Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Sneaky movie cameos by musicians... did you spot them?

I'm not talking about Keith Richard as Captain Jack Sparrow's dad (duh) in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End or Alanis Morrisette as one attitudinal God Almighty in Kevin Smith's Dogma — everyone knew about those long before the movies opened.

And I'm not talking about bands or soloists appearing as themselves in a performance context, so Bauhaus-era Peter Murphy doing "Bela Lugosi's Dead" in The Hunger is a no go.

But Iggy Pop in a ladies' dress and sunbonnet, talking all holy while fingering Johnny Depp's soft, pretty hair in Jim Jarmusch's existential western Dead Man? That one took me by surprise. So did Miles Davis is Scrooged; what the.......?

You can see all ten by clicking here.

Monday, December 13, 2010

...and a big hand for Sharktopus

So, you thought Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus reset the exploitation bar... oh, ye of little imagination! Prepare to feel the earth shift beneath your feet again, because Sharktopus is here. I live for press releases that read like Onion parodies.

Less than a year after receiving an honorary Oscar for inundating 1950s movie theaters with teen-friendly monster movies, biker flicks, rock ‘n’ roll showcases and WIP pictures, along with helping launch the careers of Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Joe Dante, James Cameron, Bruce Dern, Jonathan Demme, John Sayles, Sylvester Stallone, Monty Hellman, Jack Nicholson, Peter Bogdanovich, Paul Bartel, Curtis Hanson, Gale Anne Hurd, Alan Arkush, William Shatner, Penelope Spheeris, Curtis Harrington and Peter Fonda, and barely a month after Alexandre Aja’s 3D remake of Piranha opened, 84-year-old exploitation legend Roger Corman proved he’s still in the game with the too-shameless-to-be-believed Sharktopus.

Yes, the hybrid-horror effort, which follows in the drag marks of such recent Corman-produced projects as Dinoshark, Supergator and Dinoshark vs. Supergator debuted on the SyFy channel, but that’s the name of the game these days: The age of theatrical openings for, say, a mutant rapist fishmen movie like 1980’s Humanoids from the Deep is long gone.

But the likes of Sharktopus keep up-and-comers and downward dogs (I leave it to you to fill in the names) in mortgage payments and help feed memories of exploitation pictures past.

And dig that crazy theme song by the Cheetah Whores! Thank you, SyFy and Anchor Bay.

Sharktopus is available on DVD and Blu-ray (like I care) on March 15th… start planning your alcohol-fueled viewing party now.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Memories of horror... good ones!

The horror website Terror Trap recently invited me to contribute a piece about a memorable horror movie viewing experience. It will probably come as no surprise to anyone that I chose an Argento movie. But I got a pleasant surprise when the luck of the layout placed me next to Jessica Harper. And she nails who the terror of The Wizard of Oz, namely those damned creepy flying monkeys, with their silly hats, bellhop vests and nasty simian smiles.

Anyway, if you're up for a stroll down sleaze-memory lane, my recollection of seeing Deep Red in one of Times Square's many long gone theaters is here.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Pumpkinhead and Pinhead Sitting in a Tree...

What other explanation can there be for this monstrous gourd except that it's the unholy spawn of Pinhead, dark prince of cenobites, and everyone's favorite demon from the wrong side of the pumpkin patch? Naughty, naughty!

And no wonder it's behind a fence... (Photographed at the Mobilization for Change Community Garden, 107th Street and Columbus Avenue, NYC)

Monday, November 1, 2010

Halloween decor!

I confess: I failed to start planning before there was so much as a nip of frost in the air. My bad.

But for a last minute creation — we're talking an hour from start to finish, and that's with the time it took to hollow out and carve the big pumpkin — it came out pretty well.Of course, it helps that our place is awash in skulls (wooden, ceramic, crystal, plaster, wax... everything but bone, at least when we're talking human), glow-in-the-dark spiders and miscellaneous other cheerfully macabre stuff.

It takes a little pre-planning to do the place up for Christmas, but Halloween is a snap.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Why is my cat reading such filth?

I just retrieved this book from Chip's room (also known as the cardboard box he claimed last year after my husband and I made a whirlwind NYC-Morgantown-NYC trip to collect some stuff  from his childhood home) and would like to know why my cat is creeping around reading purportedly anthropological accounts of pervy sex crimes.

I mean, he's a cat, for God's sake. As those of us who've read Saki's Tobermory know, cats are wise to everything everyone is 
doing all the time, what with their skulking around under beds and behind doors and inside closets. So it's not as though Chip needs to study what folks get up to. And much though I love him, there's a reason Chip has a frat-boy name: He isn't exactly what you'd call a feline intellectual. In fact, he's pretty damned dumb... but he knows about the bishop and the actress.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The necklace with a "Dum Dum Dum Dum" soundtrack...

"The jeweler Eddie Borgo," writes the New York Times (Sunday Styles, Septermber 12, 2010, p.3) "based his Horror Collar [left] on the Mayor of Halloween Town in Tim Burton's 1993 film The Nightmare Before Christmas. 'His wild mood swings make his cone head spin around from a happy face to a scary one,' M. Borgo explains. 'It's a figurative representation of a two-faced politician.'"

Yeah, okay, sure. And that has what, exactly, to do with this Jaws necklace?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

All rise for Animal House (and that means you, Snooki)

In yet another sign of the times, Animal House's villain-in-residence d Dean Wormer is sounding more reasonable by the minute.

And I can't help but hear an echo of his admonition to Kent "Flounder" Dorfman ("Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son.") in New Jersey Judge Damian G. Murray's advice to Jersey Shore's fat, drunk and stupid Snooki Polizzi who was also fined $500 and ordered to perform community service for being blotto (note that I refrained from saying Bluto) and disorderly on a Seaside Heights beach: "Going through life rude, profane, obnoxious and self-indulgent — that's not the way you want to live your life."

Not as pithy, but the point is the same.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Why I Love Werner Herzeg (and his "fights" with Abel Ferrara and Chuck Norris)

I mean, let's face it: Herzog is a nut. Or a mad genius... whatever. However you phrase it he's always been, let's just say, as eccentric as he is talented. And yet these days he sounds like the most reasonable guy in the room.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Astronomy is dirty!

Oh, please: Does this “Weird but True” item from the New York Post sound like a world class prank or what?

"Space geeks have something new to snicker about. Astronomers, including one named John Johnson (above), have discovered planets orbiting a star called Sextanis 24 and have named the planets "Sex B" and "Sex C." 'This new planet pair came in an unexpected package,' said Johnson, of the California Institute of Technology. He apparently said that with a straight face."

