About Angus Kohm

Playwright and songwriter Angus Kohm is probably best known for his off the wall musical parodies such as Bad Girls Jailhouse, and Sorority Girls Slumber Party Massacre: The Musical, which have been seen at Fringe Festivals all over Canada, and on university campuses in the USA. His musical for teenagers, I Was A Teenage Zombie, has been performed at high schools in Canada and the USA. He's a big fan of B-movies, film noir, and horror films, and is the proud owner of one of the world’s largest collections of Charles Bronson films. Other plays include: Samantha Panther, P.I. – Tough Girls Don’t Sing (produced Off Off Broadway in 2000 and 2001), The Inner City Dead (a non musical zombie comedy), The Blood On Santa’s Claws (a heartwarming holiday short) and The Big Kiss Off, which is a one woman musical still in development. He lives in Winnipeg, where he produces the Scirocco Drama Manitoba High School Playwriting Competition (which he founded in 2001), and has had the pleasure of helping to develop more than fifty new plays by teenage playwrights.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: The Suspicious Death of a Minor (1975)

I’ve touched on this before, but back in the early days of renting VHS and Beta tapes, you didn’t always get what you expected. Movies were retitled and given box cover art that was extremely misleading. One of the most common tricks was to make you think that a movie was brand new when it fact it was from ten or fifteen years earlier. This was not an entirely new trick. Movies were often distributed to drive-ins under new titles in the hopes that they would do better business than the first time they went out. Sometimes it wasn’t a question of the age of a movie, but rather the subject matter. A dull story with no violence or nudity could be retitled to sound like it was going to be the next Chained Heat (1983).

I used to tell people that Grace Jones was my favourite actress (if you’ve read my ode to her movie Vamp (1986), you will know what I’m talking about). So, when I found a VHS copy of something called Deadly Vengeance (1981) – starring Grace Jones – on the shelf of Star Time Foto Video – I told my friends we had to rent it. It was an oversized box mostly covered by a picture of Grace Jones’ face. “They Killed her lover. Now she wants revenge.” What could be better than that? We excitedly took it home and popped it into the VCR.

First of all, the movie appeared to be considerably older than the stated release date of 1981 (home drive-in crime #1). Secondly, Grace Jones was not playing the woman whose lover was killed – and more importantly, she was not playing the woman seeking “Deadly Vengeance” (home drive-in crime #2). Sadly, this was all too common in those early days of home video. If a famous actor (or not so famous actor, but maybe someone you might have heard of in passing once or twice) appeared in a movie for more than one second, sleazy distributors would paste his or her image and name all over the box cover. Sometimes the actor actually had a big part, but the film was made 20 years before they were famous and they looked completely different. No problem, the distributors would simply put a more recent and recognizable photo of the actor on the cover.

In the case of Deadly Vengeance, Grace Jones was very young, and did not have her iconic ’80s look. She was almost unrecognizable to us, and her part was very small. She played the girlfriend of the main bad guy. But as I recall it, we only saw her in one or two brief scenes. Maybe I’m wrong about that. But according to one internet source, Grace’s part was INCREASED for this 1981 release. Increased? How small could it have originally been? The same source claims that Deadly Vengeance is a re-edited combination of two much older films: Dirty Tricks (1972) and Sweet Vengeance [1970]. Those older films were apparently X-rated, whereas Deadly Vengeance was rated R. I do seem to recall extended (soft core) sex scenes in it, so it’s not hard to imagine that there could have been a more explicit version (or versions). Just for the record, Grace Jones is not listed as being in either of those earlier films, so I guess her part was INCREASED, as in ADDED to this version. Not sure what the real story is, but needless to say, the Grace Jones fan in me was not too thrilled by this movie rental experience (extreme sleaziness notwithstanding).

A while back, I wrote about how I originally discovered giallo movies – and it was basically a result of this kind of home video false advertising. The movies were packaged like 1980s slasher films, when it fact they were 1960s or ’70s giallos. As it turned out, I was very pleased to discover those films, and giallos have become one of very favourite things to screen at the home drive-in.

Last week I decided to watch a giallo that I had never seen before, The Suspicious Death of a Minor (1975). It was directed by Sergio Martino, who made many excellent movies, including some top notch giallos like All the Colours of the Dark (1972), Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972) and Torso (1973). I was quite surprised to discover that The Suspicious Death of a Minor, despite its very giallo-esque title and poster art, is not really a giallo. It does have some moments that are very giallo-like, and the opening sequence seems to fit that description, but the movie quickly turns into more of a poliziotteschi, or Italian crime film. More surprising than that, the movie takes on a tone that is quite comical – almost slapstick comedy at times. But perhaps the most amazing thing of all, is that it really works.

The Suspicious Death of a Minor is a very entertaining movie. Claudio Cassinelli gives an amazing performance as our hero, Paolo Germi. We don’t know this at first (and perhaps this is a mild SPOILER), but Germi is a police officer as unorthodox as Dirty Harry, only much more comical. There were several scenes that had me laughing at loud as I watched Germi’s way of dealing with obstacles and enemies. In spite of the humorous tone, the movie also manages to deliver some legitimately suspenseful and even scary moments. It may not be a horror film like Torso, but I did not feel cheated by the almost bait and switch style plot maneuverings that take us from giallo to poliziotteschi, to slapstick comedy. A lot of directors would have fallen on their face attempting such a mash-up, but Martino somehow pulled it off, and I am glad that he did. 

The Suspicious Death of a Minor (1975) was not at all what I expected, but it managed to deliver a wildly entertaining #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn. It is a unique example of #NotQuiteClassicCinema that doesn’t quite fit into any of the usual categories, but somehow feels completely right. You can rest assured that I will be screening it again in the not too distant future.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: The Last Dragon (1985)

Back in the 1980s, my friends and I would rent movies and hang out on a regular basis. There were certain types of movies that we would rent more often than others: horror films, action films, and sex comedies like Porky’s (1981) and Spring Break (1983). When it came to action films, we had a particular love for vigilantes and revenge stories. We also had a love of martial arts.

In real life, one of my friends signed up for Tae Kwon Do classes, and he eventually talked me and another friend into joining him in this pursuit. This increased our interest in martial arts infused action films. We saw Bruce Lee films, we saw fake Bruce Lee films (starring Bruce Li or Bruce Le). We also saw other, strange kung fu movies from the ’70s that I can’t even remember now (other than a few, brief images). We saw ninja movies. We even went to the theatre and saw something called Challenge Of The Ninja – but we were disappointed to discover that it wasn’t a ninja movie at all. It was another strange Hong Kong movie, which struck us as propaganda about how much better Chinese martial arts were than Japanese martial arts. It may have been Heroes of the East (1978), retitled to cash in on the popularity of ninjas in the ’80s. Looking back now, I’m kind of thrilled to know that I got to see a movie like that on the big screen. 

Of course, Chuck Norris films were also a big deal at that time. This was years before the Chuck Norris jokes became all the rage. In those days, he was just an amazing athlete and an action movie hero. He was even buddies with Bruce Lee in real life, and the two of them appeared together in a film called Return Of The Dragon (1972). At least, that’s what it was called when I saw it. It’s more often called The Way of the Dragon (1972), which answers a question that I had when I was 12. How could this movie be called Return Of The Dragon when it came out BEFORE Enter the Dragon (1973)? In any case, I thought that the final fight between Lee and Norris was one of the greatest I had ever seen. I somehow convinced my Dad to take me to see Lone Wolf McQuade (1983) when it came out, and I thought it was the greatest movie I had even seen. I quickly rented every other Chuck Norris film I could get my hands on. 

