A Life In Blood – Tales of A Horror Queen by Genoveva Rossi #5 – A Death House Special

A Life In Blood – Tales of A Horror Queen by Genoveva Rossi #5 – A Death House Special

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gendh5Shock and sadness ran threw the horror community in November 2015 when Gunnar Hansen died of pancreatic cancer. Horror fans all over the world mourned the passing of Leatherface, but Hansen was able to leave loyal fans with a parting gift: Death House.

What is Death House? It is an incredibly ambitious horror film written by Gunnar Hansen and director Harrison Smith. This film has been called “The Expendables of Horror” due to it’s spectacular casting choices: Adrienne Barbeau, Bill Moseley, Kane Hodder, Sid Haig, Michael Berryman, Tony Todd, Barbara Crampton, Dee Wallace, Tom Savini, Bill Oberst Jr and more. Directed by Harrison Smith.

gendh1I am truly honored to have a cameo among such a talented cast and crew. It was great to spend some time on set with horror icon Kane Hodder. We have both been guests at the same cons a few times, but Death House is our first film together. While on set, Hodder said, “It is truly an honor to be in Death House. This is an amazing film.”

Michael Berryman and I previously worked together on a Sci-Fi thriller called Apocalypse Kiss and it was great to be in a film with him again.

“I was very proud to be a part of this film. Gunner was a good friend and the story is solid with a cast that includes many friends and the best actors in our genre. Harrison is a keen director with an editor’s eye as the scenes are composed. I know that this film will be well received.” -Michael Berryman

gendh3“Harrison Smith is an actor’s director with affection for our genre’s past and a real vision for its future. Gunnar Hansen would be very, very proud of what Harrison has done with DEATH HOUSE, and speaking as a life-long fan of classic horror, so am I.”
-Bill Oberst Jr.

A big thank you to “Scary” Sheri Fairchild and her husband Frank Nicosia. I have worked with both actors on a few film projects in the Buffalo area and Sheri reached out to tell me Death House was looking for more actors.

gendh4I was going through my own spiritual upheaval at the time. I had found my poor mother passed away of a sudden heart attack on Easter Sunday. That huge loss had left me shaken, but not beaten. My mother always said, “My daughter is tough” and lately I have been challenged to continue to prove her words right no matter the obstacle; even losing her so tragically. But God only gives us what he knows we can bear.

So I got in touch with the casting director of Death House and ended up on set in Philadelphia at the beautifully grotesque and haunting Holmesburg Prison. I had the good fortune of being in a scene with screen legends Barbara Crampton and Dee Wallace.

gendh2While on the set of Death House I was able to sit down and talk with producer Rick Finkelstein. He explained, “This film was started by Gunnar Hansen. It has really come together better than we ever imagined. We have the best locations, best cast, horror icons, and an amazing script.”

Even the location was perfect, Holmesburg Prison, which is part of the Philadelphia prison system. It’s history already sounds like a horror movie. For thirty years chemical companies tested on inmates with sometimes horrific results. Also the prison warden and assistant were murdered mere steps from where we conducted our interview.

gendh6Watch for Death House for it’s amazing cast, horrific special effects, and to see Gunnar Hansen’s last blood splattering performance. This film was Leatherface’s baby, it was Gunnar’s dying wish that Death House be finished, and made into a huge success in the genre. Horror fans are sure to enjoy this truly epic film. Finkelstein promises, “When you leave this film you will be questioning your own thought processes and concepts of good and evil.”

gendh7This article is dedicated to the memory of Gunnar Hansen and my mother.

London Film and Comic Con 17th July 2015 – Report

cclogoLondon Film and Comic Con 17th July 2015  –  Report

I awoke on Friday the 17th July after a hot sweaty restless sleep (who knew London could be so humid!) like my 12 year old self in 1994 waiting for me to be let downstairs to see my presents on Christmas Day. I was excited, the day was finally here that I had been waiting for for months. I had sold three quarters of my movie collection (I’m only collecting Blu – ray Steelbooks and collectors items now, everything else can go digital) and saved every penny for this day. I was off to London Film and Comic Con to see stars of the big screen and small screen. People like Neve Campbell of Scream fame and Tom Savini, horror make up extraordinare and ‘Sex Machine’ from Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk Till Dawn). The event didn’t start till 1pm but after last years Saturday debacle (I waited outside for 5 ½ hours when I crucially timed my arrival wrong) I wasn’t going to walk up close to opening time, I was going to be early! I checked on Twitter as I left and people were already posting saying the queue was half way around the London Olympia. My heart sank a little, not again, not this time, I was so excited and although I can queue like any great British person, I couldn’t hack another 5 hour wait. Me and my wife got to the venue about 1030 and could see right from the offset, although the queue was a little long, it was well managed and this year a barrier system was in place, where last year at Earls Court they had none.

cc5One of the highlights of these types of events is seeing fellow con goers in cosplay and feeding off the energy of fellow fans who are just as, if not more, excited as me. Part of this is felt in the queue, I had Selina Kyle from TV’s Gotham behind me and Marty McFly, hoverboard and all, in front of me. The crowd were all jovial and we all moved in time, with nobody trying to queue jump or getting too close. We got in with no trouble after 15 minutes of opening and we were onto our first guest.

