The New Gladiators [1984]

While director Lucio Fulci is best known for his high-on-splatter, low-on-sense zombie epics, the man was an incredibly prolific director who explored almost all the aspects of exploitation filmmaking, from crime dramas to Spaghetti Westerns to fantasy films to science fiction. I’ve got no shortage of love for “Zombie” and “The Beyond,” don’t get me wrong, but I find myself gravitating to his non-gore offerings as time goes on. Leave it to Il Fulci to create yet another offering of cinematic schlock that would prove irresistible to the Tenebrous Palate in the form of “The New Gladiators” (TRUE FACT: I would’ve watched this merely for the title’s resemblance to Perennial Tenebrous Fave “The New Barbarians”).

Permit me a little bit of stage-setting for this movie, won’t you? There’s some question about how far in the not-too-distant future we might be here: alternately, this flick is known as “Warriors of the Year 2072,” “Rome 2033,” or “Warriors of the Year 2079,” so I’ll just defer to this VHS title, “The New Gladiators,” with its promise of a) newness and b) gladiatorial combat. In the world of “The New Gladiators,” two major teevee networks compete for supremacy by increasing the violent content of their programming. In a ploy to secure ratings triumph for his network, an amoral executive comes up with a plan to bring back the glory of Rome’s Coliseum by staging a grand battle to the death between 20 convicted felons, including probably-wrongly-accused Drake, star of competing program “Killbike.” Honestly, I had a little trouble with the central bit of plotting since the film opens with scenes from “Killbike,” which is… you know… a grand battle to the death. If you can get past this hiccup of logic, then the rest of the movie is fairly straightforward. All of which is to say: “this is a fucking convoluted plot even by Italotrash standards, and by the time the writers spring the ‘artificial intelligence’ bit on you in the final act you’ll feel like you’ve been beaten about the cranium by a rubber mallet.”
And yes–that IS a recommendation, friends.
"The New Gladiators" Film Still
I could take this space to feed you some lines about how this movie is more relevant now than ever, what with our global obsession with increasingly stupid and prurient reality television programming, but I won’t. Instead, I’ll tell you about what you REALLY want to know, handily bulleted for your ease and pleasure (bullet points are the lubricant of my blogworld):

"The New Gladiators" Film Still
  • I derive no small measure of joy from model cityscapes. From the glorious “Metropolis” envisioned by Fritz Lang to the “Blade Runner”-inspired Playmobil Rome that opens “The New Gladiators,” it’s all delicious to me. Watching the tiny camera crawl across the twee skyscrapers (none of which appear in the daytime scenes filmed outdoors–whoops!) filled my heart to bursting. This movie would have to make some HARD LEFTS to get me to NOT love it.
  • Dummy deaths by the dozen are on display RIGHT AWAY during the “Killbike” sequence. Exploding dummies, decapitated dummies, dummies driven over by motorcycles–it’s all here, and it’s all fantastic.

"The New Gladiators" Film Still
  • Bonus points for hot chicks with great New Wave haircuts. I mean, I might be biased towards that PARTICULAR style of haircut, but I’d just like to think I have A Consistency Of Vision.
"The New Gladiators" Film Still
  • The movie is filled with ridicu-tastic characters, like Raven, head of the Praetorians (GET IT?!), warden over the gladiators-to-be, and awesomest swarthy Fascist this side of “The Beast in Heat.” I’m not unconvinced that Raven has a drawer full of left gloves, since he seems to like to fling them into the prison’s vaporizing force field with alarming frequency when emphasizing important points.

"The New Gladiators" Film Still
  • There’s so much, so nifty about this movie that it’s taken me this long to get to highlighting Fred “The Black Shatner” Williamson’s patented Fred-Fu montage, complete with strobe lights and laser sounds!
  • Then there are the stenciled-on names of the fighters during the Climactic Gladiation-Actual, to help you make sense of who the hell is fighting who. Hint: By about three minutes in, you don’t actually care (and you can always tell where the Asian character is anyway, on account of his dependence on ninja techniques).