I remember seeing the newspaper ads for The Last Dragon (1985). It looked like the kind of movie that my friends and I would appreciate. I’m not sure why, but we didn’t go to see it in the theatre. I might have assumed that it wasn’t around long enough, but someone recently told me that he went to see it THREE TIMES in the theatre. That puts it in the category of a Star Wars movie back in the day. And according to the IMDb, it made quite a big profit at the time: $25,754,284 on a $10,000,000 budget. So that movie must have stuck around the theatres for at least a few weeks. How did my friends and I miss it?

All I can say for sure, is that when it came out on home video, my friends and I rented it immediately. But here’s the weird part: we didn’t like it.

That’s right. We watched the popular and successful martial arts movie The Last Dragon and we didn’t like it.  I think that we were expecting a more ordinary, straight up martial arts action movie. We expected it to be serious – and to maybe include some sort of revenge plot a la Forced Vengeance (1982) or An Eye for an Eye (1981). Instead, we got a comedy, which included a lot of gratuitous music and dancing. I’m not even sure if we realized that it as comedy at the time, or if we just thought it was weird and not serious enough. My single biggest memory of it was that it seemed to be more about music than marital arts. 

I suppose this makes a certain amount of sense when you realize the the film was executive produced by Berry Gordy, who was a record producer, songwriter, and founder of Motown Records. We wouldn’t have appreciated this as teenagers. We just knew that there was A LOT of music in this movie. And it was not the kind of music that we were into at that time. We were big fans of bands like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. The Motown sound was not cool to us. Over the ensuing decades, my tastes have broadened and I can now appreciate the Motown sound of the ’80s much more than I could back in the day. The nostalgia levels are off the charts when I hear a song like “Rhythm Of The Night” by DeBarge (written by Diane Warren). I probably hated it in the ’80s, but it sounds surprisingly great to me now. And we actually get to see a good portion of the music video in the movie as well. This is particularly poignant for me, as I have recently discovered that one of the featured dancers in the video is Galyn Görg.

For those who don’t know, Galyn Görg was a dancer and an actress who appeared in movies like Point Break (1991) and RoboCop 2 (1990). She was also in a few episodes of Twin Peaks (1991-92), and was a regular cast member of M.A.N.T.I.S. (1994-95). Several years ago, I tweeted about a movie she was in called America 3000 (1986). As I often did in those days, I tried to locate and tag anyone involved in the film. This is harder to do with older movies. Galyn was one of the few that I managed to find in this case. Much to my surprise, she not only liked my tweet (and the subsequent replies to it), but she also followed me. I’m not sure what made her do it. She followed less than two hundred people – in spite of having thousands of followers. But what was even more amazing to me, was that she continued to respond to my tweets from that day forward.

In all honestly, I was not the world’s most savvy twitter use in those days. And up to that point, my tweets would often go ignored. But for the next couple of years, there was one person who I could count on to like most of my tweets – and that was Galyn Görg. I don’t know what I did to deserve it, but I was thrilled. And of course, I liked all of her tweets, too. She even followed @DBrownstoneFilm, which was an account created to promote my documentary (and subsequent feature film project) about legendary Manitoba actress Doreen Brownstone. 

Basically, Galyn Görg was one of my first twitter friends. 

Sadly, Galyn passed away in July of 2020, one day shy of her 56th birthday.

Seeing the video for “Rhythm Of The Night” in The Last Dragon somehow made the film all the more special to me. It’s almost like Galyn Görg is in the movie (although, not really). But even if that had not happened, I loved seeing all of the music and dance sequences this time around. All of the things that made me hate the movie the first time, made me love it now. Vanity, most famous as a singer and protege of Prince, stars as a D.J. (or V.J.) host of a popular TV Show / night club. This is how we get to see so many musical performances and videos. A gangster, who also seems to be some sort of video arcade mogul, wants to force Vanity to play his girlfriend’s video on her show. The girlfriend is played by Faith Prince, and her videos/performances are clearly meant to “bad” – in an entertaining way – but I found them to be absolutely delightful. They are perfect, satirical 1980s avant guard time capsules. And I think in some ways they have aged better then many “serious” pop hits of the ’80s. 

I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the real star of The Last Dragon. Real life martial artist Taimak plays Leroy Green. There is clearly a lot of serious Bruce Lee homage going on here. Leroy loves Bruce Lee, and there is even a scene in which Vanity’s character plays video footage of Bruce Lee in her club to impress Leroy. The martial arts action in The Last Dragon is solid. Taimak is very clearly the real deal, and it seems to me that he could have been a martial arts movie star. For some reason, that didn’t quite happen (although he did go on to appear in other – often non-martial arts – movies). I’m surprised that my friends and I weren’t more impressed by the action when we watched this film back in the day. I guess it truly was overshadowed by the music and comedy.

One final thought, which comes a bit too close to SPOILER territory for my taste: Leroy is in pursuit of the final level of martial arts mastery, which is called The Glow. At the end of the movie, we see The Glow in action – and I think that this was something else that my friends and I didn’t like. It’s sort of silly, fantasy type stuff; beams of glowing light coming out of Leroy’s hands and body. I don’t want to say too much about it, but I think we thought it was dumb and not at all realistic (keep in mind that we were young and taking real martial arts classes at the time). Like every other aspect of this film that I hated back then, I found that it only enhanced my enjoyment now.

The Last Dragon (1985) is a unique masterpiece of 1980s #NotQuiteClassicCinema that I wish I had appreciated more the first time that I saw it. I’ve lost a lot of decades in which I could have been revisiting and enjoying this film. But then again, maybe that just means that I can enjoy it al the more now – and I surely will on many a #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn in the not too distant future.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: She Freak (1967)

The first time I saw a picture from Freaks (1932), it was in a book called Midnight Movies by J. Hoberman & Jonathan Rosenbaum. I was pretty young, and had never seen any of the movies talked about in the book – not even The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975). I had heard of it, of course. In fact, I saw ads for it in my local newspaper every weekend for years. But it was rated R, and I was a kid – and I’m pretty sure I was in bed by the time they were screening it on any given Saturday night (it was a “midnight movie”, after all). 

I loved to read, and I loved watching movies, so whenever I was in a bookstore I would flip though books about movies – especially ones that looked like they might be scary. Midnight Movies seemed to fit the bill. There weren’t a lot of pictures in it, but there were enough to give me the idea that these were some pretty strange and possibly unsettling movies. A lot of them creeped me out, to be honest. And the picture from Freaks was no exception. It’s the somewhat famous one of director Todd Browning posing with his cast. Really, there was nothing particularly disturbing about it. I suppose I had just never seen anything like it at the time. I also knew nothing about the film, so my mind raced with all of the possible atrocities that it might contain. I should have probably been attributing them to another movie in the book, Pink Flamingos (1972) – but that’s an other story.

