My Favorite Year

In Film on December 30, 2011 at 5:06 pm

I try to go through life with equal amounts optimism, realism and pessimism. That said, this past year was something special. Here’s a brief re-cap of 2011, take one.

February saw the limited theatrical release of my documentary American Grindhouse, after nearly a year of film festivals both in the United States and abroad.  On July 27th, Kino/Lorber Films released the DVD with our jam-packed and lovingly assembled wealth of extras. With all of the criticism that the film receives (some of which I agree with) I can safely say that it’s the movie that it was meant to be; A documentary that contextualizes the business of exploitation in American cinema. A sort of pop-film history lesson that never goes too deep, but rather acts as a gateway drug for exploitation movie newbies.

It’s one thing to get a movie made, but it’s something else entirely to get it seen all over the world. Thanks to my best friend Danny Greene for making it with me and Andrew Goldenberg and Garrard Whately for their help in the final stages of the editing and sound mix.  If I learned anything while making this (and there were dozens of harsh lessons), it’s that to describe a movie as Grindhouse isn’t fully accurate.  It’s not a style, nor is it a genre. It is, however, a word that boils down a 20th Century phenomenon when filmmaking and film viewing was dangerous. Grindhouse is a word that we associate with battered-up old prints with missing film reels and optical pops and hisses on the soundtrack — something that audiences may be having limited opportunities to experience in the future — as studios begin getting rid of their aging prints (and no longer striking new ones of older films) and moving steadfast into digital projection. (So perhaps these films are even more important now, than they were when we started making the doc?)

Grindhouse is about embracing the flaws of physical film exhibition, relishing in missing frames at the end of a reel change and how some of these films (and their tattered appearance) reflected 20th century America.  I accept the g-word and I love that it turns people on to old films that they should see anyway, but just know that it means more than a bad movie on faded film stock and started well before (and reaches far beyond) 42nd St memories. Thanks to everyone who sought it out and/or watched it completely on accident.

By the spring, I became involved with DistribPix and their release of The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann. For this release, I worked with the fantastic DistribPix team and helped produce interviews with adult film legends Eric Edwards and Georgina Spelvin. As a major fan of Radley Metzger/Henry Paris, it was a pleasure to work on this release and meet him during the commentary recording of Naked Came The Stranger. Around the same time, our retrospective pieces for Subkultur Entertainment’s DVD release of The 4D Man was released in Germany. Featuring interviews with producer Jack H. Harris and former Miss America (also cinema’s first Catwoman), Lee Meriwether. Our partnership continued with a retrospective documentary on the making of Dinosaurus! and with the first official German home video release of Kinji Fukasaku’s Message From Space. Interviewing Sonny Chiba for this release was a major highlight of my year. Thanks to Stephanie Paris for her sublime camera work and to Atsuko Kohata for conducting the interview. Stuart Galbraith IV helmed the Japanese production for me and snagged interviews with Kenta Fukasaku, special effects director Nobua Yajima and model creator Shinji Hiruma. I have the feeling that this is not the last Japanese-languae documentary that I produce. Arigatou gozaimasu!

Sonny Chiba discusses making "Message From Space"

As summer rolled around, some of the work that I provided for Shout! Factory and Severin Films were released. First up, was our contributions to Bloody Birthday, The Baby and The Stunt Man. These simple featurettes were fun and a great chance to continue working with David Gregory – the man responsible for getting me started with Dark Sky Films and producing the DVD or Spider Baby back in 2007.

With as much fun as it was to contribute to these releases, my greatest sense of accomplishment came with Shout! Factory’s DVD and Blu-ray release of The Women in Cages Collection, for which I was able to delve deeper into the story behind the making of two of my very favorite films, The Big Doll House and The Big Bird Cage. It’s been a life long duty of mine to get the oral record of filmmaker Jack Hill on all of his films and present them to his legion of fans. For nearly 10 years now, I have been cataloging his photos and making sure that his legacy is documented, and it has been a pleasure to meet actors and colleagues who have worked with him over the years. One of my favorite experiences while working on the The Women in Cages Collection, was to seek out some of the actresses that I’ve always wanted to meet; Teda Bracci, Candice Roman and Anitra Ford.  It’s been nice to see this presentation so warmly received by fans and ending up on a few Best Of 2011 lists for the year. It was made by a fan and for the fans.

