Thursday, January 31, 2013

February is Don Coscarelli Month at ASV

When we learned that Don Coscarelli had a new film coming out in 2013, we jumped at the idea of celebrating one of the most exciting and independent filmmakers still working.

Innovative, experimental, intellectual and fearless, he stands out among horror / cult / fantasy directors.  I think it would be easy to look at his films and write them off as goofy or intentionally crazy, but I think that misunderstands him.  If you look at his full filmography, and we hope you do with us, you will see that he has been consistent, personal and genuine in the types of films that he's making.

Don Coscarelli started out trying to go the UCLA film school route, but left because he felt stifled by the conventions and regulations.  Thank God he did.  No doubt that absolutely brilliant filmmakers came out of that program, but Don's ingenuity and completely unique style would have been watered down and standardized in the studio system that hopes to polish and market movies before they are even written.

Instead, his filmography is an ambitious and deliberate break from predictable and formulaic studio fare.  That starts at the production level.  His films are family affairs.  Jim, The World's Greatest, Kenny & Company and Phantasm were financed by his father and staffed by friends and family.  His parents were extras in the funeral scene in Phantasm.  His daughter plays one of the dwarves killed by Reggie in Phantasm IV.  The distribution company that worked on Bubba Ho-Tep consisted of him and his wife, Shelley Kay, and was run out of their home.  He works on shoe-string budgets with the people he loves.  Needless to say, each venture then has the possibility of busting him, but it also has the freedom to truly be his.

His daring goes beyond just financing, as well.  Similar to Roger Corman, another ASV favorite, his  generosity is on display.  He continues to work with many of the same actors and friends he did in the beginning, while also bringing on big names like Bruce Campbell and Paul Giamatti.

As an independent, he was never (outside of Beastmaster) controlled by a studio, and therefore we get to see his style evolve and grow right in front of us.  It is a brave and honest thing to put that out for all to see.  Most filmmakers go through tons of studio re-writes and have assigned editors, largely making each film with marketing in mind.  Being outside that system, Coscarelli is left in a bubble, to work out his demons alone.  Because of that, his films look and feel like no other.  The authentic and episodic feel of Kenny & Company translates directly to the rounded development of Mike in Phantasm.  The wildly original ideas in Phantasm led to a deeper understanding of effects and interests in fantasy and directly into the extremely entertaining and off the wall hit, Beastmaster.  His experiences with the studio on Beastmaster led him away from them and into his own creative control of Phantasm II and so on.  And, in each film we get to see his mistakes as he creates his own style.

Don Coscarelli with Paul Giamatti on the set of John Dies at the End

Coscarelli and his films are extremely difficult to define or label.  Phantasm is no straight-forward horror movie.  It is a strange blend of adolescent drama, horror, sci-fi and fantasy.  It was produced in 1978, before HalloweenNightmare on Elm St. or Friday the 13th.  It has the deep influence of 1950s sci-fi and 1960s zombie horror than anything else.  It's also deeply surreal and mysterious.  It's an oddball in horror history. Bubba Ho-Tep is about an aging and sexually frustrated Elvis and a black John F. Kennedy that is as much character sketch of aging as it is horror / action film.  John Dies at the End is a sci-fi action / horror drug movie.  And, all of them are so ridiculously creative and well made that they continue to impress and entertain with multiple viewings in all types of circumstances.  

And, unlike other horror filmmakers of his generation, (Romero, Carpenter, Craven, Hooper) the quality of his films haven't gone downhill.  Bubba Ho-Tep and John Dies at the End are just as entertaining as Phantasm or Beastmaster.  Perhaps this is because Coscarelli was never easy to pigeonhole in the beginning.  His films leant themselves to multiple genres and seemed somewhat unfilmable.  Either way, it's a pleasure to see he's still knocking it dead with the excellent John Dies.  

Over the next four weeks, we will be doing a full retrospective of all of Don's films celebrating his past and bright future.  

-J. Moret

Monday, January 28, 2013

Guest Review: SCARECROW

Scarecrow: A Lost Movie about A Forgotten Subject
Directed by Jerry Schatzberg
112 mins. Color.

Here’s a conundrum: there’s a little movie called Scarecrow that I’m going to write about and insist you see, but it’s not easily available. Got Amazon streaming? That’s the only way I’ve found you can get it, unless of course you want to try and grab a copy used on eBay.

This is not uncommon for a number of smaller, more obscure movies, but Scarecrow, though obscure, has a pedigree that should make it easily available. First, it stars Gene Hackman and Al Pacino. It stars Hackman after he won his Oscar for The French Connection. It stars Al Pacino after The Godfather. Get this: Scarecrow won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival (the equivalent of today’s Palme d’Or.)
Honestly, I have no idea why Scarecrow is so damned difficult to get your hands on, but I’ll say this—it’s worth seeking out. Not just because it’s a brilliant little film from the 1970s, when even mediocre films were loaded with fascinating characters, but it’s one of those rare movies (not so rare that decade) that examines the plight of the poor. How many movies can say that today?

