The Last House on Dead End Street (1977) Review

tlhodesTHE LAST HOUSE ON DEAD END STREET (1977)

Director: Roger Watkins (credited as Victor Janos)

Writer: Roger Watkins (credited as Brian Laurence)

Starring: Roger Watkins (credited as Steven Morrison), Ken Fisher (credited as Dennis Crawford), Bill Schlageter (credited as Lawrence Bornman), Kathy Curtin (credited as Janet Sorley), Pat Canestro (credited as Elaine Norcross), Steve Sweet (credited as Alex Kregar), Nancy Vrooman (credited as Barbara Amunsen), Suzie Neumeyer (credited as Geraldine Saunders), Edward E. Pixley (credited as Franklin Statz).

Running Time: 78 minutes

Throughout the eighties and nineties, The Last House On Dead End Street was one of the horror genres great enigmas. No theatrical prints seem to exist, the pseudonymous credits led nowhere and videotape editions were so scarce that more people had heard of it than had actually seen it and…some doubted the film even existed at all. In November 2000, Roger Watkins finally came forward to confirm that he was the director hiding behind the Victor Janos pseudonym, and in a lengthy interview with journalist David Kerekes he revealed the entire twisted history behind the film (Contrary to popular belief, Watkins’s identity as the film’s director was actually revealed at least a decade earlier by Chas Balun in an article included in the The Deep Red Horror Handbook). As with most enigmas, the answers revealed much that was not known about the production, but also led to more questions, mainly about a now seemingly lost director’s cut.

Terry Hawkins (Roger Watkins), a leather-jacketed psycho recently released from prison after serving a year for drug offences arrives back in town and is out for revenge. Before his incarceration Terry made porno films and with the help of two female acquaintances – Patricia (Pat Canestro) and Kathy (Kathy Curtin) – and he’s looking to pick up where he left off, but this time with a difference. Through an old friend he meets Nancy Palmer (Nancy Vrooman) whose husband Jim (Ed Pixley) is being paid by “some fag” – Steve Randall (Steve Sweet) – to make pornographic films for his rich clientèle in the city. Steve is unimpressed by Palmer’s latest film featuring a young woman called Suzie (Suzie Neumeyer) telling him that he wants, “something new”.

The Last House On Dead End Street#1Terry seeing an opportunity hooks up with his old cameraman (Bill Schlageter) and takes over an old abandoned building in which to shoot his new project. With his gang of cohorts, all wearing masks, they tie up the building’s blind caretaker and Terry strangles him while the others film it. When Steve sees what they’ve come up with, he realises that he has found his “something new”, but when Terry finds out that Jim and Steve are passing his films off as their own, he lures them to an abandoned building with Nancy and Suzie where he plans to exact a savage revenge for their betrayal.

Roger Watkins had been making films since the age of 10. He was once an apprentice for Freddie Francis during his time at Hammer, he worked on Ted V. Mikel’s Blood Orgy Of The She Devil (1973) for one day before walking off the set, and worked as an editor on Otto Preminger’s Such Good Friends (1971) and Nicholas Ray’s We Can’t Go Home Again (1973). It was working on the later film that Watkins got the idea for the feature film that would become The Last House on Dead End Street. During the production, he was sent by Nicholas Ray to meet with a Czechoslovakian producer who Ray would not see personally, and it was he who suggested that Watkins do something based on the Manson murders. Watkins had read Ed Sanders’ book The Family while working as a cameraman at a TV station, and decided to run with the idea.

Watkins began filming his project entitled ‘At The Hour Of Our Death’ in late 1972 with students and several professors at the university where he studied English literature. Filmed by Watkins himself and Ken Fisher, practically all the script was improvised with the actors using their real first names. As it was shot without live sound, Watkins had to post sync all the audio. After changing the title to ‘The Cuckoo Clocks Of Hell’ (a quote from Kurt Vonnegut’s 1961 novel Mother Night) Watkins was to have taken the film to Cannes but because of a lawsuit filed by Barbara McGraw, an actress who was to have appeared in the film, it was kept out of cinemas until 1977 when it was eventually released, first as The Fun House and then later as The Last House On Dead End Street.

The Last House On Dead End Street#2As it stands, the film divides fairly neatly into two segments. The first half is something of a mess, but despite being technically below par and incoherent, there are flashes of genuine artistry. It is only in the final 35 minutes where Terry and his accomplices butcher their captives that the film really snaps into focus giving the impression that these are the scenes Watkins really cared about, and it’s pretty unsettling stuff. The climax involves throats being slashed, graphic disemboweling, branding with hot irons and other assorted degradation. One victim is dispatched with a drill to the eye but only after he is forced to fellate a doe’s hoof that one of the girls has protruding out of her trousers. As he does, the others stand around jeering, one of them holding up a mirror so he can watch himself doing it. It’s genuinely fucked up, so twisted that you do worry for the sanity of the filmmakers.
Watkins himself cites his influences as Orson Welles’s The Trial (1963), Ingmar Bergman’s The Hour Of The Wolf, Luis Bunuel’s L’Age D’or (1930) and the films of Frederico Fellini. Unsurprising then that The Last House on Dead End Street, despite its status as a grindhouse exploitation film is full of allusions to other works including George Franju’s horror classic Eyes Without A Face (1959), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and John Boorman’s Zardoz (1973), acknowledged by Watkins himself but odd because his film was shot first.

The film that The Last House On Dead End Street seems to owe a lot to is Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). Both film build slowly to a a sustained climax of escalating horror, but whereas in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre the effect is satirical, some kind of parody of the American family (even though Hooper denies it) The Last House On Dead End Street is totally free of any such subtext, aiming instead at a pure expression of demented horror. This pretty sound comparison was thrown thrown into confusion when Watkins revealed that the print of The Last House On Dead End Street as we know it is part of a much longer and never released cut of the film that actually pre-dates Hooper’s classic.

The Last House On Dead End Street#3According to Watkins, the distributor that eventually released the film removed a vast amount of footage, and re-dubbed the feature in its entirety. The original dubbing was apparently much better, and it was this atrocious new soundtrack that led many to suspect that the film was European in origin. Watkins’s original edit of The Cuckoo Clocks Of Hell ran approximately 175 minutes (later reduced by about an hour) and is almost certainly lost forever. The film was originally presented in a linear fashion with no flashbacks or flash-forwards. It began with Terry being arrested in the projection booth of a porno theatre, establishing that he is already associated with filmmaking at the outset, and was followed by about 20 minutes of slaughterhouse footage. This was intercut with scenes of the girls Pat and Kathy leaving home and establishing them as they come together with Terry. Watkins stated that he wanted to use the footage of animals being killed to juxtapose one kind of slaughter with another as in Sergei Eisenstein’s Strike (1924), but it could also be another nod to Georges Franju who filmed in a slaughterhouse for his short documentary Le Sang Des Betes (1949). Apart from a short clip of a cow being killed, this exposition was cut in its entirety. The opening of The Last House on Dead End Street occurred 25 minutes into the original cut.

This also helps to answer some of the films lapses in logic. For example we never see Steve or Jim passing Terry’s films off as their own, or why Terry asks for Steve to bring Suzie along at the climax even though he has never seen the film she was in (originally Suzie Neumeyer had a substantial role in the film that was almost entirely deleted by the distributor). It is now difficult to say whether this drastic cutting eliminated the more explicit references to the Manson murders, but fragments remain. The “Terry is the Answer” dialogue spoken during the climax are indirectly modelled on the murders, and Watkins said that the killing of the blind man is modelled on Bobby Beausoleil’s killing of Gary Hinman.

The Last House On Dead End Street#4Though the climactic 35 minutes of the film are relatively untouched, there are still significant deletions. A scene of Terry half strangling Palmer after chasing him up the fire escape has been cut, but can still be glimpsed during the films opening. Just after he has been slashed by Ken off screen, spraying his blood across the white wall, Palmer originally stumbled out and tried to begin directing his own death, which explains why Terry jumps up and begins screaming “I’m directing this fuckin’ movie”. The most substantial cut occurs after the doe’s hoof scene as Palmer escapes and flees down the corridor and goes through a door. In the original cut he finds himself back in his own house. Disoriented, he wanders around before slumping down in a chair. It is then that the lights flash on and he finds himself back in the abandoned building as the gang advance on him with the drill. This is quite an explicit reference to the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey, but it also suggests that Palmer has actually been driven insane by the ordeal.

In interviews, Watkins stated an extreme dislike for clips from the film’s climax that the distributor spliced into the beginning of the film along with many other changes. Though the loss of his original cut is extremely regrettable, the question remains as to whether we would still be talking about the film had it been released at its original length? Though Watkins would probably not have agree, it is most likely that the aura that has surrounded the picture for the last 37 years is due to its reputation as a compact, nasty little 78 minute exploitation film that pays off its shoddy build up with a utterly memorable climax, a film moulded by it distributor, not it’s director.

The film’s lapse into obscurity meant that it never had much of an influence on other films, with one bizarre exception. It’s probably coincidental, but Jefery Levy’s SFW (1994) starring Stephen Dorff and Reese Witherspoon as survivors of a siege involving a media terrorist group displays striking similarities with The Last House On Dead End Street. The scenes in which the masked camcorder wielding terrorists film their captives, framed by dazzling lights bears an uncanny resemblance to the climax of Watkins’s film.

