AFF Retro: GIALLO FANTASTIC: THE EDITOR Slashes Into the Notorious Italian Horror Genre With Blood and Humor

Posted on: Mar 26th, 2015 By:

EditorPosterTHE EDITOR (2014); Dirs. Adam Brooks, Matthew Kennedy; Starring Paz de la Huerta, Udo Kier, Adam Brooks, Matthew Kennedy; Trailer here.

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

Giallo is a firecracker of a word. Sure, for most people, it doesn’t mean anything at all. If you speak Italian, you know giallo means “yellow,” but beyond that it’s just a word. It lies there on the page, dormant. But for the initiated—mostly cinephiles and lovers of pulp (including our ATLRetro editor)—giallo absolutely explodes with meaning. The word doesn’t just deliver a definition, but an entire state of mind. It’s music and color. It’s operatic and sleazy. Giallo is a complete reality, flung forward from a skuzzier past.

THE EDITOR, a new horror-comedy screened at the Atlanta Film Festival and presented by Buried Alive Film Festival, is drunk on giallo. The movie takes pains to replicate the peculiar charms of a 1970s Italian slasher film, hilariously sending up the genre’s goofier tendencies. It’s all here—the bad dubbing, the hilariously on-the-nose exposition, improbable moustaches. But multi-hyphenate creators Adam Brooks and Matthew Kennedy (who wrote, produced, directed and starred in the film) aren’t satisfied with an easy genre spoof. Beneath the corny riffs on Italian machismo and candy-red blood lies a vein of deep strangeness in THE EDITOR. Any homemade fan film can walk and talk giallo, but THE EDITOR’s beating heart pumps pure yellow.

Editor-740x493Our moustachioed protagonist is Rey Ciso (Brooks), the titular editor who once had a promising career in prestige cinema before a freak accident cost him his fingers. Now Ciso, sporting a set of wooden replacement fingers, toils in the mucky world of low-budget slashers, searching for sublime truth in the jump cuts between a swinging axe and its doomed target. As fate would have it, life soon begins to imitate art, actors start dropping to a serial murderer, and Ciso finds himself living inside the type of film that he so thanklessly cuts. Even worse, missing fingers on the victims lead the presiding detective (Kennedy) to suspect that Ciso is cutting much more than film.

THE EDITOR is the latest genre exercise from ASTRON-6, a Winnipeg-based outfit who’ve staked claim on film festival midnight slots with romps like MANBORG (2011, which screened at Buried Alive) and FATHER’S DAY (2011). Over this cycle, Astron-6 perfected the art of taking a genre apart and reassembling it to suit their needs; with a bit more grain on their image, there would be little to distinguish THE EDITOR from the kinds of movies that it’s aping. Their style of meticulous homage jives with a larger trend in the indie scene that includes movies like BLACK DYNAMITE (2009) and HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN (2011), films use camera tricks and careful craftsmanship to copy the cheapo feel of yesterday’s trash cinema. The irony, of course, is that those old movies looked crappy on accident. Bargain filmmakers of the 70s and 80s would have flipped for today’s clean and easy digital technology, but guys like Brooks and Kennedy are working harder to look worse, rejecting the digital sameness often found in the independent scene in favor of styles that made even the worst films teem with an inner life.

the-editor-toronto-film-festivalNot everything lands perfectly with THE EDITOR. An actress’s hysterical blindness gets easy laughs; a running gag showing the male characters slapping their girlfriends does not. The movie also loses its narrative momentum somewhere in the middle, lingering perhaps a bit too long for audiences who get tired of the surface-level spoof. But a shorter run time would rob THE EDITOR of its best idea. Simply pointing at giallo’s singular tics would have made the film an empty execution of style—basically, an extended sketch. Where THE EDITOR earns its credentials is the sheer insanity it gets up to in its late stages as Ciso—who may very well be going insane—begins to question his own innocence, existence, and role in the murders. Haunted by the loss of a colleague, Ciso takes a bizarre inward journey through the cinema he loves, crawling into his editing machine, wandering through the landscapes of celluloid and peering out through the screen at those who would edit him. I

t turns out that there are real existential ideas at the heart of THE EDITOR, and the movie’s abject weirdness that elevates it to the surreal terrain that the best of the old giallo films sometimes played in. I’m not certain these sequences make sense, or that an already too-long movie absolutely needed them, but I do have the distinct feeling that I liked them, and that’s always the first rule of giallo—give the people what they want.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game designer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He can be seen around town wherever there are movies, cheap beer and little else.

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RETRO AFF PREVIEW: Satanic Panic Strikes Back: 666 Questions (OK, Only 9) with Eddie Ray

Posted on: Mar 25th, 2015 By:


Satanic Panic 2 poster
SATANIC PANIC 2: BATTLE OF THE BANDS (2015); Dir. Eddie Ray; Writer Max Fisher; Starring Matthew Gallo, Marlinda Phillips, Kevin Vickery, Cherry Delrosario; Friday, March 27 @ 6:30pm; 7 Stages; Tickets $10; Trailer
here.

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

On Friday night, the Atlanta Film Festival is going to unleash a Satanic Panic.

I’m talking about the band, of course. The brainchild of local filmmaker and Kool Kat Eddie Ray, Satanic Panic is a world famous dance band who happens to throw their allegiance in with the Dark One himself, at least as long as the cameras are watching. After barely surviving a brush with real Satanists in their first short film, the band’s new adventure is taking the AFF stage.

We asked Eddie if he’d answer 666 questions, and well, he answered nine about the band, the movie, and that time he was mistaken for a Satanist.

ATLRetro: Where did Satanic Panic come from? Do you remember when you first got the idea?

Eddie Ray: The original concept came from me and a friend of mine named Matt Gallo. He plays B. Elza Bob in both films. We were watching JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS, and I said what about a Satanic Dance Band? Then we both got really excited about the characters and the concept for the first one and I sat down and wrote it. We came up with characters and costumes pretty fast. The sequel was written and directed by me and Max Fisher.

This is the second Satanic Panic adventure. How would you sum it up for people who may not have seen the original?

The first one is about a band called Satanic Panic, and they are the number 1 band on the planet. Their dance songs are about Satan and all things unholy, but offstage they are just normal people who are not into that Satan shit at all. They are just about the money. Their producer, Dick Dano, is up to no good and adds a subliminal message to one of their songs “6-6-Sexy” that tells real Satan Worshippers that they need to sacrifice the band. Luckily the Government steps in and forces Satanic Panic to secretly work for them. Now the chase is on. Why does Dick Dano want them sacrificed? Will the Satan Worshippers get them? Will Satanic Panic still be the number 1 band on the planet and government spies?

Satanic Panic stomp on a Satanist in SATANIC PANIC 2: BATTLE OF THE BANDS (2015).

Satanic Panic stomp on a Satanist in SATANIC PANIC 2: BATTLE OF THE BANDS (2015).

A new band, When Tempers Flare, is challenging Satanic Panic. Are These The Misfits to Satanic Panic’s Jem and the Holograms? Where does the new band stand on the Satan issue?

Yes, When Tempers Flare is out to get Satanic Panic! They are The Misfits to Satanic Panic’s Jem for sure. When Tempers Flare is tough, and they don’t take no shit from nobody. Especially from no honkeys. They are not into Satan or Satanic Panic at all, and they want to be Number 1. Satanic Panic now has one more thing to worry about. An evil female rap group! The girls who play them are amazing, too.

These characters seem like spoofs on the 1980s, back when people saw Satanists everywhere, especially in the music industry. Were you trying to flip the script by putting the Satanists in the suburbs?

Totally, in the ’80s and early ’90s there was a “Satanic Panic” going on. Everyone was afraid they were going to be sacrificed or killed by Satan worshippers. I remember the principal in my school coming over the loud speaker saying there will be no talk of Satan in this school because the day before some cheerleader got a death threat from a “Satan Worshipper.” They literally brought people, who they thought might be Satan worshippers, up to the office to be interviewed. Even me! I was so offended. I wore a lot of black because it was fucking slimming. Let’s be real. The principal said this to me, “we know you worship Satan, son, tell us!” I just said, “Call my fucking mother!” I am serious. I was pissed. They called her, and she came up there and raised hell! She was like my son is not a goddamn Satanist! Haha. We found out days later it was a jock that sent the death threat to the cheerleader because she didn’t put out. I am serious. There were no Satan worshippers. I love that story though. Haha.