The plot in a nutshell: Max (Hackman) is fresh out of the joint, six years for assault. Francis Lionel “Lion” Delbucchi (Pacino) is a happy-go-lucky loser who spent “five years at sea” (the Merchant Marines? The Navy?) They meet, in the middle of California’s vast nowhere, far east of the San Francisco Bay, in what is be one of the greatest opening scenes (and shots, for that matter) I’ve ever witnessed in a movie. You can see it here :

Even if you have a monster-sized monitor, YouTube doesn’t do that scene justice; neither will whatever television set on which you choose to watch Scarecrow. I laugh every time Hackman stumbles down that berm, with the grace of Keaton. That shot comes to us courtesy of DP Vilmos Zsigmond. So beautiful.
Max is a short-tempered bastard; Lion, contrary to his name, is a peace-loving wingnut who believes that you can keep trouble at bay as long as you make people laugh. He makes Max laugh, as they stand on opposite sides of that lonely dirt road, waiting to be picked up. Soon, they’re friends. Complex, profound, combative friends.

The two are hitchhiking east. Max has saved over two grand in a bank in Pittsburgh, where he hopes to open up a deluxe car wash. Lion is off for Detroit to see his child. He sent the mother money, but hasn’t heard from her and doesn’t know if it’s a boy or a girl. As soon as he gets that straightened out (and delivers a silly lamp to his kid), the two’ll go into business together. We know from the get-go that this will probably never happen.

In Denver, they make a detour to hang out with Max’s sister, Coley (Dorothy Tristan, amazing) and Frenchy (Ann Wedgeworth, who made a name for herself playing dignified floozies like this), and end up falling in love, and they choose to stay in the mile-high city and open the car wash there.
That is until Max beats the living hell out of a man while dancing with Frenchy. Lion joins in and soon they’re both in jail.

They get out eventually, but as you can imagine, nothing will go right. Except one thing: the value of their friendship increases, to become the most prized treasure between these two bums.
Director Jerry Schatzberg worked wonders with Pacino in The Panic in Needle Park, and the world must’ve thought he was on track to rival the greats: Panic is outstanding (though totally depressing) and in short order Scarecrow won the big prize at Cannes. But either he was lucky to find his early scripts or was a hack in disguise because Schatzberg didn’t do shit after this one, making a slew of mediocre “message” films that pretty nearly stink.

Maybe that’s Scarecrow’s problem: the movie is a bit too sweet, a bit rambling, and without, say, the pretensions of Monte Hellman’s Two-Lane Blacktop to warrant a Criterion release (and, man, I love Blacktop.) It was even worse for writer Garry Michael White–his follow-ups are hideous.
But Scarecrow deserves a look. Schatzberg gets every detail just right–the boredom of the hitch, dining in a restaurant when it’s your first meal in days (man, these guys eat), drinking, brawling, and caring for someone you’ve bummed across the country with, starved with, brawled with. The chemistry between the two is perfect, as it is when Max’s sister appears on the scene.

Scarecrow captures all the little details that are missing in today’s films, reflections of the men’s hard times, details that I get the feeling Schatzberg and White knew about firsthand: Hackman’s worn herringbone coat, the meat and grease on hands and face from a bucket of KFC at a dining room table (lit harshly by a single bulb.) There’s spit, pig shit, dust and dirt, exhaust… but not heaped on the viewer so that it is all you think of. You don’t emerge from Scarecrow feeling dirty, like say, The Proposition, with its abundant flies (and that’s a great flick.) But you emerge feeling as though you visited Coley’s junkyard home.

And look at other notable releases. Consider Beasts of the Southern Wild or Precious. Honestly, I don’t know if those guys ever spent a day without money, but both films’ considerable poverty is excessively melodramatic and patronizing. Precious is a Disney-like fantasia of gorgeous teachers and dewy shots of holding your baby in a swimming pool; Beasts is a beautifully shot theatrical tale to rival Les Miserables. Their poverty is in your face, and unfortunately, it defines everyone in both movies. They’re Poor with a capital ‘P’.

In Scarecrow, the poverty of everyone is met with humor, fighting, frustration, and above all, empathy. If you’ve lived in poverty, you know that life is damned hard… but people generally still find time to laugh and brawl and carry on. They become resourceful in ways that are fascinating, and often people become tragic dreamers—like Max imagining he’ll be the king of the Pittsburgh car wash world.