Now before I reveal who I saw first, I just want to point out how these events work. You pay an entry fee, now depending on what you want to do and for how many days, this can set you back about £40 for all three days. Now as much as I love these events, Saturday last year nearly killed me, so I like to go on the quieter days and fit everything in in as short a period as possible, so I paid £12 each for me and my wife for the Friday ‘preview day’. Once you are in, you can meet the guests (and get a ‘virtual ticket’, kind of like you get at a fish market where you take a numbered ticket and wait to be called) and depending on the popularity and ‘rarity’ of a guest you can pay anything from £10 to £95. A few years ago Mike Tyson was there and his autograph was an eye watering £150. Sigourney Weaver (who, to my knowledge, has only ever done one other event of this kind in an Aliens cast reunion in Toronto last year was charging £95 this year).

cc1Now my first guest I wanted to meet was Neve Campbell, who was a European convention exclusive guest, we found her table but there was only an empty seat, Neve was at her first photo shoot. I got myself two VT stubs, a low number thankfully of 51/52 and decided to find my next guest, that being Tom Savini. With Tom having been around the block a bit and having been to so many of these events, I had heard a lot of bad fan experiences where Mr. Savini had been rude and very cold to fans. So when I got in line to meet him I was a bit nervous. What do I say? How do I act? I had taken along the lid to my blu-ray collectors edition of From Dusk Till Dawn, the ‘Titty Twister Edition’. Meeting Tom was short and sweet but, I’m pleased to say he was nice and pleasant. His wife was with him and she mentioned that she had not seen many of the box lids given to be signed, which was nice. Tom didn’t say much, but I went away happy, which is the main thing. I ventured over to Neve again, she still wasn’t back.

I had seen at other conventions a booth sponsored by the SyFy channel called the SyFy Cam. Imagine, if you will, the camera set up from The Matrix when Neo bends backwards and dodges the bullets. This was the same kind of think. To pass some time, me and my wife got in line (it was short) and had a go of it. It was amazing, we had lightsabers and the result was fantastic. I am leaping backwards and my wife is slashing me with the lightsaber. I look like I am floating in mid air, good times!

cc2We went back to Neve Campbell around 14.30 and she was finally back. We gave our tickets in and waited. Now me and my wife love coming to these events but most of the guests are guests I want to see. There are a few guests we have met that we both like and Neve was one of them. Sidney Prescott was standing in front of us, I got a bit nervous, I picked my picture to sign and asked how her flight over was and if she had finished filming Season 4 of House of Cards (she has for any fans of the show out there). A couple of days previous I had noticed that a flight attendant had posted on Instagram a picture of Neve and her on a plane. I mentioned this to her and she smiled, awkward but I didn’t have anything prepared to say so went with it.

Two of the main film casts pushed this year was Back To The Future (celebrating its 30th Anniversary) and Aliens. Most of the cast of both films were there. I’ve actually made it a ‘thing’ for me to meet and collect the autographs of the Aliens cast as it is one of my favourite films. Bill Paxton and Sigourney Weaver were present at the convention but were out of my price range, so I opted to meet Carrie Henn who played Newt. Carrie has never acted in a film since and is currently a school teacher. She was extremely busy at the convention, but we managed to get an autograph and had a quick chat about nothing in particular.

cc3Next to Carrie was James Tolkan. Now you may not know the name but you will certainly remember his face. He played Principal Strikland in BTTF Trilogy, Stinger in Top Gun and Detective Lubic in the fantastically 80’s movie Masters Of The Universe. He was a great guest, allowed an over the table photo, and I said I loved him in MoTU. The guy is 82 years old and still doing conventions, what a legend.

There were a lot of other guests there on the day but after a long look around the stalls and a long go on the retro consoles on the upper floors our Comic Con was over for another year.

UKHS Does The Nasty! NIGHTMARES IN A DAMAGED BRAIN (1981) Part Two: Code Red Nightmare: An Interview with LEE CHRISTIAN

Amaray Wrap.EPSUKHS Does The Nasty!

NIGHTMARES IN A DAMAGED BRAIN (1981) Part Two:
Code Red Nightmare: An Interview with LEE CHRISTIAN

In Part One of our Nightmares In a Damaged Brain spotlight [which you can read HERE], Matty Budrewicz gave an extensive analysis of director Romano Scavolini’s iconic Video Nasty. Featured within was Lee Christian, the self-confessed exploitation film nut who curated and moderated the extras on Code Red DVDs US release of the film back in 2011. Here, Matty chats to the special features main-man about the film, the notorious problems of getting the Code Red disc out there, and his opinions on censorship…

 

UKHS: First off, I’d just like to ask how did you become involved in Code Red?

Lee Christian: Basically, my involvement with Walter [who now runs Scorpion Releasing] and later Bill Olsen came about because of a movie called Slithis. Ironically, Bill would later release this film without a commentary track, which is another long story. Anyway, back when I was twelve years old I had seen Slithis in my home state of Iowa, where that film’s producer, Dick Davis, resided as a theatre owner. When I was older, I managed a number of movie theatres that he owned and worked with several of his associates. Fast forward to about eight years ago, I had been a regular attendee of the monthly Grindhouse Festival here in Los Angeles and I asked Eric Caiden and Brian Quinn who run it if they’d be interested in playing Slithis if I could locate a 35mm print for them.

They loved the idea, so I called Dick Davis’ son – Dick had passed away by this time – and to my shock and horror, he told me that all known film elements had been destroyed in a fire where his father had been foolishly keeping them in the closed-down concession stand of a long since closed drive-in theatre that he owned. BUT, he added, there were these two strange guys from Washington state who were trying to secure the DVD rights to it. Maybe, they might have found some film elements, he said. So he gave me their phone number and I called it, but there was no outgoing message on the voicemail that picked up, so I didn’t leave a message.

Then I got a call back from Walter Olsen who was curious why there was a call from Los Angeles on his caller ID; I was curious as to why they didn’t have an outgoing message on their phone, but whatever! Anyway, we talked and he was sufficiently impressed not only with the fact that I knew so much about Slithis, but also that I knew a lot about – and worked directly for the producer of – a film once known as The Hazing, which was released on VHS and DVD as The Curious Case of the Campus Corpse. I also tutored Film History class in college and have a bizarre obsession with exploitation films, and they asked me if I wanted to moderate a commentary track for them. They had moderated some of their own commentary tracks and reviewers had made fun of their accents! The first movie for which I moderated a commentary track was Campus Corpse, which was followed by Beyond the Door, among others. And that was that!

 

Lee Christian

Lee Christian

UKHS: I take it it’s something you enjoy doing, helping piece the extras together and moderating the commentary tracks?

LC: I absolutely love doing it, and that’s not just a line! I love doing the research and the surprising answers. Like I said, I tutored Film History class and I love documentaries so it’s a very grounded interest.

