Cruising [1980]

William Friedkin’s 1980 film “Cruising” is a puzzling shocker whose controversial reputation is well-earned. The director of “The Exorcist” was no stranger to this kind of negative publicity, and while he agreed to place a disclaimer in front of his film testifying to the fact that it’s not meant as a criticism of gays in general, this did approximately NOTHING to placate those who were already suspicious of Friedkin’s motives. The film tracks police detective Steve Burns (played with a strange brand of naivete by Al Pacino) as he goes undercover in New York City’s gay S&M scene in an attempt to learn the identity of a serial killer. He’s set up in what would now be a $3,000-a-month-plus Greenwich Village apartment and has to learn the ways of the leather daddy scene in an iron-pumping, hanky-code-learning montage. Note: Don’t wear the yellow hanky unless you MEAN it, boys. As Burns repeatedly visits these underground nightclubs (located in the now-posh Meatpacking District–I like to think that Burns attended Precinct Night at the RamRod in what is now the Alexander McQueen boutique space or a Tory Burch retailer), he finds himself increasingly fascinated by the raw sexuality on display, even as he begins to question the motives of his fellow policemen in tracking down the killer. At the time of its filming and initial release, the movie raised the ire of gay rights activists who objected to its perceived implication that violence is inherent to the homosexual lifestyle. The film’s coda, which involves a murder committed after the incarceration of the Real Killer and the resurfacing of a sinister character from the beginning of the story, points to an uncomfortable ambiguity that could be perceived in this way, but the story is, at its heart, something far more straight-forward than all that.

With its emphasis on kinky sex, striking visuals, and eroticized murder, “Cruising” is a gay giallo.
All of the elements are present, but in place of fashionably made-up young women being dispatched by a black-gloved killer, the victims are well-toned men involved in sexual activity and the leather is positively everywhere. Why stop at gloves when chaps, jackets, hats and even jock-straps can be crafted from the tanned hides of cattle past? There’s an obsessive attention to detail in the depictions of leathersex that would make “Cruising” a certain type of fetishist’s delight. Creaking leather and heavy boot-falls punctuate the murder scenes, and the interiors of the nightclubs are positively Boschian–filled to the brim with sweaty, writhing bodies engaged in all manner of homosexual couplings. There is no space in this film that isn’t sexually charged. New York City’s parks were teeming with randy men seeking anonymous rough trade, if this film is to be believed. Even the police precinct is infused with BDSM activity, when–apparently for no reason at all–a be-jock-strapped muscle-man is brought in to slap a suspect during an interrogation. It’s small wonder that this landscape of lust draws Detective Burns ever deeper into its clutches, causing him to doubt his own sexual orientation.
So where do the women go in a giallo when they’re not needed as victims? Well, they don’t have a hell of a lot to do other than to play Burns’ preternaturally patient and oddly unquestioning girlfriend or a waitress who accidentally spills coffee. Seriously–I love Karen Allen in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and all, but here she’s not given any drinking contests or loud shouting or Nazi-fighting to do, and she’s pretty much a tight-lipped, semi-confused non-entity. Her character functions as a plot point and not as a source of tension, merely underscoring the fantasy of a “heterosexual” man lured over to the “Dark Side” of gay sex.
If that feels like a lot of air quotes in one sentence, that’s because it is. And if you think I was smirking during the unraveling of this movie, I was. “Cruising” didn’t feel as much the scathing indictment gay life produced by heterosexual filmmakers that protesters had feared so much as it played like a piece of very dark erotica intended for an audience of leathersex enthusiasts. That’s not sinister–that’s merely weird and campy to viewers who *aren’t* a part of that community.
As a gritty thriller in the American mold, the film falls a bit short, leaving enough plot holes (some of which are deliberate–it appears that Friedkin played with substituting different actors in the role of the killer throughout the film, and certain ominous figures pop up repeatedly with no explanation) to bring the story some yards short of a satisfying conclusion. Taken as a giallo, a form whose feet are planted in the fantastique, the story holds together well enough to provide a reasonable skeleton on which to hang a bunch of lurid setpiece scenes.
Oh, and in case you were wondering–no, Al Pacino is not a very convincing leather daddy. And his dancing leaves much to be desired (although that could just be the poppers at work):
I know. You still have a lot of questions. Let me provide you with an answer. THIS is what it would look like if someone re-made “Cruising” with an all-doll cast:

Fashion Advice from the Movies Installment 2 – For the Ladies

I realized it had been a while since I last offered my sage words regarding attire and personal grooming, and I’d completely neglected the ladies during Fashion Advice from the Movies Installment 1.  Please accept my humblest apologies, and allow me to correct this oversight by doling out some wisdom for the fairer sex.  Listen up, ladies!  I owe no small measure of my own success as a definitely-mercurial and possibly-evil despot to these simple rules.