Scarecrow is about people who happen to be poor. Modern films, like those I’ve
mentioned, are about the Poor. And if all you see is someone who’s poor, then you’re not seeing anyone.
Scarecrow isn’t perfect–the central metaphor, of the scarecrow making crows laugh, is beaten over your head a dozen times, when once would suffice. And the thing that throws Lion for a loop could’ve been written a bit more realistically, and Lion could be a bit less loony.

So if you’re feeling ambitious and want a movie off the beaten path, r
ich with great acting, a simple, yet powerful plot with an emotional punch, you really need to seek out Scarecrow. I’ve got a copy you can borrow. But you’d have to buy me a drink first.

Set Yoursefl Up:

I like soup with this one, especially this Hungarian Mushroom Soup. Maybe it's weird to say, but it seems somewhat like a hobo soup, and usually I have a dark bread with it, which I also like to think is something you'd get from a friendly housefrau at her back door. Ideally, the food to go with Scarecrow is a big, fat bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken, mashed potatoes, beans, and a case of cheap beer in cans (and I mean cheaper than PBR.) But my wife's a vegetarian, and I don't typically like to bring that garbage into the house, Scarecrow or not.

Hungarian Mushroom Soup
1 tbsp butter
2 cups onion, diced
1 tsp salt, to taste
1+ tbsp Hungarian paprika
1/8 tsp smoked paprika
1/8 tsp cayenne
8 oz white button mushrooms, sliced
1+ tbsp dried dill, 3 tbsp fresh
1+ tbsp soy sauce
2 cups water
2 tbsp butter
3 tbsp flour
1 cup whole milk
1/2 tsp pepper
2/3 cup sour cream
Sauté onion in butter until soft, sweat 5 min longer to soften considerably. Add mushrooms and salt, sauté until the broth is released and just beginning to boil at the top of the mushrooms. Add paprika and cayenne. Add dill, soy sauce, and water. Simmer for 10 minutes. (might try the trick of adding flour at this stage, might use some lemon)?
Make the bechamel mixture. Melt the butter, and flour -- cook for 2-3 min. Add some of the milk and whisk to remove lumps. Add pepper and remaining milk (use a tiny bit to thin the sour cream). Heat béchamel until thick and bubbling. Whisk in sour cream off heat.
Combine two mixtures and heat very gently– do not return to a boil. Serve with great bread, try the cheese bread and a cucumber and onion salad.

The DVD:
Not much here. A somewhat decent featurette called ON THE ROAD WITH SCARECROW and a trailer.

- Peter Schilling, Jr.

Guest Reviewer Peter Schilling Jr. writes about film and baseball, and is the author of the novel The End of Baseball. His work can also be read at

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Guest Review: BASKET CASE

Basket Case – Unrated Director’s Cut Laserdisc
Image Entertainment (Something Weird Video later released the DVD/Blu-ray)
Directed by Frank Henenlotter
91 Minutes

There's something I've been dying to ask you. What's in the basket? “
“My brother.”

basket1-copy.jpg (500×764)

BASKET CASE is a Jekyll and Hyde like nightmare set in seedy early 80’s New York. It is the tale of two brothers, Duane (played by the wonderful Kevin Van Hentenryck) and Belial, on their quest for revenge and maybe even a little love as well. It’s a fun, sometimes disturbing, film that really stands out in both surprising ingenuity and playfulness.

BASKET CASE starts off with the murder of Dr. Lifflander, a doctor who you find out later helped separate Siamese twins Duane and Belial. Through Lifflander’s murder, the brothers find the names of the other two doctors who performed the operation, a Dr. H. Needleman and a Dr. Kutter. Watching the movie again I couldn’t help notice their names, Needleman was the anesthesiologist and Kutter was the one actually performing the surgery (so clever!). The brothers end up traveling to New York City in order to exact their revenge. They end up staying at the wonderfully weird Hotel Broslin (which unfortunately doesn’t really exist). Hotel Broslin is home to some truly strange people like Casey the loveable prostitute and the Hotel Manager who if this was a British film would be played by Bob Hoskins of Super Mario Bros. fame. Keep an eye out for the guy in the trench coat and cap who somehow manages to weasel his way into various shots. What I really love about this movie is that you can tell how much writer/director Frank Henenlotter loves seedy New York City. He’s loaded this movie with shots of Times Square filled with porno and grindhouse theatres. He’s got prostitutes, punks, and drug dealers everywhere in the movie. I could get a sense that he was in awe of this dangerous and sometimes exciting world that used to be NYC.

