Wednesday, March 21, 2018
Will the world end in fire? Will the world end in blood? Or will the world choke itself with too many books, TV shows and movies about the END OF THE WORLD? In this episode, Chad, Mike and Steph talk about cult cinema about the end of all things and what happens after. From giant mechanized mayhem to Vincent Price burning dozens of vampire bodies to our favorite dystopias (there’s an oxymoron for ya) this episode is a fun trip through all the ways our society could eat itself and eventually die, leaving only a few sad humans left. ENJOY! Oh, and...
Our podcast can be found on Feedburner, iTunes and we're also now available on Stitcher. You can keep up with the podcast at The Atomic Weight of Cheese. Also, please Like and Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr, where we'll be posting our latest episode updates, episode specific visual aides, and other oddities, nonsense and general mayhem. Also, if it ain't too much trouble, write us a review to let us know how much you like us or how much we suck. So come join us and listen in, won't you? And be sure to eat all of your crackers. Thank you!
Sunday, March 4, 2018
There's Always Room for Giall-O :: Murder Never Looked So Good in Arrow Video's Dual Release of Dario Argento's The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) and Cat o' Nine Tails (1971)
Suffering from a terminal case of writer’s block, author Sam Dalmas (Tony Musante) goes for a post-midnight stroll in the darkened, labyrinthine streets of Rome to try and clear this mental logjam. Currently living abroad with his girlfriend, Julia (Suzy Kendall), a frustrated Dalmas is ready to chuck it all and just return home to America but his ruminations are suddenly and violently interrupted when his attention is drawn to an art gallery -- more specifically, what appears to be an attempted murder on the other side of a large picture window. Moving to help the victim, a woman, currently fighting for her life against a black-gloved and raincoat adorned assailant, whose face we never see, Dalmas winds up stuck between two panes of display glass and can only watch helplessly as the wily killer presses his attack.
Luckily, though trapped, the author raises enough of a ruckus to scare the killer away, saving Monica Ranieri (Renzi), whose husband, Alberto (Raho), owns the gallery, from certain death. Deemed a material witness by Inspector Morosini (Salerno), Dalmas’ passport is confiscated, forcing him to stay put and become a reluctant part of the investigation into a most probable serial killer, who has been murdering a string of women all across the city. Haunted by what he saw, and certain he is mentally blocking some vital clue witnessed during the attack -- lost in the confusion and adrenaline rush of coming to the rescue, Dalmas soon launches his own investigation to maybe help jog this elusive memory, which leads to a curio shop where one of the killer’s victims used to work, where he learns the last thing she sold was a disturbing painting featuring a man in a raincoat viciously murdering a young woman.
But this lead soon fizzles, allowing Dalmas to return to his flat just in time to save Julia from the killer, who once again escapes unidentified. Then, several more clues lead them back to the art gallery, where Monica is once again fighting for her life -- this time with her husband, who winds up falling off the roof as he was pursued by the police. But before he dies, Ranieri confesses to all the murders. And once that’s seemingly settled, Dalmas returns home to a darkened flat and makes a grisly discovery. And with this shock, he also finally remembers what he saw that first night -- more like misinterpreted, but it might already be too late for him, and for Julia, as the real killer finally reveals their true identity...
Like a lot of famous filmmakers, Dario Argento’s love affair and storied career in moving pictures began life as a film critic. Soon switching sides, Argento officially broke into film production as a screenwriter; most notably teaming up with Bernardo Bertolucci on the script for Sergio Leone’s classic spaghetti western, Once Upon a Time in the West (1968). And it was Bertolucci who gave Argento a copy of Fredric Brown’s novel, The Screaming Mimi, for which Argento wrote a spec-script for, even though the novel had already been adapted once before by Gerd Oswald as Screaming Mimi (1958).
In the novel, a killer known as The Ripper has been terrorizing the city of Chicago for months. Enter Bill Sweeney, ace reporter and ace lush, who manages to get his act sobered-up long enough to help the only surviving victim -- Virginia, an exotic dancer, who was saved by persons unknown, who shot the killer before he could stab her to death. (“Ripper vs. Stripper!” the promos for Columbia screamed.) But even with the killer dead, more bodies keep piling up and most clues point to the traumatized Virginia and her repressed memories being the killer until Sweeney finds the linking clue, a contorted statue of a screaming woman (--hence, the Screaming Mimi), which points the guilty finger elsewhere. Oswald’s adaptation is kind of amazing in a bawdy good-bad way, with Anita Ekberg in the title role and Gypsy Rose Lee as her boss at the strip club. And in both the novel and the film, you can kinda see the seeds and characters that germinated and bloomed in Argento’s “unofficial” adaptation, The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1970).
Argento wrote the script in just five days, and originally, Artur Brauner wanted Terence Young -- who had helmed the first three James Bond films, to direct for his Central Cinema Company (CCC). But when he proved unavailable (or not interested), the film’s producer, Salvatore Argento, in perhaps a fit of nepotism, or perhaps not, got Brauner to agree to let his son, Dario, direct his own script -- a decision Brauner would come to regret once filming commenced. Not liking what he saw in the dailies, Brauner was ready to kick the novice director off the picture altogether but fate intervened when, as the legend goes, the elder Argento went to fight for his son’s job and found Brauner’s secretary visibly shaken. Seems she had seen the same footage but found it terrifying and extremely unsettling. And when his new star witness confessed this to her boss, the younger Argento kept the job and finished the film with an assist from noted cinematographer, Vittorio Storaro -- Apocalypse Now (1979), The Last Emperor (1987), in just under six weeks.
Now, the title, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, comes into play when the killer keeps calling and tormenting Dalmas (-- played by Musante, a method actor of the highest order, whose constant motivational pestering drove his director a little nuts), who always hears a strange, cricket-like noises in the background, which the police later identify as the call of a rare Siberian bird, whose “diaphanous feathers” glint like crystal. And it’s this vital clue that finally gives them the killer’s home and, eventually, their identity after an extremely harrowing, slightly sado-masochistic, and one downright helluva climax.