The photograph from Freaks stuck out in my mind long after I returned the book to its shelf and got on with my life. Years later, Freaks was available to rent on VHS, but I couldn’t bring myself to to do it. I was still unnerved by the memory of the picture in Midnight Movies. It was only while studying film at university, that I finally decided to give it a chance. I needed a topic for an essay, so I pitched the professor on the idea of an examination of Todd Browning’s films. The professor looked at me, skeptically, and said “What can you get hold of besides Freaks?”

In that moment, I had a realization that there were people out there who were obsessed with this movie. It was a genuine cult film featured in books like Midnight Movies, after all. I had a sudden urge to tell the professor that I had never even seen the film, but instead I just listed the titles that I’d been able to rent at Movie Village: “Dracula (1931), Mark of the Vampire (1935), The Devil-Doll (1936), and Freaks (1932).”

The professor looked relieved. “Okay,” he said. 

I guess he really didn’t want to read a ten page love letter to Freaks. It made me wonder all the more what I was getting myself into.

Long story short, I loved the film. And the research I did into Todd Browning revealed a man who had run away to join the circus when he was young, and the so called “freaks” were his actual friends from those days. This movie had been Browning’s dream project. He was not a sleazy exploitation guy painting the “freaks” as the monsters (not that there’s anything wrong with sleazy exploitation guys). Browning portrayed his friends as sympathetic people who were being victimized by the able bodied villains of the movie – the good-looking, so called “normal” people were in fact the real monsters. I liked the movie so much that I wound up buying a copy on VHS, then later upgrading to a DVD. I also bought a Freaks t-shirt which I saw displayed in the window of a store called Freaks while walking around New York City a few years back. The owners of the store told me that they had never seen the movie, but felt compelled to sell the shirt because it had the name of their store on it. I urged them to see the movie.

I also first read about the movie She Freak (1967) in a book, although not until I was a university student. It was apparently an unofficial remake of Freaks, or, as James O’Neill put it in Terror On Tape, a “tawdry Freaks rip-off”. It was written and produced by David F. Friedman, who is perhaps most famous as the former producing partner of Herschell Gordon Lewis. Together they made the iconic gore films Blood Feast (1963), Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964), and Color Me Blood Red (1965), as well as a few nudie-cuties such as Nature’s Playmates (1962) and Boin-n-g (1963). 

Clearly, I had to see She Freak. I’m sure it goes without saying that it is not as good as Freaks. Neither Dave Friedman, nor his directors, had the same life-experience or passions as Todd Browning. Although, Friedman was apparently a legitimate carnival guy, or carnie. He’s been known to talk about the similarities between being an exploitation filmmaker and a carnival promoter. Friedman also claims that he was a huge fan of the original Freaks.

One major difference between Browning’s film and this one, is that there are basically no actual “freaks” in She Freak. We do see a few carnival performers (such as Madame Lee, a snake charmer), but no one like Prince Randian The Living Torso in Freaks. 3′ 11″ Felix Silla plays Shorty in She Freak. He is probably best known as Cousin Itt from The Addams Family (1964–1966). Basically, Friedman and his two directors (Byron Mabe & Donn Davison) avoid showing us the “freaks” as much as possible. At the very end of the movie, we finally see what passes for “freaks” in She Freak, and they are all creations of make up artist Harry Thomas – and none of them are very extreme (except perhaps the titular character). 

What I really love about movies like She Freak, is that they provide us with a window into a specific time and place. In this particular case, we are presented with what some have claimed is the most realistic portrayal of carnie life ever captured on film. The footage that Friedman and crew got of the carnival itself is quite extraordinary – and I believe that it has been licensed and used by other filmmakers. 

Some would call She Freak (1967) a bad movie, but I enjoy watching Claire Brennen, as our heroine Jade Cochran, go on her strange personal journey. She starts out as a beautiful and relatively sympathetic waitress at a dead end diner in the middle of nowhere. She longs for a better life, and when a carnival comes to town she sees it as possible way out. But the deeper she goes into this strange new world world of carnies and “freaks”, the more our view of her begins to change. And just like the movie that inspired it, She Freak reveals that the monsters are not the ones who look ugly or different, but rather the ones who look good but are inhuman, and treat others cruelly, with callous indifference.

She Freak (1967) is one of those iconic examples of #NotQuiteClassicCinema that must be seen by all connoisseurs of strange cinema. I used to see pictures from it in old books about drive-in movies and exploitation films that made me long to see the film. Last #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn was my third time sitting through it, and I think I enjoyed it more than ever. The Something Weird Video DVD commentary track featuring David F. Friedman is in some ways more entertaining than the movie itself, and well worth the price of admission. Anyone with an interest in low budget filmmaking, or the history of unusual cinema, should definitely check it out.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Blood Song (1982)

I’ve talked about “bad movie nights” in previous posts, and how I have a few friends with whom I regularly get together to have a “bad movie night”. Several years ago, one of them invited me to a “bad movie party”. This was unusual, as normally it would just be the two of us suffering through a marathon of questionable films. Once in a while we might have added a third person – or even a fourth – but never had there been a whole party full of people. Truth be told, I wasn’t sure what to make of this idea.

I am basically an introvert. I do well in one on one situations, but not so well in large groups. If I am in a room full of people I don’t know, I will most often sit quietly in a corner and observe. This is my general survival technique at parties. I find an empty chair in a nice quiet corner and I stay there all night. People who want to talk to me will find me, sit next to me for a while, and then move on. If there is a cat in the house, it will often come and hang out with me. At some parties, a dozen or more people will cycle through the empty seat next to me. At others, I will have long stretches of time to sit and listen to the loud music without having to shout over it.

A “bad movie party” is a slightly different animal. At least I assumed that it would be. I had never been to one before, but I imagined that everyone at the party would be focussed on watching the bad movies. This could be good for me. I would simply need to find a place to sit – not too close to the screen – and quietly watch the movies while other people shout out pithy remarks to each other. I could do that.

When I showed up at the party, the first movie was already well under way. I was surprised to find that there were people scattered all over the place – in the kitchen, the hallways, the dining room – and they were carrying on conversations without any regard for what might be happening on the TV screen in the main living room. Basically, it seemed like a regular, run of the mill party to me.

When I arrived in the living room, I found a moderate sized group of people watching the end of a movie that I didn’t recognize. My host greeted me and I sat down in an empty chair. I don’t normally like watching the end of a movie without seeing the first two thirds, so I didn’t pay too much attention to what was going on. Instead, I quietly conversed with my host as I looked at the stack of movies that were piled up on the coffee table. I was able to determine that another friend of the host’s had brought all of the movies for this event. I had never met him before, but I knew him by reputation. He was a university professor and a novelist. Someone had once told me that he and I would get along really well, as we were both fans of “bad movies”. I think I had even stood next to him once in the lobby of a movie theatre, as he spoke to my friend (and in fact the host of this very party). As he was walking away from us, I asked my friend who he was. My friend was shocked that I didn’t know him. “I’m sorry, I should have introduced you,” he said.

So, now we were at the same party, and this mysterious stranger was in charge of curating the screenings. I figured I was finally going to meet him.

After the first movie ended, the stranger picked up his pile of movies and asked the crowd which one they wanted to se next. He went through each title and tried to briefly describe the movie. I knew which one I wanted to see, even before he was done describing it.

“This seems to be a slasher film starring Frankie Avalon as the killer…”

“I vote for that one,” I said, surprised to find myself speaking out loud in front of a room full of strangers.