"The New Gladiators" Film Still
Fans of over-the-top action trash can see this movie has plenty of joy to deliver. But that’s not to say it’s a perfect example of the form. Unfortunately for a film about guys riding motorcycles and whacking the crap out of other guys riding motorcycles, this isn’t exactly the quickest-paced flick in the world. The movie suffers from a dragging middle between the first 10 minutes of screen-time devoted to Drake’s imprisonment and the eventual televised event. There are a couple of thwarted escape attempts, the development of a tepid romance between Drake and Darker-Haired-Great-Haircut-Lady, and some scenes of people working on computers. Also, the film insists on using “glare” as its distinctive cinemtographic theme (much in the manner that “Conquest” used “fog” and “fog in the dark” as its visual foci).
As with any action film, “The New Gladiators” is best experienced… well… in action! A bit of the flavor of this wild future film can be experienced in the trailer:

Karloff’s Career, As Told Through Tiny Paintings [Boris Karloff Blogathon]

I’ll admit that it’s pretty intimidating to check out the list of incredible entries for the Boris Karloff Blogathon taking place this week. A combination of interesting viewpoints, impressive scholarship, and skillful writing leaves me sitting here, wondering what on earth I can add to the discourse! Coming up EMPTY in finding a nunsploitation film featuring Karloff (who would’ve mad a FANTASTIC evil priest in the classic gothic mold–just sayin’), I figured I could contribute some tiny paintings of the man who has become a key face of 20th Century Horror. The paintings below are Art Trading Cards–each one is 2.5″ by 3.5″, executed in watercolor paint on paper.
Boris Karloff - Portrait

Boris Karloff is one of an elite group of actors who embodies the Gentleman Ghoul, both on-screen and off. Like Lon Chaney before him, and like Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and Vincent Price after him, Karloff’s sinisterness is balanced by a dignity of carriage that makes his films a delight to watch.

Boris Karloff as Frankenstein

Achieving fame with his turn in James Whale’s production of “Frankenstein” for Universal Studios, Karloff went from character actor to top-billed heavy. His performance as the monster lab-created from cadavers has a sense of pathos even under all those layers of makeup. It’s easy to see, even after almost eighty years, why this was a star-making role for the actor.
Boris Karloff in "The Mummy"
“The Mummy” is probably my favorite of the Classic Monsters, with the character’s Ancient Egyptian origin story, romantic story arc, and–it has to be said–rockin’ fez. Once again, there’s a sense of pathos to this monster that is well-realized by Karloff.
Boris Karloff as Fu Manchu
Even while playing a role as fraught with un-PC peril as that of Dr. Fu Manchu, the Chinese criminal mastermind hell-bent on eliminating Western Decorum in favor of the insidious ways of the Far East, Karloff invests his portrayal with a regal carriage. Here, indeed, is a man with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan, just like Sax Rohmer would’ve wanted him!

Boris Karloff in "The Black Cat"
Karloff’s role as Hjalmar Poelzig in “The Black Cat” is just one of the many marvelous things about that particular entry into the Universal Horror canon. Seeing him act opposite Bela Lugosi while both actors were in prime form is a treat not to be overstated! I geeked out about this film at some length on the Classic Horror podcast with Nate Yapp–check it out here if you haven’t downloaded your copy yet.
Boris Karloff in "Black Sabbath"
Even late in his career, Karloff continued to choose interesting projects and worked with talented directors. In Mario Bava’s anthology film “Black Sabbath,” Karloff is featured in a supernatural period piece titled “The Wurdulak” in addition to providing narration for the film. The actor’s distinctive features are only enhanced by the colored gels favored by the master of the Italian Gothic.

VOTE TENEBROUS For Ms. Horror Blogosphere 2009

Voting Started at 2pm 11/24 — Ends on 12/4
See the poll to the RIGHT in the gray bar at Vault of Horror

Lieblings, liebchens and assorted internet cupcakes, I’m going to call your attention to a competition taking place over on Pal of the Empire B-Sol’s blog, The Vault of Horror. In the interests of spotlighting some of the women who are writing about horror, he has created the FIRST ANNUAL Ms. Horror Blogosphere Contest. He’s just the kind of selfless guy who has opened his heart and his webspace to the many ladies who are writing about terrifying media, allowing them to duke it out to see who’ll reign over this particular sliver of the World Wide Web. He’s a bit of a Horror Hugh Hefner, really, except continent.