The Last House On Dead End Street#7After it was released, Watkins turned to directing porn films such as The Pink Ladies (1980) and the dark brooding Her Name Was Lisa (1980) under the pseudonym Richard Mahler. He made only one film under his real name – Spittoon (1980) – before his death in 2007 at the age of just 59, but he did live long enough to see his cult debut resurrected. Though the original negative was lost, a US DVD outfit called Barrel Entertainment managed to reconstruct the film in 2002 using what was believed to be the only remaining 35mm theatrical print. This version was missing the 91 second sequence showing the disembowelling of Nancy Palmer, cut to avoid an “X” rating in 1977 which Barrel restored using an uncut VHS master. As a result, the print is unavoidable scratchy and the stock does not always match, but essentially, what Barrel has did was deliver the film looking exactly how you imagined it would look.

The Last House On Dead End Street was never released in the UK until Tartan’s 2006 DVD, not even in the dark unregulated pre-VRA days. There is apparently a widely held belief that Tobe Hooper’s The Funhouse (1981) was briefly caught up in the video nasties panic after being confused with The Last House On Dead End Street due to the fact it was initially released as The Fun House. One consistent fact about the video nasties panic was that the moral campaigners involved in trying to ban the many films they saw as dangerous knew next to nothing about the films they were attacking. Even if it had been released on video in the UK, the idea that these people would know enough about Watkins’s film to confuse it with Hooper’s version because of the alternative title it used only briefly in 1977 strikes me as highly unlikely .

The Last House On Dead End Street#6For what seems like the majority of horror fans, this is an insufferable nasty and amateurish film, but for some it has a strange and intangible power, like a half remembered nightmare you can’t shake. It’s like what you imagined horror films would look like when you were too young to see them, dangerous and genuinely irrational. It stick in the mind in a way that many better genre films don’t. It’s worth seeking out.

Rating: 6 / 10 (but the effect is 10 / 10)

Daniel Stillings

UKHS Does the Nasty! The Section 3 List Part Two: THE BLACK ROOM (1982)

TBR 1UKHS Does the Nasty!
The Section 3 List Part Two: THE BLACK ROOM (1982)

Following Dave Wain’s lowdown on Nightbeast in part one [which you can read HERE], Matty Budrewicz sinks his teeth into steamy fellow Section 3 title THE BLACK ROOM…

Even some thirty-odd years on, the Director of Public Prosecutions’ Video Nasty list remains a potent selection of must-see movies: the ultimate chopping – sorry – shopping list for grue lovers and the quintessential rite of passage for all of us British horror nuts. A seventy-two title strong gonzo fear flick extravaganza, it’s a vital part of our genre make up and education; and now, thanks to its discovery by filmmakers Jake West and Marc Morris whilst prepping their stupendous Video Nasties documentaries [read the UKHS lowdown of part 2, Draconian Days, HERE], a whopping eighty-two more movies caught up in the furore can be added to our own personal scare school curriculum.

According to West and Morris, these Section 3 titles were “liable for seizure and forfeiture by the police and removed from sale or hire, though they were ultimately not prosecuted”. As Dave noted in his assessment of director Don Dohler’s cheapie Nightbeast (1982), looking at this newly unearthed DPP dossier certainly reveals why the likes of Dawn of the Mummy (1981) and Zombie Holocaust (1980) – stuff lumped amongst the Nasteis for years – were also stigmatised. It’s a wild list for sure; one that was, as Morris said in our UKHS interview with him [read it HERE], “just a case of the people in power not being in any way film literate”.

There’s a buck-load of big guns on there: heavy hitting, recognised classics like Night of the Living Dead (1968), Phantasm (1978) and Scanners (1980). There’s a slew of beloved cult favourites present too, from Shogun Assassin (1972) and Mausoleum (1980), to Dead Kids (1981) and Happy Birthday to Me (1980). Hell, even Jack Hill’s landmark blaxploitation pic Foxy Brown (1974) is on there! However, it’s the other stuff that gives cause for celebration: the long forgotten bumf that peppers the rest of the list that now, hopefully, will be sought out and reappraised, people inspired to do so because of the enduring popularity of Nastydom. And, with a bit of luck, it’ll lead a few more people to seeing the wonderful 1982 creeper The Black Room (1982); a marvellous, neglected slice of independent horror.

TBR 2An evocative and beguiling chiller, The Black Room is a playfully kinky and consummate modern reinterpretation of the vampire myth. Just as George A Romero used vampirism as a metaphor for teenage despondence in his 1976 gem Martin, here co-director’s Elly Kenner and Norman Thaddeus Vane – who also scripted – use it as a way to explore matrimonial problems and pre-AIDS attitudes to decadent sexuality. Something of a legendary swordsman, Vane (whose other main genre credit is the endearingly naff Theatre of Blood (1973)-aping slasher Frightmare (1983), starring a pre-Re-Animator (1985) Jeffrey Combs) was a regular on the party scene throughout swinging sixties and seventies London, New York and Los Angeles.

His playboy lifestyle as, at various times, a nightclub owner and editor of Penthouse Magazine served as his inspiration when piecing The Black Room together: as noted by author Stephen Thrower in is mighty Nightmare USA tome, and by blogger Sam Weisberg of hidden-films.com, it was during Vane’s stint at Bob Gucione’s notorious men’s rag that he repeatedly cheated on his then-wife, sixteen year old model Sarah Caldwell, with numerous centrefolds at a similarly voyeuristic venue to the eponymous room of the title.

Upping the already sizzling sexual undercurrent inherent in the blood-sucker sub genre and making it far more explicit – yet never exploitatively – The Black Room also switches fangs for a blood transfusion machine and swaps the usual Transylvanian castle for a swanky Hollywood Hills mansion; a locale used to similar eerie effect in David Lynch’s later Hollywood horror story Mulholland Drive (2001). Our Dracula is Jason (Stephen Knight), a handsome and charismatic photographer – think Lugosi, Lee and Langella all rolled into one – stricken with a rare blood disease, manageable only through fatally draining others of their plasma. “Jason’s been sick his whole life, ever since he was a child… He had to constantly replenish his blood; every sixty days. Then once a month. Now, it’s twice weekly,” explains his sister Bridget, the film’s singular answer to the old Count’s buxom brides. Played by the stunning Cassandra Gava (the Fillipino-American actress perhaps best known as the sexy witch in Conan the Barbarian (1982), and credited here under her real name Cassandra Gaviola), Bridget is Jason’s carer, muse and, it is hinted at, his incestuous lover. She’s also his accomplice, helping Jason lure in, kill and dispose of his potential blood donors.

TBR 3Like Paul and Mary Bland, who murdered and robbed an assortment of “perverts” to bankroll their dream of owning a restaurant in Paul Bartel’s released-the-same-year black comedy Eating Raoul, Jason and Bridget too have found the sexually promiscuous to be a particularly rich vein (boom-boom) for victims. Renting out the titular space in their home, they’ve been taking their pick from the randy denizens who come, quite literally, to occupy it: “Restrictions? None. This isn’t the YMCA,” says Jason. “What the former tenants usually did was phone first – I’m always working in my studio. If you like, I can just pop in, light the candles, pour the wine; the rest is up to you.”

Thrust into this scenario is Larry (Jimmy Stathis) and Robin (Clara Perryman); a couple whose marriage is growing a little stale. Though still in love with each other emotionally, their physical relationship has taken something of a beating, thanks to a mixture of boredom and the frequent interruptions of their attempted bedroom gymnastics by their two hyperactive children. Sexually frustrated, Larry soon finds himself Jason and Bridget’s latest tenant, using the room as his basecamp for a bit of afternoon slap and tickle.

Whilst it would be easy to condemn Larry as simply a sleazeball letch, Vane instead throws in a curveball: suddenly Larry’s illicit dalliances are being used to stoke the fires of wedded passion once more. Relaying his black room visits back to Robin, she – at Larry’s insistence – treats them as nothing but fantasy; they’re dirty talk, they’re foreplay.

TBR 4Seemingly as sexually unsatisfied with Larry as he is frustrated with her, Robin’s inner fox is repeatedly quelled by her husband’s strange sense of coital morals: it’s OK for him to indulge his appetite for exotic sex with strangers in the confines of his baroque hired hump den, but anything other than missionary on the marital mattress is strictly off limits with the Mrs. “Why aren’t you ever [kinky] with me?” she asks. “Because,” says Larry, “I love you”.

Though the probing of Larry’s attitudes to sex and fidelity is the meat of the narrative, it’s his handling (or not) of his marital repressions that results in Robin having the most interesting arc of the film. “Why don’t you do to me what you said you did to that girl that you took to that black room?” she questions, upon her quiet discovery that her man’s frisky fairytale shag pad is actually quite real. “I couldn’t do that to you, it wouldn’t be right. You’re my wife,” an oblivious Larry responds, dragging on a cigarette in bed. Barely masking her hurt and – more importantly – her disappointment, she pushes further, “I don’t want to be your wife when we make love. I want to be your whore.” Larry, of course, makes his excuses once again, “I don’t see you in that room. You don’t belong there, Robin.” However, before long she’s checking the place out for herself, with both her vulnerability and her own desires brought into question by a calculating Jason; one vampire who seems to really enjoy playing with his food…

In a contemporary context, The Black Room is akin to the offbeat oeuvre of House of the Devil (2009) director Ti West. It’s character focused and slow-burn, reliant more on sustained mood and powerful suggestion than graphic splatter; more arthouse than grindhouse. Of course, when the blood does flow – in an early sangre-squirting gig for eighties gloop and latex specialist Mark Shostrom (From Beyond (1986), Evil Dead II (1987) – it’s thrilling stuff. The Black Room certainly doesn’t skimp on the horror side of things, with the five minute blood draining sequence being the undoubted, palm sweat-inducing highlight.

