Tuesday, July 16, 2019

A Whole Bag of Crazy


A WHOLE BAG OF CRAZY: SORDID TALES OF HOOKERS, WEED, AND GRINDHOUSE MOVIES by Pete Chiarella (2018 Happy Cloud Media, LLC / 224 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

by Nick Cato


For the 2 or 3 people who read my column who don’t know who Pete Chiarella is, you may know him better by his nick name “42nd Street Pete.” He has been writing about exploitation films for quite a while, has been publishing GRINDHOUSE PURGATORY magazine since 2013, and authored the book 42nd ST. PETE’S BIG BOOK OF GRINDHOUSE TRIVIA (2015). You may have also seen his name in the old Something Weird Video catalogs and on several DVD releases that bear his name. But what we have here with A WHOLE BAG OF CRAZY is Pete’s life story as it pertains to horror and cult films. And, as the title here says, his times hanging out on The Deuce during the 70s and 80s. There are also some looks at his childhood and teen years, some of it not too pretty.
            
Although he lived in New Jersey back then, Pete recalls the countless times he headed to Times Square to not only see the latest film offerings, but to cop weed, solicit hookers, and experience a few near-death experiences.
                                                                                                          
Every chapter offers things I doubt most readers would readily know about, and certain chapters deliver much information on how Times Square theaters operated or came to be during the “grindhouse” era: case in point is a chapter titled “8MM Madness,” where Pete reveals how hardcore loops circulated and where they came from. There’s as much a history of porn theaters and peep shows here as there are theaters that featured horror, Westerns, action films, and Hollywood hits.

There’s just so much going on in this book to cover in a short article, but suffice it to say those fascinated by life on 42nd Street during its heyday will be glued to the pages as Pete recounts bar fights, hold ups and other crimes committed right out in the open, his alcohol and drug addicted acquaintances, an account of the first time he was stabbed (!), scams that ran rampant, and sandwiched in-between all of this are looks at the films that infested The Deuce, from Mondo films to zombie films to the double and triple features I was lucky enough to catch the tail end of in the mid-late 80s.

While there are several books about life on 42nd street during the 70s and 80s, and while there are some that dig deeper into the films themselves, A WHOLE BAG OF CRAZY is perhaps the most detailed account of how rough, violent, and downright nasty things could get on The Deuce, all from Pete’s firsthand experience. I found his odds and ends jobs quite amazing to read about, as well as how he managed to survive while most of the people he grew up with in the early 70s did not.

People like me and several other film commentators might be able to give you a little peek at the notorious Times Square of years ago, but if you’re interested in reading the real hardcore version from someone who lived it throughout its entire “running” time, A WHOLE BAG OF CRAZY will be impossible for you to put down.



42nd Street Pete

Saturday, July 6, 2019

MIDSOMMAR review


I'm a sucker for films centered around cults, and while I enjoyed the latest from director Ari Aster, MIDSOMMAR, it has much going against it despite the gorgeous cinematography and continual feeling of unease fans of horror films should eat up.

Anyone who has seen MIDSOMMAR's trailer can see this was obviously inspired by THE WICKER MAN (and I'm hoping the 1973 original, not the disastrous Nicholas Cage remake). But there's a difference between inspiration and what Aster has done here, which is delivering a conclusion we know is coming from the second we hear the main protagonist's name (it's Christian. Is that enough of a spoiler for you?). This is a beautiful film to look at and it's genuinely unsettling at times, but the plot will leave any fan of "folk horror" wanting. There are NO surprises other than some misplaced humor, and genre fans will see everything from THE WICKER MAN to THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW to HOSTEL and a host of others.


(Mark (played by Will Poulter) in front of the forbidden temple)

Next to the routine plot (if you can call it that), the characters here, quite frankly, are lifeless. Florence Pugh does a fantastic job as Dani, a girl coping with the suicide/murder of her sister and parents, while dealing with Christian, her asshole of a boyfriend and his three buddies (Pelle, who invites them to visit his small communal family in Sweden, Mark, who provides much comic relief as the stereotypical goofy, vaping dude-bro, and the only person I cared about, Josh, played by the excellent William Jackson Harper, who is on the trip working on his college thesis). But even Pugh's solid performance didn't make me care for her plight: whereas Aster's previous film HEREDITARY dug deep into the human psyche, here we're left wondering why we should care as much about these forgettable people, especially the male members of the cast. And speaking of comic relief, MIDSOMMAR has some dark comedy, which was the ONLY thing I wasn't expecting in a film from a director who gave us something as serious as HEREDITARY. Several sequences were played for laughs, and the audience I saw this with were in stitches during the finale's way out-there sex scene.