 

UKHS: The Code Red DVD of Nightmares In a Damaged Brain (under it’s American title Nightmare) was a long time coming. How did you get involved with it and what were the problems that delayed its release?

LC: It took it so long because basically Bill and Walter were hoping to find a better source print than what they had. They did complain a lot that people on the internet were demanding that they use only the camera negatives. Having known them both as long as I did, I can say with confidence that if camera negatives were available, they would’ve used them. Both have maintained that the negatives were located and passed over to Jim Markovic, one of the film’s uncredited original editors, who was – at the time the DVD was being prepared – doing telecine work, or similarly related stuff, for Technicolor. Unfortunately, when Markovic opened the cans, he found that the negative was so badly deteriorated due to improper storage that it was unusable. According to Bill and Walter, in fact, Markovic’s exact words were, “Get it out of here. It stinks!” So they continued to search for better film elements.

Meanwhile, another controversy erupted. Apparently, Markovic had advised them to release the film full frame because of how the shots had been composed. I don’t know if you know much about 35mm film and how aspect ratios are actually generated, but basically, a frame of film is closer to square dimensions. Most films that weren’t shot with an anamorphic – “scope” – lens were shot with the aperture wide open, resulting in a square image, hence why boom mics sneak into the top of a frame. Anyone who has ever worked as a projectionist can tell you, there is a lot of space at the top and bottom that is blocked off when you actually project a movie; something that goes back to to the movie industry trying to come up with a means of competing with television, but not quite convinced that Cinemascope was going to last. This is why when some films were released to VHS, you would get more picture information from top to bottom than was exposed during theatrical exhibition.

Anyway, in some scenes, Scavolini had allowed some crucial information to be framed slightly below or above the 1:1.85 area of the frame. One example was the decapitated head in the bed. Another was the scene when George goes to visit the Times Square peep shows; some hooker masturbating action gets lost below the frame in that instance. THAT is why Bill and Walter had announced that they were going to release it full frame. Naturally, that pissed off everyone! Eventually, Bill released it matted at 1:1.85, but what no one knows is that he cheated on that: when significant information would be lost, he simply arranged for the telecine technician to custom modify the framing accordingly for difficult shots. In other words, if you were to watch the film theatrically, the framing would not have been as selective in a movie theatre because once the movie starts, the projectionist sets the framing appropriately and then leaves it set that way for the remainder of the show.

 

niadb scavolini

Romano Scavolini

UKHS: I understand there was a bit of an issue trying to get the ninety-odd minute interview extra with Scavolini subtitled too?

LC: That’s something that’s always pissed me off. And frankly, although I wrote up several of the questions for that interview, I’ve never watched it. Bill and Walter had found someone who could visit with Scavolini in Italy and conduct the interview, and he was instructed to conduct it in English. Apparently, as they sat down to do it, Scavolini had asked the interviewer if it would be alright for him to answer in Italian because that was more natural for him, and the interviewer obliged. According to Bill, the interviewer apparently thought that the interview could be effortlessly subtitled in English by the same person who was subtitling movies for Media Blasters, a company that Bill and Walter were engaged with at the time. But supposedly, the guy who did subtitling for Media Blasters had already committed suicide! So obviously, he wasn’t available and Bill and Walter had already spent a lot of money on this release and were likely still pissed off that the interview had not been conducted in English in the first place.

There were also other people involved with the film that Bill and Walter were persuading to participate in the DVD too, by the way; some of which have since granted interviews for Bill’s upcoming Blu-Ray release of the film. Bill had been trying to talk the film’s credited editor, Robert Megginson, who went on to write the screenplay for F/X (1986), but he didn’t want to be involved with the DVD because he’s not proud of the movie. Bill also claimed to have difficulties getting a commitment with Nightmare’s unit manager Mik Cribben; but he’s since done an interview for Bill’s Blu-Ray release. We were all hoping to get an interview with Tom Savini as well, but that wasn’t going to happen.

In short? Nightmare’s DVD was delayed due to an ongoing and unsuccessful search for better film elements, getting the film’s original participants to take part in the DVD extras – most of whom declined – and that goddamn interview that should’ve been conducted in English in the first place!

 

NIADB 7 Savini

Tom Savini

UKHS: What’re your thoughts on the Savini controversy?

LC: Well, one person that I managed to track down in an attempt to get to the bottom of it was Christine O’Keefe [who played Tatum’s mother]. Scavolini has maintained that Savini did the effects, Savini denies having done the effects, Ed French says that HE did the effects; so who on the film could give a definitive answer to this question without having a reputation to protect? Christine O’Keefe! Someone had to make a mould of her head for the beheading scene, right? So I called her and she barely remembered the film; she’s never seen it, but she did say that there was an effects guy who she was told at the time was a really big deal who was working on the movie. She referred to him as “Tom Savino” when I talked to her. I tried hard to persuade her to do an interview and although she considered it, she eventually politely declined. Mostly, she didn’t want the film coming back to haunt her at this stage in her life: it was very clear from our conversation that she’s not proud of having worked on it!

 

UKHS: From what I’ve read, Scavolini didn’t have final cut on the film did he?

LC: No, but I get the feeling he saw his role more as a hired hand anyway. Ultimately, he more or less had to wash his hands of the film and move on when it went slightly over budget and the producers wanted to get it released Stateside through 21st Century. From what I understand, there was some friction between Scavolini and John Watkins – who raised the money for the film and also played the “Man with the Cigar” – which probably didn’t help matters, either. At the time, Scavolini was also dating Sharon Smith, so he may have lost interest in the film to some extent since he had that going on.

There’s an interesting adjunct to this though. Baird [Stafford] told us – and this is in the DVD commentary track – that the gore effects scenes were shot in alternate versions; once for what would’ve – at that time – resulted in an X-rating, and once for an R-rated cut. It’s interesting because it does seem to imply that Scavolini was mindful of the American rating system to the point of preparing for a truncated version to appease the MPAA. And 21st Century did end up releasing an R-rated version in 1983, but as far as I know, there are no prints of that version still around and no one seems to know what happened to the more restrained effects footage that was, according to Baird, shot alternately.

