Sunday, 31 October 2010

Weird Tales.

Above you see the January 1950 issue of Weird Tales, cover art by Charles A. Kennedy.

As it happens, Golden Age Comic Book Stories posted a vast gallery of Weird Tales covers only yesterday, but that in no way distracts from my reveling in the fact that this particular scan was done by me, from my own copy of the magazine, which belongs to me, because I bought it, for a fiver, at the UK Paperback & Pulp Bookfair, which I went to today.

Being largely ignorant of the market in vintage periodicals, I’d always assumed original copies of WT must be untouchable collectors items, but this one seller there had a whole stack of ‘em. Naturally prices varied wildly, based on era, cover art and the authors represented within – issues from the ‘20s and ‘30s were considerably more expensive, and if you’re looking for one with a first-run H.P. Lovecraft story then lookout buddy. But even the priciest issues were, well… cheaper than I would have expected.

The whole fair was actually quite a strange experience for me – it’s the first one I’ve been to, and the first time I’ve become aware that a, er, ‘collector’s scene’ for the kind of goofy pulps I enjoy tracking down even exists in this country. It was a fairly small affair, but those who were present seemed to be a knowledgeable and dedicated bunch, and, speaking as someone who’s spent a lot of time skulking around record fairs over the years, it was quite nice to see how relatively cheap even the most hallowed items on offer were. I mean, clearly those older WT issues were completely out of my price range, but compared to the kind of slavering mania inspired by, say, garage or Northern Soul 45s of equivalent cult potency, we’re still talking peanuts.

Needless to say, I bought a ton of neat stuff, most of it eminently affordable, some of which I’ll share with you over the coming months. But all the same, I don’t know if I’ll make a habit of going to these fairs. Flicking through boxes of full of books, any one of which would have me exclaiming “FUCK YEAH” if I'd stumbled across it in a charity shop, was an odd feeling. Having these books filtered out of their natural surroundings and specifically sold to me by dealers who specialise in that kind of thing can't help but take the fun out of it, I feel.

This one guy there, who seemed like a nice fellow, was selling off his own personal collection, and it was honestly the best collection of sleaze/beatnik pulps I’ve ever encountered – all those classic WTF covers we’ve seen on the internet, live in the flesh. He had Jazzman In Nudetown. I touched it. Twenty five quid. (Again, I would have expected it to go for a lot more.) I had to bite my tongue though and stick to my ‘pay no more than £5 for a book I don’t intend to read all the way through’ principle. I walked away. It felt good.

Anyway, here are some scans of the wonderful interior illustrations from that Weird Tales issue, rendered about as good as I can get ‘em without damaging the binding.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Witch Cult Boogie:
Halloween Mix CD 2010

(Cross-posted with Stereo Sanctity )

Here without further ado is thee third annual Stereo Sanctity/Breakfast in the Ruins Halloween mix CD.

>> Download link. <<

Some notes:

i) Not the most imaginative cover art ever realised perhaps, but gimme a break – drawing these covers is the only chance I have to get the crayons out all year these days.

ii) If I’d thought it through a bit more, I could have called this comp “Season of the Witch”, which would have tied in perfectly with my preferred witch theme, and the fact it’s, y’know, my THIRD Halloween CD, AND I could have put Vanilla Fudge’s Manson family nightmare rendition of Donovan’s “Season of the Witch” on it, which could have gone right after Mike Rep & The Quota’s “Donovan’s Brain”… then I could have added some dialogue and sounds from the George Romero movie of the same name, and the whole thing would have just been, like, COMPLETELY thematically consistent!

iii) But I didn’t think of any of that in time, so it’s just a bunch of horror related songs and pieces of audio that don’t really have much to do with each other at all, although hopefully the whole thing at least flows nicely… lots of soundtrack extracts and instrumentals this year, and overall the tone seems to have emerged as slightly more, um, genuinely scary/creepy, as opposed to comedic, than previous instalments, perhaps..?

iv) Somehow, I’ve also somehow forgotten to include any Electric Wizard – I always mean to. But I am going to see them play for the first time tomorrow night! Yeah! I hope they play “The Barbarian”!

v) Previous instalments can be found here and here. I don’t know whether the links are still active, but just give me a shout if you want a re-up.

vi) Disappointingly, there is little or no actual boogie on this CD.

