Archive for January, 2014


I’m not sure how to best describe the singular (go ahead, say it — thank God) experience of watching any film from the Ray Dennis Steckler oeuvre. Is “watching” even the right term to use, or do Steckler’s flicks just sort of play out in front of you? Active viewer participation certainly isn’t required — nor is it even rewarded — but regardless of how much or little attention you’re paying to events as they unfold, you do, somehow, find yourself thinking back on what you saw/barely saw/really didn’t see much of at all.

I think what I’m looking to say here is that Steckler’s movies just sort of happen, and whether or not you want them to, they tend to stick with you even if, by all rights, they shouldn’t. Ray did things his way — whatever you think, want, or expect is purely surplus to requirements.

Which isn’t to say that he couldn’t display an astonishing degree of competence, given his legendarily limited means, when he wanted to. Even his most listless affairs — think Blood Shack or The Las Vegas Serial Killer — are obviously done by a guy who is capable of more than a “mail-it-in” effort, even if he lacked the necessary ambition (plus, of course, finances) to prove it. And each of them, somehow, weaves a bizarre post-hypnotic spell in the viewer’s mind that compels him or her to give the movie in question another go sometime soon, if only to prove it wasn’t as dull and pointless as it seemed the first time out.

Don’t ask me how he managed to do this. And don’t ask him, either — Ray is, sadly, gone now, but even when alive he seemed completely oblivious to the occult power his works accidentally displayed. Some variation on “I did what I could with what I had” is his most common answer to questions about his various films’ production, and anybody who doesn’t think there’s some sort of low-intensity genius inherent in such an outlook is fooling themselves, because goddamn it, there most certainly is.


Case in point : 1969’s Body Fever (an inexplicable title given the film’s subject matter, I assure you, but no more or less completely out of place than the other handles it was released under, namely Super Cool and Deadlocked!), Steckler’s attempt at doing a Sam Spade-style detective “thriller” that’s utterly lacking in thrills, intrigue, suspense, or even common sense. Which is, of course, the true beauty of the whole thing.

Dullard private dick Charlie Smith (Steckler himself, as shown above) is hired to track down a missing girl (Steckler’s gorgeous wife-at-the-time, Carolyn Brandt) who’s gone and gotten herself mixed up in L.A.’s seedy heroin underworld. B-movie stalwart Gary Kent plays — no surprise here — tough guy Frankie Roberts, who gets in our man’s way from time to time but never really amounts to much of a genuine threat. Some time-killing strip club footage is thrown in. We learn that a “connected guy”-type hood named Big Mack is somebody not to be trifled with. Charlie finds his girl and ends up falling for her. No less than low-budget directorial legend himself Coleman Francis turns up as the owner of a coin-op laundromat who constantly bitches about his customers trying to cheat him. Are you intrigued yet? Of course you are.

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It’s probably fair to say that the most mesmerizing thing about Body Fever, besides looking for the various creative ways Steckler goes about killing his 78-minute runtime, is the utter incongruity on display in the two leads’ performances. Steckler appears to be playing things strictly for laughs (and why not?), while Brandt gives the impression that she is, for all intents and purposes, sleepwalking. If this is any sort of accurate representation of their marriage in microcosm, it’s no wonder things didn’t work out.

Still, for all its flaws — or perhaps precisely because of them — Body Fever emits that same siren call of “watch me again” as all things Steckler inevitably do. Andre Brummer (working here under his frequently-used pseudonym of Henri Price) probably has a lot to do with this, as his straight-out-of-another-dimension soundtrack music makes repeat viewings a genuine treat, but there’s more to it than that. I hesitate to invoke an cliche as over-used as je ne sais quois (Christ, did I even spell that right?), but Steckler’s flicks have it in spades. You can’t put your finger on precisely why any of his films worm their way into the back of your head, but they always do.


Body Fever is available on DVD from Media Blasters, who released it under the auspices of their “Guilty Pleasures” sub-label, and while it’s not as packed-to-the-gills with extras as some of their other Steckler titles, it does feature and extensive on-camera interview with the director about the film (among other topics, of course), there’s a “lost” Steckler Super-8 short included, and the requisite trailers for his other masterpieces available from Media Blasters round out the package, The remastered picture and mono sound are both rough — as you’d expect — but perfectly adequate, and all in all the disc makes a nice addition to your home exploitation library.

Just don’t ask me why.



Hey, look — I’m with you. I never thought this was gonna happen,  either, much less under circumstances this bizarre — and yet last week, at my local comic shop, there it was — Miracleman #1. And bearing the Marvel Comics imprint, no less.