Using Lifflander’s notes they find Needleman and decide to drop by for an unscheduled appointment. At his office Duane meets Sharon, Needleman’s receptionist who loves New York a little too much and has the uncanny talent of mimicking the sound of a broken typewriter. The two hit it off but revenge comes first. Needleman’s death is the best one in the film. After barricading himself in his office he is promptly greeted by Belial, which just so happens to be the first time in the film the viewers are shown Belial in all his beastly glory. Belial quickly tears the good doctor’s face off and then rips him in half. The special effects in this sequence are simple but very effective. It’s all held together by the decent lighting and Needleman’s acting which compared to Kutter’s death later on is worthy of an Oscar. Kutter’s death is over the top and pulled me right out of the magic of this film. Her acting was terrible and the scaples in her face just didn’t make sense to me. It was almost cartoon like. Somehow this scene just felt more ridiculous than the rest of the already ridiculous film.

Sandwiched between these deaths, Henenlotter offers us a little romance so to speak. Duane gets his first kiss with the receptionist, which prompts Belial to go Claymation bezerk in one of the most hilarious bits of the movie. Truly a sight to behold. After yet another murder the receptionist makes one more pass at Duane forcing us to watch one of the more awkward boob touching scenes captured on film. All this causes Belial to go berserk yet again and ruins his brother’s first and possibly only chance to bang a lady. There’s also a scene where Belial sneaks into Casey the Prostitute’s apartment, feels her up then steals her panties.

The film’s climax starts off simple enough: Duane dreaming that he’s running naked through the streets of New York, gets to the receptionist’s apartment and starts to bang her. Nothing wrong with that. Nothing could possibly go wrong. That’s a simple dream that everyone has every now and then. Except for the fact that it’s really his mutant brother that did all that and he was just seeing through his brother’s eyes. Duane rushes over to her apartment just in time to find that Belial raping her dead body somehow. It’s truly a disturbing scene. I applaud Henenlotter for taking it that far but man it still grosses me out every time I see it. The whole thing ends with them fighting, they throw themselves out the window and they both die. The sequels go on to pretend that they didn’t die and lived somehow but in my mind I like to imagine that the two sequels are just two “What If…?” comics.

What makes this movie stand out to me is Kevin Van Hentenryck. He brings this amazing boyishness and pure innocence to the role. He is the purist Jeckyll to Belial’s monsterous Hyde. The boob touching scene, when Belial pops out of the basket, Duane’s looks at his brother on the verge of tears and you can see the hatred and the disappointment in his eyes. It’s almost heart-breaking. Plus on top of it all he’s able to pull off a talking to no one scene with ease. Without his pure naïveté the film would fall flat and would wind up being just another monster killing spree flick.

Overall, this film deserves the cult status that it’s earned over the years. It’s just weird enough, just funny enough and just plain gross enough to be rewarded with the acclaim it’s received by genre fans. Henenlotter went on to make the demented Brain Damage, the tremendously fun and inventive Frankenhooker and the not so great Basket Case sequels before fading into obscurity for nearly a decade and a half. He’s made one not too great movie since but I’m still hoping he’s got enough creative juice in him for one more weird and wacky movie to round out his career.

Here comes the trivia:
-This was the first film for “Special Make-up Effects” guys John Caglione Jr. and Kevin Haney. Those two went on to do the special make-up effects for such films as C.H.U.D., Dick Tracy, Addams Family, Death Becomes Her, The Blob (’88) and A.I.
-When Duane checks into the Hotel Broslin he takes out a wad of cash. According to Frank Henenlotter, the film's director, this was the film's entire budget.
-During the shooting of Terri Susan Smith (the receptionist)'s death scene the crew became offended and walked out of the production. This would happen again during the director's next film Brain Damage.
- Most of the credits that appear on the end of the film are fake. The crew was very small and rather than repeat the same names over and over again they decided to just make up names.

Set Yourself Up: I’d make it a night for one and turn the lights down low for this one. If you are looking for something to eat and drink while watching this I’d recommend you cook up some hot wings (which are roughly the shape of Belial) and wash it down with an ice cold beer.

The Goods: The Laserdisc I watched didn’t have any special features but the DVD/Blu-ray by Something Weird Video has tons! It’s got pretty decent commentary by Henenlotter, Producer Edgar Ievins and Beverly Bonner (Casey the Prostitute), a couple behind the scenes type featurettes, trailers, etc. In either format the discs are really cheap which is a plus.

“BASKET CASE is the sickest movie I’ve ever seen!” – Rex Reed

-By Thomas Reinert

- Guest reviewer Tom Reinert is a horror / exploitation film geek extraordinaire in Minneapolis, MN and friend of the site

Friday, January 18, 2013

Trailer Triumph: GAPPA!

As I have been a bit sick the last days, I have just been lying in bed, watching Kaiju movies.  (PS - We are going to be reviewing a ton of these in March)

Anyway, I came upon this trailer and it made me laugh and smile and then go into a coughing fit.  I have yet to see it, but after this trailer it won't be long.  By the looks of it, Jurassic Park pretty much ripped it off.