Happy Halloween everybody!

Sunday, 24 October 2010

BBC4: A History Of Horror

A brief heads-up for any UK-based readers: the first two parts of a series entitled “A History of Horror”, presented by writer/comedian Mark Gatiss, are currently available to watch on the BBC iPlayer, and will remain there until, I believe, November 1st.

The first instalment, covering golden age of Hollywood horror, is pretty decent, but the second part, dealing with Hammer and ‘60s gothic horror in general, is bloody wonderful.

Initially I was irked by the fact that, like all current TV documentaries it seems, the whole thing has to be framed as some kind of ‘personal journey’ on the part of the presenter rather than just being a straight history. Thankfully though, Gatiss comes across as a genuine and knowledgeable fan, and manages to communicate the ineffable appeal of these films extremely well, I thought. And more to the point, I was happy to find myself agreeing with just about everything he said, and was overjoyed that he picked out so many of my personal favourites (“Plague of the Zombies”! “Black Sunday”! “Blood on Satan’s Claw”!) for special attention.

There’re also some great new interviews with Roger Corman, Jimmy Sangster, Barbara Steele(!) and Piers Haggard, a beautiful tribute to Peter Cushing, and… well, in short, I’d like to shake Mr. Gatiss by the hand and buy him a pint for making about as good a one hour TV documentary on this subject as could possibly be hoped for.

The concluding episode, covering ‘70s American horror, screens some time next week, and I’m looking forward to it.

For those of you in the rest of the world -- um, sorry, I don't think the BBC streaming stuff works abroad. Maybe somebody might Youtube it at some point...?

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Graham Crowden

(1922 – 2010)

Some winters they drop like flies, etc. I’d only just finished writing another obituary earlier today when I learned (via Found Objects) of the death of one of my favourite actors, Graham Crowden.

When I say “favourite actors”, I mean, to my knowledge I only ever saw him in four films, and he plays the same character in two of them, but he certainly made an impression.

He was superb as the History master in Lindsay Anderson’s “If...”, he brought a memorable dose of character to the potentially dull role of Dr. Smiles in “The Final Programme”, but he will above all be remembered (by us weirdos anyway) for Dr. Millar, a minor character in Anderson’s “O Lucky Man” who went on to assume awe-inspiring mad scientist gravitas in 1982’s misunderstood masterpiece “Britannia Hospital”.

It’s been a while since I watched “Britannia Hospital”, so I don’t recall the exact dialogue, but the moment when Crowden single-handedly halts a chaotic pitch battle between rioting demonstrators, police, hospital workers and an embattled royal entourage, swinging open a set of double doors, raising his arms like a priest and bellowing something like, “LITTLE MEN, LITTLE MEN, DO YOU WISH TO SEE THE FUTURE..??” , will forever live in my memory.

Dr. Millar’s (and by extension, Lindsay Anderson’s) closing address to the world a few minutes later is viewable on Youtube. I’d advise anyone who has yet to see “Britannia Hospital” to watch the whole film first rather than spoiling the ending for themselves, but for those who still wish to click 'play' below, the following six minutes offer a fine testament to Graham Crowden’s talents;

According to Crowden’s wikipedia page, he; “…was offered the role of the Fourth Doctor in Doctor Who in 1974, when Jon Pertwee left the role, but turned it down, informing producer Barry Letts that he was not prepared to commit himself to the series for three years. The role ultimately went to Tom Baker. He did, however, appear in The Horns of Nimon (1979) as a villain opposite Baker.”