(Josh learns how the group receive their teachings from a community elder)

Sure, weirdness abounds, there's still plenty of mystery despite the predictability, but in the end MIDSOMMAR comes off as a missed opportunity. During the expected finale, a caged bear seen when we first arrive at the isolated village could've been put to much better (and gruesome) use (ala 1976's GRIZZLY) and a suicide sequence reminded me of what the snake cult followers of Thulsa Doom did in 1982's CONAN THE BARBARIAN, and societally what becomes of people at a certain age in LOGAN'S RUN (1976). At nearly every turn I was reminded of films I'm sure the director either didn't mean to imitate or did so subconsciously.

Why, then, did I still enjoy this? First, MIDSOMMAR gives a good portrayal of the cult mindset, even showing how Dani slowly and painfully becomes a part of it. When we learn where the cult gets their doctrines from, it's a great picture of the sheer insanity that dictate certain sects. Culturally, it even brings to mind the traditions seen in the life of the very young Pu-Yi in 1987's THE LAST EMPEROR. And second, for a film that is two hours and twenty-seven minutes long, it moves at a fantastic pace, unlike HEREDITARY, whose shorter two hour and seven minute running time could've EASILY been trimmed by thirty minutes. I understand a lot of people identified with it, but to me the first hour of HEREDITARY was a real chore to get through. From the 2018 remake of SUSPIRIA to the last installment of the AVENGERS series, too many recent films are just too damn long for absolutely no reason. Call it a sign of immaturity, call it an epidemic of modern ADD, call it whatever you want and I'll still disagree with you. I don't mind a lengthy film if it's not full of filler and/or repetition, or, in the case of MIDSOMMAR, keeps me entertained. Of course, your mileage may vary. If cult-themed films aren't your thing, you may find this one as tedious as the director's previous effort. But I'm willing to bet at the very least this will keep theater-goers interested, especially those not familiar with the previously mentioned films that came before it.

I'll probably give it another watch sometime down the road, but in the meantime, I'll remember MIDSOMMAR as a film too bogged down by its obvious influences, with a host of missed opportunities that could've easily elevated it to a respectable place in the folk horror cannon.


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Just for shits and giggles:

(An elder member of the pagan group about to commit suicide by jumping off a cliff in MIDSOMMAR)

(A faithful member of Thulsa Doom's cult commits suicide by jumping off a cliff in CONAN THE BARBARIAN (1982)).


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(Ruben the Oracle from MIDSOMMAR)

(Margaret the one-eyed Hag from TORTURE DUNGEON (1970))

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(Bear in MIDSOMMAR)


(Bear in GRIZZLY (1976))


(Yogi Bear telling Nick Cato it's time to get off the Internet...)

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

TEEN MOVIE HELL


TEEN MOVIE HELL by Mike "McBeardo" McPadden (2019 Bazillion Points / 352 pp / trade paperback)

McPadden, author of 2014's humongous tome HEAVY METAL MOVIES, returns with another epic batch of film reviews, this time examining teen sex comedies, focusing primarily on offerings from the 70s and 80s but with plenty of extras thrown in. While McBeardo is (obviously) a fan of the subgenre, some of the best reviews feature our author when irked: case in point is his rant against FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF(1986), a film I enjoyed but doubt I ever will again. Examined from the viewpoint of an outsider looking in, this review will make you laugh as much as piss you off, and I laughed my ass off over the author's look at SHE'S OUT OF CONTROL (1989), a lame vehicle which attempted to convert Tony Danza from TV star to major movie star (spoiler alert: it didn't).

If you're a fan of this stuff, keep a pen and paper (or your cellphone notepad app) handy as you'll surely be making a list of films to see you've never heard of. I have about 18 I'm currently hunting for.

A lot of film review books are easy to skim through, but McPadden's wit and humor keeps every review entertaining and I even enjoyed reading about the films I don't plan on seeing (which, to be fair, wasn't many). As if the 350+ reviews weren't enough, TEEN MOVIE HELL also features outstanding bonus chapters and reviews by some of the best film commentators in the business, and a great little piece by the God of teen movie geeks, Eddie Deezen. Bazillion Points has also done a beautiful job with the layout, which features poster reproductions throughout and an 8-page full color section right smack in the center.

TEEN MOVIE HELL, like HEAVY METAL MOVIES, is one of those books you'll surely be revisiting, so play it safe and grab two copies in case you spill beer (or worse) all over the first.