“No,” someone else said. “We just watched a crappy horror film. Let’s watch something else.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. Weren’t we here to watch crappy horror films?

There was some more discussion of the various films in the pile. Finally I decided to try again.

“I still say we should watch Frankie Avalon killing people.”

The same guy who had contradicted me before, spoke up again. “I’ve seen so many of these films… Just for a change, I’d like to watch something that I don’t already know everything that’s going to happen in.”

So, what are you doing at a bad movie night? I thought to myself.

Thanks to this amateur “bad movie” appreciator, we wound up watching Juggernaut (1974). For those who don’t know, this is a fairly classy, well thought of British suspense drama about time bombs hidden on a ship. It is, to be clear, a GOOD movie. That’s not to say that good movies don’t have a place in a “bad movie” marathon. We often discover hidden gems while screening presumably “bad” movies. But this movie was a class act with an all star cast that included Richard Harris, Omar Sharif, David Hemmings and Anthony Hopkins. And it was close to two hours long. That, it seemed to me, was a lot of time wasted watching a movie that wasn’t going to deliver the “bad movie” goods. 

Perhaps because of this, my friend and host started asking me questions instead of paying attention to the movie. I tried to answer him, quietly, but after a while the same stick in the mud who wanted quality instead of slasher antics asked us to leave the room and talk somewhere else. So we did.

As a result, I did not get a very good sense of Juggernaut. I also did not ever officially meet the curator of the evening. Perhaps we could have been good friends, but it just never happened. 

Ever since that night, I have regretted not getting to see Frankie Avalon play a psychopathic killer. I couldn’t even remember the name of the movie, but I kept my eye out for any horror films starring the former teen idol who used to make those beach party movies with Annette Funicello. One day I found one called Horror House (1969), but it did not seem right to me. Considering my excellent track record when it comes to locating and watching obscure movies, I am shocked that I did not manage to find this one at some point over the next two decades. I suppose I had almost forgotten about it…

Until my friend Ian gave me a cheap-jack DVD with four horror films on it. One of them was called Blood Song (1982). What the hell is that? Upon closer inspection, I saw the name Frankie Avalon – and I suddenly knew that I was about to finally close an open chapter (or should I say open wound) of past “bad movie” watching failure. And what better way to do that, than on a #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn – with no one else around to tell me they’d prefer a less predictable movie?

First of all, I can say that Blood Song is not all that predictable or familiar. It’s not really a slasher film, although it did come out in 1982 at the height of the golden age of slasher films. It was apparently shot in 1980, and it feels much more like a movie from the 1970s. I would say closer to something like I Dismember Mama (1972) than a slasher film. However, I do think that the influence of Halloween (1978) can be felt in its storyline:

As a young boy, Frankie Avalon’s character witnesses the murder/suicide of his parents and is traumatized. Twenty five years later, he escapes from a mental institution and “goes on a rampage”.

Frankie plays a psychopath who talks to people, plays the flute, and seems relatively normal until he suddenly kills them. According to one description of the movie, Frankie seems to be pursuing “a young handicapped girl, who once got a blood transfusion from him.” This is a fairly offbeat idea, and could explain the title of the movie. Unfortunately, it’s not quite so simple.

We do find out, in the course of the movie, that the teenage girl – played by Donna Wilkes of Angel (1984) fame – did receive a blood transfusion from Avalon. This was most likely after the car accident that left her requiring a leg brace.

As far as I can tell, Frankie’s character has no idea that he gave blood to Donna’s character. He goes after her because she witnesses him burying a body. So, why the title Blood Song, and why the detail about the blood transfusion? As near as I can figure it, the blood transfusion has somehow given Donna the ability to see visions of Frankie committing his crimes. So, it’s like she has a psychic connection to him now.

This may be something to think about, before you decide to give or receive blood.

In any case, I found Blood Song (1982) to be an entertaining mix of seriously good and hilariously bad moments. It’s the kind of #NotQuiteClassicCinema that could go over really well at crowded “bad movie party”, or on a lonely FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn. And I guarantee that no one will anticipate everything that is going to happen over the course of its 89 minutes. 

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Attack of the Robots / Cartes sur table (1966)

I became interested in Jess Franco while studying film at university. That may be a sentence that’s never been written before. Let me explain… I did not study Jess Franco, or his films, at university.  I’m quite sure that none of my professors would have considered Jess Franco’s films to be worthy of study. They may have been wrong about that, but that’s beside the point. Franco was not taught alongside Fellini, Truffaut, Antonioni, and Scorsese. However, I did write a major essay for one of my classes that focussed on the Women In Prison genre – not exactly a typical FIlm Studies topic, either, but that’s what attracted me to it – and that’s how I became aware of Jess Franco and his strange oeuvre.

The story of my relationship with the Women In Prison genre is one I will have to save for another day. Suffice it to say that I randomly rented a Jess Franco movie called Hellhole Women (1981), and then later read about it in what would become one of my favourite books, Video Trash & Treasures Volume II by L.A. Morse. It was, in fact, part of a mini section called Jess’s Jungle Frolics. The overarching chapter was called HOT CAGES, NAKED CHAINS: A Cell Block of Women Behind Bars. One of my fellow film students, and a connoisseur of cinematic trash, had recommended that I buy the book and read this chapter when he found out my major essay was about the WIP genre.

In the mini-section, Morse first reviews Women In Cell Bloc 9 (1978), noting that it contains “what is probably the only all nude jailbreak on film”. Then, in his review of Hellhole Women, Morse says:

“While it must have been a challenge to top the all nude jailbreak, old Jess was not daunted, and here provides us with an all topless prison camp — inmates, guards, and dragon-lady warden included.”

When my friend Ian and I first watched Hellhole Women, we recognized it as a crazy, over-the-top sleaze fest that had a lot of camp humour value. We did not know anything about the makers of the film. Thanks to L.A. Morse, I now knew that the genius behind it was Jess Franco, and that he had made other must see cinematic atrocities. In fact, Morse would comment throughout the book every time that Jess Franco was involved in a movie. Admittedly, the comments were most often negative. Morse was not a fan of Franco. He would say things like “old Jess has reached the point where he can effortlessly make nudity and violence seem boring.” But I was intrigued. And the worse the review, the more I wanted to see the movie. I started to rent, and later buy, any movie that I came across that had the name Jess Franco on it (or Jesús Franco as he is sometimes called). Some of them were, by any normal means of evaluation, bad – but there was always something interesting about them. And some of them were downright delightful. One of my favourite surprise discoveries was Kiss Me Monster (1969).

Those were the days of VHS and no internet, so unearthing a rare Franco film did not happen very often. He made over 200 hundred movies in his lifetime, and to this day I still haven’t seen anywhere near all of them. With the right online connections, it’s not as hard to locate the movies now – but it’s also not as special. I haven’t made it a mission to relentlessly download or stream every title in his filmography. I’m old school, so I still get excited when I find a physical copy of one of his movies – and if it’s a reasonable enough deal, I buy it. Of course, if I’m really lucky, someone will give me a nice edition of one of his films on DVD or Blu-ray for my birthday (or some other event for which gifts are appropriate). This is how I came to be the owner of a nice, shiny new Blu-ray of Attack of the Robots AKA Cartes sur table (1966).