Upon its release, with its intoxicating production design, blunt violence, and a pulse-pounding and seductive score by Ennio Morricone, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage proved a smash success in Italy -- allegedly playing in a certain theater in Milan for three and half years straight. It also did surprisingly well in other countries, including the United States, where it had both box-office success and a positive critical response. This, of course, helped revitalize the gialli -- a certain style of Continental genre film that concerned byzantine plots, massive body counts, violence, and sex, all wrapped up in a candy colored, pop-art shell. And of this type, Argento would prove to be the master, and so, other studios were soon clamoring to have him do a follow up feature for them.
And so, Argento obliged with Cat o’ Nine Tails (1971), a similar but slightly more grounded thriller as Franco "Cookie" Arnò (Karl Malden), an elderly blind puzzle-maker with an ear for intrigue, is out for a night-time stroll with his young niece, Lori (Cinzia De Carolis). And while he can’t see, Cookie’s other senses are finely attuned, allowing him to overhear an argumentative conversation between two people in a parked car concerning a blackmail scheme. And once the pedestrians have cleared off, the driver gets out and breaks into a nearby medical complex that houses the Terzi Institute.
The next day, ace reporter Carlo Giordani (James Fanciscus) is on the scene to cover the break-in, runs into Cookie, and fills him in on what happened. Then, these two cross-paths again when a Dr. Calabresi (Carlo Alighiero), an employee of the Institute, dies quite horrifically when he falls in front of a moving train. Seems Cookie has a nose for mysteries and feels the break-in and the death might be connected to something bigger. Giordani wrote the article about what is being deemed an accidental death, complete with gruesome pre- and post-mortem pictures courtesy of a paparazzo. But on Cookie’s suggestion, Giordani checks with the photographer and discovers the photo had been cropped and the full picture shows someone off camera most likely pushed the victim onto the tracks. However, when these amateur sleuths arrive at the photographer’s apartment for a closer look they find him strangled to death and all the photos and negatives of the incident gone.
Here, Cookie and Giordani officially join forces to untangle this sticky web of intrigue, with the reporter going to see the owner of the Institute, Fulvio Terzi (Tino Carraro), to talk about the death of his colleague. He also meets Terzi’s daughter, Anna (Catherine Spaak), and goes for a ride. And romantic sparks fly during a harrowing chase sequence when Giordani realizes the police are tailing them -- as to which one they are actually following, well, that’s up to the audience. Meanwhile, Cookie and Lori go to visit the late Calabresi’s fiance, Bianca (Rada Rassimov), curious if she knows if anyone wanted him dead. She knows he was the one who broke into the institute but denies any knowledge, but then later discovers a slip of paper that reveals what Calabresi stole as blackmail material. She hides the note inside her locket and agrees to reveal its contents to Cookie and Giordani but will only do so in person. Too bad the killer got to her first, but whoever it was they failed to find the incriminating evidence.
Meanwhile, further digging shows the Terzi Institute was working in eugenics -- more specifically, chromosome alteration via a new miracle drug in service of the long debunked theory that those with an extra Y-chromosome in their genetic make-up were prone to violent and criminal tendencies. Meantime, as our heroes try to piece all the seemingly unconnected clues and leads into a coherent theory, the killer, thinking Bianca might have already given them the damning evidence, and after failing to kill them both, sets another trap for them at the cemetery as they are lured to Bianca’s crypt in search of the pivotal note, thinking it might be buried with her since the police could find no trace of it. And while the masked killer gets away with the note and destroys it, Giordani manages to critically stab him during their struggle. But while those two are safe, the same cannot be said for young Lori, who suddenly finds herself in the wounded and desperate killer’s clutches...
I’d say until the release of Do You Like Hitchcock? (2005), Cat o' Nine Tails (1971) was probably Argento's most conventional thriller. Well, "conventional" might not be the right word as I read back through that summation of the simple yet highly convoluted plot thus far and smile ruefully, knowing I have barely scratched the surface and am omitting a ton of plot points, twists and knots in several overlapping story threads as our mismatched trio of sleuths try to unravel the mystery. Once again, the title actually refers to something in the movie; a whip with nine lashes, which Cookie alludes to, comparing their nine clues that make no sense separately but when placed together can solve the mystery once they untangle them.
Despite the slightly lethargic pace and those myriad false leads and red-herrings as they make their way down a trail of murder, incest, and money-grabs, I really do like this film a lot, honest, but it’s mostly due to the usual visual and audio noise of Argento and the excellent chemistry between the three leads -- and I would’ve loved to have seen the mystery solving team of Malden, Franciscus and Carolis franchise out for more adventures -- but the film's director doesn't really agree with me. Apparently, this is Argento’s least favored film, feeling it was too conventional -- too American, which I find odd because after the success of his first unconventional thriller, Cat o’ Nine Tails completely failed to ignite Stateside.
As I said, the plot definitely could’ve used some tightening up because as like with all gialli the suspect and motive our protagonists are doggedly chasing down proves to be the wrong one. And like with all of his films, Argento is once more concerned with being stylistic over sweating the dramatic elements of the plot. Yeah. This round, Argento definitely seemed more focused on the look of the film, which is gorgeous, and employing some wild editing techniques, giving us the normal feast for the eyes while not making our brains hurt as the plot pretzels itself like it did later with the likes of Deep Red (1975) or Tenebre (1982), proving once again sometimes less is more as the killer is finally identified and Lori is saved from certain death by some kick-ass heroics from my m’man, Franciscus.
Now, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and Cat o’ Nine Tails are, of course, parts one and two of Argento’s “Animal Trilogy” along with Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971). And one can only hope that someday the fine folks at Arrow Films can secure the rights to that final feature -- judging by what we get from their recent releases of the first two films. Both have been given a brand new 4K upgraden, and both look amazing. The colors just really pop off these things. Both are also available to watch in English or Italian (with subtitles). And it’s Arrow, so of course they’re both jam-packed with bonus features.
On Bird you get a new audio commentary by Troy Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films; a new visual essay on the cinema of Dario Argento, The Power of Perception, by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, author of Devil’s Advocates: Suspiria and Rape-Revenge Films: A Critical Study; along with analysis by film critic Kat Ellinger; and brand new interviews with Argento and actor Gildo Di Marco. The release also comes with 6 lobby card reproductions and a limited 60-page booklet illustrated by Matthew Griffin, featuring an appreciation of the film by Michael Mackenzie and new writing by Howard Hughes and Jack Seabrook.
