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It’s 1980’s trash-horror films a go-go with Bleeding Skull!

For those of us who grew up during the golden era of VHS, the shelves at the local Mom & Pop video store were the equivalent to visiting some king of gloriously mutated version of Disneyland. The beauty of that era was that because the format being new, all kinds of movies came out of the woodwork. Films like First Blood or E.T. had a great chance of playing in theaters ranging from the metropolitan to box-shaped bergs in the smallest of corn-town America. But what about titles like Psychos in Love, Death Spa or Black Devil Doll From Hell? Forget it, but that was the beauty of VHS is that it truly made the movie going experience more personal and democratic.

This was never more true than for the horror genre, with the 1980’s being the apex decade for some of the most lurid, grue-filled, nudity-ridden and straight up crazy films in the field. Thanks to the fine folks at Headpress, there is a funhouse ride of a book dedicated to these films. The tome in question? Bleeding Skull: A 1980’s Trash-Horror Odyssey. Originally a website started back in 2004 by Joseph A. Ziemba, who was later joined by Dan Budnik, Bleeding Skull, both as a website and book, is a compendium of all the horror films that more academically minded or overall discerning writers would quickly bolt from. This is, naturally, a highly positive thing!

That fact alone makes Bleeding Skull worth noting, but the added bonus is how entertaining both Ziemba and Budnik are to read. They both have the whole “snark with love” vibe down to a fine art. There are some incredibly funny lines in this book, but they never override the overall reviews. There’s a sensibility to the whole thing of a guy sitting next to you at a bar,  telling you about this weird movie that he just saw that was directed by the guy that made The Giant Spider Invasion and stars Tiny Tim as a sweaty and depressed clown named “The Magnificent Mervo.” (The film in question, by the way, is Blood Harvest. and yes, it exists. Glory.) Who else is going to talk about obscure, made in Wisconsin horror films with Tiny Tim as a clown in them? Not many but that right there captures the essence of Bleeding Skull.
Bleeding Skull Book Cover
Another impressive thing about this book is that Ziemba and Budnik have truly combed the depths of ultra-obscure horror films for your enjoyment. This was an area of film that before reading this book, I was fairly confident that I knew more than the average bear. Which, while I still do, compared to these guys, I AM the average bear. If it was a no-budget, shot-on-video one day wonder from two guys in Duluth, Minnesota, then dollars to donuts, it is written about in this book!

Headpress continues to cement their already solid reputation as one of the finest purveyors of fringe culture with Bleeding Skull. So crack open your favorite libation, dust off your VCR that’s been gathering dust in your attic and be prepared to read about some of the best, worst, trashiest, sleaziest and gonzo trash-horror films from one of the darkest decades in cinematic history.

Below, for your viewing pleasure (?) Blood Harvest starring Tiny Tim as “Mervo the Clown”:

Posted by Heather Drain | Leave a comment
Take a trip on the Stockholm subway’s wild underground fantasia
07:34 am


Stockholm Subway

Taking the subway in Stockholm, Sweden, is like taking a trip through some underground fantasia. Every one of the city’s 100 stations has its own particular design, which is bound to make traveling to-and-from work fabulous fun.

More pictures of Stockholm’s stunning subway, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Beatle George Harrison’s brief journey into experimental electronics
06:20 am


George Harrison

george harrison moog portrait
In May of 1969—a full eleven years before Paul McCartney baffled his fans with the goofy electronic experiment “Temporary Secretary”—George Harrison released his second solo album, Electronic Sound, consisting of two side-length explorations composed on a modular Moog synth, “Under the Mersey Wall” and “No Time or Space.”
electronic sound
Unsurprisingly, the album barely charted in the U.S. and failed altogether in the U.K.—even in a period as indulgent as the late ’60s, a novice knob-twiddler’s pair of lengthy beepscapes wasn’t going to fly with the masses—and has only been reissued once, in 1996. But as it was one of the first albums ever to feature a Moog exclusively, and because let’s face it, it was made by a Beatle, it remains an item of interest among historically bent electronic music obsessives and Beatles completists. You can hear the entire album below. For whatever it’s worth, I’m a little more partial to side two (a composition that was the subject of a minor controversy), which starts at about 18:44.