Grab your copy(ies) here: Bazillion Points

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SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE has arrived early!


My debut film book, SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE, is now available exclusively through the publisher: Headpress Publishing. Join their newsletter to receive a 20% discount off the trade paperback or limited hardcover editions. The book will be released everywhere else early next year, in February, 2020. Read some great early reviews on the above link, too.





Check out this fun interview I did about the book with Decibel Magazine

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Queen of the Monsters


2019 is turning out to be a stellar year for film-related books. Among the most anticipated is THE LADY FROM THE BLACK LAGOON by first time author Mallory O'Meara (she's also a screenwriter, film producer, and host of a popular podcast). I've been a horror/monster film fanatic since I was about 5 years old (that'd be 1973), and naturally I read FAMOUS MONSTERS magazine since about the same time as well as any books I could get my hands on, and not once can I recall reading anything about Milicent Patrick, the woman this book is about. She designed the CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, and wasn't credited for it. O'Meara heard about her and became fascinated. When I read the synopsis of this book, I did, too.

After an excellent introduction, the first two lengthy chapters are spent on Milicent's childhood and early years, and gets a bit too in-depth talking about her parents. I think these two chapters could've been condensed into a single chapter of about 8 pages, but once O'Meara lays this foundation, Chapter 3 begins to deliver the goods.



From her time as an animator at Disney (she worked on the coolest part of FANTASIA) to her time as part of the make up team at Universal, to her post-film freelance work, O'Meara digs deep and even managed to get in touch with Milicent's niece (the later chapters dealing with the author's visit to her home are very well told). The author has no problem letting us know she's a major fangirl, and at times this is both entertaining (a lot of her comments and footnotes are genuinely funny), but sometimes her opinions about Milicent aren't documented, and a lot is supposition (her passion to defend her gets perhaps a bit too passionate). But, much of what's said is indeed documented, and regardless of the couple of things that aren't, the author did an incredible amount of research here, and tells her process of how the book came to be alongside unfolding Milicent's story itself.

THE LADY FROM THE BLACK LAGOON paints a picture of a woman way ahead of her time. An incredibly talented artist (she drew some amazing portraits alongside designing monsters) and a humble person even in the face of blatant sexism, she still had her issues just like any one of us (she wasn't as skilled at picking men as she was an artist, and later on dealt with some severe depression). Yet she had a strong work ethic, and in one of my favorite sections, went on a tour to promote CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON and appeared on many TV and radio shows, giving both herself and the film a huge publicity boost (and causing the head of the Universal make up department to become jealous, and, ultimately, end Milicent's career at Universal).

Aside from the first two chapters (and many footnotes which seemed aimed at junior high students), this is an addictive read, and not just for monster movie fans. It's an important look at sexism not only in Hollywood but in any profession, and it's a work where, hopefully, Milicent Patrick may become an inspiration to younger people, (the author herself should, too: she being inspired by Milicent's work led to this story being told, and you can feel her zeal for the subject on every page, even if it feels like she goes a bit overboard at times). For a first book, the author has done a fine job.

Fans of CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON do not want to miss this: it not only offers some great insights into the production of the classic film, it doubles as a strong feminist statement that's perfect for the #metoo generation.

On a side note: I've read every issue of FAMOUS MONSTERS from about 1974-5 until it's final issue in 1983, and O'Meara states there was a story about Milicent in a 1978 issue! Of course I was 10 at the time, but I'm now on a hunt to track this back issue down.


Grab a copy here: The Lady from the Black Lagoon




Saturday, April 13, 2019

JAMES WARREN: EMPIRE OF MONSTERS


JAMES WARREN: EMPIRE OF MONSTERS by Bill Schelly (2019 Fantagraphics Books / 352 pp / hardcover)

If, like me, you grew up in the 70s and were a fan of comic books and monster movie magazines, the name James Warren means something special. As the publisher of FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND from 1958-1983, Warren had pretty much ruled the horror film magazine market until 1979, when FANGORIA brought modern horror fans into the splatter-film era. But until then, FAMOUS MONSTERS was all I obsessed over, religiously collecting new and any back issues I could find in local comic shops and film conventions. I also read and collected all of his magazine-sized comics (VAMPIRELLA, EERIE, CREEPY, THE ROOK, 1994) and loved that the stories within didn’t have to adhere to the Comics Code, hence allowing violence, adult themes, and sexuality to pretty much run free. Yet unlike Stan Lee of Marvel Comics, who even in the pre-Internet days had a well known public persona, little was ever known about James Warren by his fans. Bill Schelly has now delivered a satisfying look at the life and career of this mysterious publisher, and as a fan I couldn’t read through it fast enough.

