Monday, November 14, 2011

Australian Surfing Movies!

I was fortunate enough to attend the Brisbane International Film Festival representing Fantastic Fest. While I was there I saw a hugely entertaining and thought-provoking program of surf films. These are my jet-lagged notes on them.

Each ride is thrilling, unique and necessarily brief. Some surfers seem to exist in a state of grace for the duration of their ride. A great ride of three or four minutes can seem like an eternity in grace. It’s not surprising that the surfers who have found these moments of transcendence keep paddling back for more.

This year at BIFF I caught a few titles from the amazing “Let’s Go Surfing” program curated by Kate Howat. While I hope to catch up with all of the titles offered, the ones I saw were:

HIGH ON A COOL WAVE (1967): A Bruce Brown style ‘surfari’ film featuring several excellent but orthodox surfers traveling around Australia and to Hawaii, catching waves and competing in tournaments. This film seems to straddle a boundary line between the relatively square ‘weenie roast and longboard’ style surf movies of the mid-60’s to the brain melters that followed the psychedelic revolution. The theme song is from Jefferson Airplane’s “After Bathing At Baxter’s” and several other heady tracks from the likes of Paul Butterfield and Ravi Shankar are intercut with more traditional jazz and bossa nova tunes. The narration, reminiscent of a newsreel, has some unexpected cosmic and poetic shadings to go with its dachsund jokes and generous appraisals of young women on the beach.

DOGS RUN FREE (1972) By 1972, surfing and surfing films had been drinking the electric Kool Aid for several years and it shows. In DOGS RUN FREE, (shot on Super 8!) there is zero technical polish at all, a cameraman muddles around in the water filming the prodigiously gifted Michael Peterson blurrily riding some killer tubes and then turns his camera on anti-Vietnam War protests. As raw documentation it is interesting. It lacks style but not charm.

MORNING OF THE EARTH (1972) This is the big one. Psychedelic consciousness drips off of every frame of this movie. Even a cockfight observed in Bali is given the full stroboscopic treatment. There are scenes of endlessly curling waves in bold solarized color, Aquarian travelogue footage of Hawaii and Bali, some great sunset lens flares, and sequences showing the planing and shaving of a short board but mostly this movie is ride after brilliant ride by eminent surfers including the seemingly divinely inspired Michael Peterson, set to a ripping soundtrack of progressive rock and freak-folk music which plays continuously throughout. These surfers climb Everests of blue glass and are borne down by the very hand of God. It’s amazing. If you are bored by this, and many will be, you’re probably not high enough. Really. Watching this without psychedelics or strong weed is a little like watching a 3D movie without glasses. I didn’t have anything beforehand but my body must have been able to pull from some deep-tissue reserves because I totally felt it. MORNING OF THE EARTH is so not for everyone but if you are able to appreciate the music and images of the era on their own terms it may really, really be for you.

SEARCHING FOR MICHAEL PETERSON (2009) Virtually every Australian surfing tournament during the early and middle ‘70s was won by the enigmatic Michael Peterson. He was a surfer of such profound talent - genius, really - that the only real controversy in surfing circles was about who will finish second. His desperate shyness led him to become a kind of mystery man. Competitors recall Peterson seeming to magically appear in the water, not even bothering to enter tournaments but winning anyway and then disappearing without collecting his prize money. On the water his fluid cutbacks and climbs are bold, audacious yet entirely in balance. You can’t help but laugh when you see how smooth and cool he is. Like the work of all geniuses, we see it and say “Of course!” when only a second before we could never have conceived it. Tragically (you knew that was coming, right?) after leaving surfing, Peterson succumbed to schizophrenia and after leading cops on a harrowing cross-country chase he was imprisoned in a mental hospital where he received shock treatment. At the end of the film we see crude camcorder footage of Peterson with his mother who still takes care of him. He is heavy and lost. It’s over for him but he still haunts the beaches, gazing off into the distance.

A non-film highlight, not only of the retrospective, but of my trip to Oz and my life in general, was the Surfin’ Saturday program of music and discussion. The songs were provided by the great Peter Howe and Tim Gaze, whose soundtrack music for MORNING OF THE EARTH has more or less reshaped my ears. They are still in excellent form and played a 40 minute set of music that gave me an intensive appreciation of the spiritual and musical values of Soul Surfers. The discussion period afterward with HIGH ON A COOL WAVE star and surfboard innovator Bob McTavish, DOGS RUN FREE filmmaker Gil Scrine and PALM BEACH writer/director Albie Thoms was tantalizingly brief, but it probably would have been too brief at 2 hours, so I was grateful for what I got.

As a sidebar to LET’S GO SURFING there was a SILENTS OF THE SURF program featuring a restored Annette Kellerman film and a retrospective screening of several Albie Thoms shorts and his feature PALM BEACH, which touches somewhat on surfing culture. All of these were truly fascinating but not strictly germane to these notes.

Friday, August 26, 2011

September & October WW Titles and Writeups


Austin pals, join us at the Ritz every Wednesday night for rare 35mm film screenings of some of the greatest exploitation and pulp films ever made. And the screenings are only $1 thanks to our pals at I Luv Video!

