Sunday, 27 March 2011

Paperback Gallery.

None of these are 'pulp' exactly, but nonetheless I thought I'd share with you a gallery of some of the neat vintage paperbacks I've acquired recently.

Usual rules apply: all found in second hand/charity shops or market stalls, all priced £3 or less except for 'Girl On The Motorcycle', for which I shelled out a bank-breaking £6.

All date from the '60s, except the Moocock one which is '71.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Liz Taylor post.

So obviously this is one that’s gonna run and run: no doubt we can expect mammoth obits in the Sunday papers, TV marathons, retrospective seasons at yr local picture palace etc. etc.

This isn’t really much of a ‘classic Hollywood’ kinda blog (you might have noticed?), so I’m afraid I don’t really have much to add, but I was kinda tickled when the BBC radio obituary I heard last night ended with; “Elizabeth Taylor appeared in a lot of films she should have said no to, but she will be remembered for her iconic roles and unique glamour in the ‘50s and ‘60s”.

No prizes for guessing which part of that equation we here at Breakfast in the Ruins would encourage you to celebrate.


(My review of ‘Secret Ceremony’ perhaps doesn’t read too good these days, but I blame the film itself for temporarily(?) reducing me to the movie-blog equivalent of a babbling, shell-shocked fool; never before or since have I gone to the cinema expecting a relatively conventional movie and been presented with something so thoroughly fucked in the head…)

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Stunt Rock
(Brian Trenchard Smith, 1979)

This is going to be quite a short review.

I mean, there is only so much that can be said about “Stunt Rock”. Like the voice that Moses heard in the burning bush, it does not take kindly to questioning. It is what it is, and that is enough.

A lack of wordage though should not in this case bespeak a lack of enthusiasm. On the contrary, I would like the reader, if possible, to treat this post with as much attention (or lack thereof) as may be accorded to one of my more conventional 3000 word timewasters. To signify this unusual gravitas, I will put all the words first, and all the screengrabs at the end.

So: if the parents of Australian director Brian Trenchard Smith hadn’t already lumbered him with “Trenchard”, FUN would be his middle name. If I tell you that his other directorial credits include “The Man From Hong Kong”, “Kung Fu Killers (TV)”, “Danger Freaks”, “Turkey Shoot” (aka “Escape 2000”), “BMX Bandits” and “Dead End Drive-In”, then you’ll get an idea of where this cat is coming from, even if you know nothing whatsoever about any of those movies. It’s a good place.

As Brian tells it, he was taking a shower one day when the idea hit him: STUNT ROCK. There will be STUNTS! There will be ROCK! Every kid of the world will hit the streets and head for the cinema! Brian Trenchard Smith will make millions!

At this point, we could note that Trenchard Smith was also working as manager for stuntman turned celebrity daredevil Grant Page, and had promised him he’d see top billing in a theatrically released movie within five years. But personally I’d prefer to see that as being wholly coincidental to the life-changing purity of the Stunt Rock ‘eureka moment’.

Somehow, BTS managed to sell his vision to some Dutch money-men, and in double-quick time found himself on a plane to LA to make it happen. Never let it be said that The Netherlands is a country that fails to recognise great artists. The Dutch guys came through with a budget, gear, facilities, etc, and naturally Grant Page was on board, so that was the STUNT covered. Problem: no ROCK. Big name bands had been promised, but no one showed. So Smith set out to find his own band. And, boy, did he ever succeed.

Sorcery are a real life theatrical hard rock band whose stage act sees them belting out their Kiss-via-Blue Oyster Cult style tunes on the left and right hand sides of the stage, while in the centre a guy dressed as Merlin the Magician performs magic tricks and engages in pyrotechnic good-vs-evil battles with a guy dressed as Satan.

There are no words.

STUNT is go. ROCK is go. I dunno if anyone saw MAGIC coming, but fuck it man, let’s give it a try! A few months later, a film emerged. The kids of the world did not flock to cinemas to see it, and Brian Trenchard Smith did not make millions, but the world – or some very small, strange part of it at least – was changed forever.

