Friday, August 13, 2010



I have a lot of early horror movie memories, but one of my strongest was when my dad took me to see the original ALIEN when I was 8 years old because I insisted on going.  I had read about the movie in a horror magazine, so I knew about the big gross "chest-burster" scene, and when the scene was just about to happen during the movie, I ran out of the auditorium, hid in a bathroom stall and refused to come out until the movie was over.    I didn't get to see the chest-burster scene or the last hour of the movie until years later when it came out on VHS and I was ready to handle it.


Having been terrified by Pinocchio at an early age, I was probably too sensitive for horror films, but the blood and guts and the sublimated meditations on death have always intrigued me.  The first horror film I watched through to the end was Night of the Living Dead.  George Romero shot it in locations I'd been around all my life, and in Pittsburgh, watching the film was a rite of passage; everyone knew someone who was in it.  Despite how scared I was, something about the slow, unstoppable force of the film kept me watching.  Zombies have occupied a large swath of my subconscious ever since.


I was around 10 or 11 when we went to visit my uncle in Maryland and to keep my sister and I busy while the adults hung out they let us watch a movie. She and I sat in a dark room in a strange house in the woods and watched Poltergeist. It was easily the most frightening experience I ever had watching a movie and we both still talk about how much it scared us as kids. 


My very first horror movie memory would be when I was just a couple weeks shy of my 5th birthday. Salem's Lot was airing on TV and naturally my mom wouldn't let me watch it. Just like any kid would do, I tried to find reasons to leave my room. "Mom, I gotta go to the bathroom." or "Mom, I want some water." Well it just so happened that when I left my room to go to the bathroom, little Danny Glick was very (un)dead and floating outside of his brother's window trying to get in. Needless to say, after seeing that, I actually did have to go to the bathroom. To this day, thinking about that gives me the willies. So, thanks for bringing it up. :)


The first movie that horrified me was, honestly, ET The Extra Terrestrial.  The  Loft got it as a Cult Classic once & the first half of that movie still terrifies me. The first real  horror movie I saw was An American Werewolf in London. While my mum was out, my father popped it in the VCR and asked' "If you want to watch this, you can't ever tell your mother." I of course agreed & my mind was blown. I still, to this day, can't imagine a better way to be introduced to the genre.


My first horror film memories weren't of a specific movie, but were as a kid watching World Beyond at 1030am on Saturday mornings.  If you survived the morning cartoons and didn't need to go and clean your room or help dad mow the lawn, you could watch a 'Mondo Monday-style' flick on Channel 5, the local, independent TV channel.  Watching them made me feel grown up, a little bit older; I knew a little bit more about the world.   If I remember correctly, the show's theme music was off of Pinik Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, though some have said it was Santana's Black Magic Woman.  


I saw 'Jaws' in a Corpus Christi multiplex I was about 8-9 years old, watched about 1/2 of it from the lobby, peeking through the entry doors into the theatre, and for a long time after that, being alone on a boat in shark-infested waters was THE recurring motif in my absolute WORST childhood nightmare.


The flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz scared me to death.  Also the Blob was the scariest thing ever - I was so scared that the blob would start oozing out from behind the screen.


The House on Haunted Hill (1959) is the first horror film I ever saw. I watched it with my dad on the Turner Classic Movie channel when I was probably about 4 or 5. There are a few things that really stick out in my memory- the opening scene with the screams and disembodied heads, Vincent Price and his mustache, the haunted organ, and the walking skeleton had me hiding under the covers. I remember it scaring me a lot but not wanting to tell my dad so I could continue watching movies with him. 


When I was 8 my family and I were visiting my grandparents in Michigan, and my dad decided to rent the first Nightmare on Elm Street to keep me and my cousins, who were the same age as me, occupied.  The film was bloody and creepy and scary.  Needless to say, I didn't do much sleeping on that trip. 

First Friday Shorts, August 6th, 2010 - Howard Salmon

This was a looong First Friday shorts. I must have been in the theater for over three hours. There were that many films. Tonight’s fest was a packed house, and marked the return of local cartoonist Max Cannon as MC. He started off great; he has a great repoire with the crowd, and Max seems to relish it, extending his role as MC into a sort of impromptu comedy routine that sometimes goes on a bit long. He likes to bait the crowd, and get them all riled up, which is a lot of fun…until he violates the rules of the road. As with every First Friday shorts, the rules are explained at the beginning: a film is given a chance for three minutes, and after that point, the audience can demand that it be gonged. In explaining the rules, Max made the point that The Loft is the “last bastion of democracy”, since the fate of each film rests upon the direct vote of the audience. Tonight that didn’t happen.