So there ya go. Needless to say, I think he would have made a brilliant Doctor.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Youtube Film Club:
Witchcraft ’70

Perfect for setting some pre-Halloween atmosphere, here’s “Witchcraft ‘70” aka “The Satanists”, a predominantly UK-set mondo outing cobbled together by one Luigi Scattini.

I’m not usually much of a fan of mondo movies, but at least some sections of this one are an absolute gas, full of freaky visuals, echo-chambered Italian pop-psych music, endless footage of fuzzy, red-tinted naked cavorting, and an English narrator’s script that’s completely out to lunch.

Guest appearances by ubiquitous British witchsploitation kingpin Alex Sanders, some supposed Brazilian Macumba practitioners, and a guy who projects the memories of the dead onto polaroid film. Things go off the boil a bit in the second half with a lot of boring mediums, Hare Krishnas, some miscellaneous hippies (well, uh, they kinda *like* the occult, I guess..) and a section on cryogenics (me neither). But as long as the narrator keeps givin’ it some, it’s still fun for all the family.

Part one is here:

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter
(Yasuhara Hasebe, 1970)

I’m certainly no expert on the strange and complex world of Japanese popular cinema in the ‘60s and ‘70s. What little information I do have is pieced together largely from reviews on other websites, DVD liner notes and the like, probably the same ones you’ve read, so I probably can’t offer much in the way of new insight here. One thing I do know about Japanese popular cinema in the ‘60s and ‘70s though is that I love it. So if you’re prepared to let me wing this one on enthusiasm alone, we’ll get on fine.

In particular, the output of Nikkatsu studios in the hazy, ‘anything goes’ period that fell between their ‘60s golden age of stylish crime/youth culture films and the studio’s unsavoury descent into ‘pink eiga’ and ‘roman porno’ territory in the early/mid ‘70s, seems to have produced a whole swathe of what is simply the most astoundingly fucking awesome genre cinema I’ve ever seen.

Western critics/experts who know more about this stuff than I do naturally have their own strong opinions re: which films from this era are worth preserving, which are best left in the vaults etc, and with opportunities to see these movies still remaining frustratingly rare in the English speaking world (despite their obvious potential for attracting a huge, post-Kill Bill crossover audience a couple of years back), the choice few titles I have been able to acquire on DVD probably represent the films that the aforementioned critics and experts have collectively gone to bat for as representing the most worthwhile and/or mind-blowing examples of the form. But even so, the fact remains: I’ve yet to see a Japanese action/exploitation/crime movie made between about 1966 and 1974 that did anything less than totally kick my ass.

There’s just something about the spirit of ‘em, I think. Watching a movie like “Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter” makes me happy to be alive, regardless of its flaws and imperfections. God bless Japan, it makes me want to yell. God bless them for taking our bone-headed Anglo-American exploitation movie culture and feeding it back to us in a manner more intelligent, more brutal, more beautiful, more exhilarating, more experimental, more crazy, more plain fucking cool than anything that was coming out of America at the same time. God bless them for calling movies stuff like “Detective Bureau 23: Go To Hell Bastards!” and “Battles Without Honour and Humanity: Hiroshima Death Match” that at least try to live up to those names.

Not that “Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter” really lives up to its name. Which is probably just as well, let’s face it. In fact, Meiko Kaji herself makes reference to this in an interview in Chris D’s book Outlaw Masters of Japanese Film;

“One thing that happened a lot with Japanese movies back then was to integrate sensational images or catchphrases into the movie titles to draw people into the theatres. For example, the ‘Sex Hunter’ film in the ‘Stray Cat Rock’ series, you get more of a social consciousness at work dealing with the persecution of mixed race teenagers. But then you have the movie called ‘Sex Hunter’! You used to get that a lot.”

Thankfully devoid then of anybody hunting for sex (in fact most of the film’s leads seem more concerned with consciously avoiding it for one reason or another), “Sex Hunter” is in fact the third entry in Nikkatsu’s “Stray Cat Rock” delinquent girl gang series, and the second to feature Meiko Kaji and Tatsuya Fuji as the top-billed stars and Yasuhara Hasebe as director.