My enthusiasm for seeing this material back in print for the first time in forever was tempered somewhat by Joe Quesada’s truly awful cover, which makes Miracelman/Marvelman look flat-out fucking evil, but beyond that, I gotta admit, finding this on the new release racks was definitely a “pinch me, I must be dreaming” moment.

The story particulars first, then, for those of you unfamiliar with the proceedings — Miracleman is, as you’ve probably surmised by now, the same thing as Marvelman, a uniquely British riff on Captain Marvel/Shazam! created by UK comics legend Mick Anglo at the height of Cold War atomic unease that was resurrected by a young-at-the-time writer named Alan Moore and artist Garry Leach in the pages of the legendary, incredibly-short-lived anthology series Warrior at the advent of Margaret Thatcher’s rise to power — a time, not conicidentally, of even more atomic unease. As one of the first of the “revisionist” super-hero strips, it achieved instant notoriety for its challenging and timely content, and when Moore skyrocketed to prominence in the US thanks to his groundbreaking work on  Swamp Thing and Watchmen, American publishers suddenly got very interested in exposing stateside audiences to this material ASAP.

There were just a few hang-ups, though. And that’s where our admittedly brief story recap ends (honestly, if you haven’t read this stuff before, the less you know the better since it’s best to experience its majesty with no pre-conceived ideas going on — and if you have read it, well, you know what you’re in for, and why you absolutely need to read it again) and our examination of various behind-the-scenes machinations begins.



The copyright arrangements behind Marvelman (as it was only known prior to 1985) were complex, to say the least, but here’s what it boils down to — 1/3 of the ownership of the character was held by Quality Communications, the original publishers of the comic, 1/3 was held by Moore, as current (at the time) “caretaker” of the property, and 1/3 was held by the company that eventually was granted US publishing rights, Eclipse Comics. Make sense so far? Good. Because things are about to get even more convoluted.

Moore’s run was unfinished when Eclipse picked the book up, Warrior having folded up shop a few years previously, so the first arrangement to be made was for him to finish his story, which he did — along with artists Rick Veitch and John Totleben, who did positively lavish  work. It took 16 intermittently-published issues, and the better part of a decade, for Moore to complete his epic (a term, I assure you, that I do not use lighlty) and then the reigns were handed over to Neil Gaiman, who wrote a six-part story entitled “The Golden Age,” superbly illustrated by Mark Buckingham, That 1/3 copyright ownership Moore held? That went to Gaiman as well with, by all accounts, no fuss and no muss.

Then things got complicated  — again. Two issues into Gaiman and Buckingham’s second run, “The Silver Age,” Eclipse finally went the way of most independent publishers in the late-’80s/early-’90s and gave up the ghost. As a result, Miracleman, as it was then more widely known (more on all that in a moment) was left unfinished — for a second time.

And so things have remained for just over 20 years.

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Most of us figured this was one of those projects destined to remain in limbo forever, and the only way to read this material would be too pay top dollar for back issues, either on eBay or, if we were real lucky, at our LCS (don’t hold your breath) — but demand remained constant, and sometime in the last year or so, the weirdest possible breakthrough of all happened.  But first we need to backtrack one more time to provide even further context.

Ever wonder why Alan Moore refused, from day one, to ever work for Marvel’s US arm? The answer goes back to the first attempts to bring Marvelman to these shores. Marvel, you see, had major problems with the character’s name, even though it had been around since the 1950s with nary a word of protest from their UK division. In fact, at first they threatened legal action to prevent Eclipse re-printing the Warrior material at all, much less continue the story with new chapters once the old stuff had run its course. The solution : Eclipse simply changed our erstwhile hero’s name to “Miracleman,” and the rest is history. But Moore never forgot, and consequently held a deep antipathy toward Marvel that, bless his heart, remains in full force to this day. So much so, in fact, that he’s requested to have his name removed from these new Marvel reprints and the credits merely read “Written By The Original Author” instead. Say what you will for Moore, but the man never compromises his principles, and for that he deserves our heartiest congratulations.

But how did Marvel end up with the publication rights at this late date in the first place? Well, I did hint about an unlikely “breakthrough” just a moment ago —



Gaiman, now apparently 2/3 rights-holder of the property with Eclipse out of the picture, is reported to have cut a deal with the self-proclaimed “House Of Ideas” at about the same time that he sold he and Todd McFarlane’s rights to the Angela character (originally from Spawn, now appearing in Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy) to not only publish all extant Miracleman material,  but to finally finish his “Silver Age” storyline, as well. And so the character Marvel tried their damndest to prevent from ever seeing the light of day in the US is now in their stable, and while Moore might be less than thrilled about it, he hasn’t uttered a word of complaint publicly, just quietly asked to have his name excised from the project. Fair enough.