 

NIADB 5UKHS: What do you think of the films status as a Video Nasty here in the UK? I’d love to hear your American perspective on such a strange part of British pop-culture history.

LC: When I first saw it when I was sixteen, I was watching it with a friend of mine and as the credits started to roll, I specifically remember turning to my friend and saying out loud, “That was the sickest movie I’ve ever seen!”. Obviously, by this time I hadn’t seen Cannibal Holocaust or Salo: 120 Days of Sodom! But for that reason, I find it fascinating. I don’t know of anyone who has watched Nightmare and then decided to go out and kill someone. So my own perspective is, if you watch a violent movie, isn’t that the point? In ways, I think Nightmare is more morally responsible than, say, Terminator 2, where Schwarzenegger shoots countless policemen in the kneecaps while the audience laughs.

It’s certainly a more responsible movie than movies like Rambo and Red Dawn, where the audience is encouraged to cheer when someone is killed – however, I don’t think any of these movies should be censored either. During the 2012 Republican primaries here in America, presidential hopeful Rick Perry actually got a round of applause for having overseen – at the time – over 300 executions as governor of Texas. I find that kind of blood-lust and America’s obsession with guns FAR more disturbing than anything in Nightmare, which, to be sure, is a disturbing movie. And I don’t think the rapidly escalating gun violence we’re having here in America has anything to do with movies like Nightmare. People who murder abortion doctors, for example, are doing so based on their religious convictions, not because they saw a slasher movie.

 

niadblc1UKHS: So you don’t think it has the power to corrupt the masses as the British government and press feared?

LC: I don’t even think British parliament believed it at the time! Perhaps they wanted to believe it but… From an American standpoint, I’ll relate the Video Nasties to something that we’re going through here in America right now. We have a culture of blame and fear-mongering that’s getting progressively worse: poor people are ridiculed as being “takers”, gun legislation can never happen because the NRA convinces enough gullible people that the government is “out to get their guns”, and gays and lesbians are demonised as tearing apart the moral fabric of America. Basically, the Video Nasties era came down to this: Parliament was wanted a “Them” that they could bully around and blame for society’s problems. They were looking for a made-to-order “Bad Guy”. That’s all it was and that’s all censorship is ever about. Well, not quite: it’s also about controlling people and their ability to think for themselves. That’s pretty much my take on the Nasties scandal.

But going back to, as you said, the American perspective again though; we really haven’t had that level of censorship since the advent of the MPAA’s rating system. There’s been a few hiccups along the way; Former Attorney General Edwin Meese’ Commission on Pornography being one. Further back we had the President’s Commission on Pornography and Obscenity, and neither one of these stood the test of time, but each one wreaked its own havoc on free speech. Neither one was the outright ban on several specific films like the Video Nasties scandal was, however. Perhaps due to mostly successful free speech that we’ve enjoyed on this side of the Atlantic, we tend to get a little spoilt and lose sight on just what true censorship really is. You may recall the scandal that erupted when the “Duck Dynasty” idiot spewed some racial and homophobic comments and A&E was poised to suspend the show. A&E is NOT the government and they DO produce the show, so it’s their right to suspend or even cancel it if they want. But American fans of the show screamed censorship – this was NOT censorship – and A&E backed off their plans to suspend it. So Americans really haven’t been exposed to true censorship for some time, fortunately!

 

nightmare_1981_poster_01The Lee Christian Files

As a very special treat to UK Horror Scene readers, Lee has very kindly allowed us a sneak peak into his vast library of script, prep and research notes. Below you’ll find a few bits and bobs Lee used whilst helping to assemble the extra features on the Code Red Nightmares In a Damaged Brain/Nightmare disc. Read Lee’s comments and simply click on the prompts for this superb and exclusive insight into his moderator process!

Please click on each link and this will open up the scripts in PDF format , then hit the back button to return to this article !!

Lee Christian: Here’s four samples of Nightmare’s original screenplay, under the title “Dark Game”. This first one is from the beginning of the film which, as you can see, doesn’t start with George Tatum in bed like the finished film.

[CLICK HERE FOR NIGHTMARE SCRIPT SAMPLES 1 – BEGINNING]

LC: Now, this is the scene that does open the film as released – George wakes up frantic but there’s no decapitated head in his bed.

[NIGHTMARE-SCRIPTSAMPLE-2-GEORGEINTRO]

LC: This third sample documents the moments before and after Kathy’s death. You can kind of get an idea of just how far this film skewed from the script in this ten page chunk.

[NIGHTMARE-SCRIPTSAMPLE-3-KATHYDEATH]

LC: This final bit of script is the last few pages. It ends on page 167! [Note: one script page generally equates for a minute of screen time, giving you a rough idea of just how long a film is supposed to be – Ed.]

[NIGHTMARE-SCRIPTSAMPLE-4-ENDING]

LC: These are scans of the index cards that actor Baird Stafford wrote up for me. Bill, Walter and I met him at the hotel they booked for him. We did the on-camera interview in his hotel room. I reviewed the cards briefly at that time, but then used them extensively when I modified my commentary track questions. We recorded the commentary track at Crossroads of the World on Sunset Boulevard the following day. You’ll also see a note that Baird wrote at the top of the page stating that Scavolini had allegedly had some kind of favorable relationship with Vangelis [Chariots of Fire (1981), Blade Runner (1982)] and was planning to ask him to compose the music for the score! I think we talked about this in the commentary track and frankly I’m skeptical that Scavolini had such a friendship. If it’s true, however, and had Vangelis done the music, Nightmare could’ve boasted an Academy Award winner in its music credits!

[CLICK HERE FOR BAIRD STAFFORD NOTES]

LC: Lastly, this is a scan of the commentary questions I brought into the recording studio with me. Actually, I had – as I always do – a set of questions to ask that are scene-specific with the timecode info off to the side. Unfortunately, of all the junk related to commentary track interviews that I’ve kept over the years, the commentary track questions for “Nightmare” seem to have, sadly, disappeared.

