Monday, June 30, 2014

Print Your Own Revolution: Jon Szpunar's XEROX FEROX

DIY. Three delicious letters that hold more power than entire scripts consisting of the rest of the alphabet. The ethos of do-it-yourself is one that has spearheaded everything from political revolutions to cultural movements. The former in the past could inspire things like rioting and decapitation. The latter could be slightly more gentle, with one of its many forms resulting in the zine movement. This inspired an assortment of writers and simply enthusiastic fans creating their own magazines. This shined brighter in fewer fields than film, with horror and cult movies becoming a huge part of the DIY periodical zenith. At last, a tome dedicated to this rich, fun and occasionally troubled field has come out, all thanks John Szpunar's meticulously put together XEROX FEROX: THE WILD WORLD OF THE HORROR FILM FANZINE.

XEROX FEROX begins from, where else, the beginning, with its chapter/interview formatting starting with such genre film writing legends as Steve Bissette, Bhob Stewart, Gary Svehla, Tim Lucas and Chas Balun, as well as the young Turks that came along a little later, like Bill Landis, Keith Crocker, Greg Goodsell, Mike McPadden, Shane DallmannTim Paxton and Andy Copp. And they are just the tip of the iceberg! In fact, each individual profiled in this book ranges in personality, approach and aesthetics. From old school Universal Monsters moon-eyed love to a celebration of all things grue-filled and naked nubile flesh, all of them are unified by one very important thing. The sheer drive and need that only the purest of passion and enthusiasm can breed. It's like obscenity. Hard to define but you'll know it when you see it.

Matching the subjects enthusiasm is the sheer amount of research and care that both Szpunar and the book's publisher, headpress, put into this work. It is an instant historically important tome and a needed read for both genre film fans and nonfiction writers, young and seasoned alike. These are stories that were needing to be documented and bless all involved for doing just that. Hopefully, it will be a touchstone for other like-minded compendiums to bear fruit. Imagine XEROX FEROX-quality books covering the music zines, the poetry zines, the DIY comics, etc etc. All of this is art that is not really that old but yet is in continual danger of being lost due to its fringe, low-budget origins.

The only real negative with this book is how little women are featured. No singular woman is mentioned. It would have been nice to see someone like Maitland McDonagh get mentioned, since she's a great writer who has been in this field since the 1980's. Michelle Clifford does at least get mentioned in conjunction with Bill Landis, since she worked with him on the latter stages of Sleazoid Express, as well as being the main figure behind Metasex. This isn't necessarily Spuznar's fault, but is more of a symptom of a bigger problem that is the boy's club of genre film writing where women have been relegated more to the sidelines, only to be dusted off for the occasional female-centric bone thrown their way. It can be a well meaning thing, but the best surefire route to equality is just to treat a female writer like you would a male writer. But all that aside, this is a fine book that will inform and inspire those of any category. Long live the DIY press!

© 2014 Heather Drain

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The South Will Never Rise Again

Flashback all the way to the hallowed early 2000's. I still had a stomach for constructs like internet message boards, with one of the best being the one at Patty Mahlon's loving and meticulously constructed William Girdler website. It was on that very board where I first read about a Long Island erotic atrocity known as “Lulu & Friends” aka “Valley Stream Slut.” This film was helmed by a true Renaissance man, Keith Crocker. Keith, in addition to being the man responsible for the fabulous “The Exploitation Journal,” an early and seminal horror/cult zine, he also has directed some of the most unique and balls out features like “The Bloody Ape” and “Blitzkrieg:Escape from Stalag 69.” 

DVD Cover art of Crocker's "The Bloody Ape"
 Getting to know Keith via this message board, I was always impressed with his storytelling abilities, especially when related to his experiences as an independent filmmaker. The stories were often unflinching about the non-glamorous aspects of the business but always were tinged with a wink and a nod kind of humor. In short, they were a fun and terrific read. Out of all the great stories Keith wrote about on that long dead-in-the-ground forum, the tale of his one and only foray into the seemingly seamy world of X-rated film making was as harrowing as it was hilarious. Little did I know that years from then, that I would be watching this infamous film in the comfort of my own living room.

Lulu meets one of her "friends."
Not too long after reading about Keith's tales of “Lulu” and her randy friends, I had also read a review of an equally sexually inept adult film on the Girdler-Board sister-site-of-sorts, the now long defunct Brains on Film. That website's main man, Larry Joe Treadway aka Professor Tread, was one of the funniest and most unique film writers on the internet at that time. Out of the sizable body of review work he built up, it was his write-up of one of the most striking, brain-scratching and life-affirming-in-every-wrong-way-possible films, courtesy of the impressive film library at Something Weird Video. A film that, once seen, will stay with you like a drunken hug from your Southern uncle. That is, if your Southern uncle also happens to be wearing a beat up and stained Halloween superhero costume.