The big highlight on the Cat release is a fantastic audio commentary by critics Alan Jones and Kim Newman -- I could listen to those two talk film all day and night long. There’s also another interview with Argento, co-writer Dardano Sacchetti, production manager Angelo Iacono, and actress Cinzia De Carolis, who played young Lori. (Alas, there was a glitch on the screener I received so I could not see this last interview but I understand it has since been rectified.) Here, you also get a two-sided poster, plus four lobby card reproductions; and if you order quick you’ll get a limited edition booklet illustrated by Matt Griffin, featuring an essay on the film by Dario Argento, and new writing by Barry Forshaw, Troy Howarth and Howard Hughes.
Now I know Argento has his “style over substance” haters and detractors out there but I’m not one of them. I do, however, think the old maestro has kind of lost his touch a bit -- I think he’s been scuffling pretty badly since the likes of Opera (1987) and The Stendhal Syndrome (1996), and the less said about The Phantom of the Opera (1998) and Giallo (2009) the better. But you don’t have to worry about any of that, here, with these two fantastic releases.
Buy The Bird with the Crystal Plumage:
Buy The Cat o' Nine Tails:
At Amazon :: At Arrow Films
The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) Central Cinema Company Film (CCC) :: Glazier :: Seda Spettacoli :: UMC Features / EP: Artur Brauner / P: Salvatore Argento / D: Dario Argento / W: Dario Argento, Fredric Brown (Novel) / C: Vittorio Storaro / E: Franco Fraticelli / M: Ennio Morricone / S: Tony Musante, Suzy Kendall, Enrico Maria Salerno, Eva Renzi, Umberto Raho
The Cat o' Nine Tails (1971) Seda Spettacoli :: Terra-Filmkunst :: Labrador Films :: National General Pictures / P: Salvatore Argento / D: Dario Argento / W: Dario Argento, Luigi Collo, Dardano Sacchetti, Bryan Edgar Wallace / C: Erico Menczer/ E: Cesarina Casini, Sergio Fraticelli / M: Ennio Morricone / S: James Franciscus, Karl Malden, Catherine Spaak, Cinzia De Carolis, Rada Rassimov
Tuesday, February 27, 2018
In honor of the release of Black Panther, Mike, Steph, Yours Truly, and the Atomic Weight of Cheese focuses on the superhero genre in comics and movies, diving deep into our own personal origin stories, moments that supercharged our imaginations and where we want things to go in the future. Power up and give it a listen!
Our podcast can be found on Feedburner, iTunes and we're also now available on Stitcher. You can keep up with the podcast at The Atomic Weight of Cheese. Also, please Like and Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr, where we'll be posting our latest episode updates, episode specific visual aides, and other oddities, nonsense and general mayhem. Also, if it ain't too much trouble, write us a review to let us know how much you like us or how much we suck. So come join us and listen in, won't you? Thank you!
Friday, February 23, 2018
YouTube Finds :: By Our Command :: The Story of the Cylons (from the Vintage Battlestar Galactica Series).
From what I can piece together, this is the only original footage from a TV movie which cobbled together several episodes of the vintage Battlestar Galactica series into a feature-length, syndicated time slot-filler, including parts from Saga of a Star World, The Magnificent Warriors, Fire in Space, and Experiment in Terra but the vast majority of it came from The Return of Starbuck episode -- a truly desperate Hail Mary courtesy of the truly odious sequel series, Galactica 1980 before it officially rolled over and died. I had never seen this footage before, finally explaining the origin of the Cylon Empire, stumbling upon it on the Tube of You, found it to be super-cool, and decided to share it with you all, Boils and Ghouls.
Video courtesy of Daniel Patrick.
From Encyclopedia Galactica: “The original Cylons were technologically advanced reptilian race from a far corner of the Galaxy. As they died out many millennia ago, little is known of their society. They must have been warlike and imperialistic since at the time of their extinction they had already conquered hundreds of other worlds. The key to the success of the early Cylon’s conquests was their development, first of sophisticated robots, and then fully intelligent androids. These machines were built to withstand enormous stress, to have great strength and powerful computational capacity. Armies of them swept through sector after sector of the Galaxy. But ultimately, the machines became the superiors of their creators and the Cylons themselves were destroyed by their own machines.
“The Cylon androids, reptilian in form like their masters, continued the mission of destruction to which they had been assigned. Machines that they were, they swept through the Galaxy even more ruthlessly than their masters. The directives of their programming crystallized into a single Edict of Extermination, that called for the destruction of all intelligent life forms in the Galaxy.
“The Cylons have occasionally combined forces with beings like the Ovions, but few creatures are more useful to the Cylons alive than dead. Therefore, the number of members of the Cylon Alliance is likely to remain small. Cylons have no concept of friendship or loyalty, and are programmed to exterminate their living allies at the earliest convenient date.
“Modern Cylons are basically human form. The most common type is the Centurion, a heavily armored soldier capable of operating a Raider and piloting a Baseship or Dreadnaught, and also adaptable to planetary invasion and extermination. They are not of high intelligence, but can be cheaply mass-produced. A common Cylon strategy, therefore, is to overwhelm the enemy with large numbers of Centurions, many of whom will be destroyed, leaving a sufficient number of survivors to carry the day. The most advanced Cylons are from the I-L Series. Both Lucifer, aide to Commander Baltar, and the Imperious Leaders itself are of this type. I-L series Cylons have acute reasoning abilities, and can directly monitor electronic telemetry from up to 50 sources simultaneously. Much more than simple automatons, the I-Ls at times exhibit humanlike drives for power. Human cylonologists speculate that this ambition response was deliberately programmed into the I-Ls to insure prompt replacement of incompetent leadership.
“The first human-Cylon contact occurred in 5547, when combined human forces came to the defense of their amphibious allies, the Hasaris. The humans were unprepared for the massive Cylon offensive, and their fleet was soon forced back to the other defense perimeters of their own Colonies. This was the beginning of the thousand yahren Great Cylon War.