This is an early Jess Franco movie, and as such, does not contain the kind of over-the-top sleaze that a movie like Hellhole Women does. However, it does contain a lot of the elements that Franco would remain obsessed with over the course of his 60 (!) year career as a filmmaker. There are scenes in nightclubs, featuring sexy dancers. There are women in chains. Franco appears in the film, as he often did. And this is the first of seven films that Franco made about a private detective character named Al Pereira. In this one, Pereira is played by Eddie Constantine, who was famous for playing a hard-hitting private detective named Lemmy Caution in a series of films. His portrayal of Al Pereira in Attack of the Robots could be seen as more comedic send up of his image from the Lemmy Caution films. Or maybe it was just simple exploitation of a well known actor in a similar role. Who knows? Whatever the case, Constantine is great in this movie – and it’s a shame that it’s the only time he ever got to play Al Pereira. The next time Pereira was seen, he was played by Howard Vernon in Les ebranlées in 1972. 

Attack of the Robots is a delightfully fun movie. It’s a post James Bond spy spoof that contains elements of science fiction, as a mad scientist finds a way to essentially turn people into robots if they have Type O blood. It’s beautifully shot and feels like a lush production compared to some of Franco’s later films. Sure, it’s light on sleaze and violence, but it’s played for laughs and for the most part it gets them. If you’re in the mood for  something light and fun, with the kind of stylistic flourishes that only a filmmaker like Jess Franco could provide, Attack of the Robots might just be the kind of #NotQuiteClassicCinema that you’re looking for. It’s not too far removed from another Franco film I wrote about a while back, Dr. Orloff’s Monster AKA The Mistresses of Dr. Jekyll (1964). That one is more of a monster movie, and less of a comedy, but it’s also an early, more restrained version of Franco. Each of them, in their own way, make for a mighty fine #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Willie Dynamite (1974)

I have a lot of Blaxploitation films in my collection. I discovered the genre, without even knowing it was a genre, at a fairly young age. I’m honestly not sure which movie would have been the first Blaxploitation movie that I ever saw. Some possible contenders might be Three the Hard Way (1974), Penitentiary (1979), Black Caesar (1973) and Shaft (1971),

Shaft is a funny one, because I have a distinct memory of watching it on TV when I was very young, and losing interest in it part way through. Basically, I thought it was boring. For years, I believed that this was my experience of Shaft and I avoided watching it again. Finally, when I gave it another shot, I realized that it could not have been the movie that had bored me all those years ago. For one thing, I loved it. But more to the point, I did not recognize a single moment in it. I decided that it must have been one of the sequels that I had seen all those years ago. But when I watched Shaft’s Big Score! (1972) and Shaft in Africa (1973), they were even less like the movie in my memory. To this day, I don’t know how to explain it. I watched some movie that I was pretty convinced was Shaft when I was a kid. What could it have been? I hope to figure it out one day.

In a funny way, the very first Blaxploitation film I saw was actually Live and Let Die (1973). I was a huge James Bond films growing up, and I watched all of the movies, multiple times, whenever they came on TV. This was, of course, before VCRs. Had I been able to tape stuff, I’m sure I would have seen all of the Bond films many more times. As it was, I saw Live and Let Die (1973) several times growing up, and it was one of my favourites. Of course, I had never heard the term Blaxploitation, and I didn’t think of the characters in the movie as black or white. They were just characters. It wasn’t until many years later that I heard someone suggest that Live and Let Die was hugely influenced by the (at the time) very popular Blaxploitation genre. This surprised me, but I thought about it and realized that a person could almost see the movie as being part of it.

Somewhere throughout my early days of TV movie watching, I recall seeing Willie Dynamite (1974) listed in the TV Scene (our local newspaper’s TV guide). In fact, I recall noticing it being on more than once. It was a strange title, so it stuck out to me. I may have even stumbled upon an actual broadcast one night, flipping the channel and finding myself in the middle of a strange looking movie that I didn’t recognize. I opened the TV Scene to find out what I was looking at, and Willie Dynamite was the answer. I’ve never liked starting movies in the middle, so I didn’t stick around and watch it. But the brief glimpses I got made me realize that It was something that I should definitely see sometime. Unfortunately, it was usually on very late at night, and I had no way to tape it (yet). So, I didn’t wind up seeing the movie until quite a few years later, on VHS. 

The thing that remember most from that first viewing, is the theme song, “Willie D.” (written by Gilbert Moses,the film’s director, & J.J. Johnson). Like a lot of the best #Blaxploitation films, the songs on the soundtrack tend to comment on the action of the movie. “Willie D.” is what I might call a perfect character song, describing the titular character of this movie:

Seven women in the palm of his hand,
Willie D.,
Got a woman for every man,
Willie D..
It’s magic the way he runs his game,
Never treating two girls the same,
Selling fantasies,
’bout what you please,
It’s no different from any other industry…

And while Martha Reeves belts out these lyrics on the soundtrack, we see the credits play overtop images of seven beautiful women walking into a hotel lobby full of middle aged conventioneers. It doesn’t take genius to figure out that these are working women looking to connect with some lonely, out of town men with money. And those men clearly like what they see. The mini scenes that ensue are mainly played for laughs, and between the music, the lyrics, and the comedic action, the opening sequence is a pure delight. We also see images of Willie D. himself, in a fancy hat and shades, driving in his fancy car with personalized plates that say “DYNAMITE”. He pulls over and gets out of the car, revealing his whole outfit for the first time – and it is a fashion statement that must be seen to be believed. Willie D. is the epitome of the stereotypical pimp – at least how he is portrayed in 1970s pop culture. Whether or not he is a reflection of reality, past or present, is beside the point. He is a larger than life character with a larger than life theme song. And by the time the music ends, we feel that we know exactly who he is, and I, for one, felt like I’d already had my money’s worth. This movie was awesome…

Watching Willie Dynamite for what must have been the third time last #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn, I was struck by how much more serious-minded the movie is than many of it’s brethren. This may seem like an odd thing to say, considering that Willie Dynamite contains plenty of funny bits, both intentional and unintentional, but the movie manages to tell a rather serious story while making us laugh. It is over-the-top with its fashions and attitudes, but it is not particularly exploitative. It’s about pimps and prostitutes, but it does not contain any nudity. The main character, Willie D., is played by Roscoe Orman who most us know as Gordon on Sesame Street. He is quite convincing as Willie D., showing a completely different side of himself. Diana Sands plays Cora, a social worker (and ex-prostitute) who makes it her mission to destroy Willie – or does she? In the final act of the movie, characters make unexpected choices that resonate with real human emotion. Put simply, the movie gets better. The characters become more real, and what could have been a stereotypical, by the numbers ending becomes something so much more powerful. 

I hate spoilers, so I’ll stop there and hope that I haven’t already said too much. I should note that Diana Sands, who is excellent in this movie, died of leiomyosarcoma in 1973 – presumably before this movie was released. She was only 39.

Gilbert Moses was a theatre director, and co-founded the Free Southern Theater company which, according to Wikipedie, was “an important pioneer of African-American theatre” in 1963. Willie Dynamite was his first film. He went on to direct a lot of television. He died in 1995 at age 52.