The LP was the second release on Apple Records’ “Zapple” imprint. Zapple was intended to be Apple’s avant-garde subsidiary, but it only existed for a few months in 1969 and only released two albums, John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s also very rare Unfinished Music No.2: Life With The Lions being the first. The label was folded by Beatles manager Allen Klein only a month after Electronic Sound’s release—evidently enough was already enough. Harrison himself had much to say about the difficulty of curating a record label in this rare contemporary interview.

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Leave a comment
Special effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen’s animated ‘Mother Goose’ and other fairy tales
05:57 am


Ray Harryhausen
Mother Goose

harryhausen hansel und gretel
Special effects and animation pioneer Ray Harryhausen remains best known for his still amazing skeleton swordfight sequences in The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad and Jason and the Argonauts, but he originally made his bones (sorry) on his own, animating fairy tales and nursery rhymes on discarded surplus film.

Ray decided he would make his own short films.  Using some out of date 16mm colour Kodachrome stock he had acquired, and with the help of his father and mother, he shot a series of nursery rhymes that included Little Miss Muffet, Old Mother Hubbard, The Queen of Hearts and Humpty Dumpty.

When he had completed all of these stories he lumped them all together under the title The Mother Goose Stories (1946), which he distributed to schools with great success.

harryhausen mother goose
He returned to the theme in the 1950s, around the time that he began to break in to the feature productions that would soon make him famous.

Ray returned to shorts with an adaptation of Little Red Riding Hood, which he called The Story of Little Red Riding Hood (1950).  Using the same methods as he used with The Mother Goose Stories the film proved another success with schools and so Ray set out to make what has since become known as the Fairy Tale series, although in fact not all were fairy tales. The series included The Story of Hansel and Gretel (1951), The Story of Rapunzel (1952) and The Story of King Midas (1953), the last of which was completed after his first feature film project.

It couldn’t be more clear from watching these that this was the work Harryhausen was meant to be doing. Though his only significant commercial animation work prior to the Mother Goose tales had been assisting George Pal on some Puppetoons shorts, his own films are expertly done, and stand up well to any animation of the era.




For more Ray Harryhausen on DM, see here and here. The 2011 documentary Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan is available for viewing by Netflix streaming subscribers. I strongly recommend seeing it.

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Leave a comment
Watch 1950s stag film queen Candy Barr dance in captivating, little-seen footage
05:47 am


stag film
Candy Barr
strip tease

Candy Barr
I never want to make too many assumptions about our readers or their workplaces, but I think it’s only fair to give y’all a warning: this is a stag film, and therefore probably not appropriate for most office environments.

That being said, you have to see Candy Barr dance. She’s positively hypnotic, with a seemingly instinctual control of her own body. Although her skills were certainly enough to earn her a place in pop culture history, she’s famous for far more than her serpentine shimmy.

“Candy” was born Juanita Dale Slusher in small-town Texas. Her childhood wracked by trauma (the death of her mother at age 9, and sexual abuse from both a neighbor and a babysitter), she ran away at 13 to Dallas. She was married at 14, but the union ended when he went to jail (he was supposedly a safe-cracker).

The next few years of Candy’s life yield conflicting accounts. It’s known that she worked as a cigarette girl, and eventually an exotic dancer, but sources vary on whether she worked as a prostitute or not. She did, however, appear the early “smoker,” Smart Alec at the age of 16. Broke and hungry, Candy (who was still Juanita at the time) made the film under extreme stress and coercion, regretting it for the rest of her life.

Candy’s life should not be reduced to tragedy. Shortly after the release of Smart Alec, she got a well-paying job at a strip club, adopted her moniker, and established her trademark cow-girl routine—complete with cowboy hat and boots, holstered cap six-shooters, and not much else. Though she shot her violent second husband (non-fatally), it was a marijuana possession charge that actually threatened Candy—a fifteen year sentence for four-fifths of an ounce. (Oh, Texas…)

The case dragged on with appeal after appeal, and Candy’s star rose all the while. She went form city to city, made fantastic money, was hired by Fox studios to choreograph Joan Collins for the movie Seven Thieves. She also dated gangster Mickey Cohen. Smitten, Cohen wanted to marry her, and as the appeals of her case began to wind down and the threat of imprisonment loomed closer, he sent Barr and her young daughter to Mexico. Candy, never one to hide, eventually returned to the states and broke it off with Cohen.

Shortly after, she married Jack Sahakian, hairdresser to the stars—the same hairdresser, incidentally, that Cohen arranged to dye her hair so that she could live incognito in Mexico. A few months later, she lost her final appeal and was sentenced to fifteen years. She spent over three years in jail before being paroled. Perhaps agog at the obviously overly punitive sentencing of a “scandalous woman,”  Texas Governor, John Connally, pardoned her in 1968, and she resumed her very successful career.

