Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Midweek Moan

It's only Tuesday and I'm exhausted already.  To be honest, I was even more exhausted yesterday.  The problem, of course, is that I'm back at work after a week and a half off, during which I succeeded relaxing sufficiently that I completely fell out of the habits and routines of work.  Which is no bad thing, of course.  Until you have to return to the grindstone, that is.  Still, at least these days Tuesday is midweek for me and, with the May Day Bank Holiday coming up on Monday, I've got a four day weekend to look forward to - the thought of that is the only thing that has kept me going so far this week.  And, believe me, it has been a shitty week so far.  Management still can't seem to grasp the fact my going down to four days a week is to reduce my workload and stress levels - they instead seem to think that they need to pile more work onto me in four days than I used to do in five.  They seem suddenly to have forgotten the fact that it was excessive work-related stress that nearly killed me last year and that I'm under medical orders to reduce my stress levels.  I suspect that they think that they are now safe from the threat of me suing them.

As we seem to be back on the subject of my work and health woes, (it's been a while since I had a good moan on these subjects, so what the Hell, eh?), I was totting up the score sheet, so to speak, while I was off work.  In the debit sheet, my blood pressure became so high that I was in danger of suffering a stroke and, consequently, even though it is back down at normal levels, I now have an increased risk of heart disease.  On top of that, I developed Type 2 diabetes which, in turn has left me with reduced kidney function.  In the profit column, well, luckily the diabetes and blood pressure didn't do any permanent damage to my eyesight.  The root cause of all this was work-related stress over a prolonged period.  Something my employer still won't accept responsibility for and is still reluctant to accept my status as disabled because of the diabetes (despite this being a legal definition laid down in the Equalities Act) and the fact that they are legally requited to make reasonable allowance for this.  Which left me pondering, not for the first time, why the fuck am I still working for them?  A sentiment reinforced by my recollection of my treatment after I returned to work last year after three months on sick leave, when I was deliberately and relentlessly subjected to a hugely stressful situation by management, that was only resolved after an intervention by my union.  Not to mention the utterly patronising treatment I've recently received with regard to my academic qualifications (I out-qualify everyone else in the local organisation), and a general level of discourtesy and generally disrespectful behaviour directed toward me of late.  Really, why don't I just call them out for the ignorant and incompetent bastards they are and tell them to go fuck themselves?  Money, probably, most specifically those four years of National Insurance payments I still need for a full pension...


Monday, April 29, 2019

Squeezing a Few Off

The seventies - the days when a man could 'squeeze a few off' in the back room of gun shop.  McQ is a film replete with a rich homoerotic sub-text - if The Duke isn't handling his piece, he's being described as a 'bear' and discovering that his 'partner' had been 'unfaithful' to him by taking back handers from gangsters.  There's just something about the way John Wayne - who has pushing seventy when he made this - growls his way through the film, driving a Trans Am too fast, flashing guns, beating up pimps and hippies, which gives the impression that he's trying to be macho just a little bit too hard, as if maybe he's secretly doubting his own machismo.  At any moment you expect him to grab another guy, plant a huge kiss on them, then start ripping their clothes off.  The Clint Eastwood US Marine flick, Heatbreak Ridge, stumbles into similar territory, when its exaggerated displays of masculinity tumble over into apparently unintended homoeroticism.

There is actually a Clint Eastwood connection to McQ, in that Wayne only secured the title role after Eastwood turned it down.  Which effectively brought things full circle, as Wayne had turned down the lead role in what was to become Dirty Harry, which not only made Eastwood a huge star, but which effectively kick-started the 'rogue cop' genre of which McQ was a prime example.  Indeed, with the casting of not just Wayne, but also Eddie Albert, as cops, McQ comes over as something of a geriatric Dirty Harry.  But it does have a good musical score and a couple of good car chases - indeed, it climaxes with a car chase down a beach.  Seen today, it seems incredibly reactionary with regard to its attitudes toward young people (they're all junkies and commie revolutionaries), women (untrustworthy and/or prostitutes), black people (the only good black men are the ones who act like white men, otherwise they are all pimps) and, well, the entire modern world.

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Friday, April 26, 2019

Dracula vs Frankenstein (1971)

Al Adamson was notorious for his 'technique' of transforming previously filmed footage via the addition of new scenes, often shot years after the original footage, either to create a completely new film, or simply to make a film in production more 'marketable'.  The most extreme, not to mention best known, instance of this 'technique' was Psycho-aGo-Go (1965), a crime thriller about a psychotic jewel thief, which Adamson subsequently reworked into Fiend With the Electronic Brain (1969), with new footage providing a framing story for the original, transforming it into a science fiction thriller.  Adamson subsequently reworked that film into Blood of Ghastly Horror (1971), with yet more new footage framing the framing story, to add a revenge angle to the earlier footage.  To be fair, this approach wasn't unique to Adamson and made perfect sense for low-budget film-makers as the re-use of old footage cut costs considerably  - in this case, the original production costs of Psycho-a-Go-Go eventually yielded three separate films.

Dracula vs Frankenstein likewise has its origins in a film previously shot by Adamson in 1969: The Blood Seekers, although this was never released.  Quite why it wasn't released in its original form, I don't know.  Perhaps the useable footage ran under length for a feature, or it was simply deemed unmarketable in its existing form.  Whatever the case, at some point in 1970, it was decided that adding Frankenstein and Dracula to the mix would be a good idea.  Certainly, it provided the film with a much more marketable title and in the early seventies, the old monsters will still good for some box office returns.  Adamson shot new footage including the titular monsters and some of the film's original stars, (J. Carrol Naish, Regina Carrol and Anthony Eisley), and edited it into the original film.  This new footage fundamentally changed some aspects of the original plot.  Most significantly, J. Carrol Naish's wheelchair-bound Dr Durea is now revealed to be non other Dr Frankenstein, last surviving descendant of the infamous monster-making family.  Dracula, who has dug up the body of the Frankenstein Monster, now wants the doctor's help in reviving the creature, with which he promises the doctor will be able to wreak revenge upon the rival scientist who discredited him and put him in a wheelchair.  In return, Dracula wants access to the mysterious serum Durea id developing, as he believes it will allow him to walk during daylight hours.