[CLICK HERE FOR PDF OF NIGHTMARE COMMENTARY QUESTIONS]

____________________________________________________
NIADB Code Red logoOnce again, a massive, massive thanks to the superb Lee Christian.

Code Red DVDs essential limited run blu-ray of the film, under its American title NIGHTMARE, is out now. Get buying it from their store here: http://codereddvd.bigcartel.com/

Find Code Red on Facebook HERE and twitter HERE

To go back to part one of this feature, click HERE

Follow Matty on twitter @mattybudrewicz

#UKHSNasty

UKHS Does the Nasty! NIGHTMARES IN A DAMAGED BRAIN (1981) Part One

NIADB 1UKHS Does the Nasty!
NIGHTMARES IN A DAMAGED BRAIN (1981) Part One

It’s day two of our week-long Video Nasty series and, in an exhaustive two part feature, Matty Budrewicz examines director Romano Scavolini’s wonderfully lurid NIGHTMARES IN A DAMAGED BRAIN…

Also known as: Nightmares, Blood Splash (US video)

It’s one hell of a story: The Thatcher-led dark-lands of eighties Britain. Home video has revolutionised how we watch movies and a slew of ultra violent horror films are leading the charge. A mixture of eclectic drive-in fillers and assorted Euro-pudding gorefests, they’re ‘Video Nasties’ in the damning eyes of the press and the law – sick filth to be targeted, seized and destroyed. Titles are quickly condemned left and right, blasted by the Director of Public Prosecutions and banned under the Obscene Publications Act. Actually getting jail time because of them though is something else entirely. For David Hamilton Grant however, that’s exactly what happened.

The head of distribution label World of Video 2000, Grant was busted for issuing VHS copies of a low-budget terror pic one whole minute longer than the official BBFC-approved theatrical release. It didn’t matter that it was still a compromised version, the victim of all the same censorious snips as the R-rated US print, and still shorn of just under ten minutes of expository bumf; sixty additional seconds after all was more than enough time to destroy the moral fabric of British society. On February 3rd 1984 Grant was sentenced to eighteen months at her majesty’s pleasure (though later reduced to twelve) for being “in possession of over two-hundred copies of an obscene article for publication for gain”.

NIADB 2Crazy for sure, but it’s worth noting that in the expanded Grant universe it’s barely a footnote; just another part of his sordid mystique. The self-styled King of Sexploitation, entrepreneurial porn don Grant’s personal saga is one strange and convoluted web that – if former sports presenter turned conspiracy theorist David Icke is to be believed anyway – involves Grant’s own faked death at the hands of a contract killing, and his position as a major player in a high-reaching international paedophile ring.

It’s one hell of a story then, one every bit as bizarre and disturbing as the film he was once banged up for: director Romano Scavolini’s 1981 shocker Nightmares In a Damaged Brain.

Looking back, it’s not hard to see why Nightmares In a Damaged Brain would land someone in such hot water. Anything promoted with such a ghoulish gimmick as a Guess the Weight of the Brain In the Jar Competition – a human brain no less, procured from somewhere as shady as Grant no doubt – was bound to attract some kind of negative attention. Still, it was an ingenious and appropriate marketing ploy, considering Grant’s tacking on of the latter half of the title: “Well, the film’s real title is simply ‘Nightmare’,” says Lee Christian, the erudite exploitation flick guru who curated the extras for Code Red’s region one DVD release of the film back in 2011. “I’m told by Bill [Olsen, Code Red’s owner] that Scavolini was not even aware of the Nightmares In a Damaged Brain variation – I’m not sure I buy that, but he definitely had nothing to do with that title! It’s interesting that most American fans of the film are very sensitive about which is the proper title though: in the online horror enthusiast community, they all refer to it as Nightmares In a Damaged Brain. That title, in reality, was slapped onto it by your British distributor. Your Video Nasties scandal re-branded the film with a title it was never meant to have!”

Nightmares In a Damaged Brain deals with George Tatum (a terrific performance from Baird Stafford, whose only other screen credit is Scavolini’s 1985 Vietnam war-action pic Dog Tags), a dangerous schizophrenic wrongly deemed cured and released back into the streets of New York City. Plagued by violent recurring dreams, Tatum sets off on a blood-thirsty journey back to his family home in Florida; a house now occupied by single mother Susan (the perfunctory Sharon Smith) and her three children. Edging ever closer, Tatum’s homicidal mania increases, a plot point mirrored by the increasingly worrying penchant Susan’s super-brat young son CJ (blonde moppet CJ Cooke) has for sadistic practical jokes. Soon, all is set for the inevitable confrontation: a suitably frightening and distressing final act in which Tatum and CJ’s past, present and future entwine with claret-soaked consequences…
Of all the Nasties, Scavolini’s film – along with fellow Italian Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (1980) – is one of the most genuinely affecting.

NIADB 3Though the likes of Tenebrae (1982), The Burning (1981) and the Lucio Fulci undead double of Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979) and The House By the Cemetery (1981) all remain potent frighteners, by and large the seventy-two titles under the Nasty label (of which thirty-nine were successfully DPP prosecuted) are more liable to provoke unintentional laughs than spine-scraping frissons. They’re tosh: tawdrily entertaining clag gross-outs, even something as mean-spirited as Cannibal Ferox (1981), which veers dangerously close to camp thanks to the eminently watchable scene chewing of perennial victim John Morghen (or Giovani Lombardo Radice, to give the spaghetti splat regular his real name). Of course, that’s not to say Nightmares In a Damaged Brain isn’t trash because, well, ostensibly it is: “The end result is a film that looks like it was trying to be something a little different,” says Christian, “but it’s really more of a slasher movie.”

