TV Spot: The Avengers “Head Count”


We’re just a month away from the release of Marvel Studios’ long-awaited superhero team action film The Avengers. It’s a film that’s been many years in the making with five other Marvel Studio films released prior to it introducing the many characters who will form the ensemble for this project.

It’s not going to be much of a surprise to see many tv spots and on-line releases of 30-second clips to help hype a film that needs no more hyping. While it seems all these incoming tv spots just rehash the same scenes from the several trailers already released once in awhile we see a quick new scene that should help excite the fan-base even more. This time around that new scene is one of the Hulk himself taking on a couple of Loki’s alien army. All that is missing is the Hulk saying “Hulk Smash!” as he simply smashes one of these alien bastards.

The Avengers (retitled Avengers Assemble to differentiate itself from the awful The Avengers film adaptation of the British spy tv series of the same name) will have it’s world premiere on April 11, 2012 in Hollywood with a general wide release on May 4, 2012 starting in the US.

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Grindhouse Classics : “Blood Feast”


Tell me, friends, have you ever had — AN EGYPTIAN FEAST?

It doesn’t matter how you answer that question, the important thing is in how you ask it. You’ve gotta get all bug-eyed, swerve your neck outwards like a crane, and pause dramatically between  “hand” and “an” before raising your voice for the final three words. Then you, too, can look and sound just like Mal Arnold, the decidedly non-Egyptian “actor” (and I use that term loosely) who plays Egyptian serial-killer/caterer in director Herschell Gordon Lewis’ 1963 classic Blood Feast, and know that you’ll be faithfully imitating a slice of movie history.

And no, I don’t take the phrase “movie history” lightly — but in this case it most certainly applies. Which is not to say that Blood Feast is in any way a good film — heck, in many respects it isn’t even really a competent one (wait, didn’t I just refer to it as a “classic?” — bear with me, all will be explained), but for what it did, and when it did it, well — like it or not, it really does represent a couple of important firsts.


And speaking of firsts — first, a bit of a plot rundown, not that such a thing is really all that necessary. A nubile young female strips down to take a bath while listening to a radio report about a series of brutal, unsolved killings in her area. She gets naked, opens up a book called “Weird Ancient Religious Rituals,” lays back in the tub —and is hacked to pieces by a freaky-looking intruder of vaguely foreign appearance, who leaves what’s left of her to  slowly bleed to death while he makes of with her amputated leg.

Cut to the catering shop of one Fuad Ramses, the killer from the previous scene (no mystery here folks, sorry!), who is conversing with a customer, one Mrs. Dorothy Fremont (Lyn Bolton), who is planning a birthday dinner for her daughter, Suzette (eventual 1963 Playboy Playmate of the Year Connie Mason). Ramses suggests an Egyptian feast (hence our opening quote), and Mrs. Fremont agrees that would be a lovely idea given that her daughter is taking a night class on Egyptian history and culture.

The cops, led by one Detective Pete Thornton ( Lewis regular William Kerwin, operating here under the pseudonym of “Thomas Wood”) are hot on the trail of the killer, of course. We’re informed that the “entire force” is working around the clock on tracking the psychopath down, and even though said “entire force” apparently consists of only two guys, they follow the leads they’ve got pretty well, and those leads —- uhhmmmm — lead them to the aforementioned Egyptian studies night class, where our good detective takes an instant liking to our Ms. Fremont The Younger. Of course, in between trying to make time with the wealthy young socialite, he’s still got a case to work, and a couple more bodies (of the female variety, naturally) pile up, one with its tongue removed, the other sans its brain (both shown in lovingly agonizing detail by Lewis, with the tongue scene especially being a standout for hardened gore-hounds to this day — and yes, the rumors are true, they used a sheep tongue procured from a local butcher shop), and of course both unfortunate ladies are connected with that apparently-cursed night-school class (which makes you wonder why everybody doesn’t just drop the course, but I digress).

