Fuck Yeah Helmut Berger

Much like the unfortunate victims subjects of A&E’s “Intervention,” I surround myself with enablers. “Yes of course” and “that’s an unquestionably excellent idea” are some of my favorite phrases in the English language.

So really, I was unable to say no to Darius Whiteplume, pal of the Empire and author of the eclectic and fabulous blog Adventures in Nerdliness, when he invited me to co-curate a Tumblr blog dedicated to one of my long-time favorite actors, Helmut Berger. In the tradition of other similar celebrity-celebrating Tumblogs, this effort is titled Fuck Yeah Helmut Berger. We welcome submissions, so if you’ve got some Berger-related material you’d like to share with the internet, let me know!
Taking advantage of Tumblr’s Wild Westier attitude towards NSFW content, I’ve posted some material that I’ve held off on sharing here on the Love Train. That cover up at the top, showing Mr. Berger with Diabolik’s girlfriend Marisa Mell, gives just a taste of the photo-spread I scanned in last night for your fapping delectation. You’re all extremely welcome!

Behind the Scenes Photos: Jean Rollin’s "Two Orphan Vampires"

I’ve been batting around the idea of going back to some of my favorite films and favorite filmmakers over the next little bit and talking about some stuff that I *know* I like, instead of playing Movie Roulette. In that spirit, here are some images from my Daunting Paper Ephemera Collection from Jean Rollin’s 1997 film, “Two Orphan Vampires:”
Two Orphan Vampires
Two Orphan Vampires
Two Orphan Vampires

In the blog-world of fleeting electronic images, there’s something especially nice about owning tangible pieces of memorabilia. Granted, this also means that I have two industrial-sized tubes of posters that will probably never get hung on my walls unless I inherit an as-yet-unknown-to-me ancestral castle with limitless hallways and rooms.

Hands of Steel [1986]

Sergio Martino, you clever SOB. Not only did you produce some of the sleekest, sexy-cruelest gialli of the early 1970s, but you were equally as adept at churning out brilliant knock-offs in the 1980s. It’s a little hard for me to digest the fact that the same director is responsible for both the vicious eroticism of “The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh” and the cyborg nuttiness of “Hands of Steel,” but such is the case. Playing as it if was assembled (much like its protagonist) from the best functional elements of several movies, including “The Terminator,” “Smokey and the Bandit,” “Blade Runner,” “Over the Top,” and “Road House,” “Hands of Steel” is a gloriously slap-dash celebration of what makes 80s sci-fi knock-offs so damn much fun to watch. Unlike virtually all of the other 80s sci-fi knock-offs *I* can think of, however, this movie prefigures the latter two films that appear to be clear influencers.