"Satanik" Film Still

1. Let your outrageous eye makeup do the talking.  You can’t have artifice without art.  Words to live by.

"The Machine Girl" Film Still
"The Awful Dr. Orlof" Still
Costume - Margeurite, "Camille 2000"
2. Garments that multitask are essential.  A drill bra for menacing the weak, built-in nipple tassels for an impromptu strip-tease, a neck muffler for a chilly evening–any one of these items would prove handy at some point in one’s life.
"Dr. Jekyll and His Women" Film Still
3. Blood goes with everything.  Blood is not the new black, because as a wise pal of mine recently pointed out, only black is black and so shall it remain forever.  Digressions aside, I just can’t picture this particular demoiselle looking quite so fetching sans-grue.
"Modesty Blaise" Film Still
"Castle of Fu Manchu" Film Still
4. The fashions of the Middle East are as hot as the weather of that region.  Women coopting menswear fashions is nothing new.  Radclyffe Hall and George Sand set examples for future fluidly-gendered clothing exploration, and I get more than a bit distracted when confronted by the androgynous beauty of Le Smoking. Adding the exoticism of the Orient to this recipe for sexy only serves to elevate its already-awesome awesomeness to heights I can barely stand.  Addendum: Let the record show that gentlemen look swank in Middle Eastern drag too.

"Murder Rock" Film Still
5. Don’t be afraid to Jazzercize things up a little bit.  I’m led to believe that dudes dig cameltoe (which, frankly, I find rather appalling, but odds are you’re not out to impress me–more’s the pity).  Thank your dark deity that American Apparel stores are popping up like so many rank, cave-thriving mushrooms in your local shopping malls to meet the rising demand for leotards.  Or–you know what–maybe you’d be best ignore rule number 5 and just go back to rule number 4.  That’s a MUCH better rule.
"Satanik" Film Still
"Delinquent Girl Boss: Blossoming Night Dreams" Film Still
"Eyeball" Film Still
"Tombs of the Blind Dead" Film Still
6. Giant fucking sunglasses.  I could create a drool-worthy montage of all the giant fucking sunglasses I have known and loved.  Bonus points that you can actually *purchase* these in stores right now.  GET CRACKING, ladies–your fabulousness is in jeopardy!
"Case of the Bloody Iris" Film Still
7.  What Would Edwige Fenech Do [WWEFD]?  Well, chances are she’d opt to star in a relentlessly inscrutable Italian sex farce or a semi-unwatchable giallo, but make no mistake that she’d look INCREDIBLE while doing it.

Dead Snow (2009)

Ohhhh Horror Community–how I struggle with my relationship with you.  Some of your numbers are awesome (please look to Screen Right if you care to visit some of THOSE people’s blogs), but the vast unwashed portion that makes up your ranks–plainly put–causes me no end of frustration.  Particularly now that Being A Nerd has somehow, in some bizarro universe, become a sign of Ironic Downtown Coolness.  I vastly prefer the movie-watching company of overly-caffeinated and enthusiastic teenagers over that of Pubey-Bearded Horror Film Dilettantes and their Idiot Girlfriends.

