Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Book Review: Charles Manson Now by Marlin Marynick

**(out of four stars)

I just finished reading Charles Manson Now by Marlin Marynick. I thought this book was gonna be another "Manson type" money maker, discussing only the murders and bringing nothing new to the plate. There are tons and tons of books about what happened on August 9th 1969. This read is slightly different.

Marlin Marynick is a psychiatric nurse who obviously deals with many who suffer from different disorders. Marlin considers himself an outsider and is more intrigued with the darker side of life. He gives us insight into his early life, including his mother commiting suicide when he was a young boy. But the first link to his fascination with Manson came when he was ten years old. While playing one afternoon, Marlin found a copy of Helter Skelter lying in an abandoned house. How could you not be fascinated? Remember all those interviews with Manson, all wide-eyed and crazy, making weird noises and abnormal faces. Who wouldn't be fascinated with another human being like that? Although you mustn't condone what the man is about, it's highly unlikely that you'll turn that dial when he's on the tube.

Marynick embarks on a journey that eventually ends with his first face-to-face interview with Charles Manson. Along the way, he meets and corresponds with some of Manson's dearest friends inside and outside the walls of Corcoran Prison in California. One friend in particular is Stanton LeVay, the grandson of Satanic church founder, Anton LeVay. Stanton claims that the Tate murders were actually ordered by the Church of Satan. Tex Watson, Susan Atkins and Charles Manson were said to be former members.

The book is littered with Manson's own writings. We get a glimpse of a different kind of individual that we're used too. In fact, this book sheds an entirely different light on "The Most Hated Man in America". Marynick portrays Manson more as a human being rather than the monster that the media has painted for us the past few decades. We're introduced to ATWA (Air, Trees, Water, and Animals). This is a group, or plan designed by Charles Manson to save the planet from dying. Manson seems to be quite the activist from behind his cell. The murders are discussed, yet Manson continues to maintain his innocence, as he has since the summer of 1969.

And although this book is about Charles Manson, it's more about the adventures of Marlin Marynick as he approaches his meeting with Manson. Ultimately, Marynick is more interested in his friendship than that of the hype and hysterial that follows Manson's existence.

All in all it's a compelling read, although I would've had this book edited a little better before being printed.

Written by: Marlin Marynick
Published by Cogito Media Group

Monday, July 25, 2011

Dark Asylum (2001)

***(out of four stars)

Even though you may not have seen Dark Asylum, you've definitely seen this type of film before. There's really nothing new here. Your basic slasher formula plays out like this:

A serial killer known as "The Trasher" is terrorizing a city and disposing the bodies of his victims in dumpsters and back alleys - hence the name "The Trasher". Eventually he's apprehended and held at an asylum for the criminally insane. Maggie, (Pauline Porizkova) is a Psychiatrist and is now in charge of running a psychological evaluation to see if "The Trasher" is to be kept in an asylum or if he should receive the death penalty. The serial killer eventually escapes and causes havoc throughout the hospital, killing anyone in his path.

There are a few names and faces you'll notice in this little flick. First, Larry Drake, who effortlessly portrays "The Trasher". Man, this dude is very intimidating in this role. His facial expressions, his silent demeanor and his massive body type are good enough to let me know that this dude is a bad ass. Once this killer is free to roam, you'd better be on your best game - which most of the hospital staff are obviously NOT. This guy will stop at nothing to be freed from the asylum. Can I say again, that Larry Drake is one scary dude. I wish he'd get more roles like this one. He's really effective and a highly underrated actor.

The second most noticeable face is that of Judd Nelson. Judd plays Quitz, another inmate in the hospital, but not at all dangerous. In fact, when the shit hits the proverbial fan, he's the one who helps Maggie through the entire ordeal. I don't know if he means it or not, but Judd naturally brings a comedic element to any role he plays. He's quite the charming actor. He's very good in this little unknown slasher flick.

Pauline Porizkova holds her own with the two men above. I'm not really that familiar with her, but I remember always thinking that she fit the role right in this film. Her character is constantly menaced by "The Trasher", but later also has to protect her daughter from the serial killer when he escapes the hospital. Although most of these characters are pretty much one dimensional, they're quite effective in all their efforts. Remember it is a slasher film and we should never expect to much. They're supposed to be fun, cheesy and bloody...