Please take a moment to consider me as a potential crown-holder. View my entry here and take a moment to reflect on the many ways in which I’ve enriched your lives over my career on the intertubes (to wit: freaky fashion, hideous exploitation films, art with kinky nuns). View all of the contestants (including also-Pals of the Empire like Kitty Le Claw, The Screamstress, Monster Scholar and Ms. Harker) at this handy link.
Keep in mind that a vote for Tenebrous is a vote for the Lurid, the Weird, and the Fantastique!

Kevin Geeks Out On Dummy Deaths: Recap and Recommendation

I remember reading somewhere recently that the word “funnest” had been added to the Oxford English Dictionary. As it turns out, this was either a beautiful dream or a piece of misinformation. I KNOW–you’re thinking this is damn near unpossible, considering the general reliability of randomly acquired internet knowledge. Technically, this means that my plans to describe the Kevin Geeks Out On… series at 92YTribeca as the funnest screenings in New York City would be incorrect.

IN SPIRIT, however, the sentiment stands.

Comedian Kevin Maher has a marrow-deep understanding of and love for cinematic nerdiness. Each month, he selects a topic and assembles a crack team of enthusiasts to share the joy with his audience in a presentation that is part film montage, part interview, and part comedy show. With the aid of the Flying Maciste Brothers of The Destructible Man blog, Kevin has created a presentation that distills the glee of watching frequently-grisly, often-silly, and sometimes-shocking dummy destruction into a blissfully cathartic two hours.
From the opening salvo of the “Jerk Scientist” from “Dawn of the Dead” ranting about dummies, Dummies, DUMMIES to the finale of Joe Spinnel’s grisly demise in “Maniac”*, it was non-stop mayhem. The Flying Maciste Brothers carefully culled the best moments of falling dummies, decapitated dummies, head-explodey dummies and even deceased child dummies from the history of cinema. Let me just tell you that, taken out of the context of the rest of its odious run-time, the “baby dumped off a bridge” scene from “The Third Mother” is one of the GREATEST THINGS EVER.
In addition to the dummy death montages, there were dummy death experts on hand who had been replaced by dummies ON FILM! Matt Mitler, Final Boy in “The Mutilator,” had some choice anecdotes well-told and Kevin Scullin of an unseen-by-me-but-now-TOTALLY-coveted necrophilia cult flick called “Dead Mate” told of his experiences almost falling out of a bell tower as an ill-fated priest. Filmmaker Matthew Glasson shared his experiences choreographing a dummy death in his short film “The Family Tie,” which looks to be an incredible bit of microbudgeted awesomeness.
OH AND! There were dummy death cupcakes, with lovingly crafted sugar dummies and red frosting blood. Just in case you need to convince any of your galpals to attend a Kevin Geeks Out… screening, be sure to underscore the presence of theme cupcakes at each event. SHOWING CLASS, people.
What was probably a terrible night for dummies and their families (I really need some sensitivity training, y0) was a fantabulous night for everyone else. There was much continued nerdery after the screening, when I got to chat with the host, the Maciste Brothers, Chris from Temple of Schlock, and Ivan of Ivanlandia. In fact, here I am with Chris (left) and the Brothers! Special thanks to Tofu Girl for snapping our photo.
I’m very much looking forward to next month’s Kevin Geeks Out Holiday Grab Bag presentation on Friday December 18th. It’s in PEN on my calendar, folks!
*I missed the NYC Horror Film Festival screening of this very same movie the very next night. Eeeeeeriiiiie…!

The Decadent Art of Alastair

Illustrator Alastair [b. 1887; d. 1969] was a latecomer to Symbolism, a late 19th Century art movement characterized by its embrace of gothic tropes and decadent fantasy. It’s a style of art that gets pretty much ignored in your Art History 101 and 102 courses in favor of the mainstream storyline that follows the thread of post-Renaissance Academic art to the revolution of Realism and into Impressionism, skirting art that… you know… might be deemed weird or god-forbid appealing to prurient interests.

I’m risking getting all tl;dr on you folks now, so I’ll stop–it’s a big internet, and if you feel like pursuing more on the topic, there’s plentiful info out there. You’re here for the spooky shite, and I’d be remiss were I not to cut RIGHT to the chase.