Isn’t it a shame that the latter group has latched on to the ZOMBIE CRAZE specifically with such ill-schooled parrot-like fervor?
So anyway–I’m digressing a bit.  Baron XIII and I attended a screening of “Dead Snow” on Friday night in New York City.  If you’ve been avoiding the internet for the past several months, that’s the Nazi zombie movie from Norway that had the ginchy-looking and oft-re-blogged trailer.  It tells the tale of an ill-fated group of Norwegian college students spending their Easter vacay at an isolated cabin for a little snowy fun.  Little do they know that the hills are alive–or undead, as the case may be–with a legion of Nazi zombies on their eternal search for gold.  For those who have never seen the “Evil Dead” trilogy, “Dead Alive,” and/or “Shaun of the Dead,” it’s a moderately-amusing gorefest that wastes a good 40 minutes of screen time with lost-in-translation Norwegian teen humor that ultimately delivers enough blood-soaked set pieces to elicit some gross-out laughs.
If, however, you have seen the “Evil Dead” trilogy, “Dead Alive,” and/or “Shaun of the Dead,” “Dead Snow”  wastes a good 40 minutes of screen time with lost-in-translation Norwegian teen humor that ultimately delivers a montage of been-there/done-that grue that will leave you wishing you’d spent the last hour and a half re-watching any one of the aforementioned zombie flicks.  Remember how great it was when Ash amputated his arm with a chainsaw? Well, “Dead Snow” gives you that scene all over again, minus Raimi and Campbell!  Remember how you pumped your fists with glee during the Lawnmower Scene in “Dead Alive?”  Well, “Dead Snow” gives you that scene all over again, only shorter, less extreme, and involving a snowmobile.
Most vexing of all, for me at least, was that there were moments in “Dead Snow” where it could’ve become a really fun film.  The cinematography and effects work are really top-notch and the film looks beautiful–there’s a shot early on where a victim is being attacked by one of the zombies inside of a tent that manages to balance creepy and gorgeous.  Sadly, the visually striking aspects of the film are overwhelmed by the overly-homage nature of the story and gore scenes.  Within the film’s universe, the living characters are able to suffer a tremendous amount of physical abuse before succumbing to their wounds–had the story focused on *one* of these characters getting the crap beaten out of him by a horde of the fascist undead, the film could’ve taken on a cartoon quality that might’ve been interesting.  But watching hordes of the undead (fascist or otherwise) stalk a bunch of college students just feels… stale.
Director Tommy Wirkola was on hand for a Q&A after the film, and he seems like a genuinely enthusiastic, creative type–and that only serves to make my Not-Liking of this film all the more difficult.  During the Q&A, he mentioned several ideas for “Dead Snow 2” that sounded like a MUCH better and fresher movie than the one I’d just watched.  This session with the director yielded the highlight of the evening for me, however, as I was able to witness the following exchange:
Female Idiot:  “So, was the movie–like–based on a real story?”
Wirkola:  [after a pregnant pause]  “Well, there were Nazis, and they did steal stuff…”
And THAT, dear readers, made it all worth while for me.  For the rest of you not-so-blessed with a dumbness-fueled Q&A, just re-watch “Dead Alive” and thank me later.

Monster Kids Get All the Neat Stuff

I’ll come right out hand confess it–I’ve been spoiled by the internet.  The ease with which one can come across unusual entertainment and forbidden delights is extraordinary, and that’s made the Joy Of Discovery almost obsolete.

I remember the first time I saw a nudie magazine when I was in third grade.  Interestingly enough, I got more of a thrill out of the images of bare female flesh than the pal I was hanging out with, who would later go on to perform in drag for various charity events (we all had to feign surprise when he “came out” during our freshman year in college).  There was something so utterly taboo about this kind of unashamed nudity on display that we both felt like we’d crossed some hidden barrier of grown-up-dom.
Much like young folks today aren’t going to have that same kind of visceral experience, I regret the fact that I wasn’t part of the Monster Kid generation.  Too young to experience the wonders of teevee horror hosts, it was all about slasher flicks by the time I was of an appreciative age, and there was no way my folks were going to let me watch That Kind Of Film (I was the first kid in my entire extended family–I know: no pressure, right?).
So it’s with a great deal of envy that I purchase mementos of this particular form of fandom, like this FUCKING AWESOME issue of “Castle of Frankenstein” magazine:
"Castle of Frankenstein" Fearbook - 1967
This 1967 “Fearbook” does what it says on the tin–it shows monsters in profusion, and it DOES, in fact, contain a portrait of Christopher Lee as Fu Manchu that is SO suitable for framing I could just melt into a puddle of gobsmackedness in the middle of the carpet RIGHT NOW:
Fu Manchu Portrait from "Castle of Frankenstein"
Inside are articles on the history of Frankenstein’s monster (including plentiful photos of the Edison “Frankenstein” as well as Karloff’s iconic creature), a teevee guide of monster movie screenings, and a run-down of recent horror-themed releases.  What makes me drool the most, however, are the ads:
Glow in the Dark Monsters Ad
Really, I don’t ask for much out of life, but I’d say that fun, shock, and surprise in the form of monsteriffic pop art certainly ranks at the top of my list.

