Monday, June 15, 2009

Shock and Awe - The Grindhouse Experience #3 (06/13/2009)


My wife, who gamely joined me this past weekend for her first all-night Grindhouse experience with Shock & Awe #3, once asked me why I would possibly subject myself to 11 hours of films that, generally, are only notable for their rarity. Even a hardened viewer would have difficulty classifying most of the films watched as “good”, and often they often devolve into incomprehensible weirdness or sleaze in a not always pleasant way. What keeps me coming back, and why would I wear it as a badge of pride that in these three sessions I’ve yet to enjoy a moment of sleep?

I can’t really answer. Recently, Devin Faraci of wrote an article explaining that fans of horror (and, to that end, sleaze, eurotrash, blaxploitation, etc. etc.) are really the best sort of fans. One of the reasons being that we are, at heart, prospectors. Part of the joy is discovering and uncovering things, and when you finally track down something that proves itself to be good, fun or interesting, we love to share it with anyone who might be even slightly interested. The Shock & Awe marathons are not easy. You could throw together a collection of lauded horror, cult and sleaze and it would be easier, and likely more profitable, but there would be no sense of discovery. No sense of curiosity and wonder. June 13th at the Fox Theatre in Toronto, Ontario found a lot of miners searching for something a bit special and a bit different, and we certainly received that in spades.

In my reports of the previous Shock & Awes I’ve spent some time talking about how wonderful the Fox Theatre is. Vast and beautiful with comfortable seats and a truly friendly staff, there are few places better suited to house us unwashed masses for many, many hours. In between (and during) films the concessions remained open, fueling the attendees with pizza, burritos and (for myself) a bottomless cup of soda that would be my Sunday demise. A highly recommended cinema, and one I wish I could spend more time in (particularly June 21st, where they are showing Superman/Young Frankenstein/The Good, The Bad & The Ugly/Suspiria. Jeepers!).

My own group arrived at the theatre at around 10:00, and I already felt the yawns coming on by 11:00 which isn’t a great sign. We took our seats and the films began..


Hells Angels On Wheels (1967)

Before Altamont brought things to a tragic and abrupt end, America seemed fascinated with the culture of bikers and, in particular, the Hell's Angels. Easy Rider was a cultural milestone for many, but the years previous featured exploitation film-makers turning to the biker subculture, sometimes even working in cooperation with some of the more infamous gangs. Roger Corman struck it big with The Wild Angels in 1966 (with Peter Fonda) and soon after came Richard Rush's (The Stunt Man) Hells Angels on Wheels which features Jack Nicholson (who also appeared in Rush's Psych-Out (1968) before hitting in big with Easy Rider).

The film is an often fascinating "true story" look at the Hells Angels in California, actually featuring the Oakland chapter and their leader Sonny Barger in a small part. Nicholson plays Poet, a disenfranchised youth who gains the biker's respect after helping them in a fight and is soon invited to pledge. We get glimpses at wild brawls, sorta-orgies and even a Hells Angels wedding (performed by a reluctant priest played by B-movie legend Bruno VeSota) before things go sour and Poet takes on Buddy (Adam Roarke), the gang's leader, in a climactic fight that features an absolutely ridiculous ending.

Padded with musical montages and scenes of the Angels just generally goofing off (Rush admitted in a recent issue of Shock Cinema that he barely referenced the original script), Hells Angels On Wheels features about ten minutes of story in its 90 minute run-time but remains fascinating as a time capsule of the period. The bikers are shown as a tight and fraternal group, though their lack of any actual bonds (and devotion to their leader) eventually becomes too stifling for Poet. It's not entirely flattering to the Angels, and even when the audience finds themselves enjoying their exploits, a quick shot of a swastika tattoo brings you back to reality. Rush generally keeps things moving and the audience seemed to really enjoy it.


Screams of a Winter Night (1979)

A rarely interesting low-budget anthology horror film, Screams Of A Winter Night features a few creepy moments in what is an essentially forgettable film. The framing story has a group of "students" (all of whom appear to be in their 30s) telling scary stories in an abandoned cabin. As they recount their story we're shown them in action with a number of these students playing the parts.

