Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Carnival Closes & New Beginnings

When I started this blog a few years ago, the goal was to expound what I had been doing for assorted print magazines and webzines alike. Over time, that goal has remained steadfast, but in addition to that, it has helped bring some great connections in my life and hopefully converted the unconverted to film, literature and music worthy of love, attention and discourse.

That said, the time has been long nigh to take things to the next level and with that is an official website that is now officially live! Mondo Heather is now a big, bright website featuring some old chestnuts from this blog, as well as some brand new pieces as well. If you have enjoyed this blog at all, then you will love the website even more.

This blog will remain up as a document of the past, but for the present and future, ride the mindway and go to Mondo Heather.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Escaping the Dog & Pony Show on Fury Road


It's intermission time and you are primed and ready. Smuggled in snack food? Check. Overpriced soda the size of an old school Buick's headlight obtained officially on theater premises? Check. Your eager film-going tocks firmly in place in your cush, stadium setting multiplex chair? Check. Mass exposure to a barrage of advertisement and trailers that stink of crass come-ons and hucksterism like a dead dog in the Texas heat? Sad in its absoluteness.

What I am listing here is the lego-block-steps that many of us go through when we actually venture out of our home/caves and crave something bigger than our monitors, phones or TV's can provide. Steps one and two are touch and go hence interchangeable, but the last two are inescapable. Advertisement is a necessary beast for businesses, so if it is cloying or cheesy or IQ-drowning, it is simply the nature of things. It is what it is. Where the true scares begin is when the film trailers start rolling.

Going to see George Miller's latest, the incredible and powerful right down to its very core MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, I got a big faceful of the death throes of American mainstream cinema. (MAD MAX is spared because it is essentially an Australian film made by an Australian director, albeit with big American press, money and distribution behind it.) The first two trailers were both based on characters from Marvel Comics, with the first being ANTMAN and the second being yet another version of THE FANTASTIC FOUR. (Never mind the fact that the last two attempts at bringing the latter comic to life have failed pretty tremendously.) There are amazing films based on comics. In fact two of my favorite films ever, THE WATCHMEN and GHOST WORLD, were both based on equal but differently brilliant graphic novels. However, I feel like Hollywood is really starting the tap the Marvel/DC archive bone dry with this business. You can hear the execs practically ejaculating in their well tailored slacks at the merchandising dollars alone. You too can have an ANTMAN burrito from Taco Bell! (Note: I have no idea if that tie-in will happen, but would it surprise you? Yeah, me neither.) 

Even worse, both trailers looked basic as basic could be. There might as well been flashing text cuing all of us blank-faced living dead rubes on when to laugh, gasp or ooh and ahh. At this point, they are banking on if they slap a comic book hero emblem on a monkey trying to suck its own weiner, there will be enough suckers to fork over their hard earned dough for the second saddest breads and circuses bullshit fiesta ever. (The first being reality TV, of course.)

It didn't get any better with the next trailer, another dog & pony paranormal show in the form of THE GALLOWS. Bad lighting, hackneyed horror cliches, a cast that are blander than the wardrobe selection on Dawson's Creek and the use of a cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” that put me in the mindset of hoping that Kurt Cobain will haunt everyone attached to this banal looking horror film. In short, it does not look promising. In this age of legitimately eerie “creepypastas” and indie horror directors who are trying to add new chrome to a jet lagged wheel, THE GALLOWS looks both dated and about as scary as NEW YEAR'S EVIL. (And if you have seen that film, first of all I'm sorry and secondly, you know exactly what I am talking about.) 

Lastly, there was arguably the best of the bunch, Guy Richie's remake/reboot/regurgitation of THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E It looks well shot but incredibly arch. Plus Henry Cavill's Napoleon Solo reads less Robert Vaughn and more like George Lazenby in need of a tall glass of Metamucil. Realistically, it's probably going through the motions as much as the other three, but is a little more stylish. It is like the jaded stripper who cares enough to look a little put together and nice, but is still going to bump and grind with all the internal eroticism of a POW camp.

The divine yang to the awful yin was Miller's latest addition to the Mad Max universe. FURY ROAD is everything that those trailers are not. Truly invigorating, visually stunning with some scenes echoing shades of the most vibrant surrealists coupled with the metal-on-dust hyper realism of a post-apocalyptic universe, characters who stand out, composition that echoes masters like David Lean and Sergei Eisenstein and best of all, an actual and beating heart. A film as good as MAD MAX: FURY ROAD feels as fragrant and sweet as the best love letter. Not that the film itself is that light and airy. Far from it but it is so incredibly well made by a cast and crew who clearly cared enough to treat us, the viewer, with actual respect and affection. The fact that this film is cliche-less seals the whole envelope with a blood and tear stained kiss. I will write more in-depth about this extraordinary film at a later date, but needless to say, it has left a huge imprint on me.