But it appears that it’s basically true: It just sounds less smarmy in real science speak, which could the make the plot of a bona fide, hard-core porn movie sound dull.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Stop the presses: Nicolas Cage is bughouse crazy

I have to hand it to Nicolas Cage: His antics have actually made me feel sorry for Joel Schumacher. I don't spend a lot of time feeling sorry for Schumacher, whose lengthy career defines the word "uneven." Yes, I have a soft spot for The Lost Boys. I like Tigerland and Phone Booth, and I confess to loving 8mm for many, many reasons, none of them good: I could put it on right now and fast forward to Peter Stormare's scenes as demonic pornographer Dino Velvet. (An aside: I always thought his name was pronounced store-mar-ee, until I heard him introduce himself in a behind-the-scenes segment on the DVD of a piece of crap called Insanitarium and he said it Store-mere.)

The story so far is that Cage (the star of 8mm, as it happens) signed on to Schumacher's Louisiana-set thriller Trespass, about a husband and wife kidnapped by lowlife thieves, in the role of the husband (Kidman was cast as the wife).  Then Cage decided he'd rather play the head lowlife. Then, after being recast, he did a vanishing act -- two weeks before the movie's start date -- prompting a flurry of articles about the frantic search for a replacement. And now it appears that he's come back, but wants to return to his original role.

Yeah, I'd really look forward to working with that guy, especially since he officially stopped acting after Leaving Las Vegas. I mean it's one thing to show up, do your schtick and collect a paycheck. It's another to show up, do your schtick and collect a paycheck after putting the rest of the cast and crew through the tortures of the damned. Sean Penn may be a pain in the ass, but no one has ever said he was unreliable or gave less than his best, which has been consistently pretty damned good for going on 30 years. The bast anyone seems to be able to do with Cage is put him in roles as crazy as he is and hope the result has train-wreck appeal.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Argento posters, stripped to the essentials

So, apparently there’s this fad among artists and designers for creating elegantly stripped-down posters for well-known films -- Google “minimalist movie posters” and see for yourself.

An Italian designer/photographer named Federico Mauro took it upon himself to do designs for the entire Argento canon. See them here.

Overall I think they’re very cool, and no Argento fan will have to read the title copy to match these elegantly unadorned images to the appropriate film.

And I have to say that I’m amused by the way Mauro appropriated the knife design used on early Giallo posters (itself appropriated from the Italian cover of Roberto Saviano's book Gomorra) and assigned it to The Bird With the Crystal Plumage.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Clouds and Kitties: Reviews

My reviews of Cats vs. Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore and Charlie St. Cloud and are online now and, well, what is there to say?

Cats vs. Dogs is a typical Hollywood's kid pic: Noisy, coarse and pretty stupid. But the credits sequence is a stunner: Read more here — Cats vs. Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore. The Zac Efron showcase Charlie St. Cloud is the answer to a dreamy teenage girl's dream: For everyone else — especially anyone who's seen both The Sixth Sense and the Swedish film The Invisible — it's a mopey slog.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Predators on the prowl, sparkly vampires in love and zombies -- new reviews!

If I've said it once, I've said it often enough that my nearest and dearest don't want to hear another word: I like my vampires nasty and/or dangerously sexy (which is why I'm totally hooked on True Blood... but more on that another time), so the tween-friendly swooning and moping of the Twilight series leaves me cold. None the less, when I reviewed Twilight I effectively signed myself up for the whole series, hence my review of Twilight: Eclipse.

I loved [REC], and while [REC] 2 suffers the curse of the sequel, I had a damned good time watching it. The same can't be said for Predators — after an hour of watching sundry humans run through some alien jungle, all I could think was, "There's no way that sniper gal wouldn't have pulled her hair into a pony tail rather than let it hang around her face in fetchingly sweaty tendrils." Thoughts like that are a sure sign you haven't surrendered to the fiction.

And finally, I was pleasantly surprised by the documentary Racing Dreams, about three adolescents pursuing their shared dream of becoming professional NASCAR drivers. It could have been feel good, "triumph of the human spirit" pablum, but it's a much tougher and smarter movie than that.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Superman the musical... Broadway bound?

Back in 1966, just as camp TV series Batman was turning the dark knight into a national joke, the musical It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane… It’s Superman opened on Broadway.

The book was by soon-to-be Academy Award-nominees David Newman and Robert Benton (Bonnie and Clyde) and the songs by Bye Bye Birdie’s Charles Strouse and Lee Adams; it opened to generally favorable reviews, picked up three Tony nominations (all for members of the cast) and closed after less than four months.

The news that it just might be Broadway-bound again boggles the mind… my mind, anyway, but fair is fair: I — like most people, given that abbreviated run — know the show only from the 1975 TV version, which is so staggeringly awful that it really is, well, staggering.

The TV special has never been available on commercial video or DVD, but like so many other ghastly gems (The Star Wars Holiday Special, anyone?), the bootlegs are out there for those who just have to see it. And, dear reader, I did.

The plot, such as it is, involves the collusion of mad scientist Abner Sedgwick (David Wayne, Batman’s Mad Hatter) and reporter Max Mencken (Kenneth Mars, who sometimes sounds remarkably like Gene Hackman playing Lex Luther) to destroy Superman by undermining his self-confidence, Sedgwick because he wants to rule the world (the better to punish Sweden because he’s never won a Nobel Prize) and Mencken because he’s a jealous schmuck. Plucky girl reporter Lois Lane (Lesley Ann Warren, then just plain Lesley Warren) swoons over Superman (David Wilson) but barely knows his alter ego, Clark Kent, is alive. Clark nurses a crush on Lois, while his comely colleague, Sydney (Loretta Swit) pines for Mencken, who only has eyes for Lois. Sedgwick and Mencken’s plan appears to be succeeding until Superman crosses paths with a couple of wise hippies who think he’s just great because he’s a freak — all the cool people are freaks. Very ‘60s.

Granted, Superman: The Movie (1978) — which Newman and Benton co-wrote along with a host of others, credited and uncredited — but big special effects can distract viewers from a multitude of sins. It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane… had none, and I found the songs insipid beyond belief. The comic-bookish sets are hideous and cheap-looking, and the episodic construction (complete with a narrator who hypes the next installment) is straight out of the Batman series which, for the record, I always hated. The script, which tinkers with that of the show (there are, for example, no Chinese acrobats; the original play had five) is full of “timely” allusions, from mobster Malachi Thorne’s solemn “My fellow hoods, let me make one thing perfectly clear… there’s someone we gotta take out” to Mencken’s threat that an errant computer is going to get the 2001 treatment if it doesn’t look out. Not clever. Not funny.

The show was revived in 1992 at the Godspeed Opera Housein Haddam Connecticut, and got a very decent review from the New York Times’ Stephen Holden that apparently impressed no-one. But the Dallas Theater Center’s new production seems to be making an impression, which I suspect is proof that timing is everything — there is, after all, a mega-budget Spider-Man musical lumbering its way to Broadway as I write.