In a pollution-scarred, near-future United States, a visionary environmentalist has aroused the ire of presumably wealthy, presumably influential, and definitely evil industrialist Francis Turner (head of the eponymous Foundation, but not author of the eponymous Diaries). In an effort to silence this threat, brooding, muscly-type gentleman Paco Queruak is sent to assassinate the do-gooder. Obeying his instincts, Paco holds back on his killing blow and goes on the lam to his home state of Arizona. How on earth Koch-era New York City–which is what I think gets montaged at the opening of the film, unless that footage was part of some kind of ill-advised and ultimately-scrapped “Phoenix Is Phucked” tourism campaign from the mid-80s–got transported four hours from Middle-o’-Nowheresville, AZ is not addressed, but such are the flights of fancy one must accept in Italian dystopias of the 1980s. At any rate, Paco winds up in Arizona at the rustic Champions Cafe and Motel, run by the lovely, lithesome, and lonely Linda, who agrees to give Paco room and board in exchange for the kind of wholesomely beefy manual labor usually reserved for romance novels. Turner’s minions, including European Hitman Peter Howell*, are hot on Paco’s trail, and after Paco earns the hatred of arm-wrestling heavyweight Raoul Morales, the Turner Cronies team up with the angry trucker to kill Paco by any means necessary (up to an including “death by femmebot”).
*Yes, this is really how the character is announced in the film, which is just as awesome as you’re thinking it is.
Hands of Steel
Daniel Greene puts in a decent turn as Paco Queruak, and the relationship between Paco and Linda is actually rather sweet. The most glee-inducing roles, as one should expect in a genre film, belong to the character actors. George Eastman will be easily recognizable to Eurotrash enthusiasts as the uber-macho big rig driver Raoul. He struts, eye-bugs and perspires his way through his role as the shit-talking antagonist, and his menacing physical presence provides a good counterpoint to Greene’s own muscular frame. Genre vet Claudio Cassinelli (who died in a helicopter crash during filming), is suitably sinister as European Hitman Peter Howell. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the presence of John Saxon** playing head baddie Francis Turner.
**In my household, he is known as John “Mark Of Quality” Saxon. He’s second only to Udo Kier in terms of playing roles in movies that made me say something like “Oh, John Saxon is in this–how bad could it be?” only to have that question answered in the most painful manner possible.
Hands of Steel
John Saxon makes no apologies for his career choices.
The near-future mise en scene is created in such a manner as to be only partially immersive, and that only part of the time. This film’s vision of the future hinges on silver HVAC tubing and dialogue about pollution. To be honest, I think it’s wonderful that little attempt was made to disguise the year in which this was filmed. Here is a short list of things that will still be around in the future:
  • Rotary phones
  • Mazda RX-7 sports cars
  • That brown, orange and creme texturized-plaid loveseat from your grandma’s house
  • Garfield posters
There’s also some great use of computer technology, when the police investigating the assault on the environmentalist plug in the coordinates of his wound, only to come up with the following maybe-useful graphic with some suggestions to the identity of the weapon:
Hands of Steel
Dialogue-wise, this movie dwells in a magical land somewhere between action movie cliches and bad dubbing, aided by a distinctly foreign view of how Americans talk to each other. Witness this ACTUAL EXCHANGE that takes place during the film:
Linda: [handing a roll of toilet paper to Paco] They forced me to do this.
Paco: [reading from a threatening note on a roll of toilet paper] “If you are a man, prove it. If you’re shitting in your pants, clean your ass with this.”
Raoul’s minion 1: That’s a good one! I think he’s gonna need another roll at least!
Raoul’s minion 2: You can put him down Raoul–he knows it!
Raoul’s minion 3: He’s strong–yeah, as strong as a wet fart.
[Paco scrawls something onto the counter, breaks the corner of the counter with his bare hands, tosses it at Raoul’s table]
Raoul: [reading from the chunk of counter] “You’re on.”
Hands of Steel
For those of you keeping score, this makes “Hands of Steel” easily the award-winner for the Film with the Best Threat Delivered via Toilet Paper Leading to an Arm Wrestling Match Between a Trucker and a Cyborg.
Hands of Steel
To be honest, I can’t think of anything I didn’t like about “Hands of Steel.” It’s exactly the flavor of silly that will please fans of low-budget, post-apocalyptic films, striking plenty of silly notes, very few boring ones, and including enough outta-left-field action bits to keep things popping. You really have no excuse NOT to see this movie, since it’s included in the Mill Creek Tales of Terror 50-Movie Pack. Many thanks to Emily of the Deadly Dolls House of Horror Nonsense for turning me on to this flick!

The Fantastic Film Poster Art of Philippe Druillet

French artist Philippe Druillet is hands-down my favorite film poster illustrator. While there have been many skilled pulp artists (both named and anonymous) who have created iconic posters linked to famous films, Druillet’s art graced some of the sell-sheets for far more eccentric cinematic efforts of the 60s, 70s and 80s.

