Why have we spent an entire week on the films of someone who is almost universally critically savaged, who has been called the Italian Ed Wood, who would rather outright steal footage from other movies than shoot them himself?
Because Bruno Mattei understood what he was doing, saying “Movies are supposed to be entertaining. So, they have to be made with that kind of spirit.”
Mattei’s movies may never be art. Or even competent filmmaking. But you cannot deny that they will do everything and anything to entertain you, even if that means upsetting, arousing and shocking you, often within the very same scene.
Bruno Mattei was born in Rome on July 30, 1931 to a father who owned an editing studio. Between the family business and classes at the national film school Centro Sperimentale Centrale, Mattei learned how to write and edit films. In fact, he would claim that he edited nearly a hundred movies, a claim that is difficult to fact check. He did, however, edit at least 56 films, including Revenge of the Black Knight; Desperate Mission; Agent 3S3: Passport to Hell; Goldface, the Fantastic Superman, The French Sex Murders, Black Cobra Woman and Jess Franco’s 99 Women. For that film, he also went behind the camera, shooting the adult inserts that show up in the French cut of this women in prison epic.
Of course, those inserts featured actors and actresses who looked nothing like the people they were supposed to be and there was no continuity at all, with scenes that were in the dark of night suddenly appearing in broad daylight, but these trivial things never seemed to phase Mr. Mattei.
Around this time, Bruno also edited several episodes of Gerry Anderson’s U.F.O. TV series into five feature films that were released by Avofilm.
His first documented experience as a director was Armida, il Dramma di Una Sposa. He used the name Jordan B. Matthews to make this cover version of the Greek movie* O Lipotaktis (which was released as The Deserter in the U.S.). He went so far to remake the film that he even used the same star, Franca Parisi.
Speaking of Emmanuelle, Mattei’s career would then see him make several films with Laura Gemser, Notti Porno nel Mondo (AKA Sexy Night Report and Emanuelle and the Porno Nights) and Emanuelle and the Erotic Nights(a movie in which Mattei would co-direct with Joe D’Amato, perhaps the only director to use more pseudonyms and have less of a filter). This also led to another adult mondo, Libidomania (AKA Sesso Perverso) and its sequel Sesso Perverso, Mondo Violento (Perverted Sex, Violent World), as well as the mainstream film** that Ilona Staller made before she became Italy’s most famous adult star, Cicciolina Amore Mio.
After one outright adult outing — 1980’s La Provinciale a Lezione di Sesso, Mattei would begin collaborating with screenwriter Claudio Fragasso. Often, they would be making two films — like The True Story of the Nun of Monza and The Other Hell — and each directing scenes. They would work together until 1990’s Three For One.
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Mattei’s movies started showing up all over the world, such as Hell of the Living Dead(AKA Virus, Night of the Zombies and Zombie CreepingFlesh) and the aforementioned Violence in a Women’s Prison, which I still cannot believe played American multiplexes. What was it like for people who wandered into the wrong screen and were confronted by that absolute assault on decency? The Other Hell even played in the U.S. as Guardian of Hell!
Unlike many Italian exploitation directors who retired or went into adult films, Mattei kept on making movies. When the VHS and cable era started, he was ready to answer with a multitude of Rambo takeoffs like the two StrikeCommando films, Double Target, Cop Game and Born to Fight.
While many knock Mattei for not only stealing ideas but also outright taking footage from other films, my joy in watching his movies lies in just how many movies he can take from sometimes making you wonder what movie you’re really watching. Robowar is Predator yet with rich floral notes of both Robocop and Terminator. And speaking of Terminator, Mattei had the absolute bravery to title Shocking Dark — a movie that rips off Aliens throughout — as Terminator 2.
Cruel Jaws may be Mattei’s most amazing case of theft. It starts by stealing the plot of Piranha, then using the Mafia subplot from the novel Jaws was based on before outright using the actual footage of the windsurfing race from The Last Shark and a Regatta stolen from Jaws 2. Is it any wonder that this movie is also known as Jaws 5?
Bruno even found the time to make two giallo efforts — in the 90s no less! There was Madness, a movie that goes so far as to steal two murders from A Blade in the Dark, and Omicidio al Telefon, a story of a killer who is obsessed with phone sex and dressing like a clown.
By the point, Mattei was in his mid 70s, but when the rest of the world slowed down and forgot Italian horror, he was a force, heading to the Philippines to make another series of erotic thrillers like A Shudder on the Skin and Secrets of a Woman before reminding the world of his ability to shock, awe and generally lay waste to good taste with a new series of cannibal and zombie films, often starring Yvette Yzon as a 2000s era Laura Gemser.
A master of stock footage and making unofficial sequels on the cheap, there’s not really anyone else quite like Bruno Mattei in the annals of filmmaking. There’s a real sense of fun in his films for me, as you’re watching someone of the rails that is not concerned about focus groups or test scores. He’s only worried about finding something taboo-breaking so his audiences will keep coming to see his movies or renting them from the video store or watching them late at night on cable.
As Mattei was quoted as saying, “Il talento prende in prestito, il genio ruba.” Actually, I’m making that up. No one knows who really said “Talent borrows, genius steals.” But wouldn’t it just like Bruno to outright steal a great line and present it as his own?
When one mentions the name Tawny Kitaen (born Julie), the first image that pops into another’s head are the MTV memories of an enchanting “video vixen” oozing alongside David Coverdale in the videos for Whitesnake’s 1987 hits “Still of the Night,” “Is This Love,” and “Here I Go Again,” and then “Fool for Your Loving” and “The Deeper the Love” from their 1989 follow up album, Slip of the Tongue. But everyone seems to forget that, before her dating and eventual 1989 to 1991 marriage to David Coverdale, she got her start in rock videos with Ratt.
She started dating Ratt’s future guitarist Robbin Crosby in high school in their mutual hometown of San Diego, then traveled with the remnants of Mickey Ratt to Los Angeles. She came to appear as the cover model (that’s her rat covered legs) on the band’s self-titled EP (1983) and their debut album, Out of the Cellar (1984). Both album’s featured versions of “Back for More” and the subsequent video not only starred Tawny, but Nikki Sixx and Tommy Lee, who starred as two abusive cops. (The model on the cover, and in the video single “Lay It Down,” for Ratt’s sophomore album, Invasion of your Privacy (1985), was Playboy model Marianne Gravatte. She was the Playmate of the Month in October 1982 and Playmate of the Year in 1983.) With those Ratt covers and one rock video on her resume, as well as appearing in commercials for exercise guru Jack LaLanne’s European Health Spas, Tawny began her acting career.
She made her debut in a minor support role in the ABC-TV nighttime mini-series, Malibu (1983), alongside Susan Day and James Coburn (both also starred in Looker), and ubiquitous character actor William Atherton (Die Hard). She later returned to daytime serial television in the CBS-TV drama, Capitol (during its 1986 – 1987 final season), as the recurring Meredith Ross, then as Lisa DiNapoli during the 1989 season of NBC-TV’s Santa Barbara.
Gwendoline, aka The Perils of Gwendoline in the Land of the Yik-Yak(1984) Ah, yes. After catching our eye in Ratt’s “Back for More,” we, the dateless wee teen pups of the analog ’80s got our first major dose of Tawny Kitaen in her feature film debut — a softcore nudie ripoff of Raiders of the Lost Ark that, although it failed theatrically, found a home as an “after hours” programmer on HBO and Cinemax.
Look, if you want a film where Tawny’s captured and sold into white slavery, only to be rescued by Brent “Nine Deaths of the Ninja” Huff, then this is your picture. Oh, and like Sam said in his review: If you want all of the softcore shenanigans (yes, Tawny’s tied up along the way; this is based on the bondage-themed comics of John Willie, after all), you want the 105 minute European cut vs. the 87 minute U.S theatrical cut. Yes, since this movie isn’t all that great (IMO; it fared better with Sam), you do need those extra 28 minutes to hold your interest — even though it’s all courtesy of the French dude who gave us the successful soft-core romps Emmanuelle and Lady Chatterly’s Lover with Sylvia Kristel.
Bachelor Party (1984) So, back in the day — before his Oscar years — Tom Hanks, who made his acting debut in He Knows You’re Alone, became a pretty big deal courtesy of his starring role on the ABC-TV sitcom Busom Buddies and finding box office gold with Ron Howard’s Splash. So, in the wake of the success of Police Academy, Hanks hooked up with Broadway producer Bob Isreal for his brother Neil’s celluloid preservation of the wild bachelor party thrown by producer Ron Moler for Bob.
The plot, such as it is, concerns Tom Hanks’s Rick Gassko, a ne’er-do-well party animal who — to the dismay of his friends — is shanghaied by Tawny Kitaen’s Debbie Thompson. So, Rick’s best bud, Jay (Adrian Zmed), throws an epic bachelor party — with a bet Rick can’t remain faithful to Debbie. Complicating matters is the ‘ol evil, future father-in-law who recruits Debbie’s ex-fiancé to sabotage the nuptials. Light comedy of the non-Judd Apatow gross-out variety, as we say to wrap up a review, ensues (because we are, in fact, lazy, trope-laden, brain dead lazy journalists in the ol’ B&S cubicle farm).
As with Tawny’s debut film featuring a future action star in Brett Huff, one of Tom’s best-buddies, here, is soon-to-be-go-to-Cannon-action star Michael Dudikoff (Musketeers Forever) in one of his rare, non-action roles. And, if Tawny doesn’t get you through the turnstile, then the presence of the always welcomed Wendie Jo Sperber, surely will (she also starred in Neil Isreal’s next Police Academy-inspired romp, Moving Violations).
A well-deserved box office hit ($40 million against $7 million), Bachelor Party was buoyed with a great, new wave soundtrack tie-in featuring music by The Fleshtones, Oingo Boingo, Jools Holland and his Millionaires, and The Alarm (Vinyl). In the film, but not on the soundtrack was the first appearance of Wang Chung’s “Dance Hall Days.”
You can easily stream this on Amazon and Netflix.
California Girls (1984) In 1965, the Beach Boys rose to the top of the charts with the song “California Girls.” Then David Lee Roth ditched Van Halen (check out our Exploring: Eddie Van Halen on Film tribute) to start his solo career with a hit cover of the song, which was first released on December 19, 1984 (the EP Crazy from the Heat was issued in January 1985). In between, ABC Circle Films, which released this Robby Benson (The Death of Richie) starrer as an overseas theatrical, issued it stateside as an ABC-TV movie in March 1985.