In 1972, she published, A Gentle Mind . . . Confused. a collection of 56 poems she wrote while in prison, revealing a rich internal monologue and a deft utility of words belying a woman who dropped out of school at thirteen. An excerpt.

“Hate the world that strikes you down,
A warped lesson quickly learned.
Rebellion, a universal sound,
Nobody cares, no one’s concerned.

Fatigued by unyielding strife,
Self-pity consoles the abused,
And the bludgeoning of daily life,
Leaves a gentle mind . . . confused.”

From my perspective (that of a failed ballerina), Candy Barr stands out among her stag film peers, first and foremost, as a natural dancer. I mean, Bettie Page was darling and charismatic, of course, but like a lot of stag film dancers, she was known more for her charms than her craft. After retiring, Barr moved back to the small town of her birth, living comfortably and quietly, choosing not to bank off her cult status. She always said the male attention was never really the thrill for her; she just wanted to dance. 

The Wall Breakers

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
Newly unearthed Leonard Cohen talk show appearance, 1985
05:35 am


Leonard Cohen
Richard Belzer

Leonard Cohen
Last August I wrote a Dangerous Minds piece about Hot Properties, a little-remembered Richard Belzer talk show on the Lifetime network in the mid-1980s. The most notable thing that ever happened on Hot Properties was Hulk Hogan accidentally injuring Belzer on the air, which led to an out-of-court settlement; that incident was the peg for that post.

It turns out I’m not the only one who recalls Hot Properties. Last week a DM reader emailed me, telling of a Betamax recording he had of Belzer interviewing Leonard Cohen on Hot Properties. Since that initial email YouTube user ‘jay sarajevo’ has kindly uploaded the video clip (about 15 minutes).

It’s hard to argue that this interview is anything less than choice material for a Leonard Cohen enthusiast. The best guess on the date is May 1, 1985. Cohen played Carnegie Hall on Sunday, May 5, 1985, and Hot Properties taped on Wednesdays, so it seems that this was taped on May 1. Note that during the call-in section (!) the word “Prerecorded” appears on the screen, which answers a question I had posed in that original DM post—namely, whether the show was aired live. Apparently it was! It seems possible that Lifetime was in the habit of airing Hot Properties a second time overnight or during the next day, so this Betamax video must have been taped at someone’s home as a rerun. It could, of course, simply have run some weeks later as a rerun.
Richard Belzer and Leonard Cohen
Richard Belzer and Leonard Cohen hanging out 23 years later, in 2008

Belzer and Cohen have pretty decent chemistry, and even the callers’ questions are pretty strong. Unfortunately at no point did Cohen elect to place Belzer in a headlock, and history is the poorer for that decision. Cohen did, however, chat amiably about his difficulties getting his material released in the United States, ruefully told a mordant joke about Federico García Lorca being killed in a homosexual brawl with Spanish fascists, told a good story about legendary CBS Records honcho Walter Yetnikoff, and admitted that a lot of his material is “sad, woeful, depressing.” It’s a darn good interview, introduced with the entirety of the video for “Dance Me to the End of Love,” a single off of Various Positions, the album he was promoting at the time.

Somewhat unexpectedly, Cohen muses that “Gums Bleed” by eclectic Australian musician J. G. Thirlwell, performing at that time under the name You’ve Got Foetus on Your Breath, is one of his favorite new songs. 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott, Ireland’s greatest rocker, died today in 1986
04:48 pm


Phil Lynott
Thin Lizzy

Thin Lizzy frontman, Phil Lynott died today, 4th of January in 1986. He was just 36 years old.

Lynott had collapsed at his home after a drink and drug binge on Christmas Day. He was suffering from a serious liver and kidney infection and died eleven days later from heart-failure and pneumonia.

It was a sad end to a man who had entertained and inspired millions. Lynott was all about a good time, it’s there in his music and in the way he lived his life. At his best, his music was simple, working class rock and roll. He was also an inspiration: born and raise in difficult times, a black man in predominantly white Dublin, raised by his grandmother while his mother worked three jobs in England to support the family back home.

Lynott originally wanted to be an architect, but poor, working class lads from housing schemes aren’t allowed to be architects. Instead he was offered a job as an apprentice fitter and turner. It was a dead end job, not a future for an ambitious talent like Lynott. He gave it up for his main passion—music.