Anitra Ford discusses her role in "The Big Bird Cage"

Besides this project for Shout!, I was fortunate enough to helm a duo of featurettes for the company on their DVD release of  Take a Hard Ride and to produce the commentary sessions for Streetwalkin’ and Too Hot To Handle. Working with Streetwalkin’producer and director team of Joann Freeman and Robert Freeman was an absolute treat, and I strongly encourage any indie filmmakers out there to listen to their commentary track. It’s inspiring and completely honest. I also had a great time moderating the commentary on Too Hot To Handle, so here’s hoping that this is not the last of Cheri Caffaro DVD releases that she and I can contribute to…

Cheri Caffaro is "Too Hot To Handle"!

Considering all the projects that I worked on in this year, it’s the work I’ve done that must wait until 2012 that keeps me excited. Projects that are ready and waiting for release and others that are snowballing into larger and more involved than originally planned. Thank you, 2011. I’m not asking to repeat or even top you in 2012, just please keep my rent paid and my dog from going hungry.


Trick ‘r Treat

In Film on October 28, 2011 at 4:15 pm

This year, I decided to invite 9 friends, colleagues and heroes to pick their favorite horror film to round out a top ten list for this blog. Is this a self-marketing opportunity for a few people on my last-minute email blast, or pure laziness on my part to add content to a self-imposed albatross around my neck?  You decide. Happy Halloween.

Jeffrey Reddick


The original NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET is my favorite horror film of all time.  Creatively, it’s Wes Craven at his peak.  An original idea, imaginative direction, layered writing, ground breaking special fx, a strong heroine and iconic villain come together to create a brilliantly memorable film. This movie also led me to New Line Cinema, the company that made my first film.  So, my love of this film is personal and professional.

Adam Rockoff

Author, Going To Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film

THE WATCHER IN THE WOODS is the scariest movie I have ever seen.  And I don’t mean it’s the scariest Disney movie I’ve ever seen.  I mean it’s the scariest movie.  Period.  It’s still one of the three or four movies I’m unable to watch alone in my house with the lights off.  While nostalgia surely plays a role in my love for the film, I’m not prejudiced by having seen it at an impressionable age; when I first saw WATCHER, I had already seen HALLOWEENROSEMARY’S BABY, and THE EXORCIST.  THE WATCHER IN THE WOODS took all of my adolescent fears—the fear of being kidnapped, the “Bloody Mary” legend, cults and strange rituals—and crystallized them into a single haunting image of a blindfolded, beautiful blonde girl reaching out from another dimension and beseeching anyone, anyone at all, to “Help Me!”

Michael R. Felsher

Director/Producer Red Shirt Pictures

I am going to choose an unheralded (for the most part) gem called EXORCIST III, which despite some obvious studio mandated malarkey is one of the most richly textured and intelligently written horror films I’ve ever seen.  With a veteran cast (most of whom are sadly no longer with us) headed by George C. Scott, Jason Miller, Ed Flanders, and featuring a volcanic performance from Brad Dourif, EXORCIST III stands on its own as a deeply creepy and unsettling look at the nature of evil.  Not to mention it contains one of the most memorable “jump out of your seat” scares of all time that could teach most of our new generation of fear filmmakers a thing or two.

Jeremy Kasten


I love the original PHANTOM OF THE OPERA for sheer scariness and a clear sense of gothic horror. I mean, Paris, Opera house, spinning ballet dancers and a guy whose face is really ugly, but not from an accident… but really from just looking like a skeleton. It’s the ultimate romantic monster theme movie because, unlike Beauty and the Beast, the monster is not furry and safe. Plus he’s crazy and wants to trap her underground and make her sing. Which is sexy and weird.

Staci Lane Wilson

Writer, film critic and director of THE KEY TO ANNABEL LEE

I could not possibly choose a horror film that’s a favorite, but here is a recent discovery: Robert Altman’s IMAGES (1972). Can’t believe I never saw, or even heard of, this movie before now. If you enjoy tense, psychological thrillers of the 70s like Roman Polankski’s THE TENANT, Nicholas Roeg’s DON’T LOOK NOW, Paul Wendkos’ THE MEPHISTO WALTZ, or Lucio Fulci’s THE PSYCHIC, then you must seek out IMAGES!