Scripted under the title of Dark Game and inspired by a magazine article which alleged to the CIA’s use of mental patients in mind-altering pharmacological experiments, Scavolini’s original vision of the film was, according to Christian, very different: “It wasn’t really the same movie. It’s been a long time since I read [the original script], but as I recall, it was a little more centred around CJ. Also, you got a much better insight as to how the script seemed to be more aware of what would visually make sense. One example of this is the scene towards the end in which Kathy, the babysitter, is murdered. I have to admit, I always found this scene logically very awkward; when she sees Tatum coming towards her and exclaims “CJ!”, thinking he’s just playing another trick on her, even though Tatum is clearly too tall to be confused with him. In the script, this scene takes place in the dark, with Kathy only sensing another presence in the room. It’s more logical but, additionally, more creepy too.”

NIADB 4Though a handful of core ideas remain – the notion of whether Tatum’s pills are helping or making him even worse, most teasingly of all – Scavolini’s more thoughtful intentions are marred somewhat by his over-reliance on clunky slash-horror cliche. Empty false scares and the usual uninspired killer-on-the-loose histrionics plague the narrative; bizarre considering just how vocal – and somewhat arrogant – Scavolini is about his disdain for the genre and its by-the-numbers approach. “I don’t watch horror films; they don’t interest me,” he says in Code Red’s ninety-minute interview with him. “If I do, it’s twice or triple speed because I immediately know everything. I immediately understand what the mechanisms are.”

Beneath such low-end schlock trappings though, there still lurks a provocative and distinctly adult horror movie: a surprisingly striking study of mental disintegration, neglect and the long-term repercussions of extreme violence. Flawed in its execution it may be, but Nightmares In a Damaged Brain is still pretty powerful. As Christian says: “The concept of a masked killer stalking a troubled family… Only to turn out to be the father of the boy who plays cruel tricks on his family is something that could’ve had more resonance. It could’ve made a more subversive statement on the state of mental health treatment in America and the potential for mental illness to translate through blood ties, but yeah: a little of that still comes through.” Certainly, it’s more than your usual dead teenager/body count flick…

Nightmares In a Damaged Brain fits more with Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965) than Friday the 13th (1980) – a proto Henry: Portrait Of a Serial Killer (1986)-style bracket occupied by the likes of Don’t Go In the House (1980), Visiting Hours (1982) and Maniac (1980). Nightmares In a Damaged Brain’s immediate peers, they too are character-based frighteners; grindhouse dissections of the psychological make-up of murder.

NIADB 5Though banned for theatrical release and never a “proper” Nasty itself (unlike Don’t Go In the House and Visiting Hours, which found themselves on the non-prosecuted Nasty heap), it’s with Maniac that the greatest parallel can drawn; from it and Nightmares In a Damaged Brain’s joint depiction of an especially grimy New York, to each movies vice-versa-like way of beginning and ending. Just as Bill Lustig’s scuzzy fleapit classic starts with a murder set piece (“Jaws (1975) on land” as Lustig once described it) and closes with a fevered gore-dream, Scavolini bookends his psycho saga the other way round; kicking off with Tatum’s nightmare vision of a bloodied, severed head dumped at the foot of his bed and finishing up with a hyper-real stalk n’ slash sequence.

Alluding to both The Shining (1980) and Halloween (1978), Scavolini’s denouement is thrilling stuff: clad in the same creepy old man mask that CJ had been larking about with earlier in the film – the same creepy old man mask that looks remarkably like Sid Haig – the claw hammer-wielding Tatum pursues CJ through the house. Barricading himself in his mother’s bedroom, CJ desperately begins to search for something – anything – to fight Tatum off; all the while Tatum is smashing the door down from the other side. From under the bed, CJ pulls out a handgun – a revolver – and, without hesitation, begins to fire repeatedly through the door at Tatum. It’s long, lingering and luridly drawn out; Jack Eric Williams’ screeching score peaking as the mortally wounded Tatum hits the floor.
It’s not over, however: proving once again that you can’t keep a good slasher anti-hero down, Tatum slowly begins to rise, his last iota of strength then used for one last-ditch attempt to get CJ and his sisters.

For his troubles, Tatum is quickly shot by CJ again, once with the revolver – “You don’t understand!” screams Tatum as the bullet hits – and then by a double dose of shotgun blasts; tipping events into the same realm of pitch-black comedy as the infamous ED-209 boardroom bloodbath in Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop (1987). As Tatum expires at the foot of the stairs, Scavolini finally pieces everything together: Tatum’s visions – his nightmares – are revealed to be the fractured recollections of him brutally murdering his own mother and father as a child. Wielding a ruddy great axe, young Tatum dispatches his folks as they’re in the throes of kinky, S&M passion – a likely nod to the ‘Dark Game’ of the original title and a more full-on re-work of a similar scene in Ulli Lommel’s earlier cult favourite The Boogeyman (1980, and also a Nasty). “You don’t understand!” his father also screams, before the axe smashes down into his head, the old slasher maxim of “you have sex, you die” now taken one step further. In Scavolini’s universe, fucking is no longer just punishable with death by masked maniac; it’s the reason said maniac is loco in the first place. Sex-as-psychosis-catalyst is one of the director’s most fully realised and satisfying concepts, an idea at its most obvious during Tatum’s frothy-mouthed meltdown at a XXX peepshow.

NIADB 6The punchline to Nightmares In a Damaged Brain – as previously mentioned by Christian – is the paternal revelation: dead body unmasked at the crime scene, Tatum is exposed as Susan’s estranged husband, thanks to her cry at a pitch only dogs can hear. Often criticised for its perceived predictability – though, admittedly, more seasoned narrative detectives will see it coming a mile off – it’s more sickeningly inevitable than predictable; the real twist being CJ’s exposure and subsequent reaction to the violence. It’s just as the strapline to Screen Entertainment’s 2002 British video re-release (which ironically features the same print that landed distributor Grant in bother) promises, “One moment of ultra violence that once seen is never forgotten”. CJ’s seen the violence. He’s been complicit in it, and killed his own father just as his father did. And just like dear ol’ Dad before him, he’s doomed to repeat it, as signified by his shocking fourth-wall break at Nightmares In a Damaged Brain’s close. It’s just a pity then that, as Christian also noted, its development throughout the rest of the movie wasn’t quite as well fleshed out as it could have been, getting a little muddled somewhere amidst the film’s slightly saggy middle stretch. Nonetheless, it still packs an emotional wallop.

