Saturday, September 30, 2023

Viewings: September 2023

When Harry met Julie! Steve De Jarnatt's forgotten eighties thriller Miracle Mile may have bombed at the box office, but no film has put me on such an emotional blast wave like this in ages. Still feeling the fallout weeks later. Diamond of the month for your host.

Recent notable standouts were Talk to Me and The Passenger, which renewed my hope for films in 2023. Both William Friedkin and Father Amorth will probably be rolling over in their graves, but I enjoyed Russell Crowe as the famous Italian exorcist riding around on his Lambretta in the rollercoaster horror The Pope's Exorcist.



Blood and Black Lace (Mario Bava, 1964)

2+5: Missione Hydra (Pietro Francisci, 1966)*

Carry on Screaming! (Gerald Thomas, 1966)

Cruising (William Friedkin, 1980)

Night Ripper! (Jeff Hathcock, 1986)*

Gor (Fritz Kiersch, 1987)*

Miracle Mile (Steve De Jarnatt, 1988)*

Edge of Sanity (Gérard Kiköine, 1989)*

Rush Week (Bob Bralver, 1989)*

In the Cold of the Night (Nico Mastorakis, 1990)*

Slumber Party Massacre III (Sally Mattison, 1990)

Sorority Slaughter (Gary Whitson, 1994)*

A Gun for Jennifer (Todd Morris, 1997)

The Midnight Meat Train (Ryûhei Kitamura, 2008)

Insectula! (Michael Peterson, 2015)*

Crucible of the Vampire (Iain Ross-McNamee, 2019)*

Influencer (Kurtis David Harder, 2022/2023)*

Maid Droid (Rich Mallery, 2023)*

No Hard Feelings (Gene Stupnitsky, 2023)*

The Passenger (Carter Smith, 2023)*

The Pope’s Exorcist (Julius Avery, 2023)*

Talk to Me (Danny Philippou & Michael Philippou, 2022/2023)*



Neverwhere (Dewi Humphreys, 1996)

Mastermind - Episodes 1 - 5 (Bill Wright, 2023/24)*

Neighbours - Episodes 8903 - 8910 (Reg Watson, 2023)*


*First time viewings.


Dada Debaser Notes:

  • Copped Mario Bava's Blood and Black Lace on 4K UHD this month and it cements my opinion of it being one of the most beautiful films. It also happens to be one of the best gialli, in my opinion.
  • Insectula! is a micro budget homage to fifties era sci-fi/horror creature features, and mostly fails at it. Arielle Cezanne made the film watchable, though.
  • Carry on Screaming! proved to be an infinitely better written comedy than the painfully unfunny recent shite that I had to endure in No Hard Feelings.
  • Revisited the BBC fantasy mini-series Neverwhere this month. Didn't realise the actors who played Johnson and Toni from Peep Show were in it.
  • Don't really blame Oliver Reed being sloshed in the Conan style fantasy film Gor. Horrifically bad. Apparently, the sequel is even worse!
  • Didn't fall in love with Edge of Sanity, but I did appreciate Anthony Perkins gurning in emo make-up in this Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Jack the Ripper mash-up.
  • Only watched In the Cold of the Night because one of Bob Morton’s coke whores (the fit one) was the femme fatale in it. Mastorakis' attempt at a De Palma erotic thriller is largely soporific, but it's well shot and the curveball sci-fi finale redeems it slightly. Feel like I might be one in only half a dozen people on the planet to identify the obscure UK rap song which sampled the film's dream sequence theme.
  • Not seen Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey, but Maid Droid is the worst 2023 film for me this year. Inclined to believe the producers blew their entire budget (and their wads) on the French maid uniform that Faith West wore for this poor production.

