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Archive for the ‘Film’ Category

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.

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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

Screenwriter, FINAL DESTINATION

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

Director, THE WIZARD OF GORE and THE THEATER BIZARRE

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…

Shock Corridor

In Film on August 24, 2011 at 4:02 pm

We have too many intellectuals who are afraid to use the pistol of common sense.

– Dr. Boden

Sam Fuller – that bold, brash, cantankerous, get-the-story-first copy boy turned movie maverick must seem like a relic in today’s day and age; a man whose movies and ideology may be gone by the way of typewriters and print media. With his wide, down-turned, elongated mouth supporting a well-moistened stogie, he looks and sounds like a parody of Classic Hollywood pic-tcha makers. His story telling is infectious and inspiring. Funny and blunt. His best observations have the subtly of a musket blast to the kisser. Fuller reveled in stirring the shit with his provocative yarns and his 1963 opus Shock Corridor is his most daring and unapologetic.

If Sam Fuller were still alive today, I wonder what he would think of the nation he so dearly loved and fought for. Our massive deficit, class warfare instigated by the rich, Tea Party Libertarians, Rick Perry, yada yada yada. Shock Corridor was his direct response to his view with America in the 60s. A country bubbling with rage, ignorance and a resistance to change. Over forty years later, ignorance is bottle fed to the masses while rage has been replaced with complacency. Sam wouldn’t be posting about these national injustices and hypocrisies on Facebook, or laughing smugly alongside The Daily Show newscast. No sir, he would make a goddamn movie about it.

As he recounts in his autobiography A Third Face: My Tale of Writing, Fighting and Filmmaking, Shock Corridor originated as a script that he pitched to Fritz Lang in the late 40s about a journalist trying to solve a murder that was committed in a mental hospital. Fuller was observing the changing nation around him – the scars left behind by Joseph McCarthy, The Civil Rights Movement and nuclear warfare. He revamped  his decade-old script to the newly christened Shock Corridor and made a film to deliberately provoke its audience. He writes, “My madhouse was a metaphor for America. Like an X ray that fathoms a patient’s tumor, Shock Corridor would probe our nation’s sickness. Without an honest diagnosis of the problems, how could we ever hope to heal them?”

Shock Corridor never healed the nation. But when viewed today, its invigorating to see a filmmaker rattle some cages, even if the message only reaches  the back row of the movie theater. Its potent cocktail of madness, sex, psychotherapy, racism and murder still packs the walop the director was striving for. It’s depressing that there aren’t movies (or the men who made them) like this anymore.

Experiment in Terror

In Film on August 16, 2011 at 9:02 pm
Richard Arlen and Leila Hyams fend themselves from one of Dr. Moreau’s ghastly creations in “Island of Lost Souls”

I am obsessing over the upcoming release of Island of Lost Souls, the first adaptation of H.G. Wells “The Island of Dr. Moreau”, coming from Criterion in October. Starring Charles Laughton, Bela Lugosi and Leila Hyams – it’s about damn time that the film comes home to the digital format.  In the mean time, I have been indulging in some of my favorite megalomaniac scientist movies. Peruse through this list of some of my favorite Mad Doctor Movies or I will transplant your brain into the body of a gorilla.

Doctor X (1932)
Michael Curtiz’s (Casablanca) lurid shocker helped set the stage for Lionel Attwill’s malevolent quack-persona. In a movie that seems to have everything for classic horror fans (cannibalism, a wise-cracking newshound, synthetic flesh and Faye Wray); the only thing that outshines Attwill is the lurking, cloak-drapped Moon Killer and his bloody reign of terror. Made in a rare three-strip Technicolor process that creates a striking teal green and rusty-sepia toned hue, Doctor X is easily one of the best American-made horror films of the pre-Code era.