In Stunt Rock, Grant Page plays himself. Having achieved fame in the Australian film industry, he has relocated to LA to work on a TV show that stars contractually obligated Dutch actress Monique van der Ven. Grant’s cousin is the guy who plays Satan in Sorcery’s stage-show, so he makes friends with them and hangs out.

By day, Grant Page does stunts. By night, he rocks out at Sorcery concerts.

That is the entire storyline.


I mean, I guess I was kind of expecting that maybe Page would fight an unconvincing organised crime gang, or help protect Sorcery from mob assassins, or indulge in some other kind of flimsy excuse for mayhem and hi-jinks, but no. Stunt Rock needs no excuses.

There is a lot of stock footage in Stunt Rock. Stunts which Grant Page performed in earlier movies, or ones he did just for the hell of it, are reiterated at length, accompanied by hot Sorcery instrumentals. “Well, I got myself into a sticky situation once whilst hang-gliding,” he’ll say, and off we go. Kaleidoscopic split screen effects and slow motion are used prominently throughout. At one point, a long passage of silent / b&w footage is used to illustrate ‘the history of stunts’, featuring sped-up ‘old timey’ music. Later, somebody says “hey, have you seen ‘Gone in Sixty Seconds’?”, prompting a brain-busting montage of car crashes and stunts from H.B. Hilicki’s 1974 version of that movie, cut to yet more sweet Sorcery jamming.

Extensive use of pre-existing footage is usually taken as an immediate warning sign of a bad film, but if you find its application in Stunt Rock anything less than inspired then fuck you buddy, you are not worthy of Stunt Rock.

With similar space-filling logic, here are some of my top sniggersome Sorcery fashion moments;

*With no disrespect intended, Sorcery’s guitarist sports just about the most horrifically misguided haircut I have ever seen on a human male. That he is seen making out with a girl at one point should be seen as a herculean achievement in keeping with the overall spirit of this film.

*Sorcery’s keyboard player attempts to compensate for being a keyboard player by wearing a gimp/Mexican wrestler mask at all times, and speaking in an irritating high-pitched voice. When somebody asks him why he wears a mask, he responds, “Why does anyone wear a mask?” Again, there are no words.

*During a poolside party scene, Sorcery’s drummer (moustache, receding hairline) sports a white Perrier water t-shirt, tight blue jeans and braces. Say what you like, but that’s a fucking look.

*For a rare non-Sorcery related highlight, look out for the background guy in the “CUNNING STUNTS” t-shirt. It had to happen!

So that’s that.

Now frankly, I’ll admit I went into this thinking that I didn’t even like stunts that much - I was mostly here for the rock, and the incidental goofiness. But Stunt Rock showed me the light.

My plight is mirrored by that of a foxy lady journalist who decides to write an article about Grant Page. She is attracted to Grant, but is initially repulsed of his extreme, devil-may-care lifestyle. After he pulls off a daring flame escape / hang-wire stunt at a Sorcery gig though, she too is born again;

“How could I have been so blind? It’s something unique you guys are doing, I think it’s gonna catch on… there’s music, and magic, and stunts! I’m gonna write an article, let’s call it… STUNT-ROCK!”

Yes! My thoughts exactly!

So she puts Stunt Rock on the cover of Time (or, er, Tempo) magazine. Everyone is happy. The end.

Ladies and gentlemen, Stunt Rock: the greatest movie that an eleven year old boy in 1979 could possibly have imagined.

Monday, 14 March 2011


New posts forthcoming, but in the meantime, just thought I’d do a quick round-up of some other stuff I’ve been up to that might be of interest…

1. As if I wasn’t spreading myself thinly enough already / spending enough time staring at a computer screen, I’ve bitten the bullet and started a tumblr blog. It had to happen. Primarily, I intend to use it to dump some of the thousands of screengrabs I’ve accumulated whilst reviewing movies here. So, uh, yeah, follow it or whatever, or don’t.

