ALTERED STATES (1980)
1980 was the big year of Sensory Deprivation Tanks in cinema… well, there was this and Alan Arkin brainwashed into believing he’s an alien messiah in disappointing comedy ‘Simon’. So God bless Ken Russell for taking Paddy Chayevsky’s ponderous (and pseudonymous) adaptation of his own stodgy novel, underplaying the embarrassing exposition (characters here seem determined to stuff their faces full of food in order to mumble through argle bargle about biolo...gy, anthropology and the quest for ‘the original self’) to concentrate on cold fish psychonaut William Hurt’s solo voyages deep into a motherlode of trippy visuals. A great bridge between the wild ‘head’ movies of the 70s and the rich seam of early 80s genre classics that were to come.
So, that's the end of the Midnight Video Advent Calendar. Hope you've enjoyed it, and possibly found a few new oddities to check out- Thanks for joining in the fun. Enjoy your Christmas, and hopefully I'll carry on with this sort of nonsense in the new year. Cheers!
MAPS TO THE STARS (2014)
There have been plenty of savage Hollywood satires before, but Cronenberg and screenwriter Bruce Wagner take things to an eye watering new low here, and more power to them. Julianne Moore and 13 year old Evan Bird are fantastic as monstrous actors at opposite ends of their shelf lives, both of them psychotically driven to cling to the limelight. If Sunset Boulevard goes as far as William Holden face down in Gloria Swanson's swimming pool, that's noth...ing next the carnival of horrors, accidental and otherwise, on display here as the celebs and their hangers-on battle to stay on top. Mia Wasikowska as a character with a tragic mental health history provides the closest thing to a human being, or at least somebody who's occasionally honest about their aims, while half baked New Age guru John Cusack adds much needed levity... at least some of the time. Cronenberg's certainly one of my absolute favourites (okay, I've still got Fast Company and M.Butterfly to watch), but having conquered body horror by the end of the 80s it's been great to see him move towards the cerebral arthouse end of cinema, while still maintaining a consistent world view. If this does turn out to be his final movie, it's a hell of a way to bow out. For some reason the Oscars that year preferred Birdman in which a washed up actor strives against the odds to be taken seriously...
The late Tobe Hooper will always be best known for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (which comes close to beating Carpenter's The Thing as my all-time top horror film). Poltergeist and Salem's Lot also eclipse the reputation of the bonkers and VERY Cannon Films production Lifeforce, which presents an irresistible pendulum swing of underpowered AND OTT performances from its leads, a wild plot involving a naked space vampire (actually 3 naked space vampires but Mathilda May gets more screen time than her male equivalents for some reason...) and a rubber Patrick Stewart head erupting blood from every orifice. The results are like Ghostbusters played straight. Great fun, and I’ve still got Hooper’s Invaders From Mars to look forward to!
JIM AND ANDY- THE GREAT BEYOND (2017)
Jim Carrey reflects on what an astonishing douche we was during the filming of Andy Kaufman biopic Man on the Moon in 1999. Chris Smith's documentary is fascinating, though not for the reasons Carrey imagines, rambling on about the limits of creativity and being possessed by the anarchic spirit of Kaufman (and there's a real chance he means that literally). The footage looks remarkably like a habitual show off recognising that the people paying him need him more than he needs them. I re-watched the actual 1999 movie recently, and Carrey was fantastic. Milos Forman has plenty of form chronicling fruitcake trouble makers.
THE HOLY MOUNTAIN (1973)
Fans of the SF comic 2000ad might be familiar with 'D.R. & Quinch go to Hollywood' in which the troublemaking duo convince backers to finance an incomprehensible cinematic would-be masterpiece, 'Mind the Oranges, Marlon!'- this looks like the real deal, with that man Jodorowsky getting a sizeable, largely Beatle-based budget to present 2 hours of surrealism and a mishmash of cosmic symbolism. The director stars as a psychedelic Windy Miller, assembli...ng a Justice League of travelling companions to reject the material world and commit to the spiritual. The fact that this barmy epic is executed on such a huge scale means the results remain impressive over 40 years later; every few seconds some fresh lunacy pops up, and there's no question that Jodorowsky has a rare gift for striking visuals. Thankfully he also has enough of a sense of a humour to stop things getting totally buried under pretension. At 88 Alejendro’s still making movies- If Disney ask him to do a Yoda solo movie expect the results to be pretty similar to this.