The Mad Doctor of Market Street (1942)
This Universal B-movie quickie gets off to a marvelous start before turning into a goofy jungle romp, but I still love it. Attwill returns as this time as Dr. Benson, a San Francisco practitioner who experiments in suspended animation. When his test subject dies, he flees for an ocean liner headed to Australia. After a fire breaks out on the ship, Benson and a group of castaways find themselves captive on a jungle island where he revives the village chief’s dying wife. Praised as “God of Life”, Benson runs rampant and plans to continue his medical theories on his fellow shipmates. While no masterpiece, it’s tough to shrug off this 68 minute comedy-thriller. Director Joseph H. Lewis (Gun Crazy) embraces the moonlit city streets and sleek medical interior in the opening scenes of the film and gives the picture its only real moments of visual flair.

Re-Animator (1985)

Jeffrey Combs’ portrayal of Dr. Herbert West is one of the greatest characters in contemporary horror cinema. The first of the Re-Animator films walks that thin line between camp and serious horror, all thanks to a bravo performance from the icy-eyed actor. Spawning two sequels and a new musical, Re-Animator is one of the last great 80s horror franchises to not feel overexposed. Based on the short story by H.P Lovecraft, director Stuart Gordon and co-writer Dennis Paoli update the text with gloriously gruesome results.

The Tingler (1959)

Vincent Price stars in William Castle’s ludicrous thriller about a scientist who discovers that a parasite which lives along the spine in the human body and can only be stopped by the blood curdling screams of its host! To test his theory, he induces fear into a deaf-mute. Price’s LSD “trip” is almost worth the cost of admission alone.

The Boogie Man Will Get You (1942)

Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre star in this Arsenic and Old Lace-ish black comedy that sometimes feels like a live action Looney Toons movie. When a divorcée  buys a house from Professor Billings (Karloff), she allows him to continue using the cellar to conduct his experiments; creating an army of war-bound super-humans. When he can’t seem to perfect his plan, the town mayor/sheriff, Dr. Lorentz (Lorre) becomes unwittingly involved when he sees the prospect for financial gain. Former light heavyweight “Slapsie Maxie” Rosenbloom is great as the door-to-door powder puff salesman while Maude Eburne as Aunt Amelia thinks she’s a chicken.

The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
James Whale’s own follow up to his Universal horror classic is wittier and more imaginative than its predecessor. And with all due resect to Collin Clive as Dr. Frankenstein, it’s his mentor, the effeminate Ernest Thesiger as Dr. Pretorious who steals the show. Franz Waxman’s playfully gothic score was one of the first great soundtracks of Hollywood filmdom and forever linked the haunting theremin sound to the image of shocking electrodes and bubbling test tubes.

Flesh for Frankenstein (1973)

Paul Morrisey’s underappreciated sex/horror satire can be a bit of an endurance test. It’s too well made to be appreciated by the elite “so bad, it’s good” thrill seekers; and a little too cerebral for the average gore hound. Originally filmed in 3-D, the film does not seem to lose any of its impact in regular ol’ 2-D, but I have to admit that I would love to see how those dangling guts look on the big screen someday. Udo Kier makes for a marvelous Dr. Frankenstein with lines like: To know life, you must fuck death in za gall blader!

Beast of Blood (1971)
This is my favorite of the Flippino Blood Island films, which is not saying much. Still, the image of the disembodied, flesh-charred monster is quite a sight. This is a direct sequel to The Mad Doctor of Blood Island, but don’t worry, you’ll have no problems following the story without a frame of reference. In fact, it might be more enjoyable that way. Former teen heart-throb turned Manila-bound, B-movie producer and occasional actor John Ashley returns as Dr. Bill Foster, who tries to stop Dr. Lorca (Eddie Garcia) and his headless creation from attacking Polynesian jungle virgins.

Murders In The Rue Morgue (1932)

In what may be one of the most overtly sadistic horror films ever made, Bela Lugosi stars in this luminously photographed thriller, mixing Darwin’s then-radical theories of evolution and horror from Edgar Allen Poe’s original short story. Lugosi stars as Dr. Mirakle who kidnaps prostitutes and injects them with ape blood to create a cozy cage mate for his sideshow gorilla. Made directly after Lugosi’s turn as Dracula for Universal Pictures, this was supposedly slimmed down by nearly 30 minutes from the studio itself over fear that the film’s macabre storyline might be too much for audiences.