2. A couple of weeks ago, my weirdo space-punk music project thing Space Age Thrills finished off an album. Homemade Ramones/Misfits/Spits type songs with lyrics about science fiction and horror movies is the basic concept, but in practice it's all gotten a bit, uh, sloppier and weirder and more varied than that. There's a Modern Lovers cover, and a John Carpenter cover, and a song about law enforcement in Texas in the 1960s, and a long, pointless self-indulgent song, and so on. Just thought I’d mention it on the off-chance that some of you guys might like that sorta thing. You can listen to it on bandcamp.

3. I’ve also recently started doing the occasional post on the Found Objects blog. Regardless of my sparse contributions though, you should probably be keeping an eye on it anyway, as it’s a daily info-dump of strange and eerie stuff, assembled to an indefinable yet somehow highly specific rationale. Hopefully I’ll be posting some new stuff, as well as revisiting some of the more aesthetically appropriate bits and pieces I’ve done here in the past.

4. Flatmate wanted! I’ve got a room in sunny South-East London that’ll be free from around July-ish for the space of about one academic year, possibly longer. Email for further details. Bear in mind you'd be sharing living space with someone whose idea of fun includes the preceding three items.

Phew! Normal movie-reviewin’ business resuming imminently.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

No Exit for a Blonde
by Lewis Michael
(Golden Fleece Books, 1967)

Um, I hate to point out the obvious, but there seems to be a certain disconnection between title and cover art going on here…

Pity, because the illustration (signed ‘Mario’) is an absolute doozy of ‘60s girlie art.

I love the title too – one of the those brilliantly meaningless cut n’ paste phrases that you only get from pulp books; “No, there’s no exit for you this time baby – you’ve brought this sorry fate upon yourself with your treacherous, self-serving ways and… what’s that? You’re a redhead? Oh, I’m sorry, my mistake – go right on through…”

Actually, everything about this book seems slightly ‘off’. Although published in the UK, it was printed in Italy, and is in a different format from most Anglo-American paperbacks – slightly wider, taller and thinner… like an Italian fumetti or giallo perhaps? (It’s yellow too!)

Golden Fleece seems to have been a terminally obscure imprint, turning up no info at all on a quick google search, and perhaps one reason for this is that “No Exit For a Blonde” reads like it was thrown together by a fourteen year old kid for a school project, featuring about ten exclamation marks per page (not always in dialogue) and set out in a wobbly, old fashioned typeface full of weird punctuation dysfunctions.

I mean, just check out the back cover ferchrissake;

Yeah, I’m definitely getting that “English as second language” vibe.

Here’s the other Golden Fleece scan I found by the way;

Friday, 4 March 2011

Some thoughts on ‘Troll 2’ (1990) and ‘Best Worst Movie’ (2010).

A couple of weekends ago, I attended a sold-out screening at the Prince Charles Cinema just off Leicester Square (the closest thing central London has to a real repository theatre/grindhouse I suppose, although sadly these days they tend to stick to about 99% recent Hollywood output and the kind of senior common room ‘cult classics’ anyone with a TV has already seen a hundred times… but that’s a rant for another day). The event in question was a double bill of ‘Troll 2’, and ‘Best Worst Movie’, a documentary about ‘Troll 2’.

I had not previously seen ‘Troll 2’ and, beyond reading a few reviews on horror blogs etc, I was largely unfamiliar with the kind of word of mouth cult following that has grown up around the film. I just went along because I was curious and bored and, y’know, because I just like this kinda crap, and wanted to support the ambitions of whoever decided it was a good idea to instigate a theatrical screening of something like ‘Troll 2’, as opposed to just showing ‘Bladerunner’ or ‘Goodfellas’ or whatever for the thousandth fucking time.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, I was unable to convince anyone to come with me (“hey, d’you wanna go and see this movie called ‘Troll 2’ with me tomorrow night? I hear it’s really terrible.. tickets are £10”), so decided to go it alone. I was expecting it to be a pretty, uh, ‘niche’ event I suppose. I was completely unprepared for either the size (large theatre = totally sold out, queue down the street, people being turned away etc.) or rabid, Rocky Horror style enthusiasm of the film’s fanbase, whose good-natured whoopin’ and hollerin’ often threatened to drown out the movie’s audio altogether. And, uh, that was cool I guess – I certainly didn’t mind it, but I was somewhat taken aback. I mean we don’t get that shit going to see Truffaut movies at the BFI, y’know. Just what kind of weird cult have I been missing out on here?

