Posts Tagged ‘Dark Sky Films’

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.


Horror Hospital

In Film on May 29, 2010 at 7:11 pm

“You’re too old to run a whorehouse”
– Dr. Storm

Horror Hospital is one of my favorite movies. Ever. After all these years, I cannot believe that something so daffy, so dry, so coyly queer has fallen under the radar and that more people have not fallen victim to its queasy charm.

Robin Askwith plays Jason, a down-on-his-luck songwriter in Swinging London. When he discovers that another band has stolen one of his songs, he lashes out at the transvestite frontman (“Silly little red faggot!”), only to get his nose bloodied by the blue-lipped, cross dressing princess. Bruised and defeated, Jason takes advice from a group of partygoers to take a vacation. Hairy Holidays Sun and Fun For The Under 30s proclaims the flyer. He leaves the party and discovers the travel agent in a back alley corridor – Mr. Pollack (Dennis Price); the portly, pale-faced, poof responsible for placing the ad. After glancing down as Jason’s bulging Big Ben, Pollack cuts him a special deal for Doctor Storm’s Health Hospital.

Jason politely sidesteps Pollack’s advances and hops a train to begin his holiday in the countryside. While en route, he meets Judy (Vanessa Shaw) and the two strike up a conversation in the train car. At the end of the line, the pair end up together, abandoned at an isolated train station. Rain drenched, the two are whisked away to Brittlehearse Manor – the stately home of Doctor Storm (Michael Gough) and his aging hag, Aunt Harris (Ellen Pollack). What ensues over the next 70 minutes is a demented fever dream of homoerotic, zombie muscle-men and blood soaked brain surgeries gone haywire. I could explain the details, but I’m not sure they make any sense – and they don’t need to.

Horror Hospital is the masterwork of Antony Balch; a crucial figure in British film history. A confessed horror fanatic, Balch was particularly fond of the films of Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi and it shows, not only in the movies that he made, but also in the films that he distributed early in his career. In the mid-sixties, Balch met “Naked Lunch” author William Burroughs in France and the two collaborated on two experimental short films together: Towers Open Fire and The Cut Ups (both are included on the Synapse DVD release of Balch’s Bizarre aka The Secrets of Sex and well worth watching). At the same time, Balch became friendly with leading avant-garde filmmaker and “Hollywood Babylon” scriber Kenneth Anger. Balch soon assumed exhibitor duties in two major theaters in London and Anger was key in helping Balch nab the rights for Tod Browning’s Freaks for distribution in the UK – lifting a thirty year ban on the controversial film. Other movies ranging from Kaneto Shindo’s horror masterpiece Onibaba to Russ Meyer’s bra-busting Super Vixens continued Balch’s reputation with his theater audiences. During his tenure as a film distributor, Balch was single-handedly responsible for exposing British audiences to a smorgasbord of never-before-seen exploitation and art house movies. A gay man, Balch’s movie selections for his theaters catered as much to the working class raincoat crowd, as it did to the usual cavalcade of Quentin Crisps.

Balch met pioneering independent producer Richard Gordon at the Cannes Film Festival while the two were searching for new product to distribute on their own. The two men forged a partnership and returned to the UK and collaborated on The Secrets of Sex in 1970 – Balch’s first feature film as director. (American distributor New Line Cinema changed the film’s title to Bizarre for its US release) The movie was a rambling anthology horror spoof with soft-core sex scenes and narrated by a mummy, but it turned a hefty profit. It played for six months straight at Balch’s theater in Piccadilly Circus and re-cooped its entire investment at that theater alone.

Gordon and Balch re-teamed for Horror Hospital in 1973 and the final film stands as the director’s crowning achievement and was his greatest financial success. It would however, be the final film that he would make. In April of 1980, after a series of failed attempts to get another film made, Balch died of stomach cancer. He was 43.

In an age of ironic horror comedies – with actors winking at the camera, knowing full well that it’s all a joke – Horror Hospital remains refreshingly hip and intentionally camp without going overboard. The film effortlessly walks such a fine line of seriousness and fruity absurdity – that its hard to tell if the people involved know how silly it really is. And that’s precisely its genius; Horror Hospital may be one of the cheekiest horror films ever made. But here’s the catch for contemporary audiences; the filmmakers knew it from the beginning.

Dark Sky Films will release Horror Hospital on June 15th, 2010 and is a vast improvement in picture quality over the previous Elite release. But don’t go throwing out your old copy just yet, this new release does not have the incredible trailer.