Something Weird Video's DVD release of "Bat Pussy."
The film in question was 1973's “Bat Pussy.” A film so obscure that the odds of its cast and crew ever surfacing are about as good as finding a photo of Frank Sinatra testifying against the Mafia. Dialogue rich with white trash psychodrama bordering on burma shave with the biggest “star” being an issue of Screw magazine, “Bat Pussy” is a film whose description will never do justice to what your eyes and ears will see and hear. I will, of course, though, give it my best shot. (It is a real shame that Tread's review of it is MIA since it has remained one of my favorite pieces of film writing ever, with him describing the movie as “John Waters' Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf. That might be the most accurate statement ever written about “Bat Pussy.”)

Best SCREW Magazine plug ever!
You may be wondering what do these two films have in common, other than being two extremely low-budget, ultra-obscure adult films? Not much other than a sense of human sexuality going directly past eroticism and into a transcendent netherworld that will leave you mystified, giggling and wondering why your sex drive just took a left turn to Albuquerque and is never coming back!

With “Lulu & Friends,” Crocker was given a lot of unenviable cards in his deck. Sure, his leading lady, our titular Lulu, is enthusiastic and gets an absolute A for effort. Her acting is a bit rough but she does try, with the highlight including a crude and funny spectral encounter. Actually, the women in the film all get an A for trying. One of her friends, a very attractive, dark haired beauty valiantly tries to get her boyfriend, whose bad haircut and horrible taste in underwear just screams coke head late 80's scumbag, to rise to attention. But it's no use. You really just want to reach through the screen and say, “Honey, it's okay. Go shower up and get a nicer man. One whose taste in bikini underwear won't make you instantly question where you're headed in life.” 

Bad decision making.
With “Bat Pussy,” the issue of male virility rendered flaccid despite the near-heroic attempts by giving women comes into play too. Unlike “Lulu & Friends,” where at least some of the couplings actually result in some sort of fruition, “Bat Pussy” is like one mobious strip of bickering and a man, the only man in the whole bloody film, whose failure to achieve any sort of usable erection starts to feel like it s an unintentional metaphor for our failure to ever achieve true greatness in this life. Or maybe he just had whiskey dick. You never know.

In lieu of a pretty brunette, we have our hero's wife, a pale, bouffanted Shirley-type who vacillates between trying to turn on her man and bitching at him. With lines like, “You wouldn't know how to eat pussy if it was your dead grandmother's” (!!!) and “You don't love me, motherfucker!,” you can maybe understand why he is having a bit of a difficult time getting aroused. In fairness to her, what woman wants to hear her redneck amour droning on about how “we need to do this just like in the magazine” and that ever sweet bon-mot, “Darling, she meant nothing to me!”? 

Probably a relative.
At least with “Lulu,” there's a very loosely-restrained feeling of rompiness, rendered all the more surreal by Crocker's absolutely brilliant use of music. Honestly, the music saves a large portion of the sex scenes, which otherwise would be bordering on the unwatchable. Everything from funk classics to some incidental music most famous for being used on “The Little Rascals” movie shorts, all pop up throughout the film, as if it is an act of pure directorial alchemy.

That said, there is one mighty big advantage that “Bat Pussy” has and that is all in the form of its title character. Imagine Batman if he was a cornfed dame whose “lair” was a cement dinge-room, complete with a hobbity-hop in lieu of a car and the rattiest Superhero costume this side of “Rat Fink a Boo Boo.” If the words, instant awesome, came to mind then you would be correct! Here's a character that neither Marvel or DC Comics would want to touch with a 10-foot pole, which is their loss. Bat Pussy is all sorts of foul-mouthed, bent-moral wonder and yet, sadly, not even she can get a happy physical result from our hero. Her classy reaction? “You don't know how to fuck, motherfucker!” I hope this man got some good therapy afterwards, that is if he didn't end up buried under a bridge in Anywhere, Southern USA.

The splendor of the Bat Pussy Headquarters.
At the end of the day, while both “Lulu & Friends” and “Bat Pussy” may fail in the arousal department, they took, intentionally (“Lulu”) and unintentionally (“Bat Pussy”) their individual weaknesses and transformed them into a viewer experience that is as hilarious as it is harrowing and even Artaudian in its regard for the audience. Plus, both are still better than anything Julia Roberts has starred in. (Thank you, thank you and please, tip your piano player!) 

 ©2014 Heather Drain