In other media: I've been casually reading Quentin Tarantino's book Cinema Speculation; the chapter on Don Siegel's Dirty Harry (1971) is both fascinating and educational, despite me disagreeing with QT's opinions half the time; and I've been watching the most insane animation since Mad God (2022); the viral phenomenon Skibidi Toilet (2023):

Skibidi Toilet
Alexey Gerasimov AKA DaFuq!?Boom! (2023)

Thursday, September 28, 2023

The Sisters of No Mercy

A Gun for Jennifer (Todd Morris, 1997)

Travel back in time with me to the mid-nineties, where lads mags reigned supreme and feminist pop anthems were tailor made to gullible young girls by corporate fat cats, but for fellow psychotronik film heads, they might have chanced upon the mere whisper of A Gun for Jennifer (1997). Part of the New York underground film scene, Morris' film is a grimy faux-grindhouse actioner that harkens back to Abel Ferrara's early films and Jim Van Bebber's Deadbeat at Dawn (1988). A Gun for Jennifer is a punk, feminist fantasy that's far removed from the attractive doll squads you might find in a Ted V. Mikels or Roger Corman production. What we have here are the spiritual daughters of I Spit on Your Grave's dick-severing protagonist, Jennifer Hills. A Gun for Jennifer is a mean and scuzzy film that embodies the dirty New York grunge from the seventies and early eighties.

Co-written by its titular lead, Deborah Twiss, who you might recognise as the hot for teacher Mrs. Zane from Kick-Ass (2010), she managed to include her personal experiences when she worked as a dancer in a strip bar into the film. Additionally, these were followed up with her personal fantasies of beating up unruly and way too handsy patrons. One scene in particular creatively shows where to put a pool cue where it doesn't belong. Based on interviews by Twiss, much of the screenplay was written by her, other than the cop scenes which were penned by Morris. The end result is a staggeringly violent vigilante film.

Abused runaway housewife Alison (Deborah Twiss) comes to the big city of dreams and finds out everything in New York ain't always what it seems when she's assaulted by a couple of low lifes intent on raping her.  She's saved by a vigilante squad of women led by their misandrist and psychopathic leader Jesse (Freida Hoops). She's forced to pull the trigger on one of her muggers and become part of the murderous crew, otherwise it's a similar fate for her. Thus, Alison adopts the name Jennifer as her new reborn incarnation and adjusts to life working as a strip bar waitress in The Widows' Den. Her extra curricular activities involve going to punk gigs where a top less band singer pulls out a prosthetic dick from her pants that she mutilates with a knife, and constantly being caught in the crossfire of her gal pals' escalating shooting sprees. The finale involves an ultra bloody shootout with some big time Jeffrey Epstein type villain and his heavies.

Revisiting this film in a post #MeToo world has brought about two interesting observations I hadn't noticed before: A Gun for Jennifer goes against the popular belief held by various prominent film critics that the vigilante subgenre is tailored towards a right wing audience; also, how crazy is it that a crude and thoroughly cartoonish indie film from the nineties contains a better grasp of female character writing than the indestructable Disney princesses who undeservedly reign today?

Despite its notoriety, A Gun for Jennifer is a relatively obscure film, but it seems like the movie gods have smiled upon your host's wish list with another accurate prediction as Deborah Twiss spilt the beans over a forthcoming release from Vinegar Syndrome (although, she was wrong about the July release date, sadly). Either way, it's more a gift than a curse, as it's one of those really sought after films that I'm thankful I still own on DVD. Cue a massive influx of horrendous attention seeking reviews by social media narcissists when the eventual rerelease does occur, however. 

A Gun for Jennifer (Trailer)
Todd Morris, 1997

A Gun for Jennifer is very much a rough diamond, but essential viewing for anyone that might be interested in nineties indie film and bloody violent cinema.

Sunday, September 24, 2023

I Can Fix Him

The Passenger (Carter Smith, 2023)

It's frustrating when a talented actor like Kyle Gallner, who made me an instant fan of his after the superb Dinner in America (2021) -  Dada Debaser's film of the year, winds up in minor bit part roles for mainstream, overrated trash like Scream 5 (2022) and Smile (2022). Thankfully, Gallner has had a chance to flex his acting talents in a few indie flicks this year, and one of which is this compelling psychological thriller by Carter Smith, better known for helming the enjoyably gory plant horror The Ruins (2008).

Following a short prelude scene where an elementary school teacher is bleeding from her eye, The Passenger (2023) fast forwards to a small town burger restaurant, one that looks equally as grotty as its stale burgers, where we're introduced to our film's protagonist Randy Bradley (Johnny Berchtold). Randy is a shy and introverted young employee and is often bullied by a fellow co-worker. Life doesn't seem to be much better at home, either. On this fateful day Kyle Gallner's Benson, also a staff member at the squalid restaurant, steps out into the car park and retrieves his shot gun from his car. The result is a blood bath with Randy forced to help clean up the gory mess, along with taking a road trip as Benson's hostage.

