Posts Tagged ‘42nd Street’

Poster Art For "Don't Go In The House"

Poster Art For "Don't Go In The House"

Let’s face it, grown men who have unresolved issues with their mothers, particularly those who still live with them, have been a staple among movie bad guys since the days of Norman Bates — and while it may have become something of a cliche, it’s one that works, because to the rest of us, there’s just something creepy about a guy in his 30s or 40s who lives with his mom.

Donnie Kohler (Dan Grimaldi), the central character in writer-director Joseph Ellison’s 1980 grindhouse psychodrama “Don’t Go In The House” has a million and one reasons to move out of his mom’s drafty old Victorian tomb of an abode, but he doesn’t. His mom used to burn him as a kid, you see, holding his hands and arms over an open gas flame on their gigantic old stove when he’d been a bad little boy. As a result, Donnie grew up not only with unresolved mommy-issues, but with a peculiar fascination with fire, as well. He’s both attracted to and frightened of it in equal measure in his adult years, as evidenced by the fact that he works in an incinerator but when a co-worker catches fire, he freezes up and is unable to assist in his rescue, forcing the other guys at the plant to save him even though Donnie is closest to the scene.

Needless to say, this act of cowardice doesn’t go over well with his co-workers, and Donnie leaves the plant humiliated. If he thought he had a bad day at work, though, things only get worse when he gets home — his mother, you see, has finally succumbed to old age and departed this mortal coil, and with her goes Donnie’s last (admittedly tepid) connection to reality. He’s on his own now, and has a lot of shit to work out as he finally “grows up” in his own uniquely twisted way.

His first actions are natural enough—he blasts his stereo at top volume and gets drunk. But this youthful (err—okay, so he’s not youthful) fling with excess quickly loses its appeal and Donnie soon combines his unhealthy fascination with fire and his unresolved issues with an overbearing mother (issues that he has now, in a classic case of psychological transference, grafted onto the entire female gender as a whole) in a decidedly toxic fashion. He starts calling in sick from work every day and nailing sheet metal to the walls, ceiling, and floor of  one of the many large and unused rooms in his house. Then, it’s time for him to get busy and bring home some “dates,” by any means necessary—but his idea of a good time with a member of the opposite sex requires him to wear an asbestos suit. That’s right, our guy Donnie decides to bring women home, chain them up, and take a flamethrower to them.

Okay, I’ll be the first to admit there’s nothing terribly original about the premise here (apart from Donnie’s preferred method of dispatch for his victims), but Grimaldi really sells you on the character with his performance.  He absolutely seems like the quintessential loser who never left home, has no social skills, is terrified of the opposite sex, and blames them (all of them) for his problems. Ellison’s script is a character piece through and through, and the casting of Grimaldi in the lead was a brilliant stroke on his part. In the hands of a lesser actor, this would be standard—or even substandard—exploitation fare, but Grimaldi’s virtuoso performance alone elevates this movie several notches above where it probably belongs.

The house itself is a brilliant piece of location scouting, and succeeds in first capturing, then magnifying, the twisted mental landscape of  our psycho protagonist. The winter shooting schedule of the film in the New York/New Jersey area adds to the overall intensely moody atmosphere, as well.

All in all, this is a classic case of a film whose whole is much greater than the sum of its parts. The creepily inherent understanding of the lead character’s twisted psychological worldview on the part of both the writer/director and the star, combined with (I hesitate to use the term but it really does apply here) a perfect physical setting takes what is, on paper, nothing too terribly special and transforms it into something very special indeed. Sick, twisted, depraved, abhorrent, offensive, shocking, perverse, and sleazy, to be sure—but very special nonetheless.

Media Blasters released “Don’t Go In The House” on DVD under their “Shriek Show” label a few years back, and it features a fine feature-length commentary with Grimaldi, an on-camera interview with the actor, an alternate take of one of the film’s more brutal scenes, the original theatrical trailer, and more. It’s available alone or as part of the “Grindhouse Psychos Triple Feature” boxset, together with “Cop Killers,” an early Rick Baker special effects effort, and Roberta Findlay’s notorious “Tenement.” Great stuff!