Anyway, as events play out, clues finally lead the cops right to Ramses’ doorstep — or, more specifically, to the back room of his shop, where he’s got an impromptu shrine set up to the supposedly Egyptian goddess of death, Ishtar. The ever-enterprising Fuad is apparently attempting to serve up a bunch of body parts from different victims to people at the Fremont party as a cannibalistic sacrifice to his savage goddess  in order to facilitate her reincarnation upon the Earth into human form. Or something. And he’s got Suzette in mind as his final victim. Or to be Ishtar’s new human hostess. Or something.

I suppose none of it really matters because Fuad walks with a comically over-pronounced limp and isn’t gonna get too far once the cops show up (he makes it into the back of a garbage truck in his feeble escape attempt and is compacted therein, with Thornton intoning that he ended up exactly where he belonged because he’s nothing but human garbage anyway — whoops, sorry to give away the ending), and it’s not for its gripping and dramatic story that anyone cared — or, for that matter, still cares — about this movie anyway.

Nor, frankly, is it due its performances, most of which fall below even community theater standards,  that Blood Feast is still talked about to this day . Oh, sure, Arnold’s all kinds of fun if you can get past the blatant offensiveness inherent in the idea of a guy of course being a bloodthirsty maniac because he’s disabled, vaguely effeminate, and even — gasp! shudder! — an immigrant. He’s clearly playing the whole things for laughs (as is Lewis himself, for that matter), but the same charitable view really can’t be extended to the truly awful non-acting of Connie Mason, whose “talents” were best summarized by HGL when he famously said “I’ve often thought that if one took the key out of Connie’s back, that she’d simply stand still” — nor to Bolton, who, if anything, is even worse in her turns as Mason’s cinematic mother. Neither actress emotes in the slightest, nor are they aware enough of their own shortcomings to intentionally over-do things — they’re just basically reciting dialogue, and not even doing that very well.

So what does at leave us with? Why, surely the answer’s right in the title — blood, and lots of it (and specially-concocted blood at that — Lewis didn’t care for how any of the standard-at-the-time stage blood looked on camera, so he had a local Miami (like most of HGL’s flicks, this was lensed in the South Florida area) cosmetic company come up with a new blend just for this film that he would end up using on all his subsequent efforts — on the plus side it was entirely edible, on the minus side the base ingredient was Kaopectate) . And brains. And tongues. And entrails. And limbs. But mostly, just lots and lots — and lots! — of blood.

All of which is pretty much standard stuff these days, of course, but it certainly wasn’t back in 1963. This is well and truly the first “gore film,” and while that fact has been justly acknowledged by the horror community at large, what’s less talked about, but no less true, is the fact that Blood Feast is also the first modern slasher film. Oh, sure, Lewis and producer David F. Friedman make a big deal of pointing this out on numerous occasions on the occasionally-self-congratulatory-but-on-the-whole-pretty-lively-and-enthralling commentary track that accompanies this film’s DVD and Blu-Ray releases from Something Weird Video (it’s presented full frame with mono sound and also includes the standard “Gallery Of Herschell Gordon Lewis exploitation artwork” that all these come with), but for some reason the largely-self-appointed gatekeepers of horror-dom don’t seem to want to go there. It’s almost as if they’re willing to give Blood Feast some “props,” but not too many. You want us to admit you were the first gore flick? Fine. We can do that. But the first slasher? No way. We’ve gotta save that for a more “respectable” picture, thank you very much. It’s gotta be Halloween. Or Black Christmas. Or —

Well, folks, I’m here to call bullshit on that. Horror on the whole is already marginalized and ghetto-ized by the (again, largely self-appointed) arbiters of all that is right and good in “mainstream” cinema — to see the same thing done on a “micro” level within horror fandom itself as is done to the genre on a more “macro” level reeks of hypocrisy of the highest order. Let’s give Blood Feast its due. I’m not here to tell you it’s a great example of the slasher subgenre, or frankly even of the gore subgenre, but it did ’em both first, and everyone who came along later owes a debt of gratitude to what Lewis and Friedman did here, even if they didn’t necessarily do it all particularly well. Besides, numerous and readily-apparent flaws aside, this is good, solid, brainless fun. If more horror flicks were to put their various pretenses aside and just embrace the sense of good-time movie-making that Blood Feast positively revels in, maybe — just maybe — the genre as a whole wouldn’t find itself in the mess it’s in today. Just a thought.