Despite providing the film with a title and most of its advertising, the whole Dracula and Frankenstein strand is, in reality, simply a sub-plot.  The main plot (and the footage from The Blood Seekers) concerns Durea's serum, which is derived from the blood of experimental subjects exposed to extreme terror.  In this state, the victims' blood produces a substance Durea is developing into a serum which, he hopes, will restore his ability to walk, as well as curing his two assistants' (Angelo Rossiti and Lon Chaney Jr) dwarfism and lunacy, respectively.  He carries out his experiments under cover of a Venice Beach boardwalk amusement arcade (which includes a 'House of Horrors' and Waxworks), with his victims being young women kidnapped by Groton (Chaney) after they have visited the premises. Unfortunately for Durea, one of the kidnapped girls is the sister of Las Vegas lounge singer Regina Carrol (Adamson's wife in real life and a frequent performer in his films), who comes to Venice in search of her.  Carrol's investigation into her sister's disappearance, aided by the police and various hippies (Including Anthony Eisley), forms the film's main plot and accounts for most of its running time.  It is interspersed with the various antics of Dracula and Frankenstein, including the monster's revival, the murder of Durea's nemesis, Dr Beaumont (played by Famous Monsters of Filmland's Forrest J Ackerman), and the monster's killing of a couple of cops who try to stop him from kidnapping a girl (presumably for Durea's experiments).  The two plots finally come together at the end of the film, as Dracula and the Monster kidnap Carrol, after Durea is killed and the police storm his Funhouse.

Now, all of this sounds like it could end up being a poorly conceived, shoddily constructed piece of high camp.  But the fact is that, despite frequent comparisons to the likes of Ed Wood Jr, Al Adamson was actually a pretty competent commercial director who turned out professional-looking films despite their budgetary limitations.  Dracula vs Frankenstein is no exception.  The new footage is surprisingly well integrated with the original Blood Seekers footage, the main clue to its being filmed later being the fact that an obviously ailing Naish has visibly aged during the (relatively short) gap in filming.  The production values are also surprisingly good, with Kenneth Strickfaden recreating some of the electrical equipment he had designed for the 1931 Frankenstein for the laboratory scenes.  As noted, Naish seems obviously ill and frail (this was his last film appearance), but nonetheless gives a bravado performance.  Indeed, most of the cast commendably play it straight, providing decent performances.  That said, it is somewhat sad to see a booze-ravaged Lon Chaney Jr, one time star of the Universal horror series, reduced to playing a mute homicidal maniac, (not actually a zombie, despite the film's publicity describing his character as 'Groton, the Mad Zombie'), with a penchant for decapitating his victims with an axe.  He clearly tries to channel his characterisation of 'Lenny' from Of Mice and Men, (even down to cuddling a pet puppy), but years of alcohol abuse had taken their toll and the performance falls short.

The real problem, casting wise, lies with the main monsters.  Dracula is bizarrely portrayed with an afro and white-faced make up.  He also has reverb on his voice whenever he speaks and sports a ring which shoots death rays.  The count is portrayed by the mysterious 'Zandor Vorkov' - who turned out, in reality, not to be an actor, but Adamson's stock broker.  While his Dracula certainly presents a striking figure, he never convinces as a figure of absolute evil, coming over more as villain in a cut price Bond knock off.  John Bloom's putty-faced Monster, while physically imposing, is never more than a muscle bound ruffian.  He has no character to speak of, being mostly subservient to Dracula, and, unlike Chaney's Groton, doesn't elicit the slightest sympathy.  (For some reason, in the climactic scenes at an abandoned church, the Monster is portrayed by a different actor - billed as 'The Creature' in the credits - under the same make up). 

Most of all, Dracula vs Frankenstein, for the most part, looks good.  Which shouldn't be surprising, as Adamson's regular cinematographer, Gary Graver - who also worked in the same capacity on Orson Welles' later films) is in charge of the camera.  An early graveyard scene, for instance, is atmospherically shot, with a terrific tracking shot, which sets a suitably eerie tone for the film.  In the final analysis, Dracula vs Frankenstein is actually a very professionally made and entertaining B-movie.  Sure, the title monsters themselves are fairly ridiculous and there are various plot elements (a biker gang led by Russ Tamblyn, for instance) which seem to have been arbitrarily inserted to bring up the running time, but the movie is never boring and certainly never incompetently made.  It has become fashionable to bracket Adamson with 'bad' film makers like Ed Wood, but that is entirely unfair: Wood was an enthusiastic amateur with no actual film-making talent whereas Adamson was a professional, who demonstrated considerable ability, particularly with regard to editing together his creations.  While his films can vary enormously in quality, at their best, they are enjoyable pieces of schlock delivering a decent ninety minutes or so of entertainment.


Thursday, April 25, 2019

Night Monster (1942)

While the classic Universal monsters (Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, Wolfman and Mummy) might have been the star turns as far as the studio's 1940s horror output went, they were simultaneously turning out a stream of even cheaper horror flicks.  Unlike the monster movies, which, although cheap, were effectively 'programmers', appearing as the top half of double bills or forming the main feature on the 'B' cinema circuit, these other horror flicks were most definitely B-movies, destined always to appear further down the bill.  They generally had contemporary US settings, featured second-tier casts and were often far more vicious than the more prestigious monster pictures, with characters ruthlessly in grisly fashion.  They had more in common with the sort of B-movies being put out by poverty row studios like Monogram than they did with the rest of Universal's horror product.  They included titles like The Mad Ghoul, House of Horrors, The Brute Man and Jungle CaptiveThe Night Monster (1942) is one of the most rarely seen.  Unlike some of the other films, it hasn't garnered a cult following since its original release and is rarely seen on TV.

In spite of its low profile, Night Monster does have some points of interest, most notably its two headline stars: Bela Lugosi and Lionel Atwill,  Both regular performers in Universal's monster series, this would seem too be a step down for them.  But, in truth, despite their star billing, they only perform supporting roles.  Their presence and billing is intended to mislead audiences - they are red herrings to distract viewers from the identity of the real killer.  Although presented as an 'old dark house' type of horror mystery, with a plot which might have been borrowed from one of the studio's 'Sherlock Holmes' series, (several doctors invited to the spooky house are systematically murdered by an unseen killer, who could be any of the household), the film is, in fact, a loose reworking of the 1932 Warner Brothers horror film Dr X.  In that film a one armed doctor perfects a type of synthetic flesh, with which he fashions a new arm and goes out strangling people.  In Night Monster, a bed-ridden quadruple amputee creates new limbs by the power of his mind in order to carry out the murders.  Western and serial specialist Ford Beebe (he directed the Flash Gordon serials for Universal) fills the director's chair in a rare foray into horror (Invisible Man's Revenge (1944) being his other) and moves the film along at a suitable pace.  Not a great or even very notable picture, but pretty much representative of Universal's B-horror output of the era.


Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Bent Out of Shape

I'm always more than slightly surprised whenever Uri Gellar turns up - I'm always mildly shocked to find that he's still around.  I mean, spoon-bending and all that schtick just isn't a thing any more, is it?  Is there anybody who still believes in all that 'power of the mind' bollocks?  After all, every other 'street magician' with a show on an obscure digital channel does the same sort of stuff these days, without claiming that it is anything other than an illusion.  But, apparently, Uri Gellar is still around and, these days, he has his sights set much higher than simply bending cutlery.  Nowadays he wants to use his mental powers to halt Brexit.  At least, that's what he told Theresa May last month.  Arguably, the two extensions to Article 50 so far granted by the EU would seem to prove that his efforts are working.  Nevertheless, I can't help but feel that his mental powers could be better employed elsewhere - I'm pretty sure that the government's own incompetence will take care of delaying, perhaps even halting completely, Brexit.  There are, after all, more pressing problems facing the UK - knife crime, for instance.  Now, if ever there were an issue where Gellar's alleged powers could be properly be employed, then surely it is that of young people knifing each other.  Can you imagine the effect it would have if, every time some kid tried to stab another, the blade bent before it could penetrate the victim?

Now, I don't know how Gellar's 'powers' supposedly work, but if he can, apparently, halt Brexit, just by 'thinking' about it, then it surely isn't beyond the realm of possibility that, by focusing his mind on knife crime, he could send out an 'aura' that bends blades?  But perhaps this part of his 'power' is only applicable to spoons and not other types of cutlery?  Who knows how stuff works in the world of weird shit?  But, supposing that his powers of bending don't just apply to metal cutlery?  In that case, whole new areas of crime prevention are opened up.  Sexual assaults and rape, for instance.  I mean, just imagine if, through the power of his mind, Uri Gellar could make potential rapists' penises wilt before they could penetrate their victims?  Or bend out of shape as the exposed themselves?  I can understand that Mr Gellar might not want to spend all of his time thinking about men's genitalia and that he might need a break from providing such psychic protection to the UK's women.  In which case, might it not be possible for him yo teach women how to harness their own mental powers in order that they might similarly protect themselves from sexual predators?  After all, I seem yo recall that during his heyday he was encouraging people to bend their own spoons, so it must surely be possible.  That could be the way ahead: psychic self protection classes for women: why bother kneeing a would be rapist in the groin when you can shrivel their manhood from a safe distance?  So, come on Uri, leave Brexit to the politicians and focus upon making britain's streets safe, instead.


Monday, April 22, 2019

Bank Holiday Afternoon Movie Musings

It seems like an age since I last posted here, what with the long Easter weekend, and all.  In truth, it has only been a couple of days.  Unfortunately, I haven't been able to enjoy the glorious weather we've been having, courtesy of an upset stomach (the result of the medication I take for my diabetes - around once a week I suffer these upsets, with their severity varying wildly).  I barely slept last night, as this round of upsets reached their crescendo, instead ending up spending most of this bank holiday Monday in bed, catching up with my sleep.  So, I've spent a lot of the weekend on the sofa watching films.  Some of these were re-watchings of stuff I have on DVD, (I particularly enjoyed revisting Bob Le Flambleur, his habit of never getting to bed before six in the morning struck a chord in the midst of my stomach troubles), others involved chasing down schlock I'd been meaning to watch for years now.  For instance, I started a long-delayed mission to watch more Al Adamson films by viewing Dracula vs Frankenstein, which, hopefully, I'll write about at length in the near future.  I also started watching Death Dimension, but decided that I didn't have the stamina for two Adamson movies back-to-back.  I'll come back to it later in the week.

This afternoon, during my sojourn on the sofa, recovering from last night's stomach upsets, I started catching up with stuff I'd recorded from TV over the past few weeks, (it sometimes takes months for me to watch things I've recorded).  I ended up watching John Carter, the 2012 adaptation of the first of Edgar Rice Burroughs' 'Barsoom' series.  I missed this on its first release, when it performed disappointingly at the box office, killing any chances of sequels, and met with a lukewarm critical reception.  Watching it now, it is difficult to see exactly why it was such a flop, (in the UK and US, at least - it was a big hit in other territories, notably Russia, for instance).  But that's part of the fascination of the film business: there is no such thing as a sure fire hit.  No matter how calculatingly a film is assembled by a studio, no matter how many elements and plot formulae tried and tested in previous hits are replicated, there is no guarantee that the public will go to see it.  John Carter certainly ticks all the boxes when it comes to big budget fantasy epics, yet failed at the box office.  It's actually pretty well made, with the CGI effects well-integrated with the live action, a decent cast, a good pace and a script which provides a pretty reasonable adaptation of the original material without getting too bogged down in exposition. 

Perhaps its slight unevenness of tone told against it, (it never seems to be entirely sure who its primary audience is, whether it should be aiming itself at an adult demographic or being more family-friendly).  Maybe it simply got unlucky in terms of its release dates: it came on the back of several other major fantasy franchises releasing climactic episodes around the same time.  It is entirely possible that audiences were just experiencing 'fantasy fatigue' at this point.  Moreover, the box office was beginning to move from fantasy epics to superhero franchises around this time, leaving John Carter seeming 'anachronistic'. Then again, maybe modern audiences' lack of familiarity with the source material was a factor.  Of course, the fact that it widely touted as being the most expensive live action film ever made probably didn't help.  Like Waterworld before it, it doesn't always seem obvious where the budget went, perhaps leaving audiences feeling cheated.  Who knows?  The fact remains that John Carter failed at the box office, killing any chance of further films based on the 'Barsoom' books.  Nonetheless, it still provides a couple of hours of perfectly reasonable entertainment for a bank holiday afternoon.


Friday, April 19, 2019

Food of the Gods (1976)

When talking of schlock - as we do here a lot - one must inevitably speak of Bert I Gordon.  'Mr BIG' as is sometimes referred to, is a veteran of schlock movie making, having, since the nineteen fifties, turned out a large number of B-movies, more often than not in the science fiction and horror genres.  Many, including The Amazing Colossal Man, its sequel, War of the Colossal Beast and The Spider, are now considered schlock classics.  At the time of writing 'Mr BIG' is still going strong at the age of 96, with his most recent directorial credit, for Secrets of a Psychopath, dating from 2015.  Noted for their cheap and shonky special effects, usually created by Gordon himself, a recurring feature of his films is that of gigantism, whether in humans or animals.  This found its ultimate expression in 1976's Food of the Gods.  Purportedly based on a minor H G Wells novel, (which had already served as inspiration for a previous Gordon film, 1965's Village of the Giants), it throws out the source material's social satire in favour of straightforward horror.  With only a few scenes bearing any resemblance to the Wells novel, the film features as the titular food a mysterious substance oozing from the ground on a remote island in British Columbia, which causes animals eating it to grow to enormous proportions.