The first story is the familiar tale of broken down car, the guy who heads out to find gas, and the eventual "thump thump" sound on the roof which terrifies the remaining female occupant. They do add a swamp-thing looking creature for good measure, but it's probably the least of the three tales. The second is one I hadn't heard about: three college fraternity pledges who have to spend the night in a haunted house. The ending doesn't quite have the oomph that it should (scary stories, like M. Night Shyamalan films, live and die by their endings), but it has some fun humor and a creepy atmosphere. The third story is simply about a virginal college girl who goes on a murder spree after killing a would-be rapist. It's choppy and pretty silly, but has its moments.

The ending of the framing story is actually quite impressive, as the cabin itself starts to get attacked by what is apparently a vengeful spirit. There are echoes of The Evil Dead here, but it's unlikely that Screams was much of an influence since it wasn't released until The Evil Dead was in production. The film features flashes of gore in its final sequence, but is really quite tame as a whole. If the rest of the film has the same energy as the final few moments, it certainly would have been a bit easier to take.


The Swingin' Pussycats (1969)

Rather important in the history of Sexploitation, the German film The Swingin' Pussycats (originally titled Rat' mal, wer heut bei uns schläft...?) is a fun romp that somehow becomes entirely incomprehensible in its final thirty minutes. Whether this is because of some scenes being excised, the result of the (awful) dubbing, or my own drowsy state I can't be sure. Either way, the plot (dealing with the Filander family who are experts at giving pleasure to male visitors, thanks to the erotic properties of the local water supply) shares a points in common with Danish Pastries from the first Shock & Awe. A big hit when originally released, which opened the door for some of the classic German sex comedies of the 70s, this one features plenty of attractive females and lots of silly humor. A lot of fun, even when things eventually get confusing.


Mystery Film (1982)

We've been sworn to secrecy as to its identity, but after some quick technical difficulties we were treated to a very, very Canadian horror film. Filmed in Quebec and featuring both William Shatner AND Michael Ironside at his creepiest, this turns out to be a rather thoughtful slasher film that features some legitimate tension and a great lead performance. Definitely worth the initial wait, and recommended for fans of David Cronenberg's early films.


Mona: The Virgin Nymph (1970)

According to the IMDB, Mona was the "first American feature-length, non-documentary hardcore pornographic movie theatrically released". Yep, as per usual the audience is treated to some six A.M. hardcore porn, and as usual this one was a bit of a mind-bender to my sugar addled brain. Fifi Watson stars as the titular Mona, who has decided to remain pure until her upcoming marriage is complete but still gladly blows anyone with a heartbeat. Her behavior stems from her father, whom we see in a highly disturbing flashback, getting the young Mona (played by Watson in pigtails) to fellate him. Ick! Despite that awful, bad-taste sequence, the film as a whole is actually rather tame. Eventually Mona's fellatio fetish is discovered by her beau, who invites her sex-pals over for a final orgy.

Filled with EXTREME close-ups and some hilariously inappropriate music, Mona played well to the Shock & Awe crowd who were distributed noise-makers for when there was Mona-ing onscreen. Needless to say, inappropriate honking made some of the longer hairy buttcrack scenes bearable.


The Return of the Living Dead (1985)

As a kid, the VHS cover for Return of The Living Dead used to seriously freak me out. Thankfully, i've seen Dan O' Bannon's Romero homage/parody dozens of times since then, and I still absolutely love it. From the tremendous punk soundtrack (featuring The Cramps and The Damned), the great character actor performances from James Karen ("It's not a bad question, Burt"), Don Calfa, and Clu Gulager, and *sigh* (mostly) naked Linnea Quigley rushing me head-long into puberty, there's a ton to enjoy here even when the crowd have themselves been near-lobotomized by nine hours of movies. Like The Toxic Avenger and Dead/Alive (Braindead) before, RofLD was a reward for making it through the evening, and those who did ate up the treat whole-heartedly.

Once again, curator Dion Conflict gave the crowd a selection of rare and obscure films of wildly varying quality, giving brief introductions to each but letting us come to our own conclusions on their respective merit. These films come from his personal collection, and I feel lucky that he's opened up his vault to showcase some sadly (or sometimes deservingly) overlooked movies that I might not otherwise have ever checked out. The next Shock & Awe is currently scheduled for November, and like an unrepentant addict I will be there fueled by caffeine and a vague sense of accomplishment. Highly recommended to film fans of all kinds.


J.T. said...

Why does nothing like this ever happen in my town?

J.T. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

i was there too. what a wonderful night of sleaze!

vive la fox theatre!