John Landis

Director of AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, ANIMAL HOUSE and author of Monsters In The Movies.

This question again?! I can never narrow it down to one: ISLAND OF LOST SOULS, FRANKENSTEIN, BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, RE-ANIMATORTHE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, KING KONG (original), NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (original), FREAKS, both versions of THE THING, Cronenberg’s remake of THE FLY, DEAD RINGERS, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (original), KWAIDAN and  PSYCHO.

Eddie Muller

Founder and President of The Film Noir Foundation, writer, filmmaker and Cultural Archeologist.

DON’T LOOK NOW. Although it’s more an eerie psychological suspense film, rather than straight horror film, Nicholas Roeg’s Venetian creep-fest had a profound effect on me when I first saw it as a teenager, and it maintains that stunning impact every time I watch it. Donald Sutherland’s desire to believe in the supernatural—that his dead daughter is trying to reach him—causes him to misinterpret everything happening around him, a truly horrifying idea. His mistake eventually destroys him in what is, to me, the most terrifying, gut-wrenching climatic montage I’ve ever seen in a film.

Jeffrey Schwarz

CEO of Automat Pictures, producer/director of SPINE TINGLER: THE WILLIAM CASTLE STORY and VITO.

FREAKS is a movie that continues to fascinate. The fact that Tod Browning was able to get that film made within the studio system is still remarkable, and he populated it with actual sideshow performers that he’d worked with in his carnival days. It definitely resonates by showing how the outsiders band together when crossed. It’s also completely perverse – you see a Siamese twin getting off as her sister is kissed, a midget lusting after a full-grown trapeze artist, the half man/half woman confounding the “normals,” and so much more. “Gooble, gobble, one of us! One of us!” might was well be a call to arms for all the freaks in the audience.

Lianne Spiderbaby

Writer for Fangoria, author of the upcoming book Grindhouse Girls: Cinema’s Hardest Working Women  and host of Fright Bytes.

This is the most difficult question in the world for me to answer, but (lately) my favorite (modern/post 1980) horror film is Ti West’s THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL.  This film blew my mind – it was so original, the rawness of it, and the ultra creepy feeling of the mansion where the whole story takes place.  The characters were genuine and authentic, and you don’t know who you can trust until they either end up dead, or show their true (devilish, cult-like) colors!  I highly recommend this film to anyone who hasn’t seen it this Halloween, and please, do yourself a favor and DO NOT read reviews or any plot spoilers before viewing.  Also, watch for a stellar lonely babysitter dance to the 80s hit, “One Thing Leads To Another” by The Fixx.  Order some pizza and treat yourself to THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL. It will scare you to death.

Elijah Drenner

Producer/Director of AMERICAN GRINDHOUSE and crotchety proprietor of this blog. Now get off my lawn.

Fresh in my mind is Paul Bartel’s deliciously perverse, PRIVATE PARTS. Produced by Gene Corman in 1972, this low-budget thriller is obviously inspired by PSYCHO (even the trailer make fine use of Hithcock’s favorite composer Bernard Herrmann’s exquisite soundtrack from THE NIGHT DIGGER) but it still has the power to surprise even the most jaded, seen-it-all-before contemporary film goer today. This particular horror film remains dear to me for one sole reason; I actually live about a mile from the King Edward Hotel, where the film takes place, in downtown Los Angeles and I walk by it almost once a week. Still fully operational, the building is located on the corner of Los Angeles St. and 5th Ave in the heart of Skid Row. The building and surrounding architecture still looks the same nearly 40s years later. One of these days, I’ll sneak inside and give myself a tour…

Sound of Horror

In soundtracks on October 24, 2011 at 1:14 pm

Try as I might, I just cannot get into the Halloween spirit yet this year. Rest assured that one week before All Hallows Eve, my spirits will rise. Still, I cannot help but feel like I’m loosing touch with the holiday. While I have enjoyed reading about other people’s favorite horror movies in the blogosphere lately, I cannot help but wince at the repetition. Don’t get me wrong, I love The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Psycho too – but what really thrills me are the sounds of horror films. More specifically, their soundtracks. Here are 10 ghastly albums that tingle my spine.