Artist Alastair was a latecomer to the Symbolist movement–like, a really, REALLY latecomer, starting his career in the 1920s. His style has much in common with that of Aubrey Beardsley’s highly decorative, clean-lined panels, but he injects a healthy dose of Harry Clarke’s deeply macabre Poe illustrations into the proceedings. Alastair’s bio reflects his complete commitment to the Decadent lifestyle–he was of ambiguous European heritage, given to flights of hypochondria and hyperbole, with an appropriate embrace of the melancholy. He was an enigmatic figure with a unique visual style.
Let’s take a look at some of his horror-themed pieces, shall we?
"Fall of the House of Usher" by Alastair
Fall of the House of Usher, pencil on paper, 1928. Madeline and Roderick, locked in a cobweb embrace. A romantic evocation of the Poe story’s themes if I ever saw one!
"Paganini" by Alastair

Paganini, 1927. The virtuoso violinist has become a bit of a legend in the years since his death, with rumors of murder most foul and deals with the Devil swirling around the musician’s name. And, for the Italo-horror fans in the house, let’s not forget trash auteur Luigi Cozzi’s “Paganini Horror!”

"The Picture of Dorian Gray" by Alastair

The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1927. Oscar Wilde’s innocent-turned-hedonist is captured in a rather quiet moment in this fine-lined illustration.

"The Young Widow II" by Alastair

“The Young Widow II,” illustration for Frank Wedekind ‘s German Expressionist play“Erdgeist,” date unknown. I’m just including this because it’s one of the most GOTH AS FUCK pieces of art ever committed to paper. STYLE, people–these two have it.

Hostel: Part II [2007]

Promises–I generally avoid them, and yet I am beginning this review with TWO:

  1. I will not make any “Hostel”/hostile puns.
  2. I will not profess my panty-moistening desire to hump the balls off of director Eli Roth and bear his scores of love-children, even though I have received the memo that he’s the new Bruce Campbell. Eli-Lovers, he is all yours (you’re welcome).
I saw the first “Hostel” shortly-ish after its release in 2005 and disliked it enormously. While it was sleekly-lensed with above-par special effects work, I found that it drowned itself in the bucket of profoundly unlikeable characters and something akin to hardcore-BDSM-flavored homophobia (you know how THOSE PEOPLE are just lurking around every corner to pop out and GETCHA) in its Boy-Versus-Men-Becomes-Final-Girl construction. To boot–I didn’t find its guignol to be grand enough to justify its reputation and therefore categorized it as a dud.
Why, then, do I have such a hard time explaining why “Hostel: Part II,” which is kinda-sorta-really the same movie, left me feeling not-unpleasantly off-kilter and invigorated? It’s a perfect example of why the success or failure of a horror film–or any piece of genre entertainment–lies in its details.
My disappointment with the first “Hostel” wasn’t enough to dissuade me from investing ninety minutes of my Sunday morning in watching its sequel–the promise of Edwige Fenech and Heather Matarazzo (who I’ve admired as an actress since her heartbreakingly awkward turn in “Welcome to the Dollhouse”) in one gore-soaked film was more than my cawfee-addled brain could resist. Even if the movie turned out to be an unpleasant exercise in physical excess (not that there’s anything WRONG with that), I’d have cool stunt-casting to enjoy. In addition to the aforementioned actresses, this flick boasts Ruggero Deodato and Bijou Phillips–WORLDS ARE COLLIDING!!!.
Similarly to its predecessor, “Hostel 2” tracks three white, upper-middle class students on vacation in Europe who get waylaid by fascinating strangers with an alluring offer of cheap lodging and exotic adventure in Eastern Europe. This time ’round, our protagonists are three women: Matarazzo’s predictably-sweet Lorna, Phillips’ predictably-slutty Whitney, and Lauren German’s kinda-hard-to-pin-down-but-definitely-wealthy Beth. Statuesque Vera Jordanova plays Axelle, the omnivorous artists’ model who lures the ladies into the clutches of the Hostel owners. Yes, for those of us who have been without media exposure for the past five years, the “Hostel” films deal with the kidnapping, torture, and murder of young tourists at the hands of wealthy club members with an appetite for the cruelest of kinks.
I wasn’t sure if casting women in the central victim roles in this movie would leave me feeling like the material was even more objectionable than on my first outing with the franchise, dealing as it would with the intense objectification of the female body as meat to be abused, but I found this film to be far more engaging than I’d anticipated. A few tweaks were put in place that made it all click.
The number-one BEST alteration to the structure of “Hostel 2” was to give a bit of backstory to the clientele and management of the hostel. Generally speaking, it’s a bad idea to over-explain horror stories–the harsh light of reason really has no place in the World of the Weird. This movie is an example that tests the rule, though! By giving a face and a motivation to the people who shell out big bucks to work out their vicious, sexual fantasies on strangers, the truly ghastly nature of the hostel is underscored. Sure, the story arc of the two man-pals who travel together to the isolated thrill-kill bordello is telegraphed and obvious, but in a universe as lurid as this, that potentially-hokey plotline actually manages to work.
There are several places in which texture is injected that help keep the movie from being a sterile exercise in meanness. I needn’t even explain how much delight it brought me to see Ms. Fenech’s appearance as an art class instructor in the opening scene–she’s lovely and spirited as ever, over 30 years after the height of her Eurotrash Cinema career. The film then moves the three lead characters onto a train which is filled with ominous figures from soccer hooligans to drug dealers to pickpockets. It’s no secret that I dig suspense sequences set on trains, and this was a very well-executed one. I nearly squee-ed aloud with nerdy, in-joke delight when the girls got waylaid by a threatening group of men in a scene that evoked Aldo Lado’s “The Night Train Murders.” By the time they’re being dispatched in the hostel, the film feels like a steroidal version of every “final girl” flick made since the 1970s.
Then there’s that Elizabeth Bathory scene where Lorna is strung up by her ankles while a curvaceous female hedonist slashes her to death with a scythe. In a word–YIKES. I’ve seen my fair share of eroticized violence on film, but the sense of panic and dread expressed by the victim combined with the mounting arousal of the murderer are graphically conveyed. Add in hideously evocative sound engineering (echoing screams, the sound of metal on skin–EEK!) and here is a setpiece that literally made me squirm in my seat.
There are moments of pitch-black humor to the film as well that keep it from being an endurance test. Deodato’s appearance will evoke smirks from fans of extreme horror, and the timing of some events during the murder sequences play out as if they were part of the most fucked-up cartoon you’re likely to see. This probably makes me a pretty lousy person, but I had to stifle a giggle at the image of a kitty-cat sipping delicately from one character’s neck stump.
Am I ACTUALLY recommending a film from the so-called “Torture Porn” subgenre that I had initially dismissed? Yes–you bet I am. Just be forewarned that you’ll probably be wanting a hot shower after watching this nasty little flick. I know I did.