But wait! The blood! The gore! If you're a gore hound then you'll be sadly disappointed in this film. Most of the kills are off screen and very little blood is shed. However, if you can look beyond that, you might find this film as enjoyable as I have. Larry Drake is still menacing whether or not the blood factor is involved.

Which brings me to my next point. I'm not really sure why I like this film so much. It is a pretty standard film. Besides Judd, Pauline and Larry, the acting could be a little better. However, I over looked that aspect of the film and just went with it. I think the predominate reason why this film works for me is because it came out at a time when horror was on life support. Very few films that came out at the end of the 90's and the beginning of the 2000's are worth mentioning. When I first saw this film, it just entertained me. I've always liked it. That's all there is too it. I remember seeing it on HBO when it first came out. It's just a great time and I find myself revisiting it more often than not. And hey, if you can rewatch a film, how bad can it possibly be?

Like I said, there is nothing new here to mention. The film is what it's supposed to be: a slasher film. And in my opinion, a good one. Check it out!

Starring: Pauline Porizkova, Judd Nelson and Larry Drake

Written by: Gregory Gieras and D.B. Smith

Directed by: Gregory Gieras

83 mins


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Magic (1978)

***(out of four stars)

Anthony Hopkins plays Charles "Corky" Whithers, a struggling comedian turned ventriloquist. His new act is successful with Fats, his dummy. Corky suffers from multiple personality disorder and is slowly letting Fats control his life. Even behind the lime light, Fats and Corky hold conversations together.

Burgess Meredith plays Ben Greene, Corky's agent. Ben is sure that he can get Corky his own television show. However, his client will have to undergo certain psychological testing before the project gets underway.

Fearing that his mental capacity will be out in the open and realized, Corky finds seclusion in the Catskills mountain, where he ultimately reacquaints with his high school crush, Peggy Anne. The two spark a relationship and sleep together one evening. Duke, (Ed Lauter) is the husband of Peggy and one time friend of Corky's. He's sure that Peggy has been unfaithful and becomes enraged. There's a scene where Duke takes Corky out on the lake to do some fishing and confronts his old friend about the supposed affair. Not only is it awkward for Corky, but it's also a fear that Duke may uncover something beneath the surface of the lake. Thus exposing his murderous intent.

Corky does end up killing on the command of his dummy, Fats. The kill scenes are pretty good, but they're not blood and guts gore. This film plays on more of a psychological level.

The acting in this film is beyond good. Anthony Hopkins is great as the ventriloquist and often spent much time with the dummy behind the scenes. There is one story that says Hopkins took the dummy home, then called the crew to get rid of the dummy because it was freaking him out. (I wonder how much time it took the actor to accurately portray his character?) We are sure that Corky and Fats are one in the same. However, there are scenes in the film that make me think that Fats has a mind of his own. Fats begins to slowly take over the life of Corky and often instigates murder. He completely controls him in every aspect. The striking resemblance between Fats and Hopkins is uncanny.

I often wonder at what point Hopkins' character begins to spiral out of control. Has he always been crazy or is it the dummy that helped the disorder into fruition? I feel that the character always struggled with the possibility of "failing", much like any artist would. Failure is a constant, nagging problem and Corky seems to fear failure above everything else, including his sanity.

None of the relationships in this film are cohesive. On one hand you've got Peggy, who has become disenchanted with her husband Duke. The marriage is failing, and although Duke is still in love, that love is not reciprocated. Then, you have the affair with Peggy and Corky - at first just sexual - but delves into something more passionate and with meaning. This attempt at love is ultimately failed by the relationship between the jealous, dummy Fats and Corky. Fats (or Corky) will do anything to keep Peggy out of the mix.

When you watch this film, you should realize its genius. There are different aspects to this film that keep the questions coming, yet answer very few. Even the bleak ending is a topic for a good debate. I guess it's up to us (the audience) to decipher those differences. This is a must see film!

Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Ann-Margret and Burgess Meredith

Screenplay by: William Goldman

Directed by: Richard Attenborough

107 mins


Sunday, July 17, 2011

Three on a Meathook (1973)

*1/2 (out of four stars)

Three on a Meathook is a film that I used to pass on the video store shelves as a kid. The cover art always intrigued me and pulled me in right away. There's nothing like those 70's and 80's box art covers. Just the thought brings me back to the glory days of the Mom and Pop video stores of old.