Seth Holt’s "Diabolik" – the Film That Wasn’t

Seth Holt, a director whose brief filmography included the superior 1965 chiller “The Nanny” with Bette Davis, was at one point attached to a film adaptation of “Diabolik” which would have starred Jean Sorel (the handsome actor who would go on to star in  “Belle du Jour” as well as several notable genre efforts including “Perversion Story,” where he appeared opposite Marisa Mell of Bava’s “Diabolik”) and Elsa Martinelli (who also appeared in “Perversion Story”).  The project doesn’t appear to have progressed past the promotional stage, and all that exists at this point are some promotional photos of Sorel and Martinelli in costume.  There may have been some film footage shot, but seems to have been lost or intentionally destroyed when the financing for the project failed to materialize.  Below is an image from the promotional campaign as reprinted in Bizarre Sinema! Archive’s “Cinefumetto” book:

"Diabolik" Photo with Jean Sorel and Elsa Martinelli
It’s interesting to think how different this film would have been from the colorful Pop Art fantasy of Mario Bava.  Holt’s directorial style seemed to favor stark, almost noir-ish black and white compositions, which would have cast the King of Crime in a very different, though doubtless equally flattering, style.  How much of that film would have felt drawn directly from the pages of a fumetti is open to discussion.  What isn’t debatable is that it’s a damn shame this film was never produced–in my universe, there is quite simply NEVER enough Diabolik!
Diabolik Contest Ad - 1966
Above is an ad that ran in 1966 in which producer Tonino Cervi seeks an exciting new actor with a handsome, masculine face, clear eyes, and an athletic build who is no less than 6 feet tall to play dashing criminal mastermind Diabolik in this film.  De Laurentiis and Bava would find just such an actor in John Philip Law not too long after this advertisement ran.

The Always-FABULOUS Helmut Berger

I’ve been seriously neglecting my man-crushes around here over the past several weeks, and I’m grateful that The Costuminatrix has brought this to my attention this afternoon.  Let’s take a moment out to reflect upon the icy Teutonic gorgeousness of Helmut Berger and his many amazing cinematic fashion statements, shall we?

Helmut Berger in "Dorian Gray"

He looks fantastic as a brooding pimp, whether he’s simply sporting the styles, as shown above, or whether taking it to a rather literal level as commandant of Salon Kitty:
Helmut Berger in "Salon Kitty"

It should probably bother me that any human being can wear a leather S.S. uniform with such elan, but some human beings were born with the kind of inner dandy that allows them to rise above such limiting factors as “playing characters with deeply problematic political points of view.”  I’d posit that Mr. Berger is just such a human being.

Helmut Berger
Newsboy? Pimp? Pimp moonlighting as a newsboy?  It’s a brave statement, people.  

Helmut Berger
“Help!  I’m trapped in a box!”  Demonstrating the same kind of depth and breadth of range as described above:  a baberbshop quartet member who breaks away to live his dream of performing as a mime!
No.  Not really.  But I’ll confess I’d still watch that movie, just to bask in the gloriousness of those cheekbones (and hopefully to bear witness to one of Helmut Berger’s amazing cinematic hissy fits–nobody throws a hissy fit like he does… except, perhaps, for Udo Kier, but that’s a matter for another post).
And because, my fellow Berger-fans, you’ve been so patient, here’s the Pantsless Part for you:
Helmut Berger in "Dorian Gray"

Miss American Vampire Pageant 1970

Miss American Vampire 1970

One of the things that fascinates me about horror entertainment is how the ideas portrayed therein over the past 200 years or so have created a multi-generational line of spookyvolk that’s linked by almost-unchanged shared aesthetics.  Someone reading “Carmilla” around the time of its publication in 1872 would be able to put “The Vampire Lovers” into context immediately (even if he might arch an eyebrow at some of the costume design in that film).

