Saturday, July 2, 2022

Exorcism (1975)

Cult auteur Jess Franco stars in Exorcism (1975) as Mathis Vogel, a defrocked priest who now makes a living writing erotic stories for porno mags edited by Franval (Pierre Taylou). After overhearing Frontal and his secretary/girlfriend Anna (Lina Romay) plan a Black Mass-themed orgy, Vogel mistakenly thinks the Satanic ceremonies to be real, and begins stalking and purifying the orgy's participants--by murdering them. 

Alternately erotic, surreal, and menacing (and often all at the same time), this is one of the strongest Franco films I've seen thus far. The narrative is fairly cohesive and straightforward, and gives structure to Franco's pscyho-sexual environs. 

The opening sequence, of two women enacting an S&M performance on stage for an audience, introduces a key theme of the movie and of Franco's work as a whole: the intertwining of performance, role-playing, voyeurism, and eroticism. Nearly every encounter in the film, whether sexual or not, involves some element of performativity. Whether its two lovers expressing submission and domination, or a college-educated cop competing with his street-wise superior, Franco seems interested in the extent to which people are always acting, and whether even the most seemingly "normal" elements of our reality are, in some ways, fictional fantasies of their own. 

The version of Exorcism streaming on Kino Cult is sourced from varying prints, and some scenes show minor damage (such as scratches), and certain sequences inter-cut between different prints in order to deliver the most complete version of the film possible. Despite this, the colors are strong and not faded, making this an overall very attractive presentation of the film. Kino's Blu-ray also includes a cut-down version called Demoniac (exclusive to the disc, not streaming), which focuses more on the horror elements of the film, and includes alternate footage and less nudity.  

Friday, April 8, 2022

The Age of Cinema (2022)

Recently I had the pleasure of participating in a feature-length essay film experiment by director Matt Barry. As part of a folk-film challenge, we decided to make our own movie during the Oscars broadcast. Filmed over Zoom, the result was The Age of Cinema (2022), a discussion about the intersection of personal collecting and film history. I also had the pleasure of writing original music for the opening sequence. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Farewell, My Lovelies: Pt. 1

A friend once told me that I was always either in the process of accessioning or deaccessioning: talking about all the new books or records that I had found, or complaining about the arduous and emotionally taxing labor of trying to weed the collection and sell items to make space. New York City is known for many things, and spacious apartments aren't one of them. 

I've hit the saturation point again, and have no shelf space (or closet space, or floor space) left. In the past, when this has occurred, I've diminished my book to collection to make space, only to regret decisions and buy the books back (often at a higher price and lower quality). This time, I'm trying something different. And, honestly, I should have done it years ago.

I've rented storage space.

Thursday, December 30, 2021

"The Girl With No Place to Hide" by Marvin Albert as Nick Quarry (1959)

The Girl With No Place to Hide gave me everything I wanted from a 1950s private eye novel—and in spades. A thoroughly hardboiled protagonist, gritty New York city ambience, wild nights in Greenwich Village bars, Bronx flophouses, incriminating photographs, two-way mirrors, blackmail, loan-sharks, shoot-outs, fist-fights, jail-house brawls, prizefights at Madison Square Garden, thugs, crooked cops, duplicitous dames—you name it, this book’s got it. But it’s also got something extra special—and that’s Marvin Albert. 

The story begins when a young woman enters a bar looking for private eye Jake Barrow’s friend, fight manager Steve Canby, who left the bar just moments before. Later, as Jake is leaving the bar, he finds a thug in the alley strangling the woman. He rescues her and takes her to his apartment for safe keeping, and she reveals that she’s in trouble, and that something bad has happened to her friend Ernie. Before Jake can find out more, he gets an urgent call to come up to the Bronx for $200. When he gets there, he realizes it was a ruse. Returning to his apartment, Angela is gone. The next morning, Jake sees in the newspaper that a photographer named Ernie was found murdered—and he fears that Angela will be the next victim.

I’ll say no more except that this is a wild ride all across New York City, with plenty of twists and turns that kept me guessing every step of the way.

Originally appearing under Albert's pseudonym “Nick Quarry” in 1959 by Gold Medal Books, The Girl With No Place to Hide was recently reissued by Black Gat Books from Stark House Press, and it magnificently captures why Albert was a writer’s writer. The Girl With No Place to Hide is the work of a real pro—a slickly designed plot that hits the right beats but not in the expected places, so readers will get what they're looking for but not in the same way they’ve read it before. Albert also shows restraint with the prose, no leaning too much on sex, violence, or slang. This is Albert’s third novel with his series character Jake Barrow—but don’t let that stop you from jumping in. If you’re like me and you haven’t read the first two yet, you’ll have no trouble following along (though you might want to rush out and find the others). 

Saturday, October 23, 2021

"The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues" (1955)

The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues (1955) is the type of movie that puts title and poster first—and story and production values dead last. And that’s ok! It’s schlocky good fun with a ragged monster that’s more cute than menacing. A bargain basement Creature from the Black Lagoon with a Cold War espionage twist, Phantom also embodies the highs, lows, and everything-in-betweens of what wound up on the bottom half of double bills in the 1950s. This particular movie accompanied Roger Corman’s Day the World Ended (1955), and together they made enough money at the box office to more than double their production costs. Sure, the monster doesn’t get enough screen time, and everyone uses the same boat, and nobody has a car, and there are lots of chance encounters happen on this one particular beach…but these sorts of decisions were made in the name of keeping the budget low, the production schedule quick, and the run-time short. So, maybe Phantom isn’t the horror classic that it tries to emulate, but it has an undeniable econo joie de vivre that makes ‘50s schlock so enchanting.