Dir. William Levey 1979, PG, 98 min, 35mm
RZ 9/7
"The Rock and Roller Disco Movie of the Year!" Roller disco epic starring Scott Baio, Maureen "Marcia Brady" McCormick, Flip Wilson and most importantly Patrick Swayze, in his first film, as tough-guy skate gangster Ace Johnson. Swayze heavily outclasses the material here. Most actors would (and in fact do) approach this movie with little effort, but Swayze attacks the part like it’s the role of a lifetime. To impress the ladies, teen Greg Bradford takes on Swayze in a roller rink turf war. Their skate-off has to be seen to be believed, and it escalates from there into a full scale disco war on wheels. And if you're expecting disco mercy, you don't know Swayze. With a supporting cast that includes Ruth Buzzi, midget Billy Barty, Ron "Horshak" Palillo, and Dorothy Stratten. You probably want to get to the theater early for this one, because unless there's a nuclear war or something, it's going to fill up fast. From the director of BLACKENSTEIN and WHAM BAM THANK YOU SPACEMAN. (Lars)

Dir. Francis D. Lyon, 1969, R, 95 min, 35mm
RZ 9/14
One actor I can never get enough of is Adam West, who became a self parody even more quickly than William Shatner. And like Shatner, he always approaches a part in the broadest possible way. Outside of the BATMAN series, West has played few leads, which is unfortunate because he can be a very entertaining performer. Here he’s supernaturally tough and cool as a former mercenary who’s trying to walk the straight and narrow as a nightclub owner until he gets drawn back into the killing business by some unsavory mob types. There’s also an anti-communist, pro-CIA slant to the plot which feels very ‘50s, even though this was made during the sick sick sixties. With the beautiful Nancy Kwan, Robert Alda and a cast of familiar faces, as well as some raging live musical numbers. Not to be confused with Mario Bava’s earlier film of the same name. (Lars)

Dir. Michael Rae, 1978, PG, 85 min, 35mm
RZ 9/21
The best escapist films are the ones that allow us to vicariously live out our fantasies. Who of us wouldn’t want to find a high-tech alien laser blaster in the desert and use it to turn everything and everyone that offends us into sky-high fireballs? And I’d like to take a second here to amplify the fact that when something blows up in this movie (and it will), it does so in a gargantuan, endlessly billowing cyclone of deadly flames, a veritable demonstorm of earth-rendingly explosive combustion sending monstrous mushroom clouds a thousand feet into the air, not only destroying all life in the vicinity, but also any conditions that might support life in the future. But back to the plot: when ostracized teen Billy finds an alien amulet and laser weapon in the desert he can’t believe his luck, but soon the alien radiation warps his brain and he becomes a green-faced killing machine who turns his suburban hometown into a postapocalyptic ruin as he settles petty teenage scores with deadly force and an overkill ratio of about one thousand billion to one. Prepare for explosion after explosion after deeply satisfying explosion. As far as we’re concerned, the environmental devastation caused by the production of this film was WORTH IT! (Lars)

Dir. Jess Franco 1974, R, 98 min, 35mm
RZ 9/28
Nunsploitation’s finest hour and a half. The great, misunderstood, but undeniably gifted Jess Franco is the most prolific filmmaker of all time (over 200 so far and still cranking them out). And for as long as he’s been making movies he has been derided, dismissed and most of all ignored by virtually all mainstream critics. But such notables as Fritz Lang, Orson Welles, Pedro Almodóvar and Quentin Tarantino have sung his praises and over the past few years his inexpensive and surreal visual aesthetic has gained him many new adherents. Make up your own mind about Franco: genius, hack, or both but by all means don’t miss it. It’s a visually arresting, delirious kaleidoscope of sex, torture and sacrilege replete with the foxiest nuns you’ve ever seen, all set to the accompaniment of grossly incongruous screaming psychedelic guitar music. (Lars)

Dir. John Landis, 1977, R, 83 min, 35mm
RZ 10/5
“This movie is totally out of control.” From John Landis and the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker team who brought you AIRPLANE and THE NAKED GUN comes a movie that has more real laughs per second than just about any other film. In form KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE is mostly just a jammed-together panoply of blackout comedy sketches and bits, but they’re really good ones, particularly the centerpiece, A FISTFUL OF YEN, which brilliantly parodies Bruce Lee’s ENTER THE DRAGON. Occasionally a joke falls flat, but there’s always another one waiting in the wings. With an all-star cast of dozens including, briefly, Donald Sutherland, Leslie Nielson, George Lazenby and Jerry Zucker as the Beaver. Laughs! You’ll have them. (Lars)

Dir. John Hayes, 1977, R, 74 min, 35mm
RZ 10/12
This movie has the best taglines. “She’s underage, illegal, and she’s in your bedroom.” “She’ll give it all, but one thing she can’t give is legal consent.” “What she’ll do will get you 25 long years.” “Why does the girl you always desired have to be jailbait?” As you can tell from the verbiage, JAILBAIT BABYSITTER is a film of weighty issues and tender concern for social ills. It’s also a king-size barrel of yuks. Bring the whole family to see this cautionary tale about a young, innocent girl who falls in with the wrong crowd and is soon up to her budding pubescent breasts in trouble – sexy trouble. Supposedly featuring John Goodman’s first screen appearance. I didn’t spot him the first time around, maybe because I was looking at all the boobies. This time, I’ll pay much closer attention. Together we’ll spot that son of a bitch. I promise. (Lars)

Dir. Ivan Hall, 1979, PG, 100 min, 35mm
RZ 10/19
Monumental follow-up to the brain-leeching martial-arts non-classic KILL OR BE KILLED. This time elfin ass-kicker James Ryan plays a roving international problem solver with superpowers and an endless supply of clever one-liners. There's another karate-obsessed supervillain who's organizing another tournament of death. And once again Ryan must assemble a team of colorful characters to defeat the madman the only way he understands, using the same kind of slow, clumsy, exceptionally ungraceful karate that made the first film's action sequences so edge-of-your-seat unexciting. Fortunately, what KILL AND KILL AGAIN lacks in genuine excitement it makes up for in laughter. Like when the statuesque blonde "martial artist" Kandy Kane explains that her father was kidnapped because he had developed a potato-based fuel so powerful that "one year's crop could provide enough gasoline to drive every car in the world to the moon." A very special experience. Don't miss unless you're in the habit of missing unmissable stuff. (Lars)

Dir. Jose Larraz 1975, R, 87 min, 35mm
RZ 10/26
When selecting a horror movie to watch, you usually have to choose between high style and lowbrow thrills. Generally, the well made, atmospheric fright film doesn’t bother much with sex and gore, preferring to achieve its effects with subtlety and taste. VAMPYRES is special because it gives you both. It is genuinely frightening and at the same time it gives you more sex and blood than even the lowliest drive-in trash. The plot is rudimentary to the point of silliness: in rural Britain, a pair of gorgeous young women pose as hitchhikers, lure single men to their ancient labyrinthine castle, and drain them of their vital fluids. When a young couple camps on their estate they begin to suspect something odd is afoot and they investigate. Director Jose Larraz, a Spaniard, flirts with bad taste in a way that no British director would and he makes England look strange, forbidding, and even exotic. Originally rated X, the film contains very strong scenes of sex and violence, so stay home with your mommy if you can’t handle it. (Lars)

Monday, June 13, 2011

Weird Wednesday July & August 2011 Titles and Writeups are here!