Apparently there’s no crossover of characters or plot-lines at all between these films, so starting on part # 3 is fine and dandy, although you could be forgiven for assuming otherwise as “Sex Hunter” opens midway through a mugging/beating being administered to a cringing salaryman by a gang of bad-ass teenage girls, then plunges us straight into the depths of an awesome psychedelic nightclub, where an altercation between gang leader Mako (Kaji) and her unctuous second in command Miki leads straight into a bloody nocturnal knife fight between the two girls (they fight in darkness, with a dagger in one hand and a torch in the other), as members of thuggish boy gang The Eagles circle the scene, tearing up the turf in their US Army jeeps. Kicking straight into gear with little in the way of preliminaries or explanations, it’s an exhilarating start to a movie, and the pace scarcely lets up until the closing credits, eighty something minutes later.

In brief, “Sex Hunter” tells the story of the increasing tensions and eventual bloody conflict between Mako’s girls and the yakuza-styled Eagles, as led by impotent, racist overlord The Baron (Fuji). At the film’s outset, the activities of the two gangs seem closely connected, as they hang out together exchanging tough-talk over whisky-cokes at the club and collectively terrorise the streets of their conveniently police-free neighbourhood.

(As with many Japanese exploitation films, “Sex Hunter” eschews the bright lights of Tokyo, instead restricting the action to a bleak, geographically-vague suburb, looking under-populated and economically bereft, characterised by the wasteland left behind by a disused USAF base – the perfect setting for the film’s overall themes of cultural desolation and adolescent abandonment, and, I’d wager, a more realistic backdrop for a Japanese crime story than the glass-fronted penthouses and skyscrapers that predominate in later films.)

Cracks in the uneasy relationship between the two gangs are exposed when the Eagles beat up the mixed race boyfriend of Mari, one of Mako’s girls, and when The Baron – portrayed by Fuji as a classic tragic villain, seething and sweating behind mirror shades – subsequently flips out and declares a war on ‘half breeds’, sending his men to trash ‘Mama Blues’, a bar/social club frequented by the children of African-American servicemen and their ‘disgraced’ Japanese mothers.

As it happens though, the girls quite liked the folks ever at Mama Blues, and take a dim view of The Eagles’ increasingly fascistic behaviour. Furthermore, Mako has developed a pretty special friendship with Kazuma (Rikiya Yasuoka), a handsome, upstanding half-American guy who’s in town looking for his long lost sister, and is not inclined to take any shit from The Baron’s thugs.* Inevitably, the battlelines are drawn, and all manner of blood-curdling mayhem awaits.

As a director, Yasuhara Hasebe has what more faint-hearted (read: sane) film fans might consider a ‘mixed’ CV, beginning his career with the highly entertaining pop art action flick “Black Tight Killers” in ’66 before helming several “Stray Cat Rock” movies, a handful of early Sonny Chiba flicks, and the rarely seen fourth entry in the phenomenal “Female Prisoner Scorpion” series. Whilst many of Nikkatsu’s best known ‘creatives’ understandably jumped ship as the studio turned it’s resources over to the productions of violent sex flicks in the ‘70s however, Hasebe by all accounts embraced this new era with gusto, turning anyone who’d care to look up his resume on IMDB weak at the knees with a series of absolutely crazed-sounding efforts, ranging from the notoriously disturbing “Assault! Jack The Ripper” to something called “Honeymoon Surprise: Rape Train”, whose title alone makes me feel like I need therapy to recover from it.