Well, the film itself answered that question succinctly within its opening few minutes. For anyone who has yet to experience ‘Troll 2’ - and particularly those who may have been put off by it’s faintly obnoxious fanboy following - I would like to state my opinion that it is a genuinely extraordinary piece of work – an indescribably strange and misguided film whose appeal (for those of us who appreciate this-sort-of-thing) extends far beyond the realm of internet memes and horror-nerd injokes.

As is inevitably the case with films that attract that perennially misapplied “worst movie ever” label, ‘Troll 2’ is clearly not the ‘worst’ anything. Any dedicated fan of strange/low budget films will likely have more than a few joints on their shelves that sink far lower, whether judged in terms of technical prowess, enjoyment or coherence. As critic MJ Simpson sagely points out in ‘Best Worst Movie’, there are plenty of awful, tedious movies out there made by people who have no idea how to make a film. What is so remarkable about ‘Troll 2’ is rather the fact that it was made by people who clearly do know how to make a film – the framing, editing, cinematography etc, if not exactly world class, is at least fairly proficient. ‘Troll 2’s creators clearly had some degree of ability and common sense - and yet they still chose to put all of this shit in front of their cameras?! As Simpson puts it, it’s like a movie put together by professional filmmakers… after they suffered a severe blow to the head.

As with an Ed Wood or Ted V. Mikels movie, to laugh *at* a film like this, or to single out its moments of incompetence, is to completely miss the point - a reaction as mean-spirited and stupid as laughing at a musician because s/he ‘can’t play properly’. The delirious joy of watching something like ‘Troll 2’ arises rather from trying to put oneself in the headspace of the filmmakers, from trying to fathom the thought-processes that brought this breathtaking spectacle of otherness into being. And in the case of ‘Troll 2’, the fact that it is technically speaking quite good only serves to make this delicious feeling of bafflement all the more poignant.

(VHS Artwork via Lost Video Archive)

I won’t bother trying to summarise the many, many highlights of ‘Troll 2’ – there are other blogs you can go to for that, and besides, once I got started we’d be here all day. The whole thing is a highlight. Let’s just say that for the opening hour or so, I was utterly transfixed, convinced that, yes, this was the real deal. A genuine modern day Ed Wood movie; an earnest attempt to make a good, entertaining film in which every single element – every shot, every character, every line of dialogue – somehow ended up so cracked that it could have been beamed in from another planet.

The combinations of words, images and ideas thrown up by ‘Troll 2’ are of an order that a regularly functioning human brain will never have even considered before - a vision of purest anti-inspiration, rising from the lumbering carcass of a generic PG-13 horror quickie with such force that the result is near psychedelic. Quite what the horror schlubs and VHS hounds must have thought when they rented this thing for the first time back in 1990 expecting a bog-standard Full Moon Productions straight-to-video number (ala the entirely unconnected ‘Troll 1’), I can’t even begin to imagine. A psychotronic holy grail moment, for sure.

And furthermore, this industrial-strength cack-handed weirdness just seems to escalate as the film goes on, getting more and more over the top until it reaches a certain critical mass at about the sixty minute mark, after which my delight began to sour. Ok, I thought, it’s too late now - the filmmakers have shown their hand. I mean, this is just too fucking stupid for words. Those who have seen the film will know what I mean: the dragging-the-guy-in-the-plantpot escape scene; Grandpa Seth’s grinning reaction shots after poleaxing a goblin; the beef baloney sandwich; the whole ‘popcorn’ sequence. There is NO WAY this stuff could have been intended as anything other than total comedy. I figured that, much like Brian Trenchard Smith’s infamous ‘Turkey Shoot’, they must have watched the rushes at some point and realised what a bloody ridiculous movie they were making, then decided to just go with it, amping things up as far as they possibly could in the name of gross-out, LOL-worthy absurdity. It was still hugely enjoyable, no question, but what had begun as a beautifully mystifying piece of outsider art basically ended up turning into a Troma movie, and that made me sad.