Robert Duvall shooting Timothy Carey in the fucking hand, from THE OUTFIT.

Beginning this July, Weird Wednesday will no longer be at midnight. It is moving to the 10pm round of shows. It’s still at the Ritz and it’s still only $1, but it will be earlier so more of you can enjoy the peerless selection of classic exploitation films on 35mm film. Showtimes will vary based on the other movies playing so check for actual times. Special thanks to I Luv Video for making Weird Wednesday possible.

July 6, Dir. J. Robert Wagoner, 1979, 93 min, R, 35mm, $1
"Put your weight on it!" This is the legendary hardcore anti-PCP movie from Dolemite himself. The late Rudy Ray Moore created a stage persona straight out of the gaudy style of the Chitlin' Circuit entertainers of his youth and combined it with the folk poetry of the black south. It served him well as a stage comic and when he took it to the screen in the film DOLEMITE he became an underground hero. After the admittedly rough first movie with its hilariously poor kung fu sequences, his subsequent films had slightly better production values. They also got really, really weird. In AVENGING DISCO GODFATHER, Moore plays a ex-cop disco impresario who changes out of his gold lame jumpsuit hit the streets and get revenge on the drug dealers who trashed his nephew Bucky's brain with PCP. There's less overt comedy and more of what appears to be an attempt at gritty realism. Thankfully, it's unbelievably hysterical. The scenes of drug-induced hallucinations and the tour of the PCP ward at the local hospital send this movie into the stratosphere of strangeness. Bring your own angel dust! (Lars)

July 13, Dir. Arthur Dreifus, 1967, 87 min, NR, 35mm, $1
“The most shocking film of our generation! Meet the teenyboppers with their too-tight capris... And the pot-partygoers - out for a new thrill - a new kick! ” Hilariously misguided and fun “expose” of the youth problem. This is definitely a bad movie but as bad movies go it’s sublime. Gorgeous Mimsy Farmer (THE ROAD TO SALINA), a walking tornado of virginal innocence and sex appeal if there ever was one, plays the estranged daughter of police captain Aldo Ray. When she falls in with the wrong crowd of hot-rodding, pot smoking kids, there’s going to be trouble on the Sunset Strip. This movie is ludicrously old fashioned (producer Sam Katzman had been in the business since 1914) but it’s also strangely vital and exciting. A lot of the credit goes to Mimsy, whose LSD freakout dance sequence is a highlight of human history. If there was a drug that could make life exactly like this movie I would smoke it every day. Featuring The Chocolate Watchband, The Standells and The Enemies. Plus King Of Fuzz Davie Allan brings his guitar to the party. Miss this and you’re just stupid! (Lars)

July 20, Dir. George Mihalka, 1980, 88 min, R, 35mm, $1
You know this type of movie. In the early to mid '80s they were all over the pay-cable networks - teen comedies that featured no actual teenagers and very little that would be recognized as comedy outside a kindergarten or head trauma ward. A few of these T&A comedies were better than expected and a some were even worse. PINBALL SUMMER may actually be the worst of this sad lot. It makes HOLLYWOOD HIGH look like BRINGING UP BABY. But even a three-legged dog has its own eccentric charm. Like the earlier WW favorite SUPERVAN it attempts to capitalize on a marginal fad, in this case the short-lived pinball craze that swept the world for about three months in 1979. It's all there: the nerds, the threatening biker gang, the two cool dudes who just want to have fun and of course the gum-smacking girls who rip their tops off for no reason at all. (Lars)

July 27, Dir. Fernando Di Leo, 1976, 85 min, R, 35mm, $1
Casual brutality alternates with vulgar comedy in one of the most entertaining Italian crime movies ever made, as should be expected from Fernando Di Leo, the grand master of the form. Jack Palance plays a bad, bad man who runs a neighborhood crime syndicate in Rome. But when a series of small outrages escalates to an all-out war he proves no match for a couple of slacker kids (Harry Baer and Al Cliver) with a dune buggy and an over-the-hill consigliere (the great Vittorio Caprioli) who still remembers the old days and the old ways. While not a comedy as such, this film contains more laugh out loud scenes than all but the very best comedies. But it also delivers shocking, intense violence and a pungent ambience redolent of sleazy pool halls and greasy hair tonic. I can’t recommend this movie highly enough. This is pulp art at its very best. (Lars)

Aug 3, Dir. Jonathan Kaplan, 1974, 91 min, R, 35mm, $1
If there’s a better blaxploitation movie than TRUCK TURNER we haven’t found it - and we’ve looked! Isaac Hayes turns on the charm as a legendary bounty hunter with a short temper. When he takes down a psychopathic pimp named Gator, he inadvertantly creates a power vacuum in the Los Angeles prostitution scene. Then Gator’s bottom woman Nichelle (“Lt. Uhura”) Nichols (who should have gotten the Oscar, seriously) offers Gator’s orphaned whores to any mack who can take down Truck Turner. Soon there’s an open war in the streets between the wisecracking, beer-guzzling Turner and a coalition of over the top pimps, the most dangerous being Yaphet Kotto’s intense Harvard Blue. Every line of dialogue in this movie is suitable for framing. With over 75,000 instances of the N-word, and the most creative use of profanity in movie history. To top it off, there’s an Isaac Hayes score and Scatman Crothers as an elderly, but still active, pimp. It just can’t get better than this. It can’t! (Lars)