TBR 5The first and only time we actually see Jason’s full ritualistic process, it’s a perfect and grotesquely poetic terror moment. It’s a heavily eroticised set-piece, fizzing with sexual energy and every bit as perversely titillating and as sensual as the entwined naked bodies on display throughout the rest of The Black Room. Constructed along the same edgy lines as the pre-sex shivers present during Larry’s earlier initial encounter in his then newly acquired room – that simmer of nervous excitement, the feeling you get just before you rip someone’s clothes off, is palpable in both instances – a heartbeat starts to pulse on the soundtrack, accompanied by composers James Ackley and Art Podell’s throbbing, low synth score. Bridget and Jason smile at one another, their eyes meeting as his and drugged prostitute Sandy’s (Geanne Frank) flesh is penetrated with prongs and syringes, hooking them up to the transfusion machine.

Editor David Kern’s cutting is rhythmic, emphasising fetishistic glides over the machine and Sandy’s surprising moans of ecstasy as her life-juice is sucked from her; the lines between pleasure and pain, and sex and death blurred. Jason, meanwhile, is also in the throes of orgasmic posturing; sweat cascading over his brow, him squeezing Bridget’s hand as, for all intents and purposes, he climaxes with Sandy’s claret filling him. It’s the most beautifully deranged menage-a-trois ever committed to celluloid.

Introduced in a striking double murder sequence during the film’s opening credits, the actual black room itself is also impressively realised, with cinematographer Robert Harmon’s simple but effective use of a strange glowing coffee table, candlelight and inky black shadow conjuring up a rich air of genuine eroticism and danger. It’s an intoxicating experience each time we’re inside it; seductive and scary, flesh and fear dripping from its walls. A former on-set stills photographer, Harmon would later put his keen eye and unique sense of alluring unease to good use in his subsequent career as a director, with the gorgeously shot pair of brooding road-horror movies The Hitcher (1986) and Highwaymen (2004) but two of his credits.

TBR 6 SCam Jeff Mart

Steadicam Jeff Mart

Adding further ethereal elegance is the superb Steadicam work of the late Andrew “Jeff” Mart; as immersive and hypnotic here as Larry McConkey’s use of it is in Donald Cammell’s White of the Eye (1987). Mart was the first person in the world to own such a rig privately and, according to IMDb, famously had a one handle barred bicycle that he would use for daredevil Steadicam shots. Throughout his career he’d work on several other great genre projects, like the fright fan favourite Pumpkinhead (1988), Wes Craven’s The People Under the Stairs (1991) and the cops-and-werewolves TV movie Full Eclipse (1994), before his death at the age of sixty-six in 2009.

For connoisseurs of the more trashier end of the eighties horror spectrum, The Black Room is notable as one of the early features of delectable Scream Queen Linnea Quigley; popping up in a thankless and very minor role as somewhat doomed babysitter Milly. Though still a while off hitting schlock paydirt thanks to her iconic turns in The Return of the Living Dead (1985) and Night of the Demons (1988), it’s an interesting echo of her earlier-still gig as Bondi’s Mother in another sideways vampire flick, Don’t Go Near the Park (1979). A woeful dud of a picture, Don’t Go Near the Park is nowhere near the thoughtful, charismatic excellence of The Black Room but nonetheless would be a solid selection for an intriguing thematically similar double feature. The fact Don’t Go Near the Park was actually one of the DPP’s ‘proper’ Nasties too just sweetens the deal.

Passed uncut for theatrical release with an X rating by the BBFC in November 1982, The Black Room found itself on the Intervision roster. The video tape subsidiary of its distributor Alpha Films, the Intervision label also included in its line up such seminal shock as Tourist Trap (1979), Carrie (1976) and the early David Cronenberg triptych of Shivers (1975), Rabid (1977) and The Brood (1979). Whilst they have all found their audience over the years thanks to multiple disc reissues and positive, sustained critical recognition, The Black Room has had neither – something that looks unlikely to change any time soon.

TBR 8Supposedly available in one of those Stateside bargain-bin multipack DVD bundles (though actually finding one with the film in it on the import market seems to be rarer than rocking horse poop), its fifth generation public domain transfer aside there’ll be no Arrow blu-ray special edition or even a no-frills 88-type disc: The Black Room’s original negative is long rumoured to be lost, and the rights to it anyway are tangled up in a mother load of unspecified legal hell. It’s a damn shame and – if true – the most depressing end for a remarkable little picture that should get a hell of a lot more love. Find the long out of print tape or pirate the thing – just make sure you see it before it’s gone for good.

To go back to part one click HERE

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UKHS Does the Nasty! The Section 3 List Part One: NIGHTBEAST (1982)

NB 1UKHS Does the Nasty!
The Section 3 List Part One: NIGHTBEAST (1982)

As the end of our sensational seven day Nasty series approaches, Dave Wain and Matty Budrewicz team up to each examine a film from the newly discovered Section 3 list. First up, it’s Dave and the mighty sci-schlock cheapie NIGHTBEAST…

If you speak to most casual horror fans whilst armed with a list of fabled video nasty titles, and ask them to pick out the ones that belonged in the original list, you’ll find that many will point to movies such as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977). The fact is of course that until recently these movies carried the stigma of being associated with the original Director of Public Prosecutions’ list of seventy-two titles.

In researching the legal paperwork for Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide, Marc Morris managed to discover the previously unpublished third list. In it there were eighty-two titles that were designated under Section 3 of the Obscene Publications Act by the DPP. These films were liable for seizure and forfeiture by the police, removed for sale or hire and then destroyed although they were not ultimately prosecuted. The discovery of this list certainly goes some way into revealing just why certain other titles carried a video nasty association.

If you read the list [you can check it out at the bottom of our Marc Morris interview HERE] it has some truly bizarre entries. The ones that stand out to me are iconic films like George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Profondo Rosso (1975) by Dario Argento, both of which are now considered to be the pinnacle of horror filmmaking; the idea of them being seized by the boys in blue beggars belief. Others that wave at me in mock indignation are cheese-fest’s like Charles Band’s Parasite (1982) and Xtro (1982) by Harry Bromley Davenport – films whose only crime is surely to have been made at all.

NB 4 Director Don Dohler

Director Don Dohler

Such loveable yet undeniably bad film-making brings me to my choice of movie to highlight in this Section 3 analysis: Nightbeast. The concept that this 1982 Don Dohler movie could feature on such fascist documentation alleging potential moral corruption of the population should they view is absurd. The idea that if this was 1984 and a policeman could come into my video store and seize my copy of Nightbeast as it would be deemed an obscene publication is jaw-droppingly insane and misguided to the point of ridicule.

Let me tell you a little about Don Dohler, the film-maker with the demeanour of a tired accountant, and a resigned reluctant acceptance of his cult status. Dohler’s career could best be summed up as a handful of low budget films, all made with a great amount of heart and a whole lot of passion. Born in Baltimore in 1946, Dohler was a fan of the genre from an early age being an avid reader of Famous Monsters of Filmland. By 1972 he had launched his own magazine called Cinemagic which featured illustrated step-by-step guides to create your own amateur special effects. The magazine ran for eleven issues before being purchased by Starlog in 1979, but its legacy was lasting with many contemporary Hollywood filmmakers such as JJ Abrams citing it as an influence.

His first foray into making his own films came with The Alien Factor in 1978. It was a fairly simple idea with a crashed alien spaceship leading to a horde of extra-terrestrials invading small town USA and mutilating the townsfolk. Despite its meagre budget it was surprisingly a notable success due to the popularity of Star Wars. With George Lucas’ film raking in big bucks in the cinemas, the American public found themselves with an insatiable desire for anything sci-fi orientated and Dohler’s film quenched that thirst just fine. The Alien Factor went on to appear at selected cinemas, not to mention a stint on that famed Grindhouse strip of 42nd Street, while a healthy TV syndication ensured that Don received some much needed coin in his direction.

NB 2With the general consensus that there was always a core audience for horror, Dohler then went into production on Fiend (1980). Little was changed by way of production, he still used friends, family and familiar locations and with the finished product and he decided it might be worth his time seeking out Lloyd Kaufman to seal a nationwide video distribution deal with Troma. Kaufman, despite being impressed with what Dohler brought to him, opted to pass on Fiend saying that his audience demanded more nudity and explicit content – something Dohler himself wasn’t too keen on integrating into his films. However, having decided if that’s what it’ll take he set about creating his next project, Nightbeast.