The Man With Two Brains (1983)

Remember when Steve Martin was funny? Me too. I accept his new-found career in Pink Panther and Cheaper By The Dozen remakes and sequels, but I can never quite warmed up to the new image of that wild and crazy guy from my childhood. In The Man With Two Brains, Martin stars as Doctor Nathan Hfuruhurr, a leading neurosurgeon who has a telekinetic romance with a brain in a jar. All of Martin’s collaborations with Reiner (The JerkDead Men Don’t Wear Plaid and All of Me) are funny, but this still remains my favorite. And who’s that giving Kathleen Turner’s venus mound a heart-shaped buzzcut?

Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure

In Film, soundtracks on May 3, 2011 at 9:30 pm

“Go ahead and scream your head off. We’re miles from where anyone can hear you.”

– Pee-Wee Herman

I love Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. I think about it everyday and probably will for the rest of my life. With each passing year, as my cynicism grows deeper and deeper for movie comedies, I am consistently reminded of this film’s genius. Oh sure, it’s not perfect. But it’s those child-like imperfections that actually seem to to accentuate its charm. Like a toddler’s self-portrait with too many fingers on their left hand — Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure is too endearing not to embrace and place proudly on the refrigerator with magnetic grapes. This was the first film for three pop culture wonder kids who met on a movie playground, took one wild idea and spun it into something even more fantastic until the end result was nearly cosmic; actor/comedian Paul Reubens (Pee-Wee Herman), director Tim Burton and rocker-turned-composer Danny Elfman. While all three men have nailed subsequent creative triumphs, it was Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure that placed them in the direction of greatness.

Tim Burton directs Paul Reubens (aka Pee-Wee Herman) in Pee-Wee's Big Adventure

It’s hard to imagine this film interpreted any other way, other than by Tim Burton. Pee-Wee is a loner, a rebel. There are things about him we wouldn’t understand, things we couldn’t understand, things we shouldn’t understand. But the camera never judges Pee-Wee’s world. We are allowed to frolic in the front yard as he waters the lawn and wrap scotch tape around our face while making funny faces in the bathroom mirror. It’s a place where you don’t have to put your toys away after playing and where nothing completes your pancake breakfast like a pile of Mr. T Cereal.

Burton’s visual style was the perfect match for Paul Reubens’ hellzapoppin, toy store antics, but it’s Danny Elfman’s music that had to support the action on-screen and propel it forward on a level incapable of human feet. It had match the film’s sensibilities. It had to be whimsical. It had to be great. The director explains in Burton on Burton “To be a director, you can’t have any fear. At best, you probably have to have a very healthy balance of being an egomaniac, but with enough security in yourself to just go for it.”

It’s that fearlessness that translates into the film for all three of the major creative forces. Watching the movie again and it’s clear that Burton, Reubens and Elfman felt that they may never get the chance to make another movie again. They had nothing to lose. So they fired up all the cylinders and attacked with tenacious integrity. Nothing seemed too risky according to this trifecta of outsiders. Nothing, except for Elfman…

“I was convinced that I was going to destroy their movie”, explains the composer on the DVD audio commentary. “But they (Burton and Reubens) persisted.” And thank God they did. The loony demo that Elfman came up with, wound up to be the exact same piece that was later orchestrated for the opening credits. And if there was any doubt as to what kind of movie that the audience was in store for, it was Elfman’s wonderous comic opener to set the tone. The Main Title acts as the perfect gateway for the forthcoming barrage of perpetual-motion breakfast machines, Mario’s Magic Shop adventures and creepy clown dreams.

If there is any one specific reason that I love Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure so much, it’s probably because of Elfman’s music. It was one of the first times in my life that I recognized a name as the creator of an experience that I was having. I was maybe only ten years old, but once those opening notes began, I was an instant Elfman fan and a film score junky from that day forward. Since then, I’ve slowly learned that there are two schools of thought when it comes to film scores; The first is that the music should never intrude the film. Like most factors in cinema, such as editing, cinematography, etc – they should never call attention to themselves and along with each contributing element, it should work in service to the film and create the semblance of a whole. The second school of thought is…well…the exact opposite. That the music is as much a character in the film and that they want you to recognize it. And that’s Elfman’s music here.

With Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, Elfman brazenly announced his arrival to the film community with a bombastic carnival homage to Nino Rota, Bernard Herrman and Max Steiner. But his roots in the L.A rock band Oingo Boingo had some critics doubting his true ability, not to mention his longevity in the business. But naysayers be dammed, his work on the film lead to a steady flow of similarly toned musical assignments including episodes of Amazing Stories and Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, the long-forgotten Bobcat Goldthwait, talking horse comedy Hot To Trot, Beetlejuice and the theme for The Simpsons. Listen to any of these works and its easy to trace the musical DNA back to Pee-Wee.

The soundtrack for Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure was released by Varese-Sarabande in 1988 along with another early Elfman score, the Rodney Danferfield comedy Back To School (another great comic score, the kind Elfman claims to loathe). But in a moment that felt like Pee-Wee discovering that there was no basement in The Alamo, the CD was heart-wrenchingly absent of over half the music from the film. In 2000, the DVD release of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure featured a ‘Music Only’ audio option with commentary by Elfman in between the music cues (which is where I ripped and custom created these accompanying YouTube clips). Finally, I could not only hear all of the moments absent from the soundtrack, (Pee-Wee’s first revelation of his beloved bicycle from a top-secret console in his back yard, the epic bath tub battle with Francis Buxton and more!) but now I could also see it with the film, playing along with the action. More than before I appreciated all of the beats and comic timing that Elfman’s musical contribution brought to the movie.

In April of 2011, The Danny Elfman & Tim Burton 25th Anniversary Music Boxwas released. The massive multi-disc set features a book and a DVD along with 13 soundtrack CDs that include early work demos along with extended and alternate tracks to their 13 films together. And yes, the first disc is the extended soundtrack devoted solely to Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure While the CD is not fully complete, my schoolgirl-sized giddy fit still went through the roof when I first heard these original studio sessions (the previous CD was a mish-mash of original and album-only music tracks). I won’t complain, as now more than ever, I feel like my aimless, movie-obsessed childhood had meaning and that I was right all along. This music is thrilling and while some of my journeys have de-mystified the source material in the past, I feel even stronger connected to the film after hearing the music in its true, virgin form.

While Burton’s interpretation of Pee-Wee’s world leaves planet earth from time to time, with idiosyncratic imagry and a non-stop cavalcade of 80s nostalgia; Elfman’s orchestra remains the heart of the film. His work reins in the child-like wonders of Reubens and Burton who get lost in the massive desert dinosaur park of movie-making, clanging the dinner bell and making sure they come back to the ranch.

In May of 2011, LACMA opens their doors to The Tim Burton Exhibit that originally opened at MoMa in 2009. Featuring original conceptual drawings from the director’s personal archive spanning his entire film career, the exhibit also features original music pieces by Elfman to heighten the experience as you wonder through his world. While “Tequila” by Chuck Rio and The Champs may be Pee-Wee’s unofficial anthem, its Elfman’s music that forever remains Pee-Wee’s identity in my eyes, ears and soul. Re-discovering it’s greatness time and time again makes me feel like I’m unraveling a giant cable-knit sweater that someone keeps knitting…and knitting…and knitting. No complaints here, I just pray that it never runs out of yarn.

Pee-Wee composer, Danny Elfman

Big Doll House

In Film on April 6, 2011 at 1:13 am

For my upcoming work on Shout! Factory’s Women In Cages Collection, I finally get to share more of the radiant charm of actress Judy Brown. Shot on June 17th, 2006, the interview was originally planned as part of a larger Jack Hill documentary that will probably never be finished — at least as a stand-alone project. The veteran actress of over one dozen films, selflessly gave us about 2 hours of her time on a Saturday afternoon, it felt criminal to use a mere 20 seconds of that day in what later became American Grindhouse. I was still thrilled to include her, even if only for a brief moment.