Volume 1

Volume 1

Your friendly neighborhood TFG is hard-pressed to think of a better series of DVDs for marathon-style viewing than Synapse Films’ superb trailer collection, “42nd Street Forever.” I don’t know who had the simple-yet-brilliant idea to package up a bunch of old exploitation flick trailers into one full-length DVD over at Synapse, but my hat—and yes, I am really wearing one—is off to them.

I think, although I could be wrong, that many of these are “public domain” trailers, while others required various rights issues to be cleared in order to be included, but again, to whoever is behind all that legwork, my hat is tipped in your direction once more. A lot of the promos seem to be from films from the Crown International vault, so I’m thinking maybe one big deal was brokered to include a bunch of them with whoever holds the C.I. rights these days. In any case, plenty of other studios and distros are well-represented, as well, and the wide variety of clips on display is well and truly staggering. Every exploitation genre is included in the mix, from blaxploitation to motorcycle flicks to horror to nudie cuties to martial arts to crime drama to teen sex comedies to sci-fi to hard-boiled revenge thrillers to—well, you get the idea. There’s even a few forgotten big-budget flops thrown in, as well.

I’m thinking well over half, at least, of the films promo’d have never seen any sort of legit DVD release, and many never even made it to VHS! So for every staple of the grindhouse era that everyone’s seen like “Alligator” or “Ms. 45,” there are five or six examples of films that seasoned exploitation veterans have been holding their breath hoping to see released since —well, since the advent of the DVD format itself.

Synapse are up to four volumes in this collection so far and I well and truly hope they never stop. The picture and sound quality vary from trailer to trailer, as would be expected, but on the whole most of them look pretty damn good and most fit well in the 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation format.

Here are just a few highlights of some of the previews included in each volume to whet your appetite”

Volume One – “The Undertaker And His Pals,” “The Italian Stallion,” “The 3 Dimensions Of Greta,” “Secret Africa,” “Star Crash,” “Superfuzz,” “Matango, “Destroy All Monsters.”

Volume 2

Volume 2

In the appropriately titled Volume 2, “The Deuce,” —

“Dragstrip Riot,” “Sugar Hill,” “Rabid,” “The Babysitter,” “Van Nuys Blvd.,” “Kenner,” “Rolling Thunder,” “The Woman Eater.”

Volume 3 - "Exploitation Explosion"

Volume 3 - "Exploitation Explosion"

Volume 3 -” Exploitation Explosion” —

“Enter The Ninja,” “Blood Beach,” “Gorp,” “King Frat,” “The Life And Times Of Xaviera Hollander,” “Candy Stripe Nurses,” “Guyana : Cult Of The Damned,” “High Ballin’.”

Volume 4 - "Cooled By Refrigeration"

Volume 4 - "Cooled By Refrigeration"

Volume 4 – “Cooled By Refrigeration” —

“Simon, King Of The Witches,” “The Klansman,” “Best Friends,” “Humongous,” “The Legend Of Boggy Creek,” “Americathon,” “Bonnie’s Kids,” “New Year’s Evil.”

Volumes three and four, it should be noted, also contain absolutely must-hear commentary tracks featuring AVManiacs head honcho Edwin Samuelson (who acts as informal emcee and also seems to be in charge of trailer selection), Fangoria managing editor Michael Gingold, and film historian/freelance scribe Chris Poggiali. These guys keep things really lively by giving the basics in terms of production details, quick histories, little-heard anecdotes, etc., for most every film promo’d on the discs, and it’s an absolute blast to watch these two volumes twice in a row, once with the standard sound, next up with the commentary. These three are veritable walking film encyclopedias , but never once do they slide into being pedantic or dull.

My sincere hope is that any and every reader of this blog who hasn’t given this series a spin in their DVD player will do so, and and that many of the great unheralded—and unreleased— films included in this mind-bendingly terrific trailer collection will see a proper DVD release in the future. Some of the flicks from earlier volumes already have, and some others are on the way in the not-too-distant future, so it would be nice if to think that this series is raising awareness of some of these titles to the point where some of the cult DVD distributors decide it’s worth it to give more of them a shot.

Keep up the great work on this series, Synapse, I’m looking forward to the next volume already!