Inevitably, the successful realisation of such a scenario is going to be heavily dependent upon the quality of the special effects.  As noted earlier, however, one of Gordon's trademarks was his notoriously inadequate special effects, usually dependent upon back projections of real animals or people.  Food of the Gods combines this technique with real animals wandering around miniature sets and life-sized puppets and models of the giant creatures.  None of them very convincing.  The roster of puppet giant rats, rubber giant wasps and back projected giant chickens (yes, chickens) are unfortunately as likely to elicit laughs from the audience as they are screams of fear.  (To be absolutely fair, the effects were still better than those in the 1972 giant rabbits-on-the-rampage movie Night of the Lepus).  The cast is largely B- list, (with the exception of the bizarrely cast Ida Lupino), with the ever-psychopathic looking Marjoe Gortner as hero, with Pamela Franklin (whose career had alarmingly been sliding ever downward since her sixties heyday as a child actress) and veteran heavy Ralph Meeker in support.  It is all as roughly assembled as most of Gordon's earlier films (which is part of their charm).  Yet despite all of its inadequacies, Food of the Gods turned out to be AIPs biggest grossing film of 1976, (out grossing US releases which included Futureworld, At the Earth's Core and Shout at the Devil).  Indeed, even in the UK I recall the film being given a big marketing push, with numerous prime time TV spots.  

Part of that success might have been down to the fact ecological horror movies featuring nature - usually in the form of homicidal animals - 'striking back' at humanity, seemed to be in vogue during the seventies.  (More often than not, they did so after some kind of human experimentation gone wrong).  Such films included the aforementioned Night of the Lepus, as well as other such low-budget efforts as Frogs and Day of the Animals.  Bigger budget efforts included John Frankenheimer's mutant bear flick The Prophecy and Irwin Allen's hilariously bad literal 'bee movie' The SwarmFood of the Gods was probably also helped by the fact that it was released in the same year as Jaws, whose success would inevitably have boosted other 'animal attack' movies in cinemas during 1976.  The success of Food of the Gods resulted in AIP releasing another vaguely H G Wells derived film directed by Gordon the following year: Empire of the Ants, this time featuring Joan Collins being menaced by unconvincing giant ants.  Incredibly, thirteen years after its release, a 'name only' sequel to Food of the Gods was released: Food of the Gods II.  Telling essentially the same story in an urban setting, it is testimony to the after life of the original film on VHS and TV that anyone would think it possible to cash in on its title more than a decade later.


Thursday, April 18, 2019

Easter Recess

I don't know whether it really was the greatest football match ever played - as some were claiming - but yesterday's Champions League Quarter Final Second Leg between Spurs and Manchester City was certainly exhilarating.  Not to mention impossible to call right until the very end.  I was on such a high after Spurs went through on away goals that I dropped my watch into a bath of hot water.  (Accidentally, obviously, it's not some kind of localised Crapchester celebration).  Amazingly, it is still working (albeit with the inside of its glass covered in condensation).  See - there's something to be said for those cheap Chinese wrist watches you can buy online for less than fifteen quid.  (It might still be ticking, but I'm taking the precaution of sourcing another one, just in case).  But enough of football and time pieces, this is neither a soccer blog nor a shopping site.  That said, once more I find myself at a loss as to what to post about today. Nothing at all seems to be happening: it's Easter and parliament is in recess, the schools are on holiday and we're just heading into a long bank holiday weekend of everyone doing nothing but eat chocolate.  (Low sugar chocolate in my case, of course).

I've already started my Easter break - I was off work today and did little other than go out and enjoy this fabulous weather we're having with a long country walk.  Something I might do again tomorrow and will undoubtedly do again next week when I'm still off work.  Back in the day, I seemed to spend inordinate amounts of time around Easter redecorating the house and doing DIY.  Nowadays, while there's stuff I could be doing around the house, I really can't be arsed.  I just want to relax.  Actually, I did just buy four old copies of the US Argosy magazine on eBay.  These date back to the late fifties and early sixties when the magazine was half way between being a pulp fiction magazine and a men's magazine.  They should certainly provide material for a few posts in the future.  As should some of the films I intend catching up with over the Easter break.  In fact, I have a stack of DVDs to catch up on.  Not to mention a whole load of video footage I shot while on holiday over the past few years which I still haven't edited into films.  Then there are the podcasts I should be recording.  Of course, I'll probably end up spending too much time crashed out on the sofa to get around to doing any of these things...


Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Another Day, Another Commercial Break

Yeah, it's another one of those days when I just can't think of anything to post: I'm afraid that it is just one of those weeks, I'm on leave from the end of tomorrow for a week and a half and, right now, that's all I can think about.  Needless to say, work is piling on as much crap as they can in the three days I'm working this week, in another concerted effort to push my stress levels up.  This situation really is getting very tiresome, but I'm getting better at just responding with a point blank 'No' these days to expectations that I'm going to do unpaid overtime and/or put myself at risk.  The continued closure of my local pub is also making me restless - I just can't settle at any alternatives.  None of them feel comfortable.

Anyway, to get back to the point, as ever in these situations, instead of a proper post, I present a selection of old TV ads.  This time from 1976.  A year when print media still advertised on TV.  The Daily Mirror ad is fascinating, spotlighting dear old Marje Proops, agony aunt extraordinaire.  These were the days when middle aged ladies like her and Claire Rayner regularly dispensed advice on sex and relationships from the pages of daily newspapers. Reading those problem pages was always a secret thrill for me as a kid - all that talk about sex in a non-pornograhic context was quite an eye-opener - as it was for just about every other young lad of my age.  Once again 'old tech' is much in evidence with the newspaper's 'Record club' - vinyl LPs?  Sold in W H Smiths?  The fact that I remember a time when Smiths sold records as well as stationary and books makes me feel positively ancient.

As for Chrysler - it seems incomprehensible that the Alpine was ever 'Car of the Year'.  The bundling together of the old Rootes Group car marques (including Hillman, Humber and Singer) under the brand name of their parent company, Chrysler, was a last ditch attempt to compete with Ford and Vauxhall, brands which dominated the UK car market.  Unfortunately, the change of name couldn't disguise the fact that they were peddling increasingly antiquated models like the Hunter and the Avenger, whch just couldn't compete with the likes of the Ford Escort or Vauxhall Cavalier.   As I recall, it didn't end well, with the UK government having to bail out Chrysler's UK arm, which was renamed Talbot before being sold to Peugeot.  As for Dutch Pride Butter, well, that would definitely be banned now by the Brextremists.  Night Nurse is, of course, still going and is, apparently, the cold remedy of choice for alcoholics.  The late Keith Chegwin, I seem to recall, once admitted to having a Night Nurse addiction which severely drained his finances.  One wonders if he had ever heard of vodka - it is both cheaper and more alcoholic.  And let's not forget that women now shape their own futures: by reading Women's Own, apparently.  Then there's one of those dog food ads where a breeder speaks so enthusiastically about the product you can't help but suspect that he eats it himself.  Finally, we have that Gnu who likes Typhoo - what can one say about that?