“The humans proved to be the most formidable foes the Cylons had ever faced. Lacking the imagination to respond to human advances creatively, the Cylons adapted in the only way they could: by imitation. Their Centurions were designed to resemble humans more and more, and their weapons were redesigned accordingly. Human weapon advances were quickly met by Cylon copies, so that the war remained a stalemate for hundreds of yahren. The Colonial Unification Movement and the military genius of of Commander Cain had pushed the Cylons to the breaking point when the treachery of Baltar led to the near final destruction of humanity.”
Sunday, February 18, 2018
Seems back in 1964, editor and illustrator Russ Jones approached Jim Warren, head of Warren Publishing -- most noted for printing Famous Monsters of Filmland, with an idea to resurrect the horror comics of the 1950s, specifically the fabled tales of EC Comics (Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror, The Haunt of Fear), in an illustrated magazine format. And, being a magazine, they could skirt around the recently established self-censorship of the Comics Code Authority, meaning they could be as dire and gruesome as they wanted to be.
Warren was eventually persuaded, and so, the first issue of Creepy Magazine hit the stands in late 1964, which followed the anthology format, where a main character, Uncle Creepy, connected several tales of the macabre through each bi-monthly issue. And while the mag wasn’t necessarily a rousing success, it was successful enough to launch two more sister series in the same severed vein: Eerie, with your host, Cousin Eerie, and Vampirella, with your host and star, Vampirella. All three publications would last until 1983 when Warren Publishing folded, selling off to Harris Publications, who initially tried to keep them going but eventually stopped due to some lingering copyright issues.
Anyhoo, I bring all of this up because, in an effort to finally bring some semblance of order to my Nerdly Rumpus Room by making it more of a Rumpus Room and less of a glorified storage closet, I have been efforting to get things organized, including bagging and boarding a bunch of magazines collected over the years, including a chunk of Creepy (about a dozen) and Eerie magazines (around 20). Now, these I had bought as part of a deal struck with a long gone LCS back in the 1990s, who had bought a collection, picked it clean, meaning, at the time, pulling everything with an “X” in the title and weren’t all that interested in anything else. Good luck and good timing had me there the day they had finished ransacking it. And after filling me in, I offered to buy what was left, seeing there was still a ton of cool stuff in those three to four boxes of mags and comics -- all of them beaters and readers, mind you.
Unfortunately, my interest caused them to quickly go through it again, and they yanked the half dozen Vampirella mags and a near full run of Alpha Flight before they’d sell it to me. (Later, when the store closed, and they tried to auction those very same mags off, I think they would have made more money if they’d left them in the box. Sad.) Still, there remained a lot of cool stuff, and as I was sorting and bagging yesterday, I stumbled upon what I like to call ... The Murderball Quintet:
CREEPY #84 (November, 1976)
Artist: Ken Kelly
CREEPY #93 (November, 1977)
Artist: Dan Maitz
EERIE #79 (November, 1976)
Artist: Ken Kelly
EERIE #88 (November, 1977)
Artist: Dan Maitz
EERIE #92 (May, 1978)
Artist: Kevin McQuiate
I own four out of the five issues there, discovering the Creepy #84 through a friend, who asked if I had it when I posted pics of the other mags as I bagged them up, and am currently eye-balling the purchase of a used copy to complete the set. And as I continue to get the Rumpus Room in order, I will try to keep you all updated on whatever else I happen to find in there. So, stay tuned, Boils and Ghouls!
Friday, February 9, 2018
The O Canada Blogathon :: The Fine Art of Canuxploitation and Giving All My Heart to Harry Warden the Hard Way in George Mihalka's My Bloody Valentine (1981)
Our film today essentially opens in media splat as a couple of miners make their way down a dark and eerie shaft. Speaking of shafts, one of those miners turns out to be a woman as she strips out of her gear down to the bra and panties strata for what appears to be a sexual rendezvous of some sort. And while she encourages the other person to follow suit, he refuses as he drives his pickax into the wall behind her. Undaunted, as the woman fondles his breathing tube to get him in the mood, the gas-masked miner suddenly seizes the woman and shoves her onto that embedded pick, which punctures right through her chest -- right about where her heart should be, he typed ominously...
Now, this mine in question belongs to Tom Hanniger (Reynolds), who also just happens to be mayor of the nearby town of Valentine Bluffs; a ramshackle, blink and you’ll miss it speck dug in like a tick in the middle of this desolate tundra, whose sole purpose appears to be providing housing, food, and a watering hole for those who work the Hanniger mine. And our story will be focusing mostly on the latest generation of miners, including Hanniger’s son, T.J. (Kelman), recently returned with his prodigal tail tucked between his legs after a failed attempt to make it on his own out west (-- presumably California).
Of course, returning to Valentine’s Bluff is a big heaping turd-burger of fail for T.J. to swallow on a daily basis, who pulled up stakes and left without a word or a backward glance to his girlfriend, Sarah (Hallier), or his best friend, Axel (Afleck), several years ago. But now he’s back, forced to work at the mine by his old man -- and not a cushy office job either, essentially living the life he tried so desperately to get away from. And to top all of that off, Axel is both his foreman and Sarah’s new beau; and Axel knows damn well T.J. still pines for Sarah and will brook none of that, explaining the roiling hostility between these two men.
At this juncture one should also point out that Valentine’s Bluff and its denizens also harbor a dark and sinister secret. Seems about twenty years ago on Valentine’s Day, the entire town had turned out for the annual holiday dance at the union hall. Well, all except for about seven miners, who planned on attending the shindig once their shift ended. But then the two shift-supervisors cut out early to get to the party, forgetting to check the methane levels in the mine, which were dangerously high. Thus, tragically, an innocent spark detonated half the mine, burying five miners alive. And as the legend goes, it took nearly three weeks to dig them out. And so, by the time they reached them the rescuers found only one survivor, Harry Warden (Cowper), who had resorted to cannibalism to stay alive in this makeshift tomb.
Certified insane, Warden was confined to a mental hospital until he escaped the following Valentine’s Day, when he returned home and butchered the two careless stewards responsible for the cave-in, taking their hearts with his pick and leaving them as warning to the others to cancel the Valentine’s Day Dance and to never hold one again or he would resume his killing spree. Luckily, Warden was soon apprehended and sent back to the hospital, but the town, sufficiently rattled, took his warning to -- forgive me, heart, and never held a Valentine’s Day dance again.