All of which means that, whether we’re new to this book or not, we’re all in for a wild ride. Miracleman starts a bit rough on the story front — Moore doesn’t really find his footing until a few issues in — but the art, whether by Leach, Veitch, Totleben, or Buckingham, is uniformly exquisite, and once the narrative gets going, trust me when I say it really gets going. This is a series that honestly rivals Watchmen in terms of sheer impact, and does so much more lyrically, poetically, and hauntingly. It’s quite simply one of the best comics ever made by anyone, period.

Marvel’s first issue boasts a fair number of “extras,” as well, to help justify its hefty $5.99 price tag — look for extensive backstory, an interview with creator Mick Anglo, and reprints of some early B&W Anglo stories among other goodies. All in all, an impressive package to commemorate a genuinely historic return. I’m over the moon, friends, and once you start picking this title up — assuming you haven’t already — you will be, as well. Get to your comic shop — now! KIMOTA!

I take a look at the first issue of George Romero’s “Empire Of The dead” for Through The Shattered Lens website.

Through the Shattered Lens


Normally I’m not one for hype, but Marvel’s advertising tagline describing their new series from the father of the modern zombie genre, George A. Romero, as a “comics event” actually strikes me as being a fairly accurate one. I mean, when the guy who gave us Night Of The Living DeadDawn Of The Dead, and Day Of The Dead eschews the silver screen to tell his newest “living dead” story in the comic book format, that’s big news, right?

And from the word “go,” issue #1 of Empire Of The Dead (okay, fair enough, its complete title, according to the copyright indicia,  is George Romero’s Empire Of The Dead Act One, Number 1) has a suitably “big” feel to it, and even though artist Alex Maleev approaches his work in a sketchy, rough, “stripped-down” style — which is flat-out gorgeous, by the way — the overall…

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I take a look at “Devil’s Due” for Through The Shattered Lens website.

Through the Shattered Lens


So, it’s January, and you know what that means — “found footage” horror is back.

Seriously, just when you think this cinematic trend has breathed its last gasp, it’s back —  usually during the post-holiday period, when studios are eager to dump off material that they think is going to play to a limited (at best) audience. And then something funny happens — one of these “hand-held horrors, ”  sometimes even a pretty lousy one at that, ends up ruling the roost at the box office for a week or two (The Devil Inside, anyone?), easily recouping its meager production costs, and the Hollywood suits decide to green-light a few more similar productions figuring that, hey, there’s life in this old horse yet.

And so there seems to be. But you do have to wonder — again! — if this persistent sub-genre has finally run its course, now…

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This probably isn’t the time or place to launch into an in-depth analysis of the motivations and warped psychology behind more or less every single flick ever made by New York’s king of the celluloid gutter, Andy Milligan (and besides, Jimmy McDonough has already done that in his superb biography of Milligan, The Ghastly One — easily one of the most compelling and essential film books ever written by anyone) — suffice to say that it’s a safe bet most regular readers of this site (not that such a beast has ever actually been found in the wild, but I keep writing this shit, so I assume there’s an audience out there somewhere) are already Milligan “fans” to one degree or another and are well-aware of the fact that, to be gentle about it, the guy had issues. He had issues with women. He had issues with men. He had issues with sex. And,  most glaringly obviously of all, he had issues with himself.

In much the same way that devotees of Hitchcock take their greatest pleasure in piecing together clues about the director’s own personal psychology when watching his films, the small but devoted legion of Milligan admirers (if that’s the term we’re even looking for here) aren’t watching his bargain-basement, shot-on-16mm-short-ends costume dramas so much for their stories as for what those stories are telling us about Andy himself. And while it’s never what you’d call a “pleasant” experience to spend 60 to 90 minutes wallowing in his plain-as-day, deeply-rooted sexual psychosis, it’s always, at the very least, an interesting one.

Still, once in a blue moon Andy would get a wild hair up his ass (which is probably a lot less painful than what he usually had up there) and try, for some reason known only to him at the time, to crank out a flick that might have some sort of appeal beyond his usual audience of rock-bottom 42nd Street heroin junkies, transvestite hookers, slowly-expiring derelicts, and low-rent hustlers. I know, I know — what a sellout, right?

Such an endeavor is 1974’s Blood, a decidedly “toned-down” affair by Milligan standards, but one that nevertheless can’t quite seem to find its way to being even a “normal” piece of ultra-low-budget drive-in fare despite its director’s best attempts to “just say no” to the more nagging voices in the back of his always-festering mind.