Monday, April 15, 2019

Nazis by Any Other Name

So, it's 'outrageous' for Labour MP David Lammy to refer to the European Research Group (ERG) faction of the Tory party as Nazis.  Strangely, I don't seem to recall the same media getting all worked up about this responding in the same way when numerous right-wing Tories (including a minister) referred to Jeremy Corbyn as an anti-Semite and a Marxist.  For far too long the right have been allowed to get away with sort of mud-slinging unscathed, it is about time that the left started responding in kind: the opprobrium which as greeted Lammy's comments (and, to his credit, he has stuck to his guns) simply serves to underline the hypocrisy of the British press.  With the Tories increasingly becoming a haven for the extreme right, effectively legitimising political views considered, for decades, beyond the pale, it isn't unreasonable to employ the term fascist, or even Nazi, to describe them.  (And let's not forget that the Tories' economic policy of austerity has helped create the very conditions in which fascism thrives).  Indeed, the whole rise of the neo-fascists in recent years is something we really should be extremely concerned about.  But with the press dominated by the right, all we'll get is dangerous complacency.

But getting back to Lammy's equation of the ERG with Nazis, there's certainly some physical resemblances with regards to individual members.  I mean, with those round glasses and pre-war style suit, all Jacob Rees-Mogg needs is one of those long leather overcoats to complete the Himmler-look.  Then there's Mark Francois, who could easily double for fellow fat bastard Hermann Goering.  Although, to be fair to the former head of the Luftwaffe, Goering was considerably less right-wing than Francois.  There, you see, I've just made direct comparisons between two ERG members and Nazi war criminals - it wasn't that outrageous, was it?  Nobody got hurt, the world didn't end, just as it doesn't when the Tory bastards call anyone on the left a 'Red', a 'Trot' or a 'Commie'.  The Tories really need to stop being such cry babies - they're the ones who started the name callin but, as ever, they just can't take it when the tables are turned.  Besides, if they don't want to be called Nazis, then they should stop cosying up to the extreme right, whether that be by grouping together with them in the European Parliament, or retweeting their bile, (yes I mean you Herr Himmler, sorry, Mr Rees-Mogg).


Friday, April 12, 2019

I Hated the Double Deckers

I hated and loathed Here Come the Double Deckers when I was a kid.  Right from the outset - I saw its first UK screening on January 8 1971 on BBC1 as part of its regular late afternoon children's TV schedules.  I was almost seven, but knew for sure that I didn't like it.  Over the years, and thanks to numerous repeats on both the BBC and ITV, it seems to have gathered some kind of nostalgia-fuelled cult following.  In view of this, I thought that perhaps I should give it another chance, reasoning that, as an adult, I might appreciate it more, so I watched (via You Tube) one of only two episodes I had any clear recollection of: I still hated it.  Even at only twenty four minutes, it still seemed to drag interminably, every minute feeling like torture.  Interestingly, the reasons I hated it now were the same reasons my almost seven year old self hated it.

From the off, I loathed those overblown titles, with its carefully choreographed musical number.  I just couldn't relate to those kids who were nothing like any real kids I knew - none of the children I knew at school could sing or dance as professionally as that, for one thing.  Plus, even at that tender age, I knew that such a disparate kids would be friends: the fat one would undoubtedly be ridiculed and ostracised for his size and lack of sporting prowess, while 'Brains' would, at the very least, be called 'four eyes' and be regularly beaten up by the 'alpha males' of the group.  The black kid, well, sadly we had racism even back then and as for the girls - there's no way they'd be allowed in the  gang.  As actual characters, well, I couldn't identify with them - I found them all hateful.  They were just too smug, too enthusiastic, too smart arsed or just plain too irritating.  They were too much like some TV executive's idea of what children should be like, rather than being like actual children.

Which was the problem with the whole thing: it was clearly somebody's idea of what a children's TV series should be like.  Somebody who had never actually seen a children's TV series or had any idea of what children actually wanted to watch.  It was all too slick for one thing. Far slicker than any of the other UK made kids TV programmes of the era.  Which isn't surprising, as it was shot on film at the MGM Borehamwood studios, with all the resources they had to offer.  Not to mention that it was backed with American money.  It just felt 'alien'.  While the children's TV shows being produced by the BBC and ITV might not have had the same resources as Double Deckers, hey generally had far better scripts and far more imagination.  Everything in Double Deckers seemed hackneyed, never rising above the level of crude slapstick, with every pratfall painfully and obviously telegraphed well in advance.

Most of all, as a kid, I distinctly recall that I resented the fact that the series offered no introductions to the characters and no explanations for exactly why they hung out in a scrapyard with their HQ in an old double decker bus.  Who were they?  What was their purpose?  We never knew.  From the first episode, it was simply assumed that we would accept them and buy into their adventures.  I never did.  It all seemed terribly presumptuous on the part of the producers.  Other odd things continue to bug me - the presence of Melvyn Hayes, for instance.  Even in 1971 it seemed strange to me that a grown man sporting a 'Jason King' style moustache would be hanging around with a bunch of kids.  Why?  Again, we never knew.  Then there were the closing titles - even cheesier than the opening titles.  I hated then and still hate now that jazz hands 'See you next week' sign off.  It seems clear to me that someone high up at Twentieth Century Fox, who produced the series, felt that there was something 'off' about it as it was cut short after seventeen episodes, despite twenty six originally being commissioned (with an option for another twenty six).

For what it is worth, Brinsley Forde later became lead singer of Aswad, while Debra Russ is currently a BBC radio continuity announcer.  Peter Firth also escaped the stigma of having appeared in Here Come the Double Deckers to forge a successful acting career.  Sadly, reinforcing all our prejudices about the overweight, Douglas Simmonds, who played Doughnut, died of a heart attack at the age of only fifty three, after leaving acting to become a theoretical physicist.


Thursday, April 11, 2019

Getting Lost

I found myself driving around in circles this afternoon.  No that's not a euphemism, or some kind of analogy for my life right now.  It was an actual event.  Losing all sense of direction is surprisingly easy on long single track country lanes, especially when signposts are few and far between.  I was originally looking for a specific location I believed was off of one of these lanes, but couldn't find it - as there was nowhere to turn around I just kept on driving, on the basis that all roads go somewhere.  The trouble is that, more often than not, that somewhere isn't anywhere you want to go.  (No, that isn't an analogy for my life, either).  Anyway, I made the mistake of taking a turning in the direction I thought would take me back to he main road and, well, one turning led to another I found myself on a main road - one heading in the wrong direction.  Toward Guildford, in fact.  Having been lost in Guildford before now, I knew that I didn't want to go there.  A turning down the first exit - a narrow track - and a few more turnings back in the direction I thought I now needed to go, and I found myself traveling a familiar stretch of country lane.  Which was great, until I realised that it was only familiar as I'd been driving down it toward the wrong main road a few minutes earlier.