When Tempers Flare.

When Tempers Flare.

In a recent podcast, you talked about planning out the story beyond the current film. Is there a planned conclusion, or will Satanic Panic keep going for as long as you’re interested?

Yes, while we were writing and filming part 1, we were talking about part 2 and 3. Max Fisher and I know what happen in part 3. We knew the ending for 3 while doing part 1. Yes, there is an ending! The ending is amazing too. Well we think so. YOU WILL LAUGH AND SHIT YOUR PANTS!!!!!

Did you feel any pressure to try and top the first film’s humor and insanity?

I don’t know about pressure, but sequels should always be bigger and better than the first. They should change and take you in new directions and not be the same as the first films. Throw some surprises in there so you and the audience stay interested. Keep shit fun! When Tempers Flare keeps things fun for sure in part 2. There are a few more surprises, too. You will seeeeeeeee. The cast and crew do such an amazing job in the sequel they will blow your mind! Me and Max Fisher really gave you all the bells, whistles and cartwheels in this film.

Satanists conspire via seance to bring down Satanic Panic.

Satanists conspire via seance to bring down Satanic Panic.

The Satanic Panic music videos are key moments in the films. What’s the process for developing the music? Do the songs influence the script, or do the scripts determine the songs?

I think it’s both. In the first film we show their music video for “6-6-Sexy” and how crazy and violent it is. Then later right before they shoot their music for “I Put A Hex On My Ex,” their real lives turn crazy and violent. So now their real lives become their music videos. That continues in part 2. Life imitates art and vice versa. I love how music influences all our lives and our emotions in the real world. Dan Foley writes our music, and he is a genius. Without his music, we would be lost.

These films resemble live-action cartoons, with bright color and madcap, rapid-style humor. Would you say your work at Adult Swim influenced your style?

I think so, in some ways. I think I came to Adult Swim because of those reasons to begin with. I love cartoons and animation, and I view life through those eyes. I wish people walked around with big hair and bright costumes.  The world would be more fun for sure. My office at Adult Swim looks like a Tiki Hut. I like to pretend I work on the beach in a SCOOBY DOO episode.

satpan2-indulgeAre there any ideas you just deemed too out there for these films? Or just too difficult to shoot? If so, care to share one?  

I don’t know if we ever think anything is too much. I always say, “Too much? Umm not enough!” Fight scenes are always difficult to shoot. If we had the money or time, we would’ve had everyone on fuckin’ wires flying around kicking and punching like in THE MATRIX probably. That would’ve been amazing.  I also wish we had the band getting out of a helicopter.

SATANIC PANIC 2: BATTLE OF THE BANDS plays at the Atlanta Film Festival on Friday, March 27, @ 6:30 pm. Click here for more details.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game designer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He can be seen around town wherever there are movies, cheap beer and little else.

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Spring Into Cinema: Your Retro Primer to the 2015 Atlanta Film Festival

Posted on: Mar 20th, 2015 By:

AFFlogoBy Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

Alongside the first appearance of flip-flops and the musk of Bradford Pears, the arrival of the Atlanta Film Festival at the Plaza Theatre (and other venues) is becoming a new annual rite of Spring. Starting Friday, the AFF is bringing another year of offbeat and engrossing titles, and you can bet that ATL Retro is going to be all over it, providing coverage, features, and reviews of the best of what the festival has to offer.

For Retro-inclined readers out there, we’ve taken the liberty of targeting a few productions that may be relevant to your interests. Every screening at the AFF is likely to be a great time at the theater, but consider this your retro primer. In fact, let’s make that official:

OLD SOUTH

OLD SOUTH

Kick off your AFF experience with a little crowd participation by visiting the folks from Lips Down on Dixie as they present their extremely popular performance of THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975). Although a Plaza staple for years, the show gets even better when seen with a festival crowd of fervent movie fanatics. You could even decide to see the show twice during your festival-going, if you just can’t get enough of the good Doctor Frank-N-Furter’s “hospitality.” There’s another midnight screening the following Friday. (THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW plays at midnight, March 20 & 27, at the Plaza).:

Retro is a broad category, and it can sometimes mean a state of mind. In OLD SOUTH (dir. Danielle Beverly) contemporary values collide with a damaging stereotype from the past as a college fraternity in Athens “known to fly the Confederate flag” attempts to mount an antebellum-style parade in a historically black neighborhood. The film plays with PEN UP THE PIGS (dir. Kelly Gallagher), a film described as “handcrafted, collage animation” that explores connections between old slavery and present-day racism. (OLD SOUTH plays 3/21 at 12:45 @ the Plaza)

Meanwhile, HOLBROOK/TWAIN: AN AMERICAN ODYSSEY (dir. Scott Teems) explores a more positive representation of the old south. Hollywood legend Hal Holbrook’s most famous role is that of Mark Twain, who he’s performed on stage in a one-man show for most of his life. This new documentary looks into the special relationship Holbrook has with his version of Twain, and features new interviews from stars like Sean Penn and Martin Sheen discussing Holbrook’s life and legacy. (HOLBROOK/TWAIN plays 3/21 at 8:00pm @ The Inn at Serenbe Pavilion, with an encore screening on 3/29 at 4:30pm @ 7 Stages)

ThEditor

THE EDITOR

Finally, for retro horror lovers, don’t miss THE EDITOR (dir. Adam Brooks, Matthew Kennedy). In this Canadian comedy-horror film, a shlock film editor with wooden fingers is accused of a string of murders and must clear his name. The production comes from the demented minds of Brooks and Kennedy, two members of the ensemble who brought the world MANBORG (2011), and features genre mainstays Udo Kier (SUSPIRIA) and Paz de la Huerta (NURSE). (THE EDITOR plays 3/21 at 9:45pm @ The Plaza)

Musician Frank Morgan’s life can be used as a cautionary tale about how great talent is no defense against the traps of the world which, in Morgan’s case, manifested as a drug addiction that sent his life and career spiraling into bankruptcy and incarceration. SOUND OF REDEMPTION: THE FRANK MORGAN STORY (dir. N.C. Heikin) chronicles Morgan’s struggles beginning with the ups (when the saxophonist was considered a successor to Charlie Parker) all the way to the downs and the back again. The documentary features extensive concert footage featuring the likes of saxophonist Grace Kelly and pianist George Cables, both of whom will appear in a live performance preceding the film. (SOUND OF REDEMPTION screens 3/25 at 7:30pm @ The Rialto Theater at Georgia State University)

THE KEEPING ROOM

THE KEEPING ROOM

THE KEEPING ROOM (dir. Daniel Barber) is a Civil War drama that places the spotlight squarely on a trio of strong, Southern women in a tough situation. When their father and brother go off to fight for the Confederacy, two sisters and their slave must defend the homestead from marauding Union soldiers who are in advance of Sherman’s infamous march. THE KEEPING ROOM is a tense, claustrophobic drama that features known stars Hailee Steinfeld (TRUE GRIT), Brit Marling (ANOTHER EARTH), and Sam Worthington (AVATAR). (THE KEEPING ROOM screens 3/26 at 9:30 @ The Plaza).