Willie Dynamite (1974) is a #NotQuiteClassicCinema classic that probably gets less respect than it should. It’s too bad that Gilbert Moses didn’t give us any other films like it. The closest he came was The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh (1979), which a friend of mine once told me was the first film his father took him to see in the theatre. Strange choice, but certainly unforgettable. I wish I had seen Willie Dynamite on TV all those years ago. It probably would have blown my mind. 

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Stop Me Before I Kill! (1960)

Stop Me Before I Kill! (1960) is not a movie that I was in any way familiar with before I watched it last week. I acquired it as part of a Hammer Films Collection on DVD. I had heard of, if not seen, all of the other films in the five movie set. One of them, Scream of Fear (1961), is among my absolute favourite Hammer Films, and I wrote about it in a previous blog post.

Stop Me Before I Kill! is not a typical Hammer Horror movie. In fact, it is more like an attempt at Alfred Hitchcock style psychological suspense. I couldn’t help but think of Hitchcock’s Spellbound (1945) as I watched this film. Both films involve a psychiatrist helping an amnesiac to recover his memory. In Hitchcock’s film, the patient is a man accused of murder. In Stop Me Before I Kill! it is a man who has a strange impulse to commit a murder (by strangling his wife). Stop Me Before I Kill! was apparently based on a novel called The Full Treatment by Ronald Scott Thorn, which was published in 1959.

The cast of Stop Me Before I Kill! is very good, but not a typical Hammer Films cast. There are no regulars like Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee. In fact, when I first looked at the title and the names of the stars (Claude Dauphin, Diane Cilento, Ronald Lewis), I wondered if this movie really was a Hammer Film – or just something that Hammer had picked up fro distribution (the way Troma picked up Dario Argento’s The Stendhal Syndrome (1996) for instance). I honestly don’t know what its production history was, but Hammer Film Production is one of the companies listed in the credits. 

Stop Me Before I Kill! is a film that seems to fit in among the other black and white horror/thrillers that Hammer made after Psycho (1960) and perhaps Diabolique (1955), This film is partly set in France, and features a French star (Claude Dauphin), so one can’t help but think of Diabolique. Some other examples of Hammer’s foray into the black and white thriller world include: Maniac (1963), Paranoiac (1963), Nightmare (1964) and my aforementioned favourite Scream of Fear (1961). 

I like these black and white horror/thrillers. In a way, they are like the low budget, more realistic flip-side to the somewhat more lavish monster epics involving Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Mummy. They tend to be short and to the point (80 minutes, 81 minutes, 83 minutes, 86 minutes) – and for the most part, they tend to work.

Stop Me Before I Kill! clocks in at 108 minutes! This is a full 28 minutes longer than Paranoiac and 22 minutes longer than Maniac – the longest of the other examples. This might be understandable if Stop Me Before I Kill! was an epic story of some sort. It’s not, really. Spellbound was 111 minutes, so maybe the makers of Stop Me Before I Kill! were taking their cue from that. In any case, it feels a little too long for the amount of story that it is telling.

This is not to say that Stop Me Before I Kill! is not an entertaining movie. I enjoyed it quite a bit. The actors are all good. The story is good, although somewhat predictable. It features great black and white cinematography and has some legitimately suspenseful sequences. It takes a little too long to get where it’s going, but if you are in the mood to relax, it could provide a satisfying #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn. If, however, you are in a hurry for horror, you might want to choose one of the other fine black and white Hammer thrillers.

Stop Me Before I Kill! looks and feels a bit like a actual classic – like an Alfred Hitchcock movie, for instance. The running time seems to imply that it’s going for a more serious, respectable kind of cinema. Herschell Gordon Lewis admitted that he tried to do it with the 117 minute A Taste of Blood (1967). Schlockmeister William Castle famously produced (but was not allowed to direct) the 137 minute Rosemary’s Baby (1968). Was a bid for more mainstream respectability what Hammer, or director Val Guest, had in mind when they made Stop Me Before I Kill!?

I have no idea. But I think it’s fair to say that Stop Me Before I Kill! failed to achieve the classic status of films like Rosemary’s Baby. So did A Taste of Blood for that matter, but that’s another story. And so Stop Me Before I Kill! will have to settle for a place alongside the many other fine examples of #NotQuiteClassicCinema that we can all appreciate and treasure for years to come. 

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: New Year’s Evil (1980)

Back in the 1990s, I appeared on a radio show to promote one of the low budget film projects that I was working on at that time. The host asked me if I had seen any good movies lately. For some reason, this question threw me. It’s always a little tricky to think of a good answer to an unexpected question when you’re put on the spot during a live interview. However, I watch at least one movie a day, so surely it should have been easy for me to rattle off a list of seven or ten titles just from the past week. But perhaps it was the inclusion of the word “good” that made me hesitate, and see nothing but visions of dust and tumbleweeds where the memory of my recently watched pile of movies should have been.

The last thing anyone wants on the radio is dead air, so I immediately started to answer the question with some sort of awkward stammering about how it all depended upon a person’s definition of “good”. Thankfully, as I was speaking, one recently watched movie came back to me.

“I just saw New Year’s Evil,” I told him.

The host looked puzzled. “New Year’s Evil…?”

“It’s not a recent movie,” I explained. “It’s an old slasher film from the ’80s. Made after Halloween, so they named it after a holiday – or at least a day in the calendar. Like Friday the 13th or My Bloody Valentine.”

“I haven’t seen it,” the host admitted, “but I know which movie you’re talking about.” He was roughly my age, and a huge fan of ’80s movies, so it wasn’t surprising that he would have heard of it.

“As you know, I’m a fan of slasher films,” I continued, “but I had never seen this one either. Maybe because the books all said it was bad.”

“And was it?” he asked me.

“I actually liked it,” I said, and I’m not sure which one of us was more surprised by that answer.

Truth be told, my expectations for New Year’s Evil (1980) had been pretty low. My most trusted review book, Terror On Tape by James O’Neill, gave the movie one and a half stars and called it “A less than great throwback to those bygone days when no holiday was safe from the makers of mad slasher movies… With bad music, little blood, and a predictable twist ending…” In Video Trash and Treasures, L.A. Morse says “I think there are more music/dance interludes than bodies in this one, which probably says it all…”. I actively avoided watching this movie for the better part of two decades. It was only when I found an old VHS tape in a bargain bin that I decided it was time to finally see what it was all about.

I certainly did not expect to discuss this movie on a live radio show about FIlm.

It was true that I had enjoyed New Year’s Evil much more than I had expected to – perhaps largely due to the very low expectations that I had developed over the years. Most reviewers criticized the film for it’s extensive use of rock band performance footage – and often called the music bad. I actually enjoyed that aspect of the film. It’s about a big New Years Eve rock show. They call it a “punk rock” show, but the music seems to be more straight up hard rock or classic rock. We do see bands performing several times throughout the movie.

I have a particular fondness for movies about rock bands. This Is Spinal Tap (1984) is a favourite of mine from way back – and it is, in way, about “bad music”, although my friends and I all bought the soundtrack and loved it. I am also a huge fan of the heavy metal horror films like Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare (1987), Black Roses (1988) and Rocktober Blood (1984). New Year’s Evil is not really like those movies. It’s not a story about the band(s), or in which the members of the bands are characters. In fact, the bands in New Year’s Evil are actually real bands. This makes it, in some ways, closer to movies like The Prowler (1981) which features a band performing on stage. But New Year’s Evil features so much music – and a flamboyant rockstar-like celebrity host played by Roz Kelly (who some might remember as Pinky Tuscadero on Happy Days (1974-84)) – that it takes on a bit of that rock band horror movie feel. And call me crazy, but I like the music featured in the film – you can hear the theme song by Shadow on YouTube.