So, I gave in and consulted the map function on my phone - within minutes I was back on familiar territory.  The whole experience left me musing on how difficult it is to actually get lost these days.  Thanks to smart phones and Sat Navs, we can always find out where we are with pinpoint accuracy.  It's only when we are so foolish as to try and rely upon our own sense of direction that we find ourselves lost.  Not that there's anything wrong with being lost out on the road - to be frank, it feels good to sometimes be on unfamiliar ground, not knowing what we're going to see around the next corner, not recognising the villages we drive through - it's an adventure.  The truth is that we spend far too much time traveling the same old roads, where nothing surprises us - the scenery just rolls on by, largely unnoticed because we've seen it so often.  (No, still not an analogy for my life).  Sometimes those unfamiliar roads lead you to somewhere unexpected and wonderful - many of the places I love and still visit have been found while 'lost'.  Moreover, I've spent many a happy hour trying to get back onto familiar roads after going 'off map' and getting lost.  Finding the way back is a challenge, a test of logic as you eliminate the possibilities of various routes.  But nowadays, those phones and Sat Navs threaten to deprive us of these pleasures.


Tuesday, April 09, 2019

The Tories' Last Orgy

My local Tory party had the audacity to stick a leaflet through my door the other day, urging me to vote for them at the forthcoming local elections.  I did consider responding by sticking a dog turd through the letterbox of my local Tory MP, with a note attached saying 'This is in return for the shit that you put through my letterbox', but thought better of it. In the wake of that Novichok business, I could have found myself arrested and charged with carrying out a terror attack using biological weapons.  But why waste the effort when the Tory bastards are imploding over Brexit, anyway?  We're back to that Third Reich analogy as the Tories rapidly lose touch with reality as disaster looms and, in the fevered imagination of the likes of the Daily Mail at least, the 'Red Army' of Jeremy Corbyn advances on Downing Street.  It speaks volumes of the foaming at the mouth Brextremist types in the Tories that they see the Prime Minister's decision to enter into cross party talks with the official opposition to try and come up with a Brexit plan that can muster majority support in Parliament and is in the national interest, as a 'betrayal'.  Their utter contempt for the very concept of Parliamentary democracy is plain to see.  These are extremely dangerous people.  The fascist bastards.

But where will it all end?  With the Tories barricading themselves into Downing Street and indulging in Gestpo's Last Orgy or Salo type antics, perhaps?  I mean, you could substitute concentration camp inmates with people plucked from the queues at food banks to be the objects of the Tories' humiliating sex games and other depravities.  Maybe that's what austerity was all about - a scheme to batter enough less well off people into utter submission, to the point that they are so desperate that they will willingly participate in all manner of degrading behaviour at the hands of their 'masters'.  SAdly, it is all too easy to imagine the over-privileged likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson dressing in SS uniforms and indulging in all sorts of depraved 'games' with subjugated 'minions', forcing them to eat shit and the like for their amusement.  Perhaps it won't only happen in Downing Street - perhaps, up and down Britain, Tory councillors will lock themselves in Tory-controlled Town Halls and indulge in wild orgies of sadism and sexual depravity before all shooting themselves rather than having to endure another delay in Brexit.  Or maybe cyanide pills would be a more appropriate way for them to top themselves?

Perhaps some of them will survive and be forced to go on the run to try and avoid arrest and their inevitable trials for crimes against humanity, rather like some of the surviving top Nazis did in 1945.  Could we see Michael Gove don a false beard and forged ID papers to try and evade capture, in the manner of, say, Himmler?  Mind you, I couldn't see Gove electing to take his cyanide pill if captured, as Himmler did.  Which is why, if I was in charge, post the fall of the Tories, I'd authorise summary executions for any of the bastards caught trying to escape.  Why waste time and money on show trials when we all know they are guilty?  So if Nigel Farage, (not actually a Tory, I'll concede, but still a right wing Brexit bastard), were to find that his newly forged German passport and freshly grown moustache weren't enough to get him through a police check point, he'd find himself marched to the nearest wall, stood up against it and shot.  Which would certainly put the country out of its misery.

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Monday, April 08, 2019

Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (1943)

Having recently looked at the likes of House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula and Return of the Vampire, it only seems natural that we should turn our attention to the original monster rally move: Universal's Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman.  Truly one of the greatest titles in the history of horror films - it tells you everything you need to know about the movie in just four words - it marked the first time that the studio had harnessed together two of its star monsters in one picture.  Serving as a sequel to both 1941's The Wolfman and 1942's Ghost of Frankenstein, the film maintains a surprising amount of continuity with both of its predecessors.  Of course both of these films had starred Lon Chaney Jr as their title monsters and he was apparently meant to play both roles in this film, aided by stunt doubles and split screen effects.  According to legend, however, by this stage in his career he was usually too drunk to perform by midday, making his playing of two roles involving hours in make-up unfeasible.  Consequently, while Chaney played the monster he had originated, Larry Talbot, the Wolfman, the Frankenstein monster was recast, with Bela Lugosi stepping into the role he had rejected back in 1931.

The casting of Lugosi made a certain amount of sense: at the climax of Ghost of Frankenstein, the monster, played by Chaney, had received the brain of Ygor (played by Lugosi) and ended up speaking with Lugosi's distinctive Hungarian tones.  He had also ended up blind - something not forgotten in this sequel: after being thawed out from his frozen state in the ruins of Castle Frankenstein, Lugosi stumbles around with arms outstretched, trying to feel his way around.  Unfortunately, references to his blindness were cut from the finished film when Universal executives decided that they didn't like the monster's Hungarian accented dialogue and ordered all of his speaking scenes excised.  (Continuity meant that not all of these could be removed, so in a couple of scenes you can see the monster's mouth flapping away as Lugosi speaks, but with his dialogue muted from the soundtrack).  The loss of this explanatory dialogue between Wolfman and monster and the lack of any other references to the monster's blindness result in Lugosi's performance seeming bizarre and ludicrous, undermining the film's attempts at seriousness.

Chaney's Wolfman fares somewhat better, despite having been pretty definitively killed at the end of The Wolfman, he iis accidentally revived when grave robbers break into his tomb in Wales.  Unhappy with the knowledge that permanent death, and therefore release from his curse, has eluded him, Chaney's Talbot breaks out of the hospital in Hollywood Cardiff where he is being treated and sets off for Vasaria, in search of Baron Frankenstein wh, he believes, has the secrets of life and death.  He is helped by Maria Ouspenkaya, once again playing the gypsy mother of Bela the gypsy werewolf from the first film (played by Bela Lugosi) who had bitten Talbot, giving him the curse in the first place.  Interestingly, no explanation is given as to how these two leave the UK and travel half way across Europe during the height of World War Two.  Equally intriguing is the fact that Vasaria (which seems to be somewhere in Hollywood 'Mittel Europe') apparently hasn't been occupied by the Nazis.  They are pursued by Dr Mannering (Patric Knowles), who had been treating Talbot in Cardiff.