Atlanta director and ATLRetro Kool Kat Eddie Ray follows up his 2011 short film SATANIC PANIC: BAND OUT OF HELL with the in-demand sequel, SATANIC PANIC 2: BATTLE OF THE BANDS. The sequel finds our heroes, electronic dance band who pretend to be Satan worshippers for marketing reasons, preparing for a huge band battle while their manager plots to sacrifice them to the Dark One himself. In their new adventure, the band must contend with “secret government spy missions, band rivalries, and growing egos.” Look for an exclusive interview with Eddie Ray here at ATLRetro.com next week. (SATANIC PANIC 2 screens 3/27 at 6:30pm @ 7 Stages)

BLACK SUNDAY

BLACK SUNDAY

The folks from Splatter Cinema join the festival this year with a special presentation of the Italian horror classic BLACK SUNDAY (dir. Mario Bava). Banned in the UK for years—a true badge of honor in the horror world—the film stars the immortal Barbara Steele as a witch burned at the stake who returns 200 years later for bloody revenge. Featuring memorably grotesque and frightening scenes, BLACK SUNDAY is a slam-dunk classic of the genre that is well worth the effort to see on the big screen. (BLACK SUNDAY screens 3/27 at 10:00 pm @ 7 Stages)

LOVE AND MERCY (dir. Bill Pohlad) is an unconventional biography film about the life and career of singer/songwriter Brian Wilson. The film chronicles the young Wilson’s struggles with his musical ambitions, as he seeks to throw off the “surf music” label he had become known for as part of the Beach Boys, and with his overuse of psychedelic drugs. Paul Dano (LOOPER) plays Wilson as a young man, while John Cusack (GROSSE POINTE BLANK) plays Wilson as an adult, on the other side of experiences that left him a broken man. (LOVE AND MERCY plays 3/29 at 12:15pm @ The Plaza)

LOVE AND MERCY

LOVE AND MERCY

And finally, there’s a documentary that has sadly gone retro, as one of our favorite downtown eateries is sadly no longer with us. DANTE’S DOWN THE HATCH (dir. Jef Bredemeier) is a profile of the famed restaurant and its owner, Dante Stephensen. Far more than a place you could eat fondue while watching the alligators lounge in their pool, Dante’s became a landmark for many of us an integral part of the Atlanta landscape, and this documentary ensures that legacy is not forgotten. If you missed ATLRetro’s Kool Kat interview with Dante about his unique decor, you can find it here(DANTE’S DOWN THE HATCH plays 3.29 at 4:30pm @ The Plaza)

Of course, these films represent just a tiny portion of the events, shorts, seminars, and screenings taking place as part of the festival. For a complete list, you need to check out the official Atlanta Film Festival Schedule. And keep an eye on ATLRetro throughout the fest for coverage on all the fun and films. Enjoy this year’s AFF, movie lovers!

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game designer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He can be seen around town wherever there are movies, cheap beer and little else.

Category: Features, Tis the Season To Be... | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Retro Review: Revisiting THE VISITOR, The Most Insane Non-Indie Horror Movie Ever Filmed in Atlanta

Posted on: Jul 12th, 2014 By:

Contraband Cinema presents THE VISITOR (1979); Dir. Michael J. Paradise; Starring John Huston, Paige Conner, Glenn Ford, Shelley Winters, Lance Henriksen; One Night Only, July 12 @7:00pm, Eyedrum; Tickets $7.00 at the door and actress Paige Conner will be attendance.

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

Early in THE VISITOR, an 8-year-old girl opens a wrapped present at her birthday party. Because we’ve been watching the movie, we know that the present contains a tacky statue of a bird, but now the girl inexplicably finds a gun. She grins, points it at partygoers, but then casually tosses it onto a table, which causes it to fire a slug into the back of another character, who then waits the length of a dramatic pause before collapsing to the ground. The entire incident goes from gift-giving to gunfire tragedy in less than 10 seconds.

The reaction among my friends watching the film in my living room was loud. “Wait, what?” “What the hell just happened?!” After a few moments and a few laughs, they calmed, awaiting the explanation that was sure to come.

But, of course, this is THE VISITOR we’re talking about. Explanations aren’t on its agenda, not when every second of screen time is another opportunity to smash a morsel of blazing, brain-melting insanity directly into the film. This is a movie in which legendary Hollywood director John Huston plays an “intergalactic warrior” matching wits with his greatest nemesis, a pre-tween telekinetic and her pet falcon. This is a movie in which director Sam Peckinpah plays an abortion doctor and Lance Henriksen an evil basketball team owner. This is a movie in which skating rinks and street food shops are the sites of supernatural murders. This is a movie in which the fate of the universe is decided in late-1970s Atlanta. But, above all, this is a movie that exists.

THE VISITOR fits loosely into the subgenre of supernatural child movies that bloomed in the wake of William Friedkin’s THE EXORCIST (1973). Instead of a demon, little Katy Collins (Paige Conner) is under the sway of an evil intergalactic force named, of all things, Sateen, whose fractured soul is being reborn into children on Earth. I think. Honestly, the film is a tough to puzzle out, as if its heady ideas were being translated through some unfamiliar language which, in a literal sense, they were. The film was an Italian-American coproduction, written and directed by Italians and then translated into English for the sometimes-baffled American cast. But the film also routinely garbles cinematic language, connecting scenes and images that don’t make logical sense, dropping plot threads as soon as they’re introduced, and failing to explain, well, anything. In THE VISITOR, a guardian can tell a character that nothing bad will ever happen to her again about five nanoseconds before someone runs that character into a glass aquarium, and it’s not just OK, it’s expected. Anything less insane would belong to another movie.

THE VISITOR is the fevered brainchild of Italian schlock producer Ovidio Assonitis. He was The Asylum of his day, grabbing any idea that had traction in the public and churning out his own low-cost replica. From THE EXORCIST he invented BEYOND THE DOOR (1974). From JAWS (1975) he developed TENTACLES (1977) (also starring Huston!). From PIRANHA (1978) came, well, PIRANHA II: THE SPAWNING (1981). Right away, however, something felt a bit different about THE VISITOR. The production had a whiff of class about it as Huston’s name and cachet attracted more big names to the cast, including the likes of Mel Ferrer, Shelley Winters and Glenn Ford. Assonitis even shot scenes in Rome, Italy, before moving the production to the tax-friendly vistas of downtown Atlanta.

Paige Conner in THE VISITOR (1979). Drafthouse Films.

For locals the film not only exists as a virtual tour through a past version of the city—including looks at Underground Atlanta, The Omni and other retro locales—but as a dubious legacy for some of the Atlanta’s most famous figures. The credits reserve a special thanks for Mayor Maynard Jackson, who worked hard to bring the production to town, and the film owes memorable scenes and locations to the cavalier whims of Ted Turner. According to legend, Assonitis wagered the fate of the production on a Hawks game with Turner. If the Hawks won, the production would get access to Turner’s home as a shooting location free of charge. The Hawks did indeed win, and the production not only gained access to Turner’s home, but the Omni as well for a key scene in which the possessed little girl explodes a basketball with her mind. (Supposedly, eagle-eyed fans can spot Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the scene as well as radio personalities Neal Boortz and Steve Somers. So there’s that.)

It’s unclear whether the city or Turner were grateful for the chance to contribute. THE VISITOR flopped miserably (and predictably) at the box office, perhaps because the world just wasn’t ready to see Franco Nero (DJANGO [1966]) as Jesus Christ or to see Lance Henriksen attacked by a ceramic switchblade bird. The film made a paltry amount of money at the box office, and that’s just counting the money they got to keep. In an interview on the film’s DVD, Henriksen talks about the film’s legendary badness and his embarrassment at a screening in New York when he heard audience members demanding their hard-earned money back. Henriksen’s opinion of the film represents the consensus at the time of its premiere, but time has a way of changing the story, and THE VISITOR’s story has changed.

The film’s first supporter was supposedly Huston himself, who immediately recognized something special hiding among the frames of the film and kept an elusive VHS of the movie near his deathbed. It took longer for audiences to catch on, but a few did, and a passionate cult helped the film become a regular at midnight screening and trendy repertory houses. Audiences came for the irony and stayed for the film’s unrivaled uniqueness. THE VISITOR doesn’t make a lot of sense, but compensates with mood. THE VISITOR has a dreamlike tone, cultivating something like madness out of its odd juxtapositions of tone and images, or of the powerful performances in service of a story that can’t be unraveled. The film appears assured and confident in the story it’s telling, leaving audiences wondering if the answers are in there after all, just waiting for a keystone piece of information to unlock them. Does it make sense that Henriksen’s evil, but certainly human, tycoon character needs to marry his girlfriend in order to create another wicked psychic child? Probably not, but Henriksen seems to believe it, so why shouldn’t we?