This new version of It’s a Bird… It’ a Plane… reportedly dials down the camp, features several new songs (and eliminates others) and got an extensive overhaul by playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, whose credits lean to the macabre, including a 2009 adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray. Variety’s reviewer liked it, but all I can say is that it would have to be pretty damned fabulous to erase the memory of that excruciating TV special.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Tinto Brass exposed!

My piece about the long and surprisingly varied career of Tinto Brass is in the July/August issue of Film Comment magazine, and there's more to him than Caligula, Salon Kitty and a slew of booty-licious softcore odes to ladies with yummy rumps. I swear!

Just check out this trailer for his 1967 swinging London pop-thriller Deadly Sweet, starring Jean-Louis Trintingnant and Ewa Aulin: It's less a knock off of Blowup than its bizarro world doppleganger.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Trailer for the US remake of Let the Right One In...

I have my doubts, because Let the Right One In is the epitome of movies that don't need to be remade.

But this is a pretty decent trailer, so fingers crossed — maybe this will be an absolutely terrific do-over.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Cat and tiny face hugger are friends...

My cat Chip is suddenly obsessed with this little (maybe three inches long) plastic Alien face hugger.

I've had it for years and he never showed the slightest interest in it; it's been sitting on the back of a pottery armadillo I bought as a teenager since I don't know when.

And yet I just took it away from him for the second time today. I really don't think the little plastic face hugger has changed, so what gives?

That is, of course, a rhetorical question... everything cats do is a mystery.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

How Paul Bartel taught me to make smoothies...

Yes, the Paul Bartel, who directed Private Parts (1972, no, not the Howard Stern movie), Death Race 2000 (1976) and many other slyly clever exploitation movies.

I was in Los Angeles in 1990, doing interviews for my book Filmmaking on the Fringe; I had interviewed Bartel before over the phone, but never in person. I was thrilled to be catching up with him, but I was also running late and hadn't had time to eat. I bought a couple of bananas to eat in the car, but I was a new driver and the freeways scared the hell out of me, so I didn't dare take my hands off the wheel.

Bartel was the gracious host personified, and when I asked whether he minded if I ate while we talked he said, "Let me make you something delicious — I learned how when I was at Centro Sperimentale in Italy." And then Paul Bartel beetled off to the kitchen and made me a banana smoothie, which was delicious as promised.

Bartel is gone, but his banana smoothies live on. I've modified the recipe (if bananas, milk and ice  constitute a recipe) by using coffee ice cubes instead of regular ones, but I don't think he'd mind. Coffee and bananas taste great together and that's what counts... I wish I could have shared a banana-coffee smoothie with him.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

And now, a shoutout to the late, great Psychotronic Magazine

I'll spare you the convoluted but not especially interesting chain of associations that led me to visit the website of Michael Weldon's Psychotronic magazine, but I was immediately compelled to flip through the real, live issues — 41 in all — I accumulated between 1989 and 2004, when it ceased publication. They're a treasure trove of trash, which I mean in the best possible way: Reviews of obscure, overlooked and marginal movies of every stripe, along with interviews and sundry features aimed squarely at connoisseurs of the freaky and forgotten.

Yes, the web is full of specialized movie sites, some of them great. But when issue number one of Psychotronic came out, there was no web, just a jumble of irregularly published 'zines that you might just run across if you happened to be in the right book or record store on the right day at the right time.   Michael's 1983 Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film grew out of his own weekly 'zine, an "alternative TV Guide" that singled out the kind of movies that never got a TV Guide spotlight, was the bible of movie fans like me. Michael was a scholar and a connoisseur of trash culture before it was cool, and Psychotronic was where you could find things like this piece on Ron and June Ormond, regional filmmakers/distributors who made exploitation pictures like the astonishing Exotic Ones (1968, aka The Monster and the Stripper until they survived a plane crash, saw the light and switched to making Jesus movie. Great stuff.

So visit the website, check out the Facebook page and buy Michael's Psychotronic Video Guide (the Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film is tough to find and scary expensive): If you're reading this, you won't be sorry.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Best junk email subject line ever

It's not everyday you get junk email that advises: "Don’t let anybody call you homunculus because of the length of your device."

Um, yeah, don't... you might develop neurasthenia or something. So just tell that son of a mandrake root to piss off, and don't even read the rest of the subject line, with its enticing assertion that "the easiest way to become a real dandy is to enlarge your device."

"Homunculus?" "Dandy?" Who in the name of Harry Potter and the Scarlet Pimpernel is writing copy for pizzle-plumping spam these days? And how did the word "device," with its vaguely orgasmatronic connotations, make its way into this riot of antiquated allusions?

And finally, though spam is by its nature a blunt tool (yes, Beavis and Butthead, I said "tool"), you'd think even a broad-sweep filter might recognize that an email address ending "@missflickchick.com" probably doesn't belong to a member (yes, I said "member," too) of the target market for this sort of product.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Hot off the presses: Zombie movies reflect cultural anxieties!

Not to be snotty, but anyone who watches a lot of horror movies has already noticed that a.) horror is cyclical — it never goes away, but there are peaks and valleys, b.) horror movies flourish in anxious times and c.) ever since George Romero liberated the zombie from its narrowly defined roots in Haitian folklore, they've become the go-to monster metaphors for fear of everything from the oppressed underclass to nature run wild, global pandemics, mindless fanaticism, archaic disaster response systems, sinister mind control programs and the fragility of social structures and the ties of friendship and family.

Which is not to say that this Freakonomics graph correlating social upheaval and zombie-movie production that just appeared on the New York Times website isn't cool. Just that it's a blinding glimpse of the obvious.

Monday, June 7, 2010

RIP Dennis Hopper, the Madman of Movies (1936-2010)

If you laid all the "crazy Dennis Hopper" stories end to end... well, you'd still be at it next year.

Like the time he got all method actorish on old Hollywood hand Henry Hathaway on From Hell to Texas and Hathaway made him do 80 takes until he goddamned well got exactlywhat he wanted and the 22-year-old actor had been reduced to tears. Or the time John Wayne chased him around the set of True Grit with a gun, apparently because black radical Stokely Carmichael had used the word "f**k" in a speech at UCLA, where Wayne's daughter was a student, and as far as Wayne was concerned, Hopper was to blame for the 60s, period end of report. Of course, Wayne also got Hopper movie work when no one else would (the fallout from that little tiff with Hathaway); what little career he had left was in episodic TV (from Twilight Zone and Naked City to Bonanza, Wagon Train and Petticoat Junction). Granted, Wayne did it at least in part because his old pal, golden-age Hollywood star Margaret Sullivan (then Hopper's mother-in-law), asked him as a personal favor; but he did it, and Hopper always gave the Duke props for resuscitating his moribund career... even if the first movie in which Wayne got him cast was the western The Sons of Katie Elder (1965), directed by, yes, that old bastard Hathaway. Or maybe that made it better... who knows?