Nightbeast actually turned out to be pretty much a more polished and professional looking version of The Alien Factor. With many of the original cast of that movie reprising their roles there are a lot of similarities, especially in the narrative which shares many a same plot point; not least the alien spacecraft crash landing in a small town. From here we meet the heroic Sheriff Jack Cinder (Tom Griffith) who arrives on scene with the local militia to investigate the disturbance only to be attacked by the alien. Cinder decides to make a stand, and along with the lovely Deputy Lisa (Karin Kardian) and a handful of townsfolk, the battle is on to defeat this extra-terrestrial invader.

While the plot doesn’t exactly feature much in the way of originality, the charm of Nightbeast lies firmly in its homemade nature. We have a spaceship crafted from polystyrene and paper, with much of the film being shot in a patch of woodland adjacent to Dohler’s back garden so they could run the power lines for the lights into his house! The supporting cast are largely made up of neighbours, friends, his aunt’s hairdresser and, let’s not forget, his children as well. The film is bursting with Ed Wood-style moments such as the scenes he had to extend to pad the film out that show his kids with a six month age difference looking noticeably different in terms of height and weight.

NB 3One of the most talked about scenes in the film though is undoubtedly that sex scene that Lloyd Kaufman suggested Dohler put into his film as “that’s what people want”. I implore you to watch this moment of insatiable erotica and tell me that it’s quite possibly the most anti-erotic sex scene ever filmed. Sheriff Jack, whilst running for cover from the marauding alien happens to sustain a mild injury to his leg. It needs attention though and Deputy Lisa suggests they stop off at a nearby cabin to get it cleaned up and bandaged.

For whatever reason Tom Griffith dispatched with the dated but functional long hair he sported in The Alien Factor for the most ridiculous prematurely greying perm you are ever likely to see. We’re talking aged Napoleon Dynamite here. During this first aid session Deputy Lisa gets ravenously horny and reveals her tan lines whilst off comes the Sheriff’s ill-fitting y-fronts. With his beer gut and handlebar moustache, this steamy lovemaking session is about as erotic as watching your Mum and Dad having sex – yet oddly all it does is solidify your appreciation of what Dohler managed to pull together.

Nightbeast was released in the UK by Vipco having been passed with no cuts made in 1983. Why would they make cuts though? It is virtually a blood free zone apart from a few incidents of very tame low budget gore. I can only think that its remarkably iconic sleeve featuring the John Dods (Ghostbusters II, Alien Resurrection) designed creature conjured up the idea that the film might contain something more ‘corrupting’ than it actually does. It was reclassified (again without cuts) in 1996 for a release on retail VHS in Troma’s brief sojourn into the UK home entertainment industry. Troma’s US release of it is well worth picking up as you can get it on a cool double feature alongside John Paul Kinhart’s excellent Blood, Boobs and Beast documentary which examines Dohler’s career.

NB precert betaDespite its low budget nature, Nightbeast is looked back on as the pinnacle in of Don Dohler’s career. Granted, that may be akin to saying that Glen or Glenda is the pinnacle of Ed Wood’s career but nevertheless, for a guy that made movies in his own town, with his friends and family and DIY special effects, Nightbeast represents quite an achievement. Dohler only made seven films in his career, and after having production problems on Blood Massacre (1991) which found the film land in other people’s hands for completion, he decided to back out of the industry with only the occasional return. Harvesters (2001) which he co-wrote is certainly worth a look for those low budget aficionados amongst you.

Dohler died of cancer aged sixty in late 2006, and it’s only since his death that I became aware of the legacy he left. The fact that legacy includes a position on a Section 3 DPP list is a genuinely surprising one. It’s such an inoffensive little film that the average viewer would more likely mock and disparage as opposed to question its morality. However, if the recognition it gets from this infamy creates a few more Don Dohler fans then it might just be worth the attention.

For Part Two of this feature, click HERE

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UKHS Does The Nasty: THE DRILLER KILLER (1979)

DK 1UKHS Does The Nasty:

THE DRILLER KILLER (1979)

Dir: Abel Ferrara

Writer: Nicholas St. John (credited as N. G. St. John)

Starring: Abel Ferrara (credited as Jimmy Laine), Carolyn Manz, Baybi Day, Harry Schultz.

Running Time: 96 minutes

After our previous encounters with Euro-sleaze psychos, third world cannibals and one hungry crocodile, UKHS’ newest member Daniel Stillings steps up for a look at controversial auteur Abel Ferrara’s Black & Decker-loving Nasty…

Though The Driller Killer is not director Abel Ferrara’s début (the porno movie 9 Lives Of A Wet Pussy (1976) has that dubious distinction) it is still the film he is best known for. The project was initially planned as an experimental short – Ferrara made several in the early seventies in association with his long time collaborator Nicolas St. John – but was later expanded to feature length when Rochelle Weisberg, producer of Drive-In Massacre (1976) put up the extra money needed. The Driller Killer sets out many of the themes and concerns Ferrara would explore throughout his directorial career.

Reno (Ferrara himself) is a struggling artist living in a run down New York apartment with two girlfriends, Carol (Carolyn Marz) and Pamela (Baybi Day). With money in short supply, he is desperately trying to finish the painting of a buffalo he is working on to sell and finally dig himself out of the financial hole he has got himself into, but Carol who is receiving letters with money from her ex-husband is beginning to tire of the situation. When a rock band moves in to an adjacent apartment and begins practising around the clock and Reno’s protestations to the building super about the noise are met with disinterest, he begins to crack under the strain.

DK 2Seeing an advertisement on television for Porto-Pack – a handy mobile power supply – he buys one to power an electric drill that he then uses to casually murder a derelict in a doorway, an act that triggers a murderous killing spree of local down and outs. Eventually he completes his painting and invites his art dealer (Harry Schultz) to view the finished work, but on seeing it Briggs does not hold back his disdain for Reno’s new work, calling it simply “Shit.” This rejection of their last hope for financial security is the final straw for Carol who leaves Reno and Pamela to return to her ex-husband, after which Reno begins to turn his violent frustration inwards on those he cares for.

With its themes of urban alienation and madness and a central protagonist seeing himself in conflict with the city, it is pretty clear that the model for Ferrara’s film is Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976), but though thematically similar, their approaches are completely different. Whereas Scorsese’s neon drenched view of New York often resembles a science fiction movie, Ferrara’s New York is a murky, run-down hell hole captured in all its sordid glory by cinematographer Ken Kelsch. The more useful comparison is with Roman Polanski’s classic psychological drama Repulsion (1965), a point made even more explicit with the direct reference to the decomposing rabbit in Polanski’s film. A more solid Scorsese influence is the religious imagery that permeates the film from the church set opening to the mock crucifixion of a vagrant towards the end of the film, themes Ferrara would return to throughout his career climaxing in the controversial Bad Lieutenant (1992).

Despite its lurid title, The Driller Killer is not really an exploitation film. All Reno’s victims are unattractive male vagrants and only one of the killings is presented in a graphic manner, the violence of the other murders often being indistinct or off camera. The lesbian relationship between Carol and Pamela sensitively depicted (they are never the focus of Reno’s violence), and Joe Delia’s score made up of vibraphone re-workings of music by J. S. Bach offer respite from the muddy grumbling of Tony Coca-Cola & The Roosters.

DK 4Reno’s motivation for the series of killings occurs very early on. Though it is never stated explicitly, it is heavily suggested that the old vagrant that he meets in the church at the start of the film is his father. Homeless and seeking his son’s help, he embodies all Reno’s fears of failure, suggesting Reno is killing the derelicts out fear that he will lose his precarious position in society and join them. The film ends ambiguously. When the credits roll, nothing has been resolved.

The censorship history of The Driller Killer is complicated. The title was initially released by VIPCO in April 1982, and immediately caught the attention of renters on account of the graphic picture of the wino having his head drilled that graced the cover. Though it was a misrepresentation of the film, such practices were not uncommon during the early years of the video boom. While all the violence was intact, VIPCO’s release was missing an entire sequence lasting 6 minutes 35 seconds thought to be the result of a botched reel change during the film to tape transfer. It was a popular title, even more so when the Director of Public Prosecutions named it as one of the key “video nasties.” Prosecutions followed and the film was eventually outlawed, but thanks to the Scala Cinema Club in London, the public was still able to see it, but when the DPP turned up prior to a Scala screening and threatened to prosecute, they also withdrew the film.

The fact that The Driller Killer is nowhere near as graphic as its reputation suggests was something the BBFC themselves recognised very early on. James Ferman’s deputy Ken Penry told Tom Dewe Matthews in his book Censored that the film, “was cuttable,” but when VIPCO were told they would have to remove the wino killing, they lost interest in continuing the classification process. Meanwhile, an American Label called Cult Epics announced that it was striking a new print of the film for release as a special edition DVD, but as preparation for the new transfer took longer than expected, they were forced to use the same old murky print. This release restores the sequence missing from the VIPCO release, and includes a scary commentary track by Ferrara himself that gives a whole new meaning to the word “informal”, but is missing the final 1 minute 20 seconds of credits that VIPCO’s release did include!

DK 5In light of the policy change at the BBFC in the late nineties, Visual Entertainment decided to submit The Driller Killer for a certificate, but they opted to play safe and edit the film themselves before submission making cuts totalling 54 seconds to first murder, the killing at the bus stop and the graphic drilling of the wino’s head (much of this was substituted with alternate footage). This version was passed by the board with an “18” certificate and no further cuts. The final act in the censorship saga of The Driller Killer came on 19th November 2002 when ILC Prime Ltd. resubmitted the full, newly remastered version to the BBFC by who having now officially set out their post shake up guidelines passed the film uncut with and “18” certificate. The fact a film that caused such controversy just thirty years ago can now be screened intact on TV without any fuss at all seems incredible to anyone who lived through that time.