The first sign that something was amiss was with Daniel Haye’s film called “Fruitcake”, which is a disgusting movie where the filmmaker has about 30 bums from the bowels of New York spit loogies into a bowl of fruitcake batter. The filmmaker explained, on camera, that he was going to cook up the result, and bake it for his father (it reminded me of last month’s equally gross movie “Baked Alaska”). Well, the audience booed loud and hard for this gross disgusting movie be gonged…but the MC wouldn’t have any of it. He wanted to see Mr. Hayes’ father eat the logy-filled fruitcake (which he did). Four people in the row ahead of me got up and walked out, noticeably angry (they later returned). The crowd voted to have “Fruit Cake” gonged…but votes calls were overrided and it was let to run it’s full course! Although the ideal of pure democracy was promised here tonight, it was subverted well before intermission.

Max once again stayed the Executioner’s Gong by intervening to save the retro-styled black & white computer animated surrealist film called “Danger Elf” by filmmaker Peter Linn. The audience roared with disapproval, at length, that this brilliant film be gonged, but Max ignored the audience and let it run in its entirety “for esthetic reasons”. The filmmaker obviously impressed Max because it out-did Red Meat with the Red Meat esthetic. It was as if Max had the rug yanked out from under him in the department of weird retro computer drawn cartoons. Imagine Salvidor Dali taking over Max’s Red Meat strip and turning it into a multilayered, multivalent dream sequence that just would not stop. It evoked the originality and bizarre quality of old surrealist art without recycling any of it’s clichés: it felt very original and it went on and on and on, never getting tired, always staying interesting. It really was quite amazing. It obviously took a lot of work, but the audience hated it. The audience’s cry to gong this film was loud, long, and sustained. but Max let it play because I think he felt respect for it (as did I). However, ignoring the loud chorus of jeers was a bad call, for it was unfair to the audience.

During the latter half of this short film marathon, we were treated to something very unusual: a serious documentary (“Plaza Entraga” by Cesar Luitron), which is about photojournalists who endanger their lives when covering the drug war in Mexico. The audience sat respectfully for the entire during of the film, and when it was over, the whole theater gave it an enthusiastic round of applause! Surely this film would win the coveted $200! (‘Fraid not) In a night filled with graphic violence, sadism, rudeness, and gore, it was really nice to see someone submit a film that took life seriously.

Derek Waters gave us “Deep Waters”, which is basically a claymation video where a beach bum meets various cartoon clay-animated sea-creatures. This was good enough for national TV (on “Adult Swim”).

Stan Brown submitted “Sheep Chingon” (sp?), which was about two guys acting out an intense drug bust confrontation…in a really nice house with a swimming pool. This was all about story (and no costumes of props), and appear to be a spoof of a certain genre of tough-guy films. However, tonight the filmmaker was at a baseball game, leaving his buddy to hopefully collect the $200 prize money. Max did not speak too kindly of that stunt, and encouraged all filmmakers to who submit movies to First Fridays, to actually show up; no stand-ins.

Connor Pepper gave us “The Tea Man and the Ruffian”, which he described as “an ancient Zen tale retold”. Had the feel of an old ‘70’s styled TV show, great old ‘60’s Motown-styled music, and close-ups of people pouring tea. Maybe it was some weird story about politics today. Who knows, for it was gonged! (one of the few)

Next was Chris Keaton’s “Gathering Souls”, which was an incredibly violent and sadistic film that was hard to watch; violent and tasteless (that is, it wasn’t my cup of, blood)…except that it contained some very creative camera work, utilizing slow motion, and layered imaging effects. And to top it all off, it became a ghoul-fest, with characters chomping on each other’s necks. It goes to show you that good camera-work can save a horrible script and difficult imagery.

Daniel Geoffrey’s “The True Meaning of Life” is about a guy who spends all his money so he can watch TV for two years straight. He also pays other people to watch TV for him so he won’t miss anything. Toward the end of this movie, the filmmaker addressed the camera, saying that he doesn’t care what happens to him, for his life means nothing, so he might as well watch all the TV he can. It makes you wonder how his life would change if he turned his TV off (Oh yeah! He’d submit a film about watching TV to First Fridays!)

Bianca Rudiker entered “Zombie Guest”, which she described as a “zombie comedy with blood and guts”. Surprisingly, this was very well acted (in a campy sense), and was made with professional actors. This movie was just as good as any of John Waters’ early movies. It had the feel of “Leave it to Beaver”, but with a zombie vibe. There are a lot of very well-made movies submitted to the Loft’s “First Fridays”, but obviously, only one can get picked as the $200 prizes winner. Good job on this one, Bianca, even though it got overlooked.