But now, spearheaded by a woman named Mabel (Hamilton), seems the town elders have decided it’s been long enough and have given her the go-ahead to carry out the town’s first Valentine's social in nearly two decades. Making up most of her decorating committee are the younger townsfolk, including Sarah and most of her friends. This makes sense since their generation has never experienced anything fun in this morose, one-lung town and are far enough removed from Warden’s rampage that he’s essentially become a harmless boogeyman; an urban legend. Still, there are others who think this is a terrible mistake; most specifically a surly bartender misnamed Happy (Van Evera), who takes every opportunity to remind these foolhardy whippersnappers of who they’re messing with, repeating the legend of Harry Warden over and over again, and doesn’t take too kindly when they just laugh him off for he's the one who actually first unearthed Warden you see.
Thus, with the dance a mere two days away, people are antsy and anxious but preparations seem to be going smoothly enough until mayor Hanniger receives a box of chocolates from a secret admirer, opens it, and makes a grisly discovery: instead of chocolate, he finds a bloody heart and a threatening limerick warning him to cancel the dance or else there will be more displaced organs to contend with. And once the town coroner confirms the heart to be human -- most likely the victim’s from the opening coda, the mayor assumes it’s the work of Harry Warden and, surprise surprise, especially for this kind of flick, he immediately closes the beaches -- No. Wait. Sorry. I mean, he immediately pulls the plug on the dance.
He leaves it to police chief Newby (Francks) to break the bad news to Mabel, whom Newby is sort of sweet on. But when Newby enters the laundromat Mabel runs, he can’t find her. However, the place smells rancid, and Newby traces the odor to the running dryers and starts opening them. Suddenly, one breaks open on its own, revealing Mabel’s fully-cooked corpse, stuffed inside by the same killer, that slowly tumbles around until the spin cycle is complete! Later examination will discover her heart, too, is missing. (Don't worry, it turns up later.) And while they can’t confirm if Harry Warden is still in custody or not thanks to the most unhelpful file clerk of ever, they decide to prevent a panic, claim Mabel died of a sudden heart attack, and use that as an excuse to cancel the dance over her “untimely death."
Meanwhile, upon hearing the bad news, T.J., in his effort to help win Sarah back, rallies his friends, saying they can still have a Valentine’s party at the canteen out at the mine works. All he has to do is swipe the keys from his old man. And so, a sizeable chunk of killer cannon fodder head out to the mine to hold a clandestine dance -- well, more of a giant booze-can, but, whatever. Anyhoo, little do they know but the killer is onto their plan, is none too happy about it judging by the number of dismembered hearts he leaves lying around, and is already at the mine waiting to pick them off one by one. But is this really Harry Warden back for revenge? Or is it someone else looking to settle some old scores...
At the dawn of the 1970s, lured by the siren call of tax-shelter incentives by the Canadian Film Development Corporation (CFDC), many small to mid-range Canadian distributors expanded their operations into producing features as people were literally falling out of the woodwork with money to burn wanting to make a movie -- any movie as long as they could deduct it. Now, after spending several days researching and trying to understand Canadian tax-shelter law, from what little I could understand the biggest problem with the way the CDFC had this set up was that several producers, like Mel Brook's shady main characters in The Producers (1967), bilked the system and made more money when their films bombed. So, the less spent on the production meant more money in the bank, resulting in some pretty dire product. And while this kind of financing lent itself toward making cheap exploitation pictures, this wayward business model kinda explains away why Canada never really had their own version of an American International, or New World, or a Cannon Films -- though it did come very close with the Montreal based Cinépix Productions.
When John Dunning (above left) and Andre Link (above right) co-founded Cinépix in 1962, their original goal was to give the stagnating Canadian film industry a much needed kick-in-the-ass jump-start -- and maybe knock down a few social taboos concerning what you could and couldn't get away with on screen while they were at, distributing films like Mermaids of Tiburon (1962) and The Pink Pussycat (1963). Dunning, who took over the family’s small exhibition business at the age of 17 when his father died, handled the creative side of production while Link tended to the business and financing, which netted Cinépix’s first feature film, Valérie (1969), an erotic comedy about a nun who leaves her convent to explore the burgeoning hippy scene, becomes a prostitute, and falls in love. The film was a huge hit domestically and officially launched a whole new genre: Maple Syrup Porn, of which Cinépix excelled at making, including The Columbus of Sex (1969), Sex Isn’t a Sin (1970), Virgin Lovers (1970), and A Very Private Party (1971).
Of course, this kind of bawdy product wasn’t exactly what the CDFC had in mind when they first dangled that financial carrot, which meant Cinépix was constantly butting heads with the government's oversight committee on these federally subsidized features over the alleged soft-core syrup sleaze they were peddling. And so, Dunning and Link started to diversify and kinda phased out of sexploitation and started embracing action, horror and schlock, bringing in some new talent with Don Carmody and Ivan Reitman, who had produced and directed Cannibal Girls (1973), which Cinepix picked up for distribution, netting them Death Weekend (1976), East End Hustle (1976), Ilsa, Tigress of Siberia (1977) and Blackout (1978). Needless to say, the CDFC was neither amused or appeased by this genre shuffle.
And then things really came to loggerheads with Cinepix’s backing of David Cronenberg’s Shivers (1975). Originally hired on to work on the sex films, doing some second-unit work on Loving and Laughing (1971), Cronenberg eventually convinced his new bosses to let him take a crack at something slightly more horrific. Released in the States as They Came from Within (1975), Shivers was a frightfully and wonderfully perverse story of a high-rise infested with a sexually transmitted killer slug, which had the CDFC ready to string-up the producers and commit the director into the nearest insane asylum, igniting a holy war between Dunning and the Canadian government that was fought out in the trades and the floor of Parliament itself, which eventually led to some radical policy changes by the CDFC.