Believe it or not, I never did pick up Three on a Meathook back in the old days. Instead I always rented some other forgotten classic. But recently, (two days ago) I received this little Ed Gein inspired film in the mail. With high expectations, I sat back and pushed play on my DVD player.

I'll start off by saying that those expectations weren't meant. At first glance you can tell that the DVD I got was a real bad transfer from the original VHS. But that's the least of my troubles.

The film is about Billy (James Pickett) and his Pa (Charles Kissinger), a family who lives in a secluded farmhouse. Billy's Ma died years ago, and Pa is a bit over protective and not privy to the young whores that Billy brings home one night after their vehicle takes a dump. After Billy brings them home, the girls call it a night and hit the sack. One by one they are picked off while they sleep, via a few shotgun blasts. One girl is hacked up in the bathroom while she bathes. So far, so good. Typical of these type of films.

In the morning, Billy is stunned to find out that all the girls are dead. And when Pa blames the massacre on Billy, he's reluctant to hang around. He drives off in his pickup and heads to the city, where he finds himself in a bar, listening to some horrible 1960's band called, Xpress. There's a long scene with this band as they play live in the bar... really annoying and nothing you'd catch me listening too. While Billy's drowning his sorrows in alcohol, a beautiful young waitress named Sherry (Sherry Steiner) befriends him. The two eventually end up in the same bed together; the same night they meet. Kudos to young Billy! Then, you find out that Billy didn't even score, they just stayed in the same bed together. Take back those kudos.

Who cares? Eventually Billy starts to take a fondness to Sherry and he invites her up to the farmhouse. Not the best idea in the world. Sherry insists on bringing her friend Becky (Madelyn Buzzard).

What follows is more slaughter, more hillbilly banter, some bad acting and women hanging from meathooks. Oh yeah, and a twist ending that is obviously taken from Psycho.

The film had an estimated budget of 20,000 dollars, but looks more like a budget of about 10,000 dollars. Writer/directer William Girdler was a prolific directer as far as his work was concerned. From 1972 to 1978 he stayed busy directing horror and action films. Before his untimely death in 1978, Girdler had completed nine features. His life came to an end in a helicopter crash while scouting locations for his tenth feature. His biggest financial success came with the Jaws replica, Grizzly.

Just like the films The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Psycho, Deranged and Silence of the Lambs, Three on a Meathook was inspired by the real life, Wisconsin killer, Ed Gein.

I'm not really sure why this film just didn't work for me. It definitely has the feel of a bad, B-type 70's film, but it lacks the raw, gritty power that TCM garnished. And while it tries to remain faithful to the real life material, it lacks the brilliance that Psycho had.

Don't worry though. Some of you may find something in this film that I didn't. My position isn't to stray you away from it, but rather let you know that there are tons of films, based on the same idea, that do it better.

I guess my expectations from my childhood were set too high.

Starring: James Pickett, Charles Kissinger and Sherry Steiner

Written and directed by: William Girdler

80 mins


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Tales from the Crypt Episode: Top Billing

****(out of four stars)

Top Billing is a Tales from the Crypt episode from the third season. The original air date was back in June of '91

John Lovitz plays Barry Blye, an unattractive actor looking to win a role in any film. His looks are always holding him back. But lately, Barry's luck is turning out to be worse than usual. His girlfriend is leaving him, his agent has no faith in him and the roles that he seeks are far reached.

With little hope left, Barry inquires about a role as Hamlet held in a run down theatre in the butt hole of NYC. Turns out that Winton Robbins (Bruce Boxleitner), is also there to audition for the role. Winton is better looking, but according to Barry lacks acting talent. Winton and Barry have a bit of history. Winton is looking to out shine the starving actor once again, like he did many years ago. That is Winton's only objective; to prove to Barry that he's better. A grade "A" dick move.

Once inside the theatre they meet the eccentric cast of Hamlet and the overly obsessive director of the play, Nelson Halliwell (Jon Astin). After a brief meeting with Nelson Halliwell, Barry is hurt to find out that Winton will win the role. Once again, Barry's look prove to be the downfall for his success. He just doesn't have the look for the part!