Of course, Frankenstein himself is long dead and his sons (played, respectively in Son of Frankenstein and Ghost of Frankenstein, by Basil Rathbone and Cedric Hardwicke) have given up the family business.  Luckily, though, his grand daughter is around, played here by Ilona Massey, (replacing Evelyn Ankers from Ghost).  Inevitably, Dr Mannering becomes too interested in Frankenstein's work and, while supposedly draining off Talbot's energy to give him eternal rest, flips the switch to divert that energy to the monster who has his sight restored (and therefore ceases to stumble around like an idiot), breaks his bonds and tries to carry off Massey.  Chaney inevitablty turns into the Wolfman and almighty fight between the two monsters breaks out before the local villagers decide to blow up the conveniently placed dam, washing away both the ruined castle and the monsters.

Despite the aforementioned studio-imposed cuts rendering much of the film's narratives and one of its central performances incomprehensible, Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman remains a surprisingly entertaining film.  Roy William Neill, taking time off from directing Universal's Sherlock Holmes series, succeeds in conjuring up much of the same 'weird' atmosphere he brought to the Rathbone pictures.  It certainly has a somewhat different 'look' to other films in the studio's monster movies and moves at a far less stately pace, packing a lot of plot, action and characters into just under seventy five minutes of running time.  Much of Universal's stock company of supporting actors turn up, including Lionel Atwill as the Burgomeister (he had been an evil scientist in Ghost) and Dwight Frye (who had been in the original Frankenstein, with Karloff) as the villager who dynamites the dam.  Even Inspector Lestrade from the Holmes films wanders in the person of Dennis Hoey.  OK, he's called Inspector Owen (although, like everyone in 'Cardiff', speaks cockney rather than Welsh), but it's the same performance and the same character.

The final conflagration is well staged but ultimately inconclusive as both monsters are swept away before either can prevail.  It is only marred by the fact that it is all too evident that it isn't Lugosi under the monster make up for most of the sequence.  Indeed, for much of the film, it is far too obviously stuntman Eddie Parker doubling for Lugosi (who was in his sixties and in poor health by this time) in the role.  Even the monster's first appearance, when Talbot finds him frozen in the ice beneath the castle, is clearly Parker, not Lugosi.  In the final analysis, whatever its flaws, Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman is tremendous fun, with its fevered, at times even delirious atmosphere, threatening to tip over into the surreal, particularly at the action abruptly shifts from drab, blacked out, wartime Cardiff to the fairy-tale like village in Vasaria.  Truly, a schlock classic.


Friday, April 05, 2019

Loss of the Local

Right now, I feel like I'm mourning the death of an old friend.  My local pub - where I've been a regular for the better part of twenty six years - has shut.  The landlord went out of business last Sunday and the pubco who hold the lease took it back.  They haven't reopened it and nobody seems to know what they are planning to do.  It's surprising the hole it has left in my life.  Sure, I know that there are other pubs and, in truth, in recent years I haven't been going there as much as I once did as other activities have made claims upon my time, but its loss has proven surprisingly traumatic.  For one thing, despite falling attendances over the past year or so, the pub was still something of a local social hub - not being able to go there has made me realise how many people I know only through their being fellow drinkers there.  I have no idea how to contact them outside of that context.  The pub also provided a certain sense of identity when you'd been a regular as long as I had, not to mention that welcome sense of familiarity as soon as you walked in there: it was a secure place where you could enjoy a quiet drink and a conversation or, increasingly so for me, a quiet haven to unwind and read a newspaper with a pint after work a couple of times a week.

It's the uncertainty over its future which makes things really difficult - nobody knows whether it is worthwhile finding an alternative and settling in there.  Some years ago, we had an horrendous landlord at the local who drove out the locals and basically destroyed the pub's reputation and business, (in truth, it never really recovered, despite the best efforts of subsequent landlords), and most of us migrated elsewhere to await his inevitable downfall.  I remember how long it took to find another pub where I felt comfortable and had decent beer  - I really don't want to go back to that nomadic existence.  Moreover, having got settled somewhere else, the aforementioned landlord from Hell abruptly went out of business and within a couple of weeks a new landlord was installed, precipitating my return to the old pub.  (Before anyone asks, the pub I temporarily defected to has since changed hands several times and isn't as good as it was then - it is also quite inconveniently placed, so I'm unlikely to go back there).  The lack of information from the pubco has left everyone hanging and the loss of our social focal point means that most ex-regulars will be unaware if attempts are being made to try and protect the pub or even to organise some kind of community buy-out (such things have been mooted in the past).  It's current state just emphasises how powerless we are as customers when things like this happen.  As it is, I now cut a tragic and poignant figure, going down to the pub every day after work to see if it has reopened, only to be faced by the locked gates, day after day.


Thursday, April 04, 2019

Other People's War Movies

There are, of course, Japanese war movies.  I say 'of course', but a lot of people seem to assume, not entirely unreasonably, that those who have catastrophically lost a conflict like World War Two wouldn't to relive it all in celluloid.  War movies are for the victors, we think, existing to commemorate the brave exploits of 'our boys' in securing victory against the reviled enemy.  But the war movie became a popular genre globally in the fifties and sixties, so it was inevitable that even the vanquished would start turning out their own versions of these crowd pleasers.  While German made war films of this era are relatively rare and, through necessity (Germany was partitioned and occupied at the time making anything that seemed to glorify their war effort highly inadvisable), low key, Italian film makers felt no such need for constraint, churning out cheaply made action-orientated war pictures by the dozen. 

Of course, Italy had the advantage of having ended up on the winning side in World War Two by virtue of Mussolini's overthrow, thereby neutralising some of the angst, bitterness and guilt of the defeated.  Italian producers also got around the problem of the country having conducted most of the war as a fascist state in alliance with Nazi Germany simply by making all of the protagonists either British or American and always portraying the Germans, (Italian soldiers rarely appeared) as complete bastards.  They also tended to set their war films in North Africa (often shooting them in Egypt), a theatre noted for its lack of atrocities.  To be fair, there were some Italian war movies featuring Italians playing Italians and depicting their actual war effort, most notably The Battle of El Alamein, which firmly portrays us Brits as the bad guys, (there was actually a far better and less fictionalised Italian film on the same subject made many years later).