Rating: 8 / 10

#UKHSnasty

UKHS Does the Nasty! Video Nasties: Draconian Days – An Interview with Producer MARC MORRIS

Layout 1 (Page 1)UKHS Does the Nasty!
Video Nasties: Draconian Days – An Interview with Producer MARC MORRIS

After founding Nucleus Films with director Jake West a little over ten years ago, Marc Morris (along with West) is renowned for producing a number of acclaimed supplementary features for DVD releases; perhaps most notably the outstanding Phantasm Phantasmagoria documentary. In 2005 Nucleus branched out into DVD distribution with the release of Pereira’s Between Your Legs (1999), before notching up a fine catalogue of niche titles for UK distribution such as Death Ship (1980) and the one-time video nasty Night of the Bloody Apes (1969).

Having had a hand in the worthy documentary Ban the Sadist Videos! (2005), Morris and West teamed up for a more in depth look at the video nasties panic and released the highly acclaimed Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide in 2010. Now, a few years on and with much more on the story of the BBFC’s role in the UK film industry to be told, Marc and Jake have made a sensational sequel [read our official lowdown HERE] about which Marc took some time out to speak to UKHS…

UKHS: Marc, thirty years on, what do you think it is that makes the Nasties still so appealing after all this time?

Marc Morris: I think it’s just simply the banned aspect and the fact that people always want what they can’t have. I was watching them prior to them being banned and I remember seeing that Nightmares in a Damaged Brain was one of the titles. I thought “wow – I’ve just hired that”, and I managed to go and buy myself a copy for five quid before it was outlawed. I just collected everything I could before they disappeared. I’d get the train every weekend and go off all over the place. Funnily enough some of the most notorious films I’d get from video shops that were right by police stations and you’d actually find out the police were renting them.

mm2

Draconian Days director Jake West (left) and Marc Morris (right)

UKHS: Draconian Days: How did it come about? Did you plan to make a sequel after you guys did the first one or did it just seem to happen?

MM: We really had no plans for a sequel. The first one was so much hard work, but after its release and after gauging the interest, then Jake suggested that it could be a good idea. There was also the aspect of the black market that came into play – especially the fanzines. In part 2 I’ve got scans of three-hundred fanzine covers, they were so important as it was the only way that you could find out about these movies. Initially I thought about doing a trailer reel of rejected titles but I gave up.

UKHS: Rejected titles?

MM: Yeah, just films that the BBFC refused to classify at all. I began it and got some way into it but I gave up. There’s no master for a lot of them; there’s nothing on the internet so it’s just a matter of trawling though VHS titles to find them.

UKHS: The DPP section 3 list [which you can read in full at the bottom of this interview]: It’s a bizarre selection of films they’ve drawn up isn’t it?

MM : Yeah, I think it’s just a case of the people in power not being in any way film literate. Obviously they had a certain number of things that were a no no, such as cannibalism…

mm3UKHS: You mentioned rather frighteningly at your Q&A at the Nottingham Broadway how during a recent meeting with the BBFC they alluded to some kind of internet restriction…

MM: They just want to tackle the internet next and put age restrictions on various sites – YouTube being one of them. I don’t know how far they are with it, but it’s what’s on their agenda.

UKHS: The most shocking parts of Draconian Days involved the raiding of and the seizing of stock from video stores. As the owner of an independent store myself, the thought of it happening to me is a little surreal and quite frightening…

MM: You used to have a video shop?

UKHS: No, I do now…

MM: Now? I thought everyone did Lovefilm and Netflix?!

UKHS: Yeah… There’s not many of us left! As an avid collector yourself though, what was it like living through that? Did it ever lead you to question your “horror fan lifestyle”?

MM: It was scary. I remember getting a phone call to say they’d raided one of my friends’ houses, and I knew that he had a copy of my list of films which listed my address on it! I just had to make sure I stashed them wherever I could – behind the bath panel, anywhere. There was always a chance you could have a knock on the door at five AM. It was certainly a climate of fear, but thrilling at the same time. It’s quite surreal to look back on it.

MM4UKHS: Just out of interest, what are your thoughts on the modern fascination with VHS? It’s really “in” again at the minute…

MM: Yeah, a lot of it I think is down to the artwork being so collectible. A lot of people I know don’t buy to watch they just buy to collect. It’s amazing – people create video rooms in their house with the old fixtures from video shops pinned to the walls for them to display the cases. It reminds them of their childhood I suppose.

UKHS: How about the prices though?

MM: Well they’ve got more money than me! It’s supply and demand though. I remember selling a title on eBay for £500 then a little while after that the same film went for £1500!

UKHS: Viewers in other countries have questioned whether the Video Nasties docs are mockumentaries or not (!). How do you think the Nasties era affected home entertainment in the UK?

MM: To be honest people were already hiring them anyway, and they were already being seen by the public. For me the annoying thing was the fact that the press questioned their legitimacy. It was a scary time, and when you look back with a sense of perspective it really opens your eyes as to what happened.

UKHS: Slipping into the realm of fantasy for a moment, what would you do if you were appointed head of the BBFC?

MM: I’d be pretty powerless to be honest, as of course the BBFC is governed by law and any changes would have to be lobbied to the government. The BBFC though has changed in its relationship with the public, and even today there are films coming out that only a couple of years ago would have been refused –Nekromantic, Bloodsucking Freaks, Island of Death…
For me though the frustration lies with a film like Axelle Carolyn’s Soulmate.

MM5UKHS: I’m not familiar?

MM: The one with the wrist cutting? The BBFC refused it an 18 certificate unless they removed the scene of a girl slashing her wrists. Apparently because it’s shown realistically instead of slashing across like you see in most films, they’re refusing it a certificate. It’s ridiculous! You see can see people committing suicide of TV by jumping in front of a bus, but you don’t suddenly see people copying that behavior.

UKHS: Nucleus have had some outstanding releases the last couple of years from Death Ship and the Grindhouse Trailer series, to Fantasm and Night of the Bloody Apes. Where do you think the future lies in what is becoming an increasingly difficult market?

MM: It’s just about finding the right films. We’ve got the materials to release Bloodbath in the House of Death on blu-ray, but I just don’t think that’s a title that suits that format. We get offered films all the time though – the Alain Robbe-Grillet box-set being one, but I just didn’t think it was right for Nucleus. It was more of a BFI type of release, so I phoned them up and said that this is something you should take a look at but they turned it down. Presumably they reconsidered at some point!
We’ve got a deal with Severin as well in the US recently too.

MM6UKHS: Yeah, Video Nasties Part 1 has just come out over there!

MM: Yes, and we’re releasing the first Grindhouse Trailer Classics over there as well. I’ve just re-mastered the whole thing into NTSC. We should be able to put out a Grindhouse Trailer Classics 5 as well back here. This afternoon I’m off to film some stuff for Odeon’s blu-ray of Whip and the Body.

UKHS: Really? Cool! Well on that note Marc I shan’t keep you any longer, and again thanks for taking the time out of your day to speak to UKHS.

Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide Part Two – Draconian Days is OUT NOW. It’s available at all well-known internet retailers but is perhaps best purchased from the Nucleus Films online store
http://www.nucleusfilms.com/video-nasties-the-definitive-guide-2.html

 
Video Nasties: THE SECTION 3 LIST

From the Nucleus press release:
This [list] presents the official additional 82 titles that were designated under “Section 3” of the Obscene Publications Act by the Director of Public Prosecutions. These titles were liable for seizure and forfeiture by the police, removed from sale or hire and then destroyed; although they were not ultimately prosecuted. This amazing list was discovered whilst researching legal paperwork for the original “VIDEO NASTIES: THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE” and finally clears up why so many additional titles were historically considered to be “Video Nasties”.
The 82 “DPP Section 3” Videos were:

MM DPP Sec 3 1Abducted (Don Jones, 1973)
Aftermath, The (Steve Barkett, 1980)
Black Room, The (Elly Kenner & Norman Thaddeus Vane, 1981)
Blood Lust (Marijan Vajda, 1976)
Blood Song (Alan J. Levi, 1974)
Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll, The (Carlos Aured, 1973)
Brutes and Savages (Arthur Davis, 1977)
Cannibal (Ruggero Deodato, 1976)
Cannibals (Jess Franco, 1980)
Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, The (Fred Schepisi, 1978)
Child, The (Robert Voskanian, 1977)
MM DPP Sec 3 2Christmas Evil (Lewis Jackson, 1980)
Communion (Alfred Sole, 1976)
Dawn of the Mummy (Farouk Agrama as Frank Agrama, 1981)
Dead Kids (Michel Laughlin, 1981)
Death Weekend (William Fruet, 1976)
Deep Red (Dario Argento, 1975)
Demented (Arthur Jeffreys, 1980)
Demons, The (Jess Franco as Clifford Brown, 1972)
Don’t Answer the Phone! (Robert Hammer, 1979)
Eaten Alive (Umberto Lenzi, 1980)
Enter the Devil (Frank Q. Dobbs, 1972)
MM DPP Sec 3 3Erotic Rites of Frankenstein, The (Jess Franco, 1972)
Evil, The (Gus Trikonis, 1977)
Executioner, The (Dominico Miceli as Duke Mitchell, 1978)
Final Exam (Jimmy Huston, 1981)
Foxy Brown (Jack Hill, 1974)
Friday the 13th (Sean S. Cunningham, 1980)
Friday the 13th 2 (Steve Miner, 1981)
G.B.H. (David Kent-Watson, 1983)
Graduation Day (Herb Freed, 1981)
Happy Birthday to Me (J. Lee-Thompson, 1980)
Headless Eyes (Kent Bateman, 1971)
MM DPP Sec 3 4Hell Prison (Eduardo Mulargia as Edward G. Muller, 1979)
Hills Have Eyes, The (Wes Craven, 1977)
Home Sweet Home (Nettie Peña, 1980)
Honeymoon Horror (Harry Preston, 1982)
Inseminoid (Norman J. Warren, 1980)
Invasion of the Blood Farmers (Ed Adlum, 1972)
Killing Hour, The (Armand Mastroianni, 1982)
Last Horror Film (David Winters, 1982)
Last Hunter (Antonio Margheriti as Anthony M. Dawson, 1980)
Love Butcher, The (Mikel Angel & Don Jones, 1975)
Mad Foxes (Paul Grau, 1981)
MM DPP Sec 3 5Mark of the Devil (Michael Armstrong, 1969)
Martin (George A. Romero, 1976)
Massacre Mansion (Michael Pataki, 1975)
Mausoleum (Michael Dugan, 1982)
Midnight (John Russo, 1980)
Naked Fist (Cirio H. Santiago, 1981)
Nesting, The (Armand Weston, 1980)
New Adventures of Snow White (Rolf Thiele, 1969)
Night of the Living Dead (George A. Romero, 1968)
NightBeast (Donald M. Dohler, 1982)
Nightmare City (Umberto Lenzi, 1980)
MM DPP Sec 3 6Oasis of the Zombies (Jess Franco, 1981)
Parasite (Charles Band, 1982)
Phantasm (Don Coscarelli, 1977)
Pigs (Marc Lawrence, 1972)
Prey (Norman J. Warren, 1977)
Prom Night (Paul Lynch, 1980)
Rabid (David Cronenberg, 1976)
Rosemary’s Killer (Joseph Zito, 1981)
Savage Terror (Sisworo Gautama Putra, 1979)
Scanners (David Cronenberg, 1980)
Scream for Vengeance (Bob Bliss, 1979)
MM DPP Sec 3 7Shogun Assassin (Robert Houston, 1972)
Street Killers (Sergio Grieco, 1977)
Suicide Cult (James Glickenhaus, 1977)
Superstition (James W. Roberson, 1982)
Suspiria (Dario Argento, 1977)
Terror (Norman J. Warren, 1978)
Texas Chain Saw Massacre (Tobe Hooper, 1974)
Thing, The (John Carpenter, 1982)
Tomb of the Living Dead (Gerardo De Leon & Eddie Romero, 1968)
Toy Box, The (Ron Garcia, 1970)
Werewolf Woman (Rino Di Silvestro, 1976)
MM DPP Sec 3 8Wrong Way (Ray Williams (as Ron Kelly, 1972)
Xtro (Harry Bromley Davenport, 1982)
Zombie Holocaust (Marino Girolami (as Frank Martin, 1980)
Zombies Dawn of the Dead (George A. Romero, 1978)
Zombies’ Lake (Jean Rollin & Julian de Laserna, 1980

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UKHS Does the Nasty! KILLER NUN (1978)

KN1UKHS Does the Nasty!
KILLER NUN (1978)

It’s day four of our Video Nasty week and, clad in nothing but a holy water soaked wet t-shirt, UKHS’ resident audio nut Mark Pidgeon gets all sacrilegious with KILLER NUN…

Also known as: Suor Omicidi

As well as changing the face of the whole home video industry, the Video Nasty saga’s burst of moral panic and outrage also helped a few lesser known horror titles escape from the realms of obscurity; pushing them out into the stratosphere of cult movie fandom for decades to come.

The majority of titles were notably banned for violence and assorted misogynistic acts, such as graphic depictions of rape, torture and general sexual deviancy. Giulio Berruti’s Killer Nun meanwhile adds another to its cap, one which is still a very controversial topic to this day: blasphemy.

Much like its Nazisploitation counterpart, Nunsploitation was central to the rise of nasty fame, both sub-genres flourishing in a richly populated market that supposedly would exploit and corrupt the working class folk of eighties Great Britain. In typical class segregation and political elitism, some of the early Nunsploitation films condemned for home viewing within a Nasty-type bracket actually received acclaim from the upper-class, art-house scene – Ken Russell’s The Devils (1971) and Walerian Borowczyk’s Behind Convent Walls (1978) most notably.

KN2Many Nunsploitation films would be set in a medieval/cathedral setting, usually including a sadistic mother superior with a penchant for flaying nubile Catholic nuns as she attempts to purify the flesh – a novel way for the seventies softcore audience to witness a little more masochism than they were used to. It was a similar set up to the women in prison mantra: young women exploited and helpless, all the while giving in to sin, with varying degrees of pleasure after initial reluctance.

Killer Nun thrust aging Swedish sex siren and La Dolce Vita starlet Anita Ekberg – the main reason film fans flocked to screenings to see more of the beautiful actress in more ways than one- into a world of degradation and desperation. The sexual antics are a tool for her to achieve what she wants and is in full swing throughout. Couple this with her need for drugs, a slope of insanity makes Killer Nun a beautifully filmed Nunsploitaion picture; yet the film hasn’t aged well and suffers like much of ilk to a now modern-day tameness.

Based upon a true story about a Nun working in a geriatric hospital, Sister Gertrude suffered with an addiction to morphine (due to cancer) and relentlessly killed patients, robbing them in the process to fund her morphine addiction. Taking out her own frustrations on her patients she becomes the antithesis of the veil and her religious duties, seen by Baba Yaga director Berruti whom then crafted and exploited the story as the basis for this film after seeing potential in the brutality of the crime.

KN3An excellent,delirious score supplements the carnage and is a highlight of the film offering an almost dreamlike status to the murder sequences which fits in well with the morphine thematic. During a scene where a patient is thrown from a window the repetitive pulsing sound-scape makes the sequence far more effective than it deserved adding surrealism and panic with a minimal yet aggressive sound structure; Kubrick would be proud.

Ekberg herself is noted in an interview from 2006 as taking the role as “the psyche of the nun appealed to her and was a deviation from the Dolce Vita clones that [she] was only getting offered at the time”. Her descent into addiction, madness and lust is well played throughout. She is convincing in the seductress part of the role as well as the addictive junkie personality, merging the two persona’s well and garnering both viewer sympathy and repulsion in the process. At heart this is a tale of a woman screaming out for help in a world which has unfair preconceptions about her and the life she chose to lead, both religiously and as a drug abuser/sexual deviant. It’s weirdly deep for a film of this ilk.

The supporting cast will be familiar to many a die hard Italian horror fanatic; roles from Suspiria’s (1977) Alida Valli and Nunsploitation mainstay Paola Morra help proceedings along nicely. Killer Nun is by no means a great film but it offers enough charm, flair and scope to merit a viewing. The lesbian love interest, Sister Mathieu, plays well against Gertrude as she rebukes her advances while being meticulous and cruel and she is deftly handled by Morra.

KN4Upon release Killer Nun was banned in Italy and later in 1983 was banned in the United Kingdom and, to this day, the film remains banned in Iceland. The original poster art also came under scrutiny as the suggestion depiction of a nun performing a sex act was deemed unsuitable and was amended into a subtler affair with a silhouette of Morra looking into Ekbergs seductive gaze.

The religious iconography is also another moot point, this could have essentially been the same film with Gertrude being in any position of uniform and not a nun; would it have still attracted the intended audience? For the most part yes, but Killer Nun rides the coattails of Catholicism focusing on the purity of religion using it as a tool for dissection and deviation sure to ruffle a few feathers and excite a few others in the process.

Its also undoubtedly on this list because of the connotation of the title alone; if it would have been given a release under its original language title, Suor Omicidim would the DPP have clocked it? The widespread panic and attacks by name association alone helped fuel the Video Nasty fire. Nunsploitation fans are grateful to her for rescuing this title from video.

Nunsploitation expert Nigel Wingrove submitted the film to the BBFC again in 1993 as part of his aptly titled side label Salvation, an offshoot of Redemption films. Redemption were oft victims of the heavy handed clout of Mary Whitehouse and her fear mongering lynch mob; Wingrove was granted a VHS release with 13 seconds of footage omitted.

KN6Removing two notable scenes of violence; the first a Needle in an eye sequence , the latter a depiction of Surgery on a skull which looks terribly dated upon viewing now. It is interesting to note than there are actually very few cuts compared to some of the more notorious titles on this list and that both cuts, although excessive were used to enhance the story not done for extra shocks.

The film is now available uncut in the UK from Shameless Screen Entertainment which resubmitted the film in 2006. Shameless have re-instated the cut footage from an Italian print – one which has never been dubbed into English – and this is an excellent way for people to witness the cut footage for the first time, although it does become a little distracting to have a tiny section of the film in Italian instead of using the whole Italian source. Presumably a full Italian print was unavailable or the print not of sufficient standard. Germany and USA also have fully uncut versions from Koch Media and Blue Underground respectively.