The big coup for THE VISITOR in its reassessment came earlier this year, when Drafthouse Films, the distribution arm of the trendsetting Alamo Drafthouse theater chain in Austin, Texas, released a wonderful new Blu-Ray edition of the film, made with the kind of loving care and attention usually reserved for a Criterion Collection release of a prestige classic. It’s safe to say that more eyes have been on the film in the past year than in the past few decades, and the movie seems to be well on its way to a complete rehabilitation.

By this point in the article, you probably have an idea if THE VISITOR is for you. If it is, then I highly recommend seeing it as soon as possible, and Eyedrum, along with Contraband Cinema, are giving you the chance. Saturday night, July 12, the art gallery is hosting a screening of the film with actress Paige Conner in attendance. Alongside the film will be an art exhibit featuring “new and original pieces based on this unique film by a variety of local artists.” This is a special opportunity to experience a forgotten piece of Atlanta cinema history in the midst of its revival and rediscovery.

THE VISITOR, at long last, has arrived.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game designer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He can be seen around town wherever there are movies, cheap beer and little else.

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RETRO REVIEW: Hanging Out With MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED at The Strand

Posted on: May 17th, 2014 By:

MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED (1976); Dir. Peter Yates; Starring Bill Cosby, Raquel Welch, Harvey Keitel, Larry Hagman;  May 18 at the Strand Theatre @ 3:00 PM.

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

One of the truest joys of watching retro movies is that so many of them could never, ever be made today. We like to think of culture as a steady march of progress, but it’s more like a cycle of tides, with some particular mood cresting before receding, like the way the risqué shocks of the 1920s eventually morphed into the repressed sexuality of the 1940s. Moments come and go all the time, and what made sense for one era and one particular group of people can seem like it was beamed in from another world just a few years down the line. It’s not that they “don’t make them like they used to.” It’s more of a question of how they were ever made that way to begin with.

For example, look at MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED, one of the strangest studio comedies produced during a very strange period of the mid-1970s when the rules about mainstream movies had shaken themselves apart and nobody quite knew how to put them back together. One part workplace comedy, another part slobs-versus-snobs, but also part serious social drama, MOTHER exists in a kind of weird pocket outside of genre. If you haven’t seen it, there’s no easy point of context to prepare you for what to expect.

Just going off the title, it’s easy to imagine MOTHER as a forerunner to the trucker-film craze kicked off by Burt Reynolds a year later in SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT (1977), but although the title characters are certainly drivers, their wheels are attached to Los Angeles ambulances instead of highway big rigs, and their antics are more in service of retaining their sanity over making a big score. Mother (Bill Cosby) is an irreverent veteran driver tasked with breaking in the rookie Speed (Harvey Keitel), so named because of his past selling drugs as an undercover cop. Mother and Speed encounter rival companies, tension with other drivers (including Larry Hagman in a pervy supporting role), and a loose collection of setups and punchlines, all the while hoping to make enough dollars to keep themselves and their business afloat. Meanwhile, the unfortunately-nicknamed Jugs (Raquel Welch) moves to escape her job as the dispatch and den mother for the boys and become the first female driver in her staunchly chauvinistic profession.

Welch’s plotline exemplifies the film’s jarring shifts in tone. Viewers are invited to laugh along with the drivers and the wacky ways in which they let off steam—Cosby, in particular, is at the peak of his talent and delivers plenty of laughs—but the film also aspires to blow the lid off of what was, at the time, a pretty scandalous industry. In an effort to maximize profits, drivers would sabotage rivals, bribe police officers, and invent phony fares to milk government kickbacks. Less the lifesavers that their marketing would have you believe, the ambulance business was more like a taxi service with steeper leverage over its customers. If you weren’t worth the driver’s time, then good luck finding another way to the emergency room.

MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED was the brainchild of animation giant Joseph Barbera (the latter half of the Hanna-Barbera empire) who enlisted Tom Mankiewicz to construct the screenplay. Mankiewicz was a veteran screenwriter who presided over the James Bond franchise during its transition from serious spy fare to pulpier, more audience-friendly material and his particular tastes are all over MOTHER, including pairing slapstick wit and sudden violence. Mankiewicz, in particular, knew how to construct a set piece, as did MOTHER’s director Peter Yates, who helmed the iconic Steve McQueen picture BULLITT (1968) and later the less-successful (but justly infamous) KRULL (1983). MOTHER is likewise stocked with big, high-concept moments that keep things from getting too limp or self-important, which would have been death for a movie that so desperately wants to be a good time.

Ultimately, the real appeal of the film is Cosby, Keitel, Welch, and the rest of the ragtag assembly of drivers. MOTHER, JUGS, AND SPEED is a “hangout movie,” one in which most of the fun comes from revisiting these characters like a group of old friends. That’s another appeal of retro cinema. For better or for worse, even as the world changes around us, our old friends remain exactly the same.

MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED plays @3:00 on May 18 at The Strand. Get tickets HERE.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game designer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He can be seen around town wherever there are movies, cheap beer and little else.

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RETRO REVIEW: JODOROWSY’S DUNE Celebrates One Man’s Passion to Take Cinematic Audiences to Another Planet

Posted on: Apr 29th, 2014 By:

JODOROWSKY’S DUNE (2013); Dir. Frank Pavich; Starring Alejandro Jodorowsky, H.R. Giger, Michel Seydoux;  Now playing at UA Tara Cinemas @ 4:45pm and 7:15pm.

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

Frank Herbert’s DUNE is a paradox. It’s a novel of fantastic scope, high adventure and spirituality that hangs on a deeply personal space opera plot. In short, DUNE is everything a movie producer wants in a blockbuster film.

On the other hand, the same material that makes Herbert’s novel so appealing renders it a whopper to reel in. The story is dense and inaccessible, the setting weird and unwieldy, and everything that happens is in pursuit of a drug that alters your consciousness and expands your mind. That’s a hard sell in Peoria.

DUNE is like a siren sitting on an enormous safe full of cash, and great filmmakers have sunk to the depths trying to crack it. Perhaps the greatest is David Lynch, a true visionary of the art form, whose turgid, silly 1984 adaptation clearly got away from him. Rumors abound that prior to Lynch, names like Ridley Scott, David Lean and even Jack Nicholson all considered giving it a go. A 2000 Sci-Fi Channel miniseries had its merits but came woefully short. The fact is that the story of DUNE as a movie is written with the misfires.

Before all of these failures, there was Alejandro Jodorowsky. The Chilean-born surrealist behind art house smash EL TOPO (1970) and the breathtaking, bonkers THE HOLY MOUNTAIN (1973) [NSFW] built a team in the mid-70s—not of technicians, but of “spiritual warriors”—to bring DUNE to the screen for the first time. What he created was a landmark of cinema history, an impact crater that shook the industry and left a mark on pop culture that’s easy to identify even today. Not bad for a movie that wasn’t even made.

JODOROWSKY’S DUNE, a new oral history of the film that never was, begins with an interview from DRIVE (2011) director Nicolas Winding Refn in which he claims Jodorowsky once walked him through the screenplay and storyboards step-by-step, making Refn the only person who has actually seen his version of DUNE. The documentary tries to rectify that to an extent, filling the screen with storyboards and animated concept art that gives audiences a glimpse at what could have been a cinematic mind-trip to rival that of Stanley Kubrick‘s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968). Jodorowsky, you see, had no interest in the pop and whizz of traditional space opera. He believed that with DUNE he had a responsibility to change the world, to alter the minds of those in the audience and to provide the experience of tripping on LSD without the pesky need to actually take the drug.

And then he asked Hollywood studios for millions of dollars.