But now, I am happy to say that more of our interview will be included in From Manila With Love — an all-new retrospective documentary on the making of Big Doll House and The Big Bird Cage being released in the Women In Cages Collection on June 21st as part of the ongoing Roger Corman Cult Classics Series. Additionally, an interview with actress Roberta Collins is also included in this new 2-part documentary. Shot seven years before her death, the footage has remained unseen until now.

Roberta Collins, Jack Hill, Judy Brown and Brooke Mills

Judy Brown was one of the last of the contract players for Universal Pictures during the decline of the Studio System. In 1970, she made her controversial debut in Threesome as Ursula, an American student in Denmark who becomes the object of an obsessive lesbian love affair. To the shock of both she and her family, a body double was used for more explicit scenes (it also lead to the suspension from her Universal contract). Although she never sued, Judy did manage to get an injunction against the producers and place a disclaimer at the end of the film which stated the bait and switch. It was this brouhaha that lead to her casting by director Jack Hill in Big Doll House.

Following BDH, she did a second stint in Corman County Jail with Women In Cages (which was shot on the same Manila prison set). Her ubsequent roles in Slaughter’s Big RipoffHot Potato and Willie Dynamite ensured that a legion of admirers would fall in love with the auburn hair-colored beauty. During her impressive career, she dated the likes of Henry Kissinger and Elvis Presley before retiring from show business in the early ’80s to raise her family.  “I have no regrets about the films I made. I was in it for the adventure.”, says the actress during our interview.

I leave you with “Heaven and Paradise” performed by Judy Brown when she was just fourteen years old and released on the Fifo label in 1961. A dreamy, pouty-voiced, doo-wop ballad that reached number two on the regional charts — the song feels like something from a Scorsese soundtrack and I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if Judy continued with her musical career. Next up, you can catch her in Mark Hartley’s Machete Maidens Unleashed!, which Dark Sky Films will release later this summer.

Fuego

In Film on February 13, 2011 at 11:48 am

“You’re insatiable. Your desires can’t be quenched.” – Andrea

I can’t think of any other movie quite like Fuego. This campy, perverse, Sirkian melodrama tells the story of a man discovering that he has nymphomaniac wife that neither doctors, nor the revolving door of village men and lesbian chamber maids can tame. Directed by and co-starring Armando Bo, along with his real-life wife, Latin spit-fire (and Miss Argentinia 1955), Isabel Sarli — Fuego is ablaze with garish South American color schemes and a volcanic tango theme that plays on the soundtrack like a broken turntable. Like all good relationships, this movie is an exhausting, yet consistently thrilling train wreck. Fuego also has one of the strangest love scenes ever committed to celluloid. I’m not sure what the caged chickens are supposed to represent, but here it is.

Happy Valentines Day you miserable people.

 

 

 

Along Came a Spider

In Film on February 3, 2011 at 7:02 am

While rummaging through the archives recently, I came across something astonishing. Something that I had completely forgotten about. Back in 2006, I was fortunate enough to meet Spider Baby cinematographer Alfred Taylor during the making of our retrospective documentary for the DVD release. A charming, no-nonsense Welshman — Taylor was an amazing camera man and gifted still photographer, snapping head shots of up-and-coming actors and would-be starlets in between his movie gigs.

After our interview, he was kind enough to let us dig through his boxes of old photos where I found some amazing snapshots. As seen above, a family portrait is featured in the film during the epilogue. The picture to the right of Peter (Quinn Redeker) was photographed by Taylor in his own studio with Redeker and actress Mary Mitchel. The child is unknown. A total of twelve family photo variations were discovered during our research and offer a unique glimpse into the process of this photo session.

The top photo is the exact same one used in the final film, these four alternates were scanned from the original proof sheets. Enjoy.