- J. Moret

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Guest Review: THE WAY OF THE GUN

way_of_the_gun_ver1.jpg (243×360)
Directed by Christopher McQuarrie
119 mins. Color.
DVD released by Artisan Enterainment, 2000.

Whatever you do, don't watch the trailer for Christopher MacQuarrie's The Way of the Gun until at least a few months after you've watched the film. In a classic case of marketing gone awry, the trailer throws together a handful of the film's more memorable images, a dozen or so speed cuts of random frames, and ultimately pisses on the grave it just dug for the film by subjecting everyone to a Limp Bizkit song. It's a shameful attempt to sell the film as a fast-paced action flick when MacQuarrie was doing nothing of the sort. Instead, the Usual Suspects writer was crafting a carefully articulate crime film that is as methodical and tactical as the handful of gunfights it does have.

The story goes that after the success of Usual Suspects and the Oscar he got for the screenplay, MacQuarrie was dying to direct his first feature. After years of refusing to do another crime movie out of fear of being typecast, a conversation with Benicio del Toro one afternoon convinced him that a crime movie was the only route to the creative control that MacQuarrie wanted for his debut. Not without a little spite he decided he didn't want to make “a film about nice, likeable people who just happen to commit crime.” Nearly every character with a speaking role is in someway committing a crime, and not just any crimes, but really unsavory ones.

The central element in the plot is the scheme of protagonists Parker (Ryan Phillipe) and Longbaugh (Benicio), drifter criminals who happen upon their mark by eavesdropping on a phone call while donating sperm, to kidnap and ransom a pregnant woman who is acting as a surrogate mother for a millionaire couple who found the idea of actually carrying the child to be too bothersome. Of course, things go downhill from there. When the rugged, battle-worn Joe Sarno (James Caan outdoing himself in terms of badassery) shows up and promises a fellow henchman “a day of reckoning that you will not live long enough to never forget”, you know that violent times are ahead.

I think that part of the reason I love this film so much is that it was the first film I saw as a teenager that didn't just flat out tell me everything that I needed to know. MacQuarrie's characters speak in subtle gestures and facial expressions as often as they do in highly quotable dialog. There are relationships that are never named directly. Conversations are rarely straight forward; questions are rarely answered with anything but another question. Everyone is always holding back something. Throw in some brilliantly choreographed gun fights, crude humor, and the 10th grade version of me is hooked. But the thing with this film is that it didn't just satisfy the 10th grade version of me, it pushed him in a more sophisticated direction than the Limp Bizkit themed action movie the trailer so tastelessly depicts. It taught him how to approach all those “art films” that had seemed so opaque before. I remember the conversations that John and I would have after watching the film together for the 3rd time, always picking up something new. And that's what great films do.

Random Trivia:
-      Parker and Lonbaugh, the names of Ryan Phillipe's and Benicio del Toro's characters, are the real last names of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
-      MacQuarrie hired his brother, a Navy SEAL, to plot out and choreograph the film's gunfights. The two planned every shot with plastic “cowboys and indians” figures. This resulted in a more tactical, realistic approach, including the film's signature slow car chase.
-      The name of the hotel that the kidnappers hole up in is Nacio Madre, which translates to “Birth Mother”.

Set yourself up:
-      Get some food, particularly sandwiches, from a gas station. Remember, you're a drifter living off sperm donor money. Possibly steal a car to drive to the gas station and back.
-      Corona, Tecate, Dos Equis, Negra Modelo, etc...
-      Desensitize yourself to intense swearing by having a friend shout vile insults at you for 10-20 minutes before you start the film. I promise this will help you get passed the opening scene of the movie.

-R. Nichols

Ryan Nichols is a writer / filmmaker in Minneapolis, MN.  He is a regular contributor to

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

2012 Recommendations

This isn't a "best of" list as I didn't see every movie that came out this year, and I found myself much more interested in older films than the things that were in theaters. That, and the fact that I don't want to feign authority I don't have, so instead here are some recommendations.

These are twelve films that caught my attention and I believe deserve yours.  They are in no particular order, except that I wrote them down as I thought of them, so there must be some bias from top to bottom.

1. The Master.
P.T. Anderson provides no clear answers or resolution.  This is the type of film that seems destined to be misunderstood, re-watched and studied.  It also made for the most impressive cinematic experience since Tree of Life.  Absolutely brilliant. 

2. I Wish
Hirokazu Koreeda is such a wonderful filmmaker.  His films have a gentle beauty and grace to them.  This film captures childhood hopes in an adult world more than any I've ever seen.  - Now on DVD

3. Marvin, Seth and Stanley
Minneapolis film-maker Stephen Gurewitz put together this impressive Cassavetes-esque road movie about fathers and sons.  - Not sure if this is in any type of format you can rent or buy, but I'll bet if you contact Stephen, he'll let you know.