But as Cinépix rode out this storm, they backed Cronenberg’s follow up feature, Rabid (1977), which saw a young woman become a pseudo-vampire after some plastic surgery goes awry (-- played by the girl Behind the Green Door herself, Marilyn Chambers), whose victims become a ravenous horde of zombies spreading this plague exponentially. And while Cinépix scored big box-office hits with these body-horror classics, oddly enough, the studio’s biggest money maker of all time wound up being a comical, clean-cut, coming of age tale released the very next year with Reitman’s summer camp romp, Meatballs (1978), which also officially launched Bill Murray’s film career.
Picked up by Paramount and released in the States, Meatballs would gross nearly $46 million in ticket sales. But it was too little, too clean, too late for the CDFC, making it one of the last subsidized films Cinépix would be involved in directly. Fear not, for salvation would soon come from south of border as the CDFC started offering tax-shelters to American studios if they shot their films in Canada.
See, around this same time, Peter Simpson and his Toronto based Simcon Limited had just struck a deal with Paul Lynch to finance and shoot his film, Prom Night (1980) -- a teenage murder mystery, in Canada, hoping to cash in on the scares and financial success of John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978). And when it was completed, the film ignited a bidding war between Paramount and AVCO-Embassy. And while AVCO-Embassy won that battle, they kinda lost the war as Paramount had a back-up plan, and had the last laugh, really, when they picked up Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday the 13th (1980) -- a grisly take on Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians, instead. Both films did inexplicably well at the box-office, igniting a brand new genre that literally exploded over the next few years, as independent studios quickly rallied to make more bloody body count movies to cash in on this new niche market that was just waiting to be exploited -- including Dunning and Link.
See, while the major American studios would acknowledge these cheap and sordid horror films were making them money, they wouldn’t dare actually make one themselves. But! They sure as hell would distribute them. And that’s how Dunning, Link and Cinépix wound up working with Columbia Pictures and the CDFC again for the oddball slasher, Happy Birthday to Me (1981), which promised six of the most bizarre murders you'd ever see but only delivered on maybe … two of them?, on a modest budget of $5 million. However, unknown to Columbia, after the film was well into production, Dunning and Link were secretly funneling some of that front money into another project for Paramount, who agreed to distribute the film if Cinépix could have it done and delivered in less than six months for a premiere date on Valentine’s Day, 1981.
Strangely enough, Cinépix’s meaner, grittier, and far superior slasher movie, My Bloody Valentine (1981), actually began life as a comedy. Sort of. See, still well in the pre-production stages, Dunning was having some major problems with the tone of humor for their proposed “Hospital Comedy.” And while this script would eventually be filmed and released as the rather obnoxious Stitches (1985), it was quickly tabled back in 1980 when a repertory theater owner named Steven Miller approached Dunning with the barest outline for a horror film set in a mining town around Valentine’s Day. Dunning loved the idea and made a deal with Frank Mancuso Jr. at Paramount, who also handled the Friday the 13th franchise, who dictated the release date as part of the terms. Now all they needed was a script. And a director. Cast. And a crew. And a place to shoot.
Envisioned as a visceral tale in the grand guignol tradition, John Beaird is the credited screenwriter for My Bloody Valentine, though many production tales make it sound more like a rowdy round-table discussion and one-upmanship on how to “creatively” kill people, with Dunning constantly pushing them on to make it as gross and grisly as possible, with Beaird fleshing it out from there.
“One of the things I told the producers right off the top was that I’m not doing a beer commercial,” said My Bloody Valentine director, George Mihalka. “My violence is not beauty shots; it’s ugly and mean and nasty. And wounds hurt.” Mihalka was a recent hire by Cinépix, who had approached him with a two picture deal after the success of his film, Pick-Up Summer (1980). And when considering the setting of a small rustic mining town and the characters involved, Mihalka was soon determined to make the film a working class horror movie instead of the usual prep-school or summer camp trappings.
In fact, the film hit its first production snag when it chose to location shoot at the Princess Colliery Mines near the town of Sydney Mines, Nova Scotia. The mine had been shut down since 1975 due to environmental issues and the resulting economic collapse, and was chosen for filming due to its dreary, isolated location and the rundown condition of the disused buildings and equipment. However, unbeknownst to the production crew, once they found out they had been selected, the people of Sydney Mines took it upon themselves to raise $50,000 to spruce things up considerably, much to the consternation of Mihalka, who then spent around $75,000 to return the location to its original shabby state. Mihalka also brought his rather sizeable cast out to the location a week before shooting started so they could acclimate themselves in the small town culture. Production stories abound of nightly bar fights with the locals.
Of course, shooting in the mine itself was another logistical nightmare, as it took forever to transport the cast, crew, and equipment 800ft. below ground. And on top of that, due to the methane levels in the tunnels, the lighting had to be kept low and carefully monitored as the number of bulbs used was constantly limited and any stray spark from the equipment could’ve spelled disaster. In fact, one day of shooting was scrapped when the location manager was informed some high winds were creating a vacuum that was stirring up all the coal dust and methane in the mine, forcing the evacuation of some 130 people -- fifteen folks at a time. Shot under these trying conditions, one can really appreciate what Mihalka and cinematographer Rodney Gibbons managed to pull off, utilizing and exploiting their location rather brilliantly to add to the ever looming and eerie atmosphere of dread and decay -- something that's already dead but just doesn't know it yet and won't quite give up the ghost.
The production spent nearly nine weeks in Sydney Mines, shooting day and night with several different crews going at once to try and beat the release deadline. And as the rushes went back to Montreal, Dunning would send back notes, demanding more blood and gore, leading to quite a few re-shoots. And once filming finally wrapped, three editors -- Gérald Vansier, Rit Wallis, Debra Karen, and a supervising editor, Jean LaFleur, worked around the clock to get an answer print assembled. And when it was at last slapped and dashed together, Mancuso screened it, liked it a lot, and ordered another 500 prints to be struck, making for a grand total of 1100, with a plan to open it big and wide like he did for Friday the 13th. Thus and so, My Bloody Valentine, made it’s opening date on Saturday, February 14th, 1981 -- the day after Friday the 13th, ‘natch, where it landed, alas, with a fairly thunderous thud.