In the story between Jodorowsky’s inspiration and the inevitable collapse lies a truly inspired documentary, one that breathlessly fawns on the director and his vision, but still allows Jodorowsky (now in his 80s) to work himself into a puckish frenzy describing every wild shot or audacious casting choice or the moments where his artist’s indignation causes friction with his crew. (Evidently Pink Floyd was really into hamburgers, that most banal meal.) Watching Jodorowsky rant is almost a bigger draw than the fragments of his lost film. This is a man who once talked Salvador Dali into playing the crazed emperor of the universe, and his charm still shines through in his advanced age, even if he is prone to halting interviews to play with his cat or indulge in an inappropriate metaphor or two.

The story of his film, as painted by Jodorowsky and the others, is an unlikely “team on a mission” tale as the director assembles his collaborators, from the late Dan O’Bannon (DARK STAR, ALIEN) to comic artist Moebius, HR Giger and the French progressive rock band Magma. Every time the peak of the story is seemingly reached, it just gets bigger. By the time a burning giraffe gets a mention, it’s just another oddity to throw onto the pile.

Of course, Jodorowsky never misses an opportunity to find the metaphysical in the moment, and likewise the documentary becomes about something more than a lost artifact of cinema history, but also about life and loss and the very-human need to create. It’s a credit to Jodorowsky’s vision that shortly after his project fell apart, other science fiction films began to hire his team (O’Bannon, Moebius, and Giger were all hired by Ridley Scott for ALIEN) and gradually his failed effort flowed out and gave life to other projects, films and stories that would alter the course of the movies in a very real way. Although DUNE was never made, its influence is everywhere. The documentary makes a compelling argument that the lost DUNE is a keystone project. It’s death guided the subsequent four decades of genre cinema, but if it had lived. . . well, then maybe it would have changed the world.

Maybe the money guys were right. Maybe the film had no chance of achieving its ambitions, and there may have been little chance of making back its budget even if it did. But, then, one never knows. Jodorowsky still hopes for a DUNE animated film that incorporates his script, and now that you mention it, advances in special effects and a renewed interest in smart science fiction may have created an environment that’s ripe for a DUNE revisitation. An attempt led by Pierre Morel fell apart back in 2011, but maybe the right director can finally crack this nut.

What could go wrong?

JODOROWSKY’S DUNE is now playing at UA Tara Cinemas. Get tickets HERE.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game designer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He can be seen around town wherever there are movies, cheap beer and little else.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Bret Wood Transfuses Fresh Blood in a 20th Century Southern Gothic Cinematic Retelling of CARMILLA at the Atlanta Film Festival

Posted on: Mar 27th, 2014 By:

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

The Atlanta Film Festival kicks off this Friday with 10 days of screenings and events and, as usual, plenty of local talent will have their work on display. Among the screenings is the new Southern Gothic horror film, THE UNWANTED, written and directed by local badass Bret Wood, and playing on Monday, March 31 at 9:30 pm at The Plaza Theatre. Wood has had a long career in and among the movies, finding time to direct darkly erotic features like PSYCHOPATHIA SEXUALIS (2006) and THE LITTLE DEATH (2010) when he’s not knee deep in the business of film restoration and distribution as vice president of special projects at Kino Lorber. Wood also devotes time to researching and writing about cinema history. Among his credits as a writer and editor is an edition of the QUEEN KELLY (1929) screenplay by the legendary Erich von Stroheim; HELL’S HIGHWAY, a documentary about those infamous highway safety films; and a book on exploitation cinema appropriately titled FORBIDDEN FRUIT.

With THE UNWANTED, Wood returns to a world of repressed erotic desire. The story, inspired by a famous Sheridan Le Fanu vampire novella, concerns a young woman named Carmilla (Christen Orr) who drifts into a small Southern town on the hunt for a missing loved one. What she finds instead is a sheltered girl named Laura (V/H/S’s Hannah Fierman) held close by her disapproving father (William Katt, THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO). As Carmilla and Laura become drawn to one another, their passion uncovers a nest of dark family secrets that lead to a bloody, deadly confrontation.

Wood recently spoke to ATLRetro about his new film and his career exploring in the darker corners of cinema.

ATLRetro: THE UNWANTED transplants Sheridan Le Fanu’s classic Gothic novella CARMILLA into a Southern Gothic setting. What does moving the location to the South add to the story?

Bret Wood: The change of setting didn’t greatly alter the tone of the story. Rural 19th-century Ireland is not SO different from modern-day rural Georgia. The key thing is that, in both versions, events unfold in an isolated setting in which the people are somewhat disconnected from the world around them.  That sort of geographic space tends to mirror itself in the psychology of those who live there – isolated, insulated, and not in touch with the world beyond the community. It can be very comfortable to live in a place like that – surrounded by people who share your values – but a certain closed-mindedness is almost inevitable. A suspicion of outsiders, a distrust of those who are guided by a different moral compass, a setting in which a visitor would be immediately viewed with suspicion.

And the ingredients of the Gothic work just as well in the 21st Century as the 19th: themes of a family curse, a poisoned bloodline, dreams haunted by spirits, the sublime beauty of nature, the decaying family estate, the menacing lord of the manor. We just did it without corsets, carriages and candelabras.

Engraving from a 19th century edition of CARMILLA.

Your film takes a very naturalist approach to CARMILLA’s horror elements. Can you talk about the process of adapting the story away from the supernatural while retaining its core?

I love Le Fanu’s story, but I don’t believe in the supernatural – and I didn’t want to make a movie about something that I don’t believe in. So I had to find a plausible variation on conventional vampirism. There’s no such thing as vampires in the sense of a person becoming immortal or being capable of transforming into an animal, but there ARE people who engage in recreational bloodletting. My 2006 movie, PSYCHOPATHIA SEXUALIS, dramatizes two real-life examples from the Victorian era in which the exchange of blood was a sort of sex substitute.

So the challenge was to create a form of emotionally-charged bloodletting that two people might engage in – and this bloodplay could, from an outsider’s perspective, appear to be vampirism. In my version of vampirism, the blood isn’t for drinking. I’ll leave it at that. People will just have to see the movie.

Your film grapples with gender and gay/lesbian themes in the midst of a horror tale. How does the horror genre help you to tackle these types of important contemporary issues?

Even though it does have lesbian/bisexual characters, I wouldn’t necessarily call THE UNWANTED an LGBT film. It deals with a more universal experience:  the choice between staying in one place and following the traditions and values of one’s family, versus cutting the emotional cord and following one’s own path. Conformity versus individuality.

You might say that THE UNWANTED is about the painful process of “coming out” – whether from an emotional cocoon or the closet. On second thought, maybe it’s more of an LGBT film than I thought.

As far as horror goes, I had to tread a narrow line. In CARMILLA, the horror lies in the lesbianism of the two central characters -Le Fanu only suggests that they are lovers. And in my retelling, the father still needed to perceive the lesbian relationship as monstrous, but it was crucial that the audience view the relationship as loving and harmonious, even when there’s blood flowing between them.

For a while, I thought about calling the film WATER AND BLOOD to contrast the difference between friendships vs. family relationships, but I figured that was stretching the blood symbolism too far.

THE UNWANTED stars William Katt in a fairly dark and menacing role. How did he come to be involved in the project and what did he bring to the character?

I met him through executive producer Eric Wilkinson, who had worked with him a couple of times (THE MAN FROM EARTH (2007), SPARKS (2013)), and who told me Bill enjoys working on indie projects. He was very enthusiastic about the script, and had a significant impact upon the role. Originally, the character of Troy (Laura’s father) was an unequivocal villain, whose purpose it was to thwart Carmilla. Bill cultivated Troy’s human side, asked me to write a scene in which Troy and Laura spend time together, so we see they have a healthy, loving relationship. That was the inspiration for the horseback riding scene.

To Bill, as an actor, it was always important that the audience understand that Troy loves his daughter, and loved his wife, and the acts of violence he commits arise from his genuine desire to protect them. This inner conflict really shines through in his performance. And it’s so effective that we decided to further downplay his villainy by removing at least one really creepy sequence – which will no doubt appear on the DVD. We decided that rather than showing the audience what horrors this guy is capable of, we should let them wonder.

You’ve had a role in restoring and championing classic movies through your work at the Blu-Ray and DVD distributor Kino Lorber. Is there an overlooked title you would recommend, perhaps one that would make a nice pairing with THE UNWANTED?