Thankfully for our purposes here though (and let’s face it, if there’s one thing to be learned from watching flicks like “Sex Hunter” and the “Scorpion” series, it’s that the artistic worth of Japanese movies should not be judged by their titles and plot synopses), Hasebe is also a flat-out killer director, with both a great feel for violent, fast-moving action and a keen eye for composition (perhaps inherited from his mentor Seijun Suzuki) that rarely lets him down, as he and cinematographer Muneo Ueda succeed in transforming practically every moment of “Sex Hunter” into a snapshot of transcendent pulp artistry that you could (and should) hang in a motherfucking gallery. All of the screengrabs I’ve included in this review have been taken at roughly desktop size, so click to enlarge some of ‘em, and hopefully my point should be self-evident. I could look at this film all day.

And if looking at stills is one thing, imagine them moving! Imagine this world of brooding, technicolour cool propelling itself through a constant turnover of knife fights, fist fights, gun fights, fire fights, chases, showdowns, pot parties, obscene trash-talk, dance sequences and bits where tough chicks just strut about the streets looking invincible, all accompanied by distorted psychedelic funk and post-Ye Ye Nippon girl-pop… godDAMN. Put simply, the entire film is a work of beautiful, pop art brutality.

On one level, the lessons that “Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter” seeks to teach us are basic ones: racism is stupid, violence is self-defeating, and if you go around trying to force yourself upon unwilling young women then you’ve only got yourself to blame when they return to fuck you up with a box of molotov cocktails. But beneath the film’s surface lie darker, more confused issues that imbue proceedings with a vicious counter-cultural kick reminiscent of the work of Koji Wakamatsu or Shunya Ito – “Sex Hunter” may be a great action/exploitation flick, but it’s also a brave and thought-provoking piece of Japanese cinema, exploring thorny questions of race and cultural identity with a scattershot, expressionistic approach that demands the attention of cineastes (and our aforementioned critics & experts) just as much as those of us here purely for the psychedelic nightclub scenes and cool girls having knife fights.

Whilst it is made abundantly clear to us that the racist violence of The Eagles is ugly and misguided, it’s also easy to see that the director wanted his audience, through the grotesque character of The Baron, to think about the wider circumstances which have driven these young men to act the way they do.

The Baron’s hate-filled worldview originates not so much from unthinking, inherited prejudice, but from an obsessive hatred of Americans and their post-war presence in Japan, arising from the trauma of seeing his sister raped by American GIs as a child – the same event which the film implies has also led to his sexual dysfunction and effectively ruined his life, turning him into a violent, neurotic freak. One only has to look at what American intervention in Japan has turned this guy and his criminal/sadist buddies into, and the physical desolation of the abandoned airforce base town in which they live, so see that the film’s sympathies are less clear cut than a reductive ‘racists vs. cool guys’ reading may suggest.

Melodramatic plot revelations aside, the real tragedy here is of course that The Baron’s quest for a native Japanese culture he can proudly defend against the foreign invaders is inherently doomed – a fact that’s almost comically underlined by the way he and his gang zoom around in repainted US Army jeeps, and spend the whole movie mimicking the mannerisms of Hollywood gangsters. The obvious parallel to guys like Hasebe (who was presumably old enough to remember the war and may even have fought in it), trying their damnedest to make distinctively Japanese films whilst shackled to the seductive allure of Anglo-American b-movies and pop culture, is inescapable, and “Sex Hunter”s bold mise en scene won’t let us forget these cruel ironies for a second.

External shots in the (sub)urban sections of the movie are dominated by oppressive billboards and neon signs advertising Coca-Cola, Pepsi or Lucky Strikes, and coke in particular is used as an ever-present reminder of American economic dominance. Both gangs habitually rattle off orders for “whisky-coke” at their club hang-out, and Mari’s status-quo threatening Jimi Hendrix-lookalike boyfriend is a coca-cola delivery guy - when The Baron’s thugs arrive to menace him, we see him pushed and beaten against crates of coke, and attacked with a broken bottle.

