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Pee-wee’s Death Haus: 1970’s kiddie host horror, ‘The Psychopath’
03.05.2015
08:00 am

Topics:
Movies

Tags:
puppets
Tom Basham
The Psychopath

Poster Art for The Psychopath aka Eye for an Eye
 
It could be the 1670’s, the 1970’s or in this present day, it is hard to be remain childlike in this world. This is the lesson beloved local TV children’s show host, Tom aka Mr. Rabbey (Tom Basham) learns in 1973’s massively overlooked horror film, The Psychopath aka Eye for an Eye. This grim and strange little gem opens up with one of Tom’s “Rabbey’s Rangers,” little Bobby, playing baseball with the neighborhood kids. His mother, who is straight out of central casting’s “abusive hag” division, immediately starts yelling and yanking him out of the game. His big infraction apparently is playing with other kids, who all seem fairly wholesome and nice. The ole chestnut of “Wait till your Father gets home” is growled at the little towheaded boy. Daddy does get home and is henpecked into unleashing some corporal sadism at the little boy, while one of the neighborhood kids watches in secret.

The next morning, an anonymous call is made to the police and little Bobby is “missing,” as his horrible parents look nervously at each other at the breakfast table. Bobby’s age? Five years old.
 
Guilty Parents in vomitous 70's pastiche
 
The film then cuts to “The Mr. Rabbey Show,” which centers around the eccentrically boyish host and his strangely gruesome puppet show. His choice in marionettes are something straight off of an old Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker album. (See, Oops, There Comes a Smile and get a nightmarish taste.) Despite the off putting puppets and plot lines involving cellars, Rabbey’s got a knack with the kids. A trait his handler Carolyn (Gretchen Kanne) recognizes, helping her come to his defense when the stage director hits the roof over Rabbey missing his marks for the umpteenth time.

Rabbey then goes to the park and plays with the local kids, almost like the pied piper of small town sunny suburbia. All is fun until one little girl’s horrible mother comes along and slaps the crap out of her when she tells her mom that she wants to stay with the other children and Mr. Rabbey. Before threatening her kid with “I’ll give you a reason to cry about!,” all but accuses Rabbey of having an untowards interest in the kids and warns him that she will go to the authorities. (Which apparently do not include DHS in her sphere of existence.) Rabbey looks irritated and confused, since his own sphere of existence seems to literally be stunted at a child-like level.

Meanwhile, the local police force are investigating Bobby’s disappearance. One of them notes that his medical records show a history of “accidents,” which are further looked into when the detective goes to the hospital and talks to the main nurse (Margaret Avery, who went on to be in Steven Spielberg’s The Color Purple). There’s no hard evidence of abuse, but she gives him a lecture on how you can tell when a kid is abused and introduces him to one little boy, who is bruised and afraid to speak. She shows the officer an experiment where she has the poor kid hold his arm up until she says to stop and asks the same of a little girl who was not abused. The latter immediately tires out and puts her arm down, while the little boy just leaves it up. The officer asks her how long Bobby left his arm up the last time he was in the hospital. She says “Fifteen Minutes.” While this is going on, Mr. Rabbey is in the room, visiting the sick kids to cheer them up with toys and a puppet show involving an executioner. Foreshadowing? You better believe it!
 

 
As the officer gets ready to leave, he is greeted and promptly scared by a puppet asking him questions through the driver’s side window. Rabbey pops up and doesn’t seem to make the officer feel any less weirded out, but does ask about Bobby and if they are going to arrest his parents. Of course, nothing concrete is given out information-wise, leaving Rabbey to think about justice that is needed. Another abused kid, a little girl named Rosemary, has one of the doctors knowingly tell her that if she needs anything, to call him. As she is being released, her harridan mother shows up and immediately starts quizzing her daughter if she told them “anything.” It’s a sick, sad world.

Bobby’s parents head home after searching for their kid with the police. They talk in hushed tones about when the authorities will find the body, all the while Rabbey is outside, listening. Soon, he breaks in and has one of his puppet friends peek around the corner, whispering, “Where’s the baby?” Creepsville turns into bloody justice land as the town’s boyish TV host offs both parents. While Bobby’s death has been avenged, you cannot spill blood without being changed and Rabbey heads back to the now empty studio, upset and playing the piano. Carolyn notices that he is acting more moody, especially during dinner, where he lightens up only when he starts exclaiming, “I wish I had all the chocolate cake in the world!” But he quickly comes down and says to her, “I don’t want to talk about it and you can’t make me. Leave me alone!” Things start to spiral more and more, with death, intrigue and one of the best and yet strangely, bleaker twist endings I have seen in a long time.
 