I became aware of Druillet’s work from the posters for Jean Rollin’s first vampire trilogy (“Le viol du vampire,” “La vampire nue,” and “Le frisson des vampires,” shown above). The combination of Art Nouveau flourishes with fantasy-horror content complements Rollin’s films beautifully.
And then there’s his poster for “Quest for Fire,” a movie that holds a special-if-silly place in my heart. I’m convinced that all People Of A Certain Age had to watch “Quest for Fire” at some point in their high school career. My art history teacher showed this flick, but was careful to fast-forward through the sex scenes. I love movies where a single caveman invents everything–what the hell ever happened to that subgenre? Why is there no thriving CAVEPUNK movement right now? Seriously, get on that, internet.
A prime example of this flavor of pseudo-anthropological lunacy is “Clan of the Cave Bear,” and lo and behold, here’s another Druillet-illo’ed poster! Another tale from high school involves a group of gal-pals of mine making each other little magical bags with deer teeth and pine needles and various woodland materials for… I dunno, luck or something. High school girls engage in crazy magical junk–that’s a proven fact. I went along with this mainly due to my unrequited crush on one of the girls involved. Also, culty religious shit revolving around fictional cavewomen is no stupider than, say, Wicca. Still–great poster, right?
I like “Star Wars.” I like Druillet’s “Star Wars” even better.
Rounding things out with a book cover, I think this depiction of H.P. Lovecraft’s eldritch horrors really conveys a sense of sweeping dread. Or maybe I just dig that recurring decorative circular motif. A little from column A, a little from column B, I suppose.
I highly recommend checking out Druillet.com for acres more fabulous illustrations. It’s in French, but I have faith that you’ll sort it out. Hell, just click randomly–you’re sure to land on some really cool eye candy!

Gone With the Pope [1975/2010]

There are as many reasons for enjoying cult cinema as there are people who enjoy cult cinema. I know folks who crave newness above all other qualities, while there are also fetishists for specific genre tropes*. Some follow the work of their favorite directors with a passion that verges on the religious, while there are huge fans of certain actors and actresses. Viewers seek art, laughter, sociological commentary, and cultural reflections in cult films. While there’s something for many of these viewers in “Gone With the Pope,” it’s a special gem for those of us who revel in visionary-if-misguided works of celluloid mayhem.

*I feel kind of bad for the guy I know who loves to see monkeys smoking cigarettes. That’s probably TOO particular, and I can imagine his life as a long stream of simian disappointments.
Gone With the Pope
Filmed in 1975, “Gone With the Pope” was written, produced and directed by comedian Duke Mitchell, but the movie was never completed. Almost three decades after Mitchell’s death in 1981, the original film elements have been restored and edited by Bob Murawski, hot off his Best Film Editing Oscar win for “The Hurt Locker.” The result is an exceedingly strange crime caper cum morality play that makes no apologies for its bad taste and easily achieves Cult Oddity status.
Gone With the Pope
Mafia hitman Paul has been left disillusioned after a stint in prison followed immediately by masterminding an elaborate assassination of seven men. He longs to settle down with his girlfriend Jean but needs to concoct a lucrative plan in order to finance his retirement (which one can only assume involves a LOT of polyester leisure suits and gold-chained cornicelli). Enlisting the aid of his equally world-weary compatriots Luke and Peter**, Paul devises a caper that involves kidnapping the Pope and ransoming him back by extorting one dollar from every Catholic in the world. What ensues is a crisis of faith that ping-pongs wildly between comedic moments and scenes that are probably not meant to actually be comedy but are gorgeously comedic to atheist bastards like me.
**You see what they did there!
Gone With the Pope
What makes this movie extra-special is that, in addition to helming the film, Duke Mitchell also plays the lead role of Paul and lends his voice to several songs on the soundtrack. It needs to be emphasized that Mitchell also gives the film’s best performance. While that may sound like damning with faint praise, I mean this with no irony. He’s performing at an eight out of ten here and his faded mafioso is likable and even complex. It’s a little strange to watch him trade dialogue with Jean, who is clearly reading from cue cards–you can watch her eyes move back and forth as she digests and regurgitates her lines. Jean’s every utterance is silly to the point of being classic, while it’s clear that Paul is soulfully in love with this woman. In fact, if I think too hard about how cool Mitchell is in this movie, it makes me sad and frustrated to think that he only appeared in two action films (this one, and “Massacre Mafia Style”).
Gone With the Pope
The majority of actors in this film list “Gone With the Pope” as their sole screen credit, which comes as little surprise. With the notable exception of Duke Mitchell, whose naturalism is downright startling in this context, everyone else looks awkward and stilted on screen. For my money, the MVP of bad acting is Giorgio Tavolieri’s portrayal of Paul’s fellow hitman Giorgio. I’m not convinced that Tavolieri *wasn’t* saying his lines phonetically, and his scenes with Paul have a certain Lennie and George quality to them that makes me ponder how on earth these two characters worked together. Touching? Goofy? Touchingly goofy? If I examine it too much, it loses its magic.
There’s a wonderful non-performing rawness to the cast that goes past being merely laughable, and winds up being charming. I should be offended by a movie that involves an older white male telling an African-American prostitute that “it looks like Brillo down there,” but there’s a naive honesty to the whole shebang that is politically incorrect but simultaneously free from cruelty.
This lack of meanness sets “Gone With the Pope” apart from other Catholicsploitation movies. While fellow fans of nunsploitation will expect a certain amount of cynicism about the Catholic church (OK, maybe an EXCESS of cynicism–that’d be a fair cop), viewers may be surprised with the way things turn out in this film. There’s enough unexpected messaging taking place in this movie to make it unique among its sploitationey brethren.
Gone With the Pope
Vintage Vegas: You probably would have seen these guys and not the Rat Pack. Just Sayin’.
All this having been addressed, “Gone With the Pope” is more of a curiosity than a classic. In spite of getting the best editing treatment the material could hope for, it suffers from its quantity of montages (love montage, Vegas montage, boat montage, and so on) and doesn’t have the madcap pace that the trailer may suggest. Perhaps most vexing, a good portion of the footage is actively out of focus. For viewers who are willing to embrace the unpolished nature of the movie, there’s a lot of weird wonderfulness to enjoy, but the technical shortcomings may alienate casual viewers. As a one-of-a-kind vanity piece that distills its time and place “Gone With the Pope” is tremendously entertaining and deserves to be sought out by enthusiasts of cinematic Art Brut.