Other films were, “Arizona Chainsaw Massacre” (more gore); and a very violent piece called “Payment Due” which showed some macho guy shouting and strutting around shirtless around a battered and gagged woman who was tied to a chair. When the red light shown on the gong, the audience once again roared its disapproval, and demanded the gong…but Max again grew a deaf ear. Tempers flared! People in the theater shouted remarks such as “hey bald guy!”, “gong the MC!” , and “what about democracy?!” Amidst all of the noise, I can’t even recall if the movie was even gonged.

Some guy who called himself Joke Harmonica showed a movie called “Homage” which had blurring visuals run through a “watercolor” filter, while we listened to a female voice read shameful memories, all while Joke Harmonica strummed along with a guitar. The audience listened respectfully.

The last piece was called “Reinstate the Constitution”, which was just some simple movie clips of the sky: some with clouds, some with rain, some with fireworks. It looked like it could’ve been shot on a cell phone camera. The best part of the movie, however, was the title, for it summarized the struggles between the audience and Max to decide the fate of each film. The power struggles for gonging rights can be a fearsome thing to behold.

The winning film, “The Death of My Father” (“continuing in the patricide theme” said Max) by Ari Grabb, was a black and white film that started with a kid shaving…and ended with some guys saying, over a bloody dinner, “The hamburger was my son!!”) I wish that I had more to report on this movie, but I’d dozed off for about a 30 seconds…and missed half the movie! And that was the movie that won? Ha!

Howard Salmon is the author of “Al Perry Comix”, and is the publisher of “SLIT” music & art magazine. The 30th anniversary issue come out next month. His website is

Monday, August 9, 2010

Undefeatable (1994) - Billups Allen

In Hong Kong productions like Undefeatable, it is important to suspend disbelief enough to accept that everywhere the characters go they will encounter people who know kung fu. It is an especially difficult premise to carry in suburban Maryland. Godfrey Ho directed over a hundred karate movies, many notorious for being bad. He is the Ed Wood of Hong Kong Cinema. I honestly don’t think the fight choreography is as bad as it is made out to be. Certainly not the worst I have ever seen. The fight sequences do however contain loads of unnecessary slow motion segments, arbitrary close ups, bad cutaways, and some ridiculous clothes ripping. While filming these scenes, Ho trots out every cliché in martial arts filmmaking. And when they are used up, he brings them out again. And again. And Again. 
Five time World Karate Champion Cynthia Rothrock gained notoriety as a film star in Hong Kong. In Undefeatable, she portrays a waitress who takes part in street fights to earn money for her sister’s college tuition. Her sister is kidnapped by Stingray (Don Niam).  I’m sure I don’t have to tell you he is also a karate master. Stingray, who seem to be teetering on the brink of sanity at the beginning of the film, loses his mind after his wife leaves him and begins kidnapping women who resemble her. You can tell the minute he loses it because he sprays streaks in his hair with some sort of red hair dye he got at the mall in a scene that some writer meant to be as intense a the transformation scene in Taxi Driver. As a crazed martial arts kidnapper, Stingray abducts women in some particularly public places causing some especially noticeable brawls with karate expert boyfriends. It is hard to imagine nobody would notice Stingray engaged in a full on kickboxing match in front of a shopping center in the middle of the day. In spite of his loud abductions, the police aren’t able to close in on him until they bring in a karate master who analyzes the wounds on the dead bodies and determines that the killer is using a martial arts style that only three people in the area are using. But these are the least of the convoluted ideas holding this plot together.
Undefeatable is endlessly entertaining. The dialogue is wooden, but consistently wooden so as every line comes across as a gem. The street gangs are awesome in that way where they say tough things that don’t sound tough and wear clothes that members of a street gang would never wear. The cops have the luxury of making clever observations in the middle of action sequences. The script reads as if the writers are constantly trying to dig themselves out of a previous scene. This is a movie that will keep you on the edge of your seat. It keeps you on the edge of your seat for the wrong reasons, but in the end, you won’t be able to look away.

Billups Allen’s interest in writing began composing lyrics for punk rock bands. Lyrical duties led to an interest in writing poetry and short stories. Several of his short stories were published in a book entitled Unfurnished published by Florida’s now defunct Schematics Records. Allen currently lives in Tucson, Arizona where he writes Cramhole comic zine and writes criticism for Razorcake Magazine, the Tucson Citizen, and the Tucson Weekly.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Third Man — Justyn Dillingham

Some movies are of their time and place, and stay there, but The Third Man brings its own time and place with it whenever and wherever it plays. “Of all the movies I have seen, this one most completely embodies the romance of going to the movies,” wrote Roger Ebert. “I saw it first on a rainy day in a tiny, smoke-filled cinema on the Left Bank in Paris. It told a story of existential loss and betrayal. It was weary and knowing, and its glorious style was an act of defiance against the corrupt world it pictured.” The film was shot in postwar Vienna, and it’s hard to think of any other film that captures its setting so well; after seeing it, you might find that ferris wheel and those sinister balloon men popping up in your dreams. With its dreamy, sideways shots, The Third Man sometimes looks as if it was filmed in a giant ashtray, with bombed-out buildings sticking out of the rubble like cigarette stubs.