In a way, the creative success of this film and its contrast to so much of the trite and bait and hack of mainstream American cinema has tapped into something I have long suspected. The era of big budget American directors crafting true masterpieces is dead. There's a 1% exception, as there is for almost everything in life, but in the bigger picture, forget it. The waves upon waves of “reboots,” which is just another word for remake, is proof of this. There are good remakes out there, but for every John Carpenter's THE THING, we get Michael Bay's colostomy bag of horseshit.

Don't get me wrong, nostalgia is a dangerous and fetid emotion and Hollywood was and will forever be about the bottom dollar. To quote Bobbi Flekman from THIS IS SPINAL TAP, “Money talks and bullshit walks.” The only problem is that the bullshit is the thing, again with some exceptions, bringing in the money. The more bloated things get, the more apparent it is that the true viable hope of American cinema is in the hands of two specific types. Those who are currently in the belly of the beast, slaving to get out from the inside and pull some beautifully subversive cards from their deck and the true blue independent artists out there. And I'm not talking “Miramax” indies either. I am talking the men and woman who are working class artists writing, editing, producing and directing out of a true need and want to do something that is their own. There is always hope in this life and with American cinema, it is resting firmly in these two divergent but similarly-goaled twin hands. 

Copyright 2015 Heather Drain

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

God, Murder & Palm Springs: Duke MItchell's Gone With the Pope

My first trip to the beautiful state of California practically overflowed with film watching. Which is highly fitting for about eighty different reasons. Even better was that I got to watch some spectacular films but out of the veritable Whitman's Sampler of good cinema, there was one film among all the others that has continued to stay with me. In fact, it is one of those that worms its way ever so neatly under your skin. I couldn't stop thinking about it and in fact, still can't, which means there was only one thing left to do. Write about it.

At the very core of this Mesmer-worthy pull is the filmmaker/star/writer. A man of somewhat slight physical build but yet contained a pure power that only the most alpha and charismatic of males can have. On top of that layer cake of qualities is the undiluted creative passion and fire that only the truly brilliant, mad or a little bit of both possess. The man in question is the inimitable Duke Mitchell and the film? His last and unfinished until recently masterwork, GONE WITH THE POPE.

Going into the film, the main thing I knew about Duke Mitchell was that he was an entertainer that had popped up as the pseudo-Dean Martin to Sammy Petrillo's Jerry Lewis-esque schtick in the C-Film, BELA LUGOSI MEETS THE BROOKLYN GORILLA. The only thing I knew about GWTP was that it was going to be a strange mafioso type film. Both of these are the golden winners of the understatements of the year award because boy howdy, I got sucker punched and in the absolute best of ways. 

In GWTP, Duke plays Paul, a career criminal getting released from prison after being locked up for several years. Most would want to lay low after being trapped in the ultimate cement jungle, especially with a loyal, sweet natured wealthy blonde waiting for them. But Paul's not really given that choice when he is immediately pulled back into the underworld and is coerced into pulling off seven hits in two different cities. In a brilliant move that I will not spoil because I love you, let's just say that Paul is not a dude you want to ever underestimate, especially in a double-cross situation.

Brilliant is a word that one can attribute a lot to GWTP and the core of that is the character of Paul. This man is one heartburst of a character and with an absolute moral need to do right by his friends, who have also just gotten released from the clink. We even see him give a pep talk to a young, strung out long hair (played by Duke's son, Jeffrey Mitchell) about staying off the junk. With the aid of his lady fair, he even gets to take his boys out on a world wide boating trip, all to give them experiences that they never had and would never get to have without his help.

The big sweeping shades of moral gray never quite leave and in fact, only grow exponentially after the film's first act. One night of fun with the boys leads them, all woman-starved from being in prison, to spending the evening with a model-gorgeous black escort. It's bizarre because some of the non-politically correct shit said her way would be greeted with, at best, “what the fuck” and at worst, sheer repulsion. The lady handles it with way more grace and smiles than it deserves but yet, Paul ends up joking with her and being affectionate. It's a brainmelt move because any other film would have these characters as outright, cardboard cutout racist villains. But Paul is clearly our hero of sorts and his attitude isn't totally dyed-in-the-wool racist. It's a bit like having an older relative who will say some heinously politically incorrect shit, but yet his best friend is an African-American and more importantly, he is at least NOT the kind of asshole to swing the “but one of my friends...” old chestnut.

Paul is not that type and from all accounts, neither was Duke Mitchell. 

It's a move that neither endorses nor condemns but better yet, is a slice of life. Good people say messed up things and do messed up things. Anyone that is willing to share this truth with you and not treat you like a child weaned on John Wayne morality is a person that respects you. Thank you, Duke Mitchell.