Synapse Films' Special Edition DVD

Synapse Films' Special Edition DVD

Brian ( played by Rick Herbst) has a little problem—that’s getting bigger. One night his neighbors’ parasitic brain-sucking symbiote “pet” escapes and worms its way into neck neck where it intends to stay for a spell, using Brian to get ahold of its favorite source of sustenance—human brains. In return for helping him procure his food of choice, the parasite will inject the psychedelic fluid that’s produced as a by-product of his digestion directly into Brian’s brain, giving him some awesome hallucinogenic experiences.  If this sounds like a fair trade to you, then you, my friend, need some serious help. Soon getting his “brain juice” consumes all of Brian’s waking hours, and he abandons his girlfriend, brother, and all semblance of a normal life in his quest to have another mind-bendingly outrageous trip.

Leave it to Frank Henenlotter to come up with a premise for his second film that’s even more outrageous than his first feature, the previously-discussed “Basket Case.” His follow-up, the 1987 comedy-horror shocker “Brain Damage” ups the ante in every way imaginable—and frankly some ways that aren’t imaginable.  There’s a bit more of a budget to play with here than there was in Henelotter’s debut feature, and he puts it to good use—the effects are pretty solid, the brain parasite creature, Aylmer,  looks terrific in a pleasingly cheesy way, and the overall acting ability of the cast is a notch higher.

For all the added semi-professionalism, however, none of the demented charm of Henenlotter’s debut feature is lost—this film is just as quirky and —ermmm—brain damaged as its predecessor, maybe even moreso. The scene where Brian (a self-consciously groaningly obvious anagram for brain) picks up a young lady at a club and feeds her brain to Aylmer in a most—shall we say—original way simply has to be seen to be believed, as does the scene where Brian sees his dinner at a restaurant transform into writhing, pulsating little brains.

Aylmer

Aylmer

Truth is, Aylmer is a jovial and friendly little parasite, but that doesn’t mean that Brian doesn’t know he’s got a problem that he needs to lick, and his withdrawal scenes in a dingy 42nd street hotel (another Henenlotter staple, as you can tell by now) are very well-done and pretty damn harrowing for a movie that’s otherwise got a decidedly comedic tone.  Soon, it’s  down to a struggle of man-vs.-brain parasite as Brian tries his best to kick his Aylmer addiction—but can he survive without the “juice” that his brain-eating buddy provides?

Lots of words and phrases come to mind to describe this film, Gratuitous. Deranged. Over the top. Outrageous. Incredible. Tasteless. Gross. Hysterically funny. Yet I think the English language itself actually comes up short in describing the truly twisted world of “Brain Damage,” and in the end you’re just got to see it to believe it—and even then, you’ll find yourself rewinding in several spots just to make sure that, yes, you really saw what you just did.

Fortunately, you can replay each and every scene should you so choose to your heart’s content on Synapse Films’ absolutely awesome special edition DVD release. Featuring an absolutely pristine 1080P/High Definition D5 16:9 anamorphic transfer, the film looks like a million bucks even though the budget was considerably less than that, and the newly-remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is well and truly awesome, with all speakers getting in on the action. There’s a terrific commentary by Henenlotter and Bob Martin (who wrote the now-highly collectible paperback novelization of the film) and the original theatrical trailer among the extras, as well, making this an absolutely essential purchase for fans of late-era —or any era, for that matter—low-budget exploitation films. All in all, this is a “must-add” to your DVD library.

Next time around, we’ll finish our little Henenlotter retrospective with a look at his third “essential” film, the 1990 classic “Frankenhooker.”  Until then, as always, thanks for reading, and have fun in your own quest to dig up diamonds in the cinematic rough.

basketcaseart03The work of cult film auteur Frank Henenlotter holds a special place in my twisted heart, as his films were staples of the late-night second-tier “premium” cable channels (Cinemax, The Movie Channel) during my misspent “formative” years, and as such I wasted far too many hours watching them repeatedly and finding my fondness for them grow with each successive viewing. While his strange blend of gross-out horror and slapstick-style comedy is admittedly an acquired taste, his sizable semi-legion of fans is testament to the fact that many people are indeed tuned into his particular warped wavelength, and as such, I thought it might be fun to pay homage to what are unquestionably his three best efforts (to date, that is—I have yet to see his long-awaited new release, “Bad Biology”), the “unholy trinity” comprised of “Basket Case,” “Brain Damage,” and “Frankenhooker.”  Let’s begin this nostalgic look back at Henenlotter’s career at its inception, his feature-film debut, the 1982 classic “Basket Case.”