Its status as a Nasty aside, Nightmares In a Damaged Brain is best known for the controversy surrounding its squirty gore effects; “I first sought it out because of the then-notoriety of the Tom Savini credit scandal,” says Christian. “Certainly here in America, it was far more well-known for that scandal than it was – at the time – for having been banned in England.” Long attributed to the Dawn of the Dead (1978) effects man – the grue legend who also supplied the splatty stuff for the aforementioned Maniac, Friday the 13th and The Burning – Savini himself vehemently denies any official involvement; he served only as an adviser to the then-fledgling Ed French (later of Sleepaway Camp (1983), The Stuff (1985) and Rejuvenator (1988), despite Scavolini crediting him as Special Effects Director. As he firmly explained to author Christian Sellers in 2007, “I was not involved in that film in any way I want to talk about. They keep using my name and I did not do the effects on that piece of shit. The guy who did do the effects, Lester Loraine, killed himself. He was a friend and they gave him no credit but tried to steal my name to promote this trash.”*

NIADB 7 SaviniIt’s a claim supported by French too, who also told Sellers, “I recall that the make-up effects guy in charge was a man named Les Loraine or Larraine. I had never heard of him before this movie and I never heard of him again after that… I remember Tom coming in, perhaps twice, to give the crew advice, direction and impetus to finish the preparations on time for the first day of shooting. I have no idea if this was a favour to Les or if he was a paid consultant. Tom didn’t do any hands-on work but he definitely influenced the techniques, style and game plan for staging the blood gags. Obviously, he was the coach. The splatter coach, if you will. Anything else I could tell you would be pure speculation.”*

Understandably, Scavolini’s version of events is grossly different, the bottom line being Savini was a much more active participant in the film’s sangre department than he’d care to admit: he didn’t do the latex, but he sure as hell “pumped the blood”* according to the fiery filmmaker. It’s hard not to deny the similarities between Nightmares In a Damaged Brain’s effects work and Savini’s stuff; they may be a little cruder than the watershed, artery-splitting money shots in The Prowler (1980) et al, but they certainly have Savini’s trademark, bright red gush behind them – a little more so than him just simply coaching. What’s more, it’s hard not to deny that Savini was actually pretty hands-on from a production photo readily in circulation showing him giving young actor Scott Praetorius (Young George) a crash course in axe handling. Very odd, considering Savini once stated that, as he was working on George Romero’s Creepshow (1982) at the time, he’d never even set foot on the Nightmares In a Damage Brain set!

Whatever the truth, to paraphrase Sellers, it will most likely never be known; denial, accusations and libel-baiting stories of greed and Savini’s alleged licentiousness unrepeatable here will forever just fill its place. It’s a shame really, as such a mystery overshadows both the contribution of Nightmares In a Damaged Brain’s other effects man on the Florida-lensed leg of the shoot – the wonderful, future Charles Band alum, and star of the short-lived SyFy series Monster Man (2011), Cleve Hall – and actually just how good the film itself is.

NIADB 8 Pre CertStill, who doesn’t love a bit of gossip? And, as Code Red’s Lee Christian alluded to earlier, if it wasn’t for such scandal – especially its reputation as a Nasty for us Brits – Nightmares In a Damaged Brain would probably have just fallen into scare cinema oblivion by now. As it stands, the film is a bonafide classic of sorts: naff in spots and incredibly rough around the edges in others, but with a quiet, unspoken influence on the more introspective strain of extreme skin crawlers that have emerged in the last half-dozen years or so – a legacy of brutality that can be felt in the likes of Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs (2008) and Adam Wingard’s A Horrible Way to Die (2010) – it’s an essential, must-see, cult slab of down and dirty horror. Seek Nightmares In a Damaged Brain out or just pay it another visit: you’ll be glad you did.

For Part II of this feature, in which Matty chats further with Code Red’s Lee Christian, click HERE

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A massive, massive thanks to Lee Christian – an all round good egg.

Code Red DVDs essential limited run blu-ray of the film, under its American title NIGHTMARE, is out now. Get buying it from their store here: http://codereddvd.bigcartel.com/

Find Code Red on Facebook HERE and twitter HERE

* taken from Scavolini vs. Savini: Nightmare In a Damaged Brain by Christian Sellers, originally published on retroslashers.net. Used by permission, with thanks to the author. Read the brilliant full article here: http://retroslashers.net/scavolini-vs-savini-nightmare-in-a-damaged-brain/

To go to part two of this feature, click HERE

Follow Matty on twitter @mattybudrewicz

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Martin (1976) DVD Review

MartinArrow

Martin (1976)
Dir. George Romero
Arrow Video

Set in a rapidly crumbling steeltown suburb, the story focuses on shy, moody Martin (John Amplas), a teenager of East European descent who may or may not be a vampire. Though he possesses no fangs or supernatural powers and has no aversions to either crucifixes or garlic, Martin is nevertheless compelled to drug pretty young women, slash them with razor blades, and consume their blood. His motivations seem purely psychological — as revealed to a call-in radio talk show where Martin has become an anonymous celebrity — but the notion of a family vampire curse is fostered by Martin’s stoic uncle Cuda (Lincoln Maazel), who is convinced that he must destroy the boy by hammering a stake through his heart.

John Amplas is hauntingly brilliant throughout. The first scene he is featured in is Amplas attacking an unsuspecting woman in a train carriage. It is the boyish good looks and dashing hairstyle that gives him the appearance of a rather feeble man. It is what he does once in the carriage that really makes it shocking. In an attempt to overpower the woman he uses a sedative and tries to restrain her while the effects take hold. A couple of times Martin is nearly overpowered himself as he is so skinny and weak and the woman’s furious lashing out shows just how pathetic he is. As she begins to fall asleep Amplas imparts “Don’t worry, I’m very good with needles. I don’t want to hurt you.” This admission would frighten anyone in that circumstance. He says it in an attempt to pacify her until the drugs kick in but her eyes tell the truth: they are filled with terror as her body fails her.