Hopper's most regular employer for the next seveal years remains Roger Corman, who put him in sci-fi/horror movies like Queen of Blood (1966), drug movies like The Trip (1967) and biker pictures like The Glory Stompers (1968). But he was back in the game, and in 1969 he drew the card that got him a seat at the heavy hitters' table: Easy Rider

Best Hopper performances:

Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
It's a small part and Hopper's pal James Dean blows him out of the water (of course, Dean blew everyone out of the water), but seeing him in Rebel is nothing short of fascinating because it's all already there -- everything that made Hopper so mesmerizing, in fledgling form.

Night Tide (1961)
Beach bum who falls in love with a carnival mermaid who might just be the real thing in this eerie, atmospheric, low-budget variation on Cat People, directed by Curtis Harrington, one-time protege of avant-garde film pioneer Maya Deren.

Easy Rider (1969)
Not much to say that hasn't been said; Hopper's Billy is the distilled embodiment of the 1960s...

The American Friend (1977)
Wim Wenders' eccentric version of Ripley's Game stars Hopper as Patricia Highsmith's handsome, amoral con artist, and Hopper nails the role -- his Ripley is charming, duplicitous, offhandedly sexy, dangerous, self-centered and in the end, oddly principled, though his principles are purely self serving.

Apocalypse Now (1979)
As the fever-addled photographer mesmerized by Mr. Kurtz, Hopper damned near steals the show from Marlon Brando and Martin Sheen, his blue eyes a blaze as he waxes rhapsodic about Kurtz's keen insights into the deepest nature of the universe. "Do you know," he says to Sheen's exhausted, beyond burnt-out Willard, "that 'if' is the middle word in life?" Simultaneously hilarious and chilling.

Rumble Fish (1983)
Repeat after me: No small roles, just small actors. The proof: Hopper as Matt Dillon and Mickey Rourke's defeated, alcoholic dad in Francis Ford Coppola's hallucinatory adaptation of S.E. Hinton's much-loved young adult novel.

Blue Velvet (1986)
Frank Booth: what is there to say? The friend with whom I saw Blue Velvet said it was like two hours of doing bad drugs with people you don't like, and Hopper is a big part of the reason why.

True Romance (1993)
Ex-cop Hopper vs. Mafia lawyer Christopher Walken, who's "in a vendetta kind of mood:" Imagine the possibilities. Or just take a look.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Argento that Got Away: Profondo Rosso: il Musical

How did Profondo Rosso il Musical fly entirely under my radar? I mean, it’s not as though I would have flown to Italy to see it, but I can’t believe I had no idea it even existed until a few days ago.

Were you to have asked me which Argento film I thought best suited to adaptation into a theatrical musical, I’d say Suspiria. The narrative is stylized and dreamlike the existing score is strong and it’s set at a ballet school, so dance numbers would flow naturally from the narrative. And that art nouveau fever-dream production design is just screaming to be adapted into spectacular stage sets.

I would not have suggested Deep Red, but lo and behold, it was Profondo Rosso il Musical that premiered on January 21, 2008, at the Teatro Civico in Vercelli , a Northern Italian town best known for its lavish annual carnivale. The show went on to play dates in Varese, Sassari, Novara, Castiglione, Savona, Lugano, Venaria and Assisi before winding up in Milan’s Teatro Smeraldo five months later, hard on the heels of Hair.

Argento was credited with the production’s artistic supervision, and longtime collaborators Claudio Simonetti and Sergio Stivaletti provided, respectively, the music and special effects. Profondo Rosso il Musical, was hyped in typically breathless Italian pre-release pieces as a hybrid of France’s legendary Theatre du Grand Guignol and such tongue-in-cheek horror musicals as Little Shoppe of Horrors, The Phantom of the Paradise and, of course, The Rocky Horror Show.

Conspicuous by its absence was any mention of Carrie (1988), easily the closest precedent — a serious work of dramatic musical theater based on an acclaimed horror movie. But of course, it was also a disaster of legendary proportions (you can see a clips — including the climactic horror-at-the-prom scene on youtube — though the video quality is pretty poor, the train-wreck appeal is off the scale.

Profondo Rosso il Musical starred Italian-French actor/singer Michel Altieri — one of those European sensations who never cracked the US market — in Hemmings’ role.
Yes, Altieri, like Detective Altieri in Opera (1987) and diva Carlotta Altieri in Phantom of the Opera (1998), which is one of many reasons I at first assumed that Profondo Rosso il Musical was an elaborate in joke.But no, the guy’s name really is Altieri; he started out in a 1990s Euro-boy band and was supposedly handpicked by Luciano Pavarotti for a secondary role in the 2000 Italian production of Jonathan Larson’s Rent, though that may be pure press puffery. In any event, the exceptionally pretty Mr. Altieri came to Profondo Rosso fresh from a hugely successful run in Italian playwright Tato Russo’s 2002 musical version of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. You couldn’t make it up… at least, I couldn’t.

The musical included all the film’s main characters — doomed psychic Helga Ulmann (Claudia Donadoni); ballsy reporter Gianna Brezzi (Silvia Specchio, in the role originated by Daria Nicolodi); Mark’s fragile friend Carlo (Alberto Pistacchia) and his possessive mother (Maria Maddalena Trani); unfortunate writer Amanda Righetti (Alessandra Azimonti) and poor Professor Giordani (Claudio Lobbia), whose big death scene is hijacked by a mechanical doll — along with dancers and a trio of mysterious figures in masks.

To be honest, it sounds like a total disaster, and I haven’t been able to track down anything that suggests otherwise. But oh, what I wouldn’t give to have seen it!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Leigh Bowery and Lady Gaga: Separated at Birth?

In recognition of the fact that the '80s are already well into their second-time-around spin recycle, I feel compelled to point out that Our Lady Gaga of the damnably catchy synth-pop earworms and mad, camp, outrageous-to-know Leigh Bowery were truly separated at birth (and yes, that's a call out to Spy magazine in its glory years; who knew it limped along until 1998?).

Sure, Bowery was a plus-sized man from Sunshine, Australia (uh-huh, Sunshine), and Lady Gaga is a slim-hipped little gal (as in gal; this hermaphrodite stuff is beyond played out) from New York City. She's the quintessential viral-marketing friendly fame monster; he was a self-made, totally original party monster. Leigh and his art-rock group Minty aimed to offend and did (though the right combination of MTV-worthy visuals and uncompromising Minty-ness produces this thoroughly commercial result); Lady Gaga's shows are the essence of controversial chic — you don't get six Grammy nominations by being really, truly, seriously offensive.

Which is, of course, where the "separated at birth" part comes in. That said, I could watch Telephone six times in a row tonight and start all over again tomorrow in the morning. Funny how that works, isn't it?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

*UPDATE* The Museum of Air Sickness Bags

When I first discovered this site, it was experiencing some technical problems caused by its host (anyone who reads Miss Flickchick regularly knows I've had similar problems and can empathize). But curator Steven J. Silberberg kindly sent me an email that his online museum is now back up and running they've been ... so to experience the amazing world of airsickness bags, dive right in here!