I love classic film – the older the better – and am lucky that I get to spend much of each day mastering, packaging and writing about great films, whether it’s silent American films or European horror cinema of the 1960s and ’70s. I was watching a lot of Jean Rollin while working on THE UNWANTED, and would say that traces of his 1975 film LIPS OF BLOOD definitely found their way into my movie. Bill Gunn‘s erotic vampire film GANJA AND HESS (1973) and Jess Franco‘s FEMALE VAMPIRE (1973) were big influences as well. All of them were made by indie filmmakers with limited resources, but who attempted to dig deep into complex emotions that don’t get touched by the typical horror film. And, lest you think I was only influenced by vampire films, you don’t have to look to hard to find shades of Michael Haneke‘s THE PIANO TEACHER (2001) or Rouben Mamoulian‘s APPLAUSE (1929). Did I mention I love my job?

Bret Wood on the set of THE UNWANTED.

Between THE UNWANTED and your earlier films, PSYCHOPATHIA SEXUALIS and THE LITTLE DEATH, you’ve explored sex on the fringes. What draws you to the subject?

I’m sure the short answer to that question lies in my conservative, religious upbringing.  But let’s not get into that.

Regardless of how I became the way I am, I will say that, to me, the most fascinating thing about sex – in films – is not the nudity or the act of copulation, but the mystery surrounding the act – sex as a revelatory experience – maybe I’m still channeling the curiosity of my thirteen-year-old self. There’s nothing less erotic than gratuitous nudity. There’s nothing more boring than a sexually active character with no inhibitions, for whom sex is simply a physical act of pleasure.  Where’s the drama in that?

I’m fascinated by the psychology of sexuality, by the fringe-dwelling people for whom sex has mutated into something slightly abnormal. By the person who is emotionally tight-wound, who is struggling against their own repression, or struggling against moral oppression, looking for some means by which they can relieve this overwhelming urge that’s gnawing at them from the inside. THAT’S interesting to me. There’s mystery there. And conflict. And tension.

You co-authored a book on exploitation cinema titled FORBIDDEN FRUIT. Exploitation films were meant to be cheap and disposable, and yet they linger on in our film culture. What should we learn from that?

One never knows which films will stand the test of time. Look back at all the lousy Oscar-winners in the past 20 years and you’ll know what I mean. The films celebrated by one generation will be dismissed by the next and vice versa.

Exploitation films of the 1930s and ’40s – sensationalized treatments of hot-button topics like venereal disease, drug abuse, prostitution, polygamy -were crude and, on the surface, badly made. But they were tackling subjects the major studios wouldn’t touch, and they were made with a sort of reckless creativity that is a welcome change from the restraint and technical perfection of a studio film of the same era. In the same way, people who are into horror films are nowadays attracted to the schlock of the 1960s and ’70s, the grindhouse fodder once casually dismissed as garbage. And the same goes for 16mm classroom films of the 1950s – ’70s. Maybe it’s because today’s DIY filmmakers can relate to the struggles of no-budget production, maybe it’s a reaction against the over-produced, over-budgeted, over-hyped films that are suffocating the multiplex.

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a paleontologist. Part of me today still thinks that way, I love sifting through film history to see what treasures I can find buried in the mud.

What’s next for you?

I have several scripts I’d love to make – for example, a dark comedy about a womanizing stage magician (IN HER RIGHT MIND), a drama about a psychiatric hospital in the 1960s (THE CONTROL GROUP). And there are others. For me, writing is relatively easy. The difficult thing is raising the funds to actually make something. I usually keep a handful of scripts ready to film, and then choose which project to pursue based on the resources available to me. Right now the front-runner is a grim ghost story/revenge film, based on 19th-century literature, very much in the same vein as THE UNWANTED.

THE UNWANTED screens at the Atlanta Film Festival on Monday, March 31, at 9:30 pm at The Plaza Theatre. Tickets for the screening may be purchased here.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game designer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He can be seen around town wherever there are movies, cheap beer and little else.


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CINEMA ATLRETRO MACABRE #1: Of Cannibals and Chocolate: A Short Chat with Ruggero Deodato

Posted on: Jan 19th, 2014 By:

Andrew Kemp and Ruggero Deodato at Twisted Fears.

Since Atlanta has become such a classic monster movie kind of city, ATLRetro presents the first in an ongoing new feature, CINEMA ATLRETRO MACABRE, featuring exclusive interviews with the masters and mistress of 20th century horror films. Our intrepid Retro Reviewer Andrew Kemp caught up with Ruggero Deodato, director of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980), last fall at the Twisted Fears convention. A special thanks also goes to Sandra Despirt, who translated the taped interview from Italian into English. Watch for our next interview with Barbara Steele soon.

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

We’re done talking, but the elderly gentleman holds me up for a second. He smiles and palms me a tiny wrapped piece of candy. He has, I swear, an actual twinkle in his eye. The gesture reminds me of something a movie grandpa might do, and the man—warm sweater, round glasses and with one last tuft of unruly white hair atop his head—certainly fits the role. I half-expect to find a golden Werther’s Original in my hand, but it turns out to be a fun-sized Milky Way. It’s not what I expect, but I can’t stop smiling at the thought that Ruggero Deodato just handed me a little morsel of something to eat.

A scene from CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST.

Moments earlier that kindly old man, speaking to me in Italian with a translator, expressed bewilderment at his place in cinema infamy. “What I find incredible is that when I ask young people what they find more disturbing—my movie, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST or the film of the real beheading of an American in Iraq—and they reply CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST,” he says. “Incredible, very disturbing.” Over 30 years after Deodato’s cannibal opus, the director still appears surprised at the power of what he made, even though he remains to this day one of the few film directors forced to produce his actors in the flesh simply to prove to authorities that they were still alive. Clearly, there’s just something about his film that digs beneath the skin.

CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980) is one of cinema’s great provocations. A late entry into the brief Italian subgenre of cannibal movies, the film is alternately credited with canonizing the genre or destroying it, or sometimes both in the same breath. The film concerns a documentary crew that traipses into the Amazon to acquire rare footage of a savage, stone-age tribe of locals who may or may not engage in cannibalism. The title, I guess, is a spoiler. Suffice to say that no good comes to the crew, or to pretty much anyone else, including some unfortunate animals butchered on camera. Unlike the crew “deaths” that fooled the Italian courts, the animal torture is regrettably unsimulated. In the past, Deodato has claimed he was only filming a fact of daily life  for the local tribes, that animals were routinely slaughtered in such a way for food and materials, not simply for his cameras. (A similar argument has always been made by Francis Ford Coppola about the bull death that closes APOCALYPSE NOW [1979]).  Still, if you plan to see the film, consider the state of your stomach.

CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST.

Central to the movie’s ability to unsettle is the way Deodato frames the movie as a documentary and shoots it accordingly. Today, we know what that should look like, but nothing else quite like CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST existed at the time. Already established in cannibal cred after his 1977 LAST CANNIBAL WORLD [aka JUNGLE HOLOCAUST], Deodato found inspiration for his new technique much closer to home. “I had already made the film LAST CANNIBAL WORLD, which was a big success, especially in Japan. I ultimately decided to make CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST when terrorism [the Red Brigades] was almost a daily occurrence in Italy and my 7-year -old son asked me why there were so many horrific images on TV, casualties of these acts of terrorism. I thought to myself, hey, why is it that journalists can get away with it and I can’t? If I make a film, they cut it, so I decided to make this movie as a statement against the journalists and censorship.”

Although Italian media may have been the inspiration, Deodato’s film had a global impact because it tapped into the rise of media violence being beamed into televisions everywhere, including those seen in American living rooms every night during the Vietnam War, still a fresh wound in 1980. The brutality and realism of Deodato’s images rankled the public. It felt real, with none of those distancing effects that make movies so much fun to watch. A cult classic was born. CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST became so notorious that other directors had difficulty launching their own cannibal productions, and the bubble quickly burst. Deodato’s was a tough act to follow.