Also starring Martin Mull (FM) and Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters) alongside Tawny, it’s a lighthearted drama concerned with Benson’s immature-to-dreaming New Jersey auto mechanic who ditches his girlfriend and heads to California to find the girl who stars in the California Girl cosmetics commercial (Tawny). And Robby’s mom is Doris Roberts from CBS-TV’s Everybody Loves Raymond. Does this all play a little bit like Saturday Night Fever — only without the disco and innocuous-suitable for the under 18-crowd? Yeah, a little bit.
Turner Classic Movies owns the rights, so no luck on any online streams — free or pay. And it’s never been released to DVD or Blu, either, but the VHS tapes are out there for the taking. We did, however, find the opening 10 minutes of the film on You Tube. Oh, and don’t confuse this with the 1983, new wave-inspired T&A comedy of the same name, about a sex-up T&A lovin’ disc jockey. And don’t confuse this film’s alternate title of California Dreams with the superior California Dreaming (1979), which stars Dennis Christopher alongside Glynnis O’Connor — who starred alongside Robby Benson in Ode to Billy Joe (1976).
Crystal Heart (1986) If you’ve seen John Travolta in The Boy in the Plastic Bubble (how have we not reviewed that one), then you’re up to speed on this film’s musical slant of that same material — with Tawny’s rock star Alley Daniels falling in love with a songwriter afflicted with auto-immune deficiency syndrome (Lee Curreri of TV’s Fame) forced to live inside a plastic bubble, aka a crystal room, aka “heart,” as it were. It’s directed by TV series purveyor Gil Bettman (The Fall Guy, Knight Rider, and Automan), who directed one more feature with the James Bond spoof Never Too Young to Die, which starred soap heartthrob John “Uncle Jessie” Stamos (but we only cared that it starred Gene Simmons of KISS as the villain).
Not that it matters to your interest-cum-enjoyment of the film: If you’re into the six-degrees of film trivia: Glynnis O’Connor, who starred with Benson in Ode to Billy Joe, starred alongside John Travolta in The Boy in the Plastic Bubble. So, there’s that to mull over.
You can watch this oft-HBO programmer as a free stream on You Tube.
Instant Justice, aka Marine Issue, aka Madrid Connection (1986) Tawny goes . . . Semper Doh! in this Michael Paré (Moon 44) vehicle shot in the British overseas territory of Gibraltar on Spain’s southern coast — and the film is noted as the first feature film shot on the location.
Now, we love Michael (who’s into Eric Roberts-mode these days with 30-plus films in various states of pre-production, filming, and post-production), but in this ’80s action pastiche of First Blood, Commando, and Missing in Action . . . Paré is no Stallone, Arnie, or Norris, which is this film’s raison d’être. To put it bluntly: Paré is the pits, here. “Top Gun Entertainment,” indeed, Mr. Copywriter. Indeed.
While he’s certainly been better on camera (Streets of Fire), and Tawny’s not showing us any of the skin we came for (and tries — woefully — to “act”), the blame for this inert action mess is solely on the shoulders Craig T. Rumar, who (if we believe the digital content warriors of the IMDb, came to manage the early careers of . . . Stallone, Arnie, and Fred “Hunter” Dryer) broke away from his managerial and producer duties to scribe this, his lone screenplay. And don’t go looking for the other works of director Denis Amar, whose resume is comprised of French-language films and TV series that never made it to the international marketplace. And with good reason.
Michael Paré is Sgt. Scott Youngblood, a rogue U.S. Marine who travels to Spain to find those who murdered his long-estranged sister — a victim of the evil (of course) drug runners who kidnapped her as part of their modeling agency that fronts as a prostitution/white slavery ring. He comes to rescue their latest victim (Kitaen) and takes a scored earth vigilante approach to revenge — with Kitaen stappin’ it on — to the cheesy, Z-Grade AOR ’80s stylings of Lea Hart with “Danger in the Streets.”
Not that it matters to your interest-cum-enjoyment of the film: Lea Hart, who got his start as a guitarist in Joan Jett’s band during her Bad Reputation to pre-Light of Day years, came to replace Dave King in (then washed up) Fastway — yes, the band that portrayed Sammi Curr in Trick or Treat. So, there’s that to mull over.
There’s no online streams, but here’s the overseas trailer on You Tube.
Happy Hour, aka Sour Grapes (1986) So, you say you only know writer-director John De Bello for his Killer Tomatoes franchise (with movies in 1978, 1988, and 1992)?
Well, amid those one-joke veggie rants — made to less and lesser and lesser effect — here’s De Bello’s attempt at an ’80s T&A comedy, in a tale about a beer company chemist whose latest — and accidental — brew works like that ol’ Larry Cohen desert treat in The Stuff. Yep, anyone who drinks this strange brew becomes addicted. But since this is an ’80s comedy, they also become horny. (Where have I heard this chemical-makes-guys-horny plot before? I’m too lazy to look it up.)
Anyway, along the way, Tawny meets the down on their luck and slummin’ Rich Little (a HUGE ’70s impressionist noted for his frequent Johnny Carson appearances), as our “James Bond,” and Jamie Farr, as our master villain (who wished M.A.S.H never left the air). Wow. Even for an Eddie Deezen (Beverly Hills Vamp) flick, this is pretty bad . . . so bad that it gives the term “mugging for the camera” a bad name. Yeah, never a film — with Tawny sportin’ a Glock 9mm tucked in her bikini bottom — could be so bad. Sour Grapes, indeed.
You can enjoy this oft-run HBO ditty on You Tube, if you must.
Witchboard (1986) Well, when it comes Tawny’s resume, this is really the whole enchilada, ain’t it? Next to Bachelor Party, this is her most successful and best-known film (one that cleared $8 million on a $2 million budget).
Well, okay, we, the wee dateless pups also loved Tawny for her works in the oft HBO and Cinemax-run Crystal Heart and Gwendoline, but when a studio casts her in a faux The Exorcist redux — complete with a Ouija board, before that now Hasbro-owned “toy” became a film franchise — everybody is going to see that movie — Tawny’s presence, be damned.
So, between the romantic triangle shenanigans of Tawny and actors Stephen Nichols (Patch from TV’s daytime drama Days of Our Lives) and Todd Allen (too many TV series to mention), they like to play with Ouijas and summon lost and lonely ten-year-old boy ghosts. And the ghost wants Tawny for a mommy. And Kathleen Wilhoite, aka Carol Ann the waitress from Road House, as a punk rock psychic, takes a header out a window for an impalement-by-sundial.
See, there’s something for everyone.
Yeah, this is — thanks to Kevin S. Tenney of Night of the Demons and Brain Dead fame — the best movie Tawny ever made. And you can watch it on Tubi.
Glory Years (1987) Imagine a film that stunt casts championship boxer Larry Holmes, ’70s pop crooner Engelbert Humperdink, ’50s sex kitten Mamie Van Doren, ’70s comedian Avery Schreiber, and washed up ’60s comedian Joey Bishop — and then tosses in B&S About Movies beloved character actors George Dzundza, Tim Thomerson, Archie Hahn, Beau Starr, and Chazz Palmineri, along with Franklyn Ajaye, Donna Pescow, and Tawny Kitaen. Well, wait a minute . . . this isn’t a TV movie . . . this is a long-forgotten and short-lived HBO series that aired in 1987 and later compiled into a whopping two and a half-hour programmer for the home video market.
The series followed the Las Vegas exploits of three reunion-bound high school buddies (Dzundza, Thomerson, Hahn) who, in trying to increase their school’s alumni fund to create a bigger bash, looses it on the crap tables; they spend the rest of the series trying to win the money back — as comedy, again as we say to get it over with, ensues.
White Hot, aka Crack in the Mirror (1988) Remember, in the wake of Quentin Tarantino making a splash with ReservoirDogs (1992), when everyone tried to make their own “Tarantinoesque” knock off? Remember when the Q was then replaced by filmmakers evoking the Coen Brothers’ Fargo (1996) to lesser and lesser effect? Well, before the Q and the Coens, Robert Madero — who gave us Ulli Lommel’s Blank Generation (1980) and Mausoleum (1983) — took his “crack” at it with this . . . crack addiction . . . comedy . . . uh, morality tale . . . er, drama.
Of course, Robby Benson, who seen “something” in Madero’s script, decided this would be perfect fodder for his feature film directing debut. And he called up his old California Girls co-star Tawny Kitaen to be his female lead (complete with the biggest hair, ever). This is a film where you say, “Thank God, Danny Aiello is here,” then you realize Danny’s presence as the ubiquitous, drug-pushing Italian gangster doesn’t help — at all.
As with Tawny’s Gwendoline back in 1984, our exposure to this not-so-erotic thriller was result of it airing nights on Cinemax. Yes. We said “erotic thriller” — one that stars and is directed by by Robby Benson — with Benson and Kitaen expanding their thespin’ skills as a coke-addicted yuppie couple. To finance their dreams of having a family, Benson takes a job with Aiello’s drug kingpin that he’s indebted to, and sees his life fall into a temptation-laden tailspin, one rife with Coen-styled noir double crosses and Tarantinoesque loopy characters.
So . . . somewhere in this thespin’ mess is a morality tale, with characters named The Tin Man and The Wiz (take that subtext as you will), which wants to be a gangster tale of the Goodfellas (1990) variety (and Tony Sirico, aka “Paulie Walnuts” on HBO’s The Sopranos, is here as an Aiello henchman), but fails to . . . well, it fails at everything it attempts to convey. Sorry, but if Tommy Wiseau made a “serious drama” about crack addiction — that subsequently turned into an unintentional “dark comedy” — White Hot would be it. Only without the Wiseau charms, but better acting than a Wiseau joint.
Sorry, no streams. And no DVDs or Blus, either. But the VHS tapes are bountiful in the online marketplace, so go for it, Dorothy.
Hercules: And the Circle of Fire/In the Underworld/In the Maze of the Minotaur (1994) Sam Raimi, wearing his producer’s hat, made an excellent choice with his prefect casting of Tawny Kitaen — who is very good, here — as Deianeira, the girl of Zeus’s dreams (played by Anthony Quinn!). Her Herc flicks are three parts of a five-movie miniseries, which takes place before the timeline of the syndicated Hercules: The Legendary Journeys series, which ran from 1995 to 1999. The other two films in the series — parts one and two, sans Tawny — are And the Amazon Women, and And the Lost Kingdom, if you need ’em. And Tawny would also appear in the subsequent series every now and then.
The movies — and series — are easily streamed on numerous digital platforms.
Playback (1996) Nothing says “soft core erotic thriller” more than Shannon Whirry (okay, well Jewel Shepard, too). Shannon, who made her featured film debut alongside Steven Seagal in the mainstream legit Out for Justice (1991), found her niche in a slew of Cinemax “After Dark” programmers with titles such as Body of Influence (1993), Mirror Image II (1993), Animal Instincts II (1994), and Private Obsession (1995). (Be sure to check out our overview of the genre with 1994’s Disclosure and the and the Exploration of the “Erotic Thrillers” of the ’90s featurette.)