The moral complexity further continues with Paul's ultimate grand scheme: kidnapping the Pope and holding him for ransom until every single Catholic pays fifty cents. Out of love for their friend and leader, they go along with it but once the egg is hatched, nobody banks on the crew discovering spiritual enlightenment. All of this leads to the film's absolute pivotal moment, one that is not riddled with bullets or machismo laden violence or bravura, but instead one emotional scene that rings more true than a gaggle of any “Oscar” worthy melodramas. The criticism of the Catholic Church is one that is still being echoed over thirty years later and yet, the Pope in this film is also a good man. Not a corrupt figure doing the ole soft shoe on molestation charges and wearing Gucci slippers, but a quiet older man with a sense of serenity and light around him. Yet everything that Paul rips his heart open about the church, right down to the lack of black faces in the pews, rings true.

The rest of the film spirals into a strange climax that has to be seen to be believed. Which is all part of the shocking beauty of GONE WITH THE POPE. It is alternately well made and yet raw at its core, with a fluidity and rhythm like no other. The closest filmmaker that had that same fire spirit that Mitchell displays both acting and directing wise with GWTP is John Cassavetes. Which may sound like an odd comparison at first, especially since Cassavetes' films tended to lack dialogue like “Why Me?” “Why not?” in the midst of a mob hit, but these two men are cut from that same, we're gonna do it anyhow cloth. The blending of the true-to-life lack of filter, zero compromise and pure volatile heart are the hallmarks of artists like this. That's why guys like Duke and Cassavetes will forever stand out because their breed is as striking as they are endangered and realistically, they have always been endangered. 

Duke Mitchell, whose career as an entertainer remained solid enough to be deemed “the King of Palm Springs” and have his own star in that famed desert resort, that he didn't need to go into filmmaking. Looking at his short but striking filmography, including the strong gut-punch of a debut with MASSACRE MAFIA STYLE and GONE WITH THE POPE as the crown jewel, a cat like Mitchell did this out of pure need and love. There was no way, even in the more liberal climate of the 1970's, that his films ever had a chance to be blockbusters. There is no justice but it also means he did something right by making a film so wild, wooly and with his thumbprint all over it.

Bless both the folks at Grindhouse Releasing and Jeffrey Mitchell, for making sure that Duke's final film not only was finished, but that it is seeing a more than proper Blu Ray/DVD release. (Complete with a bounty of extras, including interviews, deleted scenes and liner notes from uber-writer, filmmaker and Bizarro literature high guru, John Skipp.) Passing way too soon from this plane at the age of 55, Duke Mitchell's cinematic legacy will continue to live on and grow bigger than it was when he was still alive. If you want to see a film layered with crime, love and religious conflict, then look no further than Duke Mitchell's incendiary GONE WITH THE POPE. 

Copyright 2015 Heather Drain

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Love Like Blood: Jorg Buttgereit's Nekromantik 2

Every genre of film has its presets of expectations. If it's a Western film, you expect dusty landscapes and dirty cowboys. If it's a Horror film, you expect some amount of screaming, blood and at least one false scare. If it's a love story, then you expect romantic pathos and a boy and a girl to meet and fall in forever, soulmate-esque love in spite of a few dramatic interruptions. Etc etc. All of this is why I love it when a filmmaker can take these little category boxes of film, wield a boxcutter to a bunch of them and then with some duct tape, construct something actually quite fresh and different. With this build up, you may not expect that the film I am segueing to is Jorg Buttgereit's sequel to his underground dark comedy/horror film, Nekromantik, but segueing I am! (Of course if you actually read the title to this article, then you already knew where I was going with all of this. In that case, never mind.)

Sequels are generally a bit of a creative gamble. Is it a crude way to lure in the rubes? Sure, if the minds behind it are bankrupt. A truly good and worthy sequel is one that can use all of the right elements from the first film and utilize that as a template to build a better garden. With a brilliant and fun director like Buttgereit at the helm once again, Nekromantik 2 is a fascinating film intertwined with one of the strangest love stories ever told.

The quote of “I just want to master life & death, ” courtesy of Theodore R. Bundy, better known as Ted Bundy, one of the most infamous serial killers from the past forty years, begins the first frame, right before a flashback to Rob's (Daktari Lorenz) climactic (literally and metaphorically) hari kiri scene from the first film. Nekromantik 2 truly begins with a stylishly dressed and slightly nervous looking young woman walking around a cemetery near a bombed out looking building. The deeper she goes, the more lush the vegetation grows, until she ends up in a more secluded section where Rob is buried. In some perfect cosmic kismet, the first film's death-obsessed protagonist ends up being dug up by a lovely lady with similar post-living obsessions!

Digging him up, she's able to move his corpse into her extremely colorful and tidy apartment. The grotto-grunge of Rob's apartment from the first film is replaced by clean, sunny walls and modern, neat-looking furniture. Jars of assorted body parts/mementos from Rob's dayjob are now an assortment of skull centric paintings and medical x-rays used as art as décor. The red haired woman, Monika (Monika M.), lays his body out and kisses him wetly with some tentativeness and a lot of barely held back erotic charge, before she begins to undress him. Meanwhile, we also meet Mark (Mark Reeder), a lanky looking young man on his way to his dayjob of dubbing over rangy-looking porn.