Poll: Which Films Are You Most Looking Forward To Seeing In May?


For last month’s poll results, click here.

Below, you’ll find the poll for May.  As always, you can vote for up to four films and write-in votes are accepted and welcomed.  Vote once, vote often!

6 Trailers To End March With


Hi!  It’s Saturday and that means that it’s time for yet another edition of Lisa Marie’s Favorite Grindhouse and Exploitation trailers.  Enjoy!

1) The Omega Man (1970)

“Charlton Heston IS the Omega Man!”  This movie is the second of three film adaptations of Richard Matheson’s classic novel I am Legend.

2) Last House On Dead End Street (1977)

This film is reportedly one of the most purely grindhouse films ever made.  It’s also next to impossible to see.  The Trash Film Guru has seen it and I’m insanely jealous.  As for this trailer, it’s short but rather effective.  It’s also perhaps the hundredth trailer to feature the “It’s only a movie” tagline.

3) Deranged (1974)

“A man so obsessed with death that he became…DERANGED!”

4) Equinox (1970)

I own the Criterion edition of this film.  It’s actually kind of fun in its own silly way.

5) Vengeance of She (1971)

This is a Hammer film.  I love how increasingly excited the narrator gets as he talks about vengeance.

6) Endgame (1983)

Finally, let’s end this entry with yet another look at a post-apocalypse future.  From the iconic Italian director Joe D’Amato, it’s Endgame.

Film Review: Grey (dir. by Darshan Patel)


I want to take a few paragraphs to recommend a 20-minute film that I recently saw.  The name of the film is Grey and it can be viewed here.

Grey is a harrowingly honest but ultimately hopeful film about depression.  Opening with Raphael sleeping on his couch while his wife Lea lies alone in their bed, Grey is a near-documentary look at a couple whose lives are currently ruled by depression.  While Lea spends her days in bed (getting up only to close the curtains), Raphael struggles to carry on with his life.  He goes to work, he exercises in the park, and every day he comes home and tries (unsuccessfully) to get his wife to eat.  Though Raphael obviously loves his wife, it’s obvious that he’s nearly at the end of his rope. 

Speaking as someone who has to deal with depression her entire life, I can say that Grey gets it right and for that, I’m thankful.  Far too often, cinematic depression is just portrayed as just a plot device, a condition that has a very specific cause and, therefore, a very specific solution.  Though Grey gives us some hints as to what exactly has triggered Lea’s depression, it very wisely leaves the reason for her condition ambiguous and instead, it focuses on the day-to-day experience of both Lea and Raphael.  It acknowledges and illustrates the fact that depression affects more than just the person who is depressed while never playing down just how difficult it is to find oneself trapped in that condition.  Grey perfectly captures the strange stillness that comes with depression and the numbness that results from it. 

In the pivotal roles of Raphael and Lea, both James Parsons and Chiara Grioni give strong and sympathetic performances but the real star of the film is director Darshan Patel.  It’s a difficult thing, making a film about depression that is both honest and watchable but Patel has managed to largely succeed.  Wisely, he takes a hand-held, almost documentary-like approach here that allows us the viewer to make up our own minds regarding what we’re watching.  Instead of manipulating us to make us feel sorry for Raphael and/or Lea, he instead casts us in the role of detached observers who can do little more than simply watch life unfold.  As a director, Patel captures the feeling of isolation that comes with being depressed and, even in the scenes where Raphael interacts with others, you’re left with no doubt that he’s a man who feels that, without Lea, he is totally alone in the world.  I think the scene that most vindicates Patel’s technique is in the disturbing scene where Lea matter-of-factly considers slitting her wrists.  A lesser director would have played the scene with a lot of ominous music and flashy editing and the end result would have been a lot less effective than Patel’s straight forward approach.