Chemical Wedding (aka "Crowley") [2008]

"Chemical Wedding"

Ambition is not a shortcoming of “Chemical Wedding,” the Bruce-Dickinson-scribed sci-fi/horror film that builds its plot on the reputation of occultist Aleister Crowley. Aiming for the majestic scope of Iron Maiden’s best metal epics, the film waffles between sinister prophecy and flaccid plotting only to wind up stumbling over its own pomposity. In short: “Chemical Wedding” has gotta lotta problems. Chief among these problems is the fact that this could have been a really cool movie if it had been approached with a stronger aesthetic pimp hand. Knock off a good 20 minutes of talky exposition, strengthen the visuals enough to cover up the plot holes, and cast a leading couple with more than symmetrical features to their collective credit, and you could have a psychedelic romp to compare favorably to the continental output of the early 1970s. Sadly, the finished product can’t find its footing between splattery comedic excess, New Age scare tactics, and tepid melodrama (HINT: that first one would’ve been the direction to take–just sayin’).

"Chemical Wedding"

Scientists at Cambridge University in England have created a supercomputer capable of storing memories recovered from the human mind. Fifty-some-odd years after his death, Aleister Crowley’s spirit inhabits the machine and enters the brain of Mason-obsessed classics Professor Haddo. It falls to Cal-Tech scientist Joshua Mathers and university newspaper reporter Lia Robinson (both of whose names I had to look up on IMDb–such is the strength of their characters) to prevent Crowley’s spirit from bringing about some sort of ill-defined but nevertheless apocalyptic event involving a virgin birth.
That, my friends, is a plot that’s ridiculous enough to be excellent. How can you not approach a movie that’s essentially “Lawnmower Man 3: SEX MAGICK!” with anything other than affection and hopefulness?