Here’s the deal : the mad-doctor son of a werewolf (Allan Berendt) is living in wedded less-than-bliss with the daughter of none other than Count Dracula himself (Milligan stalwart Hope Stansbury) and trying to work out a cure to both their conditions (lycanthropy and vampirism apparently being inherited genetic traits) from their home in rural 1930s  Britain (by way, of course, Milligan being Milligan, of Staten Island). But being this is no ordinary couple, it’s no ordinary home, either — the garden is full of mutant man-eating plants, and their domestic staff appear to double as unwitting guinea pigs in their evil bosses’ schemes.  Oh, And bloodthirsty rabid bats are, for some reason, plaguing the nearby town.

Okay, look, the plot doesn’t make a tremendous amount of sense, but it’s noteworthy for Milligan “scholars” to see how firmly sublimated his usual psycho-sexual obsessions are in this one, and how he’s substituted genuinely effective Gothic atmospherics in their usual place in his story’s foreground. This is probably among the most atmospheric of the director’s works, and even though it’s more or less all shot in the same house (namely, his), it feels less claustrophobic, even downright suffocating, than his standard fare tends to.


The good news is that it still feels like a movie that absolutely couldn’t have been made by anybody else other than Andy, even though he’s doing his best to tone down his act here. Sure, the cellar-dwelling production values have a lot to do with that (IMDB lists the budget for this one at $25,000, but that seems exponentially generous), but I think there’s more to it than that — simply put, you just know a Milligan flick when you see one, and even with the primordial soup of his psychopathia sexualis locked away in a strong box, something still oozes and slithers out. It may not be announcing itself as loudly as usual, but it’s still fucking there, informing everything he does, like a stain that won’t wash out.

Sadly, despite the recent (and most welcome) uptick in interest for all things Milligan, Blood remains unavailable on DVD for whatever reasons(s), and copies of the VHS release are notoriously difficult to come by. Fortunately for us all, a kind and generous soul has uploaded the entire thing onto YouTube, and I’ve included a link above so that you too, dear reader, can enjoy this hard-to-come by slice of slightly-more-ready-for-prime-time Milligan “goodness.” It may not be his finest hour, but it’s interesting to see just how stubbornly inaccessible even his most purportedly accessible work is.

A Dissenting View On “Her”

Posted: January 19, 2014 in Uncategorized

I take a look at Spike Jonze’s much-hyped “Her” for Through The Shattered Lens website —

Through the Shattered Lens



Right off the bat, I’d like to say that even though I wasn’t nearly as enamored with Spike Jonze’s new film Her as fellow TTSL scribes Leonard Wilson and leonth3duke were, both of those gentlemen wrote fine, in many istances very personal, reviews of this movie that made me actively want to like it going in — which is no mean feat considering that I’m much more ambivalent abut Jonez’ work in general than are a lot of self-declared cineastes out there (not that I, personally, decalre myself to be one, mind you, but you get my point — to the extent that I have one).

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Being John Malkovich as much as anyone else at the time (although it doesn’t particularly stand up to repeat viewings once you know the proverbial score), but most of his creative output since then has left me…

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I fucking hate the suburbs. Seriously. Could never live there.

Country living I get — it’s nice to see the stars at night, you’ve generally got plenty of land, no one else’s house comes right up next to your property line, and the neighbors are salt of the Earth folks who generally treat you nice (as long as you’re white, and straight, and Christian).

City living is more my speed, though — it’s what I grew up with, it’s where I live now, it’s what I know. Bitch all you want about the crime, smog, traffic, and high property taxes, at least an urban environment offers a wide variety of people and shit to do. It ain’t perfect, but I’ll take take it.

The ‘burbs, though — fuck ’em and the horse they rode in on. Cookie-cutter houses next to dull Republican families with too many kids who all have too much privilege. Hour-long commutes to work every day punctuated by mid-week PTA meetings and Sunday mornings at the evangelical “free” church. Hushed-up alcoholism and domestic violence. Everybody playing out the dreary charade that is the “American dream” on cul-de-sacs that are as dead an end metaphorically as they are literally. Soul- death on the long, slow installment plan.

But you know who hates the suburbs even more than I do? Bigfoot.


Somewhere in formerly-rural Pennsylvania (West Chester, to be precise, if the IMDB’s filling location info is anything to go by), us greedy, land-hogging humans have encroached a bit too closely into huge n’ hairy’s home turf, and he’s decided to do something about it. The result, dear reader, is visionary Z-grade auteur Dave Wascavage’s 2004 shot-on-video piece of monster madness, Suburban Sasquatch, released under the auspices of the director/producer’s own backyard (or maybe it’s basement) distro outfit, Troubled Moon Films. And, as you’d expect, it’s all kinds of awesome.

Wascavage got this baby in the can for a grand total of, by his own accounting, $550, and it shows : an amazingly low-rent gorilla suit with prominent man-boobs. Even more amazingly low-rent CGI that makes the shit in Birdemic look Oscar-worthy. And lowest-rent-of-all acting that would be enough to make everybody in the cast blush at least, cringe at worst, if they were actually taking any of what they were doing seriously — which, fortunately for us all, they aren’t.

Yup, the whole thing’s just about perfect.

Anyway, here’s the rundown : Bigfoot’s killing people and the cops aren’t talking. Which is kinda funny given that the head officer investigating the case, one John Rush (Dave Bonavita — one of three actors, along with Juan Fernandez and Wes Miller, to don the endowed ape costume, as well — hey, ya go with whoever’s handy that day, I guess) has a rather personal stake in the matter seeing as how his wife was killed by this same (or it might be another, it’s never really made clear and doesn’t much matter, anyway) Sasquatch some years back. Fortunately for us, intrepid community-newspaper beat reporter Rick Harlan (Bill Ushler) is hot on the case, and no amount of stonewalling from the bullies in blue is gonna stop him.

Oh, and there’s a reasonably attractive young(-ish) Native American gal named Talla (Sue Lynn Sanchez — what tribe, exactly, does that last name hail from?) who’s taken on the powers of some ancient warrior goddess or something and has magical weapons (specifically arrows and a Tomahawk-style hand axe) with which to track down and defeat the run-amok creature. Which makes no freaking sense given that the white man’s insinuation of himself onto Native lands resulted in nothin’ but well-documented problems for her and, more specifically, her ancestors, so you’d think it might be more logical for her to be on Bigfoot’s side in this while conflict, but there you have it. There’s some “plot” “point” about her having to lay waste to the creature before the life force it”s absorbing from its victims makes it too mystically super-powered to ever kill, but whatever — it makes about as much sense on film — err, video , sorry — as it does on paper, so don’t sweat it too much.


As a matter of fact, don’t sweat any  of the proceedings here too much — that’s kinda the whole point of flicks like Suburban Sasquatch, isn’t it? It’s all about cheesy stories, cheesier costumes, still cheesier gore effects, and even cheesier than that performances. Sure, the movie grinds to an absolute standstill on numerous occasions (reporter guy’s arguments with the police and his editor get pretty tedious pretty quickly, for instance, and the love story between him and mystical Native girl is about as flat as they come), but shit pacing and lifeless “romance”  are all just part of the charm here, as well.


Obviously, this is a film you need to hunt down immediately if you haven’t seen it already, and fortune has seen fit to offer Suburban Sasquatch in a few different options for your viewing pleasure : it’s available as part of two  multi-disc DVD  packages from Mill Creek’s Pendulum Pictures sub-label (you can find it on the two-disc, six-movie Depraved Degenerates set or, better yet, as part of the 50-movie, 12-disc Decrepit Crypt Of Nightmares bargain pack), or it’s available as a stand-alone release from Troubled Moon directly. The Pendulum sets features a suitably crummy-looking full-frame transfer and competent, two-channel stereo sound (technical specs which, I’m assuming, apply to the stand-alone release as well) and offer no extras to speak of (which I’m assuming doesn’t apply to the Troubled Moon disc, although not having seen it I couldn’t say for certain), and for a cheap bumper-package release that’s pretty much what you’d expect, so no complaints here on that score.

Nor, really, do I have any about the film. Much as I love Bigfoot flicks like The Legend Of Boggy Creek  and Night Of The Demon, on some level they’re asking you to take the premise of a guy in a big hairy suit somewhat seriously for at least for a minute or two. Suburban Sasquatch doesn’t even waste your valuable time with that, and just gets right down to its campy-as-shit arm-and-leg-tearin’ business. There’s no pretense here — Wascavage and his buddies just wanted to make a cheap, fun, stupid movie because they had the cash, the equipment, and the ability.

You can’t ask for a more honest approach to movie-making than that. And yeah, it’s fun to see all these entitled suburban assholes get their come-uppance, as well. I don’t know about you, but I think every suburban community could use a Sasquatch of its own.



So — just a couple of short weeks after I write about , as the title of my piece stated, “Why I Don’t Miss Peter Parker,” and how we should enjoy the comparable “good times” we’re living through vis a vis the “Spider-Man” franchise right now while we can, along comes the inevitable announcement from Marvel that April will see (another) Spidey relaunch, this time bringing back the series’ original title of The Amazing Spider-Man with all-new numbering and ushering in a new era of Peter Parker doing, presumably, the same old thing — namely feeling sorry for himself for not getting every single think he wants all the fucking time despite having the power to do so.

Yawn. You knew it couldn’t last forever.