Miss American Vampire 1970
In digging through some of my magazines last night, I stumbled on these pictures from the Miss American Vampire Pageant, a perfect example of proto-gothic-rockery that makes my black little heart sing with joy.  These photos are from the vampire issue of European art/comix/sexiness mag Glamour International, in which they’re incorrectly captioned as originating from a Vampirella-themed beauty pageant.  
Miss American Vampire 1970
The Miss American Vampire Contest was part of the promotional blitz for “House of Dark Shadows,” and as you can see from the photo above, Mr. Barnabas Collins himself, Jonathan Frid, is crowing the regional winner of the crown from Palisades Park, NJ.  The groovy ghoulette in question (in the UH-mazing crown!) is Christine Domaniecki of Belleville, NJ.  Lucky winners were whisked away for the final competition, which took place on Regis Philbin’s daytime teevee show.   I am just loving the “Dark Shadows” tie-in–I used to feast on repeats of that cheesily awesome gothic soap opera during my lunch breaks in art school.  Swear to goodness, once you get into the zone of watching that show, it’s an incredibly difficult habit to kick! 
Miss American Vampire 1970
National winner Sacheen Littlefeather (that’s NOT her above; I was unable to find photos of her appearance in the competition) is a colorful character–a model and American Indian Activist probably best known for her appearance during the 1972 Oscars, during which she accepted the award for Best Actor on behalf of Marlon Brando for his role in “The Godfather.”
And before you guys can get all “wow they should TOTALLY hold more pageants like this one” on me, I’ll advise you that I’ve been to two Gothic Beauty Pageants, and while they are indeed a rich source of schadendouche, the anthropological glee fades quickly and if one is out to see tattooed chicks in lingerie, one’s time would be more rewardingly spent at a Bourbon Street strip club. 

The Horrors of Erotic Writing: Gallery Magazine

Gallery Magazine as it existed in the early 1980s occupies an interesting space in the men’s magazine continuum, sort of a low-rent cousin to Hustler, with its “girl next door” amateur photo contests consisting of exhausted- or strung-out-looking swinger wives, articles on muscle cars, and interviews with B-movie celebs.  Much like the reader of Oui might fancy himself a continental jet-setter, the reader of Gallery is a red-blooded American man’s man, greasy handprints on his coveralls and ice-cold Coors clenched in a meaty fist, hungry for accessible neighborhood pussy.

I’m not a big fan of Gallery, but when I received a copy from that dear pal of the Tenebrous Empire, Joey “Smut Enabler” Zone, sent under the guise of containing  a vintage interview with George Romero, I couldn’t not read it cover-to-cover.  Because–trust me on this–based upon the models in a magazine like Gallery, I can assure you that I *am* reading it for the articles.
Each issue of Gallery features letters to the editor, some of which may be legit, but most of which wind up devolving into the kind of ghost-written “I Never Thought This Would Happen To Me” pablum the likes of which we’ve seen a hundred times (if “we” happen to read adult magazines, which *I* most certainly *do*).  These are best appreciated when read aloud, with extra points being awarded for the reader’s ability to maintain his or her composure.
Let’s just say that I was docked at least a hundred points when I came upon the following paragraph, which marks perhaps the least erotic passage ever committed to paper:
The garbage truck, the picnic food comparison, the Old Testament allusion… I can just imagine the hard-up author, pounding away at the typewriter, most of the way into the bag, guided by some higher power of pornography to elevate his faux-confessional above the others in that particular magazine.  
Genius?  Perhaps.

Outpost [2008]

As fate would have it, FEARNet On Demand just added the military-themed thriller “Outpost” to its lineup and, in so doing, dramatically shortened the amount of time between my asking Baron XIII what he wanted to watch and the ensuing decision. We’re analytical (some might say “fussy”) people, so this can be a rather elaborate process. Unlike the somewhat similar-feeling trenches of WWI shocker “Deathwatch,” which the Baron loved and which didn’t really make the cut for me, “Outpost” was a winner for both of us. The plot is simple: seven mercenaries accompany a wealthy client to a mysterious WWII-era bunker and terrible secrets are uncovered. It’s a straightforward thriller that achieves its goals of creating a haunted house atmosphere in a Nazi bunker inhabited by some pretty damn formidable ghouls. There’s nothing fancy or complicated about the structure or the characters that inhabit the film–instead, it’s a movie that’s composed of a series of refreshingly *right* choices within the bounds of established genre conventions.