During the course of the off screen manhunt, Benson sees Randy as a bizarre social experiment in identifying his problems and goading him into rectifying them. The Passenger is first and formost a character study into two deeply troubled individuals. Both of which having endured past childhood traumas. Throughout the few hours they have together, the film successfully displays essential insights and compelling character developments for its two lead characters. Much of the film's success can also be attributed to Berchtold and Gallner's acting talents, but Smith film has a constant threat of spontaneous violence bubbling along throughout the its run time - obviously due to the burger restaurant massacre scene at the start of the film.

Always fun when a film manages to play with the viewer's predictions and The Passenger toys with the concept that Benson might be an imaginary character in Randy's head à la Fight Club (1999). The question is raised and answered surprisngly quickly and serves as an early twist to a played out revelation. Refeshing, that it outsmarts my second-guessing.

Immensely entertaining seeing Benson, a highly volatile psycho, act as life coach therapist to Randy. In all fairness, there's a method to his madness. He successfully manages to provide closure for many of Randy's problems, it's just done so in such an extremely unorthodox manner. This really made the film such an enjoyable experience.

How ironic is it that The Passenger, a Blumhouse Production feels like an A24 film, while Talk to Me (2023/2023), an A24 film, exudes obvious Blumhouse vibes? Not that I'm complaining or anything, as I'm hugely thankful that indie gems, regardless of their origin, are rising to the top in a year when bloated mainstream productions have either been flopbusters or products of manufactured hype like the insufferable Barbenheimer media blitzkrieg.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Jez the Two of Us

Can you believe it's exactly twenty years to the day when the cult classic British sitcom Peep Show (2003 - 2015) first aired on British TV?  To the unintitated, the series focused on the lives of two former university friends sharing a flat in South London. The pair: Mark Corrigan (David Mitchell) and Jeremy "Jez" Usborne (Robert Webb) would often provide access to their intimate thoughts and opinions via offscreen internal monologues and POV shots from their eyes to the audience. This would in turn amplify all the awkward and cringeworthy scenarios in the lives of its two losers. This pathetic odd couple, nicknamed the El Dude brothers, would also share their true contempt with each other on a regular basis.

It wasn't enough that Peep Show would contain two iconic morons like Mark and Jez, it also boasted a veritable rogues' gallery of halfwits, nutjobs and other losers. Legendary supporting characters would include: Super Hans (Matt King) - Jez's best drug addicted mate and fellow band member; and Alan Johnson (Paterson Joseph) - the Gordon Gekko style senior loan manager at Mark's place of employment, JLB Credit. Both of whom deserving enough to have their own spin-off shows, in my humble opinion.

Ten Personal Highlights from Peep Show:

"There Ain't No Party Like a Super Hans Party!"

Gog Being Threatened

"The Last Beamer Out of Saigon"

Jez Eats a Dog

Johnson's Indecent Proposal

Jez and Mark #MeToo Matt

Mark's Pooing

"People like Cold Play and voted for the Nazis!"

Rainbow Rhythms

 Ballet Shoes, Squarepusher CD & Whiz

Not sure which I find worse at this point in time: the current time on the Doomsday Clock, or the continued threat of a U.S remake of Peep Show being in the works. You can change the original theme to an American one, but Peep Show will always irrevocably be a British comedy and thus much of its core humour and its many nuances would be lost in translation; just like that horrible version of The Inbetweeners (2008 - 2010). Is nothing sacred?

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Talk to the Hand

Talk to Me (Danny Philippou & Michael Phillippou, 2022/23)

The problem with Gen Z horror films is the tendency for it to be writtern or directed by a much older hack with a misconceived notion of what makes the TikTok generation tick. Resulting in either a poor modern update to an established franchise, or a generic cut and past new IP - both of which populated with a thoroughly reprehensible entourage of "relevant" characters. Fortunately, co-writers and co-directors, the Philippou brothers avoid this problem with their paranormal horror film Talk to Me (2023) as they've managed to flesh out successful characters and a compelling premise which is accessible to older heads like myself.