Cannibal Girls

In Film on January 10, 2011 at 5:19 pm

“Food can be a marvelous appetizer” – Cannibal Girl

Canadian carnality and Cannibalism. Sexualizing the act of people eating people is what separates Ivan Reitman’s 1973 kooky classic Cannibal Girls, from the rest of the flesh-munching films of the 70s. The grey, slushy snowscape of Northeastern Canada also sets this apart from the usual run-of-the-mill, South American savagery that genre fans are more familiar with. And while this horror/comedy may not be the cannibal holocaust some people are looking for, Cannibal Girls is best appreciated as a pre-cursor to post-modern horror films of the 1990s.

Perhaps with the exception of Jack Hill’s Spider Baby (1968), I cannot think of any other sexy, cannibal themed, horror/comedy. These two would make a great double-bill, as they both share an irreverent, self-awareness that is satisfying to watch. These two know they are horror films, and their scripts tip-toe around genre stereotypes, even while falling victim to their pitfalls. Cannibalism is a lot like sex. The ravenous, primal urge to eat, chomp, chew, suck and swallow your mate is natural during the physical act of love. That idea is exploited in both films, but it’s Cannibal Girls that really takes it up a notch (for once, a movie poster that actually delivers what the campaign promises; sex and cannibals).

Cliff and Gloria (pre-SCTV regulars Eugene Levy and Andrea Martin) take a vacation to Farnamville and spend the night in a motel. Hungry and looking for food, the owner of the motel tells them to go to a local farmhouse for dinner, which (according to town legend) was the same location of a horrible sacrificial cannibalistic homicide. They enter without hesitation.

Lead by a cape-wearing high priest, Alex St. John (Ronald Ulrch) who dresses like rural Canada’s answer to Montag The Magician, the three beautiful girls (one blonde, one raven and one ginger top) love, kill and eat anyone who enters their isolated farmhouse. Why? I cannot explain. But I would gladly let them eat me. To heighten the experience, American International Pictures added a “Warning Bell” audio track as a gimmick for the film’s more gruesome moments.

Cannibal Girls has the only on-screen credit of “The dialogue was developed by the cast from an original story by…” In other words, the film was largely improvised. That works to its advantage for actors Levy and Martin, but the others don’t quite have the chops. Levy and Martin completely carry the movie and without them, the movie would never work (I love the running cigarette gag).

Never before released on home video in North America, Shout! Factory released Cannibal Girls in a brand-new HD transfer from the original film elements late last year. There is a great conversation about the making of the film included on the disc, between director Ivan Reitmen (Stripes, Ghostbusters) and producer Daniel Goldberg (The Hangover). In it, the two discuss the making of the film, going into debt and what it took to get the film distributed in the United States. I’m not sure if this film ever found much of an audience after its release. A staple of underground VHS trading clubs in the 80s/90s, its ironic sense of humor seemed too smart for the average horror fan during the time that it could have found a resurgence. I would compare Cannibal Girls to the likes of Return to Horror High, Student Bodies, Serial Mom and Scream — all movies that put their self awareness of horror films, like a bloody heart on their sleeves.

I will end with a great story that I was once told by an industry worker. In 2010, he was standing in line at the Oscar luncheon behind Reitman, waiting for their photos to be taken (both men were nominated for Academy Awards that year). Observing Reitman and his son Jason, discuss how their suit and ties were looking, the industry worker tries to break the ice by saying that he was a big fan of Cannibal Girls. Pausing from his primming, Reitman turns around and responds, “There’s a smart ass in every crowd”. One month later, that ‘smart ass’ walked away with an Oscar, while Reitman went home empty-handed.

Jeez, “Lighten up, Francis”. After all, it was better than My Super Ex-Girlfriend.

10

In Film on January 7, 2011 at 9:19 am

Opinions are like assholes with Twitter accounts. Everybody has one. Here are, in my opinion, the ten best films from the past year.

1. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Edgar Wright’s arcade, pop epic was the funniest and most inventive movie of the summer. And nobody saw it. We complain that Hollywood does not make good movies and when they do, people don’t show up. Its box office defeat ensures Scott Pilgrim vs. the World to have a Lebowskian cult following in the years to come.