Even the girl group who sing in the club scenes are “The Golden Half”, a super-group of sorts put together to cash in on a brief trend for half-Caucasian / half-Japanese pop stars, and this mixed up exploration of cultural imperialism reaches it’s natural conclusion (and whatever else it may be, this film sure ain’t subtle) when The Eagles lure members of Mako’s gang to a spurious party and turn them over to a cabal of Caucasian ‘businessmen’ intent on holding their own ‘rape party’.** When Mako realises what’s going on and escapes from The Baron’s ham-fisted parallel attempt to seduce her, it goes without saying that her vehicle of choice as she rushes to help out her friends is a stolen Harley Davidson, and the film reaches a frenzied crescendo of symbolic, destructive chaos as the girls return to firebomb their white aggressors with – of course – flaming coke bottles!

Any suggestion that Hasebe might be making a straight anti-American statement though is further muddied by the presence of ‘Mama Blues’ and its patrons – a fascinating inclusion that highlights a corner of post-war Japan rarely referenced in popular culture. Interestingly, the Mama Blues scenes seem to be filmed in a different aspect ratio from the rest of the film, leaving thick, black bars on either side of the screen. For all I know this might be because the American Cinemateque DVD*** is sourced from different prints of the movie or something, but whether intentional or otherwise, the effect is excellent, working alongside the actual prison bars that seem to form part of club’s décor to highlight the confined, closely-guarded world of these half-black, half-Asian outcasts.

With a relaxed, languid atmosphere and deep, high contrast photography, the Mama Blues scenes have a totally different feeling from the violent hyperactivity of the rest of the movie. Decorated with sombre portraits of jazz greats rather than garish corporate logos, the bar seems to be an island of calm, where an older, more refined culture holds sway. And when The Baron’s thugs intrude, they are a parody of the worst kind of Japanese machismo - screaming and bullying and revelling in their own cruelty. After they depart, we see a mixed race teenager who has been beaten by the gang get back on his feet. Slowly walking over to the turntable, he lifts the needle from the Nina Simone record that’s soundtracked the whole scene, and carefully puts it back in it’s cradle, as his friends wordlessly go about tidying the wreckage left by the intruders.

Corny stuff by the standards of a modern American movie maybe, but here the scene stands as an expression of a powerful dignity, speaking of a deep respect on Hasebe’s part for the implacable cool of black American culture, maybe even a plea for his more obnoxious fellow countrymen to try to understand and learn from it.

With such weighty themes being thrown around in such a bracingly violent and irreverent manner, it’s something of a tragedy that “Sex Hunter” takes a serious stumble in it’s final quarter, as the drawbacks of a sappy and undercooked script (and no doubt of the super-tight shooting schedules of Japanese genre films) make themselves felt, scuppering the film’s potential masterpiece status with some odd and disappointing decisions.

For one thing, the climatic girl gang vs. boy gang showdown that the film seems to have been building up to never quite materialises, as Hasebe instead plumps for a more conventional, if pleasingly nihilistic, Spaghetti Western style climax between Kazuma and The Baron’s gang, with the girls kept largely in the background.

Similarly, the characterisation of Mako herself is frustratingly uneven, with a definite tension developing between the weaker character suggested by the script, and the bad-ass gang leader demanded by Meiko Kaji’s iconic presence. Kaji herself seems to have wanted to play the character as bad-ass as possible, swaggering through scenes with an ornate sword-cane, wielding her blade like an avatar of cold, calculating vengeance, and even bringing back her floppy-hat-of-death from “Female Prisoner Scorpion: Jailhouse 41”. This is the kind of character we want from Meiko Kaji, and, for some of the movie at least, it’s the character we get.

Early in the film, Mako visits The Eagles, who have captured Mari after she tried to ambush them with a knife, vis a vis the whole boyfriend-beating thing. “You’re screwed, Mari”, says Mako, after The Baron threatens his prisoner with a particularly unpleasant demise, “but if you guys do that, you’re screwed too”. The guys have a brief manly chuckle about being ordered around by a woman… but then they immediately back off, let Mari go unharmed and do exactly as the lady says. You don’t argue with THE STARE.