Simply Marvelous: Marvin Seth and Stanley Preview from Adam Gins on Vimeo.

4. Cabin in the Woods
Original horror films are a rarity nowadays, and Drew Goddard does a fantastic job with this mash-up.  The scene where Kristen Connolly is being dragged down the dock during the premature celebration may be my favorite scene of the year.

5.  Beasts of the Southern Wild
This extremely creative take on the fictional community called The Bathtub off the coast of New Orleans during a Katrina-like storm is so original I don't know what to compare it to.  From protagonist to setting to plot, this was a surprise and I loved it. 

6. Django Unchained
Tarantino continues his national revenge fantasies with this giant violent spaghetti western epic, and I am a big fan

7. Bernie
The mix of fiction and documentary is so blurred I think Werner Herzog would be proud.  A wonderful character-piece murder story.

8. Your Brother, Remember?
Zachary Oberzan brings this moving meditation on brotherhood, photography, re-creation and Kickboxer.  Totally amazing.

9. The Dark Knight Rises
Yes, this movie is a bit of a mess.  Yes, the flaws seemed to overshadow some of the better parts.  But, after sitting with it for a bit, the ideas and themes are so ambitious that I have to recommend you watch it.  I, for one, am looking forward to seeing it again.  If for nothing else, the story deserves such a great ending.  And, now Christopher Nolan can move on to something of his own.

10. Moonrise Kingdom
A sweet little film about being a kid, being in love and getting inside Wes Anderson's neurotic mind.

11.  Holy Motors
Leos Carax is a weirdo.  No doubt about that.  But, this movie is gorgeous.  And weird.  Very weird.  It doesn't all come together in the end, and certain segments definitely worked better than others.  But, getting to see a Kylie Minogue musical number and the return of Denis Levant as the creepy Godzilla sewer character from Tokyo was a treat.

12. Lincoln
Spielberg messes up the end.  Kushner messes up the beginning.  But, I am a sucker for political fights and Abraham Lincoln.  This is a story worth telling.  It gives a satisfying ending to Django, and Django puts a real face on why this fight was worth having. 

So, take that as you will.


Sunday, January 6, 2013


Paragon Video Productions
Video Release: 1984
90 Minutes, Unrated (17+)


We get a poster shot for the movie as an inlay on the Paragon Video Productions template. This isn't an artistic statement by any means. Paragon didn't go out of their way to present the movie in any special way. But it works. Looking at this box in 2012, it looks classic. Back when it was on a video store shelf, not so much. It isn't even a clamshell or big box, just a standard slipcase.

The poster is pretty cool. Giant crusty zombie head floating over a foggy city. It certainly displays director Lucio Fulci's dark and eerie style. It is subtle in comparison to some other box art, but it works.

Of course we get the white warning on the cover. These we commonplace for videos in the 1980s. This one doesn't claim  "THIS FILM WAS BANNED IN 27 COUNTRIES" or anything of that nature. Unlike most films that boast a ban warning, THE GATES OF HELL actually was banned or severely cut in Germany and the United Kingdom at various points in time. You'd figure Paragon would try to play up the bans.

The tagline seems like a tweak on DAWN OF THE DEAD's tagline. I'll get into that later.

On the back we are treated to four fairly tame yet, chilling screen shots from the film. These are certainly some of the more memorable images from the movie. That tells me is that Paragon actually watched the movie before releasing it. Which is good since I'm not sure all distribution companies did that back then.

The synopsis is about as much plot detail as anyone could ascertain.


Director Lucio Fulci is a wonderful horror filmmaker. THE GATES OF HELL, in my opinion, is the weakest of his pictures that I have seen. While his signature dark atmosphere and brutal gore effects are in play, as a narrative, THE GATES OF HELL makes no sense.

There's a psychic girl, some guy that hangs out with her, a kid, people that burst into flames, a priest that hangs himself, and some teleporting zombies. I honestly can't tell the purpose anyone serves or what's going on. Maybe that's the point?

I can tell you a dude gets dominated by a huge drill. Oh yeah, and a lady barfs up her own guts. It's gory. Real gory.


Released in Europe in 1980, THE GATES OF HELL was released theatrically in the United States in 1983. Initially it was known as TWILIGHT OF THE DEAD. United Film Distribution Company (The distributors of George A. Romero's DAWN OF THE DEAD) filed a cease and desist claim on Motion Picture Marketing (The distributors of THE GATES OF HELL). Strangely, the main theme sounds very much like the main theme of DAWN OF THE DEAD. It may be different in subsequent releases, but it sounds like the DAWN theme on this tape.