Thank you, AOL, for posting those distracting top "news" items where I can't help but see them every time I log on or open my email. Yes, the overwhelming majority are either redundant or pointless, but every once in a while they lead me somewhere weird and wonderful.

Like this morning, when a feature reporting the rumor that the airline industry may try to save some money by eliminating airsickness bags led me to the Air Sickness Bag Virtual Museum, curated by one Steven J. Silberberg.

I had a lot of trouble navigating the site, but the Gift Shop works fine and it's a kick. My favorite Barf-bag poster by far is the hurling reindeer.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Dario does Dracula?

So, the news from Cannes is that Argento's next movie will be a 3D version of Dracula that hews closely to Bram Stoker's novel. Argento seems to have been thinking about 3D for a while; last year a flurry of rumors had him making a 3D remake of Deep Red. There's no casting, but Dracula is apparently supposed to start shooting in January 2011.

I'd like to be thrilled, but the best I can manage is cautious optimism. After all, Argento was profoundly influenced by seeing the 1943 version of Phantom of the Opera, but his own 1998 Phantom was, shall we say, deeply flawed. Back in the '70s Argento talked about making a WWII-era Frankenstein that equated the monster's creation with the rise of Nazism; it got to the script stage and attracted the attention of Timothy "One-Time Bond" Dalton. Co-writer Luigi Cozzi claims the project fell apart because Universal executives decided that "Frankenstein was dead and anyway, no one who wanted to see a horror movie cared about politics."

But I've never heard Argento express the slightest interest in Dracula. Still, you never know...

Monday, May 10, 2010

RIP Lena Horne, actress, singer and trailblazer...

The extraordinary Lena Horne died last night at the age of 92, and it's a sign of the times that she's being given her due in newspapers and web publications everywhere.

Horne broke mainstream entertainment ground for African-American singers, actresses, dancers and other performers at a time when challenging the racial divide had real — sometimes brutal — consequences. And unlike the equally bold but less-resilient Dorothy Dandridge, Horne lived to see generations of younger artists benefit from her courage and determination.

And she was never less than fabulous. So a moment of silence, please, for the kind of star they just don't make any more. Lena Horne fan site.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Shocking! Controversial! The Human Centipede and Elm Street remake

My reviews of The Human Centipede, the sick and twisted Dutch horror film everyone's talking about, and the remake of Wes Craven's classic A Nightmare on Elm Street are online. Check them out and let me know what you think...

High Noon...with Sheriff Terminator!

Cheap joke? Yeah, sure: High Noon with an android sheriff... how much film-geek snarkier can you get?

But it's also pretty clever: This clip has been kicking around for a while, but now that it's come to my attention I feel compelled to share it. Check it out here.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Say it with slang... UK slang!

So, I'm watching a Ken Loach movie — a pretty funny one, I might add, in a vaguely depressing kind of way — and I went online to look up some bit of Mancusian slang. And that led me to this page, which will translate your plain vanilla, American English sentences into various types of UK slang.

I particularly like the Scouse translater, but the Irish one is pretty good, too.

Oh, the movie is Waiting for Eric... and don't be put off by the fact that one of the two Erics is Manchester United soccer star Eric Cantona (the other is a suicidally depressed postal worker; as I said earlier, funny in a depressing kind of way). I don't give a good god-damn about soccer — sorry football — and Cantona is hilarious. He either has one hell of a sense of humor about himself or is so self-absorbed that he has no idea how

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Broken Mirrors/Broken MInds mugs: Be the first on your block!

Imagine sipping your morning coffee/tea from a Broken Mirrors/Broken Minds mug... now imagine that you don't have to imagine. You can order one here: All three covers are available, and they look fabulous.

Friday, April 23, 2010

New Reviews: Pornography: A Thriller, the Red Riding Trilogy, Behind the Burly Q and more...

Check out my reviews of delightful burlesque documentary Behind the Burly Q, darkly twisted thriller Pornography: A Thriller, the epic UK crime films that comprise the Red Riding Trilogy and art-world satire Boogie Woogie.

Next week: Survival of the Dead!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Words I Wish I'd Never Heard... (An Occasional Series)

Hey, every occasional series has to start somewhere. Today's word is "vajazzling," and it means exactly what just streaked through your head. Suddenly Damian Hirst's diamond-encrusted human skull is no longer the most vulgar thing I've ever seen.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

1980s Video-Game Characters Stomp Manhattan... Film at 11!

Space Invaders reduce yellow taxis to heaps of multi-colored cubes. Frogger snarls midtown traffic and subway stations vanish as Pac-Man gobbles his way through the MTA map. Tetris stacks permanently alter New York’s iconic skyline… what the hell is happening here? Welcome to French writer-director Patrick Jean’s Pixels, produced by the Paris-based visual-effects house One More Production.

So yes, it was made by corporate cogs in the robo-consumer machine… welcome to the 21st century, Rip van Atari. But if the thought of Donkey Kong going all Gojira on Manhattan’s ass shivers your joystick, it’s two minutes of sheer, retro-geek bliss.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

It's Spec...... sorry, Splice -- I'm So There!

...and not just because this is a great trailer.

But also because it has a serious pedigree: Produced by Guillermo del Toro, co-written and directed by Vincent Natali (Cube) and starring Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley — sure, they've both done less than fabulous movies, but neither is a crap-film whore.

For my money, June can't come soon enough...

Broken Mirrors/Broken Minds... on Miss Flickchick.com

Just a reminder that in addition to the Broken Mirrors/Broken Minds: The Dark Dreams of Dario Argento Facebook page I created for the new edition, there's also a page on MissFlickChick.com where I'm posting news and links to interviews. The plus with this page is, of course, that you don't have to belong to Facebook.

And now, one for the fans: Above, the real Mother of Tears, as glimpsed in Inferno.

Monday, March 29, 2010

New interview about the expanded edition of Broken Mirrors/Broken Minds is online...

I was recently interviewed by Film Threat about the new edition of Broken Mirrors/Broken Minds: The Dark Dreams of Dario Argento and the director's films.
You can read the interview here.

The book will be available in April... just a few days from now, which means I can officially start fretting about reviews. Oh, and if you're on Facebook, please become a fan of my straightforwardly named group Broken Mirrors/Broken Minds: The Dark Dreams of Dario Argento.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Strange Case of the Argento Movie Tie-in Novel...

This is the paperback tie-in paperback published in 1971 to accompany the US release of The Cat O’Nine Tails. I never knew it existed until I was walking down Broadway one day and stopped to look at some tatty used books being sold from a blanket spread out on the sidewalk. And there it was. To the best of my knowledge, The Cat O’Nine Tails is the only English-language Argento-movie tie-in novel.