So, I wasn’t lying to the radio host when I said that I had liked New Year’s Evil, but I think it was a fairly mild like after that first viewing. Over the years, however, I started to watch New Year’s Evil on New Years Eve (go figure), and I found my appreciation of the film growing stronger with each viewing. Kind of like a song or album that you hear once and think is okay, but after you hear it a few more times you start to really get into it. Those are some of favourite songs/albums. After wearing out my VHS tape, I upgraded to the Scream Factory Blu-ray and I couldn’t be happier. The film has never looked (and sounded) better, and it’s nice to have a few extras to enhance the experience.

One more rock and roll reason to love New Year’s Evil (at least for me), is the fact that Nurse Robbie, whom our psychopathic killer encounters at a mental institution, is played by Jennie Franks. She has a few acting credits over a ten year period, and was apparently also a photographer and playwright. I had never noticed this before, but she also has quite a few songwriting credits on the IMDb – and they are all for one song: Aqualung by Jethro Tull. Those who know me, know that I am a huge fan of Jethro Tull, and Aqualung is one of my all time favourite albums, and songs. When I saw Jennie Franks’ soundtrack credits on the IMDb, my brain couldn’t quite comprehend them – until I remembered that Aqualung is one of the only songs in Jethro Tull’s vast catalogue that wasn’t written solely by Ian Anderson. And I had noticed, years ago, that the co-writer of Aqualung was a woman… Jennie Anderson, in fact; Ian’s first wife. Now I discover, much to my surprise, that Jennie Franks, the actress who plays the nurse who (SPOILER ALERT) gets murdered in New Year’s Evil, used to be called Jennie Anderson, and is, in fact, the very same Jennie Anderson who co-wrote one of my all time favourite songs!

What are the odds of that?

I actually always liked Jennie Franks’ portrayal of Nurse Robbie in this movie, but I had no idea who she was until this year. I suspect that all future viewings of New Year’s Evil will only be enhanced by this exciting new discovery…

Director Emmett Alston only made eight films during his relatively brief career, and by the looks of them they might all be #NotQuiteClassicCinema of one type of another. Alston seemed to be particularly partial to ninjas, having made three films about them. A year before  New Year’s Evil was released, Alston made his directorial debut with something called Three-Way Weekend (1979). It’s described on the IMDb as “Two bisexual girls go camping in the woods and are followed around by a perverted guy in a gorilla mask and a man in uniform with a whip who thinks everyone’s a communist…”. If ever a film heralded the arrival of a cinematic genius it’s got to be this one. Needless to say, I’m putting it on my must-find-a-copy-and-watch list.

 

 

For me, New Year’s Evil (1980) will always be a welcome addition to any #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn – especially if that Friday also happens to be New Years Eve, or New Year’s Day. And looking at my new 2021 calendar, I think I know what I’ll be doing next December 31…

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Tales from the Crypt (1972)

I recently recounted the story of my earliest interactions with VCRs (not here, but for a another project that you’ll be hearing about in the months to come). It made me realize that one of the most important moments in my development as an aficionado of obscure, weird, horror and other B-movies was the purchase of my family’s first VCR. My parents had been a little slow to come around to the idea that we needed to OWN one, and in fact had resorted to renting a VCR a few times. But, after a few successful VCR rental weekends – and a lot of begging from me – my parents finally decided that it might be more economical – and less annoying – to buy one.

My mom took me down to Adi’s Video, one of the closest and most successful movie rental stores in the neighborhood. Adi’s wasn’t just renting movies in those days, they were also selling VCRs – and they had both VHS and Beta. My Mom asked the man in the store (I don’t think it was Adi), which format was the best. He did not hesitate to tell us that Beta was far superior to VHS. So, my Mom bought a Sony Betamax. It came with a wired remote control and a free Beta t-shirt (which I wore for a couple of years). I have to say, that machine worked really well. And even after Beta lost the war to VHS, I continued to use it to tape movies off the TV. In fact, I still have it hooked up to my TV today – and it still works (almost 40 years later). On the other hand, my family went through several VHS VCRs over the years. Some of them died after only a couple of years. Coincidence? Who knows…?

I have a really strong memory of the guy who sold us that Betamax, standing there in his “Beta #1” t-shirt, and I am certain that he is the one from whom I rented Tales from the Crypt (1972) – on Beta, of course. It must have been on the same day we bought the VCR. I remember the “Beta #1” guy so vividly, taking the movie box from my hand and examining it, approvingly.

“This is a good movie,” he said. “Jacqueline Bisset is great in it…” then he turned the box over and looked at the back. “Oh, wait,” he said, “It’s Joan Collins who’s in this. I get them mixed up.”

My Mom reacted, physically. “I wouldn’t want to be confused with Joan Collins,” she said, judgementally.

This comment has remained burned in my brain for all these years. My Mom thought it was an insult to Jacqueline Bisset that “Beta #1” thought she was Joan Collins. Or, rather, that he thought that Joan Collins was her, as the case might be. I never asked for clarification of that remark, because I assumed that it was because Joan Collins was the “bad woman” Alexis Carrington on Dynasty (1981-89) in those days. I was a little surprised, because I didn’t think my Mom even watched Dynasty – she was much more of a Dallas (1978–1991) fan.

In any case, because I can remember this moment so clearly, I know that my Mom was there, at Adi’s, when I rented Tales from the Crypt. After that first day, when we bought the (surprisingly heavy) VCR and took it home in the car, I don’t think my Mom was ever at the store when I rented movies. I would generally walk over with my brother, or with a friend. So, this means that Tales from the Crypt may hold the distinction of being the first movie that I ever watched on my family’s first VCR. As you might imagine, this makes it a seminal viewing experience for me.

I suppose it’s possible that my Mom came with us to rent movies at some point, but if she did, it would have been very early in our VCR owning days. So, either way, Tales from the Crypt is a movie that goes way, way back for me. It was, I’m certain, the first Amicus horror anthology that I ever watched. It wasn’t quite the first anthology, I don’t think. That distinction may go to Creepshow (1982), which I was lucky enough to see in the theatre. In fact, Creepshow may have given me the idea to rent Tales from the Crypt, but I’m not sure. I also saw Dead of Night (1945) on TV as a kid. I’m not sure exactly when, but my memory of it is pretty hazy, so I must have been pretty young. 

I loved Tales from the Crypt instantly. Every story worked for me, and felt fresh to me. The first one, And All Through the House, starring the aforementioned Joan Collins, was probably the first Christmas horror story I ever saw – and the first time I saw a murderer dressed up as Santa Claus. This would, of course, become a much more familiar sight to me, as I saw movies like Silent NIght, Deadly Night (1984). But in some ways, this short story was more effective, more clever and scarier than any of the other killer Santa movies. Even when they remade the same story for the TV series, Tales from the Crypt (1989–1996), it failed to be as scary as this original movie version.