In the end, Grey is the perfect title for this film.  Too often, films about depression either give into melodrama or they provide a bunch of easy answers.  Anyone who has ever had to deal with depression knows that the truth is never quite as simple.  Depression truly is a state of being grey, a state of being where the only feelings are ones of numbness, apathy, and hopelessness.  With an unflinching eye, Patel captures that feeling in this film and, it is to his credit, that Grey ends on a note of hope that feels totally earned. 

If you’ve ever suffered from depression or if you’ve had to deal with and/or take care of someone who suffers from depression, you’ll find Grey to be a powerful film and one that deserves to be seen.  You can watch the film for yourself here.

A Roughie With Lisa Marie: Scum of the Earth (dir. by Herschell Gordon Lewis)


If there’s any exploitation director that deserves a critical re-evaluation, it’s Herschell Gordon Lewis.  Over the course of two decades, Lewis dabbled in every genre of low-budget filmmaking and even invented one with his 1963 “gore” film Blood Feast.  Many film critics tends to dismiss Lewis as being one of the worst directors of all time.  I would argue that, far from being the worst, Lewis was a unique filmmaker who, working with low budgets and mainstream support, always managed to create movies that had their own unique cinematic aesthetic.  Much like the great French director Jean Rollin, Lewis made dream-like films that — though initially dismissed for their lack of slick production values — have managed to survive the test of time and remain as interesting and oddly watchable now as the day they were first released.  That certainly not the accomplishment of “the worst director of all time.”

(Add to that, the worst director of all time is Garry Marshall.  Seriously, New Year’s Eve will be forever tainted, thanks to Mr. Marshall.)

Though Lewis is best known for his “gore” films like Blood Feast and the Gruesome Twosome, he dabbled in just about every genre of film.  Last night, I watched one of his non-gore films,  Scum of the Earth.  Filmed in 6 days in 1963, Scum of the Earth was released at the same time as Lewis’s better-known Blood Feast.

“Only an alert society can protect itself from those who prey on the weak — the scum of the earth.” — Closing Narration of Scum of the Earth.

Like many of the classic grindhouse film, Scum of the Earth presents itself as a warning to mainstream society about the evil lurking just underneath the facade of normalcy.  In this case, that evil is the “dirty picture” underground and the film starts with a montage of various “teenagers” selling pictures of a topless woman.  I like to think that, with this little pre-credits sequence, Herschell Gordon Lewis establishes that Scum of the Earth is nothing less than a black-and-white, low-budget version of The Wire.

Much like The Wire and Traffic, Scum of the Earth goes from showing us how the product is distributed to showing us how and why the product comes into being in the first place.  Mr. Lang (Lawrence Wood) is a cheerful man who spends his time sitting in a small office and sending out his henchmen, evil Larry (Mal Arnold) and the moronic Ajax (Craig Maudsplay), to distribute explicit photos of the innocent victims that he lures into his sordid web. (Indeed, they are truly the scum of the earth…)  The pictures are taken by disillusioned artist Harmon (Thomas Kerwin) and most of them feature Sandy (played by Sandy Sinclair).  It’s quickly revealed that both Sandy and Harmon hate what they’ve become but they’re both being blackmailed by the jovial Mr. Lang.

However, Sandy’s pictures are no longer selling as well so Lang offers her a proposition.  Sandy can retire from the business if she recruits a replacement.  For the rest of the 72-minute film, we watch as Sandy and Harmon recruit innocent Kim (played all wide-eyed and breathless by Vicki Miles) who desperately needs 500 dollars to be able to pay her college tuition.  Oddly enough, that’s the same way I paid my college tuition which, incidentally, was a lot more than 500 dollars.