The author was Paul J. Gillette and the publisher was Award Books, a small, New York-based house that was eventually bought out by and absorbed into Berkeley Books, an imprint of Penguin. I don’t know much about Award Books, but they seem to have been in business from the early 1960s through the mid-’70s. Their early titles included books about the drug culture and other “daring” topics, but starting in the late ‘60s they specialized in movie and TV tie-ins. They published original novels inspired by popular shows like Gunsmoke, Adam-12, Medical Center and Then Came Bronson, as well as novelizations of movies ranging from Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets to Radley Metzger’s Carmen, Baby. Award also published a number of science fiction books in the mid ‘70s.

It looks to me as though many — maybe most — of Award’s tie-in books were published under pseudonyms, but a handful bore names like David Gerrold (Battle for the Planet of the Apes, 1973) and poet/artist/writer/Paul Buck (The Honeymoon Killers, 1970). Literary agent Agnes Birnbaum of Bleecker Street Associates worked for Award, as did Tor/Forge Books editor James Frenkel, but the company itself is a will o’ the wisp.

Gillette was a cat of a different color: He translated Petronius and the Marquis de Sade, and was nominated for two Pulitzer prizes. He worked for mass-market magazines ranging from Esquire to Playboy, hosted the TV shows Camera Three and Enjoying Wine With Paul Gillette; and edited the trade magazine Wine Investor. Gillette’s nonfiction books included Inside the Ku Klux Klan and The Lopinson Case, about a notorious 1964 double murder in Philadelphia.

In addition to The Cat O’Nine Tails, he wrote the tie-ins for Play Misty for Me (1971) and How Did a Nice Girl Like You Get Into This Business? (1968), adapted from a briefly notorious, German-made sexploitation movie whose claim to fame was a brief appearance by the 18-year-old Barbi Benton. She parlayed her seven-year stint as Hugh Hefner’s girlfriend into a fairly successful career as a singer and actress, to which I can only say, “Run, Barbi, run!”

Gillette died in 1996 at the age of 57 and curiously, all the obituaries I tracked down describe Play Misty for Me and The Cat O’Nine Tails as original novels that were turned into movies.

That pretty much sums up what I know, but I’m dying to find out more about Award Books… partly because I’m fascinated by vintage pulp magazine/paperback publishers in general and partly because NYC-based houses exercise a particular hold over my imagination.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Profane movie titles and the women who say them...

I was recently invited to become a fan of the Facebook page "Intelligent, Classy, Well-Educated Women Who Say "F*ck" a Lot." I'm not a big fan of becoming a fan, but that made me laugh and got me thinking about movies with, shall we say, problematic titles... the kind the authors of Hollywood's 1927 production code must have had in mind when they specifically warned frisky filmmakers against using profanity in movie titles.

Not adult movies. And not movies like Damn Yankees! (1958) or That Darn Cat! (1965), because even back then those were words you could say under most circumstances and in most company without being branded a potty-mouthed pariah (except maybe in church with your great-grandma and some elderly nuns, and why would you want offend some nice old ladies anyway). Only real movies that got reviewed in mainstream publications counted.

Anyway, this is what I came up with:

Young People F*cking (2007), a Canadian comedy about looking for love in all the wrong places. It went straight to DVD in the US as YPF, thereby bypassing all potential editorial issues.

Baise Moi! (2000), which was one of a mini-wave of sexually explicit films designed to epater le bourgeois by forcing them to ponder the line between art and pornography. Ooh la la! The title literally means “F*ck Me,” but it was released in the US under the less offensive title Rape Me. Yes, someone thought “Rape Me” was the less offensive title. In New York it opened as Baise Moi! because, you know, anybody who speaks French no doubt has an enlightened attitude about that kind of thing.

Fucking Amal (1998), which is not about f*cking someone named Amal and thank God for that, because if there’s anything I hate it’s a gerund title. It’s about restless teens stuck in a boring Swedish town called Amal, as in, “I hate f*cking Amal.” Apparently Amal wasn’t boring enough, so most of the film was shot in nearby Trollhattan. I'd see "F*cking Trollhattan" before I'd see something with a wussy name like Show Me Love, which was F*cking Amal's US release title.

And I guess you have to include the coy, self-censoring titles.

Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock? (2006) is a documentary about a thrift store painting that may or may not be by Pollock – the good ol’ gal who paid $5.00 for the canvas at a thrift shop and asks the title question says f*ck a lot, especially when speculating about why snooty art-world types don’t take her or her f*cking painting seriously.

What the Bleep do We Know? (2004), a documentary about the mind-blowing intersection of quantum physics and faith, which I might have found more thought provoking if it hadn’t been underwritten by the nutty Ramtha cult.

And that's it for now...

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Wes Craven on Scream 4, then and now...

What a difference a year makes. When I asked Wes Craven last February whether there was any truth to the rumors that a fourth Scream movie was in the works, this is what he said: “Yeah, it's a possibility. And that's pretty much where it is with me right now. I should probably pick up the phone and call Bob and Harvey [Weinstein] to see what's up. I've heard that [Kevin Williamson] has an idea, and what I've said to my agents is that I'm interested if it's terrific — I'm interested in any project that's terrific — and I'm not interested if it's not.”

That’s what I call noncommittal. Flashforward to the Dimension Films email announcing that Scream 4 is going into production this spring for an April 15, 2011, release. Craven is on board, and is quoted saying, "I am delighted to accept Bob Weinstein's offer to take the reins on a whole new chapter in Scream history. Working with Courteney [Cox], David [Arquette] and Neve [Campbell] was a blast ten years ago and I'm sure it will be again. And I can't wait to find the talent that will bring new blood to the screen as well. Kevin is right on his game with the new script — the characters and story crackle with energy and originality — to say nothing of some of the most hair-raising scares I've seen in a script since... well, since the original Scream series. Let me at it."

Now that's one upbeat quote, and in all honesty, I'm glad to hear it. Yes, it's part of a PR machine whose gears won't stop grinding until the last Scream 4 market has been exploited. But the Weinsteins made the effort to get Craven onboard — whatever bad things have been said about them (and there have been plenty), they respect creativity.

The upcoming Nightmare on Elm Street, by contrast, was made without Craven's input, let alone participation, and no, nobody had to include him. Craven signed away future rights as part of his financing deal with New Line — as he's said many times, he was not only broke but deeply in debt and in no position to make a good deal. But Freddy Krueger and the world of Nightmare were stunningly original creations. Not making so much as a token overture to the creator — remember, Craven both wrote and directed — is indicative of the default attitude in Hollywood: Artists, even artists who understand that making movies is a business, are a pain in the ass, all hung up on the idea that they know better than focus groups and data crunchers and marketing departments. Remember that the next time you wonder why so many American movies are so painfully mediocre.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Ten Things I Hate About Casablanca...

D'oh... why didn't I write this contrarian take on the the best move ever made... ever? I mean, I like Casablanca as much as the next person, but Casablanca fans can really work my last nerve, especially the ones who've been polishing their Bogart impressions since high school.