Apparently, during shooting, the true identity of the killer was kept a secret from the cast because Mihalka liked the idea of the mystery being real among the actors. However, as one watches the film, it becomes fairly obvious as the bodies start piling up that the killer is either T.J. or Axel. Sure, they try throw you off the scent with the possibility of it actually being Harry Warden but it doesn’t quite jive. And like a lot of movies in this sub-genre, it has a bad habit of knocking off all the red herrings as soon as they’re introduced, eliminating a good chunk of suspects. I mean, just ask Happy, who beat everyone out to the mine to teach them kids a lesson and rig up a few surprises. Only the surprise was on him as he takes a pickax through the skull and is subsequently drug off by the face into the mine proper like a carp.
Thus, the stage is set for the third act bloodbath, which kicks off at the party with a few punches thrown between Axel and T.J. over Sarah. Sarah, meanwhile, when forced to choose between them, tells them both to take a hike. And so, while those two peel off to sulk, the killer starts to thin the crowd out a bit: Dave (Marotte) is drowned in a pot of boiling hot-dogs; his heart removed and left in the pot while his body is stuffed in the fridge for someone to discover later. Meanwhile, in the locker room, a make-out session between John and Sylvia (Stein, Udy) is put on hold while John goes for more beer. But while he’s gone, in the film’s best and most notorious scene, the killer snatches Sylvia after terrorizing her for a bit and then forcibly impales her skull on a shower pipe, leaving her dangling with the water on.
It isn’t long before these mangled bodies are discovered nearly simultaneously, alerting everyone to the danger they’re all in. And while Axel and T.J. direct a less than orderly evacuation, a quick headcount shows several people are still missing. Seems in a thoroughly misguided effort to help cheer Sarah up, her friend Patty (Dale) convinced her boyfriend, Hollis (Knight), to give them a ride on the rail-cars down to the bottom for an impromptu tour of the mine. (Damp. Dank. Dark. And dangerous. Sounds like fun to me!) Thus, Sarah, Patty, Hollis, and three others -- Mike, Harriet, and Howard (Kovacs, Waterland, Humphreys) are at the bottom of the mine and have no idea what's about to stab them.
Telling the others to alert Newby and send help, T.J. and Axel stay behind, gear up, and then head down into the mine, where they split-up to find the others (-- and sew confusion with the audience). But, they’re already too late. Mike and Harriet have been dispatched, pinned together by a massive drill-bit, and Hollis has taken several nails to the head courtesy of a pneumatic nail-gun. This causes Howard to panic, who abandons the girls. But they are soon found by T.J. then Axel, who says while they were searching someone futched with the mine cars and the elevator, meaning the only way out is up an interminable ladder. And so, with Axel in the lead, they climb until a body falls from above, startling them. It’s Howard, who is violently decapitated when the rope around his neck snaps taut, spraying the girls in gore.
And so, assuming Warden is somewhere above them, the ladder is abandoned. But, turns out, there might still be another way to safety through a long abandoned mine-shaft. But this proves almost as treacherous as dealing with a masked killer as Axel, bringing up the rear this time, falls into a deep pit of water when a guard rail gives way and apparently drowns. Then, Patty takes a pick to the stomach, leaving Sarah and T.J. to flee from the killer, who herds them back to the mine-cars that are suddenly working again. (Wait. Didn’t Axel say they were broken?) Alas, the slow-moving cars make for a shitty getaway vehicle and the killer easily catches up to them, leading to a pretty boss fight between the killer’s pick and T.J.’s shovel, which soon spills over into another abandoned mine-shaft. And as the fight continues, several wild swings strike the long-neglected supporting timbers, which causes a cave-in, separating the killer from the other two -- but not before the killer’s mask comes off. And it’s not Harry Warden.
We then flashback to Warden’s initial rampage, where he attacks one of the men responsible for the cave-in that turned him into cannibal. And as he messily tears his victim's heart out, turns out this was all witnessed by the man’s young son: Axel. And this traumatic experience, combined with the resumption of the dance that got his father killed, plus his crumbling relationship with Sarah, snapped a few mental wires in Axel, sending him on this horrific killing spree. (Authors Note: It works, and checks out and isn't too much of a cheat.)
By this time, Newby, Hanniger, and a large posse have arrived on scene, and they quickly work to clear the shaft to get to Axel. And after removing a bunch of debris, they spot an arm protruding from the rubble that’s still moving. But as they continue to dig, on the other side, Axel, in his madness, is currently hacking his own arm off (-- the only thing keeping him pinned down). And once he’s free, he laughs maniacally, warning the others that he’ll be back to kill them all one day for what they’ve done before he disappears into the darkness, searching for Harry Warden, chasing the echoes of his own insanity and the fading cackle of his laughter.
I honestly think one of the main reasons My Bloody Valentine failed to really spark at the box-office is the simple fact it wasn’t very bloody. To be fair, this was certainly not the fault of Mihalka, and certainly not Dunning, or the FX crew, consisting of Tom Burman, Tom Hoerber and Kenn Diaz. No. The lack of any kind of payoff on My Bloody Valentine’s initial theatrical run was due to an intense backlash by the MPAA, who felt they had let something sneak by with Friday the 13th and began cracking down on those looking to cash in. Trust me. The repeat business for Friday the 13th was due to the work of Tom Savani and not for the massive sock Kevin Bacon stuffed in his Speedo.
Apparently, at the time, there was a massive lawsuit pending against a major studio, a mother, suing for damages, claiming her son had murdered someone while under the influence of what he’d seen in some serial slasher movie, which put the MPAA on edge. (Also, Mark David Chapman had just murdered John Lennon the previous December, causing a massive backlash against perceived influential violence in the media.) Thus, when My Bloody Valentine was submitted for certification, it was given an X-rating unless nearly five minutes of graphic gore were removed. And since the release date was looming, there was no time to mess around, fudge the cuts, and resubmit, which meant all the “money shots” wound up on the cutting room floor. And to make it matters even worse, when they did submit the film again with all the required cuts, the MPAA demanded ever more trimming before it would receive an R-rating, leaving all the murder set-pieces in My Bloody Valentine a jumbled and confusing mess of haphazard editing. Again, there was no time to fight this, and so, Cinépix acquiesced to these demands.