Phil first came to prominence as the good-looking singer with the Black Eagles. He then moved onto Skid Row (which later featured guitarist Gary Moore). When Phil took time out to have his tonsils removed, he was replaced as lead singer; it was only then that Lynott went on to form Thin Lizzy with Brian Downey and Eric Bell.

Fortune smiled on Phil, as when sailing from Dublin to England, he met John Peel on board the ship and told him about Thin Lizzy. Peel told him to keep in touch. It was the kind of good luck born from years of hard work that would bring Thin Lizzy massive popular success.

The Rocker: A Portrait of Phil Lynott explains why this great man was such a charismatic and inspirational figure, with a history of all his bands, and various clips from early home movies, along with excellent interview clips, this is a fitting tribute to Ireland’s greatest Rocker.

Bonus: Audio of Thin Lizzy in concert, Berlin 1973, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Raymond Burr is the sun around which Netflix revolves—but no one at Netflix seems to know why
03:17 pm


Raymond Burr

Raymond Burr
If you haven’t seen Alexis Madrigal’s excellent piece at the Atlantic parsing the inner workings of Netflix, you should definitely do it right away, it’s that good. You’ll learn that Netflix has 76,897 “micro-genres”—you know, “genres” like “Mistaken-Identity Feel-Good Suburban-Dysfunction Slashers Based on Books Set in Australia/NZ From the 1940s For Ages 0 to 2” and the like—so many of them, in fact, that their eventual scheme can only be nefarious. Madrigal and his Atlantic colleagues even generated a “Netflix-Genre Generator” so you can whip up your own (it generated the one I just mentioned). It’s all a lot of fun.

Madrigal also discovered the unusual centrality of the long-deceased actor Raymond Burr, who is known primarily for three roles: Perry Mason, Ironside, and the malevolent neighbor in Rear Window.

Here’s a list of Netflix’s top actors—it won’t quite be the list you expect.

Raymond Burr
Bruce Willis
George Carlin
Jackie Chan
Andy Lau
Robert De Niro
Barbara Hale
Clint Eastwood
Gene Autry

Note that Barbara Hale is mainly known for her work as Della Street on Perry Mason. Hm.

Of those 76,897 micro-genres, Netflix includes the following:

Mysteries starring Raymond Burr
Movies starring Raymond Burr
Dramas starring Raymond Burr
Thrillers starring Raymond Burr
Suspenseful Movies starring Raymond Burr
Suspenseful Dramas starring Raymond Burr
Cerebral Thrillers starring Raymond Burr
Cerebral Dramas starring Raymond Burr
Cerebral Suspenseful Dramas starring Raymond Burr
Cerebral Mysteries starring Raymond Burr
Cerebral Suspenseful Movies starring Raymond Burr
Cerebral Movies starring Raymond Burr
Murder Mysteries starring Raymond Burr
Understated Movies starring Raymond Burr
Understated Suspenseful Dramas starring Raymond Burr
Understated Suspenseful Movies starring Raymond Burr
Understated Mysteries starring Raymond Burr
Understated Thrillers starring Raymond Burr
Understated Dramas starring Raymond Burr

It’s enough Raymond Burr to last you a lifetime—or at least one snowy weekend.

Madrigal asked Todd Yellin, identified as “Netflix’s VP of Product and the man responsible for the creation of Netflix’s system,” why Raymond Burr is such a central concept in the Netflix universe. As Madrigal writes, “On the other hand, no one — not even Yellin — is quite sure why there are so many altgenres that feature Raymond Burr and Barbara Hale. It’s inexplicable with human logic. It’s just something that happened.”

My theory? It’s kind of obvious when you put all the pieces together: Skynet is addicted to Perry Mason!

Here’s Raymond Burr’s screen test for Perry Mason with another actress playing the part of Della:

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Louis Armstrong’s ham hocks and red beans recipe: ‘It is my birth mark’
12:39 pm


Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong hosts a big dinner
Let’s face it—we’re still in the holiday season, and what with all the snow much of the country has been getting, it’s okay if you want something utterly yummy to stick inside your belly. Exercising doesn’t start on New Year’s, it starts right after Super Bowl Sunday ... everybody knows that.