Anyway, Kim soon finds herself in over head because 1) she’s incredibly stupid and 2) she’s dealing with the scum of the earth.  If Kim stop posing for topless pictures, she knows that copies will be sent to her kindly but slow-witted father.  (“You’re the best father I ever had!” Kim tells her dad at one point.)  Even worse, Ajax and Larry want to take some pictures of their own with her.  Whatever is a girl to do!?

 As a director Herschell Gordon Lewis has always struck me as being a bit of American Jess Franco.  Much like Franco, he made film that can charitably be called terrible.  Between performances that ranged from histrionic to living dead and a filming technique that seemed to mostly consist of little more than turning on the camera, it’s easy to dismiss Lewis and his films.  It’s only on repeat viewings — after you’ve gotten a previous taste of the Lewis aesthetic — that you start to notice that quirky details and the occasionally inspired visuals that give evidence to the fact that Lewis does not deserve his reputation for being one of the worst directors of all time.  Even in an admittedly lesser work like Scum of the Earth, there’s enough intentional strangeness to hold your interest.  To cite one example, the villainous Mr. Lang appears to love toys and he gives quite a few of his evil speeches while looking down at two nodding bobble heads.  As static as the majority of the film is, the final chase (in which two police officers pursue the portly Mr. Lang through a rather slummy strip mall) is a lot of fun to watch.  The best visual in the film comes when Kim is posing topless for the first time and Lewis gives us a shot, from her point of view, of the oppressively bright lamps shining down on her and casting the rest of the studio into total darkness.  It’s a scene that is full of genuine menace.

The cast is full of actors who will be recognizable to anyone who has seen any of Lewis’s other films.  Out of the cast, William Kerwin comes the closest to giving an actual performance, bringing a real sense of sadness and regret to the role of Harmon the Photographer.   Kerwin also appeared in Blood Feast, playing the dedicated cop who pursues the evil Faud Ramses who was played by yet another Scum of the Earth alum, Mal Arnold. 

In Scum, Arnold plays Lang’s henchman, Larry.  In 1963, Arnold was 30 years old and he looked like he was 40.  However, he was cast here as a character who tells everyone that he meets that he’s under 17 and therefore, he doesn’t have to worry about going to prison for distributing dirty pictures.  Or, as Arnold puts it, “Not me, Daddy-O!  I’m a minor!”  What makes this especially amusing is that in Blood Feast (which was, again, released that same year), Arnold is playing a character who is 5,000 years old.  What also makes Arnold’s performance as Larry enjoyable to those of us who are familiar with Lewis’s cinematic career is that Arnold essentially gives the same over-the-top performance here that he would later give in Blood FeastI kept expecting him to ask Kim if she wanted an Egyptian feast.

However, the film truly belongs to Lawrence Wood, who plays Mr. Lang with such an insane joy that it’s impossible not to root for the sleazy old pornographer.  Whether he’s giggling as a toy monkey somersaults across his desk or he’s politely explaining why nothing is actually his fault, Wood appears to be having such a good time that it’s just infectious.  Wood’s best moment comes when Kim expresses some reluctance about modeling for more pictures and suddenly, Mr. Lang starts to shout at her about how she (and all the other kids) are hypocrites.  “You’re damaged merchandise and this is a fire sale!” he shouts as sweat streams down his face and Lewis zooms in for a close up of his mouth, “You’ll do what I tell ya!” Wood screams, “Do you hear!?”  It’s a scene of lunatic genius that, in the best tradition of both Herschell Gordon Lewis and the grindhouse in general, comes out of nowhere and is all the more effective because of it. 

For this scene alone, Scum of the Earth deserves to be seen.