Gone were shots of the pickax coming through the woman’s chest in the opening sequence; Mabel's mutilated body spinning to a stop in the dryer; a scene of Warden cannibalizing a severed arm during his flashback origin; the pick going through Happy’s chin and out his left eye, and then his body being drug along the ground with eyeball still hanging out; a good chunk of Dave getting his face boiled off and the aftermath of the same; several shots of Sylvia’s physical impalement on the pipe were gone and the aftermath of the water spraying out of her mouth when discovered by her boyfriend; also gone was the actual impalement of Michael and Harriet with the massive drill-bit, leaving them just post-pinned for the protagonists to discover in a brief shot; and all the lingering close-ups of the nails in Hollis’ skull.
Howard’s hanging was also shortened in the theatrical version. His decapitation was cut-out completely, so it looks like his body just falls, stops short when the end of the rope is reached, inexplicably sprays blood all over Patty and Sarah, and then resumes falling. This probably resulted in the most nonsensical editing of the theatrical cut and kinda ruins the scene as the audience isn’t sure what the hell just happened. Patty’s death was also rendered completely bloodless. And during the climax, all the footage of Warden ripping out Axel’s father’s heart was excised; and later, the whole scene of Axel chopping his own arm off is gone, which completely pretzels the final resolution and makes little sense at all as he stumbles away into the darkness,
And I think all of those cuts, along with the usual murk of VHS transfers, making all those low-light scenes in the mines nearly imperceptible, resulted in My Bloody Valentine being an Also Ran for the longest time as far as cinema slashers go. This, is too bad. Apparently, Tom Burman and his crew pulled off some pretty spectacular gags and stunts -- some of them so effective, they made their director physically lose his lunch on one occasion. But all we had as proof were some photos and stills in Fangoria and rumors of an uncut Japanese release to make you wonder what the film had really delivered. Thankfully, this was all resolved with the release of a restored and remastered version of My Bloody Valentine in 2009 on DVD as part of the build-up to the impending release of the film’s remake, which restored everything mentioned above except for the actual impalement by the drill-bit, whose footage has apparently been lost.
Now, I liked this film well enough when first encountered as a Movie of the Week, figuring most of the cuts were made due to broadcasting standards and practices. But when later encountered on VHS, turns out I didn’t really miss out on that much. Still, I really dug the rustic setting, the blue collar nature of the victims, the intelligence shown by everyone from the mayor on down, and loved the signature look of the killer. And then I finally saw the restored version and, great googily-moogily, that was ah-mazing! Seriously. It's a completely different film. Burman’s work was truly innovative and startling effective -- Sylvia’s death belongs in the Hall of Fame of such things. And it’s really too bad it was all left on the cutting room floor, because if it hadn’t I think Harry Warden would be mentioned in the same breath as Jason Vorhees. Honest. But even without the excised footage, most slasher fans agree, myself included, that My Bloody Valentine was pretty good as far as these things go. But once you put all that gore back in, then, damn, this film becomes the apex example of the genre as far as I’m concerned. How this film never spawned a franchise is beyond me.
Okay, one last production note before we wrap this up. Still with me? Great! Dunning also hired Paul Zaza to do the soundtrack for My Bloody Valentine. Zaza had just done the outstanding disco-heavy (and highly litigious) score for Prom Night, and Dunning had hoped for enough songs to release a full soundtrack album. Alas, money ran out and the plug was pulled and the only thing that remained was The Ballad of Harry Warden, written by Zaza and performed by John McDermott, that plays over the closing credits. And their end result is both haunting and memorable. Check it out here.
Despite the financial setback of My Bloody Valentine, Dunning and Link kept at it. In 1997, Cinépix was bought out and placed under the Lionsgate banner, who were responsible for that aforementioned My Bloody Valentine remake, which wasn’t too bad, after buying the rights back from Paramount, who had always balked at any talk of sequel, of which Dunning was always keen to do, due to the initial poor box-office returns. Again, as far as I’m concerned, not the film’s fault but the MPAA. It would be the last film Dunning would produce before he passed away in 2011.
“John Dunning is the unacknowledged godfather of an entire generation of Canadian filmmakers,” David Cronenberg once said, addressing the Toronto Film Critics Association in 2009. “I still consider him my movie mentor.” Yes, Dunning, Link and Cinépix were very influential in Canadian genre cinema, but they weren’t alone, sharing company with the likes of Quadrant Films, Astral, and Cineplex, resulting in a slew of completely bonkers genre cinema that was as Canadian as sticking American flags everywhere to make it look like an American product to sell more tickets. And for that, I know I will always be eternally grateful for these gifts from up north like My Bloody Valentine. And Black Christmas (1974). And Deranged (1974). And Rituals (1977), and The Uncanny (1977), and Yeti: Giant of the 20th Century (1977). And City on Fire (1979), Terror Train (1980), Funeral Home (1980), Hog Wild (1980), and Murder By Phone (1982); or Humongous (1982), Scanners (1981), Curtains (1983), Spasms (1983), Screwballs (1983), Def-Con 4 (1985), Rock N Roll Nightmare (1986), Killer Party (1986), Zombie Nightmare (1986) and Things (1989), which all earned a genre unto itself: Canuxploitation.
Other Points of Interest:
Poster campaign for My Bloody Valentine at the Archive.
Poster campaign for My Bloody Valentine at the Archive.
That's right all you Canuckleheads and Hosers, this post was a proud part of The O Canada Blogathon co-hosted by Ruth of Silver Screenings and Kristina of Speakeasy. So please follow that linkage and get to reading all the other fine entries, eh. Beauty.
My Bloody Valentine (1981) Canadian Film Development Corporation (CFDC) :: Famous Players :: Secret Films :: Paramount Pictures / EP: Larry Nesis / P: John Dunning, André Link, Stephen A. Miller / LP: Bob Presner / D: George Mihalka / W: Stephen A. Miller, John Beaird / C: Rodney Gibbons / E: Gérald Vansier, Rit Wallis / M: Paul Zaza / S: Paul Kelman, Lori Hallier, Neil Affleck, Keith Knight, Alf Humphreys, Cynthia Dale, Helene Udy, Rob Stein, Thomas Kovacs, Terry Waterland, Carl Marotte, Patricia Hamilton, Don Francks, Larry Reynolds, Peter Cowper