But the brilliant thing is – I was wrong. From beginning to end, there was no self-conscious, good/bad movie irony involved in this film’s production. This shit is for real, and that is so wonderful I could cry. You see… well, this is gonna take a few paragraphs to explain…

‘Best Worst Movie’ is a slightly unconventional documentary. Not so much a ‘making of’, it’s more like an ‘aftermath’, catching up with ‘Troll 2’s cast and crew nearly twenty years later, and documenting the rise of the film’s internet-era cult following. ‘Troll 2’s cast was comprised of non-professionals and seemingly random passersby culled from the Salt Lake City shooting location, and as it turns out, at least half of them prove to be real “documentary gold” so to speak, running the gamut from lovable eccentrics to people clearly wrestling with severe psychological problems (the guy who plays the storekeeper somehow ended up appearing in the film on his days out from a mental hospital, and claims he had no idea what was going on and “was not acting” when laying down his brief but unforgettable performance).

Understandably perhaps, much of the screen-time is dedicated to these guys, but whilst it’s a remarkable bit of ‘real-people / real-lives’ filmmaking, personally I was hankering to find out about the Italian crew who actually MADE the movie. ‘Troll 2’s credited director, ‘Drake Floyd’, is clearly an anglicised pseudonym, so who in the hell was responsible, and will they want to take credit for their dubious masterwork..?

When I got my answer about forty minutes in, it was like the unmasking of a supervillian. Claudio Fragrasso?!? I fucking knew it! Now things start to make sense! Or rather, the overall lack of sense starts to make sense.

Admittedly, I’m only really familiar with Fragrasso thanks to his role as the writer and de-facto director of Zombie Flesh Eaters II and III (Zombie II & III if you live in the states), which genuinely ARE some of the worst films I’ve ever seen, but his reputation as one of the most staggeringly incompetent screen-writers in Italian exploitation cinema precedes him.

Yes, that’s right – even by the standards of Italian horror, where critically lauded, landmark films often exhibit about as much logic as a drunken shooting spree in a fairground, this guy is notorious for his sloppy, nonsensical scripting. Imagine that.

Between his work on the Zombi/Zombie/whatever films and his numerous collaborations with similarly ridiculed director Bruno Mattei, Fragrasso managed to carve out a prolific directorial career for himself through the ‘80s and ‘90s, making what I’d imagine must have been very low budget films, some of them filmed in America or featuring American ‘stars’, seemingly angling for the kind of US video release that ‘Troll 2’ eventually achieved in 1990. Apparently in 1986 he made something called ‘Monster Dog’, staring a career-low-point Alice Cooper. Be still my beating heart.

Anyway: when Fragrasso is introduced in ‘Best Worst Movie’, he wastes no time in letting us know that he takes his films very seriously. Like many of Italy’s daftest trash-auteurs, he claims straight-facedly that he wants his films to move people emotionally, and to inspire reflection on important issues. The audience here in London nearly fall off their seats when he stated in broken English that he wanted ‘Troll 2’ to address “life… and death… and the challenges that a family must overcome to stay together”, or something along those lines.

Fragrasso can’t take sole credit for the majesty of ‘Troll 2’ though. The original idea, and the surreal English-as-second-language script, are the work of his wife and frequent creative partner Rossella Drudi. Drudi seems a little more down to earth in her inspiration. “Some of my friends had recently become vegetarians,” she says, explaining the genesis of the film’s somewhat unique anti-vegan food-based horror conceit, “and this pissed me off.” Suddenly the path that led us to the deux-ex-beef baloney sandwich becomes a little clearer.