Anyway, Ten Things I Hate About Casablanca isn't as snarky as the headline makes it sound, and he has to reach a little to fill out the list... actually, a lot. Even he admits it — by the time he gets to eight, we're into serious nitpick country. Number six is a product of its time, but it's still a sour note: There's a similar moment in Rear Window involving Lieutenant Doyle's maid, and it makes me clench my teeth every time. But his pick for the number one most annoying thing about the movie is right on the money — in a screenplay as good as this one, it really sticks out as a piece of sheer, "oh, nobody cares about that anyway" laziness.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Die! Die! My Darling! on Broadway

What, you may ask, was I doing at Looped, a Broadway play starring Valerie Harper (Mary Tyler Moore’s brash pal Rhoda and star of my favorite underrated TV horror movie) as pioneering celebutante Tallulah Bankhead?

Well, I love a vintage Hollywood scandal and Bankhead could shock ‘em in Sheboygan like nobody’s business. A daughter of Southern privilege and influence, if not wealth, she was raised to be a proper lady and willfully fashioned herself into an unrepentant tramp — a beautiful, talented, scathingly witty tramp whose brazen bon mots weren’t just outrageous for the time... they were just plain outrageous."My father warned me about men and booze,” Bankhead once drawled in her honey-and-bourbon drawl, “but he never mentioned a word about women and cocaine." Oh no she didn't! Yeah, she did. Bankhead eschewed undies more than four decades before Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton were a glimmer on the tabloid horizon, and she didn’t just flash paparazzi: Her southern exposure was the talk of the set during the filming of Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat (1944). Hitchcock, the story has it, drolly wondered which department was best equipped to handle the problem — make-up or hair.

Anyway, back to Looped. Playwright Matthew Lombardo was inspired by one of those show-business anecdotes that would sound too good to be true were it about anyone but Bankhead. In 1964, Bankhead was called to a UK sound studio to loop several lines of dialogue from the Hammer thriller Fanatic/Die! Die! My Darling!, which wound up being her last film. The session, which should have taken no more than an hour, became an all-day endurance test; a 45-minute piece of audiotape survived and bears witness to the antics of an aging star who was unfocused, drunk, very possibly high and thoroughly impossible.

Lombardo used the legendary incident as a jumping off point for his three-person psychodrama: Relocated to Los Angeles, it traps Bankhead and her reluctant director — actually a hapless editor pressed into service because he's there and the real director has decamped in disgust. He tries to coax Bankhead into looping a single line — “As I was telling you, Patricia, that deluded rector has in literal effect closed the church to me" — while an unflappable sound technician observes from his second-story booth. Souls are bared, secret traumas revealed and the relationship between image and reality parsed. The play itself is formulaic, but Harper is terrific; if God had granted her Kathleen Turner’s voice her performance would be pitch perfect.

That said, the horror geek in me came away wishing that Fanatic hadn’t been reduced to dramatic shorthand for “crass, humiliating exploitation of aging movie goddesses cruelly discarded by Hollywood," the epitome of hag horror. Whatever the movie’s flaws, I can't help but admire the malicious wit inherent in casting a godless reprobate like Bankhead as a puritanical religious zealot, let alone one unhinged by the strenuously repressed knowledge that the beloved son she lost to a single-car “accident” was gay and killed himself rather than deal with her deluded expectations. After all, Bankhead — the uber-idol of acid-tongued drag queens — loved her gays long before Kathy Griffin. The screenplay was adapted by Richard Matheson from Elizabeth Linington’s Edgar Award-nominated novel Nightmare, and it was was directed by Silvio Narizzano, who made the swinging sixties classic Georgy Girl... my point being that Fanatic was at least as respectable as the Bette Davis/Joan Crawford shocker What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), which got five Oscar nominations.

Now remind me again why celebrities like Simon LeBon, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Bruce Willis/Demi Moore, named their daughters Tallulah? Yes, Bankhead was fabulous... fabulously tormented, self-destructive and ultimately miserable. You might as well curse your little girl with Tamar and be done with it.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

110,000 page views: A MissFlickChick High!

Followers and readers, this post is all about you. Last month, MissFlickChick.com broke the 100,000 views-per-month mark, and that's all your doing. So thank you!

I don't presume to think you're all rabid fans of Dario Argento and/or my book Broken Mirrors/Broken Minds, but if you are, please accept this as a small token of my appreciation: A 30% discount if you order the new, expanded edition directly from my publisher, University of Minnesota Press. The discount code is MN70310, and you can also order by phone: (800) 621-2736.

Monday, March 15, 2010

RIP Peter Graves, Exploitation Star!

Peter Graves, the soberly handsome star of TV's iconic Mission: Impossible (1967-1973), died of a heart attack yesterday (March 14th). He was just a few days short of his 84th birthday. Born Peter Aurness in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Graves was the younger brother of Gunsmoke star James Arness, and followed his brother to Hollywood after studying drama on the G.I. Bill — he served in the Air Force from 1944 to 1945.

Since I'm far from the only person fondly eulogizing Graves, I'm going to skip over Mission: Impossible and Airplane! (1980), which hauled his flagging later career out of the doldrums. Instead, let me sing the praises of his work on the exploitation fringes, which — to his eternal credit — he approached with the same manful gravity he brought to his more mainstream parts.

Like Red Planet Mars (1952), a Cold War thriller in which he plays a scientist who uncovers a dastardly Soviet plot to foment worldwide chaos with fake transmissions from an advanced Martians race. Thank goodness the real Martians turn out to be a pious lot who have no truck with godless communists! A lesser actor might have phoned it in, but not Graves, who — after ten years in the business — was about to get his first break, a small but striking part in Billy Wilder’s Stalag 17 (1953).

A pettier performer might have been too pissed off to bother trying when, a year later, he was busted back to Killers from Space (1954), a micro-budget UFO/commie scare picture directed by Billy’s less talented brother, W. Lee Wilder. But no: Graves squared up his jaw and played it straight. I suspect, though, that he’d have gotten a kick out of Don't Ask Don't Tell (2002), which added new footage and redubbed dialogue to Killers from Space, turning it into a comedy about aliens trying to take over the world by turning everyone gay, starting with — yes — the stalwart military scientist played by Graves. After all, he was game to twit his own rock-ribbed persona by playing Airplane! and Airplane II’s pervy Captain Oveur ("Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?" "Have you ever been in a Turkish prison?").

After nabbing another minor but good part in Charles Laughton's extraordinary The Night of the Hunter (1955), we find Peter Graves, science guy, helping to defeat a bad Martian that looked kind of like a mutant carrot (one of veteran effects artist Paul Blaisdell's most fondly remembered creations) in Roger Corman's It Conquered the World (1956); and carelessly creating giant, irradiated grasshoppers in Bert I. Gordon’s The Beginning of the End (1957), a blatant ripoff of 1954's Them!, which just happened to have starred his big brother. And let's not forget his turn as a na├»ve, big-city architect among the low-life Cajuns in the swamp melodrama Bayou (1957); with a new, more lurid title, it was re-released as the exploitation hit Poor White Trash.