Out of jealousy (or desperation), Barry kills his nemesis by strangulation. He then tell Nelson Halliwell that Winton had the worst case of stage fright he's ever seen. This opens the door for a new talent to play the role of Hamlet.

Like most of these episodes, the twist is the key. It turns out that the role that was won wasn't for the part of Hamlet but rather for the role of Yorick. A character that has been dead for many years. This sets up the real twist, where we find out that all the actors are actually insane patients, who have killed the entire staff at the asylum which is the supposed theatre.

They kill poor Barry for the authenticity of the Yorick character.

I loved this episode and was delighted to revisit it. This episode is compiled with a bunch of great actors and a solid story. Jon Lovitz is great as the desperate actor who is willing to kill for the sake of his "art". Lovitz, known for his comedy, comes off more sympathetic in this role. There's a touch of humor, but it's played much more serious than expected. He realizes that acting is an art form and takes himself and the profession seriously. Even though those surrounding him are negative towards his ambition and efforts. This episodes has heart and at its very core shows sincerity for the art of acting. Top Billing is just one testament as to how genius the third season really is.

Other notable actors in this episode include: Louise Fletcher, Kimmy Robertson and Paul Benedict. They're all bit parts, but you'll still notice them.

Starring: Jon Lovitz, Bruce Boxleitner and John Astin

Directed by: Todd Holland

Written by: Myles Berkowitz

Original Airdate: 6/26/91

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Cat on the Brain (1990)

**1/2 (out of four stars)

Cat on the Brain is one of those flicks that took me three times to view. It was just a hard film to get into. Naturally, when the human mind can't grasp onto something that it deems "confusing", or "bizarre", we arrogantly throw it to the side - letting the film bury itself with dust. However, respecting Lucio Fulci - the director and the man - I had to give this film a fair shot.

Many fans of Fulci will name his most notable works first. Films like: Zombie, City of the Living Dead, The Beyond and House by the Cemetery have given him (like H. G. Lewis) the nickname, The Godfather of Gore. These films have also given him the notoriety that he deserves. And although Cat on the Brain is a very different film from the above mentioned, it's still one every Fulci fan should seek out.

Cat on the Brain is said to be Fulci's 8 1/2 or Eraserhead. The film is a self referential piece that depicts Lucio Fulci as himself - a director that is gradually failing to differentiate his films from reality. As his psychosis spins rapidly out of control, Fulci seeks the help from a psychiatrist. However, the psychiatrist has problems of his own. His marriage is failing, so killing is his way to vent, I guess. The Psychiatrist goes on a killing rampage (that resembles the violence in Fulci's films), and is sure that everyone will target Fulci because he makes disgusting movies. See the reference there?

I mentioned above that this movie was different from most of Fulci's other horror films. However, there is still tons of gore for all you gore hounds to feast your eyes on. The movie within the movie, depicts some of the more grotesque gore, with a chain saw as the weapon of choice. A piece of meat is cut out of a thigh from a cadaver and then fried up and eaten just like that of a succulent stake. Yummy! The psychiatrist who does most of the killing in the film has some pretty great scenes too. The gore is excellent in some of the more prominent "reality" parts of the film.

This film has somewhat of a commentary to it as well. In this movie the psychiatrist is the killer and tries to get Fulci blamed for his crimes, because of the films he makes. In interviews (that are actually on the disc from Grindhouse Releasing) Fulci clearly states his disdain for psychiatrists. It also says something about the way ordinary audience members perceive filmmakers of the horror genre. They're often looked down upon by mundane movie goers. They couldn't have emotions, could they? No, they're evil and they make trashy, sadomasochist films. I say keep making the trash and I'll keep watching.

Thanks to Grindhouse Releasing, this film is brought to you with a bunch of extra goodies. There is a "Heroic" appearance by Lucio Fulci at Fangoria's Weekend of Horrors back in '96, just shortly before his passing. There is also another great interview with the Maestro about his opinions on thrillers and horror films. It's a very candid and very straight forward interview. Any Fulci fan will love it. There's also another interview with actor, Brett Halsey. And much, much more. Let's just say Grindhouse did it right! My money was well spent.