THE GATES OF HELL is currently available under the title CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD. I'm unsure as to why the name has been changed (or why it's called something else in nearly every country it has been released in). CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD is certainly a more suitable title for what occurs in the movie. Regardless, this movie is worth watching. If you can handle a bunch of nonsense, the effects and atmosphere are worth checking out.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


Showgirls - VIP Edition DVD
MGM Home Entertainment
131Minutes, Rated NC-17


Everyone remembers where they were the first time they heard about Showgirls. Well, At least if you were a Saved By The Bell Fan. The curiosity of seeing our A.C. Slater’s girlfriend naked drove me mad in 1995. Then I finally saw it all during a free preview weekend of Cinemax (probably around 1997). If you have yet to experience Showgirls, let me tell you, it is extremely sexually confusing for an 13 year old boy to see. It isn’t any less confusing for a 28 year old.

There is so much nudity. It’s not arousing. It isn’t even exciting. Even as an pervy little boy I knew something was amiss. During my most recent viewing I think I discovered a few reasons why this movie may have left me sexually scarred for life.

The film centers on Nomi (Know me) Malone (I'm alone). For some reason, everyone is drawn to her even though she’s a violent, french fry throwing, wench. The film opens with her hitching a ride to Las Vegas with the dream of becoming a dancer. Nomi’s ride (his name is Jeff, but it really doesn’t matter) ends up stealing her suitcase and stranding her. During her vomitous fit of rage over this petty theft, she meets Molly. Her de facto roommate and best friend. They proceed to talk about chips and clothes during all of their scenes together.

They go on to meet people that you think will matter during the course of the film (such as art dancer James). But really, all they are doing is adding about 30 hilarious minutes to the movie.

Then there’s Cristal, the star of the show GODDESS, which Nomi ends up being in. The relationship she has with Nomi is apparently Director Paul Verhoven’s homage to ALL ABOUT EVE. . . I haven’t see ALL ABOUT EVE in 10 years. . . But I recall ALL ABOUT EVE being clever and conversations did not revolve around breasts and I don’t recall any acts of toasting with tortilla chips either.

Then there’s Zach (played by Kyle “I shouldn’t have done this” McLachlan). He runs the Stardust Casino, when GODDESS is featured. He’s involved with Cristal. So of course Nomi “seduces” him. And by “seduce” I mean “have the most violent water sex the earth has ever seen” or “Grand mal seizure on a meat pole” Seriously, the sex scenes in this movie will have you feeling like you have to call a chiropractor. The flailing is unlike anything I have ever seen..

Long story short Nomi get’s Cristal’s spot in the show. See’s how people at the top are even “whores” and that nothing changes. Molly, the only remotely decent person in the movie is raped by a gang led by Michael Bolton (AKA Andrew Carver). Nomi seeks revenge by pretending to be a call girl to get close to him and then ninja kicks Carver (Bolton) into the mid 90’s neo-roman white marble floor (a subplot that really doesn’t work). This pretty much ends the movie. Nomi leaves Vegas. Of course she is picked up by the same guy that brought her there, you know, Jeff. What an amazing turn of events. . .

Elizabeth Berekley’s performance really makes this movie a gem. She plays this role with a faux violent rage that makes you question her sanity. It’s almost as if Director Paul Verhoeven told her to constantly act like she did in the episode of Save By The Bell when she OD’d on caffeine pills. She vomits. She kicks. She conquers. Everyone knows that she took on this role to separate herself from SAVED BY THE BELL. I’m pretty sure there has never been a more aggressive attempt to prevent type casting in the history of the screen. I’m also sure there had never been such a violent backlash.

The portrayal of females in this movie is appalling. However, that’s really what makes it notable. Writer Joe Eszterhas (responsible for such gems as Basic Instinct and Nowhere to Run) and Verhoven (also responsible for Basic Instinct, but more importantly, Robocop and the ORIGINAL Total Recall) must have never had any sort of meaningful relationships with women. To suggest that women only talk about fingernails, breasts, being naked, chips, and shopping isn't only insulting to 51% of the population, it destroys the audience’s ability to care about these people. . . or find them remotely attractive. Not to mention they are constantly nude. which makes them all the less desirable.  

The men on the on the other hand are all completely wretched, scheming bastards. Tony Moss, the Director of  GODDESS only serves to further insult women. Phil (some other dude involved with the hotel) whores out his dancers to Thai tourists at boat shows.  I can’t help but feel the portrayal of men is a better representation of reality.

Paul Verhoeven has never been a subtle director and Joe Eszterhas has never written a masterpiece. Both of these guys are carrying on a tradition of over the top, scandalous filmmaking. Had the budget been much lower it could almost be mistaken as a  “grindhouse” style exploitation flick 10 years before Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez made it chic.