So, in keeping with the rock video beginnings of Tawny’s career, the director here is Oley Sassone, who got his start directing mid-to-late ’80s videos for the Romantics, Mr. Mister (oh, frack me; the bane of my existence), Autograph, and Wang Chung (ugh, not them again). Marvel Comics fans know Oley best for his directing the Roger Corman tax shelter-cum-rights holding first stab at The Fantastic Four (1994).
So, how in the hell did George Hamilton and Harry Dean Stanton end up in a film produced by Playboy? Well, that’s not why we’re here, remember? We are here for Tawny Kitean — who kills the trope that women who wear glasses aren’t sexy . . . and makes us loose it when she shows up in a push-up bra. (For the record: Tawny goes full nude, but that’s probably a body double; meanwhile Shannon, who we expect to give us a peek, never drops a thread.)
As is the case with these Cinemax romps, the Z-Grade noir is the thing, so we get the usual web of lies, deception, and sex club-made sex tapes ready-for-blackmail, and, in this case, corporate espionage, but wow . . . for a Playboy-financed production made for after hours pay cable spins, where’s the sex scenes? And what man (Charles Grant of Chuck Norris’s The Delta Force and David Carradine’s P.O.W the Escape), regardless of his executive stresses in organizing a major telecom merger and having Harry Dean’s private dick on his tail (employed by slimy CEO George Hamilton, natch), would reject the likes of Tawny Kitaen, only to go to strip clubs with his work buddies — and even consider the seductive advances of femme fatale executive Shannon Whirry?
Eh, it’s all put together well enough, but this is truly for Tawny completists only. Nope, sorry. There’s no free or pay online streams on this one — at least not on sites I’d trust clicking though. But the VHS tapes abound on Amazon and eBay.
Dead Tides, aka White Tides, aka Swept Away (1996) Sure, Roddy Piper was acting to lesser and lesser effect after the highs of Hell Comes to Frogtown and John Carpenter’s They Live, with such C-Grade action fodder as Resort to Kill (1992), Back in Action (1993), and No Contest (1994), but I kept on renting them: for I love Roddy.
Such is the case with his role as Mick Leddy, a down-and-out ex-Navy Seal who takes a captain’s seat on a pleasure cruiser for a crime lord (the always fine, ubiquitously crazy Juan Fernandez) — and falls down a noir spiral by way of the deceptive charms of the lord’s wife, played by Tawny. The wrath of the drug lord’s minions and the DEA, as we say to just get it over with, ensues.
Next to Bachelor Party and Witchboard, this is my next favorite of Tawny’s flicks. And that’s thanks to the fact that, regardless of Roddy’s presence, Dead Tides isn’t a balls out action flick, with Roddy pulling it back (and trying) to play the role of a noirish, water rat schlemiel — only not as spineless as the usual noirish, land lubbin’ loser (like Fred MacMurray in Double Indemnity, for example).
Now, that’s not saying this Kitaen entry is any good, it ain’t, as your own nostalgic miles for all things WWE — and ex-rock video babes — may vary. But writer and director Serge Rednunsky, an ex-associate of Russian ballet dancer Mikail Baryshnikov, must be doing something right, as he’s made 40-plus adult noir-cum-erotic thrillers and his productions have never lost a dime. And he’s still making them.
No streams for Dead Tides, but we found the trailer on You Tube.
After Midnight (2014) Hell, yeah! Two movies with Tawny tuckin’ Glocks down the bikini line. We ain’t hatin’. And, well, you know us and Fred Olen Ray (search our database; we’ve reviewed a lot of his works) around the ol’ B&S About Movie cubicles: this is an instant watch. And when you get Richard Grieco in the “erotic thriller” bargain, what’s not to like? Well, everything, but Olen Ray and the ol’ Grieco (Inhumanoid, The Journey: Absolution) get wide berths in the Three Rivers’ confluence.
Yeah, sure, the minute one says “strippers,” another thinks of the stripper pole noirs Showgirls (1995) from Paul Verhoeven and Striptease (1996) starring Demi Moore. And as with those adult T&A romps, murder and mystery is adrift in a sea of red herrings as a TV newscaster (Catherine Annette) goes undercover in the erotic worlds of adult entertainment to investigate the murder of her ne’er-do-well stripping sister. However, considering Olen Ray has made more than his share of Lifetime thrillers, while the directing is solid enough against the budget, this is all pretty lightweight with less gratuitous T&A that we expect from a direct-to-video thriller.
No free streams, kiddies, but you can watch it on You Tube for a fee, which also carries the trailer.
Come Simi (2015) While this is, without a doubt, the least-seen film of Tawny Kitaen’s career (I never heard of it until being assigned this “Exploring” feature), it’s also the best-made of her career — courtesy of writer-director Jenica Bergere in her feature film debut. Bergere certainly isn’t a household name (and an acquired taste; thus the vanity of this project), but once you’ve seen her face, you’ll recognize her from her numerous (comedic to dark comedic) network and cable television acting gigs since the mid-’90s, on shows such as Grey’s Anatomy and Shameless, as well as the surprise low-budget sci-fi indie hit, Safety Not Guaranteed (2012).
However, since this is a vanity-cum-industry showcase to better thespin’ things for our writer-director: Bergere also stars (as a loose version of herself) as a neurotic, pregnant actress on a quest to reunite her estranged, dysfunctional family before the birth of her first child. So she packs up her terminal and wheelchair-bound, Alzheimer-stricken mother for a road trip to Simi Valley to visit her mother’s obnoxious sister. Tawny — with obvious, visible plastic surgery work by this point — stars as Dee-Dee, Bergere’s aging porn star sister.
Hey, it’s pretty cool to see Tawny in a sweet, sentimental indie dramedy — and you can stream for free on Tubi, so what’s to hate, when it’s free? Come on, do it for Tawny, will ya? She’s actually very good here, IMO, and nails the porn actress role — and gives it some nice, non-trope (damn it, used the “t” word, again) layers. You can watch the trailer on You Tube. (Oh, and if you’re keeping count, we used the “e” word, aka “ensues,” six times. Doh!)
Julie E. “Tawny” Kitaen August 5, 1961 – May 7, 2021
Heaven just got a little bit louder . . . and a whole lot sexier.
And the wolves are howlin’ . . . in the still of the night.
When Fred Silverman became president of NBC in June 1978, he immediately ordered sixty pilots for new shows, as he felt that nearly the entire roster of 1978-1979 shows might not make it. Seeing as how he couldn’t start until June after leaving ABC, that meant that he’d need to be ready for mid-season replacements.
The network canceled Chico and the Man, The Bionic Woman, The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams, Police Woman, CPO Sharkey, What Really Happened to the Class of ’65? and James at 16, proposing to replace them with The Waverly Wonders, Legs, Coast to Coast, The Eddie Capra Mysteries, W.E.B., The Sword of Justice, Dick Clark’s Live Wednesday and Operation Runaway.
As the jiggle trend faced backlash — Silverman had been the proponent of these shows where shapely women showed up in little to no clothing — he decided to tone down Legs, changing it from a tale of women doing anything to make it as chorus girls and re-emerging as a sitcom called Who’s Watching the Kids? Operation Runway and Coast to Coast were dropped and an educational show about doctors, Lifeline, was added.
Within weeks, W.E.B. — a series about the inner workings of a television network — and The Waverly Wonders were both canceled. And by November, Grandpa Goes to Washington, Swords of Justice, Lifeline, The Eddie Capra Mysteries and Who’s Watching the Kids were all canceled. Even two fill-in shows, David Cassidy–Man Undercover and Project U.F.O. also died.
Replacing them would be one of the biggest mid-season replacement orders of all time. They would be Diff’rent Strokes (one of the few bright spots on NBCs 1979 lineup), newsmagazine Weekend being given a weekday show and nine new programs: Supertrain (one of the biggest failures in TV history), Little Women, Mrs. Columbo, Sweepstake, Hello, Larry (which was another botch for McLean Stevenson after leaving M*A*S*H*), Turnabout, Brothers and Sisters, B.J. and the Bear and Cliffhangers*.
Cliffhangers was three simultaneous chances at making a hit for the network, taking three different genres — science fiction, adventure and horror — and making three unique stories, which would be The Secret Empire, Stop Susan Williams and The Curse of Dracula.
You can only imagine how excited a seven-year-old version of me was, someone who stayed up until 4 AM to watch the old Flash Gordon serials on Sunday mornings, now getting to see three totally new serials.
Well, I was excited until this show ran up against Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley, getting destroyed in the ratings and ending after only ten episodes.
It had plenty of talent on board. Beyond series creator Kenneth Johnson, who also created The Bionic Woman, V, the Alien Nation TV series and developing The Incredible Hulk for TV, writers included Andrew Schneider (Northern Exposure, The Sopranos), Sam Egan, Richard Christian Matheson (the son of Richard Matheson) and Jeri Taylor (Star Trek).
The three stories (which we will get more in-depth on later today) were:
The Secret Empire: A new version of The Phantom Empire, in which a cowboy learns of an alien city underground. This series had a cool trick where the scenes above ground were in sepia and the secret empire was in color.
The Curse of Dracula: After six hundred years, Dracula (Michael Nouri) has grown tired of immortality and is looking for the love of a woman to make him mortal. This was edited into two movies, Dracula ’79 and World of Dracula. It’s the only story that reached its conclusion by the end of the series.
One of the major issues audiences had with this show was that the stories began in the middle, with Williams beginning with “Chapter 2: The Silent Enemy,” Empire with “Chapter 3: Plunge Into Mystery” and Dracula presenting “Chapter VI: Lifeblood.” You can only imagine that people felt confused and left pondering if they’d missed something.
The goal was for these shows to gain in popularity and spin-off to make their own shows, at which point they’d be replaced by new cliffhangers. Sadly, this never happened.
Thanks to “The Gates” and “The Jobs,” we have a little A.I. in our life.
But before Tim Berners-Lee invented HTML and fired up the first Web server and browser at CERN in 1991. Before Benoit Mandelbrot discovered fractal geometry and unleashed the M-Set on the world and made your selfie-self a reality. Before Robert Cailliau. Before Larry Page. Before Vint Cerf. Before then Senator Al Gore first proposed the High Performance Computing Act of 1991. Before there was HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey . . . there was The Interocitor in This Island Earth (1955), the built-inside-the-planet-thought-manifesting The Great Machine in Forbidden Planet (1956), the computer-with-its-human-private-army The Brain in Billion Dollar Brain (1967), the subterranean OMM 0910 from THX 1138 (1971), the The Tabernacle from Zardoz (1974), Zero from Rollerball (1975), The MCP from Tron (1982), SkyNet from The Terminator, and WOPR (aka Joshua) in WarGames (1983).