In recent years, Deodato is seen less as a rebel and more as a horror pioneer. The journalistic style Deodato developed in 1980 is today called by another name: found footage. Both fans and critics of the now-ubiquitous genre usually point to THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999) as the movie that brought shaky cameras and screaming amateur actors into the mainstream, but it’s hard to watch those mapless teens die in the Massachusetts woods, or to remember the internet buzz the accompanied the film, without noting that Deodato got there almost 20 years earlier. Don’t expect Deodato to be proud of all of his misbegotten children. “Unfortunately my idea has ruined movie-making to some extent because there are those that think all they need to have is a small camera and [to] start shooting without consideration for technique or storyline development.”

Deodato's cameo in HOSTEL, PART II

“When I see films that have truly been inspired by my CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, I’m very happy, but not when they start putting in zombies, aliens and vampires,” he adds. “I hate that.”

Eli Roth is one Deodato admirer who not only shares the director’s taste for horror realism but also prefers to populate his pictures with sadistic human monsters rather than ghosts and ghoulies. After breaking out with the disease gorefest CABIN FEVER (2002), Roth became a spiritual successor to Deodato with his HOSTEL series, replacing clueless journalists with clueless American teens whose condescension to Europe and lust for booze and sex make them prey for sinister millionaires willing to pay big bucks to kill. Roth wears his influences on his sleeve, adding a wink to this in HOSTEL PART II (2007) by casting Deodato as a cultured cannibal in one of the film’s more memorable gross-outs. Roth’s latest effort, THE GREEN INFERNO (2013), takes another step in Deodato’s direction by reigniting the cannibal drama. In Roth’s film, again it’s the naïve outsiders who are torn apart by the natives they were hoping to protect. “Thirty-three years have passed and I’m still being imitated,” Deodato says. “Eli Roth is a friend of mine so at the end of his movie he did an homage to me by saying in the credits – To Ruggero.”

GREEN INFERNO.

The warmth that Deodato has for Roth doesn’t extend much further, it seems. I asked him about the current state of horror, how nobody seems to be terrorizing and disturbing audiences quite the way he did. “LAST CANNIBAL WORLD was filmed in the black jungle of Malaysia,” he notes. “For CANNIBAL HOLOCAUSTI was filming in the middle of the Amazon with indigenous tribes. Back in those days, people still didn’t know about a lot of things so when you came across a tribe in the middle of the jungle that was something. Now people travel everywhere. People were more easily shocked. It is much more difficult to do so now.”

Later, sitting on a panel with other Italian horror cinema legends Lamberto Bava and Barbara Steele, Deodato reminds me once more of a kindly old gentleman. When asked about horror cinema, he confesses that he doesn’t much like the genre anymore, noting his preference for dramas and romances. I think back on the story of the “murdered” actors he had to produce in court, and recall that even after the actors appeared, not all of the charges were dropped. Such was the impact of Deodato’s gore that to be fully cleared, the director first had to first demonstrate to court officials exactly how he had accomplished a signature, grotesque impalement with special effects. I think the prosecutor in question just wanted to get that particularly nasty bit out of his head.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game designer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He can be seen around town wherever there are movies, cheap beer and little else. 

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Retro Review: RAGING BULL, the Best Film of the 80s, Hits the Big Screen at the Plaza

Posted on: May 25th, 2013 By:

RAGING BULL (1980); Dir. Martin Scorsese; Starring Robert DeNiro, Cathy Moriarty, Joe Pesci; Starts Friday, May 24 @Plaza Theatre (visit website for ticket prices and showtimes); Trailer here.

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

When surveying the scope of American cinema history, some film lovers find it easy to overlook the 1980s. Sandwiched between the artistic heights of the New Hollywood 70s and the indie revolution of the 90s, the “decade of greed” suffers from a film reputation as a cocaine-crusted tangent into corporate excess, amounting to little more than a pile of moribund slashers, musclebound war films, and cringe-worthy sex comedies that schemed to push art aside to make way for unchecked corporate commerce. The notion doesn’t stand up to scrutiny—not least because so many of the so-called corporate blockbusters managed to find artistic merit of their own—and film lovers hoping to find the one, definitive killer app of the decade need look no further than its very first year, when Martin Scorsese delivered not only the best film of the 80s, but one of the best American films ever made, the 1980 boxing drama RAGING BULL, which starts a full revival run tonight at the Plaza Theatre.

Don’t care for sports movies? That’s fine, because neither does Martin Scorsese, which is why RAGING BULL is a boxing movie like JAWS is a story about a fish. Based on middleweight Jake LaMotta’s memoirs, the film stars Robert DeNiro as the troubled boxer whose brutal, battering ring style was just an extension of his destructive personality. Even as his career rises in the ring, LaMotta’s terrifying temper and insecurity chip away at his sanity and create rifts between the boxer and the people he cares about, including his wife, Vicky (Cathy Moriarty), and his devoted brother Joey (Joe Pesci, in the role that made him famous). Beautifully shot in black and white, RAGING BULL is as much about madness as it is fighting, and Scorsese’s virtuoso direction finds poetry in the violence and makes a tragic hero out of a man who in a lesser film would be a monster, just another paranoid palooka.

Scorsese wasn’t the obvious choice to guide RAGING BULL to the screen, having suffered two major strikes against his career in the wake of his 1976 success, TAXI DRIVER. The first strike was a near-fatal overdose of cocaine, but the bigger issue (at least as far as the Hollywood suits were concerned) was the devastating box office failure of NEW YORK NEW YORK (1977), Scorsese’s ode to movie musicals. By most accounts, when DeNiro approached Scorsese with LaMotta’s book, the director initially refused the project, but soon went all-in, convinced it would be the last film he’d ever get to make. He and DeNiro brought in TAXI DRIVER collaborator Paul Schrader to breathe life into the script, and Schrader helped transform LaMotta’s bruised prose into a focused, thoughtful, and even elegant exploration of the inner darkness that can destroy a person or sometimes drive them into greatness. Jake LaMotta was a tortured, violent man, but his demons drove him in the ring just as surely as they ground him to a pulp in his personal life. RAGING BULL is not about a man trying to find a balance between his personal and professional life, but rather a man who can’t distinguish the difference. Jake always sees an opponent, whether there is one or not.

(The film’s most famous image is DeNiro as LaMotta in the ring, warming up. The image says it all—LaMotta is always alone, always preparing to fight.)

That same passion drives Scorsese, who once seriously considered a life as a priest before committing full time to his love of cinema, a love so consuming that it drove him into the extreme lifestyle that nearly killed him. Of course, RAGING BULL would not be the final film of Scorsese’s career, but he couldn’t have known that, and the film plays as if guided by a man who is using every ounce of his considerable talent and every trick in his head, learned from a lifetime of cinematic obsession, to bring the story home. As the film chronicles LaMotta’s struggles with his demons, we feel Scorsese wrestling with his, and the final product is as much a work of redemption for the director as it is the film’s protagonist. The boxing scenes are poetry in motion, all harsh lights and dark blood against light ropes and canvas. Ever the film proselytizer, Scorsese shot RAGING BULL in black and white partly to protest the loss of older color films to shoddy, degrading film stock, but it also lends the boxing scenes a dreamy horror that’s lost in a color film with its red, visceral, and more-immediate gore. Scorsese also plays with time in the ring, taking turns speeding up and slowing down the violence to put the audience in the mindset of the boxers, dismissing the strategy of the athlete and emphasizing the struggles of the man. In one of the film’s most famous sequences, Jake staggers against the ropes taking punches from Sugar Ray Robinson that begin slowly before demolishing Jake at high speed, splattering blood and sweat across his body and shattering his bones, but when the moment is over, all Jake can mumble through the ruins of his face is the line “You never got me down.”