The film, from a Graham Greene story, tells the story of Holly Martins (the always excellent Joseph Cotten), a writer who comes to Vienna to see his old friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles), only to discover that Lime is – well, that’s complicated, it turns out. As Martins sets out to discover what became of his friend, he spirals into a world of sardonic British agents, shifty-eyed physicians and an enigmatic actress (Alidi Valli, credited simply as “Valli”), all of whom had something to do with Lime’s unusual career. Soon Martins finds himself caught up in a rather more morally puzzling story than the pulp Westerns he writes for a living. He thinks he can play the good guy, but in this story, there are no good guys – and, very possibly, no bad guys.

Why is Orson Welles so universally associated with The Third Man? After all, he’s barely in the movie – his scenes, added up, probably don’t amount to more than ten minutes. Yet that’s his face beaming out of the poster, and the trailer, and the most famous shots in the movie. The movie’s unusual style – its skewed perspective and gorgeous chiaroscuro black-and-white compositions – are rather Wellesian, but he didn’t direct the film. Nor was Carol Reed, the director, a one-hit wonder; his 1947 Odd Man Out, a masterful thriller with James Mason as an Irish rebel pursued through the rainy Dublin night by British police, is just as striking and powerful as The Third Man.

Yet, somehow, it’s Welles’s presence that gives the film its greatness. (Welles, who spent his career donning fake noses and capes, played the character with no makeup; it may be the closest he ever came to appearing on screen as himself.) With another actor in the role of Harry Lime, the character would simply be a villain; instead, Welles plays him as a disarming charmer – a real charmer, not the villainous kind – and we find it difficult to condemn him. He’s the representative of everything postwar Vienna has become, and somehow still the likable all-American friend Holly Martins finds it so difficult to forget. Perhaps Harry Lime is a scoundrel and a cad, or maybe there’s a little Harry Lime in all of us. Then there’s that famous speech about how the Italy of the Borgias produced the Renaissance while the best poor, peaceful Switzerland could lay claim to was “the cuckoo clock,” a speech Welles allegedly wrote himself and which he delivers with a kind of rapid-fire grace, as if he were afraid he would stumble over words that he clearly meant to be remembered, and quoted, forever.

“When the picture came out,” Welles later remarked, “the Swiss very nicely pointed out to me that they've never made any cuckoo clocks.”

— Justyn Dillingham is a 2009 graduate of the University of Arizona.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Green Slime (1969) - Billups Allen

 The Green Slime opens with a 60s, psychedelic rock theme song that repeats the title of the movie over and over again as the chorus. That is a sure sign of an excellent film in my opinion. This low budget sci-fi movie combines all the best plot points of Armageddon (1998), Alien (1979) and Moonraker (1979). It starts with some scientists blowing up an asteroid heading towards Earth. For my money, this concept serves better as a half hour sub-plot. Then there is a “people disappearing off a space ship” plot that culminates into a “guys in space suits floating in space shooting at aliens” battle. All this is packed into a 90 minute running time.
Ex-Toho employees designed both the special effects and the monsters. By 1969, they must have been seasoned art directors. By seasoned, I mean you can no longer see the strings on spaceships and asteroids. It was a magical time for moviemaking when people weren’t concerned so much with the fact that things would burn and smoke in space. This film exhibits the best of those late 60s special effects where everything is painted with bright colors and, even though nothing looks real, the style of the film outweighs the lack of convincing special effects. The film is laden with bright colors and crazy spaceships. Besides all the plot lines from other movies, the aliens also look suspiciously like the aliens form The Simpsons. If I didn’t know better, I might be led to believe that this is one of the most influential sci- fi movies ever. Director Kinji Fukasaku directed a long list of films until his death in 2003. After his death, his son took over his last film production. How cool is that? 
The Green Slime - Monday, August 1st at 8:00 p.m.
It's MONDO MONDAYS at The Loft, celebrating weird, wild and wonderful flicks from the Mondo side of the silver screen! Admission is only $3.00, and don't forget to check out our yummy "Mondo Munchies" snack bucket ... fill a cup for a buck!

Billups Allen’s interest in writing began composing lyrics for punk rock bands. Lyrical duties led to an interest in writing poetry and short stories. Several of his short stories were published in a book entitled Unfurnished published by Florida’s now defunct Schematics Records. Allen currently lives in Tucson, Arizona where he writes Cramhole comic zine and writes criticism for Razorcake Magazine, the Tucson Citizen, and the Tucson Weekly.