"Chemical Wedding"

It becomes pretty clear pretty early on that the science of the movie is a hott mess. I can forgive that–sometimes you just need a device to get you to the good shit. Such is the nature of genre story-making. This film relies almost entirely on convenient devices, however, and the sheer volume of happenstances and deus ex machinae just winds up being more than can be overlooked. I raised an eyebrow when the school newspaper reporter just waltzed on in to the restricted lab, but when characters repeatedly find precisely the right books that contain key pieces of information about how to stop Crowley’s magickal plans, I winced. This sloppy plotting might not be such a problem if the film wasn’t committed to being so literal. It lacks a visual style that would elevate the nonsense to… well, at least to good-looking nonsense. The overall mood of the film mixes that of the screen versions of “The Da Vinci Code” and Clive Barker’s “Lord of Illusions”* if envisioned as a long episode of “Dr. Who.”
*I think I may actually hate this movie to an unreasonable degree. Objectively, it’s not that bad, but every time I think about it, I start to froth at the mouth a little bit. What a fucking mess.
"Chemical Wedding"
Ladies and gentlemen: your flavorlessly attractive, teevee-ready leading couple. They’re as baffled to be here as you are to see them here.
I realize that not ALL British movies have bad sound and creaky cinematography, but ENOUGH British movies have bad sound and creaky cinematography to justify my prejudice of thinking of British movies as being characterized by these features. “Chemical Wedding” certainly doesn’t test this rule. There are moments when the sound mix makes pieces of dialogue impossible to understand, and while I dig Dutch Angles as much as the next person, I found that they were over-used here. In fact, skewed angles were really the only cinematography flourish that I noted. Throw me a fisheye lens, dude! I WANT TO LOVE YOU, MOVIE. Don’t make this so hard on both of us!
Give me a moment to catch my breath, and I’ll address the un-terrible things about this movie.

"Chemical Wedding"

As you might expect from a flick about Aleister Crowley, a person dubbed “The Wickedest Man the World” who was known for such outrageous behavior as crapping on people’s rugs during cocktail parties and chasing William Butler Yeats with a knife, there’s some weird shit that goes on here. Much screen time is devoted to Crowley’s theories on the spiritual and magical powers of sex in the form of orgies, floggings, nudity and the faxing of semen.* Credit where credit is due–the nudity on display here is pretty fine (thank you, Page 3, and your legacy of pulchritude). The world offers far more efficient bare-breast delivery vehicles, to be sure, but this offers a better-than-average array of bosoms.
*This is not a typo. It is also very gross.
Unsurprisingly, given its authorial pedigree, “Chemical Wedding” features a tasty Iron Maiden-infused soundtrack. It’s an odd pairing with the 1920s jazz music that plays in some of the Crowley scenes, but for my money, it works. At any rate, I’m going to put the soundtrack in the PLUS column and leave it at that.

"Chemical Wedding"
Simon Callow’s unhinged portrayal of Crowley-inhabited Haddo is the highlight of the movie, and the film’s real saving grace. Without Callow, this would be an entirely unwatchable mess. Beginning the movie as a stuttering, fussy parody of academic eccentricity, his Haddo character is a long way from the sly, punning Crowley. I was reminded of Monty Python’s Terry Jones, both by Callow’s appearance as well as his ability to convey comedic range from anti-aplomb to stentorian grimness. It’s a great performance in a movie otherwise inhabited by bland, uninteresting characters.** There’s a great montage bit where Crowley-Haddo takes a stroll through town, stealing the purple velvet suit off the back of a latter-day dandy, impressing the owners of a local occult shop, and generally causing mischief. If more of the movie hit notes like this, “Chemical Wedding” would’ve been a quirky, fun, and thoroughly recommendable flick!
**And women with very nice breasts–let’s not forget that.

"Chemical Wedding"
“Chemical Wedding” ranks pretty high on the wasted opportunity scale. I’m baffled by the consistency with which filmmakers screw up a good Satanic Apocalypse story in bringing it to the screen. It’d seem a no-brainer–there are opportunities for blood, boobs, sex, and all the things that generally make a horror movie worth watching. And yet, for the most part, these movies fizzle out with their mystical babble and too-defined good-versus-evil characters. I’ll look on the bright side, however–there’s still room for a future filmmaker to create the ultimate statement on resurrecting dead occult madmen using supercomputers. Get to work, folks–I know *I* want to see your movie.