Carnivorous Nights Taxidermy Contest

I love animals but I hate cleaning up after animals. It’s a quandary that has vexed me an forced me to lead a fuzzy-buddy-less life. After last night’s Carnivorous Nights Taxidermy Contest, organized by the mad geniuses at The Secret Science Club, I think I may just have a solution to my pet-desiring woes! Watching the owners of various specimens speak with affection about their still-life critters stirred made me think that maybe–just maybe–I could know some of the joy of animal companionship without any of the messy realities that accompany carbon-based life forms.

Truth be told, I got QUITE snap-happy during the program because there was just so much amazing artwork on display. Just check out Pope Pinenut II up there, created by artist Maria Carreon and part of the collection of Sofia Gonzalez–it’s a squirrel dressed in lovingly crafted papal regalia. His owner recited a moving psalm about the transient nature of life.
Carnivorous Nights Taxidermy Contest
This beautiful piece is a Nineteenth Century automaton composed of two taxidermied songbirds. When the key is turned, the bird sing and flap their wings.
Carnivorous Nights Taxidermy Contest
Carnivorous Nights Taxidermy Contest

Equally as beautiful but on a grander scale is this chandelier composed of crystals and goats’ skulls. An absolutely stunning work when viewed in person–I totally want it in my apartment. NOW.
Carnivorous Nights Taxidermy Contest
Carnivorous Nights Taxidermy Contest

As one familiar with the history of preserved specimens might expect, the Victorians were highly over-represented. These ladies had a gorgeous collection, including the Beast of Some-Colorful-English-Place-Whose-Name-Escapes-Me, which resided in its original fairground display case. It looked to be two conjoined rats, but then again my grasp of biology is rather notoriously poor.
Carnivorous Nights Taxidermy Contest
Carnivorous Nights Taxidermy Contest
Carnivorous Nights Taxidermy Contest