Later though, things are different: her role seems to become more passive when Kazuma is on hand to fill the male hero role, especially at the film’s conclusion, which finds the two lovers armed and under siege in a rickety guard-tower as The Eagles approach for a bloody showdown. Not only does Mako refuse to hold a gun here, but when the fighting begins she’s suddenly reduced to the level of the hopeless-female, familiar from any Western – hanging back, weeping and shouting “no” and “please, don’t”, as the guys duke it out. Useless. Is this the Meiko Kaji we know from the “Scorpion” and “Lady Snowblood” movies? I mean, there’s what, about eight or nine guys here, approaching on foot over open ground? Our Meiko would have grabbed the rifle and had half of them howling in pain clutching their bloody groins before we’d had time to blink. What a cop-out.

Such deficiencies are probably inevitable to some degree in a film like this – I doubt anyone had time to think too hard about characterisation and rewrites when many of the cast and crew were filming the next “Stray Cat Rock” movie literally *at the same time* as this one, hustling between two studios on different sides of town. But it’s a shame nonetheless that they sap the overall quality level of what could, under better circumstances, have been one of the all-time, unfuckable-with classics of Japanese popular cinema.

Ah well, who cares. Flaws noted and dealt with - I still thought “Sex Hunter” was a knockout. I’ve gotta say, I’m not usually the biggest fan of consciously ‘political’ cinema, but I love that unique, desperate way Japanese directors so often have of incorporating politics into their films, eschewing the drab dialectics, easy answers and – ugh - logic of lesser Euro/American filmmakers in favour of simply throwing everything into a howling mad contradictory vortex and screaming WHAT THE HEY, bringing us far closer to an understanding of the actual messed up contradictions of human interaction in the process… y’know what I mean?

I really dig those mad, screaming vortexes. It’s an approach that works well for me, and “Sex Hunter” is a fine example. Our critics and experts would lead me to believe that none of the other “Stray Cat Rock” movies are quite as remarkable as this one, presumably lacking in the kind of vision and provocative intent that set “Sex Hunter” apart. But y’know what? If there’s nothing more at the centre of the vortex than psychedelic rock, motorbikes and violent girl gangs, then WHAT THE HEY, that sounds like a pretty good vortex to me. The potent, not-on-DVD thrills of “Stray Cat Rock: Delinquent Girl Boss”, “Stray Cat Rock: Wild Jimbo”, “Stray Cat Rock: Machine Animal” and “Stray Cat Rock: Wild Measures ‘71” await, and anyone out there who can point me in their direction will be lavishly rewarded.

*Yasuoka’s character also sings the movie’s obligatory haunting, tragic love song, and it’s a pretty fine example of the form.

**By this point, you might be getting the idea this Hasebe character is pretty fixated on rape, but in his defence “Sex Hunter” is actually notable for featuring NONE of the kind of semi-nudity or leery, male-gazin’ footage you might reasonably expect to find in a film like this.

*** It’s a REALLY great DVD presentation by the way – the film looks absolutely beautiful and the sub-titling is perfect – a real treat to see a film this old and marginal treated so well. I think it’s now OOP sadly, so grab a copy while you can.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Roy Ward Baker

Sad today to hear of the death of Roy Ward Baker at age 94. I can’t really claim any familiarity with Baker as a person, but I’ve seen his name scrolling across so many forboding, red-lettered Hammer credit sequences, it almost feels like I know the guy.

It seems Baker got his start in filmmaking serving in the 'Army Kinematograph Unit' during the war, and subsequently became a prolific jobbing director through the ‘40s and ‘50s, splitting his time between Britain and Hollywood and helming some surprisingly high profile pictures, including “Don’t Bother To Knock” (1952) with Marilyn Monroe and Anne Bancroft, and the definitive Titanic movie “A Night To Remember” (1958).