The set-up is simple enough : a doctor is murdered in over-the-top gruesome fashion in his home by an unseen assailant. Cut to a 20-something young man with a big wicker basket and even bigger hair (our “hero,” Duane Bradley, played—if that’s the word we really want to use because very few of the performances in this film resemble anything traditiononally defined as acting—by Kevin Van Hentenryck) from upstate New York arriving at a fleabag 42nd street “hotel,” checking in, showing off a fat wad of cash that attracts the attention of the establishment’s unsavory residents—excuse me, “customers”—and asking where he can get something to eat. After procuring a sizable quantity of hamburgers, Duane heads for his room and there we see that the food isn’t for him,  as he feeds it to whoever or whatever is in his wicker basket. Duane then holds what appears to be a one-way conversation with his basket-dwelling friend, goes to sleep, and the next day begins to embark on a series of visits to other doctors, saying he’s an “old friend” who wants to pay a surprise visit.

Over the course of his brief “scouting mission” to say hello to his “old friends,” Duane manages to pick up (through zero effort on his own part) and start a semblance of a romance with one of the doctor’s receptionists, get acquainted with the truly varied yet deliciously stereotypical cast of characters who reside in the hotel (including getting drunk for the first time in his life with a hooker who lives across the hall played by Beverly Bonner), and withstand further telepathic assaults from his “pet” in the basket.

Along the way, we learn the film’s not-so-secret— that his wicker-dwelling companion is actually his horribly deformed twin brother, Belial, who was attached to Duane in conjoined fashion until they were teens, when some unsavory paid-in-cash doctors agreed to separate the two so Duane could lead a “normal life.” As for Belial, he was surreptitiously dumped in the trash, presumed dead, or soon to be so. Belial quickly summons Duane via telepathy to rescue him, and then the two creatively and grotesquely kill their father, who was the brains behind the operation of—errr—-the operation and are raised from that point on by the kindly aunt who had looked after them during their early years. When she passes away, they have no remaining relatives (their mother died giving birth to them), and set out to avenge themselves on those who separted them.

Duane's basket-dwelling brother

Duane's basket-dwelling brother

I won’t tell you (if there is a “you” out there reading this) how it all ends up in case you haven’t seen the flick, but I will say that there are some solid cheap gore effects, a fun, cheesy extended stop-motion animation scene of Belial trashing the hotel room, some sick chuckles thrown in for good measure, and an authentic vibe of Times Square griminess to the proceedings that makes this demented zero-budgeter an absolute joy to watch and sets the tone for all of Henenlotter’s subsequent work—outrageous premises, lovably bizarre monsters, New York sleazepit locations, and biological absurdities of the David-Cronenberg-on-crack variety are constant running themes in his films.

Something Weird's 20th Anniversay DVD Release

Something Weird's 20th Anniversay DVD Release

There are a couple of different DVD versions of “Basket Case” out there, but the best is easily the 20th Anniversary edition released in 2002 from Something Weird Video. Featuring a plethora of extras including a commentary by Henelotter, producer Edgar Ievins, and actress Beverly Bonner, a raft of outtakes and behind-the-scenes footage, a documentary short featuring Henelotter and rapper R.A. “the Rugged Man” touring the movie’s  original filiming locations, an extensive selection of trailers, TV spots, radio spots, promotional posters and artwork and still photos, and radio interviews with actress Susan Smith (who played Duane’s love interest) among other delights-for-the-completist, this is definitely the version of this disc to own and can be found at bargain-basement prices most anywhere.

Followed by two sequels, the first of which is pretty damn clever and the second of which doesn’t quite reach the same level of twisted-yet-fun depravity of the first two (but which isn’t nearly as bad as many folks seem to think), “Basket Case” is definitely one of the better efforts of the low-budget horror-comedy genre and has earned its esteemed reputation in B-movie history. If you haven’t seen it, then I highly recommend checking it out ASAP, and if you have seen but it’s been a few years, it’s well worth another look, as it holds up surprisingly well given its budgetary and technical limitations, and it has an air of authenticity that most shlock filmmakers often spend their entire careers striving to find but never quite achieving.

Next up I’ll be taking a look at Henenlotter’s second feature, the remarkably twisted “Brain Damage.” Until then, thanks for reading,  and remember, when it comes to moviemaking, money is no substitute for brains and imagination!