Aug 10, Dir. Piero Schivazappa 1969, 108 min, R, 35mm, $1
It's movies like this that make me want to pack up my belongings, grow a little bitty mustache, put on a white linen suit and move to Europe. I can pretty much guarantee that you'll never see an S&M soap opera like this rolling out of Hollywood anytime between now and the first extreme snowboarding championship in Hell. Bodacious Dagmar Lassander stars as an ingenue learning the ropes (literally) from satanic Phillipe Leroy, whose whole crib is like Six Flags for perverts. The door into and out of the sex gym is in the shape of a giant vulva between two giant sculpted legs! Now that our whole country seems to be slipping into some kind of Puritan Dark Age, those of us with sex drives need to pick up the slack for the rest of America. Won't you join us in our crusade? (Lars)

Aug 17, Dir. John Flynn, 1973, 103 min, R, 35mm, $1
One of the greatest crime films ever made, THE OUTFIT has lingered in a sort of semi-obscure twilight for far too long. Like John Flynn's other great movie ROLLING THUNDER, THE OUTFIT is built on great performances. Robert Duvall shows why he's an actor's actor as he plays a man avenging his brother's death at the hands of the mob. He teams up with his former partner Joe Don Baker to rob the mob at their card games and collection points until he collects an amount of money he deems sufficient for his loss, or until they pay him off. It may sound like a simple enough plot, and it is, but Duvall's character study of a tough con detached from his moorings and doing what he has to do is masterful. He's like a walking suit of armor with no man inside it. The supporting cast includes many noir stalwarts such as Robert Ryan, Elisha Cook, Marie Windsor, and in fact most of the cast of Stanley Kubrick's THE KILLING. The great cinematic madman Timothy Carey is memorable as a low-level mob enforcer who gets dealt with by Duvall in a very personal way. (Lars)

Special thanks to Warner Archive for making this screening possible. Check out their selection of this and other classic films now on DVD at

Aug 24, Dir. Paul Nicolas, 1981, 35MM, 100 Min, R, 35mm, $1
“She’ll blow you - then she’ll blow you away!” I’ve never had kids and I never will. I’ve watched enough movies to know they’re bad news. Even if they aren’t possessed by the devil, they still learn to hate you and all you stand for - even as they eat all your food and wreck your sex life! If I ever waver in my determination to remain child-free, I’ll just thread this movie up and feel my testes retract. An otherwise unknown actress named Isabelle Mejias gives a performance to remember as a daughter with a serious daddy hang up. There’s not a huge volume of physical violence in the film but the spriritual violence wrought by the cunning and manipulative teenager is hellishly intense. Starring Anthony Franciosa as the lucky dad and Teutonic Amazon Sybil Danning as the girl’s unfortunate new step-mom. It’s only appropriate to warn you that the wrong-meter goes into the red here several times, which is just where we like it! (Lars)

Aug 31, 35mm, $1
YOU MUST CHOOSE! Since its inception, the Weird Wednesday Choose Your Own Adventure Night has been a virtual guarantor of cinematic strangeness far beyond even our own Wildest Dreams. Here's how it works: we pull three movies from the vaults, I'll fill you in a bit on the details, then you, the audience, will choose the movie by applauding. As always, we have some awesome movies set aside for just such an occasion. Choose Your Own Weird Wednesday is one of the great, though irregularly scheduled, traditions of this series. Some of the best, wrongest and just plain awkward moments in my life (Anybody remember the chugging magenta meat of COUNTRY HOOKER?) have been at Choose Your Own Weird Wednesday nights. This year make your voice heard! And don't come sniffing around looking for hints about which movies will be in the mix 'cause I'll just make some shit up. (Lars)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Coming to Weird Wednesday in May and June!

In Lycanthroscope! MAY 18!

Dirs. Donald M. Jones & Mikel Angel, 1975, 85 min, R, 35mm
RZ 5/4
“I am Lester! And I am ALIVE!” Uncut, pure insanity. A totally unknown actor named Erik Stern gives the performance of a lifetime as Caleb, a nearsighted, hunchbacked gardener who silently absorbs the abuse of his female clients by day, then returns at night as his handsome “brother” Lester to seduce and kill them. Without Stern’s go-for-the-throat magnificence in the dual role, this would be a fairly tired exercise in misogyny and warmed-over Hitchcock, but Stern totally redeems the material. For whatever reason, this was his Moment. The great spotlight of destiny shone on him just this one time and he rose to the occasion like a champion. You won’t believe your eyes and ears as Stern/Lester puts on different disguises, with corresponding accents, to get close to his prey. Witness Lester as a Puerto Rican door-to-door record salesman (he describes one LP as “a real gasolino”), a Texas cowboy, and a naughty British plumber. Stern does it all except pop the popcorn. (Lars)

DIR. WALTER CICHY, 1973, 93 min, R, 35MM
RZ 5/11
Nihilist whitesploitation from the makers of FLESH GORDON. This movie was apparently intended to be a Peckinpah-esque existential ballet of bullets and bloodshed and while it doesn’t succeed exactly, it creates its own world of pain and psychosis. The plot concerns a pair of drug middlemen who won’t let anyone stand in their way as they move a shipment of cocaine through the desert. Not only do they kill many cops, they also badly mistreat an ice cream vendor. Along the way they abduct an innocent girl, rant, destroy a bunch of stuff and even provide a quick and instructive tutorial on how to snort coke. This one’s pretty special. A little sunbaked slice of hell, just for you. (Lars)