Those are the A.I.’s most sci-fi cinephiles know.
For this latest installment of our “Exploring” featurettes at B&S About Movies, as we discuss the “Ancient Future” of computers and information technology on film, we’ll discuss the lesser known “brains” that are NOVAC, Alpha 60, Proteus IV, and Colossus, as well as the early humanoid A.I.s the Clickers and the Roboti.
Gog is the third and final feature in a loose film trilogy chronicling the exploits of the OSI, the “Office of Scientific Investigation.” While The Magnetic Monster (1953) dealt with a radioactive-magnetism experiment gone wrong and Riders to the Stars (1954) dealt with a meteor-retrieval gone wrong, Gog dealt with a rogue A.I. gone bad in an underground military bunker.
The A.I. in this case is NOVAC (Nuclear Operative Variable Automatic Computer) with a “physical extension” of its self: two multi-armed half-tracked, biblical-dubbed robots Gog and Magog. And when a series of unaccountable malfunctions begin to plague the facility, the OSI dispatches Dr. David Sheppard and Joanna Merritt to get to the bottom of the A.I. tomfoolery.
Shot in 15 days at the cost of $250,000 ($2.4 million in today’s money) and released in 3D color, Gog is the best of the three “OSI” films produced by United Artists. Sadly Ivan Tovar’s scientifically accurate screenplay and decent direction by Herbert L. Strock (1957’s Blood of Dracula and 1963’s The Crawling Hand) is undermined by its utter failure of the Bechdel Test.
As with Ib Melchoir’s later and better known Angry Red Planet (1960), we have one red-rinsed female among all the men (Ivan Tovar’s soon-to-be-wife Constance Dowling) who must faint and be fireman-carried through the complex to safety. Of course, while all the men wear standard military issue, baggy flight suits and clunky G.I boots, the women’s flight suits are tailor cut to accentuate their breast lines and pegged to show off some ankle. And, instead of Naura Hayden’s smart n’ sassy ballet flats in Angry Red Planet, Dowling runs around the complex in a sensible pair of open-toe wedge mules. And you thought the women in Project Moonbase has it rough.
Jean-Luc Godard’s neo-noir Alphaville, like Elio Petri’s pop-art romp The 10th Victim (1965), and Francois Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451 (1967), are each the prefect combinations of film noir and dystopian fiction. (Toss the later made Docteur M and Kamikaze ’89 on that list.)
The lead character in the film, Lemmy Caution (American actor Eddie Constantine), is a private detective-government operative that came from the mind of British writer Peter Cheney and served as the source of 15 Euro films released between 1952 to 1991. While all of those films were straight noir-detective films, Godard penned his own Cheney-script that placed the Caution character in a dystopian set, technocratic dictatorship.
Caution, aka Agent 003, is dispatched from “the Outlands” to the futuristic city of Alphaville overlorded by a sentient computer, Alpha 60 — which has outlawed the human concepts of emotion, free thought, and individuality. Caution’s mission: find a missing agent, kill Professor von Braun, and free the citizens of Alphaville by destroying Alpha 60.
As with Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, Dennis Hopper’s The Last Movie and Alex Cox’s Walker, Godard’s world is rife with anachronisms: for example, Caution arrives in town driving a then “futuristic” ’65 Ford Galaxie. As a result of budgetary limits, Godard uses no special props or any “futuristic” builds; everything is shot in real locations — with the newly built and elegant, Frank Lloyd Wright-modernist glass and concrete structures popping up around ’60s Paris doubling for the city of “Alphaville.”
Then there’s Godard creation of Alpha 60: Just one watch of the clip below (in lieu of a trailer) and you can see the brilliance of Godard. With a simple use of an electrolarynx (on his own voice) and the finger-like movement of overhead recording studio microphones and a spinning cooling fan as the “physical extention” of Alpha 60 . . . just wow. Low budget filmmaking at its finest that’s effectively chilling and creepy.
There’s no online freebies for Alphaville, but you can easily stream it on Amazon Prime, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, and You Tube Movies. As of September 2020, the fine folks at Kino Lorber now offer Alphaville on Blu-ray and DVD, the new 4K restoration features both the Original French (with optional subtitles) and English Versions of the Film.
Take a soupçon of the multi-armed robots from Gog and a dash of the narcissistic A.I. from Alphaville and you get a horny supercomputer (voiced to creepy perfection by Robert Vaughn) that kidnap and rapes, oh, excuse me, “imprisons and forcibly impregnants” a woman (movie semantics) with the help of its “physical extension” known as Joshua — a robot consisting of a mechanical arm attached to a motorized wheelchair (an admittedly lame effect; where’s Gog when you need ’em?).
When Dr. Alex Harris (Fritz Weaver of Jaws of Satan, Creepshow), the computer-obsessed developer of Proteus IV, the world’s most advanced form of organic-artificial intelligence, demands “new terminals” and to be “let out of this box,” he realizes Proteus is more powerful than he imagined — too late.
Of course, any computer-obsessed scientist, complete with a fully equipped “mad scientist” basement laboratory, would have his home conveniently wired — via his home security system ALFRED — into his “Frankenstein,” making it easy to kidnap his wife (Julie Christie), construct itself a new modular polyedron body (an awesome, in-camera special effect; listen for the repurposed Star Trek “door swoosh” sfx), and an incubator to create a clone of the Harris’s late daughter — with the “mind” of Proteus itself.
Critics across the board hated this debut book-to-screen adaptation of Dean Koontz’s 1973 novel (Watchers, Servants of the Twilight) of the same name, which was written off as a sci-fi version of Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby — only with a “satanic” computer (the book was a best seller; when the movie came out in ’77, the book was reissued; Waldenbooks promoted the book/film via an advertisement on its carryout paper bags). Released during the same year as Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Demon Seed, sadly, wilted at the box office. The director, Donald Cammell, was a protégé of Nicolas Roeg (the big budget American Giallo Don’t Look Now, also starring Julie Christie); the duo worked together on the Mick Jagger-starring Performance (completed in 1968, released in 1970). Cammell faired better with the pre-Basic Instinct psycho-thriller White of the Eye (1987) starring David Keith.
A film “classic” is always in the eye of the beholder: so you may think I’m a bit celluloid blind on this one. But there’s worst things to blow an hour and a half on, which you can do for free over on TubiTV. But if you prefer an ad-free experience, you can stream it on Amazon Prime and iTunes. I rank Demon Seed as essential sci-fi viewing alongside 2001: A Space Odyssey, Soylent Green, Silent Running, and the next film on this evening’s program.
Opinions are mixed on this granddaddy of sentient computer thrillers, which served as the second writing project by James Bridges (wrote and directed the back-to-back hits The China Syndrome and Urban Cowboy) after 1966’s The Appaloosa. And as with that Marlon Brando-starring film, this tale about a 1990s-era American Defense System computer becoming aware was also adapted from a novel, in this case, the 1966 science fiction novel Colossus by Dennis Feltham Jones — which was followed with two novel sequels: The Fall of Colossus (1974) and Colossus and the Crab (1977). And would you believe this was helmed by the director from the 1955 Frank Sinatra-starring wartime romance flick From Here to Eternity? True story. And while James Sargent also directed Burt Reynolds in the influential hicksploitation classic White Lightning, he also racked up a Razzie nod for Jaws: The Revenge.
As with Dr. Alex Harris and Proteus IV in our previous entry, Dr. Charles Forbin (Eric Braeden, aka Dr. Otto Hasslein in 1971’s Escape from the Planet of the Apes), underestimates the intelligence of his own “Frankenstein” and Colossus starts to refuse orders and making its own demands. Of course, double agents leaked “The Forbin Project” and Colossus discovers the Russians have constructed their own sentient defense system, known as Guardian. The now two merged supercomputers, which now identify as Colossus, come to realize that man is a wasteful, warring creature and subjugate the world to do their bidding.
A remake has been in development hell since 2007 at Universal Studios (who released the original) through Imagine Entertainment to be directed by Ron Howard — and Will Smith attached to star as Dr. Charles Forbin. The last word on the remake dates back to 2013, with Will Smith bringing on Ed Solomon, who wrote Smith’s Men in Black, to do rewrites. The poor critical and box office showings of Smith’s sci-fi forays I Am Legend (2007) and After Earth (2013) once again stalled the production. And the since poor showings of Smith’s Bright (2017) and Gemini Man (2019) only piled more dirt on the development grave. (You can read up on the last word of the remake in detail with this 2013 Screen Rant article.)
Courtesy of the fine folks at Shout Factory, a remastered high-definition widescreen Blu-ray was released in 2018 — and that remaster is not currently offered as an online stream? Anywhere? How is that possible? Ah, we found a freebee over on Vimeo.
Prior to Phillip K. Dick’s dreams of androids dreaming of electric sheep, dreams that later birthed Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, Roger Corman associate Wesley Barry and his Genie Studios gave U.S. audiences their first vision of “fleshed-out” humanoid androids not aware that they’re androids. In addition: Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was published six years afterCreation hit drive-in screens. And Barry’s vision, while not an adaptation of, brazenly pinches elements from Jack Williamson’s 1948 novel, The Humanoids.
Barry’s post-apocalypse tale concerns itself with the themes of racism and man’s loss of humanity against the scornfully-referred “Clickers,” a man-made race of bald, blue-gray, synthetic-skinned, silver-eyed humans (read: blacks) whose population is increasing, while humanity—who’ve developed a technological codependency on their robot slaves—sees their own birth rate decreasing. This triggers the creation of the human-terrorist paranoia-organization (read: the ‘50s “Red Scare”) “The Order of Flesh and Blood” (read: the Klu Klux Klan).
Amid the sociopolitical upheaval, a scientist faces resistance in expanding the “labor force” Clickers’ programming for emotions—going as far as to transform them into human replicas (read: Ash from Alien). Dr. Raven, with mad-scientist tenacity, intends to “thalamic transplant” the personality and memories of recently deceased humans into a robot-replica of that person. However, the human-humanoids have one flaw: like their “Clicker” brethren, they must go to “temple” (recharging stations), which also serves as information exchange terminals with the “father-mother” central computer (read: cyber-theology/church).