One might reasonably expect that Japanese war films would follow the discreet approach of Germany rather than the Italian's more flamboyant approach.  Japanese war movies, however, were far from angst-ridden small scale reflections upon the futility of war.  On the contrary, they tended to recreate the large scale naval operations of the Pacific theatre - the ones from early in the war, when they were winning, obviously.  To achieve this, extensive use of miniatures was employed. Indeed, the same special effects teams who made all those Godzilla and other monster movies found themselves creating fleets of elaborately detailed large scale warships and squadrons of warplanes.  The end results were often surprisingly convincing.  Certainly a lot better than the sort of miniatures work to be found in contemporary British, US or Italian war films.  Especially the Italian ones. 

Still, the question which I'm always left pondering is whether German TV ever made a version of Hogan's Heroes?   Set in a PoW camp somewhere in the UK, it could have followed the exploits of a group of plucky shot down Luftwaffe pilots (and probably a token 'whacky' Italian flier, or maybe even a Vichy French pilot) as they continually outwitted the buffoonish British commandant and sabotaged the Allied war effort. The British camp commandant could even have had a monocle like Colonel Klink and would undoubtedly have been an upper class twit who spoke like Bertie Wooster.  Oh, and there would have been a big fat incompetent guard, like Schultz, but with a northern accent:  "I never saw nuffink!"  Ah, one could just imagine the hilarious culture clashes as our heroes tried to pose as Brits, all the jolly japes at the local pub as they tried to drink British beer.  If only, eh?


Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Send in the Tanks

So, did a million people really march against Brexit the other weekend?  The Daily Mail, of course, has contested such claims.  I choose to believe there were a million there, because since when has the Mail been a reliable, unbiased news source?  Let's face it, if it had been a pro Brexit march then the Mail would have been claiming that all 17 million people who voted leave were on it, plus all the remainers who had now miraculously seen the light and embraced the insanity of leaving the EU, even if photographic evidence suggested that, like Nigel Farage's latest farrago of a stunt, only a dozen or so marchers had actually turned up.  And they were all white.  Which, apparently, is an observation of fact some people find offensive, as Channel 4 News' Jon Snow found out when he remarked of the Nuremburg-style pro-Brexit rally (complete with rabble rousing football hooligan and mortgage fraudster turned right wing extremist Tommy Robinson ramping up the hate), that he'd 'never seen so many white people in one place'.  It's like Will Self observed, much to human buttock cheek and Tory MP Mark Francois' chagrin, while not everyone who voted leave is a racist, it's a fair guess that all racists voted leave.  I know a lot of leavers don't like this, feeling that they are being branded racists when they voted according to their consciences (or so they say), but as I've observed before, if you lie down with dogs, you get fleas.

But, as I've been reminding people of late, if only they had listened to me back in the day, then there would have been no need of marches, millions strong or otherwise, as we could instead have had a column of tanks flying the remain flag rolling down Whitehall.  Some years ago, when I still had the 'right' sort of contacts from my days at the MoD, I could have picked up significant number of surplus ex-Soviet tanks from the former Warsaw Pact.  Back then they had hundreds, no thousands, of the bloody things parked up at military bases, in fields, even in forest clearings.  They just didn't know what to do with them with the Cold War over - you could buy them, in full working order, for knock down prices.  I recall suggesting that we could easily buy some and get them into the UK inside shipping containers, then stash them away, ready for the revolution.  But would anyone listen?  Of course not.  Nobody would put up the capital, so it never happened - and now here we are, teetering on the brink of the abyss as a government seemingly incapable of acting in the country's best interests appears intent upon sleepwalking us into a no deal Brexit.  If only I'd been listened to, we could have had those T-55s and T-62s liberating London, then the rest of the country from these foaming at the mouth crazy Brextremists. 

(For the benefit of any naughty Security Service types who might read this, I am not now, nor have I ever been, an arms dealer, nor have I ever plotted the violent overthrow of the UK government.  The above is written merely for comic effect and is not meant to be taken literally).

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Monday, April 01, 2019

The Gestapo's Last Orgy (1977)

Films of this sub-genre - the prison camp sexploitation movie - are hugely problematic, arguably representing exploitation cinema at its most misogynistic.  Those set during World War Two, with their action taking place in concentration camps are even more problematic.  Not just misogynistic, but also exploitative of the Holocaust, with their depiction of the torture and sexual exploitation of Jewish women.  Indeed, it could be argued that they trivialise the Holocaust, turning it into a perverted entertainment for (mainly) male audiences sitting at a safe historical distance from the real events.  It allows modern audiences to vicariously participate in the depravities of the Nazi regime, without actually having to take any responsibility for them.  Are these films part of a process of 'legitimising' the Third Reich by presenting it as entertainment?  The answer to all of this is that I really don't know.  What I do know is that, for me, they represent the point at which I find exploitation becoming offensive.  (That said, I have no intention of starting a campaign to ban them - just not watching them is is sufficient.

Part of the attraction of exploitation films, for me at least, is that they are ultimately ludicrous, taking their sleazy scenarios to ridiculous extremes: nobody, surely, could ever take them seriously or mistake them for depictions of reality.  The problem with this type of Nazi-themed sexploitation pictures is that they are depicting events which are disturbingly close to reality.  There simply is no entertainment to be found in the exploits of the Third Reich.  They don't even have the other fall back of exploitation cinema - that they are exploring subject matter and themes 'legitimate' cinema won't.  Just about every aspect of the Nazis has been explored ad nauseum by mainstream popular culture.  Anyway, to actually address the Random Movie Trailer in question, Gestapo's Last Orgy (1977) is fairly typical of this genre.  Like many exploitation films of its period, it is, in essence, an Italian knock off of a US original, in that it was clearly inspired by the success of Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS, (which had been shot on the sets left over from Hogan's Heroes).  Much slicker looking than the US original, it is clearly also trying to appeal to the more 'sophisticated' audiences that had watched 'legitimate' and 'artier' films like The Night Porter and Salo:or the 120 Days of Sodom, which had likewise mined the vein of fascist cruelty and sexploitation.

Ultimately though, these glossy production values can't disguise the fact that the movie's sole purpose is to present the brutalisation, dehumanisation and sexual exploitation of vulnerable women as entertainment.  The fact that it takes place in the context of an extreme right-wing regime guilty of genocide - and, indeed, was made in a country which itself had a recent history of fascist repression and brutality - makes it even more unpalatable.  Sorry to sound terribly moralistic, but, as I've intimated, I think that the majority of us have a 'cut off' point when it comes to exploitation films, where we feel it has done 'too far'.  This happens to be mine.  Fascinatingly, it can be a very fine line.  As I'm sure I've mentioned elsewhere, while I find Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS an uncomfortable watch, I've actually enjoyed its sequel Ilsa, Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks enjoyable.  The change of setting and the loss of the Nazi symbolism pushed it firmly into the realm of fantasy for me. It's still exploitative of women, but just not, to me, offensive.  Like a said: a fine line.