THE CALL OF CTHULHU (2005)
While this short feature adapting HP Lovecraft's famous story was only made pretty recently, it goes all out to imitate a silent production of the 1920s to reflect the tale's setting, with strong results. A nested structure of flashbacks within flashbacks might be sloppy scripting, a reflection of Lovecraft's writing, or an effort to echo the madness promised to those seeking to unearth the cosmic horror of the ancient gods, but it works well as we ...stumble through one man's quest to understand his father's obsession with a lost legend. The film hops from frozen wastes to ceremonial rites in suburbia, and finally to a doomed ship and its crew discovering Cuthlhu's tomb. While the low budget means it's always clear this isn't a genuine piece of epic silent cinema, the melodramatic tone and shadowy atmosphere fit the material perfectly.
THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH (1964)
Re-watching Hammer and Amicus shockers in recent years has been sobering, not really living up to fond memories of seeing them in my early teens. Was expecting similar from Roger Corman's Poe adaptations, which I mostly remember being Vincent Price as an endless series of obsessed widowers, and folk getting walled up. The rather arty Masque of the Red Death stands out from the pack, and it's an absolute cracker. Low on gore, high on opulent design, unnerving atmosphere, power abuse & random cruelty, impending doom and a vengeful dwarf! Obviously my New Year resolutions were going to be eating sensibly and exercising, but those might now be replaced by getting reacquainted with the Corman- Poe catalogue .
HOLOCAUST 2000 (1977) AKA: Rain of Fire
Kirk Douglas is hell bent on opening a nuclear power plant in the Middle East, despite many warnings that its '7 reactors, each with 10 cooling towers' structure parallels Biblical prophecies of The Beast. This Anglo-Spaghetti horror gets extra points for aiming to rip-off The Omen, while spookily predicting plots and events from its 2 sequels- and doing a more entertaining job than The Final Conflict. It might not have the budget for a...s many gruesome dismemberments, but Douglas's infernal visions, which see him running about naked in the desert for several minutes, his 'free bus pass' buttocks on proud display, is as hard to forget as David Warner and Patrick Troughton's famous Health & Safety nightmares. If you develop a taste for this astonishing sight, Douglas was at it again in 'Saturn 3' (1980).
At this special time of year please spare a thought for podcasters urgently in need of completing their own back catalogues, so they can make old shows available online in 2018. Poor communication, outdated hard drives and general incompetence can all contribute to leaving these poor souls with enormous gaps in their archives this Christmas. If for some odd reason you still have any of the MIDNIGHT VIDEO episodes 2 through to 19 inclusive (including Soundt...rack Specials and Headcleaner editions) loitering on your PC, then our operators are waiting to take your call. Your generosity and lack of regular clean outs could bring a smile of hope to the tear-stained muzzle of Pancake, or thousands of review-starved dogs just like him, who've never heard Phil's thoughts on Lucio Fulci, or enjoyed Jim's irritation at being asked to sit through more East European SF cinema. Merry Christmas, and bless your hearts.
THE ALTERNATIVE MISS WORLD (1980) AKA I Wanna Be a Beauty Queen
If you're not familiar with Andrew Logan's regular Alternative Miss World events, imagine Alejandro Jodorowsky staging an Olympics opening ceremony. A delirious mix of art school graduates, drag queens and whoever else fancies it, get dolled up in their own deeply weird fashions for an enthusiastic crowd. This 1980 film chronicles the 1978 event with Divine (a natural choice) co-hosting, and Jenny Runacre ('My fa...vourite actor is Darth Vader') among those strutting, stumbling and crawling across the catwalk. I'm sure most of this waspish sounding, drunk bunch would make pretty unbearable company, and by all accounts the events are chaos, but the impressive designs and warped visuals (Miss Windscale Nuclear Reactor is a favourite) are frequently astonishing, capturing a stack of twisted, irreverent creativity.
