Today: May 30, 2024

Lovely Jon’s Celluloid Obscura: Old School Slaughter

We’re back for a further installment of Celluloid Osbscura, the movie column dedicated to the more unusual, esoteric Blu Ray and DVD releases out there that may have slipped under your radar. My magnifying glass is ready to protrude under a multitude of interesting, multi-genre releases for the more adventurous cine-philes out there.  So, for this month let’s keep it old school….

Like the wonderfully left field Jesus Franco, Andy Milligan is a cult movie icon who strikes admiration and fear in to the hearts of Psychotronic cinema scholars.  As a  directorial craftsman, Milligan will most certainly test the resilience of the most hardened trash fan with a total disregard for cinematic composure, performances and editing whose censor baiting oeuvre does its best to alienate the gonzoid drive in crowd it is there to serve.  To uninitiated eyes, the Sweeney Todd derived BLOOD THIRSTY BUTCHERS, could resemble a 4th year school play, however, Milligan’s murky cinematics conjure some eerie imagery whilst the plentiful cheapo splatter (even tackier than godfather of gore Herschell Gordon Lewis) cements this misshapen oddball as a one of a kind, far out ‘auteur’.

A long time late night fan favourite, THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE, certainly pushed boundaries upon its original 1962 release in regards to taste and gory amputations.  Jason Evers’ tortured scientist keeps the severed head of his devoted spouse (Violent Saturday’s sultry siren Virginia Leith) alive and receptive in his secret lab following her horrific car accident to enable the transplant of ‘the perfect body’.  For an early 60s drive in quickie, director Joseph Green sure pushes the psycho-sexual angles with Cronenberg-style deformities, a deranged hot blooded lab assistant and resolutely eerie audio effects (Leith’s mournful wailing lifts proceedings way above the usual B movie mad scientist fare).

THE FROZEN DEAD takes the ‘revived severed head’ motif from THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE and transposes this unhinged narrative thread to a secret Nazi lab where Dana Andrew’s crazed doctor keeps the severed heads of frozen SS Troops on ice to unleash the ‘second coming’ of the Third Reich.  Entertaining trash with a beautiful cinematographic palette from Davis Boulton (check those awesome blues and reds), THE FROZEN DEAD is a perfect endevour for those bleary eyed all night marathons.

Over to the golden age of British sci-fi for the extraordinary UNEARTHLY STRANGER (Network Blu Ray – UK), where the mysterious wife of a top level government scientist (played to paranoiac perfection by the great character actor John Neville) is not what she seems.  Neville’s superiors suspect that shadowy alien forces are represented by his spouse to implement a hideous ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ takeover plot much to the scientist’s disbelieving horror.  Shot with a zero budget, UNEARTHLY STRANGER impresses with its claustrophobic application of moody unease via Reginald H. Wyler’s beguiling, Noir-inspired cinematography and lighting. Wyler’s tight framing perfectly orchestrates the mounting paranoia of the impending ‘silent‘ invasion visually typified by magnified close ups of Neville’s stricken face whilst a school playground retreat (shot via a large depth of field) magnifies the unspoken alien menace to perfection.

Tobe Hooper’s much derided 80’s remake of the ultimate alien take over classic INVADERS FROM MARS receives a beautiful looking hi-def upgrade.  Was it worth the effort? Well I guess that depends on mitigating factors such as this being a Cannon movie and the hallowed original being such a tough act to follow.  That said, by Hooper’s own admission his intentions were to create a fun children’s film (not a serious homage or reappraisal as many critics of the day mistrued) so should we be more forgiving?.  I’m ready to forgive anything with the cast assembled for this entertaining misfire – Karen Black (giving off significantly hysterical, wigged out vibes as a kindly school nurse), James Karen (old school character actor of countless genre pictures), Bud ‘Harold and Maud’ Cort (I swear he’s on LSD), Timothy Bottoms (THE LAST PICTURE SHOW), Saturday Night Live’s Laraine Newman and most memorably Nurse Ratchet herself Louise Fletcher (her frog gulping scene is immortal).  Don’t forget to check those wonderfully hallucinogenic pre-CGI sets and Stan Winston’s  berserk prosthetic effects (love those hysterical toad like extraterrestrial guardians).

Timothy Bottoms features again in Robin ‘THE WICKER MAN’ Hardy’s quirky 1986 serial killer mystery THE FANTASIST as an unhinged murder suspect preying on vulnerable women through lyrically poetic phone calls in rural Dublin.  Never one to play by the rules, Hardy infuses the Giallo-esque proceedings with a left field patina of interesting locales and winding narratives which takes you to places you least expect.

We keep in the murder mystery vein for the unique, forward thinking THE MURDERER LIVES AT NUMBER 21, Henri-Georges Clouzot’s 1942 Gallic debut which plays like a demented amalgamation of Hitchcock, German Krimi and Italian Giallo (check the black gloved killer’s walking cane switchblade, it’s stylistically way ahead of its time).  Debonair detective Pierre Fresnay infiltrates a Parisian boarding house where notorious serial killer Monsieur Durand is believed to reside, however, entrapping the culprit proves difficult with the consistent interference from his dotty mistress Suzy Delair.  Shot during the German occupation of France meant a resolutely locked down studio bound production.  This works to Clouzot’s advantageous probing eyes, transplanting a succession of moody set pieces that rivals Argento in their claustrophobic implementation.

Until the next time….

Lovely Jon

DJ and video archivist Lovely Jon is part of the groundbreaking and influential film/DJ collaboration “Jigoku” and has cemented his reputation as one of the foremost collectors of rare 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s underground film and film soundtracks.

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