Killer Nun: perfect Saturday night viewing, before church on Sunday!

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UKHS Does the Nasty! CANNIBAL FEROX (1981)

CF1UKHS Does the Nasty!
CANNIBAL FEROX (1981)

Continuing our terrific run of special Video Nasty features, Dave Wain dissects Umberto Lenzi’s notorious jungle grue-fest CANNIBAL FEROX…

Also known as: Make Them Die Slowly

“There was no need for them. They were unnecessary… And they were evil” – Graham Bright MP

Of all the evidence that filmmakers Marc Morris and Jake West scoured through whilst producing both their Video Nasty documentaries, I think it’s the above quote that really sticks in my throat. Bright was the Conservative MP for Luton East who, in 1983, introduced a Private Members Bill that formed the basis of the Video Recordings Act. He’s also more comically known for a classic piece of television where he states that “research IS taking place, and it WILL show these films not only affect young people, but I believe they affect dogs as well”. The damning thing is it succinctly represented the views of the sneering, Daily Mail reading middle-classes, delivered by the absolute epitome of what they embody: a stuffy segment of society, out and touch and unwilling to escape the utopian island mentality that they immerse themselves in.

CF2This nasty-era level of censorship and outrage has always existed. Take Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (aka Fanny Hill), published in 1748. Considered the first erotic novel in the English language, it saw author John Cleland arrested for obscenity, with the book itself banned, seized and smuggled around countries throughout its history. Sound familiar?

Art exists to connect with our primal feelings. The medium in which it’s presented is irrelevant – paintings, literature or film. It should never be censored as all that represents is the more powerful members of society attempting to control what us commoners are permitted to view, read or watch. Like James Ferman, the BBFC director between 1975 and 1999, said, “It’s alright for you middle-class cineastes to see this film, but what would happen if a factory worker from Manchester happened to see it?”.

Though I disdain censorship of any kind, I have to say that the film I’ve chosen to discuss this week on UKHS is one I find thoroughly grim and disgusting. In fact, after watching it repeatedly over the past few weeks, I really don’t think I could bear to look at it again any time soon. Cannibal Ferox though is a fascinating piece of film-making and is – forgive the cliché – a product of its time.

CF3In 1980, cult Italian auteur Ruggero Deodato released what is perhaps the most infamous nasty of all: Cannibal Holocaust. Its notoriety is the stuff of legend, with classic tales such as its seizure by the Italian courts, and Deodato’s arrest and subsequent charge of murdering several of the actors on camera (!) now a firm part of genre lore. Irrespective of this insanity, such controversy – not to mention such iconic artwork – ensured that the film was a massive success when it hit video worldwide; so much so that Italian film producers immediately requested more of the same.

Director Umberto Lenzi was, at the start of the 1980s, a well-established journeyman whose career had managed to successfully move in time with the various genres that his homeland specialised in. From sword and sandal epics and Euro-spy cheese (Samson and the Slave Queen (1963), 008: Operation Exterminate (1965); to spaghetti westerns and giallo (Pistol for a Hundred Coffins (1968), Seven Blood-Stained Orchids (1972)), Lenzi proved himself adaptable to any style of picture. However, it was with Poliziotteschi – the Italian crime-thriller – where his directorial ability was best showcased, thanks to films like Milano Rovente (1973), Almost Human (1974) and The Manhunt (1975).

“I’m ashamed of this movie. It’s not fantasy; it’s reality. There’s a political side [to it]. It’s a bit fascist, in the deepest sense” – Giovanni Lombardo Radice

CF4By the time Cannibal Ferox came around, Lenzi already had previous form with this niche sub-genre. Some even say that it was he who started the whole Italian cannibal craze with the release of his The Man From Deep River in 1972 – a grisly little flick starring Me Me Lai and Ivan Rassimov which also found itself nasty-fied under its alternate title Deep River Savages. Cannibal Ferox begins in New York City, in the wake of a heroin trafficking scheme gone wrong. We meet Lt. Rizzo (played by Cannibal Holocaust lead Robert Kerman) who is on the lookout for Mike (Radice), the key suspect in this botched drug deal and who appears to have skipped town. Without much in the way of cohesive narrative, we then find ourselves introduced to Gloria (Lorraine de Selle), Rudy (Danile Mattei) and Pat (Zora Kerova); a trio on their way into the jungle for the purpose of completing Gloria’s doctoral thesis about cannibalism. Soon after their arrival in the tropical South American location they run into the fugitive Mike who, along with his friend Joe (Walter Lucchini), claims they have just escaped the clutches of some cannibals. Cue gratuitous mastication!

“The following feature is one of the most violent films ever made. There are at least two dozen scenes of barbaric torture and sadistic cruelty graphically shown. If the presentation of disgusting and repulsive subject matter upsets you, please do not view this film.”

CF5The first thing you see when you watch Cannibal Ferox, I’ve always treat such scaremongering warnings with a great deal of cynicism. However, with Cannibal Ferox it’s frighteningly accurate, the words “disgusting” and “repulsive” being the only suitable ones to describe this grim-natured movie. The animal cruelty present I find far worse than Cannibal Holocaust. There’s a coati being (very slowly) strangled by a snake with the camera staying fixed on it as it squeals in pain. Radice states that the Italian crew stopped and refused to film any more of the scene until the animal was aided to safety. Elsewhere we have a monkey being attacked by a jaguar, an iguana fending off a snake, a live turtle having its head and legs chopped off and a crocodile being killed and eaten by natives.

It’s depressing viewing, and while most the other nasties have seemed to mellow with age as some of their make-up effects become somewhat outdated, these scenes from Ferox retain the same vomit inducing ferocity as back when it was originally released. It’s not just the animal cruelty that repulses either: nightmarish scenes litter the movie, such as a woman being hung up with meat hooks inserted into her breasts, Radice’s Mike having his penis chopped off and then eaten, and also the top of his skull sliced off and his brains scooped out by the natives.

What makes the animal cruelty worse though is Lenzi’s apparent lack of contrition as he looks back on it: “I think a lot of this movie,” he states in the DVD audio commentary. “I wasn’t sure before now, but I find it very professional”. Even during these barbaric scenes, Lenzi seems to view them with an air of nonchalance in direct opposition to Radice, who, in the same commentary, squirms as he watches the picture. “We should have been forbidden to do things like this,” he says, stating how, even during the shoot, he refused to perform certain acts like killing a pig – despite Lenzi’s dogged insistence.

The irony, of course, is that Radice’s Mike is an absolute horror of a man. He’s arrogantly misogynistic, repeatedly referring to women as “twats”; he’s always on coke; he kills a native woman without any remorse – he’s a thoroughly reprehensible individual. Conversely, Radice in real life is a gentleman and he looks back on Ferox as the biggest mistake in his career. A classically trained actor who prefers the stage to the screen, Radice dismisses the film and Lenzi at every opportunity: “What you’re saying is shit, what you’re doing is shit but you have to [play it] serious,” he says, as well as, “These types of Italian directors were not renowned for working with actors.”.

CF6 Pre CertCannibal Ferox was released on VHS in the UK in 1982 by Replay Video in an uncut pre-cert version, running a little over 89 minutes. Listed as a nasty in July 1983, the later cut version had a whopping 6 minutes and 51 seconds removed from it. Resubmitted again to the BBFC in 2001 by Gold’s in the same pre-cut version, Ferox had another six seconds cut due to the sight of a small animal on the end of a rope banging against the side of a jeep. It is this version that haunts the now discontinued British DVD from VIPCO. In America, it was released uncut by Grindhouse Releasing in 2006.

Critically, Cannibal Ferox pales quite starkly in relation to Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust, the latter being a far more accomplished production. The fact that Deodato recently prepared a special director’s cut removing all the animal cruelty speaks volumes towards how he views what is contained in his watershed shocker. Cannibal Ferox, meanwhile, remains as vile as always.

Its narrative is haphazardly plotted, while the characters don’t engage you anywhere near as much as their perilous situation needs them to. Perhaps Gloria comes closest to achieving some affinity with the audience but others leave you cold, the aforementioned Mike in particular. Upon its release the horror press condemned it and it’s since fared no better; Cinema Crazed call it “clunky and tedious”, while DVD Talk say it’s “poorly made”.
Personally speaking, I first caught Cannibal Ferox on VHS many years ago as I educated myself about just what video nasties were. At the time – and in its cut form – it seemed fun; it was a badge of honour that this young horror viewer had sat through such a well-known, grisly film.

CF7 VipcoRevisiting it uncut in 2014 it’s striking how rubbish it is. The animal cruelty I had to turn away from – it’s a needless, offensive attempt at basic shock value. In many ways though, Cannibal Ferox has succeeded: thirty-three years after its release we’re still talking about it. And, as a historical document, it certainly has its place within the legacy of envelope pushing horror. It’s not to be celebrated or fawned over, however; instead one should really question if, had it not attracted the attention of the overzealous press and politicians of the period, would anyone really remember it as anything other than a footnote in Italian genre history? Probably not, and that’s the place where it’d be best left abandoned.