In one of the more gory moments of the film, Martin slashes one of her wrists and allows the blood to pour over him as he begins to drink it. This opening scene shows the character perfectly. He is too cowardly to attack women so uses tactics like drugging them. Even then, he still struggles and is almost pleading with them to calm down. Other scenes, featuring him attacking people, highlight his pathetic actions further.

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The gore is not as noteworthy as Romero’s other, better known works but it is still effective. The initial scene of Martin attacking whilst in a train is wince-including as the red stuff pours onto his face and into his open mouth. The use of a straight razor-blade as his preferred weapon of choice is simple yet horrific enough to make it to be feared. In one instance he stages the murder scene to appear as if it were a suicide by leaving sleeping tablets and plenty of blades lying around.

The violence is never over the top or ‘in your face’. It is simple slashes of razors or syringes being slammed into someones arm, this allows one scene, when Martin invades a woman’s home only to discover she has a mystery lover with her, to contrast perfectly with the rest of the movie. Martin has no choice but to become violent and to lash out as he has to battle with the poor woman and her confused lover. It is the only real, aggressive blood-letting scene in the film. Also this was the first film that Romero worked with former war-photographer Tom Savini – a now iconic partnership.

Martin may be a vampire film but the plot is not typical of the genre. Martin is feeble, timid and immature, the opposite of how vampires are often portrayed as sophisticated, cunning and even sexy. ‘Flashbacks’ to Martin’s apparent early life as a bloodsucker are shown in black and white (although Romero wanted the whole movie this way) to imply that he has been doing ‘this’ for a long time. During one conversation he eagerly tells someone “Oh, I’m old… 84!” when asked his age.

While advanced years and retaining youthful looks are typical of the genre, this causes some doubt to emerge about who Martin really is. Lincoln Maazel, as Uncle Cuda, is the one who repeatedly tells Martin he is a vampire and needs to be saved. However, Christina (Christine Forrest aka Mrs. Romero) reveals that there is a history of mental health issues in the family and it may be Cuda  (with his obsession that Martin is evil) who is the real danger. This creates doubts as to whether Martin is a vampire or has he perhaps been brainwashed into thinking so by an overpowering closet nutjob? The naivety displayed by Amplas takes on a new meaning when examined in light of this plot device.

Overall, the movie starts off a vampire film, heads into slasher territory and ends up as something much more rewarding and thought provoking. While Romero earns legions of fans with the likes of Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, it is Martin that shows he can create unique and original ideas without the aide of zombies. It is Romero’s favourite film that he directed, high praise indeed.

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EXTRA’S.
Arrow Video have lived up to their reputation for fine extra’s. The movie can be viewed in 4:3 or 16:9 ratios, on disc 1, as well as the European ‘Wampyr’, disc 2, release that has an Italian dub but English subtitles. More interesting is the Goblin created soundtrack for ‘Wampyr’. Further extra’s are a 10 minute feature called ‘Making Martin’ with Romero, Savini and more recounting the history of the film. Plus a 23 minute Romero documentary that sounds to be in German but has English subtitles.
The physical DVD itself comes with the trademark Arrow Video white slipcase, 4 different covers, a huge double sided poster, booklet AND a pack of art cards. Enough to make any fan happy.
SCORE: 9 out of 10!

Deathdream (aka Dead of Night) (1972) Review

 

DeathdreamDeathdream (aka Dead of Night) 1972

Dir. Bob Clark   –   88 Minutes

Andy Brooks (Richard Backus) is a young soldier in Vietnam, his family back home have not heard from him in quite a while when they get a knock on the door. The family are told Andy has been killed in action and are devastated , the following day unexpectedly Andy returns home and the family put this down to a mix up by the Army.

Everyone is so overjoyed to have Andy home that they seem to turn a blind eye to his ever stranger behaviour, and just put it down to his war experiences.

Soon though Andy becomes more introverted and takes to just rocking in a chair in his room and has become almost mute in his lack of speech.

Andy’s father (John Marley) soon gets to the end of his tether and also hears that a local bus driver was killed on the same night that Andy returned and the only passenger on the bus was dressed in an army uniform. And his sister Cathy (Anya Ormsby) also seems to realise that all is not quite right with her brother.

The only person who is blind to Andy’s strange ways is his loving mother (Lynn Carlin) who is so happy her son is fine that she cannot see what is developing in front of her.

During the film we see Andy’s slow degeneration from a young man to a sickly pale almost vampiric figure who seems to decomposing in front of our eyes. Its then we realise that Andy is in fact a zombie or the walking dead and he needs blood and flesh to stop his from rotting.

deathdream2But this is far from just an early zombie film,  directed by the great Bob Clark (whose next 2 films were Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things and the classic Black Christmas) this is a story of the return from Vietnam and the mental fatigue and physical exhaustion that many young men suffered and the intolerable strain that this put on them but more so on their families.

 

Lynn Carlin is fantastic as a mother who just believes that her son is a good boy and refuses to see any evil as she is just so happy to have him back after thinking he had died. And John Marley plays the heavy handed, heavy drinking father with great aplomb.

Richard Backus is the star throughout though as Andy, you really feel for him as we understand that he died at such a young age but is now having to commit acts of violence just to stay *alive*.

This is a must see film that captures the age superbly , there is so much feeling in this and also a very pertinent film for the time.

deathdream3Lastly this is one of the first Zombie films although far from the films we are now used to . This is a well structured piece of cinema with a very tough message behind it but done in such a way that only Bob Clark could do. Do not watch this as a pure zombie/horror film but remember what the year was and what was going on both politically and socially in the USA.

One last note for Zombie fans is that this was a certain Tom Savini’s very first film he worked on and what a film !!

A real classic in the zombie genre 8/10