Thursday, August 5, 2021

"The Gang" (1977)

Making its Blu-ray debut from the Cohen Film Collection (distributed by Kino Lorber), Jacques Deray's The Gang (Le Gang) is a strikingly unusual and idiosyncratic arthouse gangster film that should hold many surprises for fans of French crime dramas. While it has moments that resemble French master Jean-Pierre Melville, as well as American films like The Godfather, The Sting, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, stylistically the film is quite distinct from all of those. 

The Gang begins with the titular group of men gathering before a job, and then jumps to directly after the job, as they return with their leader, Robert "The Crazy" (Alain Delon), wounded. This leads into a voice-over from Robert's wife, Marinette (Nicole Calfari), who takes the story back to post-war Paris where they meet at a nightclub, where Robert holds the patrons at gunpoint after an American soldier insults one of the gang. From here, the story alternates between idyllic scenes of the gang celebrating baptisms, relaxing in the countryside, and glimpses of their crimes filmed with Melvillain sobriety. Robert becomes increasingly brazen as their success grows, and it's only a matter of time before his craziness gets him—and perhaps the gang—killed.

Saturday, June 26, 2021

“The Kid I Killed Last Night and Other Stories: Day Keene in the Detective Pulps, Vol. #7,” edited by David Laurence Wilson (Ramble House, 2021)

I'm ecstatic over the seventh and most recent volume in Ramble House’s series of Day Keene’s short stories is The Kid I Killed Last Night and Other Stories: Day Keene in the Detective Pulps, Vol. #7 (2021). Expertly compiled, edited, and introduced by David Laurence Wilson, this collection is one of the most interesting and illuminating volumes released yet. Devoted to Keene’s earliest stories published under his real name Gunard Hjertstedt and later tales published under pen names (John Corbett and Donald King), The Kid I Killed Last Night sheds light on the more obscure areas of Keene’s pulp career. Fans of the author will delight in being able to access such rarities, and newcomers will hopefully appreciate the author’s wit and crackerjack plots. Early or late, real name or pen name, Keene was a master of the short story, and Ramble House and David Laurence Wilson deserve applause (and lots of orders) for keeping the author’s legacy alive. 

Monday, May 10, 2021

"Ritual in Blood" by Doug Masters (1986)

Ritual of Blood was the sixth English translation of the TNT series to be released in the US. It’s far tamer than the titular first book in the series—much less sex and violence—but also way more confusing and sloppily plotted. There are still some great moments that capture the appeal of the books—extreme action pushed to surreal heights—but, overall, they seem to be lost amidst a barely intelligible narrative. 

TNT—Anthony Nicholas Twin—is a Scottish reporter who, after being exposed to a nuclear blast, has superpowers, such as eyes that can see in the dark, a body that can heal itself, super-sonic hearing, and an inexhaustible erection. In Ritual of Blood, he is on his way to a dinner party when all the guests, including the children, are slaughtered. Meanwhile, the richest men in world have been disappearing shortly after marriage, along with their money. It is believed that a secret female organization, Matrix, is behind the disappearances. TNT teams up with his arch-nemesis, Arnold Benedict, to go undercover as billionaire “John Wayne,” to marry into the organization and get to the bottom of it.

Sunday, May 9, 2021

"Manhunter" by Arnold Hano (1957)

In Arnold Hano’s westerns, the frontier is deceitful above all things, truth is rarely simple, and resolutions never easy. Where other books end—the capture of the killer and the confession—Manhunter begins.

“Ross was no longer vitally interested in Gill. He had his father’s killer, his confessed killer. But Gill could clear up who was lying, and why.

“On the heels of that thought came a terrible doubt, streaking across his brain like a yellow comet. It had all happened so long ago. Maybe it was he—Ben Ross—who was lying.”

Originally released in 1957 under the pseudonym “Matthew Gant” and recently released by Stark House Press (paired with Slade), Manhunter is emblematic of Hano’s strikingly original approach to the western genre. Revenge and closure don't drive his protagonist forward, it’s something darker and all-consuming. These sorts of qualities separate Arnold Hano’s westerns from many of his peers, and what gives them the distinction of being labeled retroactively as “western noir.” 

Saturday, May 8, 2021

"Slade" by Arnold Hano (1956)

There’s nothing heroic or romantic about Arnold Hano’s westerns. The frontier is a dark and violent landscape that doesn’t offer redemption, rebirth, or hope. In Hano’s books, the barren landscapes reveal the naked awfulness of its people. These qualities are on full display in Slade and Manhunter, two of Hano’s grim, gut-punch westerns recently reissued by Stark House Press. These great books embody why Hano deserves the title “Master of the Western Noir,” which is the name of Paul Bishop’s terrific essay-interview with the author, which is also included in the new volume.

Slade was originally published in 1956 under the name “Ad Gordon” by Lion Books, where Hano was also the editor. Hano doesn’t handle his characters with kid gloves—he puts them through hell, over and over again. Slade begins with him knocking the titular character off his high horse, and what a fall he takes. Like Icarus before him, Slade flew too close to the sun and paid for his hubris. Here, the gambler bet everything he had—including his saloon—and lost it. With only his horse, his hat, and a sock with $500 he tries to leave town, but after he’s jumped and beaten unconscious he loses even the sock. “Dilt drove both his fists to the back of Slade’s neck and kicked himself loose. Yet somehow he got up again. Finally, the wild red washed through him and turned gray and the last thing he remembered was Dilt saying hoarsely, ‘Fall, you son of a bitch, fall.’”