Now, because some of the actors in this film (along with Ozzy Osbourne fans) can always use a helpful reminder regarding the pronunciation of Crowley’s name, here’s “CrowleyMass” by Current 93:

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo [2009]

Stieg Larssen’s novel “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (first published in Sweden in 2005, with the American edition following in 2008) is a fantastic read, well worth the attention spent on the multiple hundreds of pages of business espionage, intricate family history, computer intrigue and cold case mysteries that make up its story. Director Niels Arden Oplev’s two-and-a-half-hour film adaptation manages to be simultaneously faithful to the content of the book and deeply, deeply problematic.

Journalist Mikael Blomkvist has been convicted of libel charges against a prominent-but-shady titan of industry (the most scoundrelicious kind!) only to be hired by a prominent-but-upstanding titan of industry Henrik Vanger to investigate the forty-year-old murder of his niece. Initially hired to investigate Blomkvist prior to his engagement with Vanger, hacker extraordinaire Lisbeth Salander becomes fascinated with the research she uncovers in Blomkvist’s computer and the two team up to unravel what begins to look like a decades-long series of ritualized killings.

I am by no means the “ZOMG MOVIES CAN NEVER MATCH BOOKS” dude when it comes to translating page to screen. I was the first of my group of pals to brave Peter Jackson’s “The Fellowship of the Ring” and deemed it to be “awesome” when everyone else was predicting elf-flavored fantasy disaster. However, when the key source of tension in a story is derived from internal monologues and people looking up information on computers or in libraries, there are a lot of ways for a cinema adaptation to fall flat. Add in the fact that every storyline in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” involves the hideous abuse of women and a filmmaker has a very thorny path to navigate.
As is my habit, I’ll address The Good Stuff first. For a movie that involves long stretches of characters researching stuff on computers and in libraries, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” isn’t nearly as boring as it could be. There’s a genuine sense of tension as Blomkvist pieces together grainy photos and unearths dusty documents. Any sacrifices of intricacy from the book aren’t glaringly apparent, and are entirely excusable given the nature of the movie’s run-time.
Noomi Rapace’s portrayal of Lisbeth Salander is so pitch-perfect that I could swoon (I may, in fact, have swooned watching her on the big screen). Her character is deeply troubled and introverted, and could have come across as needlessly bitchy in the hands of a less skilled actress. Rapace conveys the sense of strength and pride that made Salander’s character crackle in the novel. There are long stretches of text devoted to what’s going on inside Salander’s head in the book that make it a little easier to understand why she takes certain courses of action that seem a little–dare I say it–stupid on screen.
Which brings me to the bad. The original Swedish title of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is “Men Who Hate Women,” a title that really reflects the spirit and content of the movie. While the abuse suffered by Salander exists in both the novel and on-screen, there’s a savagery to what she endures that’s stomach-turning when put into visual form. Her voice is present in the book, as the reader begins to understand why she reacts to situations the way she does, but on-screen, she’s made into a victim–a victim who gets suitably brutal revenge, but that doesn’t erase her victimhood. In the novel, Salander’s suffering sets up a chain of escalating suffering on the part of other women in the story, but the personalization of this violence on film makes what happens to her feel worse than the comfortably-distanced-by-time murders that are later revealed. Perhaps Salander’s character, with her emotional volatility and extreme appearance, is Other enough for audiences not to resonate with her. I’m honestly a little surprised that more people don’t react more strongly to this thread of storyline.
“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” allows its audience to be horrified by violence against women at the same time as it revels in the sexualized depiction of violence against women. The scenes of personalized violence against Salander sat sour with me and, while they do exist in the book, ultimately made the film adaptation uncomfortable to watch.
All this makes me wonder how “Fight Club”/”Se7en”‘s David Fincher (a director not known for putting women front-and-center in his films) will handle the material.
Ah well–we’ll always have the book, won’t we?