Transylmania is boring, bloody dumb-assery, but it least it's trying to be a real horror movie spoof, unlike the Scary Movie franchise, which just string together random, witless pop-culture gags.