Dir. Michel Levesque, 1971, 85 min, R, 35mm
RZ 5/18
In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, filmmakers could pretty much assume that their audiences were just as ripped out of their minds on dangerous drugs as they themselves were. This accounted for some pretty strange movies. But nothing you've seen can prepare you for the classic WEREWOLVES ON WHEELS. It’s equal parts Antonioni and Famous Monsters Of Filmland. And not only does this movie have werewolves and bikers (the motorcycle gang is called The Devil's Advocates!), it also has satanic monks, a snake dance, tons of improvised dialogue, some of the craziest, greatest music ever and, best of all, some incredible, death-defying stunts. In fact, one really gets the impression that the stunt-men took over the production midway to stage some sort of drugged-out festival of danger. I don't know what was going on in these stuntmen's lives but they seem totally indifferent to death. There are a couple of scenes where a burning stuntman runs around for like three or four minutes, being consumed by ten foot flames. Now that's commitment to the arts! (Lars)

Dir. Jonathan Lucas, 1970, 84 min, X, 35mm
RZ 5/25
The late, great producer/writer David F. Friedman, who died earlier this year, was a true legend of showmanship. He was the standard bearer and keeper of the torch of classic exploitation films. Though he ground out cheap films designed to play for one week and vanish from town in a haze of disrepute, he was always mindful of the need to have fun. TRADER HORNEE (the E’s are silent, by the way), is a skin-flick, of course, but it’s also a very funny, juvenile comedy in the mold of classic Mad Magazine. It’s a parody of jungle films, the once-popular sub-genre of adventure films that brought us the likes of Tarzan and Jungle Jim. Customarily in these imperialist fables, a white child is lost in the wilds of deepest Africa and grows up to become the ruler of the superstitious natives. Here the casual racism of these movies is lampooned by jive talking, watermelon-eating natives who do song and dance routines. You won’t believe it. Terrible jokes fly at you relentlessly until you have no defense against them and are forced to laugh, just to keep from crying. (Lars)

Dir. Harvey Hart, 1976, 99 min, R, 35mm
RZ 6/1
In the golden days of the ‘70s there was a whole film industry in Canada based around government incentives and tax shelters; we know it now as the Canucksploitation era. Through some difficult to understand financial mechanism, outside investors put funds into Canadian productions that were sure to lose money and they benefited from it somehow. I didn’t say I understood it, but there’s no doubt that some extremely obtuse and unmarketable films were made around that time, and this is one of the best. A bunch of 50-ish National Guardsmen and war veterans (among them Cliff Robertson, Henri Silva and Ernest Borgnine), all upstanding pillars of their small town community, go on a hunting trip together. They encounter another group of hunters in the forest and are fired upon unexpectedly. They shoot back and kill one of the rogue hunters. When they return home, their daily lives are turned asunder by paranoia, strife and the reawakened primeval bloodlust that lurks in all men’s souls. The only thing that will make their lives normal again is more killing. This movie is tremendously strange. It must have alienated every audience member who bought a ticket to see it, as it’s mainly just a bunch of brooding, intense scenes of macho middle aged men sweating, shooting guns and talking about killing. This is not for everyone, but it fits my tastes like Canada fits atop America - as its jaunty, perplexing hat. (Lars)

Dir. John A. Bushelman, 1976, 102 min, R, 35mm
RZ 6/8
A really gritty, nasty juvenile delinquency docudrama that cuts like a switchblade. A jarring film in a lot of ways, it’s also one of the most entertaining movies in the genre. It takes place in and around one of those southern California high schools that are so familiar from a million T&A comedies, and the soundtrack is reminiscent of yacht rock, but when the violence and brutality start - school’s out! There’s a hand-wringing veneer of social concern here but unlike a lot of other movies that address teenage crime there’s no pretense that these kids are merely misunderstood, tarnished little angels who need a spanking and/or hug. No - these teenagers are demons who have escaped from Hell and set up shop in Santa Monica. With great, letter-perfect dialogue and a killer twist ending. (Lars)

Dir. Edward Mann, 1977, 96 min, PG, 35mm
RZ 6/15
Here’s a regional North Carolina moonshine movie that, by all rights, shouldn’t be any good at all but amazingly it works. Gil Gerard, later famous as TV’s Buck Rogers, plays a good old boy who loves the high-life, or what passes for it in his backwoods town. When he begins distributing moonshine, it stirs up trouble with the local godfather, who brings in a trio of New York mob enforcers led by Danny Aiello to put Gil out of business. There’s your plot. It’s nothing special. But there’s a perverse sense of humor at the heart of this film. Writer/director Edward Mann was no dummy. He had a long background writing comic strips and directing theater. The gags he sets up are of a high quality and the film has a lighthearted charm that’s never insulting or treacly. It’s just pure hicksploitation goodness from beginning to end. (Lars)

DIR. HORACE JACKSON, 1977, 96 min, PG, 35MM
RZ 6/22
Part of the joy of Weird Wednesday is the thrill of uncovering little known exploitation auteurs. A good example of a director who developed his own unusual style in the golden age of the ‘70s is Horace Jackson, whose movies are bitter, declamatory social tracts about life in the ghetto. They’re all essential viewing for fans of yelling. This film has the guts to take a stand against the kind of dope-pushers who stand around outside elementary schools and hook 7-year-olds on dangerous drugs. The hero is a recovering psychotic who teams up with a committed teacher and a cute kid in a wheelchair to take on the neighborhood menace. It’s all played very seriously and earnestly but inevitably the ridiculousness seeps in around the edges and reaches critical mass before you know it. (Lars)

Dir. Ernst Hofbauer, 1971, 95 min, X, 35mm
RZ 6/29
What do you expect us to do, NOT play this? While it may sound particularly harrowing and clinical based on that title, this is another one of that endless “sex report” series from Germany, and like all of them it’s actually pretty tame. These films masqueraded as socially responsible exposes about the issues of the day, but were of course just excuses to show sex and nudity. Here the framing device is a gynecologist’s stories about his clients and their wacky vaginae. If you find sexism and rampant bad taste amusing - and we do - this ought to stirrup a few laughs. Sorry! (Lars)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Weird Wednesday - New Titles and Writeups

TROUBLE MAN, How's this for a still?