LE PETOMANE (1979)
Short comedy with the wonderful Leonard Rossiter as the real life music hall act who could break wind at will, using his skill to perform impressions to packed audiences. If the set up sounds puerile, Rossiter, get the biggest laughs precisely due to the dignity and seriousness with which the character takes his profession, particularly scenes where he drags a rival through the courts with deadly earnest. Hancock/Steptoe writers Galton & Simpson find the perfect angle from which to tell the story, and keep it to just the right length (you can watch the whole thing through the YouTube link below- though the picture's a bit fuzzy). Both David Niven and Peter Sellers were keen to tackle the role but were talked out of it by their concerned agents. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8gym81fY460
Jim has been so busy with his fantastic reviews and keeping the Midnight Video spirit alive 'n' kicking, so I thought I'd attempt to contribute by uploading loads of screen grabs that I recently recovered from my Google Drive, which features some great images of films that we covered on the podcast.
Hope you all enjoy 'em. Phil
THE 7TH VICTIM (1943)
Val Lewton's dark mystery has teenager Kim Hunter heading to New York to find her missing sister, the impressively coiffured Jean Brooks. Devil worshippers are ultimately the villains but the film uses them as a hook to hang its broader concerns regarding big city alienation, predatory deadbeats, conspiracies and suicidal despair. Snooty psychiatrist Tom Conway and washed-up poet Orford Gage make an odd duo of sleuths helping Hunter, or perhaps they thankfully dilute Lewton's grim world. Somewhat marred by a toe curling speech from Conway at the end, though this is followed by a shockingly abrupt coda.
THE BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES
Caught up on my De Palma this year, following the interview/documentary the great man did with Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow in 2015- well worth a look if you've not seen it (the trailer's in the link below). The notorious 'Bonfire..' was one I hadn't seen before- I'm not sure whether the tirade of hate for this movie was due to the huge liberties it took with Tom Wolfe's popular novel (I've never read it so can't comment) or just some critical f...eeding frenzy after the famously troubled production, but watching it for the first time I found it a pretty decent dark satire. Fair enough, it feels like an adaptation, with Willis not really entering the film till its second half, playing a role originally offered to John Cleese! Kim Cattrall's extraordinary performance as Hanks' horrendously snobby wife is a stand out. Perhaps the idea that every character involved has a self-serving angle might have been too cynical for audiences coming out of the greedy 80s, but today it sits comfortably as a minor entry in the Trading Places / After Hours 'Yuppie in Peril' sub-genre.
PERSISTENCE OF VISION (2013)
Imagine if Herzog's 'Fitzcarraldo' had ended with Klaus Kinski heaving boats over mountains only for McDonlad's to step in and complete construction of his jungle opera house on their own terms. Such a fate befell animator Richard Williams -best known for 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' and Pink Panther movie titles- who spent close to 30 years working on his magnum opus, 'The Thief and the Cobbler'. Things did not end well, in no small part due to Disn...ey deciding that they liked Williams' designs and using them for their 1992 Aladdin. Kevin Schreck's great documentary conveys the energy and dedication Williams inspired in his team, and the completed footage included here is incredibly ambitious, truly dazzling, and considering it was created in a pre CGI-age the sheer logistics of getting complex, detailed sequences to work is astonishing. Again like Fitzcarraldo, Williams sounds like a man so driven by his dream that he failed to plan ahead or take care of basics, and as amazing as the animation is, a strong plot and disciplined story telling look to be fatally absent. Inspiring and heart-breaking, this 'Making of' is well worth tracking down, as are the attempted fan reconstructions (or 'Recobbled' cuts) of 'The Thief and the Cobbler' that can be found online .