For a minute there the idea of a new Marvel “Infinite Comics” web series, written by regular Spidey-scribe Dan Slott in tandem with Joshua Hale Fialkov that purportedly features and amnesiac Parker putting his life back together and having no idea who he is or why he does what he does apart from what he reads in the heavily-slanted pages of The Daily Bugle sounded like at least the possibility for a new “wrinkle” in how the Wall-Crawler was depicted was at hand, but you can rest assured that particular plot contrivance probably won’t even last as long as Otto Octavius ensconcing his mind in Pete’s body.

In other words, it’s all going to be the “same old, same old” all over again, and probably sooner rather than later if the wanna-be-joyous (and, let’s be honest, positively awful) cover for the new Amazing Spider-Man #1 by Humberto Ramos (who will also be illustrating the interior of the Slott-scripted book) is anything to go by.  Oh well, at least Jerome Opena’s variant, as pictured below, is a lot less taxing on the eyes —



And so it’s come to pass that the entire “Marvel Now!” relaunch is already “Marvel Then!,” with all the dramatic and interesting changes to Spider-Man’s life presumably going by the wayside, the brief Wolverine re-launch from Paul Cornell and Alan Davis giving way to yet another re-launch of said character from Cornell (again) and Ryan Stegman, and all the other “Now!” books getting a fresh “.1” numbering system to mark their entry into something called, get this, “All-New Marvel Now!”

Oh, and you can bet all of these new “changes”  will, in turn,  be subjected to the editorial whims “necessitated” by the already-in-the-planning-stages -if-recent-trends-are-anything-to-go-by  “Even All-Newer Marvel Now!” —  or whatever — that we’ll be talking about come this same time next year.

And since the absolute best of the “Now!,” books, namely Young Avengers, wrapped up last week after a mere 15 issues,  I guess  it’s fair to assume that “Now!” probably means “Right Now!” more than anything else.

I’m also afraid that this nower version of “Now!” will probably mean the end of The Superior Foes Of Spider-Man, a genuinely unique, interesting, and dare I say even fun series that deserves much more time to find its audience amidst all the manufactured hype and hoopla the current comics marketplace is positively drowning in. So that’s a real bummer waiting to happen, as well.

Am I pissed off? Obviously. Am I unsurprised? Even more obviously. Am I bemused at the bald-faced hucksterism of Marvel and the disrespect, even disdain, it has for its readership and their apparently-quite-short attention spans? Sure, I guess so.

But here’s what genuinely concerns me above all else — “Superior” Spidey, and “Marvel Now!” in general, biting the dust so quickly is proof positive that marketing trumps everything else in mainstream comics right now — savvy salesmanship holds sway not just over quality writing and art (we always knew that), but apparently  over even basic human decency itself. Consider the following quote from Slott when he talks about how he dealt with little kids he met at comics conventions who were upset about the (cynical and short-lived) “death” of Peter Parker : “To do that for a solid year of my life, that’s the hardest thing I’ve had to do — to look small children in the eye at a convention and lie to them.”

If you listen really closely, you’ll hear the world’s smallest violin playing somewhere in the background here for Dan Slott. Talk about nerve. He’s begging for sympathy from the comics-reading public because he “had to” lie to little kids, when, in fact, he “had  to”  do no such thing. He chose to do it when he chose to play along with the editorial mandate, more than likely initiated by suits in the marketing department, that he “kill” Parker in order to give the Spidey books a temporary sales boost. If his conscience bothered him that much — if he knew that he would lose sleep over lying to kids for a year the way you or I probably would do — he could have quit the book, plain and simple, and refused to play along with this stunt. He didn’t. And now he’s asking for pity from the very same readership he was openly bullshitting? Please.

Obviously, I don’t support the vitriol — even death threats — that Slott was receiving when he “killed”  Parker off , but his own actions show he’s as divorced from reality as those who threatened and berated him were. Nobody forced Dan Slott to play along with this charade anymore than anyone believed it would be permanent. Why go the the extent of lying in the first place, one must wonder, when pretty much everyone knew what the outcome of this whole Superior hustle was going to be, anyway? The only real “debate” going on was over what the timetable for Parker’s return would be.

So here we are again — one failed title reboot that’s part of a wider failed cross-company reboot gives rise to another reboot that will probably run out of gas even sooner than this one did. Spider-Man will slink back into its decades-long post-Ditko creative lethargy, and Marvel will immediately begin angling for the next idea to bump up interest in this and its other books on a  (very) temporary basis. Maybe the Vulture or the Hobgoblin or the Scorpion or Kraven will be the next to don the Spidey-suit. Hell, maybe it’ll be Aunt May. Maybe we can even rotate and let every single character that’s ever appeared in the book become the “new” Spider-Man for a month, complete with their own issue #1.