Amazingly, it's our 10th Anniversary. I can scarcely believe it. In this calendar we'll have some old favorites as well as some super-strong movies you've likely never seen before. Also, my long dream of showing THE ROAD TO SALINA is about to come true.

Mar 2, Ritz, Dir. Art Names, 1974, R, 83 min, 35mm

To celebrate the 10th Anniversary of Weird Wednesday, we are bringing back the ultimate Weird Wednesday movie. In the words of Snakey Bender, "Nobody messes with my Wednesdays!"
Total madness! This is an exceedingly odd rural snake-revenge movie that's oh so much more. A seemingly harmless old kook named Snakey (Les Tremayne) operates a reptile farm on the outskirts of a small town. As usual in movies of this type, he is pushed over the edge by a series of outrages and he kills off half the town with his snakes. Sounds commonplace, but it’s not. What makes SNAKES extra special is all the perverse little sick touches. For example, the prim local schoolmarm uses Snakey as a reptile pimp for her sick sex thrills, the brother and sister grocers seem to have an incestuous relationship, Snakey likes to strip his victims down to their underwear and best of all, John Philip Sousa marches blare throughout the movie like some sort of demented leitmotif. But the thing that pushes this into heaven territory is Snakey's habit of ranting about Wednesday. It seems that Snakey's favorite day is Wednesday and if you mess with Snakey, it had better be on one of the other six days of the week. See it for yourself if you don't believe me. It's incredible! (Lars)

Mar 9, Ritz, Dir. Ivan Dixon, 1972, R, 99 min, 35mm

This is a superlative blaxploitation film. Most of the black action films of this era were either low-budget wonders with a lot of heart or bloodless studio efforts dressed up with a little velour and chrome. TROUBLE MAN combines the professional polish of the latter with the solid legitimacy of the former. The brilliant stage actor Robert Hooks plays Mr. T, a sort of black godfather who holds court in his pool hall as a combination President, Pope and Chief Fixer. Though blessed with looks, intelligence and tremendous wealth, his most notable feature is his supernatural coolness. When something needs to get done--say, a slumlord needs to be chastened, or a sum of money recovered, or a double-crossing chump slaughtered in his penthouse--T gets it done without raising an eyebrow. Director Ivan Dixon, like Hooks, had been a color-line breaking pioneer in the theater, film and television, and his style is as sharp and clean as the crease in T’s slacks. With Paul Winfield, Julius Harris and Ralph Waite. The soundtrack by Marvin Gaye is a work of absolute, undeniable genius. (Lars)

Mar 23, Ritz, Dir. Brian Trenchard-Smith, 1983, PG, 88 min, 35mm

Director Brian Trenchard-Smith has been turning out low budget films for a lot longer than most Weird Wednesday attendees have been alive. He has worked in nearly every genre, created a few genres of his own and always managed to put forth at least a solid product. In fact, the mantle of professional competence rests so easily on his brow that he usually has time to give us a little something more than we expect. So this PG-rated kids film featuring Nicole Kidman in her first role is somehow more than the sum of its parts. Bike chases that would normally be done in paint-by-numbers style by bored hacks emerge as pure cinema as Trenchard-Smith applies the techniques and experience he’d honed to perfection in such ragers as THE MAN FROM HONG KONG and STUNT ROCK. Of course it’s silly--it’s about three kids who find a case of stolen walkie talkies and enlist the aid of Sydney’s BMX community to fight the mob--but it has a kind of tough sweetness too. The material with the young heroes is never condescending (Kidman in particular is excellent) and the action sequences have the ramshackle chaotic energy of the silent cinema. That’s a compliment. (Lars) Special thanks to Severin Films for making this screening possible. We'll be giving away copies of their new Blu-Ray/DVD edition of BMX Bandits to a few lucky audience members.

Mar 30, Ritz, Dir. Andy Milligan, 1970, R, 79 min, 35mm

Andy Milligan made films cheaper than anybody else before or since. He delivered 35mm feature films (blown up from 16mm) on budgets of under $10,000 apiece. At those prices a distributor didn't have to wait very long to start turning a profit. So Milligan got a chance to make some of the strangest, most personal exploitation films of all time. He produced, wrote, shot, edited, directed and even made the costumes for all his movies. His casts consisted largely of prostitutes, drug addicts and other street people. Whatever bad things might be said about Andy Milligan's films, they all come straight from the heart. And Andy Milligan's heart was a tiny, black, malformed thing that pumped hate instead of blood. His movies are venomous parcels of filth, made by a miserable person and depicting the continuing adventures of hateful people whose entire reason for living is to make others suffer. Milligan's characters can barely get through a simple expository scene without bickering and ranting. This relentlessly misanthropic outlook makes Milligan's films sublimely entertaining to people with a very dark and depraved sense of humor. BLOODTHIRSTY BUTCHERS is Milligan's version of the Sweeney Todd story - about a murderous barber who plies his trade with a straight razor. The blood and gore are plentiful but insignificant compared to the spiritual violence the characters inflict on one another. As Michael Weldon has famously written: "If you're an Andy Milligan fan, there's no hope for you." (Lars)