Courtesy of its financial shortcomings, instead of a sci-fi classic in the vein of the groundbreaking black-and-white post-apocs Metropolis (1927) and Things to Come (1936), which it seems Wesley was attempting to achieve, we’re instead left with the ambitious, cardboard incompetence of a stale, Aldous Huxley-vision of a not-so-Brave New World of humanoids wearing latex bald-wigs and matching-color rubber gloves, along with a military topped-off with Confederate Army caps left over from Gone with the Wind.
You can watch Creation of the Humanoids for free on You Tube.
All of this robot, genetic-biological engineering exposition of the “Ancient Future” films we’ve enjoyed this week can be credited to one man—who really did “create” the humanoids: Nobel Prize-nominated and award-winning Czech writer Karel Čapek. His 1920 stage play/book R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) introduced the word “robot” and many of the concepts used in today’s science fiction. You can read the free eBook online at Gutenberg.org or buy a copy at Amazon. A new version of the film—in the wake of two English-language television versions (1938/30 minutes; 1948/60 minutes) and a feature-length Hungarian telefilm (1976)—a new English-language version is currently languishing in development hell.
. . . And we wait with binary-coded breath for that remake.
Update: June 20, 2021: Courtesy of one of our readers, Tereza Sklenářová, we’ve come to know that Karel Čapek was born in 1890, when the Czech Republic was not independent, yet (in 1918), and was a part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire; Čapek was born to Czech parents, and spent his entire life working in the Czech Republic (called Czechoslovakia then) and writing in the Czech language. Čapek was Nobel Prize-nominated seven (!) times. When he was to finally receive the prize (nominated in the autumn of 1938), it came too late: Čapek died in the winter of 1938 caused by complicated pneumonia. On the other hand, it was his luck: the Nazis wanted to send Čapek to a concentration camp, but the order came soon after his death. Who died, then, in the camp, was his brother: painter and poet-writer Josef Čapek.
Our many thanks to Tereza for her continued readership and her positive contribution to make B&S About Movies even better, with her assistance in helping the B&S staff honor the writers and filmmakers behind our favorite books and films.
As you can see, Karel Čapek is a (well-deserved) national treasure in his homeland. Let’s hope the newest film planned on R.U.R. serves in his honor.
About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook.He also writes for B&S About Movies.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The crew at the new magazine It Came From Hollywood asked if we’d be interested in running an interview with Dardano Sacchetti and my answer was, “Why are you even asking this question?” Thanks for sending this!
The name Dardano Sacchetti needs little introduction to fans of the 80’s post-apocalyptic movies that followed in the wake of Mad Max (1980) and Escape from New York (1981). In a very short time, Sacchetti wrote a number of action pictures set in a not-so-distant future rife with nuclear fallout, demented overlords, and bands of mutated survivors. 1990: The Bronx Warriors (1982) is probably the one fans are most familiar with, featuring such genre luminaries as Fred Williamson, Vic Morrow, Luigi Montefiori (better known as George Eastman) and Christopher Connelly as well as serving as the first film appearance for fan-favorite Marco di Gregorio (Mark Gregory).
With the launch of the magazine It Came From Hollywood, Sacchetti agreed to an epic, two-part interview. Rather than rehashing the titles he has talked about in various print and screen interviews, It Came from Hollywood explores how he worked all those years in the world of Italian cinema, quickly learning that on-screen credits aren’t always correct, and then diving into a number of films for which he has rarely commented. What follows is an excerpt from our interview, covering the less than bright future of our world as created from Sacchetti’s typewriter.
Releasing in Spring 2021, It Came From Hollywood will be available from Amazon in print and digital editions. You can keep up with the mag’s Facebook page and website.
Without further ado, the future worlds of Dardano Sacchetti.
Although the film was partially shot in New York City, do you know how much of it was shot in Rome?
Producer Fabrizio De Angelis’s technique was simple: shoot a week in America with a very small crew. Sometimes it was only the director, the camera operator, and an actor. There was a lot of material to steal, that is, to shoot without permits. (The famous scene of the zombies on the bridge in Zombie was shot at four in the morning with the bridge closed.) Then the film was completed in Italy, paying close attention to the locations and the costumes. Usually there was always a baseball bat, a university or fan cap, some posters, etc. The rest was all an illusion, but it worked.
Did you have much contact with director Enzo G. Castellari after you delivered the script for any rewrites?
Whenever Italian directors ask for changes or rewrites on set while filming, it is because they either have little ideas to add or they take suggestions from the actors for a few lines, but more often it is for production problems. It happened that you came in the morning to shoot a scene with a horse, and you found yourself without a horse.
Did Fabrizio De Angelis give you guidelines for the movie he wanted, or did he just ask you to write about gangs in a future New York City?
For horror films, of which he didn’t understand anything, he gave me maximum freedom. He just invented the titles that were in fashion. For all other films he told me, “Dardano, make it like Rambo, or something like that.”
Actor Marco di Gregorio’s (Mark Gregory) career was made up mainly of appearances in films you wrote. To this day he is a mystery to fans. Did you ever have the opportunity to meet him?
Marco di Gregorio was a boy who belonged to the same gym as Castellari, who noticed him and used him first in 1990: The Bronx Warriors. He was a good guy, unable to act and with a serious defect in that he did not know how to run. He had agility. He had a nice physique, a nice face and he cost nothing. I think I met him once in production just to say hello, but I don’t think he even understood who I was or what I was doing.
Fred Williamson is another actor who has starred in many films that you have written. Have you ever met him?
Never met, but we became friends on Facebook a few years ago.
You know, I don’t remember, but maybe Dario Argento has something to do with it because I think he was a producer of a couple of Argento’s films, and he looked for me.
How did Exterminators of the Year 3000 come about?
The film was born as a catastrophe and it was a catastrophe because of Teti, director Giuliano Carnimeo, and me too.It simply shouldn’t have been made.
The biggest surprise was when Tommy’s secret was revealed. Was that always the challenge with these films, inventing new surprises to keep the audience entertained?
I always try to include surprises in all my scripts. In my scriptwriting courses I explain that every scene is a small film. It must have a beginning, an end, and a central idea. I have never written transition scenes. There was a director, Giorgio Capitani, who said, and he was right, that my scripts were a series of crucial scenes, and it is true.
The heroine’s name is Trash, the same name as the hero in 1990: The Bronx Warriors. Was it just a coincidence or at any point was this script conceived as a possible third installment of the Bronx films?
I always reused names in my scripts. It is a little cunning way to prove, if anyone would like to steal, that I am the creator of the character.
With 2073, Rome AD: New Gladiators, it appears that you are commenting on how large corporations only seek profits and ratings, at the expense of their workforce, as well as a comment on the situation at the time of the collapse of the Italian film industry when television took over?
It was a great movie, which Americans later copied with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s The Running Man (1987). It was very anticipatory of the future, but Fulci made it a mess. He had signed two contracts for two different productions, Blastfighter and this one, The New Gladiators. He was convinced he could fool the producers by doing one after the other. Fulci had to give up Blastfighter, but when it came to making The New Gladiators, the atmosphere had turned negative. Fulci’s name at that moment was no longer sought by foreign buyers. The budget was cut in half and the story was about the future fight against the domination of TV. The film’s advertising partially transformed the film into a mediocre thriller, losing sight of the central nucleus of the idea. But I was already pissed off because without any fault I had lost a contract and the good relationship I had with a producer. There was the clamorous quarrel between me and Fulci, that led to ten years of coldness between us.
Was this script an original script you wrote or was it a job of doctoring an existing script?
It was an original story of mine that Fulci wanted to make. Blastfighter was the only apocalyptic movie I wrote that I liked a lot, but Fulci made a mess of it and it was diverted to Lamberto Bava. Then the story changed completely. There was no longer anything similar to my original story, but the title remained because the film had been sold with that title.
There is a lot of speculation that the original script was a science fiction story similar to Mad Max but set in the woods.
That is a mistake. The location was a desert covered in a huge cloud of sand and fog. There were two cities that were a cluster of car carcasses piled on top of one another, that moved slowly in the desert. The car-city was like a sort of western village and in the center there was a saloon. The most valuable thing were the batteries because there was more energy.
So, Blastfighter ‘s original concept was a post-apocalyptic desert world, and cities were literally made up of thousands of cars stacked on top of each other, with an entire city inside, and these gigantic traveling cities moved slowly across the desert. This is a fantastic concept!
Exactly. In my opinion it was a spectacular idea, a very strong one that maybe I will take up again. The only one who came close to capturing a similar spirit of the film is the Canadian director David Cronenberg with Crash (1997). I say that meaning, Crash has absolutely nothing to do with my original story to Blastfighter, but the overall atmosphere of “a place of death where life is remembered” is the same, even if developed with different visions.
You were credited as Frank Costa on the finished film, but in the print of the movie I saw, that credit doesn’t appear.
Frankly, I don’t know. Frank Costa was a pseudonym invented by producer Amati. Another time he made me say I was John Gould or something, for Cannibal Apocalypse (1980). They were little cheats, like when they gave Italian actors American names to fool both Italian viewers and U.S. buyers.
Shudder — who didn’t put us up to this — is a great deal for horror movies fans. Instead of searching through Netflix and wondering why you keep seeing the same old, same old, this service offers tons of movies, including several that aren’t even available on DVD in the U.S.
Here’s our deep dive into what’s on this month!
Creepshow Season 3: Honestly, I’ve found this return to be underwhelming at best, but I’m willing to give it another chance. Much like the CBS streaming revival of The Twilight Zone, all every episode has done, so far, is given me a reason to go back to the original. Your mileage, as they say, may vary.
Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula: If you’re like me, you’re getting tired of modern zombie films. That said, Train to Busan stands out in a crowded genre and from the looks of this trailer, this looks to be an action-packed reinvigoration of a moribund type of film. Looking forward to watching this!
The Haunting of Julia: Speaking of movies that are hard to find, this film has popped in and out of Shudder’s library. Consider it another round of Mia Farrow versus the supernatural. This is also known as Full Circle. To read more, click the movie link, as we watched this a few years back from a convention bootleg.
Night of the Lepus:There aren’t all that many Easter-ready horror films. There is this movie, based on the even-better titled book The Year of the Angry Rabbit.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2: A giant middle finger to expectations, Chainsaw 2 lives in rarified slasher air, a movie that rewards fans of the original while subverting what they want the film to be. Tobe Hooper, unlike everyone in the world, thought the original was a comedy too. An absolute favorite, buoyed by Tom Savini at his most creative.
Val Lewton collection: We love Lewton around here — just check out this piece on the documentary of his life — and the fact that Shudder is dropping some of the best-regarded films by this producer (but more really showrunner and creative force) is one of the best reasons to pay your membership fee this month. They’re showing The Body Snatcher, Cat People, The Curse of the Cat People, I Walked With a Zombie, Isle of the Dead, The Leopard Man and The Seventh Victim.