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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]

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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

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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

#UKHSNasty

UKHS Does The Nasty! HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK (1980)

House 1UKHS Does the Nasty!

HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK (1980)

Kicking off our very special week of Video Nasty features, Stuart Smith casts his analytical gaze over the sensationally sleazy Italian rape-revenge shocker HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK…

Also known as: La Casa Sperduta Nel Parco, Der Schlitzer, The Ripper on the Edge

“In our societies we don’t believe in constraining the media, still less in censorship.”

Believe it or not, these are the words of one Margaret Thatcher PM shortly before one of the biggest and most insane media frenzies in British history. These words would of course prove both bitterly ironic and completely worthless as politicians from all parties and a tabloid media practically foaming at the mouth went on a crusade that changed the way movies in the UK would be consumed forever, leading to the introduction of the Video Recordings Act 1984 and the Video Packaging Review Committee.

As video made its way into homes across the country, enterprising independent distributors such as VIPCO and GO Video were quick to fill the then unregulated market with lurid sex and horror epics that otherwise had fallen foul of the censor. Marketing the films using ridiculously over the top and gore-drenched cover art, it wasn’t long before they began to draw the wrong kind of attention; a mixture of fear towards this new technology and questionable political grandstanding, with the overt hypocrisies of the ‘free press’ coming to the fore. Films like The Driller Killer (1979), Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979) and I Spit On Your Grave (1978) were suddenly all scapegoats for every social and political ill that Britain, at the time, was then experiencing: a handy distraction for a government up to no good!

House 2It was a difficult and crazy period, with certain unfortunate distributors landing themselves in jail for stocking certain tapes and for supposedly depraving the minds of the general public. It all sounds ridiculous in hindsight, but in the early eighties the confusion and the constant evolution of the political landscape meant that it was a very real possibility that the police were going to raid your local video store.

After a few years of headlines and assorted prosecutions, a final banned list of thirty-nine titles emerged (whittled down from seventy-two targetable ones). All successfully prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act, they became something of a shopping list for a whole generation of horror fans. Hunting them down on often bootlegged video cassettes, it was rebellious, dirty and wrong… But it had to be done if you wanted to be in the club. Some of these Nasties have become acknowledged classics (Last House on the Left, Zombie Flesh Eaters); others have rightly almost vanished into obscurity (Mardi Gras Massacre (1978), Night of the Bloody Apes (1969), and several pushed the boundaries of taste and common sense (The Beast In Heat (1977), SS Experiment Camp (1976); each one though is a curious monstrosity that every British horror fan should still seek out.

One such film is Ruggero Deodato’s La Casa Sperduta Nel Parco, or House on the Edge of the Park as it’s better known. Made in three weeks straight after the directors much more famous Nasty Cannibal Holocaust (1980), it was quickly eclipsed by its bigger, more popular cousin. Whilst Cannibal Holocaust was a sprawling horror epic about the evils of the media, House on the Edge of the Park is a taut, claustrophobic affair that deals with the class system and boasts one very skewed moral compass.

House 3Like Cannibal Holocaust, it’s an extremely confrontational movie but it is arguably much more representative of what it really means to be a ‘Nasty’. Featuring a roll call of Nasty-era talent like David A Hess (Last House On the Left), Giovanni Lombardo Radice (aka the most mutilated man in cinema history) and Cannibal Ferox’s (1981) Lorraine DeSelle, it was most obviously conceived as a straight up exploitation film; not surprising given that it was written by Gianfranco Clerici and Vincenzo Mannino of New York Ripper (1982) fame. It was ripe for the fledgling UK video market when it first reared its ugly head in 1983, but – just as its clear inspiration Last House On the Left was – it was made by a director with more smarts than your average exploitation hack. A mixture of social commentary and cynically vicious incident, House on the Edge of the Park is very much a film of two halves but one that must be seen if the impact of these films in their pre-VRA days is to be understood.

Giving the viewer no time to settle in, we’re immediately hit with a Blitzkrieg opening: Alex (Hess), driving through New York, forces a young woman off the road. He then forces himself into her car where he proceeds to assault, rape and strangle her. It’s raw, brutal and unpleasant, and pushes upon the viewer its antagonists mind set. The film then changes gear for a while as Alex and his simple minded friend Ricky (Radice) are invited to a party by a rich young couple whose car they have helped fix. Once at the party sexual tensions and social politics begin to play out and it becomes more and more apparent that the hosts are mocking the two interlopers, seeing them as their lesser. The naïve Ricky in particular is exploited as he just tries to have fun. Alex however is wise to it: sharp and dangerous, he quickly turns the tables on the party goers and an escalating tide of rape, mutilation and violence soon follows.

House 4The first half of House on the Edge of the Park is a brilliantly paced and extremely tense affair, one that could rightly exist alongside other key rape-and-revenge films like the aforementioned Last House on The Left and I Spit on Your Grave. However it differs in one key respect to those films and it is here where it stands apart, becoming something much meaner and crueler in tone: it tells its story almost entirely from the point of view of Alex. From the start we’re inside his head, seeing the world through his eyes. Last House on the Left and I Spit on Your Grave both tell their stories from the point of view of the victims and, despite their obvious exploitation roots, use their atrocities to make some sort of moral point regarding the destructive nature of violence and revenge.

House on the Edge of the Park though wallows in the damaged mind of its antagonist and at times seems to take as much perverse pleasure in all the terror and violations as Alex himself does. Take the film’s opening scene: by starting with such an incredibly brutal opening and showing Alex’s true colours so soon, the film lays its cards unflinchingly out on the table, and leaves everyone watching in one very awkward and edgy position. Knowing who – and what – Alex is and what he is capable of so early in the film means that every scene after that is dripping with his potential for violence. We know it is going to come at some point, but we don’t know when. It’s incredibly tense.
Unfortunately, once Alex’s straight razor comes out and the violence starts, the film spirals out of control and it inevitably becomes the same kind of nasty trash that much of the first half manages to avoid.

House 5 skyline adIt becomes difficult to defend it beyond the fact that it is very well made, its mixture of illogical seductions and sex scenes leading to an utterly ridiculous and painfully patronising twist ending that feels like a desperate last minute add on: a trite justification for all the terrorisation and assault that has preceded it. It also becomes hard not to concede accusations of misogyny as the film hints the women in the film are all ‘asking for it’. This is particularly evident in the introduction of Cindy (Brigitte Petronio). Coming late to the film, she exists solely to be abused and mutilated, offering nothing to the overall action, and the suggestions that she is under age renders the film’s finale all the more obnoxious. Becoming a victim of its own intentions, there is no escaping that despite Deodato’s skill as a filmmaker it’s one deeply unpleasant movie.

House on the Edge of the Park’s part in the Nasties scandal was a little more clandestine than some of the more famous titles. A permanent member of the Director of Public Prosecutions’ obscene list, it was the film used by then BBFC patriarch James Ferman as an example of how difficult his job was becoming: he’d regularly screen the film at various debates to outline the extremity of material which was flooding the country. What is particularly interesting about this is how it exposes the arrogance and hypocrisy of a select few in thinking that they have the right to decide what is and isn’t safe for everyone else to view. Considering the film’s themes of social division and hierarchal contempt too it’s somewhat ironic that Ferman would use it, suggesting instead that he was more scared of the under-classes being able to choose and think for themselves than he was bothered about protecting them.

I can’t in good conscience recommend the film to anyone. It is at times complex, and it indeed hints at a better, more intelligent film under its surface, but it quickly becomes a ruthless and degrading experience that even the most hardened horror fan would struggle to justify. It is though what a good Video Nasty should be: confrontational, morally ambiguous, dirty – even just a little bit dangerous. When Alex remarks to his captives, “No one tells Alex what to do!”, he could easily be speaking for a generation of film fans such as myself that refused to let the law get in the way of our viewing habits.

House 6 vipcoEven thirty years on there’s something wonderfully anarchic about it all and House on the Edge of the Park’s anything-goes attitude is a fitting example. The scandal itself may seem relatively quaint today, with assorted extreme horror now readily available mostly uncut on the high street. But these were game changers and the fine line they walked helped shape the way in which all home entertainment in the UK was packaged, presented and consumed. Video Nasties kicked the door in, invaded your home and gleefully tortured and raped the moral fibres of a nation then-desperately repressed.

 

House at the BBFC:
The Film’s British Censorship History

⦁ 16th March 1981: Rejected outright for cinema release

⦁ 1983: Released UNCUT on video by Skyline in 1983. Subsequently prosecuted and banned

⦁ 1st July 2002: Resubmitted by Protected Ltd. for release by VIPCO. Classified 18 with a whopping 11 mins 43 secs of cuts: “Cuts required to several sequences of sexual violence, humiliating depictions of female nudity and gross violence, in accordance with BBFC policy and guidelines.”

⦁ 26th September 2011: Resubmitted again by Argent Films Ltd. for DVD release by Shameless. Classified 18 with 42 secs of cuts: “ Company required to make cuts to one sequence of sexualised violence in which a razor is traced over a woman’s naked body after which her body is cut with the razor. Cuts required in accordance with BBFC guidelines, policy and the Video Recordings Act 1984.”

Get it uncut: There are multiple uncut editions available from various non-UK sources. It is also readily available on youtube…
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Follow Stuart on twitter @StuartSmith17
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