After Mission: Impossible ended, Graves made numerous TV-movies, including Scream of the Wolf, a Richard Matheson-penned werewolf story with a nifty twist, and John Llewellyn Moxey's desolate "end of the world as we know it" sci-fi picture Where Have All the People Gone; both first aired in (1974).

And finally, Graves was unforgettable as a rich bastard in the still-underrated Parts: The Clonus Horror (1979). Yes, it suffered the constraints of a lower-than-low budget, but its cynical story was a killer — the fact that its writer won a lawsuit claiming that 2005's big budget The Island was pure plagiary tells you something.

So thank you, Peter Graves, for some wonderful movie memories!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

R.I.P.: Charles B. "The Legend of Boggy Creek" Pierce

… not to be confused with noted female impersonator Charles Pierce, who died in 1999.

Regional filmmaker Charles B. Pierce made a series of low-budget movies in the 1970s and '80s, of which the most famous was the first: The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972), a faux-documentary about a Sasquatch-like creature that scared the bejabbers out of the good people of Fouke, Arkansas. It cost some $160,000 dollars and made a reported $25 million, and helped launch a wave of exploitation-oriented mock-docs.

Director Daniel Myrick has regularly cited Boggy Creek as one of the films that inspired The Blair Witch Project. Pierce went on to direct a total of 11 genre features between 1972 and 1987; he made Westerns with a Native-American slant — Winterhawk, 1975; The Winds of Autumn (1976); Greyeagle (1977); Sacred Ground (1983) and Hawkin's Breed (1987) — a Viking picture (The Norsemen, 1978) and a southern-fried action comedy (Bootleggers, 1974. But he's best remembered for Boggy Creek and its sequel, Boggy Creek II: The Legend Continues (1985), along with the deeply disturbing The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1977), inspired by an unsolved series of murders committed in post-WWII Texarcana.

Pierce was born in Hammond, Indiana, and raised in Hampton, Arkansas, where he grew up with future producer Harry Thomason (Designing Women). He sold advertising in Texarkana, spent 30 years working as a Hollywood set decorator for both film and TV; and died in Dover, Tennessee at the age of 71. In addition to directing his films, he wrote or co-wrote them, often with Earl E. Smith.

Pierce is also widely credited with coining the Clint Eastwood catchphrase, "Go ahead — Make my day," first heard in Sudden Impact (1983), the fourth Dirty Harry picture. While that sounds like so much Hollywood malarkey, it may well be true: Sudden Impact lists only one screenwriter, Joseph Stinson, but Pierce and longtime collaborator Earl Smith share story credit.

Pierce wasn't a genre-expanding talent on a par with George Romero, David Cronenberg or John Carpenter, but his movies, especially Boggy Creek and The Town That Dreaded Sundown, were an integral part of my exploitation-movie education. And let me tell you, when I saw David Fincher's Zodiac (2007), it brought back a flood of Town That Dreaded Sundown memories; they're very different movies made in very different times, but the hooded sociopaths who haunt both are the pure, unadulterated stuff of nightmares — just say "trombone bayonet" to any one who's seen it and watch them go pale.

So a moment of silence, please, for an unpretentious, largely unlauded filmmaker who nonetheless left his mark.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Time Travel Terror!

Time travel: Sounds like so much fun, always turns out to be a frakkin' nightmare. At least, that's the way it goes in movies, and until I meet someone who can share some real-life time travels experiences (and whom I don't think belongs in he loony bin), I'll have to go by what I see onscreen.

I've compiled some of my favorite cautionary time-travel film in Future Shock - The Horror of Time Travel. Check it out and let me know what you think...

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Things I learned from the Oscars...

American Family's Eric Stonestreet and Jesse Tyler Ferguson are funnier than Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin.

J.C. Penney is so not cool.

Deaf people are just like regular folks; they like fast food even though it's crap (thanks for clearing that up, Mickey D).

Faux-perfume ads that turn out to be about cervical cancer are scary

I don't want manta rays coming out of my TV... sorry, that's what I learned from Oscar commercials.

Jamal Sims is the worst choreographer ever: I won't go so far as to take back all the disparaging things I've said about Debbie Allen's awful Academy Awards numbers, but I will venture to say that insipidness is actually better than sheer, willful ridiculousness. What does some guy in white pants doing a retro robot dance have to do with Michael Giacchino's saccharine score for Up? What's the connection between a ripoff of Jerome Robbins' gym dance from West Side Story and Hans Zimmer's score for Sherlock Holmes? Seriously, I've seen better choreography for competitive cheerleading teams.

Someone at Dior Couture hates Charlize Theron — How else did she wind up at the Kodak Theater wearing a dress with icing-swirl bull's-eyes over her boobs?

Miley Cyrus and Amanda Seyfried should not be allowed to select their own formal wear: They presented the best song award dressed like music-box ballerinas, which is only okay if you're, like, five.

The cult of John Hughes has overstayed its welcome: I like Sixteen Candles as much as the next person who had a blast during the '80s and doesn't care who knows it (hell, I might even go see Hot Tub Time Machine) but The Breakfast Club is not The 400 Blows. Though I must concede that the footage of Hughes' young stars — Ally Sheedy, Anthony Michael Hall, James Spader, Emilio Estevez, Lea Thompson, Matthew Broderick, Jon Cryer, Judd Nelson and all the rest — looking as dewy and sweetly unformed as newly hatched chicks was heartbreaking. "Don't You (Forget About Me)" is still a great song. "When you grow up, your heart dies" is still a cringe-inducing line.

The pompous gasbaggery about James Cameron's visionary vision must stop: Avatar is a shiny, candy-colored cartoon, not a divine vision of the future of cinema.

Ben Stiller isn't as funny as he thinks he is: His Avatar-mocking introduction to the best make-up award was painful. And what's with pitting movies like The Young Victoria and Il Divo against Star Trek? Apples and oranges, anyone?

Sometimes there is such a thing as a sure thing: Like Mo'Nique for best supporting actress (Precious); Christoph Waltz for best supporting actor (Inglourious Basterds); Jeff Bridges for best actor (Crazy Heart); Sandra Bullock fr best actress (The Blind Side).

Costume designer Sandy Powell is a class act: She dedicated her Oscar for The Young Victoria to all the designers who dress "contemporary films and low-budget ones" and are consistently overshadowed and underappreciated.

No one outside the business has any idea what sound mixers and editors do, even after that stultifying educational video narrated by Morgan Freeman. And you know what? Nobody outside the business cares, either, which is fine. They don't vote for Oscars.

You can't top an acceptance speech that begins "Thirteen years ago, my doctors told me I [wouldn't] survive" (Kim Sinclair, winner for Set Decoration), so don't try.