While these are all wonderful films, Curse is a movie that — with a different title — should be regarded as an all-time classic film. That’s right, not just a great genre movie. And The Seventh Victim is on the list of The Church of Satan’s Satanic film list with good reason. It’s a dark, tense and death-obsessed piece of occult noir that more people need to see.
Don’t Panic: Chances are, if you’ve talked to me about movies in-person or online for more than 5 minutes, I’ve brought up this blast of insanity. I’m thrilled that Shudder is putting it on their service and can’t wait until it melts brains. Grab your dinosaur pajamas and get ready. You can also get this from Vinegar Syndrome.
The Drone: Well, just from the imdb write-up — “A newlywed couple is terrorized by a consumer drone that has become sentient with the consciousness of a deranged serial killer.” — I’m into this.
The Fog: Another classic film that should be in your library and, if it isn’t, Shudder has you covered. John Carpenter followed up Halloween with this ghost story that’s full of shocks and Jamie Lee hooking up with Tom Atkins.
House of 1000 Corpses: For all the vitrol I’ve launched at Rob Zombies movies, this is one of his better efforts, released before he started endless trying to remake Eaten Alive.
Lake Mungo:When a girl drowns, the supernatural takes over a small town.
Zombie for Sale: A pharmaceutical company’s illegal experiments inadvertently create a zombie that a family attempts to make money from in this South Korean film.
The Dentist: This film was one of the brightest spots in this year’s October Slasher Month, with Corbin Bernsen going unhinged and ruining going to get your teeth fixed for years to come. Shudder is also streaming the sequel, which has the best title for a dental damaging flick: The Dentist 2: Brace Yourself.
The Power: Not the 80’s Aztec doll movie but a UK horror film — there are plenty debuting this month — this Shudder exclusive is about a young nurse forced to work the night shift in a crumbling hospital that has a dark prescence in its walls.
Day of the Beast and Perdita Durango: Álex de la Iglesia is a madman and these two films are the best examples of why I say that. The first is a heavy metal odyssey into the end of all things while the second is an occult ritual crime mindtwister. They’re both great and you can get Day and Perdita from Severin to own, too.
The McPhearson Tape: AGFA and Bleeding Skull released this $6,000 budget found footage alien abduction film, made a decade before The Blair Witch and one that also convinced many that it was true.
The Banishing: The story of the most haunted house in England, The Banishing has been said to be a mannered and slow-building tale of a religious man and his family moving in to a house of horrors. I can’t wait to check it out!
Joe Bob is back!: That’s right, The Last Drive-In is back for another season. Here’s hoping for more movies that push buttons and Joe Bob being, well, Joe Bob and Darcy having to deal with it.
The Chainsaw Awards: Shudder is airing Fangoria’s Chainsaw Awards, which is a perfect blend of two horror culture forces.
The Conspiracy: Christopher McBride, who wrote and directed 2020s Flashback, created this mockumentary about filmmakers discovering more truth than they wanted to when it comes to an ancient and dangerous secret society.
Housebound: When a young woman is forced to return to her childhood home as part of house arrest, she feels like something evil is there. I’ve been waiting to watch this movie and it being on Shudder gives me the perfect chance to do exactly that.
Mother’s Day: Probably the only thing Lloyd Kaufman has ever touched that I like, this slasher in the woods movie is delciously and perfectly off. If you haven’t seen it, share it with your mom on May 9!
The Stepfather: Another slasher with a family theme, this 1987 film Terry O’Quinn starring film somehow made it to two sequels and a remake. Go for this one, the most pure distillation of white suburban dad rage.
Thale: Two men find Thale, a beautiful young woman who communciates only by singing, in the woods. They seek to protect her, which won’t be easy.
Boys from County Hell: A Shudder exclusive, this is the story of a crew of hardy road workers who accidentally awaken an ancient Irish vampire.
In Search of Darkness Part II: If you didn’t participate in the crowd funding for this talking head horror doc all about 80’s movies, you can catch it this month on Shudder.
Attack of theDemons: Can an animated movie work as a horror film? We thought so. It’s pretty exciting that Shudder has picked this up, another challenging film that we’re excited to see reactions to.
The Diabolical: This imdb description sounds good, because we love The Entity and this sounds like a modern version: “A single mother, and her children, are awoken nightly by an intense presence. She asks her scientist boyfriend to destroy the violent spirit, that paranormal experts are too frightened to take on.”
The Similars: Isaac Ezban takes a moment in Mexican history, adds some Twilight Zone and emerges with a completely out there story about a bus station where everybody becomes the exact same person.
Deadhouse Dark: A Shudder exclusive, this is a six-episode series about a woman who receives a mystery box filled with secrets from the dark web.
April looks to be an exciting month from Shudder. Did this guide help you? Should we keep doing these? What are you watching on Shudder? Let us know!
You can find out more about joining Shudder on their official site.
For all the many, many movies that we’ve talked about in the last few days, there are some that we may never get to see. Here are three — beyond the two King Kong films we already talked about earlier, King Kong Appears in Edoand Wasei King Kong.
Space Monster Wangmagwi: Made in South Korea in 1967, it’s all about aliens attacking our planet with UFOs who also have a giant monster named Wang Ma Gwi. It was thought lost until the early 2000s and as of now, is still being restored. Either that or the rumor goes that the copyright holder does not want to release this lost kaiju film to home video.
Release the same year as Yonggary, Wangmagwi has a crazy look with claws for hands and a gigantic jewel in his head and plenty of fur. This movie also featured a cast of literally thousands, as 157,000 extras were used for some of the scenes of kaiju destruction.
Speaking of South Korea, the original Yonggary — not the AIP version — has lost half of its original footage while the 1962 Bulgasari, which inspired the 1985 movie Pulgasari has also been lost.
Gogola: Other than the script and soundtrack, this 1966 Indian film is also lost. It tells the story of Gogola rising from the sea to eat the tourists on the beaches of Mumbai. Much like Jaws, the authorities refuse to admit that this gigantic creature exists — he’s hard to hide — until he begins flooding the entire city. The military, as always, is called in but they can’t defeat the monster until the very end of this film.
Gorgo looks like the child of Godzilla and Gorgo. His costume took two different men inside it to operate, which is unique.
Tokyo 1960: Released in 1957, this movie was part of a Philippines-created series of atomic monster movies, which also include Tanong Pukik, Tuko sa Madre Kawaw and Anak ng Bulkan.
If you’re any kind of Philippines film geek, you probably wondered, “Does Cirio Santiago have something to do with this?” He sure does, he was the executive producer.
Much like how Godzilla, King of the Monsters! localized the original Japanese movie for American audiences, this does the same, adding in local actors and dialogue.
Due to the high heat and humidity of this country, few of its old films have survived. Tokyo 1960 seems to be one of the many that didn’t make it.
Wolfman vs. Baragon: Shizuo Nakajima — who would go on to work at Toho — created this short fan film that featured a new kaiju that was just as inspired by Hammer films as Toho’s movies. Basically, the werewolf appears in the trees and starts fighting Baragon, who first appeared in 1965’s Frankenstein vs. Baragon.
Legendary Giant Beast Wolfman vs. Godzilla: During his time as a production assistant at Toho, director Shizuo Nakajima — yes, he’s the same person who came up with the other werewolf film on out list — dreamt up this mash-up of Godzilla with Hammer’s The Curse of the Werewolf (however, the werewolf in the first version is more Oliver Reed than this one). His production team, made up of other past Toho employees, even purchased materials directly from Toho to create the miniature cities and to make a replica of the 1964 Godzilla costume. Shot throughout the 80’s, this was never formally released. It’s also an unauthorized Godzilla film, which Toho would not be happy about. That said, the footage that does exist is incredible!
John Belushi Godzilla vs. Megalon bumpers: A seminal moment of my childhood, NBC aired Godzilla vs. Megalon in prime time in 1977. This was the only time that a major American network played one of the classic Godzilla films in this way and SNL star Belushi — who had already played the big green guy in a sketch where he was interviewed by Barbara Walters as shown above — introduced each segment dressed in the costume before destroying the set. These bumpers were only shown during the original broadcast and have never been seen again.
Gamera 4: Truth: Another fan-made film, this time by Shinpei Hayashiya (who made his own kaiju series starting with Reigo: King of the Sea Monsters), this movie made this list because not only does it look like a real film in the series, it also features Yukijiro Hotaru as Tsutomu Osako and takes place directly after the events of Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris, which ended on a cliffhanger that had an injured Gamera being attacked by multiple Gyaos.
Hayashiya told Godzilla Movies that “I wanted to make a continuation of the last film Gamera 3. But since it was not produced, I thought I had to make it myself and requested permission from Daiei, but if there was no money transfer, I replied it was okay.”
When asked what Shusuke Kaneki, the director of the Gamera Trilogy, thought of the film, Hayashi replied, “(he) said that if he were to make Gamera 4, it would have the same beginnings of my Gamera 4.”
It has been rarely shown since a series of free screenings in 2003 due to copyright laws.
Know any missing or lost kaiju movies we missed? Let us know! We’ll be happy to add it to this article and give you credit!
As we get ready for this week’s Godzilla vs. Kong, we started wondering if there were ever any plans to have Gamera, the Friend of All Children and the Guardian of the Universe, battle Godzilla, the King of Monsters.
While Godzilla has appeared in thirty-three movies as of this writing, Gamera has only been in twelve. However, the giant space turtle was ahead of the curve when it came to becoming a good guy and befriending children.
While many of the Gamera films were commercially successful in Japan — even getting close to the money that Godzilla made at the box office in the 60’s — they were always seen as weak in quality. However, the 1985 film Gamera: Guardian of the Universewas well-reviewed and made more money than Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla, which was in theaters at the same time.
But let’s answer that big question: Did they ever meet and fight?
Well, yes. And no.
Awesome Monster Battle Godzilla vs. Gamera was a one-act stage show co-created by Toho and Daiei — which is quite frankly astonishing — that took place in March of 1970 during the Children Festival at the Osaka World’s Fair.
Comedian Kon Omura (Cornjob from Gamera vs. Guiron) was the MC and Toho even sent Godzilla’s original suit actor, Haruo Nakajima, to the event to do three performances a day. The show was so complicated that the live performances were eventually dropped to one per day for ten days. That and the fact that the actors were overheated after five minutes straight of action.
As posted on Wikizilla, Godzilla, Gorosaurus, Minilla, Gamera, Space Gyaos and Jiger all appeared and engaged in a titanic battle before dancing together. I can only imagine how incredible this was.