2. Micmacs

This is Jean-Pierre Jeanut’s return to the intricate, absurdist, sight-gag comedies that he was best known for with his one-time filmmaking partner, Marc Caro (Delicatessen, The City of Lost Children). Micmacs is both a big, sloppy wet kiss to cinema and a compassionate/critical statement about the bumbling industry of war. Like Scott Pilgrim, I could not wait to watch this movie again… and again… and again.

3. True Grit

Joel and Ethan Coen’s new take on a western favorite, is actually a classical re-approach to the genre’s conventions. While pretending to have never even heard of the first adaptation of the Charles Portis novel starring John Wayne in 1969, this one does not shy away from the violence and  brutality of the land (PG-13?! For once, I praise the arbitrary rules of the MPAA).  If anyone can make westerns great again, it’s two nerdy Jewish kids from Minnesota.

4. Henri Georges Clouzot’s Inferno

A documentary filmmaker’s wet dream. International super-star director, Henri George Clouzot (The Wages Of Fear ) goes off the deep end while making his film about matrimonial jealousy; obsessively filming psychedelic test footage of his starlet, Romi Schneider. The film was never finished. Director Serge Bromberg combs through hours of archival, test footage and finished scenes, while re-editing and re-creating parts of the script with new actors and interviews with key members of the film. Clouzot’s compulsions are an eery insight of the mysterious man of cinema who was once dubbed The French Hitchcock. Probably one of the best documentaries about cinema ever made.

5. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

This “evil santa” movie was a bit of a bait and switch. The catch here, is that Rare Exports is much, much, much better than its advertising campaign might lead you to believe. Days before Christmas, a young Finnish boy discovers that a dark and deadly secret is buried beneath the mountain near his village. Telling too much gives this remarkable picture away. While I do not expect this to replace my favorite horror-holiday film (that would be Gremlins, thank you very much), I do suspect this one to grow into some kind of perennial genre favorite beginning next December.

6. The Killer Inside Me

Michael Winterbottom’s explicit, stylish, funny and (dare I say?) romantic neo-noir, caused an outrage when it premiered at Sundance earlier in 2010. This stigma seemed to follow it wherever it went, but I must say that I cannot relate to all the hubbub and it seemed to hurt the film. What a cast, what a soundtrack and my God, what a movie.

7. Gone With The Pope

Rescued from obscurity and finished by recent Academy Award-winning Editors Bob Murawski and Chris Innis (The Hurt Locker), Duke Mitchell’s (“Mr. Palm Springs”) long-lost, low-budget caper is a 70s time capsule of political incorrectness and high ambition, both behind and in front of the camera (Mitchell stars and directs). A group of low-level mafia men kidnap The Pope and demand one dollar from every Catholic in the world for his safe return. Gone With The Pope continues to make the rounds across the United States in 2011. Bring a Brillo Pad and see it with someone you love.

8. Marwencol

Mark Hogencamp survived a near fatal attack on his life one night after walking home from a bar in upstate New York. Left for dead, Mark emerges from a coma and his whole life has changed. In order to help himself rehabilitate, he creates a fantasy world of a model scale, World War 2 village in his backyard, preserving and photographing their stories as if they are real. Marwencol was my favorite movie at South By Southwest. A tender tale of pain, unrequited love and victory. This is the greatest kind of movie, where the story continues long after the film ends.

9. The Ghost Writer

Here is an average political thriller made very un-average by one of the greatest filmmakers living today, Roman Polanski. This is a man who knows how to build a thriller; slowly with subtle humor, along with interesting characters and landscapes (the grey, windy Irish seaside, doubling for Martha’s Vineyard, pegs the film’s tone.) Topped off with Alexadre Desplat’s too hell with subtly soundtrack and a stellar cast, made The Ghost Writer an early favorite of 2010.

10. The Social Network

I had no idea what to expect about “that Facebook movie.” I love David Fincher and I wonder, had it not been for his role as director – could this rapid fire, dialoge-heavy script may wound up a made for TV Movie? An engrossing and coldly astute tale of power and money in our modern, globally connected society, The Social Network is a movie of our times. The River Thames, Row Team montage, set to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ techo-cover of “In The Hall of The Mountain King” was the purest cinematic moment of the year. Tweet this.