The dreamy edging into psychedelic camerawork that marked all of the love scenes from the first Nekromantik starts to return as Monika attempts to make love to Rob's blackened-by-rot form, but coitus interruptus arises as she physically gets ill and cannot resume the lovemaking. In short, Monika has the heart and drive for sexually loving the dead, but not quite the stomach. There's something about Rob, though, that makes her clean up his body, with her red lacquered nails tenderly touching the imprint of his fatal gut wound and dress him in fresh clothes. As Mark tries to plan a film date with an eternally tardy friend of his, Monika poses with Rob for her Polaroid with a self-timer, grinning like a new girl smitten with amour.

But life's strange glory comes into play yet again, when Monika happens to walk by the Sputnik Theater where Mark is waiting for his date. Impatient, he chats her up and offers Monika the spare ticket. Going to watch some bizarro world version of “My Dinner with Andre,” entitled “Mon Dejeuner avec Vera” (aka “My Lunch with Vera”), that consists of a highly chatty man and a less chatty woman, completely naked and eating eggs, Monika and Mark quickly hit it off. Soon, Monika will face the weirdest case of being “torn between two lovers” ever, only to be outdone by one hilarious and volatile resolution.

"Nekromantik 2" is a an intriguing and worthy sequel to its infamous and well made progenitor. The fact that Buttgereit switched the focus from a heart-sick and head-sick young man in the form of Rob, to the love-sick and balanced-in-her-own-strange-way, Monika, is unexpected and really smart. The eroto-death factor is still there, but with Monika, her own flesh won't allow her to do what her heart wants to. Even more intriguing is when she tries to dispose of Rob as she and Mark start to get more serious, Monika grows emotional and keeps Rob's head and genitals. (The latter comes into play with some great twisted humor, as she puts it on a plate, wraps it in plastic and places the severed member in her fridge like well-loved leftovers. Which is pretty fitting, now that I think of it!)

Monika is an unusually complex character, especially for being a woman. In the cinematic landscape, whether we're talking mainstream pap or underground DIY, women are more of than not, relegated to ether bitch, sex/brain starved nymphet-nympho, frumpy friend or Holly Sunshine: Pretty Girl Worthy of Love. So to see a female lead chase her heart and desires that play far outside the boundaries of what is “normal” (or legal for that matter), is pretty great. Especially as her relationship with Mark starts to show more cracks, with him unable to give her any sort of climax, Monika is forced to feed her need. Granted, I'm not saying “Ladies, start digging up your soulmate!” or anything, but there is an undercurrent of affection and respect for this character that is refreshing. Monika M. is likable as the lovely and chic girl with the strangest desires of profound morbidity. There is an understatedness to her performance that works quite well and helps keep the film anchored in an even keel. 


The filmmaking quotient is even better here, with Nekromantik 2 featuring more of budget with the former's 8mm format being replaced with a more glossy looking 16mm print. That may sound like a sell-out to a less-slackful underground film fan, but given that the plot is more of a love story, a fact even mentioned by Buttgereit himself in the intro to the lovely Cult Epics blu-ray release, it makes more sense for it visually to look bright and crisp. The first film was more of a tonally extreme film, so the 8mm format was perfect for it. The camerawork and editing are even tighter, with some especially great use of movement in the “hunt for Rob” cemetery sequence near the beginning. One big link between the two films is the amazing soundtrack, featuring more stellar work courtesy of Herman Kopp and “John Boy Walton,” both returning from the first film. The fact that such beautifully composed music is intertwined with a film about necrophilia is all sorts of subversive sweetness.

Speaking of great music, one of my personal favorite scenes is the musical number that seemingly pops out of nowhere with Monika singing “Squelette Délicieux” like a post-modern Zarah Leander. The fact that the title loosely translates to, “Delicious Skeleton,” makes me love this scene all the more. Beatrice M.'s cameo (Betty from the original Nekromantik) is also a hoot.

It's that combination of humor, heart and a willingness to explore transgressive imagery and taboo topics that sear Nekromantik 2 into the minds of any viewer worth his or her salt. There's still a bit of the requisite gore and animal death, though neither are quite as heightened as they were in the first. (A warning to the squeamish, the animal footage involves Monika and her lady-gang of death-loving friends watching footage of a dead seal getting dissected. It's really gross but given that the animal was already dead and the video in question looks clinical in nature, it is still a far cry from the cruelty-tango of the Italian cannibal films of the 70's.)

It is inconceivable to think that out of the two Nekromantik films, this was the one that was quickly seized by German authorities, just a mere 12 days after its initial release. To the extent that they even attempted, and mercifully failed, to find and destroy that actual negative. The reasoning? It allegedly “glorified violence.” Never mind that the first one had more violence or even worse, the numerous Hollywood action films that were more inherently immoral in their revery of death and maiming. Especially coming off the heels of the 80's, where people were consistently being used as pure blow-up fodder for the beefy, gun wielding hero du jour. Case in point: Which film has a higher body count? Nekromantik 2 or any of the Rambo films? Exactly.