‘Best Worst Movie’ follows Fragrassi and Drudi as they travel to America to attend some cult circuit screenings of ‘Troll 2’. Initially Fragrassi seems somewhat awed to see people queuing up outside a theatre to see his movie, but after witnessing their reaction to the screening, he quickly becomes cagey. “They laugh at the parts that are funny,” he says suspiciously, “but also at the parts which are not meant to be funny?”

He seems to be pondering whether or not this is standard practice for American audiences, but slowly the penny begins to drop. “You understand nothing!” is his winningly concise response to a smirking fanboy who asks him in a Q&A session why there are no trolls in ‘Troll 2’, and by the time we get to a full-scale cast reunion/Troll 2 mini-convention at the original Utah shooting location, things have become outright uncomfortable.

The American cast members sit on a makeshift stage, sharing anecdotes about how none of the Italian crew spoke English, and how they were handed crudely rewritten script pages from day to day and forced to stick to the dialogue as written, rather than trying to adapt it into something slightly less ridiculous. Fragrasso meanwhile stalks the back of the hall, largely ignored and denied a microphone, heckling the actors. “Lies!”, he yells. “That is not true! Everyone had whole script”, “these actors, they are dogs”, “I know the way Americans speak better than they do”, and so on.

You get the impression that the director’s failure to ‘get’ his own film, or to adopt the kind of self-deprecating attitude that would be expected of an Anglo-American filmmaker in similar circumstances, cast rather a pall over the whole occasion.

(In fairness to Fragrasso, it is not only bad Italian directors who have experienced this sort of linguistic/cultural disconnection when filming in English – I was strongly reminded of the stories of Sergio Leone presenting Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef with pages of ham-fisted dialogue that they point-blank refused to say, or of his later insistence that ‘Duck, You Sucker’ was “a big phrase in America”, in spite of the legions of actual Americans desperately trying to convince him otherwise.)

Although Fragrasso comes across as a rather charmless individual, it’s hard not to feel a vast sympathy for him as he looks at the reels of the 35mm print of ‘Troll 2’ that has been made for the screenings, admitting that this is the first time he has ever seen an actual theatrical print of one of his films – “normally we just get the video”. What can he be feeling, as he reflects that after three decades of toil in the film industry, his only opportunity to see his work actually touch a projector comes because he made a movie that a bunch of Americans really like laughing at?

And the crux of the matter is of course that no matter how deluded his inflated view of his own work may seem, on some level HE IS RIGHT. Without Fragrasso’s earnest, unshakeable self-belief, ‘Troll 2’ would never have been anti-masterpiece that it is. For all its hilarious, ugly absurdity, there is something incredibly compelling about the film, something beyond mere mockery that has allowed it to strike a chord with a huge number of people.

I mean, I’ve seen a lot of objectively pretty good films in the past six months that I can barely remember at all, beyond a basic acknowledgement that they were pretty good. But I think about ‘Troll 2’ EVERY DAY. Seriously. There is something genuinely unsettling about its blunt, poorly realised imagery that makes you kinda shudder, even as you’re laughing; something unhealthily fascinating about the inhuman illogic of the script that can keep you up in the dark hours of the night, just sorta… trying to get an angle on it. After only one viewing, I feel like the whole film has lodged itself in my mind almost shot for shot, and how many movies can you say that about? Only a special few, whether for better or worse. And it is Claudio Fragrasso’s self-belief, his refusal to take the bait of cheap irony or self-parody, that has made that happen. God bless him for it.

According to a 2004 “Where Are They Now” entry on IMDB, “..after writing and directing a series of cult classics, [Fragrasso] married his high school sweetheart and settled down to a quieter life. He currently operates a conch-fishing vessel off the coast of northern Italy.”

According to a none-more-LOLworthy announcement at the end of ‘Best Worst Movie’ on the other hand, he has come out of retirement to work on - wait for it - “Troll 2: Part 2”.

So far, that has no entry on IMDB, and I pray it never gets one, because frankly the 2004 option sounds about as close to a happy ending as poor ol’ Claudio is liable to get.

“Troll 2: Part 2” would make a great name for a band though, wouldn’t it?