I actually wrote a short play back in 1995 called The Blood On Santa’s Claws, which was meant to be a satire/homage to Christmas horror films. And All Through the House was one of my main inspirations. Interestingly, the play was part of an anthology of Christmas plays called Six Twisted Christmas Tales. Sadly, the show was cancelled and the play went back into my desk drawer to rot. A few years later, a theatre company called Cherry Red Productions in Washington D.C. found out about the play and asked me if they could do it as part of their Christmas extravaganza. Cherry Red Productions was once described by the Washington Post as “D.C.‘s only theater company dedicated to smut,” so of course I was thrilled. Sadly, they folded in 2012.

The problem with many horror anthologies is that they are uneven; a mixed bag of good, bad, and indifferent stories. This is partly due to the fact that the majority of them seem to be made by a bunch of different filmmakers. And I can understand that temptation. Hey, here’s four, or five, or ten interesting filmmakers. Let’s get ’em all together and have ’em make short films on a theme (or not). Even if they all do good work, the clash of their different styles often makes the whole seem like less than the sum of its parts.

All five of the stories in Tales from the Crypt were directed by Freddie Francis, and they are excellent as far as I’m concerned. I don’t know how many times I’ve watched this movie over the years, but it never fails to entertain me. I hesitate to call it #NotQuiteClassicCinema, because it is certainly a classic in my book. But, just as the original comic books that inspired it would not have been called great literature by the critics of the day, so this movie would have been maligned by people who think they have good taste. But as Pablo Picasso once said, “The chief enemy of creativity is good taste.” And I have always prided myself on being at least a little bit creative…

If you’ve never seen Tales from the Crypt (1972) – or even if you have – do yourself a favour and slot it into your next #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn. You won’t regret it.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Legacy of Satan (1974)

In the world of adult cinema, Gerard Damiano is a legend. Or at least he should be, if for no other reason than he directed the notorious Deep Throat (1972). Sadly, one of the points that the documentary Inside Deep Throat (2005) touches on is that the kids today don’t really know who Damiano is – or at least they’ve never seen Deep Throat. And I’m talking about the kids who work in the adult film industry. This would be akin to the biggest Hollywood stars of today never having seen Citizen Kane (1941), or maybe Casablanca (1942) – which may, sadly, also be true.

I recommend watching Inside Deep Throat to get a sense of what an unbelievable phenomenon Deep Throat really was – and to learn about an important piece of pop culture history. Aside from that, it’a a darn entertaining documentary, and a story that will likely surprise you more than once.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Gerard Damiano was a good filmmaker. Some may have a hard time believing that of a man who mainly worked in hard core adult cinema, but at that time making X-rated films was not that different from making any kind of genre films. They were shot on film, had real stories, and were ultimately shown in real movie theatres. And plenty of mainstream filmmakers got their start making adult movies. Abel Ferrara, Wes Craven, Lloyd Kaufman and William Lustig all made at least one X-rated movie. Other serious-minded filmmakers found success is the adult film industry and remained there (or got stuck there, in some cases). Damiano, I suspect, is one of them.

Aside from Deep Throat, which was a massive success but not his best work, Damiano made acclaimed X-rated films such as The Devil in Miss Jones (1973), Memories Within Miss Aggie (1974), The Story of Joanna (1975), Odyssey: The Ultimate Trip (1977) and The Satisfiers of Alpha Blue (1981). Each of these films was well made, and seemed to be fueled by more creative ambition than the average adult movie. It’s not clear to me whether Damiano would have liked to cross over into making mainstream movies, or if he simply believed that that hardcore erotic cinema would (and should) one day merge with the mainstream and become the new mainstream. He can be seen lamenting the demise of serious adult cinema in Inside Deep Throat, and it’s hard not to agree with him.

Legacy of Satan (1974) is unique in Damiano’s filmography, as it is not an x-rated movie. I’ve heard differing theories about this. Some people feel that Damiano filmed an x-rated version, which was then edited by the distributor to create an R-rated horror film that could be sent out with Andy Milligan’s Blood (1973). This is a provocative theory, and there certainly have been X-rated films which were distributed in both “hard” and “soft” cuts. But I don’t think that it could be true in this case. First of all, there are no x-rated performers in Legacy of Satan. Damiano had already made Deep Throat, and other films like The Magical Ring (1971), so he certainly knew actors who were experienced in hard core sex films. If he had intended Legacy of Satan to be hard core, surely he would have cast some actors who had experience with that.

The main character of Maya is played by Lisa Christian, and this is her only credit on the IMDb. In fact, many of the actors in this movie have no other credits (or very close to it). John Francis, who plays Dr. Muldavo, has a respectable list of mainstream credits, including TV shows like Get Smart (1966-1969) and The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977). It seems unlikely that he would have suddenly decided to appear in an x-rated movie.

Christa Helm, who played “The Blond Blood-farm” in Legacy of Satan, was an aspiring young actress, who appeared on Starsky and Hutch (1975–1979) and Wonder Woman 1975–1979). She was murdered in 1977, at age 27, and that crime has never been solved.

Sandra Peabody is most famous for starring in Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left (1972). She also appeared in some soft core films like Voices of Desire (1972) and The Filthiest Show in Town (1973). Perhaps that makes her the most likely candidate to star in a hard core film, but it appears as if she never did. And she only makes a brief cameo in Legacy of Satan as one of the cult members. 

The other theory about Legacy of Satan is that Damiano had intended to make an x-rated film, but then changed his mind and rewrote the script as a pure horror film. This seems, to me, more likely than the other theory, but I do wonder why people think that Damiano couldn’t have just decided to make a horror film in the first place?

Ultimately, none of this matters. Damiano has left us with a straight up horror film about a satanic cult. It only runs 68 minutes, which might be why some people think there is some missing hard core footage out there somewhere. I must admit that there were a couple of moments where the film seemed to have been edited (or censored), but I can’t find a longer cut of the film anywhere. My guess is they made a few trims back in the day, and the uncut version never got released. I suspect that all we are missing is a few seconds of nudity that made someone nervous, or some censor scissor-happy. But I guess we’ll never know.

Legacy of Satan is not a great film. It’s reputation is that it is terrible. The soundtrack music in particular seems to inspire a lot of negative comments. My experience was somewhat more positive than the average, it seems. I kind of liked the strange, dissonant, primitive synth score. People say it’s irritating, or an assault on the ears, but maybe that was the point, to make us uncomfortable and unnerve us. Whatever the case, I found it charming. 

The visuals and atmosphere are pretty good. There are a few moments of artistic beauty. The problem is that you have to have a lot of patience for a story that doesn’t move along very quickly. And, ultimately, it does feel a bit like something is missing. Perhaps the rumoured (but likely non-existent) hard core (or at least more graphic soft core) sex scenes would have done the trick to keep people more engaged. As it is, Legacy of Satan seems to lack some of the creative spark that makes Damiano’s adult movies some of the most admired of the golden age. 

Still, Legacy of Satan is a must see for fans of Damiano who are curious about what he might have been like as a non-adult filmmaker. It is also a must see for fans of extremely low budget, early ’70s Satanic horror films. It is unlikely to be the best example that you have ever encountered, but it should provide enough diversion for 68 minutes of your time. It is the kind of #NotQuiteClassicCinema that would work well as the third or fourth feature of an all night movie marathon on a #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn. I’m not sure if it will get many repeat screenings at my home drive-in, but I’m glad that I got a chance to see it, at least once.