Luckily for us, Nekromantik 2 is still here and is out via another gorgeous blu ray release from Cult Epics. If there's a supplement you would want, this film has it, from director commentary to a behind-the-scenes-featurette to trailers and even a moment of silence via a home video peek into Jorg and friends' road trip to Ed Gein's gravesite. This whole release is a fitting tribute to a great film and director.

Nekromantik 2 is further proof that out of the unholy hordes of indie filmmakers that emerged out of the 1980's, few are true auteurs like Buttgereit. There was and is no director out in the cinematic landscape quite like him. Even if 8,000 foolhards tried to imitate him, they would fail because a real artist has their own unique fingerprint and that is Jorg Buttgereit all the way. 

Copyright 2015 Heather Drain 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Library is Now Open: Brad Stevens' "The Hunt" & Art Decades Issue #2

There were few sanctuaries as enticing growing up as the library. Stuck in a small working class burg and feeling like I was destined for pariah-kid-stasis, the library was an oasis that held many secrets, wonders and, most importantly, methods of escape. It still holds a bit of that power for me today, especially when it comes to glancing around and scoping out the variety of materials. Sleek tomes and colorful paper magazines lining up in a pristine formation and awaiting your eyes and hands.

The section that always pulls me first is the new fiction. There's the usual mix of chick-lit, science-fiction, historical dramas, something with a fantastical dwarf on it and some tawdry knock off of “Fifty Shades of Grey.” (Go ahead and feel free to channel your inner Kurtz here and go “...the horror....the horror.”) One of those tomes could very well be “The Hunt” by Brad Stevens. Brad first entered my stratosphere with his excellent work in the film writing world, including articles for my old periodical stomping grounds at Video Watchdog and his Bradlands column over at the British Film Institute's (BFI) website. “The Hunt” is his first fictive book and stands out as a unique debut. “The Hunt” centers around Mara Gorki, a writer whose work is massively successful overseas but is restricted in her homeland, which is a dystopian United Kingdom where women are treated like second to seventy first class citizens in every conceivable way.

The hostile atmosphere includes the legally imposed dress code of no pants or shorts for women over the age of 18, including corporal punishment via caning if broken to the rabid verbal abuse from various men of the cloth. However, the capper being the titular “Hunt” itself. Basically, a handful of very wealthy “gentlemen” pay for the privilege to hunt for women in an abandoned section of the city that has been quartered off by the government. As opposed to that old chestnut, “The Most Dangerous Game,” instead of hunting to kill, these men like their kicks on the sexual-sadistic side and track down these women, who are all drafted in by the government. There are rules, included intentional murder being one of the few actual taboos, but in a near future where women are basically regarded as mentally stunted vessels for the anger and damaged id impulse of key men who have been rewarded for their misogyny as opposed to being educated against it, things get on the vile side fairly quickly. It's a lesson that Mara learns intimately when she ends up being recruited.

Now from that description and those similar to it that you can read elsewhere online, you might be getting images of some ghastly Eli Roth film meets “A Handmaid's Tale.” The latter is somewhat close to the mark but you can mercifully kill the former. While Steven's does not pull any punches when it comes to the specifics of torture, his language neither lingers or delights in it. His prose in general is very clean, neatly written and yet has a quiet warmth and pulse to it that makes it all the more compelling. It's an unusual mix to see that kind of writing when it comes to such extreme material. The common tendency is to glory in the guts and agony and have the prose practically wiggle with every shriek, moan, leer and scream. But that is not the literary voice here and it is Stevens' restraint coupled with his clear love of his female characters, especially Mara and her partner, cineaste and film writer, Yuki Morishita. (A relationship the two naturally have to keep secret, since homosexuality is also forbidden.)

Speaking of, his handling of Yuki and Mara's relationship is quite sweet and feels authentic. “The Hunt” also features some extreme snarking on E.L. James fan fiction gone awry, “Fifty Shades of Grey.” As a whole it's a disturbing and smart read with solid characters, a bit of conspiracy theory and a peek into a future that doesn't feel too unreal whenever you see another news story about women all over the world having acid thrown into their faces, murdered for being a victim of rape or being robbed of the choice to be in control of their own body.

Now that you have a book picked out, you gotta have a magazine to go with it. With its striking cover and lush formatting, the second issue of the brand new periodical, Art Decades, is a fine choice. After its strong debut issue, Issue 2 continues in the fine tradition of loving art, unearthing past artists and celebrating the ones that are currently creating. The starting gate lets you know that the contents are gonna be good, with the following Joe Strummer quote taking the helm: “The way you get a better world is, you don't put up with a substandard any thing.” It's a bold move from such a young mag but bold is good and it sure as hell is better than boring.