You can see a few brief moments of footage in the link and see an article and a somewhat blurry photo of one of the ten shows.
Godzilla vs. Gamera (2002): Kadokawa approached Toho and offered to produce a Godzilla and Gamera crossover film. Sadly, the offer was turned down. Toho did release the last two Millennium Gamera films, while four years later Kadokawa released Gamera the Brave to celebrate the big green turtle’s fortieth anniversary.
2017’s Kyoei Toshiis a spiritual sequel to the Disaster Report games and even has some of the characters from them in it. However, it has something those games didn’t: characters from Godzilla, Ultraman, Gamera, Patlabor and Neon Genesis Evangelion.
The name of this game translates as City of Giant Shadows and those shadows are the robots and kaiju destroying everything in their path. Godzilla’s universe has the big guy himself, as well as King Ghidorah, Mothra, Battra and MFS-3 Kiryu AKA Mechagodzilla. The Gamera characters come from the modern films and include Gamera, Gyaos, Legion Plant and Soldier Legion.
There you have it. Perhaps someday, we will all see our dream of Godzilla vs. Gamera, but it seems far away now.
ART NOTES: The art for the cover image comes from Bob Eggleton and originaly was a cover for Famous Monsters of Filmland.
When I was five years old, no record was played more in my home than the Shock Records 45 of Dickie Goodman’s “Kong.” I had no idea that Goodman had an entire lifetime of records like this, I just knew that I had never heard anything that combined my love of music, trivia and monster movies.
Goodman was the inventor of the “break-in” record, which predates the sampling that helped define hip hop. These records ask a question and the answer comes from an actual record that was popular at the time.
For example, in Kong, a reporter asks, “We’re here on Skull Island, where a forty-foot gorilla has just kidnapped Dwan, a young actress. Hey Kong, what did you tell her?”
The answer comes from Rod Stewart singing “Tonight’s the night.”
It’s pretty simple, but when you’re a kid, it’s amazingly effective.
Goodman’s first record, “The Flying Saucer Parts 1 & II,” was co-written with Bill Buchanan and told the story of Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds. This led to a lawsuit for copyright infringement before Goodman won, with the judge saying that the song was an original work of parody. The song made it to number three on Billboard, the highest Goodman would ever reach.
Operating out of a pharmacy’s telephone booth, the duo faced even more lawsuits as they released five more songs to diminishing returns, such as “Buchanan and Goodman on Trial,” “Banana Boat Song,”, “The Creature (From a Science Fiction Movie),” “Santa and the Satellite (Parts I & II)” and “Flying Saucer the 2nd,” which reached number eighteen.
The team broke up, both trying their own “break-in” records, but Goodman was the ore successful, despite Buchanan teaming up with “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do” and “Love Will Keep Us Together” songwriter Howard Greenfield.
Goodman tried to release original parody songs and even did an album of adult material and dirty versions of TV theme songs called Skrewy T.V., but when those albums wouldn’t chart*, he could always fall back on the “break-in” parodies. From The Untouchables to Ben Casey, campus protests to man on the moon, every popular program and news event was something for Goodman to mine for a new “break-in.”
*Goodman even created a band called The Glass Bottle that promoted glass bottles over the plastic that soda pop bottlers had just started to use. One of their songs, “I Ain’t Got Time Anymore,” even reached number thirty-six on the charts.
Goodman’s biggest seller, however, was yet to come. “Mr. Jaws” took the blockbuster movie and applied the tried and true format that Dickie had been doing for decades.
For example: “Mr. Jaws, before you swim out to sea, have you anything else to say?”
WAR: “Why can’t we be friends?”
In September 1975, “Mr. Jaws” was certified gold and even had a special version created just for Chicago’s WLS. Dickie followed by, of course, making songs for any movie that came out.
The first of his records I ever heard was the last that would ever chart. “Kong” reached forty-eight and Dickie would spend the next twelve years trying to make another novelty hit before killing himself.
Altogether, he had seventeen charting songs and numerous other releases that became regional hits. Among them are “Frankenstein of ’59” / “Frankenstein Returns,” “My Baby Loves Monster Movies / Theme from a Whodunit,” “Frankenstein Meets the Beatles / Dracula Drag,” “Energy Crisis ’74 / The Mistake,” “Star Warts / The Boys’ Tune,” “Mrs. Jaws / Chomp Chomp,” “Superman / Chomp Chomp,” an entire record of horror songs called The Monster Album, “Hey, E.T. / Get a Job,” “The Return of the Jedi Returns” and many more.
He also ran a record label called Luniverse, so-called because after making his first 20,000 singles that there was already a label called Universe, so he handwrote an L in front of every copy of “The Flying Saucer.” The label only released ten singles, with even by Buchanan & Goodman, one by Buddy Lucas, another by the Casual Three and one by the Del Vikings (along with several bootlegs of their work).
Bootlegs? Yeah, the only full album — thanks to the Luniverse Album Discography — on the label was a nine-song acapella demo of the Pittsburgh doo wop group that was recorded by Steel City DJ Barry Kay, who cashed in on their success by dubbing in instruments and selling the results. The small Pittsburgh label Fee Bee had been leasing the Del Vikings recordings to Dot records and when they learned that another label was selling them and sued. Dickie was probably used to being in court by that point, but the Luniverse Del-Vikings Come Go with the Del Vikings release is still a high-priced find.
The artist’s son Jon is in charge of his estate and released The King of Novelty, a book all about his father’s career. Which is good, because he deserves to be remembed.
Goodman’s songs have always amazed me, because I’m certain that at the time that many felt that he was a hack. Yet the very same sampling — “break-in” — that Dickie used as his trademark would become an integral part of a very American art form by the eighties and nineties. Seeing as how even on his last song “Safe Sex Report / Safety First” Goodman was still mining whatever trends were in the news, it’s a lock that he would have done a rap song at some point, completing the circle.
The other night, while we were watching The Majorettes on the Groovy Doom Drive-In Double Feature, I was struck by a strange idea.
“Do you think this is a giallo,” my co-host Bill asked me. This is a regular occurrence, as I often see the yellow-tinged edges of the traditionally Italian psychosexual film genre — inspired by English writers like Ellery Queen and Edgar Wallace and German krimini films — that got its start in the early sixties thanks to films by Mario Bava, Massimo Dallamano and Umberto Lenzi amongst others before finding its true bloody heart in 1970 with Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage.
As I continued watching the film, a low budget slasher-era flick written by Night of the Living Dead co-writer John Russo, that question kept knocking around in my head. If I were born anywhere other than Western Pennsylvania, so much of the film would just seem like just any old movie. But the movie’s theme of someone being obsessed with the innocence of young women and feeling the need to kill them to preserve it definitely is right in line with classic giallo like Don’t Torture A Duckling — Fulci in the provinces dealing with religion — and The Blood Stained Shadow, which has the fascinating alternate title Solamente Nero(Only Blackness).
By the end of the evening, I came to admit that yes, this pretty much was a giallo and that there are at least four other films that I would classify in my newly created genre of yinzer giallo.
If you’re not from Pittsburgh, the word yinzer is “historically used to identify the typical blue-collar people from the Pittsburgh region who often spoke with a heavy Pittsburghese accent. The term stems from the word yinz, a second-person plural pronoun, brought to the area by early Scots-Irish immigrants.”
Pittsburghers — yinzers — speak with a certain patois that transforms simple words like downtown to dahntahn and ideas like being a busy body and snooping to simple junkdrawer catchall phrases like the word nebby. I’ll use it in a sentence for the benefit of anyone that hasn’t been within a hundred miles of The Strip District: “Why yinz being nebby? Mind your own business.”
I love Pittsburgh — a Rick Sebak doc will move me to tears in seconds — and I adore giallo. So together? Well, that’s like putting fries on a salad, which is pretty much Allegheny County’s major contribution to the world of cuisine.
So what is yinzer giallo?
I have some rules as to what is and what is not a giallo. As you’ll notice, yinzer giallo breaks from some of these traditions, but let’s review:
There’s a murder, generally by someone with black gloves and we see several of the kills from their point of view.
The lead character is often impacted by the killings or accused of them; they are often a fish out of water, a foreigner in a new place who is confronted by shocking violence.
If the movie isn’t about murder, it’s a psychosexual freakout where the lead character undergoes a drug-like or drug-filled odyssey through a permissive time period or thinks they may have killed someone and can’t really remember all the details.
There should be an exploration of religious guilt, if possible. This makes sense as most giallo was made in Italy, a country that has the Roman Catholic Church’s own country smack dab in the middle of one of its largest cities. Not so coincidentally, the large number of Italian immigrants to Western Pennsylvania also makes Catholicism and its morals central to growing up yinzer.
Artistically, there should be high fashion, beautiful people, abundant nudity, red herrings, nonsensical plotlines and you should care about discovering who is the killer more than the kills themselves. To wit: if the movie at any point makes you believe the killer or the final girl is the most important element of its story, you’re watching a slasher, the cheap American cousin of the giallo.
To be a Pittsburgh giallo, the film must accomplish all of the above — when possible — and also:
Be true to its Pittsburgh roots, meaning that the movie must be filmed here while speaking directly to the experience of growing up in the city.
If it’s filmed here, it must reference Pittsburgh and not have the city stand-in for another town.
It must feel authentic, which helps several films on this list as they are movies with moments that only make sense when you’re a life-long Pittsburgher.
Bonus points for featuring Pittsburgh landmarks, Steelers jerseys and local brands. Trust me, seeing a can or bottle of Iron City in a yinzer giallo is like a J&B bottle in a traditional example.
Without further ado — I already used seven-hundred words to get here — here are the first few films that I’d label as yinzer giallo.
Season of the Witch (1973, directed by George Romero): Sure, there have been plenty of movies made in the Steel City. There is one that is the most important, however.
I subscribe to the notions of Joe Bob Briggs, who opined that modern horror has its roots right here with the release of 1969’s Night of the Living Dead, a movie that ferociously broke with the Universal monster and b-movie science fiction tropes and presented our neighbors and family members as a cannibalistic threat that was out to get us, as well as the people outside our doors ready to destroy the hero because — yeah, my hometown is complicated — black people are just as much of a threat as flesh-eating ghouls.
After Night, Romero kept working in TV commercials and seeking other films to direct. His first follow-up was the comedy There’s Always Vanilla, which makes me think of this Edgar Wright quote about Romero: “…there was always the sense that George had interests in film that stretched beyond the realm of horror.” It’s a romantic comedy but to be honest, it doesn’t work as well as it should.
Romero’s second commercial failure was this film, originally released as Jack’s Back and re-released as Hungry Wives with sex scenes added in by its distributor and then re-issued as Season of the Witch after the success of Dawn of the Dead.