Simply put: if you’re the kind of person who wants to watch a movie about Nazi zombies, you’ll like “Outpost.”
LESS simply put, here are five things “Outpost” does very, very well that make it a movie worth your ninety minutes:
1. Broadly-sketched, interesting characters. The eight men involved in the plot aren’t the deepest, most nuanced characters to grace the screen, but their sparse dialogue is used very carefully to craft distinctive individuals with unique motivations. The streamlined dialogue means there’s virtually no time spent on backstory, another wise decision that helps keep the plot moving and the suspense taut.
2. No sexy babes. Seriously–THANK YOU for this. I am so sick-to-death of the unnecessary inclusion of the Kick Ass Babe™ in every Tough Guy Ensemble, the purpose of whom is to wear a low-cut tank top and growl unappealingly while shooting a gun and creating cheap sexual tension. Seriously, casting directors–you’re not discovering a generation of Sigourney Weavers; you’re just artistically smudging the cheekbones of models with faux-filth and expecting this to pass as “toughness.” At least the Damsel In Distress isn’t a disingenuous trope. And, in deference to gender equality, the male players aren’t delicately-boned pretty boys fresh from the set of a prime time melodrama–a casting choice I appreciate just as much!
3. Eerie use of light. The dramatic use of lighting really adds to the creepiness of the cobwebbed interior of the bunker in a way that’s artful without being obtrusive, but the real show-stopper is the use of floodlights during the outdoor night sequences. It’s kind of amazing that such a simple technique could produce such dramatic results, but I’m a real sucker for bright lights through fog at night. That’s one of the finer images to capture on film, I must say!
4. Well-placed humor. It’s easy, in 2009, to use the zombie movie as a platform for slapstick comedy. While some zombie flicks have employed deliberate, over-the-top comedy with successful results (“Dead Alive,” “Shaun of the Dead”), this isn’t always–or even usually–the case. “Outpost” is mainly played as a straight horror film, but there are some moments of humor that keep it from being tedious or grim. Also, no characters are named “Romero” or “Savini” (this goes way, way past pet peeve when filmmakers pull “clever” shit like that).
5. Nazis are the best cinema baddies. Really, there’s no question of who you need to root for here. Nazis = bad. Zombies = bad. Therefore, Nazi zombies = superfuckingbad.
Crack open a beer, grab some chips, and queue up “Outpost”–it’s a nice to watch the little low-budget shocker that could every once in a while, isn’t it?
“Outpost” Trailer: ranks “Outpost” as one of the 25 Military Movies to See Before You Die–and I agree! See the rest of the list here.

"Lords of Chaos" – The Movie. No–Really.

Folks can badmouth Twitter all they want, but there’s a REASON that I follow almost a hundred accounts.  Nuggets of info abound, and it’s nice to have a semi-constant stream of bite-sized weirdness coming into my day. 

Bite-sized weirdness like the fact that Sion Sono (director of J-Horror notables “Suicide Circle” and “Noriko’s Dinner Table”) is directing an English-language cinematic adaptation of the true crime book “Lords of Chaos” (which each and every one of you NEED to purchase ASAP if it’s not already in your library) starring Jackson Rathbone (who plays one of the suspiciously hairless man-boy vampires in “Twilight”) as murderous Norwegian black metaller Varg “Count Grishnackh” Vikernes.
I didn’t believe it either, till I found a couple of articles:
I finally found the thing that put me at a loss for words.  There’s just so much so fiercely bizarre about this that my head is spinning.  In fairness to the film’s concept, the story of Vikernes’ murder of musician Øystein “Euronymous” Aarseth, another member of the Norwegian black metal underground, is colorful as all get-out, with its Satanic trappings, church arson, and far-out ideologies.  But with statements from producer Stuart Pollok referring to the book’s “fun portrayal of Norway” as if fatal stabbings and national socialism should be included in the country’s tourist pamphlets, I’m going to hold off on my endorsement or lack thereof till I hear more info on this project.