You would think that a a macabre hand with supernatural powers of serving as a conduit to the otherside would be kept under strict observation by science boffins in a secret lab rather than an alternative to spin the bottle at Aussie parties. The object in question is nothing more than a parlour game for stoned and intoxicated teens. Filming your mate summon an undead spirit and watching him do hilariously embarassingly acts whilst being possessed, like snogging the dog or bashing their skull in on household furninture, makes for a top night for Aussie zoomers. All in all, these different scenarios really make the audience feel like they're attendees at these soirees.

Credit to Sophie Wilde, who plays Mia with a degree of complexity and manages to avoid the trappings of many of her peers by handling grief in a rather professional and convincing manner. For such a young and relatively unknown performer, she does a sterling job. She comes as a refreshing alternative to the typical Mickey Mouse Club noname divas in made for Netflix and Shudder horror film shite, in my opinion. Despite her character's flaws, Wilde manages to present Mia as a likeable invidual in the film; which says alot when you include some of her dodgy actions later on.

The lore is what ultimately makes this film appealing. There are rules presented early on and the Philippous adhere to it throughout. Combine this with its young and believable cast and an intensely atmospheric setting full of dread, and you have a film which evokes similiar qualities to David Robert Mitchell's It Follows (2014); making this a winner.

Despite its plaudits, I've found A24 to be very hit and miss film production company. It's more or less Blumhouse for hipsters, or the first port of calling for nursery level cinephiles after growing up on a diet of Disney swill movies. However, every now and then, A24 does deliver a gem and Talk to Me is definitely one of them. The film's success is obviousy indebted to its cast and crew, but it deserves a shoutfor spotting some fresh talent and putting them on my radar. Keen to see where the Philippous along with Wilde will go from here. Perhaps these figures might signal a new wave in Aussie horror eventually, who knows?

Monday, September 11, 2023

Love and Rockets

Miracle Mile (Steve De Jarnatt, 1988)

2023 have proven to be a year where I still haven't uncovered everything the eighties has unleashed in terms of films which appeal to me. Steve De Jarnatt's thriller Miracle Mile (1988) is the latest example of this. It's not often when a film discovery has me dwelling on it days after the end credits have scrolled by.

De Jarnatt's script for Miracle Mile was completed in 1979 and spent much of its time in the eighties languishing around as one of Hollywood's greatest unmade films. The script was once considered for The Twilight Zone (1983) movie, but it never came to be. Big studios were interested in producing the film and offered a higher budget, but the changes they demanded would have ruined the tone and plot of the film. De Jarnatt managed to eventually helm his baby the way he wanted it, but at a much lower budget. The end result is a powerful and heart-wrenching film that deserves a spot in the Alternative Valentine's Day Movies list.

The film misleadingly kicks things off in the guise of your typical, vibrantly colourful, eighties rom-com where Harry (Anthony Edwards) meets Julie (Mare Winnigham) at L.A's  La Brea Tar Pits. It's love at first sight. Hitting things off so well, the two arrange late night date. In true film farce fashion, a power outage caused by Harry's discarded cigarette, leads to him oversleeping and missing the date. Well past the arranged rendezvous time, Harry dashes to Julie's place of work, an all-night diner,  and leaves a message for her via the payphone (because not everyone owned a mobile phone back then, kids) outside hoping she'll call back. What follows is the mother of all wrong numbers once he picks up the ringing phone: an impending nuclear strike is about to occur. 

Watching how events snowball out of control is part of the film's allure. It focuses on Harry and Julie's plight throughout the whole ordeal, but it certainly feels like some of the supporting characters have experienced their own personal hellish experiences between their first onscreen introductions and reappearances. There's also the recurring question whether the phone call scenario was all a random prank that Harry fell for. Indeed, Harry even doubts himself when he sees the cost of all the panic and hysteria that he has achieved spreading the news around L.A. like wildfire. What's even more remarkable is when the film eventually answers this all important question, the survival of the film's hapless couple becomes an even greater concern.

