Posts Tagged ‘films’

The Most Fun You'll Have Reading About Trash Cinema

The Most Fun You'll Have Reading About Trash Cinema

Just a real quick heads-up for those who don’t already have it—the collected edition of the best of Robin Bougie’s extraordinarily bizarre “Cinema Sewer” magazine came out a few months back from FAB Press, and I have to say, even with all the absolutely terrific books on exploitation films that have come out in recent years, such as the late, great Bill Landis’ and Michelle Clifford’s superb “Sleazoid Express,” Stephen Thrower’s huge and indispensable “Nightmare USA,” and others, Mr, Bougie’s book is probably the most flat0out fun you’ll have reading about trash films.

The book collects the very best of the first several issues of the magazine of the same name, and adds a nice selection of new and updated material, as well. Mr. Bougie is a talented cartoonist, and the “half-book/half-comic” feel to the whole proceedings makes for a fast-paced, fun, and informative read. In addition, Bougie covers some truly bizarre stuff that you’re not likely to find written up in any other zine (“Let My Puppets Come,” for instance) and presents everything in a witty, accessible style.

I can’t sing the praises of this book highly enough, I had an absolute blast reading it. It’s available directly from FAB Press on their website (fabpress.com, of course), Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and the like, or directly from Mr. Bougie himself at cinemasewer.com, where you can find individual back issues and other goodies for sale, as well.

Bougie has been absolutely instrumental in exposing Z-grade masterpiece “Things” to  a wider audience, so what more does he need to do to prove his bona fides than that, I ask you? So stick your head into the Cinema Swer—sure, you may come out smelling foul, but you’ll have a great time getting messy!

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!

the_witch_wwho_came_from_the_sea_poster_003The 1976 classic “The Witch Who Came From The Sea” is, simply put, a film that must be seen to be believed—or more accurately, it’s a film that must be seen and felt, since it’s about as emotionally gripping and character-driven as any film that ever played The Deuce.  Nathaniel Thompson of Mondo-Digital and DVD Delirium has described it as a movie that feels as “if Tennessee Williams wrote an exploitation film,” and I can’t really top that description it’s so completely apropos given the themes of dark family secrets, alcohol abuse, and distorted memories of the past (and perceptions of the present) which dominate this story , so I won’t even try.

In brief, Molly (played by Millie Perkins, best known for her starring turn in the TV version of “The Diary Of Anne Frank”) lives in a quiet, sleepy little seaside resort town where she works as a waitress and indulges in her favorite vices of heavy drinking, random, meaningless sex, obsessing over television celebrities, and filling in the gaps in her memories of childhood by concocting a rich fantasy world where her father was a noble seafaring captain. Molly also dreams about castrating muscled beach hunks and steroid-ripped NFL players, but as the film goes on we come to realize that these may not be fantasies at all and that these brutal castration scenarios tie into chapters of her past that she’d sooner forget—and is, in fact, trying her damnedest to.

Directed by Matt Cimber (Jayne Mansfield’s last husband for all you trivia buffs out there), who’s best known for helming blaxploitation favorites like “The Candy Tangerine Man” and “The Black Six,” this is a moody, evocative, dreamlike  film beautifully shot by renowned cinematographer Dean Cudney and featuring a finely nuanced, touching performance from Perkins at its core.  While the subject matter is no doubt harrowing and violent in every sense—physical, emotional, and psychological, the dreamy, naturalistic flow of the film provides the velvet glove wrapped tightly around the subject matter’s iron fist.

Available on DVD from the fine folks at Subversive Cinema, this title is, sadly, out of print, but still readily available at modest prices, especially if you’re willing to get a used copy. The 16:9 anamorphic transfer on the disc is absolutely lovely, and there’s a fine “making-of” featurette and an engrossing commentary by Cimber, Cudney, and Perkins among the disc’s fine bonus features.

While the poster for the film certainly makes this look like your typical “barbarian sorceress” type of flick,  and the promotional slogan “Molly Really Knows How To Cut Men Down To Size!” evokes images of a grindhouse bloodbath, the truth is that this is a sensitive, poignant, and emotionally jarring film that will reward any adventurous cinephile who’s willing to go with it’s flow. Very highly recommended indeed!