So I feel entitled to pass on a delicious recipe for ham hocks and red beans that comes from the unmatchable creative mind of Louis Armstrong. The legendary jazz trumpeter used to sign off his letters, “Red Beans And Ricely Yours, Louis Armstrong,” and he talked about red beans a lot in his autobiography, Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans. For instance:

They used to laugh like mad when I first began to practice my cornet. Then as the days went on they began to listen and to make little comments, the way kids will. Then we began to understand one another. They were growing rapidly, and the more they grew the more they ate. I soon learned what a capacity they had, and I learned to take precautions. Whenever I cooked a big pot of beans and rice and ham hocks they would manage to eat up most of it before I could get to the table. Willie could make a plate full of food vanish faster than anyone I ever saw. (p. 55)

Or this:

I thought her Creole gumbo was the finest in the world. Her cabbage and rice was marvelous. As for red beans and rice, well, I don’t have to say anything about that. It is my birth mark. (p. 85, emphasis mine)

As Satchmo said, “No need to make folks think I like fancy foods like quail on toast, chicken and hot biscuits, or steak smothered in mushrooms. Of course they taste good and I can eat them, but have you ever tried ham hocks and red beans?” Exactly right. And here’s the recipe the way he liked it:

Louis Armstrong’s Ham Hocks and Red Beans

Serves 6.

1 pound dried red beans water
1 pound ham hock
1 bay leaf
1 pod red pepper
Salt and pepper to taste
1 onion, diced
1 pod garlic, minced

Wash beans and soak two to three hours or overnight if preferred.

When ready to cook, drain off water and put beans in large pot with two quarts cold water. Let water heat thoroughly, then add ham hocks, herbs, onion and garlic. Cook slowly but steadily at least two hours or until tender enough to mash easily.

When done, place in a dish and lay ham hocks on top. May be served with rice.

I propose serving it for your Super Bowl gathering, or barring that, then for the “Big Game.” Doesn’t it look good?
Ham hocks and red beans
Ham hocks and red beans
Source: Freda DeKnight, A Date with a Dish, a Cookbook of American Negro Recipes. New York: Hermitage Press, 1948. Forgive the title, it’s a very old book. Freda DeKnight died in 1963 at the young age of fifty-three. She was the cooking columnist for Ebony and her books are still in print.

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Something Weird Video founder dies: RIP exploitation film guru Mike Vraney
10:37 am


Something Weird Video
Mike Vraney

Mike Vraney, founder of the underground/exploitation film distro concern Something Weird Video, died yesterday after a long struggle with lung cancer. He is survived by his wife, artist Lisa Petrucci.

Something Weird (warning: boobies) was founded in Seattle in 1990, and has kept thousands of filmed oddities alive and available that almost certainly would have lost were it not for Vraney’s curatorial ministrations. From SW’s about page:

Here on your screen is a whole world of film that just a few short years ago was considered lost or worthless. The industry that produced and distributed these films had long since vanished and there was no sign of the men who actually created these bottom of the barrel celluloid wonders. That is until now.

In 1990 (roughly), we started Something Weird Video with the idea of releasing films that had never been on video. In my mind, the last great genre to be scavenged were the exploitation/sexploitation films of the 30’s through the 70’s. After looking into this further, I realized that there were nearly 2,000 movies out there yet to be discovered. So with this for inspiration, my quest began and wouldn’t you know, just out of the blue I fell into a large collection of 16mm girlie arcade loops (which became the first compilation videos we put together!) Around the same time I received an unexpected phone call that suddenly made all this real - my future and hands-down the king of sexploitation Dave Friedman was on the other end of the line - this would be the beginning of a long and fruitful friendship for both of us. Dave’s films became the building blocks for our film collection and he has taught and guided me through the wonderful world of sexploitation - introducing me to his colleagues (Dan Sonney, Harry Novak, H.G. Lewis, Bob Cresse, and all the other colorful characters who were involved during his heyday) and they’ve been eager to dive into the business again. (And initially, most are shocked that anyone is even interested in this stuff to begin with!)

Mike Vraney
Anyone—everyone—interested in strange cinema owes Mike Vraney a debt. The video shop that I mentioned in a DM post just yesterday carried so a huge a selection of his wares that they ultimately wound up simply giving him his own Something Weird wall, so much of worth did he preserve. Very little of SW’s stock is work safe—sleaze was the order of the day—but this relatively tame trailer imparts the kitschy, campy, sexy, goofy fun of the films he rescued from oblivion. We salute you and your legacy, Mr. Vraney, and we’re very sorry to lose you.

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Leave a comment
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