Artist Takeshi Yamada shared his recent creations, a series of monster babies that the artist claims are carefully crafted from samples of his own skin and hair, with a gleeful sense of showmanship. Dude is totally a hero, take my word for it.
Carnivorous Nights Taxidermy Contest
A rare specimen of Waltopithecus, a large rodent species with oversized extremities and only four digits per hand, was displayed by its discoverer.
Carnivorous Nights Taxidermy Contest
Felis Fightus Dansicus, a piece composed of two cats locked in a mortal struggle for kitty supremacy, won Best In Show. The cats appear to be dancing if held upright, which is all different kinds of awesome, as was the way the cats’ owner stroked them lovingly while displaying them to the judges.
For more photos from the Carnivorous Nights Taxidermy Show, check out my Flickr photostream. There are many more amazing pieces to view, and I’m already eager to see the wonders of next year’s competition!
For more weird and wonderful mounted creatures, be sure to check out the Tumbl-blog Crappy Taxidermy. It does what it says on the tin, people.
[Please let me know if you are the proud owner of any of these beauties, as I’d love to give you credit.]

George Romero Interviewed in GALLERY [May 1986]

I’ve talked before about how I’ll meet my demise by drowning in a sea of paper ephemera or immolating in a vintage-magazines-and-oily-rags-induced tragedy worthy of brief-but-national news coverage. One of the great things about vintage magazines is the snapshot they provide into the pop-cultural instant of their printing, from the perspectives of content, fashion, and design. The disposable nature of popular interests makes them worth cataloging–and not just because it allows you to point fingers at people around you who claim they weren’t among the eleven million people who purchased Vanilla Ice’s debut album or that they didn’t wear Jams. That’s just a deeply satisfying fringe benefit.

I like this circa-1986 interview with George Romero for a number of reasons:
  1. The nifty painting of a rather hale-and-hearty-looking Mr. Romero surrounded by a homogenized group of zombies.
  2. Romero dodges questions regarding the upcoming shooting of “Pet Sematary,” a movie produced by Romero’s Laurel Productions that scared me in no small measure as a Tiny Tenebrous, along with some discussion of “Creepshow” and its yet-to-emerge sequel. And yes, “Creepshow” freaked me out as a not-so-Tiny Tenebrous. I blame it on the piano soundtrack.
  3. This interview appeared in the same issue of GALLERY as one of my all-time favorite pieces of erotic writing.
  4. The awesome ads at the end–if zombies and independent filmmakers aren’t your bag, just buy an upskirt video and call it a day.
George Romero - GALLERY 1986 - 1 of 5
George Romero - GALLERY 1986 - 2 of 5
George Romero - GALLERY 1986 - 3 of 5
George Romero - GALLERY 1986 - 4 of 5
George Romero - GALLERY 1986 - 5 of 5

As an added bonus, here’s an extraordinarily terrifying ad presumably targeted at transvestites. The terrors of the disembodied nipples are exceeded by the horrors of the built-in cameltoe panties.
GALLERY Magazine Ad

The Destructible Man LIVE in New York City

Let’s be honest with one another here, interpals–there’s a long, dark teatime of the soul that begins with the throbbing post-Halloween hangover and doesn’t ease its stranglehold on one’s fragile, spooky psyche until sometime in March, when the weather starts getting warm enough to venture outdoors for any length of time. It’s in this spirit that I’m extra-vigilant in tracking down nifty events that take place during the Winter months.

Leave it to the heroes at 92YTribeca to continue their tradition of weird and wonderful screenings and seminars year-round! Coming up on November 20th at 8:00pm, the internet’s own Flying Maciste Brothers, stars of computer screens everywhere and gatekeepers of The Destructible Man, will be co-hosting an evening of FABULOUS DUMMY DEATHS. 1,000 dummy deaths for an entry fee of ten bucks–that works out to a cost of a penny a death, people. You just can’t beat a bargain like that!
Tickets are available online at the 92YTribeca website–be forewarned that the theatre is small, so get your admission in advance.
Also, a little groovy-jazz-electro music to brighten your November morning – Horror Disco by Bottin (thank you, Prof. Jack!):