From his childhood days yearning to be a pilot, through his college years and short time in the Air Force (ended early by a machine gun injury), we’re taken through Warren’s early agency works and how Hugh Hefner’s successful PLAYBOY magazine became a major influence (the very first issue of FAMOUS MONSTERS’ cover is even a tribute to the first cover of PLAYBOY).

I was completely fascinated with the second and third chapters, as we see how Warren and Forrest J. Ackerman became acquaintances, then business partners, and hence the dawn of FAMOUS MONSTERS. The book then spends a great deal of time on the rise of CREEPY and EERIE magazine, as well as the many writers and artists who worked for Warren (fans of Richard Corben and Bill DuBay are in for a treat). I was quite happy to see the story THRILLKILL get a couple of pages dedicated to it: it’s one of the more disturbing tales to ever appear in comics form (it appeared in a 1975 issue of CREEPY and featured amazing artwork by the legendary Neal Adams and writing by Jim Stenstrum). I first read it around 1981 when I found a back issue, and to this day the story still testifies to how ahead of his time Warren and his staff were.

To my delight, there’s plenty of info on the failed (but long promised) VAMPIRELLA film, including interview clips with the proposed star Barbara Leigh, who was the first woman to wear the Vampirella costume at a comic convention and pose on the cover of the magazine 9 times. Warren fans will be happy to know there’s plenty about the “one shot” issues, short lives series, and proposed projects that never got off the ground.

JAMES WARREN: EMPIRE OF MONSTERS paints its subject as a generous yet difficult man: he expected the best, and he gave the best. His pay rates for artists and writers, toward the end of his reign, topped Marvel and DC by a wide margin, hence allowing him to keep the best in the business on his side. Warren’s private life included major parties at his Hamptons, Long Island home, world traveling, and pretty much being a sort-of smaller scale version of his idol, Hugh Hefner.

The final chapters discuss how and why the Warren Empire finally went down, including the crazy rumors of what happened to Warren when he seemingly vanished in 1983. I was happy with how Schelly organized and presented this material, and any fan should be satisfied with the outcome. In the end, despite everything uncovered here, Warren still remains an enigma: loved and hated by the same people, he seems to be a man anyone in that field would want to work for, so long as they had thick skin. He might’ve been difficult, but his products spoke for themselves.


Featuring some great interior illustrations and rare photos, Fantagraphics Books has done a wonderful job here (once you get a look at the over-sized spine, you’ll want this on your bookshelf immediately). Until Warren’s memoirs are published (the book states he’s currently working on them), JAMES WARREN: EMPIRE OF MONSTERS is must reading for fans of not only Warren, but those who love horror film magazines and comics and would like to know a bit about their history.

-Nick Cato


Saturday, March 30, 2019

New Blog Series / Writing Updates


"25 So-Bad-They're-Good Films You Must See Before You Die" will be a 25-entry blog series looking at which of the thousands of trashtastic films out there are actually worthy of your valuable time .. and why. The fun will be starting soon, right here...

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I've been busy promoting my debut film book, SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE, on Facebook, Twitter, and on it's official page on Instagram. Look for it and check out some great early reviews on the publisher's site here: SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE

Release date is 12/19...

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On Saturday, May 11th, I'll be at my old high school's 4th annual Comic Con. If you're in the NY/NJ area come on down as it's a one day only event. I'll have copies of most of my books plus some free goodies. Visit their social media pages for more info.


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Current projects:

- DAMAGED BRAINS: AN OBSESSIVE LOOK AT ROMANO SCAVOLINI'S 'NIGHTMARE' has been completed and is currently being looked at by two potential publishers. It's my second film book, and features contributions from four fellow film fanatics as well as the FIRST EVER interview with star Kathleen Ferguson! This labor of love also features my commentary on every single second of the infamous film (known in the UK as NIGHTMARES IN A DAMAGED BRAIN) and plenty of surprises, including a mind-blowing photo section. More news to follow.

(Me with the lovely actress Kathleen Ferguson, during our July, 2018 interview which took place in Queens, NY).



- My second novel LOVERS is nearly done, and due to taking a wild turn I hadn't originally intended, will take a bit longer to finish.

- My bizarro novella CHANNEL 79 is finished. Letting it sit for a while before doing a final edit and sending to my pre-readers.

- Also working on two stories with two different co-authors, one a novella and one a short story anthology project.

- Currently deciding on the topic of my third film book, which I have several ideas for.

More soon...