And maybe it’s high time we all stopped playing along with this nonsense and let Marvel know how we feel about their snide corporate cynicism by keeping our money in our wallets and refusing to play along with their stupid, shameful, sorry  little shell game.


All in all, the premise for 1972 sexploitationer The Suckers seems reasonable enough — just do a softcore take on the proverbial “Most Dangerous Game” premise and we’re good to go. Pad the meager 80-minute runtime with a couple of protracted sex scenes, a semi-vicious (and even more protracted) rape scene (which is not a type of sex scene in and of itself, regardless of what some asshole may think), leave it in all in the semi-capable hands of veteran skin flick director Stu Segall (here credited as Arthur Byrd,  although some sites out there state the reason for the pseudonym is that it’s an amalgamation — this film , they claim, being co-directed by Segall and one Mark Haggard — how true that is or not I couldn’t really tell you and don’t much care), rush some prints of the admittedly rough finished product out to a handful of drive-ins and downtown grindhouse theaters, and sit back and make a few bucks.


So, fuck it, now that I’ve given away the “plot” (and I use that term loosely), here’s all you really need to know by way of more semi-specific details — a rich dickhead big-game hunter named Vandermeer (played by Vincent Stevens, the only actor in this flick — male or female — that I recognized from any other work) invites the rich dickead owners of a modeling agency and some of their girls to his middle-of-nowhere palatial mansion, which is situated on the grounds of his private hunting retreat, promising them all adventure and animal heads to mount on their living room walls. Everybody has (extremely tedious) sex the night they get there. Then the next day they all find that the real targets in Vandermeer’s sights are, well, them. Everybody struggles to stay alive. One of the women gets raped. Everything is boring and everyone is there for no other reason than the quite-likely-meager paycheck.


Things pick up a bit (just a bit, mind you) towards the end, and there’s an admittedly nice little final payoff awaiting those who are still awake at this point, but that’s a pretty tall order for even the horniest viewer. All in all, dullness reigns supreme here and you can safely skip ahead to final ten minutes or so secure in the knowledge that you won’t have missed anything interesting.


Actually, that last sentence should read “you can safely skip ahead to the final ten minutes or so secure in the knowledge that you won’t have missed anything interesting if you’ve got the Vinegar Syndrome DVD, ” since The Suckers has been released as part of their “Drive-In Collection” of double bills,  paired with slightly-more-interesting softcore relic The Love Garden. Segall’s decidedly un-erotic take on humans hunting other humans is presented here in a scratchy, obviously-worse-for-wear 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen print with passable-at-best mono sound, and while that probably establishes the proper “vibe” for the proceedings, it’s still kind of a chore to sit through — much like the film itself.Given the age and obscurity of the source material, though, this admittedly flawed release is probably the best one could — uhmmmm — hope(?) for when it comes to this flick, which is presented sans any real extras apart from a few Vinegar Syndrome trailers and will (or at least should) be of interest only to the most hardened sexploitation genre enthusiasts. The rest of you can (and, again, probably should) just as well avoid this interminable yawner.

shadows of the mind vhs front & back

So here it is — the “lost” and “forgotten” second feature film (not counting numerous hard-core porn flicks he made under various pseudonyms) from legendary (a term I don’t use lightly) cult auteur Roger Watkins, the brains (and heart) behind one of my personal favorite movies of all time, Last House On Dead End Street (the very first film I reviewed on this site lo, those many years ago — okay, enough parentheses for a little while here).

Needless to say, die-hard Watkins worshiper that I am, this is a flick I’ve always wanted to see even though a)Watkins himself disowned it completely and slapped — or, more likely, had slapped , but we’ll get to all that in a minute— the pseudonym of “Bernard Travis” in place of his name for his director’s credit; and b)pretty much everyone else who’s ever seen it has said that it completely sucks, as well.

Still — this is the guy who gave us the most gutter-level, unflinching, uncompromising, and downright nihilisitc piece of no-budget (literally — not a single dollar was spent on the production of LHODES) exploitation cinema ever produced — how bad could it be?

The answer, as it turns out, is pretty fucking bad.

shadows of the mind dutch vhs front & back2

A brief understanding of the behind-the-scenes dictates placed on Watkins is probably in order if we’re to fully comprehend what a celluloid abortion this thing is, and while exact details are sketchy at best, according to the late, great Mr. Watkins’ own recollections, his leading lady in this film, one Marion Joyce, was actually married to the guy who financed this effort, and while she quite obviously couldn’t act, her old man was convinced otherwise and hired Watkins to film what essentially amounted to a feature-length demo reel, complete with script (written by Watkins in collaboration with his friend and former film professor Paul Jensen and Joyce herself) in order to display her dubious “talents” for various potentially interested parties (assuming there were any).