Miracle Mile (Phone Call Scene)
Steve De Jarnatt, 1988

Miracle Mile is an impressive, yet chilling film, blessed with a sublime score by Tangerine Dream. The switch from an apparent rom-com to apocalyptic thriller deliberately puts the viewer on the wrong footing. Each precious moment appears to happen in real time, with Harry being the main anchor point. Once the pivotal phone conversation rolls on screen, the film never lets go. It's an intense and compelling viewing experience - even after revisiting it a couple of days later. The neon-lit signs and colourful fashion choices might date it as an eighties film, but that's also applicable to the very real mind state of World War III kicking off at any moment. De Jarnatt manages to capture that latent woe and fear that we've been trying not to depressingly dwell on for much longer than a minute. Pitting that fear factor in the confines of a romance story is oddly riveting. The end result is a film that feels like a mash-up of After Hours (1985) with Threads (1984), which puts it amongst my fave films discovered this year. Much like Miracle Mile's onscreen couple eventually tieing the knot decades later, why did I leave it so long?

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Foul Feet Smell Something Horrible

Carry on Screaming! (Gerald Thomas, 1966)

Two era defining institutions in British cinema that happen to be favourites for your host are Hammer Film Productions and the Carry on... franchise. Peter Rogers, producer of the latter, would often release films which would parody popular trends at the time, and in the mid-sixties, Hammer's sumptuously colourful gothic horror films were ripe for some lampooning. The result would be Gerald Thomas helming Carry on Screaming (1966), arguably the best film from the beloved film franchise.

With the absence of the legendary comedic actor, Sid James, a leading and highly charismatic fixture in the majority of the Carry On... films, the role of the lead, Detective. Sgt. Sidney Bung, was offered to Harry H. Corbett, better known as playing one half of the rag 'n' bone collective in the classic British sitcom Steptoe and Son (1962 - 1974). Corbett wasn't the only actor making their one and only appearance in the franchise as the role of Valeria Watt, the vampish femme was played by the smokey voiced Fenella Fielding. Both of their debuts was such perfect casting, you would probably be shocked to learn they weren't first choices originally. Of course, the supporting cast, comprised of regular Carry on.. luminaries such as Kenneth Williams, Jim Dale, Joan Sims, Bernard Breslau and Peter Butterworth. Along with those actors, there are also scene stealing cameos from Charles Hawtrey and Jon Pertwee.

Visually, the film captures Hammer's gothic eye candy with acute perfection. The set locations like the Watt's Bide-a-Wee Rest Home and its surrounding woodland area, look they could have come from Terence Fisher's Dracula Prince of Darkness (1966) which was also released in the same year. Along with the costume and prop department also following through with replicating Hammer's distinguishable aesthetics and you have a film that perfectly executes in its design brief. Outside of the comedy, the only real distinguishable difference is the absence of any Kensignton Gore.

Considering it throws various features such as Frankenstein's monster type missing links, an Egyptian mummy, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde potions, a House of Wax style theme and various other elements into the mix, you would be forgiven for thinking that Talbot Rothwell's screenplay might have been a complete mess on paper, but it all gels together superbly well on-screen. It also helps that the humourous dialogue is penned better than any of today's overrated film comedies. One example is this exchange between four of the film's characters which is pure poetry to your host and why Talbot Rothwell’s scripts ought to be taught in English Literature classes to the masses:

Det. Sgt. Bung: A young lady has disappeared and we're anxious to trace her whereabouts.
Dr. Watt: Oh? Whereabouts?
Det. Sgt. Bung: Hereabouts.
Albert Potter: At ten o' clock.
Det. Sgt. Bung: Or thereabouts.
Constable Slobotham: In this vicinity.
Det. Sgt. Bung: Or roundabouts.
Constable Slobotham: We're police officers.
Albert Potter: Or layabouts. 
Absolutely love the scene where Harry H. Corbett and Peter Butterworth as the bungling police officers attempt to put the various clues together and produce one of my favourite lines in the film.

The Carry on... films might be seen as dated and problematic today, and as such, they’re often treated as guilty pleasures or mistakenly overlooked for lacking any intellectual or artistic merit. Carry on Screaming proves its naysayers wrong for the reasons already stated. The only guilt I've ever felt over the film was the error in forgetting to include it in my Desert Island Blu-Ray Discs post. Carry on Screaming! is a certified classic in British film and ought to be given the credit it truly deserves.