The first main article is an excellent piece by Tara Hanks entitled “Pauline Boty: Pop Artist & Woman.” It's such a strong piece, offering fascinating and needed insight into one of the most under-looked pop artists that emerged out of the 50's and 60's. Boty was hampered by her gender, since while the art world is still fairly male dominated now, it is still miles ahead from the uber-macho atmosphere back when she was alive and working. Dying at the young age of 28 did not help much either. On top of that, knowing that several of her works are still missing in action, makes pieces like this one so important. A good article is a fun way to kill some time but a great article is one that plants a seed.

After that, there's the gorgeous photo layout, “My Time's Up,” based om The Raveonettes song of the same name. With photographer Whitly Brandenburg serving as the melancholy model backed by the twin muses of the aforementioned song and Jean Rollin's film “The Iron Rose,” it is one of the most standout visuals of the entire issue. Photographers Jeremy and Kelley Richey make great and dreamy use of the cemetery locale, as well as Brandenburg herself, whose presence has all the childlike beauty of a doll but with the air of one who has seen and felt something far older than her physical age.

Speaking of The Raveonettes, if you're a fan of the Danish indie rock band, then you are going to l-o-v-e this issue, since the “Time's Up” spread is followed up with an in depth interview with the band, a small article from Kelley about being a fan, a piece covering their entire discography and yet another photo spread inspired by one on their songs. The latter is based on the song, “Boys Who Rape Should All Be Destroyed.” (Love the title and feels fitting after reading “The Hunt!”) The layout itself is very nicely photographed but lacks the gritty gut punch that one would expect, especially with having influences like Abel Ferrara and “Lipstick” director Lamont Johnson noted at the beginning. But just the mere fact that a layout exists entitled “Boys Who Rape Should All be Destroyed” exists and is in this issue is commendable in and of itself.

There's also a second part of Erich Kuersten's piece, “Lou Reed in the Seventies.” (The first part is in the debut of Art Decades, naturally.) It's a fun piece to read with a Gonzo lilt, even though I have some personal disagreements. (Giving “Metal Machine Music” one star is bad enough, but Reed's masterpiece, “The Bells” only meriting two? Two?!) On the film side of things, there is a brief but super-fun interview with the great Mary Woronov conducted by Dave Stewart. Ms. Woronov alone is a legend, but the fact that she name checks one of the most underrated Warhol's Factory associates, writer Ronald Tavel, makes it even more of a must read than it already was.

 An equally sweet treat is Kent Adamson's “Cannon Man,” which is his appetizer of a piece about his time with working for the legendary Menahem Golan, the man, whom along with his cousin, Yoram Globus, took over Cannon Films in 1979. It was their reign that produced an amazingly wide breadth of films ranging from Barbet Schroeder's “Barfly” and the way underrated “Last American Virgin” to many a vehicle for action stars like Chuck Norris and Charles Bronson. Adamson's writing pops and leaves you wanting to read more and more about his time with this truly unique character who left an undeniable imprint on film.

Back on the musical tip, there's also filmmaker/writer Salem Kapsaski's revealing and creatively stimulating interview with underground Italian musician Daniele Santagiuliana, as well as Steve Langton's terrific and memorable piece about seeing Joy Division live. (A pleasure so few ever will get to experience.) This issue also features more stunning imagery, some good poetry and even more great pieces by such talents as Marcelline Block, Silver Ferox and more.

Art Decades Issue #2 is a more than a solid follow up to its rock star debut and has planted seeds, some definable and others more mysterious, that will surely take some vivid and colorful bloom in the very near future.

This concludes our brief but hopefully enriching and teensy bit chewy trip to the library. Make sure to keep your slip and return the materials on time.

Copyright 2015 Heather Drain

Monday, March 16, 2015

A Tale of Food, Love, Desire and Man-Chickens: Bob Chinn's Hot & Saucy Pizza Girls

Picking the perfect title for your film or any creative work for that matter, can be incredibly tricky. A bland title will nearly guarantee your potential audience to take a pass. A misleading title, much like reaching for what you think is a hush puppy but instead is a cold, gross battered ball of corn, will only lead to disgust and highly irritate. (Seriously, why would someone do that? Cruelty has many, many forms, dear reader.) But a perfect title will pique your interest and give you a hint of what you are to expect from the work in question. Case in point, Bob Chinn's breezy 1979 film, “Hot & Saucy Pizza Girls.” There are, in fact, girls that are hot, saucy and work in a pizza joint in this film. But the “Pizza Girls” is more than just a food-sex pun of a film. Sort of. Anyways, let's begin!

The movie starts with a classic lit-up sign, promoting “Country Girl Pizza. We Deliver.” Cut to inside the rustic looking pizzeria where the restaurant's owner, John (John “The King” Holmes) is interviewing a potential new delivery girl, Ann Chovy (Desiree Cousteau.) The naive Southern Belle ends up wooing her new boss over with some physical charms and she gets to join the gang of ultra-lovely and highly sassy delivery girls, including Gino (Candida Royalle), Shakey (Laurien Dominique) and Celeste (Christine de Shaffer). If the film had been made a bit later and in a different region, we would also undoubtedly have Totino, Red Baron and Tony.

The girls start to make their deliveries for the day, with the customers ranging from one intensely enthusiastic hayseed (the always reliable Richard Pacheco) to a bored and lonely housewife (Vicky Lindsay). Meanwhile, a slight and shifty man in black is blatantly trying to keep tabs on the pizza girls' comings and goings. Turns out this gentleman, aptly named Inspector Blackie (John Seeman), is a detective determined to bust Country Girl Pizza for being a front for prostitution. While we're on the topic, the phrase,“pizza brothel”, might be one of the best to have emerged out of the valley of language in a long time. Say it out loud. Let it roll off the tip of your tongue. Now think about the connotations. Nice, isn't it?

Anyways, further intrigue emerges as the cowpoke from earlier is buddies with a group of fried chicken enthusiasts led by Henry (Paul Thomas), who also has used the ebullient services of the pizza girls. Turns out, they don't cotton too well to the world of pizza encroaching on their great true love of fried chicken. Never has a hatred of pizza fueled such diabolical tomfoolery. The intrigue gets even weirder when the boys choose to employ the services of the San Francisco “Night Chicken.” Apparently this never seen but heard on screen fowl-tool-of-villainy is six feet tall and has a penchant for rape. (As all overgrown night chickens do!)

After one of the girls gets violated, John immediately knows it is the Night Chicken. We then find out from him that, “We have been after this chicken for ten years!” I guess local police weren't too worried about giant poultry sexually assaulting various people? Anyways, with the aid of his coworker and sidekick Bob (director Bob Chinn), John and company are determined to crack down on this truly foul fowl. Will the gang succeed or lose out to perverse man-birds and fried chicken enthusiasts? What about Inspector Blackie and the wholly guile-less Ann? For that and more, you'll just have to grab some hopefully non-carcinogen riddled popcorn and watch for yourselves! 

Hot & Saucy Pizza Girls” is an amazingly silly film but the best kind, since it knows it's ridiculous and completely revels in it. It is truly a fun, airy little film that has all the appeal of a naughty and light comic book. The fact that you have a subplot about women getting violated by a monstrous chicken and yet, the whole still plays very sunshine with no dark clouds, is nothing short of amazing. It helped, undoubtedly, having Bob Chinn at the helm. Chinn is most famous for directing a number of the “Johnny Wadd” films, which also brought “Pizza Girls” male star, John Holmes, to major fame and notoriety. The two men had a great rapport with each other and that definitely shows here, with Holmes being incredibly likable and quite funny as the manager of Country Girl Pizza. (Though it is Bob who gets the great line, “I just don't want to get fucked by no chicken!”) Speaking of funny, Richard Pacheco also merits a kudos for his eight-miles-outside-of-Hee-Haw cornpone bumpkin who sings “Get Along Little Doggie” mid-coitus. Eternally underrated John Seeman is funny and physically adept as the mysterious yet wondrously nerdy Inspector Blackie.

The titular pizza girls are all supremely lovely and likable, including such classic adult legends like Desiree Cousteau (“Pretty Peaches”) and Candida Royalle, as well as the equally wonderful but more on the cult side starlets Laurien Dominique and Christine de Shaffer (who was great as lunatic Babsy in Johnny Legend's mind-blowing “Young & Nasty Teenage Cruisers.”) Here they get to be sassy, gorgeous and funny, with Royalle and de Shaffer both carrying off a very strong, take-no-prisoners pizza delivering style. Cousteau is her usual charming Betty Boop by way of small town Southern USA self and looking every inch a 1970's version of a Vargas girl. 

The pseudo-twang-country music is fittingly goony, right down to it being listed as “Lousy Music,” that is credited to “Lon Jon.” (Surely, his real name.) The film is well shot, with all of the colors popping in a pastel yet vibrant type of way. Another stellar remastering job courtesy of the skilled folks at Vinegar Syndrome does not hurt either. Speaking of the DVD release, there's also a short but very informative interview with noted adult film director and “Pizza Girls” producer, Damon Christian. 

“Hot & Saucy Pizza Girls” may not reinvent any cinematic wheel or even the wheel spokes themselves, but it is a very cute, dementedly whimsical movie that features some good comedic performances and is the only film to date that has combined the notion of a pizza brothel with a menacing six foot chicken/creeper. That alone spells it out better than any paint by numbers nature velvet scene available at your nearest family oriented hobby store.

2015 Copyright Heather Drain

Thursday, February 19, 2015

You're Either In or In the Way: Duke Mitchell's Massacre Mafia Style

When it comes to crime cinema, there is real and then there's Duke Mitchell real and once you have witnessed that, you will never be the same. Imagine if Cassavetes was a famed lounge singer who once worked with a third-rate Jerry Lewis imitator in a schlocky Bela Lugosi film and then would go on to make two of the most volatile, straight from the soul-gut crime films in the history of independent cinema. That, ladies and gentlemen, is Duke Mitchell.

His directorial debut was 1974's Massacre Mafia Style, in which he also starred as Mimi Micelli, the son of Don Mimi (Lorenzo Dodo), a massively powerful mafioso who was deported back to Sicily when his son was only in his teens. Mimi marries a woman of “...simple Italian heritage, a Saint..” who bares him a little baby boy before she dies of cancer two years later. Now, being a widower with a 6 year old son and a graying father, Mimi plans to move back to the States and continue the family business. Namely, moving to Los Angeles and getting a firm hold on the bookies and pimps. Despite his father's warnings, Mimi goes through with the move, hooking up with his old childhood friend, Jolly (Vic Caesar), who is now a bartender. Mimi offers him a better deal than serving up drinks to the Hollywood fringe and Jolly quickly becomes his right hand man. 

He manages to muscle his way back in with his father's old crew via kidnapping one of the main guys, Chucky (Louis Zito.) After severing his captive's ring finger, Mimi gets the ransom money, releases Chucky just in time for his son's wedding and attends the family event. His beyond brass balls technique works and Mimi and Jolly are officially in business. Mimi's pathway to mafioso supremacy quickly grows slick with blood, with him even saying to Jolly early on, “Tonight we eat, tomorrow we shoot!”

It's not long before the gang want Mimi off their back and to calm all the murdering down. (Which is a huge testament, by the way, to how violent someone is when they have other mob guys complaining about the amount of murder going on.) Even his own father calls him, begging him to stop all of the killing. But when Mimi becomes the target of a double cross, it is only a matter of time for his life of crime and killing to take a monumental ancient Greek tragedy turn. 

Massacre Mafia Style is a gut punch straight from the heart. What Duke Mitchell was able to do with both this film and its masterwork of a follow up, Gone With the Pope, is singularly brilliant. You have this cross-pollination of extreme violence, gritty and highly un-politically correct language, Cassavetes style verite (more on that in a minute), artistry, intelligence and strangest of all, pure love. The latter is a lot like obscenity. It's hard to properly define but you know it when you see it and with Duke's work, it is all over the place. One of the best scenes of this caliber is when Mimi and his compatriots are having this big Italian lunch, prepared by one of the guys' mother. Mimi launches into this terrific monologue about how they are the ones that have disgraced this woman and all Italian mothers, with their violence and crime. It is such an interesting choice on Mitchell's part because with that monologue, he gives his character a depth and underlying moral tear that is not typically expected.

Speaking of dialogue, there are some real doozies here, with my personal favorite being the scene where Mimi and Jolly go to kill the “Greek” and are confronted with his massive bodyguard. After firing several bullets into the hulk of a man, who promptly keels over, Mimi says to Jolly, “You know I'm empty. Got any?” His partner says “I got two.” Mimi replies, “Give them to him.” Jolly does just that, finishing the hit. 

More tender audiences will probably have a tougher time swallowing some of the more racial language used throughout, a lot of which revolves around the pimp character, Super Spook (Jimmy Williams). But it is all true to life because you are dealing with characters who are rough, working class criminals circa the 60's and 70's. It would be false to have these guys suddenly be mindful of their language after gunning down x-number of people. On top of that, if you're really sensitive, maybe picking up a film called Massacre Mafia Style is not the best idea in the first place.

Going back to the Cassavetes theory, Mitchell used a cast of mostly non-actors whom physically fit their roles to a T, giving the film a more raw sort of feel. Which for a movie like this, is such a harmonious move. It graces the film with a sense of more realism that some of its more polished counterparts lack. This coupled with some of the highly intense and bizarre bordering on surreal acts of violence, make for a truly unique brew. The latter includes a man in a wheelchair hooked up via electrical cables to a urinal and another one literally crucified near the Hollywood sign. (The crucifixion scene sports some great intercutting with a religious choir, making the proceedings all the more ghoulish.) What's even more crazy is that both of these incidents are based on true events, with the wheelchair incident being something that Duke personally witnessed during his days as a singer, with the only exception being that in real life, the guy didn't die. In fact, much of the film was loosely based on true events, all gathered from friends and associates Duke had made in his music career. Cliches exist for a reason and truth really is stranger than fiction.

After years of minor cult notoriety due to its run under the title of The Executioner back in the 1970's, Grindhouse Releasing is doing Massacre Mafia Style justice, with help from Duke's son, Jeffrey Mitchell and releasing it this month on a 2 disc set. It is a true shame that Duke Mitchell never got the praise and attention he deserved for his directing work while he was still here, since he died at the young age of 55 back in 1981, but there is no time like the present to raise a toast to the man and marvel at this blood soaked cinematic patchwork quilt sewn together with thought, hard work and love.

Copyright 2015 Heather Drain