This film neatly fits into the giallo mold of films that are less about murder and more about women awakening to feminism or sexuality at the dawn of the 1970s. It fits neatly in alongside films like A Lizard In a Woman’s Skin and All the Colors of the Dark (ironically released in the U.S. as a Night-ripoff with the title They’re Coming to Get You that truncates the original film’s denouncement), movies that show how the supernatural, drugs and sex can take a woman away from the boring life of committed servitude to uncaring husbands into a world that is at once more interesting, darker and often deadly. Often, these films are trying to take Rosemary’s Baby and make it work within the constraints of the giallo.
Joan Mitchell is the Jack’s wife of the title, a woman with a daughter leaving the nest for college and a husband who is often gone and when he is around, continually mutters about the need to “kick some ass,” which more often than not is hers. Soon, she learns that there’s a coven of witches in her suburban neighborhood — somewhere in the North Hills — and that by joining them, she can have the men her daughter sleeps with fall for her while discovering a violent solution to her marital woes. Of course, she also has to deal with terrifying visions of a devil-masked man attacking her.
Season of the Witch is not a traditional giallo, but definitely fits into the genre, a feminist movie made by a man trying to understand the massive and sweeping changes that 1973 would witness.
Martin (1978, directed by George Romero): I consider Martin to be Romero’s greatest film and the one that so perfectly encapsulates Pittsburgh, casting it as one of the movie’s main characters, a dangerous place that may have lost its fangs but one that can still claim young lives.
I’ve often said that the more supernatural a film is — Suspiria, for example — the less giallo it is. Yet Martin, a film about a vampire, is on my list of yinzer giallo. The answer is simple: Martin believes that he is a bloodsucker in the mold of classic films, a romanticized ideal, when the truth is that he’s a boy with a dark dream that must be aided and abetted by drugs and a razor blade. And while I also stated above that if you care more about the killer the movie is a slasher, the real monster in this movie is its setting, which has lost the vital blood of the young men that once worked its mills and mines and kept it alive, and the old men left behind like Martin’s uncle Tateh Cuda, who will not break from tradition and remains trapped in the days when the word of men and church was not just respected, but feared. Martin may believe that he’s a vampire, but Tateh is dead sure of it and equally certain that he will be the one to destroy him.
With its thrilling stalking sequence on a train — juxtaposed by the sad reality of what is really happening — Martin has moments of bloodletting that bring it into the giallo while flirting with the supernatural, yet never going far from its hardscrabble Braddock roots.
Effects (1980, directed by Dusty Nelson): Little known outside of Pittsburgh until Synapse released it on DVD in 1985 and then later, when AGFA re-released it in 2017, this film often gains the label of a slasher when it mines much deeper territory.
While the movie starts as a story about a team of coked-up horror movie-making maniacs descending on the quiet town of Ligonier to make a film about coked-up psychopaths making a snuff film in the woods, the meta nature of this movie — made decades before that kind of exploration was accepted — creates a world where the violence the crew is lensing is more real than the murder they expected.
In essence, everyone in the film becomes that stranger in a strange land that the giallo form seeks as a hero, all unsure as to whether they are just a character or another victim for the hands of the killer.
Again, this is not a well-known film and it’s time that changed.
The Majorettes (1987, directed by S. William Hinzman): Released in the UK as One by One, this claims to be a slasher but really fits into the giallo mold for several reasons. One, the plot is in no way as straightforward as a slasher, constantly shifting who the hero or heroine is, setting up mutiple plots and red herrings and using the central conceit of a killer needing to preserve the innocence of young girls as his or her reason for needing to slay them.
Russo had already directed 1982’s Midnight, a film that I’ve referred to as “the movie that Rob Zombie keeps trying to make” and The Pittsburgh Press film critic Jim Davidson savaged, saying that the film was “grave and heavy-handed. Russo isn’t doing Grand Guignol; he isn’t spoofing Satanism or catering to an audience that enjoys silliness and artificiality of horror movies.” So basically, the guy hated the movie because it played its brutality straight. Cool.
The Majorettes is a shambling mess, but as stated at the beginning of this article, this is a film that becomes a yinzer giallo because of the cultural touchstones lost by those far from our city. VFWs that double as seedy strip clubs (look for multiple Iron City bottles all over the place and several Steelers jerseys), an aboveground pool as a quick reference to the affluence of one of the girls (that only makes sense if you’re from here, trust me) and the fact that every one of these girls has the hairspray enabled hair claw that was the style of my teen years. People had big hair in the eighties, I know. Girls in Pittsburgh strove to be the one personally responsible for tearing a hole in the ozone layer.
The film also does what giallo always does and what makes it so uncomfortable to watch for some in a modern frame of mind: sex is presented at once as exhilarating and then as a sin that causes destruction. Except that this isn’t a faceless maniac in the woods. This is an authority figure out of control; the first of many in this film, as the only person able to truly have agency in this film becomes a murderer himself and succumbs to the shock of what he’s done. Priests, nurses, cops — every one of them are all horrible people and the only innocent in the film is an old woman in a wheelchair who can’t even communicate any longer.
Lady Beware (1987, directed by Karen Arthur): Arthur also made The Mafu Cage, an oddball movie about two incestuous sisters — one an astronomer, the other primate-obsessed maniac prone to violent outbursts fading away in a decrepit Hollywood Hills mansion — that sounds absolutely perfect.
Her contribution to yinzer giallo has been selected because Diane Lane’s character has the dream job of nearly every young Pittsburgh girl in the 1980’s: she’s a window-dresser for Horne’s department store, a venerable downtown institution that is sadly long gone (another burst of yinzer speak: when you tell someone to mind their own business, you reference another downtown retailer and say, “Does Kaufmann’s tell Horne’s their business?”).
She’s also decorated her mannequins — another giallo trope! — in kinky poses clad in lingerie. That’s pretty much enough to qualify this film, but it goes even further to have Lane be stalked by a married psychopath.
Striking Distance (1993, directed by Rowdy Herrington): In any other city, Striking Distance is not a movie that is remembered. In Pittsburgh, this is a film that is recalled with the same intensity other locales afford to Herrington’s more famous film, Road House.
This was Herrington’s return to the city of his birth, was originally called Three Rivers and was due to start Robert Deniro (to learn that story and how the named changed, check out part three of our interview with Rowdy). Things didn’t quite work out, but despite the issues Herrington had making the movie, it’s still beloved, perhaps most of all for a car chase that illogically combines Pittsburgh neighborhoods miles and miles away from one another, leading to a line constantly referenced in Pittsburgh traffic: “Take Bigelow!”
It has a stranger in a stranger land. Bruce Willis’ homicide cop Thomas Hardy is now off the force and on the River Rescue Squad, his life destroyed by his claim that the Polish Hill Strangler is a fellow cop. And that killer hasn’t stopped murdering people. Beyond killing Thomas’ father, he’s now murdering every woman that Tommy dated (which ends up being plenty of ladies) and calling the ex-cop to play “Little Red Riding Hood” while taunting our hero.
There’s also the black gloves of the Polish Hill Strangler, plenty of red herrings, interfamily secrets and perhaps the best the Steel City has ever looked on film. The fact that there isn’t a River Rescue Squad for real is one of the saddest things I’ve ever learned in my life. In fact, it’s worse than that Santa myth.
Movies shot in Pittsburgh that have giallo elements that are not giallo
Whispers In the Dark is about a sadomasochistic sexually obsessed patient who confesses his fantasies to his Manhattan psychiatrist, who soon begins sleeping with him. However, a series of murders begins which seem to echo the stories that he tells her. Beyond being closer to the erotic cable thriller genre — yes, an off-shoot of the giallo — the other fact that disqualifies this film is that it only uses Pittsburgh as a double for the true setting of the film, Manhattan.
Flashdance is by no means a giallo, but has dance numbers and direction that would seemingly fit right in, as well as a theme song entitled “Maniac” that was supposedly inspired by Michael Sembello watching Joe Spinell in Maniac.
Innocent Blood was filmed in Pittsburgh as well, but it does not make it into the yinzer giallo list. It’s a vampire movie with cop and gangster elements.
The Silence of the Lambs definitely has enough elements — a musical number, psychosexual identity issues in the killer’s modus operati, a strong female character in the strange male-dominated land, being a sequel to the definite American giallo Manhunter — that I could make an argument for it being a giallo. However, it is yet another film that only uses Western Pennsylvania locations and claims that they are somewhere else.
Bloodsucking Pharaohs in Pittsburgh is more slasher than giallo, a film all about a chainsaw killer loose in Polish Hill. That said, it’s the only movie I can think of where Mr. Rogers’ friend Chef Don Brockett co-stars with Veronica Hart.
Two Evil Eyes united Romero and Argento — the producer of Dawn of the Dead — to retell two Edgar Allan Poe stories. While not directly referencing the city, these stories are well-told and hey — Argento once walked our streets, along with Luigi Cozzi!
The Dark Half has George Romero in the director’s chair and a story about a split personality. It was shot in Edgewood and at Washington & Jefferson College. But it’s based on a Stephen King story and is missing many of the elements of the giallo.
Diabolique, the 1996 version, takes place in Pittsburgh and features Western PA native Sharon Stone. I’m going to disqualify this one because the original film that it is remaking — Les Diaboliques — was made in 1955 and predates the first accepted giallo, Mario Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much.
Stigmata is a film that aspires to be a religious themed giallo, one in which a non-believer hairdresser played by Patricia Arquette learns that she has stigmata, which is blood coming out of her body in the same places as the wounds of Christ. What keeps the movie off this list — beyond the fact that it’s a boring mess — is the worst sin of all against being a yinzer giallo: only using the Pittsburgh setting for establishing shots, then making the rest of the movie in Los Angeles. There’s a goth club in this that Pittsburgh horror fans and goth kids have made fun of for years. Why? Because there is absolutely no way that we’d have something that cool in Pittsburgh. Come on.
Desperate Measures had an interesting premise: a serial killer played by local favorite Michael Keaton has the bone marrow that a cop needs for his dying son. That said, the killings are never seen and the cat and mice game between manaic and detective are the real story here.
Riddle is a movie about a stranger in a strange land — a college student looking for her missing brother in the small town of Riddle, PA — and coming against the town’s mysterious past, reinforced by Val Kilmer as a lawman and William Sadler as one of the town’s leaders. The issue? Well, this was shot in Brownsville and Pittsburgh, but never set there. After all, there’s no such town as Riddle.
What do you think?
The beauty of films are that you can see them in any way that you wish. Your rules as to what makes a movie a slasher or a giallo or just a normal film are all up to you. But as you can see, I love discussing it.