Song of the Day: One Day More (by Claude-Michel Schönberg & Alain Boublil)


This coming December 2012 will see another stage musical make it onto the big screen. It was in 2004 that Joel Schumacher first brought The Phantom of the Opera to the big-screen as a musical. For 2012, it will be Academy Award-winner Tom Hooper who will be bringing the musical Les Misérables to the big-screen with a star-studded cast that includes Hugh Jackman in the role of Jean Valjean and Russell Crowe as his arch-nemesis Inspector Javert. It’s also from this musical that I chose the latest “Song of the Day” with the ensemble piece that ends Act 1: “One Day More”.

It was Les Misérables the musical that first introduced me to the world of musicals. Prior to having seen the touring production which stopped over in San Francisco during the late 80’s and early 90’s I always thought of musicals as just not my thing even though I never truly witnessed one. All that changed when I saw Les Misérables and I have been hooked since.

One of my favorite songs from the musical was the ensemble piece that ends Act 1 and brings together all the players introduced in the first act. It wasn’t just the whole cast singing but how they sang as each character were given voice and as the song reaches an epic crescendo to curtains closing everyone joins in a rousing chorus with overlapping lyrics from different main players that at first sounded confusing to follow, but was still understandable.

Most musical nowadays rarely go for such grand closing before intermissions. Listening to “One Day More” shows me that its a lost art but when done well it comes off as amazing.

One Day More

VALJEAN
One day more!
Another day, another destiny.
This never-ending road to Calvary;
These men who seem to know my crime
Will surely come a second time.
One day more!

MARIUS
I did not live until today.
How can I live when we are parted?

VALJEAN
One day more.

MARIUS & COSETTE
Tomorrow you’ll be worlds away
And yet with you, my world has started!

EPONINE
One more day all on my own.

MARIUS & COSETTE
Will we ever meet again?

EPONINE
One more day with him not caring.

MARIUS & COSETTE
I was born to be with you.

EPONINE
What a life I might have known.

MARIUS & COSETTE
And I swear I will be true!

EPONINE
But he never saw me there!

ENJOLRAS
One more day before the storm!

MARIUS
Do I follow where she goes?

ENJOLRAS
At the barricades of freedom.

MARIUS
Shall I join my brothers there?

ENJOLRAS
When our ranks begin to form

MARIUS
Do I stay; and do I dare?

ENJOLRAS
Will you take your place with me?

ALL
The time is now, the day is here!

VALJEAN
One day more!

JAVERT
One more day to revolution,
We will nip it in the bud!
We’ll be ready for these schoolboys
They will wet themselves with blood!

VALJEAN
One day more!

M. & MME. THENARDIER
Watch ’em run amuck,
Catch ’em as they fall,
Never know your luck
When there’s a free for all,
Here a little `dip’
There a little `touch’
Most of them are goners
So they won’t miss much!

Students (2 Groups)
1: One day to a new beginning

2: Raise the flag of freedom high!

1: Every man will be a king

2: Every man will be a king

1: There’s a new world for the winning

2: There’s a new world to be won

ALL
Do you hear the people sing?

MARIUS
My place is here, I fight with you!

VALJEAN
One day more!

MARIUS & COSETTE
I did not live until today.

EPONINE
One more day all on my own!

MARIUS & COSETTE
How can I live when we are parted?

JAVERT(overlapping)
I will join these people’s heros
I will follow where they go
I will learn their little Secrets,
I will know the things they know.

VALJEAN
One day more!

MARIUS & COSETTE
Tomorrow you’ll be worlds away

EPONINE
What a life I might have known!

MARIUS & COSETTE
And yet with you my world has started

JAVERT (overlapping)
One more day to revolution
We will nip it in the bud
We’ll be ready for these

Schoolboys

THENARDIERS (overlapping)
Watch ’em run amok
Catch ’em as they fall
Never know your luck
When there’s a free-for-all!

VALJEAN
Tomorrow we’ll be far away,
Tomorrow is the judgement day

ALL
Tomorrow we’ll discover
What our God in Heaven has in store!
One more dawn
One more day
One day more!