His horror credits include one of my all-time favourite Hammers “The Vampire Lovers”, a few I care for somewhat less (“Quatermass & The Pit”, “Scars of Dracula”), and a veritable hat-trick of Amicus anthology flicks, including the totally bonkers “Asylum” (whose Herbert Lom/Patrick Magee killer robot segment is so off the hook I can still scarcely believe it exists), “Vault of Horror” and “Now The Screaming Starts”.

He also found time for some true oddities, including the ill-stared Hammer/Shaw Bros crossover “Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires”, and Hammer’s swinging sixties ‘sci-fi western’ “Moon Zero Two”, which sounds like… a film I must see as soon as is humanly possible.

Innumerable episodes of “The Avengers”, “The Saint”, “The Persuaders”, “Jason King” and “Department S” help round out an impeccable CV of weird British pop culture, and his last feature film credit was horror old boy’s club nostalgia-fest “The Monster Club” in 1980.

Good work Roy!

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

John Carpenter Blogathon Fail.

I had very much intended to take part in the John Carpenter blogathon thing being coordinated this week by Radiator Heaven. After all, it was only a few months ago that a sudden moment of drunken clarity led me to the realisation that John Carpenter is THE BEST DIRECTOR EVER. I’m told that in my enthusiasm I may have also deemed him THE KING OF THE WORLD, but that’s up for debate. Point is - I think he has made a lot of great movies, and I really enjoy his whole, y’know, ‘John Carpenter’ shtick. So naturally I wanted to do my bit.

I had it all planned out – I was gonna write this amazing, free-wheeling essay that’s been bouncing around my head for years, about my memories of first seeing “John Carpenter’s Vampires” on TV, and about the notion of John Carpenter being an ANTI-auteur (much in the sense of an antipope), ticking all the boxes of established auteur theory but at the same time embodying the complete opposite of all the unspoken virtues that it is assumed an ‘auteur’ should represent, and about how “Vampires” in all it’s ridiculous, ugly glory is the purest distillation of Carpenterism thus committed to screen.

But sadly, I fucked up, and forgot to factor in all the stupid crap modern life compels me to do when I should be sitting in quiet repose contemplating John Carpenter movies, and that essay is just not going to get written this week I’m afraid.

All I can think to do by way of compensation is to post this video again – that is, John Carpenter’s video for The Coupe de Villes, the band he formed with two other horror movie directors(?!?), rocking out on the theme tune he recorded for his own movie, “Big Trouble In Little China”. Truly, a more convincing testament to the joys of Carpenterism would be hard to find.

By visiting this post at The Manchester Morgue, you can download the entirety of The Coupe de Villes' couldn’t-be-more-perfectly-titled album “Waiting Out The Eighties”. Featuring hits like “She Has Friends in LA”, “Midnight Train” and “Darlin’ (All Night Long)”, I speak with no irony whatsoever when I declare it an absolutely brilliant listen.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’m gonna run, run into the mystic night, and try to finish off a few new movie reviews to see us through the next couple of weeks…

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Youtube Film Club:
Penda’s Fen

Last week, I watched the 1973 BBC play-for-today “Penda's Fen”, written by David Rudkin and Directed by Alan Clarke.

Shrouded in VHS fuzz and with otherworldly atmospherics, it’s an extremely unusual coming of age tale set in the Malvern hills, dripping with atavistic English mysticism in the spirit of Blake, Arthur Machen and Sir Edward Elgar, the latter of whom is good enough to put in a memorable spectral appearance.

Personally, I found “Penda’s Fen” to be a strange, wise and beautiful work, and in particular found it’s expression of a connection with history and landscape that transcends small-minded conservative drudgery, and of an innate spiritual faith divorced from religious dogma, to be very poignant.

What you’ll find it to be is anyone’s guess, but regardless - essential viewing for any connoisseur of vintage British high weirdness.

For the full background, see John Coulthart’s blog-post here.

Part # 1 (taken from a videoed Channel 4 repeat circa 1989) is here: