Apocalypse Later Empire

I also write books, for sale at Amazon and the other usual online stores.
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Also announcing the 2nd annual Apocalypse Later International Fantastic Film Festival!
Filmmakers, submissions for horror and sci-fi shorts are open through Film Freeway.

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Wednesday, 22 March 2017

The Naked Kiss (1964)

Director: Samuel Fuller
Writer: Samuel Fuller
Stars: Constance Towers, Anthony Eisley, Michael Dante and Virginia Grey

One of the most consistently overlooked filmmakers in American movie history is Sam Fuller. I first learned about him on a British TV show called Moviedrome, presented by Alex Cox, the director of cult films like Repo Man and Sid and Nancy. Cox programmed two of Fuller’s films in a double bill: a western called Run of the Arrow and a war picture called Verboten! Both were low budget, although there were many actors that I recognised. What struck me then was what strikes me now whenever I see another Sam Fuller film, namely that he does a lot with a little and that lot includes things that we aren’t conditioned to expect from American movies. His most controversial pictures came later, like this one, as well as its predecessor, Shock Corridor, also starring Constance Towers, and White Dog, but he stretched taboos early and often in ways that don’t always seem controversial today. For instance, he often wrote films about marginalised characters, such as thieves or prostitutes, and films that featured multicultural casts.

I’d seen The Naked Kiss before and, when I started to look for a good choice to remember the career of Virginia Grey on what would have been her one hundredth birthday, it came quickly to mind. Any opportunity to watch a Sam Fuller picture is a good one and I was keen on taking a second run through this one to see what I’d missed a decade and change ago. One thing I discovered was that Grey isn’t in it anywhere near as much as I remembered her being, but the scenes that she does have are memorable and superbly performed with a great deal of power. She’s easily the best actor in the movie, even if she’s billed fourth after Towers in the lead and Anthony Eisley and Michael Dante in support. She plays a madam called Candy, who runs a cathouse called Candy à la Carte with a selection of Bon Bon Girls. How her part interacts with the film as a whole mirrors its moral progression and the film has no point unless it progresses morally and we notice that.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Maniac Cop (1988)

Director: William Lustig
Writer: Larry Cohen
Stars: Tom Atkins, Bruce Campbell, Laurene Landon, Richard Roundtree, William Smith, Robert Z’Dar and Sheree North

No, this isn’t a politically charged drama about the current state of police violence, even if we have a prominent African American actor in the cast; Richard Roundtree actually plays the police commissioner. Our title character isn’t driven by race, he’s driven by revenge and that places this in an interesting category. It’s a horror movie, first and foremost, but it’s also a revenge flick; that my copy is on the other side of a DVD from The Exterminator isn’t just because James Glickenhaus executive produced this and directed that. And, of course, it’s a product of the late eighties, arguably picking up from RoboCop in 1987 and creating a hilariously surreal trend of mashing up every sub-genre imaginable with cop movies. Every year from this point on brought a fresh new example of Something New and Ridiculous Cop: Psycho Cop in 1989, Vampire Cop and Omega Cop in 1990, Karate Cop and Samurai Cop in 1991, Cyborg Cop in 1993, Scanner Cop in 1994, Gladiator Cop in 1995... and onwards. We’ll ignore Kindergarten Cop, of course, to keep sane.

This certainly looks like a cop movie to begin with, with Officer Cordell putting on his uniform with all its accoutrements in slo-mo as the opening credits roll. We’re in New York, the twin towers very much in evidence in the opening long shot, and Cordell is one of the city’s finest. The problem is that the public’s trust in the boys in blue is being rapidly eroded by a series of brutal murders at the hands of one of them. First up is Cassie Philips, who gets the better of a pair of muggers only to stumble into the wrong cop for help. He promptly lifts her off the ground by her throat and snaps her neck. ‘It was a cop, man,’ the muggers tell the authorities, ‘a big cop!’ And, while there are disbelievers, Frank McCrae, NYPD veteran in the requisite trenchcoat, believes those dumb kids. He doesn’t see how they could have done it and, as the killings continue, he reasons that it’s someone inside the department, not the commissioner’s wishful suggestion that it’s someone merely impersonating a cop in an attempt to discredit the force.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Little Red Riding Hood and Tom Thumb vs. the Monsters (1962)

Director: Roberto Rodriguez
Writers: Fernando Morales Ortiz and Adolfo Torres Portillo, from a story by Fernando Morales Ortiz and Adolfo Torres Portillo
Stars: María Gracia, Cesario Quezadas, Jose Elias Moreno, Manuel ‘Loco’ Valdes and El Enano ‘Santanon’

Once upon a time, so long ago that I can’t remember how long, I stumbled onto the surreal joy that is the filmography of K. Gordon Murray. He was an entrepreneur who borrowed a wild combination of children’s movies and horror features from Mexico, dubbed them poorly into English, gave them new, often more outrageous titles, and released them to the American market. I don’t know if I popped my Murray cherry on The Brainiac or The Robot vs. The Aztec Mummy, but I revelled in these pictures and was rather happy to discover, on moving to the American southwest, that many of them were easily available in dollar stores. However, I’m a strong believer in experiencing films in their original forms and it was only much later that I started to find some of these Mexican films sans the later Murray treatment. Sadly Mexican movies are rarely available in the U.S. with English subtitles, a poor situation that I really hope starts to change, but those that are tend to make a lot more sense than Murray’s bastardised versions.

This is one of Murray’s signature films, under the title of Tom Thumb and Little Red Riding Hood. The more recent DVD completes the original Mexican title, as Caperucita y Pulgarcito contra los monstruos has more than just our two childhood heroes, it has them facing off against the Monsters, the primary reason why this film is such a blast, in the very title. Let’s have fair advertising, please! If the Mormon family round the corner took their kids to see Tom Thumb and Little Red Riding Hood, they might reasonably think that they would have plumped for a safe family friendly movie, only to be progressively traumatised by the wild array of monsters sprawled across their screen. I would love to be a fly on the wall as they fought for their refunds. Would they be more upset about the Satan-worshipping Queen Witch that they stole from Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or the paedophile who gets strung up to be used as a piñata? Maybe the monster who looks like Carrot Top if he was a fish man from Innsmouth.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

It Always Rains on Sunday (1947)

Directors: Robert Hamer
Writer: Angus MacPhail, Robert Hamer and Henry Cornelius, based on the novel by Arthur La Bern
Stars: Googie Withers, Jack Warner and John McCallum

Any opportunity to watch an Ealing movie is a good opportunity and the hundredth birthday of one of that studio’s greatest stars, Googie Withers, is even better. There are plenty of other reasons too. Withers stars with her husband to be, John McCallum; their marriage in 1948 lasted until his death in 2010 and she outlived him by only a year. It also features a number of recognisable faces from the British post-war period: Jack Warner, Hermione Baddeley and Alfie Bass, to name just three (Sid James is uncredited as a bandleader, but I couldn’t find him even with frame advance). The superb cinematography is by the legendary Douglas Slocombe, as he was establishing his name at Ealing; he would go on to win three BAFTAs (from ten nods), be nominated for three Oscars and shoot three Indiana Jones pictures. And, if you still want more, it’s one of the most underrated gems from this era of British film, exploring the complexities and interconnections of one memorable Sunday in Bethnal Green.

I had a further personal reason to watch, namely that, if you take my family back only a few generations, we were bootmakers in the east end of London and many of the births, marriages and deaths that I’ve tracked were filed in Bethnal Green. I’m too young to remember this era myself, but my parents were kids at the time and, while both their families had moved a little further to the east by this point, I’m sure they would both recognise a lot of the reference points from their own childhoods. As the film’s trailer suggests, this was described as a ‘symphony of London’s East End’, long before Eastenders took that further into the world of soap opera, and it’s a fair description. It’s amazing to realise just how much is crammed into an hour and a half and it’s rare for a movie to feel this immersive. Most of us will leave it wondering where we might fit in this world: would we try to escape it by landing a good prospect or settle down to darts and Guinness at the Two Compasses? Hopefully we wouldn’t turn into the inept crooks.

Monday, 6 March 2017

The Great St. Trinian’s Train Robbery (1966)

Directors: Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat
Writers: Frank Launder and Ivor Herbert, from the story by Frank Launder and Sidney & Leslie Gilliat, inspired by the original drawings of Ronald Searle
Stars: Frankie Howerd and Dora Bryan

By the time I was born in 1971, the infamous St. Trinian’s boarding school for girls had been shuttered for half a decade, but it had already become enough of a British institution that the name, and what it represented, hadn’t gone away and, in fact, still hasn’t to this day. I saw this feature at some point during my childhood, probably on television, and parts of it were still lounging around in my memory, but it’s less a film now than it was. In 2017, a decade after the franchise was rebooted, to adopt modern terminology, it’s more of a time capsule than a movie, because the writers wrapped up the original series with a wallop by throwing everything but the kitchen sink into the script. In fact, this is more of a caper film, a spy picture and a chase flick than it ever is a school story, odd for a series that’s inspired by, named for and set in a school. In short, it highlighted that times had changed and it was surely the right moment for the girls to hang up their hockey sticks and call it a day. Well, at least for a while.

For those who don’t know St. Trinian’s, they began as a set of cartoons created by artist Ronald Searle and published in a magazine called Lilliput. The first was published in 1941, but after Searle had been called up for service and sent to Singapore. It was a polite cartoon without a hint of the brutality and delinquency that would soon come to characterise the school; that change was because of how Searle spent the Second World War. Officially listed as missing, he was confined to the Changi prison camp by the Japanese, then sent to work on the Siam-Burma railway, now famous as the setting for The Bridge on the River Kwai. He suffered from malaria, beri-beri, skin disease and ulcers, he shrank to eighty plus pounds and he was temporarily paralysed at one point by a pick-axe to the spine. Yet he continued to draw throughout this time, mostly documenting his war experiences in drawings that he hid under the mattresses of prisoners dying from cholera. He survived the war and so did three hundred of those drawings.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh (1995)

Director: Bill Condon
Writers: Rand Ravich and Mark Kruger, from a story by Clive Barker
Stars: Tony Todd, Kelly Rowan, William O’Leary, Bill Nunn, Matt Clark, David Gianopoulos, Fay Hauser, Joshua Gibran Mayweather, Michael Culkin, Timothy Carhart and Veronica Cartwright

Cheesy title or not, the original Candyman was one of the underrated horror gems of the nineties. I’ve seen it a couple of times but watched it again before reviewing this, its first of two sequels, on Mardi Gras, the day on which the finalé of Farewell to the Flesh is set. It surprised me again for a whole slew of reasons. Some were little ones, like Virginia Madsen being credited above Tony Todd, the monster of the franchise; the brief presence of Ted Raimi, brother of Sam; or the fact that the score was by a major composer, Philip Glass. Others were more important, such as the way in which it’s really an African American horror film that speaks without stereotype. Four of the six leads are actors of colour, though the focus is on a white woman; that leaves only one white male, who’s by far the weakest of that half dozen, being a college professor cheating on his wife with a bimbo student. Xander Berkeley played him well, but this isn’t about Prof. Lyle; it’s about racial inequality and how things haven’t changed much in a century or so.

This sequel isn’t remotely up to its predecessor, but it’s better than many have given it credit for; unfortunately, when it’s bad, it’s really bad and that lack of consistency really doesn’t help. A great example of this comes during the prologue, right before the title card, as the Candyman shows up in the bathroom of a New Orleans bar. Before I explain this, let me explain who Candyman is. He’s Daniel Robitaille, the son of a slave who grew up in polite society after the American Civil War because his father innovated a shoe production technique that proved highly profitable. Daniel became a renowned portrait artist, but made the mistake of falling for, and fathering a child with, a white woman. Being 1890, his lover’s father promptly led a lynch mob that severed his painting hand and replaced it with a hook, then smeared him with honey to attract bees to sting him to death. For reasons left unexplained until this sequel, his soul can be summoned by speaking the name Candyman into a mirror five times, whereupon Bad Things happen.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Captain Newman, M.D. (1963)

Director: David Miller
Writers: Richard L. Breen and Phoebe & Henry Ephron, from the novel by Leo Rosten
Stars: Gregory Peck, Tony Curtis, Angie Dickinson and Bobby Darin

This week’s Dry Heat Obscurity wasn’t entirely shot in Arizona. In fact, from what I can gather, most of it was shot on the Universal lot back in Universal City, CA. However, every time we step outside, we find ourselves on the Libby Army Airfield, which is part of Fort Huachuca, a U.S. Army installation at the northern end of the Huachuca mountains, fifteen miles north of the Mexican border. It’s part of the Arizona town of Sierra Vista today, though it wasn’t when this picture was shot, as they didn’t annex the post until 1971. We fly over Fort Huachuca behind the opening credits to land at Libby. Now, the Libby Army Airfield is also the Sierra Vista Municipal Airport, but this script calls it the Colfax Army Air Field, which is a fictional name. However, if we track the story back to its origins, we’ll find that it’s really pretending to be the Yuma Army Airfield, still in Arizona but located three hundred miles west, where it shares its facilities with the Yuma International Airport as a combined civilian/military operation. Are you confused yet?

Well, let me back up to the real Second World War and hopefully things will become clear. Ralph R. Greenson, best known today as a psychoanalyst to the stars, was then a captain in the Army Medical Corps, stationed at the Yuma Army Airfield, where he worked with patients suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, or P.T.S.D. He was an early professional to associate P.T.S.D. with the experiences of soldiers during wartime, so his work became well known and highly regarded. In 1961, a personal friend called Leo Rosten, a professional humorist and retired scriptwriter, fictionalised the doctor’s wartime stories into a novel, transforming Capt. Greenson, M.D. into Capt. Newman, M.D. Hollywood quickly came knocking to adapt this success onto the big screen, even though the doctor’s accomplishments were becoming eclipsed at the time by his professional association with celebrities, such as Marilyn Monroe; a number of conspiracy theories have him involved in covering up the circumstances of her death in 1962.