Starring: Lucio Fulci, David L. Thompson and Malisa Longo

Directed by: Lucio Fulci

Screenplay by: Lucio Fulci, Giovanni Simonelli and Antonio Tentori

87 mins


Monday, July 4, 2011

Blood Feast (1963)

**(out of four stars)

Instead of watching fireworks on America's birthday, I sat down and revisited what most call the original "splatter film". I'm talking about non other than Blood Feast. H. G. Lewis is often credited as being the "godfather of gore". His gore epics came long before other such films as: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and glorified franchises like, Halloween and Friday the 13th. Lewis was making gore pictures before they existed. He is considered a pioneer to some and a failure to others.

In 1963, Blood Feast opened in theaters and garnished a cult following very quickly. For being a film, not like any other, it also quickly became the target of criticism. Many critics called it garbage, and they might be right. It all depends on how you look at the film itself. To me, this is why film (or any other art form) is great. It's subjective.

Lewis and partner/producer, David F. Friedman, made up most of the crew of this film. While Lewis concentrated on photography and direction, Friedman would do sound and would often play small, uncredited roles, just to stay within the film's budget. The two collaborated on a number of projects throughout their careers. Blood Feast is one of their best known efforts to date.

The film centers around Fuad Ramses, a deranged caterer, who kills his victims and uses their assorted body parts as a sacrifice to the Egyptian goddess, Ishtar. Mal Arnold plays Ramses, the wide-eyed, crazed caterer. He's often considered the first machete wielding psychopath of cinema. I'm not sure if Lewis or Friedman ever called for great performances, but Mal Arnold is over the top, as he should be. He's effective for this b-schlock, type of film. Fills the bill just right.

The better performance comes from Thomas Wood. He plays Detective Pete Thornton. Detective Thornton is on the hunt for Fuad Ramses, although he doesn't connect the dots until his Egyptian class professor fills him in on Egyptian myths. Not to sure if I'd want this detective running around trying to find a killer in my town! He's often a bit too busy trying to get it on with his love interest.

Aside from the above mentioned duties, Lewis also did the score of the film. The score has this organ, that kind of accentuates the cheesiness of this film. By all means, it shouldn't fit, but it does. It's just another oddity to the film that makes it charming, if that's even the right word!

The gore effects were good for the day. I find them quite entertaining. Limbs are hacked, tongues are ripped out and gallons of blood is spilled. The blood is like a thick red paint (not really), but that's what it reminds me of. In one scene a woman's heart is ripped out. Again, for the time, it's very effective. Lewis said that the actress couldn't hold her breath long enough for the take, so he had to use a still frame. The scene is still effective to this day, but if they had the talent that was needed, it could have been more grotesque.

Another bit of trivia comes in the editing department. Robert Sinise, father of actor, Gary Sinise, cut this film. As he was cutting the film, he asked Friedman, where such a film would be played. It was far too graphic for the generation of film goers of that time. I guess Sinise knew the film would be a bit shocking to audiences. He would be another returning member in the H.G. Lewis camp.

Going back and listening to some of the commentary by the filmmakers you can tell that they weren't taking themselves seriously. They're quick to point out the the film isn't gold, but they also knew that they were doing something that no other filmmaker was doing at that time. It's very hard to be critical of a film like this when you know the filmmaker's initial intentions. They were obviously making films for profit and didn't take the profession too seriously. Again, depending how you view that is your opinion. I'd say that what they set out to do was shock and entertain people of that time. I'd also say that they were quite successful in their endeavors. For me, anytime you watch an H.G. Lewis film, you're going to be entertained. That's just my view on it. If you watch one of his films with a serious, analytical eye, then you're going to be disappointed.

I'd say watch it. Watch it on a weekend with some friends (maybe with some booze), but if you don't take it seriously, you'll have a great time with this film. If you do take it seriously, you're missing the point and wasting your time. Whether you like it or not, there is no denying that this film paved the way for most horror films that we see today. It truly is a staple in horror cinema.

Starring: Thomas Wood, Mal Arnold and Connie Mason

Directed by: Herschell Gordon Lewis

Screenplay by: A. Louise Downe

67 mins