Apr 6, Ritz, Dir. Georges Lautner, 1970, R, 96 min, 35mm

It’s a classic psycho-noir premise: drifter (Robert Walker Jr.) wanders into a rural Spanish cafe and finds himself mistaken for the prodigal son of a delusional widow (played by Rita Hayworth, no less.) While he can understand the mother’s will to believe, why does his “sister” (the unbearably luscious Mimsy Farmer) never bat an eye when her “brother” comes home. Most wanderers would pack their bags and move on when the true dementia of the little outpost became evident, but the home cooking and the (exceeding) closeness of the familial bonds conspire to water the seed of doom already lurking in our hero’s bosom. Unlike most noirs, which take place in a world of black and white and chiaroscuro, THE ROAD TO SALINA is bright and sunlit, full of brilliant organic life and bursting with sex. It treads the line between art and exploitation and finally makes the whole question of high and low seem frivolous. The brilliant freak-prog score by Clinic and Cristophe lends an air of desperate longing and madness to the film. One of my 3 or 4 favorite movies of all time. Period. (Lars)

Apr 13, Ritz, Dir. Rene Martinez Jr., 1979, R, 80 min, 35mm

We can’t believe the title either. But that’s why they called him Wild Man Steve! We all love the late great Rudy Ray Moore but he wasn’t the only funny comedian working the black comedy circuit. Get ready to laugh your ass off at the equally great, equally late Wild Man Steve. The wi-i-i-ild man can say pretty much anything and make it funny. He has a slow, stoned delivery that makes even the stupidest dirty jokes gut-bustingly hilarious, like Bill Cosby after a head injury. Unbelievably, this is an actual WILD MAN STEVE STAR VEHICLE! It’s about a midget mad scientist (with a full-sized D-cup girlfriend) named Dr. Dippy who helps the mob develop a formula that makes users super-strong, bulletproof, and, after about two days, super-dead. Obviously it’s hard to get sensible people to sign up for this treatment, so the mobsters grab the nearest wino, played to perfection by our Mister Steve. Steve is beyond hilarious, ad-libbing like crazy, stepping all over his costars’ lines. He even gives a little speech in favor of legalizing pot that’s a small masterpiece of reason and logic. We’re still on the lookout for the sequel, AIN’T THAT JUST LIKE A HONKY? (Lars)

Apr 20, Ritz, Dir. Richard Rush, 1968, NR, 94 min, 35mm

When the biggest, baddest biker gang in the southwest moves into an Indian reservation, there’s going to be trouble. Director Richard Rush’s two biker movies, this one and HELLS ANGELS ON WHEELS, are the gold standard for biker gang movies. Rush’s working method seemed to be: work up a relatively simple plot, make sure the key scenes get covered, then turn the actors and stunt guys loose to improvise fights, motorcycle mayhem and character bits. Only the most judicious director could pull off such a strategy and not end up with a boring, chaotic mess. But Rush, with the help of his actors and stunt people, many of whom, in the time honored tradition of the western, were one and the same; gives us both dramatic tension and hell-raising good times. The hand-held camerawork by Laszlo Kovacs has the immediacy of documentary filmmaking, and many of the motorcycle stunts look like suicide attempts. With the true kings of biker movies, Adam Roarke, Robert Walker Jr., Penny Marshall, Max Julien, Larry Bishop, Chuck Bail, Duane Eddy, Bud Cardos and Austin’s own Gary Kent. (Lars)

Apr 27, Ritz, Dir. David N. Gottlieb, 1977, R, 88 min, 35mm

I suspect that we’ve all harbored the suspicion that beneath the plastic, phony exterior of the television game show there simmers a red-hot cauldron of S.E.X. Are we lucky enough to finally have a movie that takes us behind the glamour of a successful game show? Surely we’ll see the sexy casting process and find out what lurks under the toupee of that seemingly genial host (played by Roger Corman regular Dick Miller). Actually we won’t. GAME SHOW MODELS is a patch-job. It combines an unfinished American Film Institute funded movie called THE SEVENTH DWARF with nudity filled scenes of a raunchy fictional game show hosted by Miller. It’s plenty weird though. With soul singer Thelma Houston, film Critic Charles Champlin, Afro-Cuban jazz legend Willie Bobo, Cheryl Rainbeaux Smith and a lengthy mime interlude. Enjoy. (Lars)

Friday, January 28, 2011

I love this print inspection report

Thanks to projectionist Sara. This should give you an idea of the way most of these prints look by the time they've settled down with us.

I have left out the title of the film to protect the innocent, though needless to say I will be playing it anyway:

flat, mono, 4 enormous reels

This print is not in good condition. All reels are severely warped at the heads. It is extremely faded and very red in color. There is excessive splicing throughout; it is especially bad on reels 1 and 2. Reels 2 and 3 have a lot of perf damage and tears that have been repaired. There is some minor edge damage here and there. All reels are scratched, primarily toward the heads. Some of these scratches are deep/green. Additionally, there is some speckly emulsion damage in a few spots. None of the original heads and tails are still with the print and they all seem to be from various sources, some in other languages. Reel 5 looks as though it suffered an accident of some sort and consequently segments of this film may be missing. There's not really a way to check for incongruity without actually watching it through and it's certainly possible that it's only missing a few frames here and there. Some of the splices, however, connect different shots/scenes. There is a title card at the end that says "The End," which looks as though it was added as an afterthought.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Jan Feb 2011 Weird Wednesday Titles and Writeups

DIR. LEE FROST, 1975, 35MM, 88 MIN, R

Two of the greatest names in the history of exploitation cinema are Lee Frost and Wes Bishop. Although they made sleazy actioners on minimal budgets, their taste, wit and discretion really shine through in the final product. Always a barrel of laughs but never (ugh) “campy”, they really deliver in the sex and violence department too. Movies like THE THING WITH TWO HEADS, POLICE WOMEN, RACE WITH THE DEVIL, and DIXIE DYNAMITE will never be taught in film school, but they thrill and delight moviegoers whenever they're shown. THE BLACK GESTAPO is about the fictional Black Peoples Party of Watts, formed to drive white gangsters out of the community, which makes for a lot of violence and great dialogue. But in an unexpected Hegelian twist, the commandante of the Party (played by easygoing Charles Robinson aka “Mac” of NIGHT COURT fame,) becomes power-mad and wreaks even more havoc until the powerful, politically incorrect ending scorches all traces of reason from your skull. (Lars)