So, yeah — this thing probably shouldn’t have gone any further than a storage box in the loving (but apparently quite annoying) couple’s basement. But then nobody would see it. And nobody would ever know of Ms. Joyce’s abilities (or lack thereof).

And so — well, shit, here’s where things get a bit confusing. Bernard Travis was more than just a pseudonym, it turns out —  or, ore accurately, it wasn’t a pseudonym at all, it was the name of this film’s financier/producer, a guy who apparently owned a chain of movie theaters in New York state. And he also, somehow, got his hands on the rights to LHODES — as a matter of fact, he’s the guy who’s responsible for cutting that film down from its original three-plus-hour length to the 77-minute version that’s been released on VHS and DVD. How legal all this was is anybody’s guess, but I’m thinking the answer is “not very” given that Watkins was able to establish and assert copyright ownership over the film for which he’s best known prior to its seminal DVD  release from Barrel Entertainment (and watch out, by the way, apparently Vinegar Syndrome will be re-issuing it later this year in a more complete cut under its alternate title of The Funhouse, along with tons of new extras — how good life can be sometimes, my friends, how good life can be!).

Of course, by 2005 when Watkins emerged from the shadows of history (rather than the mind) to claim directorship of both these films,  Mr. Travis had committed suicide, so there probably wasn’t much chance of a protracted court fight over who actually “owned” what here.

Watkins, of course, is gone himself now, and so we’ll never know why he didn’t try to claim any sort of legal ownership over Shadows Of The Mind, as well — unless the answer is a very simple, and understandable, he just didn’t want the damn thing.

Anyway, back to the late Mr. Travis. With both this flick and LHODES in his possession, he was able to cut numerous cheap deals with numerous even cheaper fly-by-night VHS distribution outfits both here and abroad (as you can see from the images included with this review) for the two films, and while neither enjoyed any sort of widespread release, both were put out, in small numbers at any rate, here, there, and everywhere. I couldn’t tell you exactly when this movie was shot, but most VHS releases are dated 1980, so we’ll just go with that as the closest thing to an official “street date” we’re ever likely to have here.

shadows in the mind spanish poster

So that’s our history lesson out of the way. On to the plot particulars of Shadows Of The Mind itself : Poor Elise (Joyce) was an eyewitness to the drowning deaths of her father and stepmother as a child, and has been a thoroughly traumatized — and institutionalized — basket case ever since. You can’t stay in the loony bin forever, though (funny, they told me the same thing), and so the day comes when her therapist, Dr. Land (Erik Rolfe) decides she’s perfectly fit and ready to go home — to the cold, empty, abandoned, desolate estate that where she lost her marbles in the first place. Sound psychology at work, I guess,

And so we’re treated to a good 30 minutes or so of Elise not doing much but listlessly and aimlessly wandering the grounds of her old (and now, I guess, new) homestead until her creepy, estranged step-brother , Leland (played with a certain degree of relish by G.E. Barrymore — no relation, I’m assuming, to any or all members  of the celebrated cinematic Barrymore dynasty — in the closest thing this snoozer has to a competent performance) shows up and weird things start happening — like, ya know, people dying.

At this point Shadows Of The Mind at least begins to approximate something interesting, but trust me when I say that you’ve seen this same story done before and seen it done much better. I desperately wanted to like the proceedings just out of sheer loyalty to Watkins and his small but undeniably powerful legacy, but try as I might, anything resembling actual interest in what was happening on-screen just never materialized, despite some moody and evocative location work (like LHODES this was shot in Watkins’ home environs of upstate New York, and has a bleak, early-November vibe to it) and some reasonably well-executed (sorry for the shit pun) kill scenes.

For his part, Watkins at least eschews the kind of point-and-shoot dullness that you or I might resort to with a script this garbled and lame, but he’s certainly not giving things anywhere near his all. The cast go through their motions with, apart from Barrymore, apparently little to no actual idea of what they’re doing, and when the truncated (and probably largely falsified) end credits roll, it feels more like a relief than anything else.

Still, as with all things, don’t take my word for it — a generous cult film aficionado has gone to the trouble of posting this movie in its roughly-80-minute entirety on You Tube(apologies for the German — I think — subtitles, but beggars can’t be choosers), and I offer a link to it here to sate the ravenous appetites of  the curious, masochistic, or both :

So yeah. This is Roger Watkins’ “lost” and “forgotten” second feature film. And it’s fair to say that it was both lost and forgotten for very good reason.