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.
42nd Street Pete