As the spaghetti western cycle reached its inevitable end in the 70's, the genre started getting weirder. Producers sought to prolong the formula by juicing it up with outside elements so audiences ended up with kung-fu westerns, sex westerns, many (bad) comedy westerns and this movie, about an American gunslinger who ends up fighting Vikings and Moors while trying to transport a Spanish Princess back to her rightful throne. The anachronisms are never explained or even alluded to. It's just a Spaghetti Western where the cigarillo-chomping man with no name wanders around medieval Europe fighting fur-clad barbarians with broadswords. Producer and star Tony Anthony was the last real Spaghetti Western star of the era. His other gimmick westerns included BLINDMAN, with Ringo Starr and COMIN' AT YA! in 3D. (Lars)


Of all the well-known “cult auteurs”, Andy Milligan is possibly the most problematic. His films lack any production polish whatsoever; the camera moves and shakes wildly, the sound is bad and the music is just cuts from his record collection, haphazardly mixed. But the most commercially difficult aspect of Milligan’s films is their unrelenting misanthropy. Each film is like a hate poem to some aspect of human nature. FLESHPOT ON 42nd STREET is his final sexploitation feature and with it he completes his lifelong argument that sex is horrifying and degrading. As in all of his films, his grossly manipulative characters bicker endlessly and insult each other with special vehemence. Milligan himself was a walking colossus of hatred and bitterness, disliked and avoided by most of his peers but able to build a stock company of masochists who debased and degraded themselves onscreen for him. This is not for everyone but if you have a place in your shrunken heart for the blackest, darkest, most evil comedy in the world, this will move right in - and steal your TV set. (Lars)

DIR. DON SIEGEL, 1973, 35MM, 111 MIN, PG

Ever since we widened the scope of Weird Wednesday to include manly action and pulp films, we have presented such titans of testosterone as Charles Bronson, Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood. Now add Walter Matthau to the list. CHARLEY VARRICK is another of the great outlaw classics of the ‘70s and it’s impossible to imagine anyone better for the role of the titular bank robber than the pooch-faced, slouchy Matthau. Billing himself “The Last Of The Independents,” Charley Varrick robs rural banks for a living and keeps moving, until one heist goes wrong and Varrick accidentally ends up with the mob’s money. The syndicate dispatches tough guy Joe Don Baker to recover the loot and the chase is on. A lot of people die, but the crafty Varrick always manages to stay a step ahead. Director Don Siegel was the absolute master at this sort of thing and he keeps the tempo high, the characters real and the action popping. Not to be missed. (Lars)

DIR. JAMAA FANAKA, 1979, 35MM, 99 MIN, R

The story of boxer "Too Sweet" (Leon Isaac Kennedy), whose only way out of lockdown is by winning the big fight. Highly plausible scenario? Of course not. Entertaining? Oh hell yeah. Director Jamaa Fanaka specializes in the smuggler's approach to socially relevant film-making. He'll sneak some serious shit past you like a jailhouse shiv while you're looking the other way. And this film, enjoyable though it may be, scores some heavy points even as it entertains. He presents a nightmarish microcosm of American society where prison is an omnipresent threat in the lives of African American males, and where sports and entertainment are viewed as the only means of escape. A gritty, highly entertaining movie, with tons of great dialogue you'll be quoting for weeks. (Lars)

with Director William Lustig Live!

Unfairly dismissed as a DEATH WISH ripoff by people who never got past the title and poster, VIGILANTE is a tremendous, gritty masterpiece of revenge cinema. When factory worker Robert Forster’s family is victimized by street criminals, he pursues the legal route through the justice system. But when a corrupt court turns the perpetrators loose he teams up with Fred Williamson’s de facto clean-up crew to drive the scum from the streets. Far more than just a button-pushing exercise in payback, VIGILANTE addresses the real issues, both social and personal, involved in taking the law in our own hands and Forster and Williamson give outstanding performances under the direction of William Lustig. Balance, pacing, action are all perfect here. If the climax of this movie doesn’t have you pumping your fist in excitement, you should see a fist doctor right away. (Lars)


Just in time for two days after Valentine’s Day! Finally a film that takes a sympathetic view of necrophilia. This film examines California blonde Mary Wilcox’s little corpse-fucking “problem”, as if it were an afterschool special about a teenager who takes too many diet pills or something. In this movie, she’s driven to join a cult of devil-worshipping necrophiliacs by the intolerance of a few bluenoses. And really, why can’t we have more compassion for those who break into mortuaries and hump our recently deceased loved ones? Maybe if we all get together and watch LOVE ME DEADLY we can get over our silly Victorian hangups about sex with the dead! (Lars)

DIR. JOE D’AMATO, 1976, 35MM, 98 MIN, R

Every night before I lie down to sleep, I say my prayers. I thank God for the birds and the flowers and the morning dew and puppy dogs... But mostly I thank God -- at length -- for Laura Gemser, star of BLACK COBRA. Miss Gemser was positively heaven-sent for the sex-film explosion of the ‘70s: lithe, dark-skinned, with doe-eyes and movements as graceful as a lily in the breeze. She may well have been the most beautiful actress of the ‘70s -- period. But her career track led her to star in some of the most perverse films ever made. Her Black Emanuelle knockoff movies more than made up for in kink what they lacked in glossy production values. The director she collaborated with most fruitfully was Joe D’Amato, a filmmaker of sporadic brilliance whose talent really came to life with the addition of Gemser. BLACK COBRA is one of their best collaborations, and my personal favorite. Gemser plays a stripper with a python act who has a very strange effect on two brothers -- sleazy charmer (and her real life husband) Gabriele Tinti and the late, great Jack Palance, as a bizarre, ranting snake fetishist. With an ending that will leave you speechless. Music by Piero Umiliani. (Lars)