The same phrase applies to the courtship scene between LaMotta and his wife, Vicky, in which Jake treats the interplay and flirtations of young romance like jabs and punches that must be endured to “win.” Jake sets out with a purpose to make Vicky his girl, and no matter what she says, Jake moves the conversation to his apartment, to his bedroom, and beyond, until Vicky is with him and nobody else. Is she unwilling? The scene is ambiguous, but succeeds in establishing Jake’s charm as well as his calm menace. This also applies to the iconic scene with his brother, where DeNiro communicates pure murder and paranoia without any of the usual clichés. It’s a misunderstanding that spirals out of control, a rhyme of Joe Pesci’s similar famous scene from GOODFELLAS (1990) a decade later.

Just look at him!

There are adults alive today who have no idea of the powerhouse Robert DeNiro was at his peak, who may only know him as the grumpy dad in MEET THE PARENTS (2000), or other such dread material. His role in the recent SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (2012) was overpraised precisely because it contained just enough of the spark he once brought to his characters to remind reviewers of the actor he once was during this, his artistic peak. DeNiro established his talent in MEAN STREETS (1973) and TAXI DRIVER, but RAGING BULL is a culmination of the actor’s method approach and sees DeNiro gaining a massive, unhealthy amount of weight just to play LaMotta in a few bookending scenes in his older age. There’s shocking, and then there’s transformative, and then there’s this holy shit change. Just look at him.

If I haven’t made it clear yet, RAGING BULL is worth your time. Simply put, it’s one of cinema’s great miracles, a movie that redeemed its director, cemented the legend of its star, and made a marginal book into one of the greatest cinematic spectacles of all time. Scorsese shot the film with a big screen in mind, and no television can properly communicate the stark black and white photography and the pure power of Scorsese’s beautiful compositions. Jake LaMotta may have been a brutal man, but the story of his life is a powerful work of beauty.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game writer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He writes at www.thehollywoodprojects.com and hosts a bimonthly screening series of classic films at theaters around Atlanta.

 

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Grindhouse Meets Art House in FLESH GORDON, or When Is the Last Time You Talked to Your Mother About Porn?

Posted on: Apr 24th, 2013 By:

FLESH GORDON (1974); Dirs: Michael Benveniste, Howard Ziehm; Starring Jason Williams, Suzanne Fields; Cineprov Presents on Sunday April 284, 7:30 p.m.; The Plaza Theatre, Trailer here.

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

When is the last time you talked to your mother about porn?

Yeah, OK. That’s a weird question. Let’s back up for a little context.

This Friday, the Plaza begins a run of one of the weirdest relics of the 1970s, softcore porn spoof FLESH GORDON. If you’ve ever doubted the commitment and film credentials of the new Plaza ownership, it may be time to suspend your disbelief, because I honestly don’t know another theatre in the city brave enough to put a softcore title on the screen just because they can. And GORDON is more than just a silly porno. It’s a genuine oddity, a movie with a unique role in film history and a gateway into that bizarro time in the 20th century when it was cool to watch porn.

When film projectors were invented over 100 years ago, the first bulb wasn’t cool before people found a way to use it for porn. Many of the earliest films we know about were skin flicks and erotica, because, then-as-now, that’s where the money was. But porn was always an outsider in the entertainment business, buried and segregated by strict, sometimes-draconian interpretations of obscenity laws. Porn was the film industry’s dirty secret, the seedy cousin nobody wants to talk about.

An unusual and powerful combination of events radically reshaped the porn industry in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Sexual Revolution of the 60s became a point of cultural pride for the many young people living through civil unrest, a way to fully distinguish themselves from the conservative generation of their parents. For some, freer sex equated to progress, and that notion led to some strange experiments in the name of moving forward. This shift in the culture caused a general relaxing of local and federal obscenity laws, which in turn opened the door for wider distribution of porno publications and, eventually, the opening of theaters exclusively and proudly devoted to pornographic films. All of those screens needed content, and a batch of eager filmmakers rushed into the new market, filmmakers with big ideas inspired by a larger trend of European art films which happened to be arriving on American shores at about the same time, sexy films like BLOW-UP (1966), PERSONA (1966) and the arthouse thrillers of Roman Polanski. Those films had blurred the line between smut and art in a way that seemed to point to a number of possibilities: if films with sex could be art, well, then sex films could be art, too!

This resulted in an extremely brief, but intensely weird trend dubbed by some as “porno-chic.” The trend began in 1970 with Michael Benveniste’s MONA THE VIRGIN NYMPH, the first major narrative hardcore porno film, and the first porn movie to receive widespread release in America. The success of MONA brought more attention to porn, and within two years, the genre had its first real “masterpieces” and mainstream box office smashes with BEHIND THE GREEN DOOR (1972) and the phenomenon DEEP THROAT (1972). As if the world hadn’t gone topsy turvy enough, porn films became the talk of mainstream film critics and big-city intellectuals, and many felt as if they couldn’t keep up with the water cooler conversation unless they were up to date on the latest stag flicks. Some porn stars—most famously Marilyn Chambers—threatened to break out of porn and into Hollywood.

It was into this environment that FLESH GORDON arrived. FLESH was an attempt at a big, mainstream porn comedy, co-directed by the father of porno-chic himself, MONA director Benveniste, but by the time FLESH was released, the trend was already slinking back into the shadows. FLESH takes as its target the original FLASH GORDON serials of the 1930s (not the more-famous FLASH GORDON film, which came six years after its porno progenitor) and places its hero on the planet Porno Mongo, ruled by the evil Wang the Perverted. Flesh’s mission: to stop a sex ray that could turn all of Earth into sex fiends. (A similar story, it turns out, to 1968’s BARBARELLA.) To give you a window into the film’s sense of humor, when Flesh and his crew arrive on Porno Mongo, they are attacked by a large, throbbing monster. It’s called, of course, a Penisaurus.

So it’s not high art, but FLESH GORDON is more of a pleasure for film fans than a pain. While we may look at porn parodies today as hopelessly cheap and shlocky, nobody told the FLESH GORDON crew that they weren’t making a real film. The movie has a goofy sense of humor that gets it through the creaky plot, and it features incredibly-cool and inventive special effects, including a series of stop-motion critters designed and executed by future industry legends like Mike Minor (STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE [1979]) and one of the all-time great movie monster makers, Rick Baker. FLESH GORDON exists at that one narrow crossroads in film history where porno ambitions met mainstream talent, and it provides a glimpse into a different direction that American movies might have gone. Despite the tendency of porn to exploit its stars, there’s nothing mean-spirited in FLESH GORDON’s softcore spirit. The film is packed with nudity from end to end, but often feels more like admiration than exploitation, more Russ Meyer than Chuck Traynor.

There’s some confusion as to the different versions of FLESH GORDON available to the public. For many years, the only version of the film available was a heavily-edited 72 minutes long, and rumors persisted of a longer hardcore cut. But when the restored, uncut version appeared years later, it remained softcore. (This uncut version is the one playing at the Plaza) Co-director Howard Ziehm has stated that there were hardcore scenes filmed, but that they were nabbed by police in an obscenity-law sting and have been permanently lost. This is probably for the best. Part of the fun of FLESH GORDON is the way that, despite its rampant nudity and bawdy sexuality, the film somehow retains its gee-whiz innocence. Penetration tends to ruin that illusion.

The moment of the mainstream porn film was basically gone by the time FLESH GORDON arrived, but the film’s legacy is still felt today. GORDON was the first porn spoof, and its success in, frankly, getting away with it blazed a trail for decades of porno spoofs that have become the most famous version of the form. If you’ve ever sat around wondering what the “porn name” of your favorite mainstream film would be, you owe a debt, however small, to FLESH GORDON. Sadly, today’s pornos have give up on the clever titles and funny rebranding in favor of just putting “parody” right in the name. I know it’s porn we’re talking about here, but come on. “Batman: The Porn Parody?” Where’s the fun in that?

So how did I wind up talking with my mother about porn? Well, I realized that Mom would have been in her 20s at the peak of porno-chic. Surely she knew about it. Was she aware it was going on? Did she *gasp* see DEEP THROAT? I approached the subject with some caution and, after some explaining, she agreed to answer my question. She looked me right in the eye and said, “Son, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Thank you, Mom. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game writer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He writes at www.thehollywoodprojects.com and hosts a bimonthly screening series of classic films at theaters around Atlanta.

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