If you view this movie expecting it to be absolutely awful, you will most likely have a great time watching it. If you watch it expecting a gritty, Scorsese-esque portrait of Las Vegas (as Verhoeven apparently originally intended) you will spew obscenities at the screen. If you watch it for the sexual content upon which it was marketed, you will suffer psychological damage. It’s a goddamn mess. When viewed from the proper vantage point, it’s a hell of a lot of cheesy fun.

In closing anyone that beat off to this is an absolute sociopath. 

A bit of the "Digital Bra and Swear Dub" Version the aired on VH1. I truly wish this was on the DVD.


Kyle McLachlan. He’s been in some great stuff (The Hidden, Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks). Why Showgirls?


Joe Eszterhas was paid 2 million dollars for the script.


"Showgirls enjoyed huge success in the U.S. home video market, generating more the $100 million from video rentals and became one of MGM's top 20 bestsellers of all time." -


The dude that played Coach Tugnut on Even Stevens as a Strip Club Patron.


The scene with James and Nomi dancing in his house (or tool shed). It’s so gross you have to see it for yourself.


AUDIO COMMENTARY featuring David Schmader. Schmader is (or was at least when this was released) a Seattle based writer. He screened the movie and offered live commentary during screening. MGM caught wind of his fandom and offered him the commentary gig. The commentary is pretty good. He offers up select tidbits and does overtalk or punch you with constant factoids. He lets the film unfold and guides you through it. Many times he let’s out moans and groans to signify the best horrible parts of the movie. He mostly hammers home the idea that this film is the culmination of everyone involved making extremely poor decisions with their lives.

I would have liked to hear a Verhoeven and/or Eszterhas commentary, but as Schmader explains during the commentary, Verhoeven is not proud of this movie and it turned out badly in his eyes.

There is also a “Lap Dance Tutorial” with real life strippers and a brief video commentary that runs during the film (should you choose to press ‘enter’ on your remote when prompted). The best part about the involvement of the strippers is that they more or less call bullcrap on everything stripping related. No men in the dressing room. No lesbian kissing on stage. No grinding during lapdances. Hearing the authenticity of the stripping scenes dashed just goes to show that Verhoeven did no research on how these women actually live and work. He made the film as salacious as possible and didn’t look back.


Admittedly, I did not view this feature. I don’t want this movie spoiled by too many facts. I just want to know that it is the most enjoyable movie mess of all time.

The Packaging:

The DVD comes in a large glossy panoramic box. The front features Elizabeth Berkley lying across the entire length of the box. She is, of course, about as naked as someone can be on a movie box in this day and age.

The sides of the box are printed red sequins. Very classy, yet tacky. Speaks volumes of the film itself.

This edition includes a whole bunch of extra crap.

- Showgirls branded shot glasses

Sadly, they just have a printed logo on them. No pictures from the film. Just a silhouette of some strippers and the text “Showgirls.”

- Pin the tail on the donk. . . excuse me. A “Pin the Pasties on the Showgirl” game.

It’s pin the tail on the donkey. Of course, instead of a tail you get suction cups with tassels on them. I bet you a pile of giant bacon cheeseburger vomit no one have ever played this. The photo you “pin the pasties” on is a poster sized, super glossy photo of a topless Jessie Spano covered in 1996 era body glitter. It also includes a cheaply made paper and elastic blindfold. Of course it’s adorned with that same silly Showgirls logo as seen on the shot glasses.

- Showgirls Playing Cards -

Missed opportunity here. I thought these would be nudie playing cards (you know, the kind your Dad and Uncle used to bust out after you went to bed). I’m not sure who thought it was a good idea to include a basic set of playing cards with the same logo as the shot glass on them. Whoever that person is, is a huge dummy. Seriously, what a butthead

- Glossy photos  / “Non-alcoholic drinking games / Fact sheet

The last perk here is a set of glossy photos. 4 are stills of Elizabeth Berkley from the film. 2 look to be press-kit photos of her, and one of. . .  guess what? . . . the same cheesy “Showgirls” logo plastered all over the other stuff.

On the reverse of 5 of these nicely glossed stills are drinking games. I don’t care to detail the games themselves, but I must discuss the fact the each and everyone states to use “NON-ALCOHOLIC” beverages to play the games. The reverse of the logo card is a disclaimer about how MGM Home Entertainment does not condone the abuse of alcoholic beverages.
The final card has a few fun facts about the film. . . most of which are not fun and are obvious tidbits about how the sex in the film is simulated and not real. . . well duh.

Box quotes:

It’s All About Eve in a G-String” - Siskel and Ebert

“Showgirls delivers the goods” - Daily Herald

“An instant camp classic” - Janet Maslin

“A one of a kind experience . . . You won’t be disappointed.” - The Washington Post

Overall, this set symbolizes MGM finally understanding what SHOWGIRLS is. A mess in the eyes of many. A triumph in the eyes of few.