Tom Basham is mixed up in The Psychopath
 
The Psychopath is an amazing and amazingly bent horror film that could have only emerged out of the 1970’s, arguably one of the grittiest periods for horror and crime films. It was the era that also gave us the even darker and brilliant The Candy Snatchers (1973), Hitchhike to Hell (1977) and more famously, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974.) Out of all of these titles, The Psychopath is infinitely more obscure, as evidenced by its lack of any legal DVD/Blu-ray release, something that all of the above have had. Which is a shame because there is truly nothing quite like it.

It’s commitment to not reward you with any feel-good comeuppance and present a fairly stark worldview is equaled by the strong performance by Mr. Rabbey himself, Tom Basham. A character actor who had appeared on TV shows like Adam-12 and Night Gallery, as well as the pro-gay cult biker film, The Pink Angels, Basham’s performance here is nothing short of unforgettable. He physically inhabits the role of this murderous man-child, acting every bit like a kid who gets irrationally upset, acts out and gets neglected, save initially for Carolyn and the kids themselves. Having the harsh realities of a world born ugly rear up in the imaginary life he’s created is a pill that Rabbey cannot swallow. After all, puppet violence is way easier to deal with than the real thing, so when these two worlds clash, none of this goes well. Having passed away back in 2010 from small cell cancer of the lungs, it’s truly a shame that Basham did not become a bigger name since what can be seen of his work is quite good, with his turn as Rabbey being the biggest stand-out.
 
Welcome to my Nightmare-One of Rabbey's many puppets
 
The film itself is not perfect, with parts of the soundtrack being reminiscent more of a TV Movie of the Week than a dark horror film about mental instability and child abuse. It is also really strange that all but one of the many abusive parents featured here are mothers. The dads are mentioned but other than Bobby’s drunken henpecked sadist of a father, they are more in the background. This certainly would be far from the first (or last) film to deal with some violent mommy issues.

The Psychopath has remained in semi-obscurity for years. A remake was planned in the 1980s with Combat Shock director Buddy Giovinazzo at the helm and starring the interstellar Joe Spinell as “Mr. Robbie.” In a weird move, it was to be titled Maniac 2: Mr Robbie, though it had nothing whatsoever to do with William Lustig’s Maniac. Some footage was shot but the film itself was never completed due to the untimely death of Spinell. (Though you can see some of the footage in the X-rated version of Skinny Puppy’s “Worlock” video.)

The Psychopath can be found both on way out-of-print VHS copies and somewhat easily via the gray market DVD circuit (and YouTube in several parts), but with so many equally obscure films finding their way to legit DVD/Blu-ray releases, one hopes that this bizarre horror gem will get the treatment it so desperately deserves.
 

 

Posted by Heather Drain | Discussion
Bon crappétit! ‘Shitty Food Porn’ is the most hypnotically, deliciously disgusting subreddit of all
03.03.2015
07:23 am

Topics:
Food

Tags:
food


My cupcakes didn’t turn out like I wanted, but ended up perfect for here.
 
I can’t stop looking at the Shitty Food Porn subreddit, and I’m not the only one—it’s absolutely mesmerizing. I think maybe we’re just so inundated with this never-ending parade of of Instagrammed perfection, we crave representations of reality—even when reality looks barely edible. From what I can tell, there are a three major categories of Shitty Food Porn, though they co-exist on a Venn Diagram, and a dish may inhabit multiple categories at a time. Here is the primer I have developed:

The Failures: This one is tricky, because failure is already a popular genre—particularly with ambitious projects, as seen in Pinterest Fail. What makes Shitty Food Porn failures different is that, unlike Icarus, they did not perish flying too close to the sun. Shitty Food Porn Failures crashed and burned just walking out the door. This is a dish that should be reasonably simple, but the cook somehow made it incredibly unappetizing, if not downright inedible. The above cupcakes are good example.

The Bachelors: These are marked by a tragic austerity of ingredients, bleak presentation and cheap or desperate substitutions—a hotdog bun instead of regular bread, or anything plated on a paper towel, for example. These are often the recipes of the chronically depressed or incredibly poor. This category gets complicated though, as the necessity is the mother of invention. Many Bachelor recipes also display creativity that might qualify them for third category.

The Frankensteins aka The Fat Americans: If these look innovative to you, you’re probably either at a state fair or you’re drunk or high. The Frankensteins usually involve unexpected, even surreal combinations, and/or grandiose ambition. A fried egg on leftover pizza—the ingredients are Bachelor, but there is an innovative spirit to that combination. One could argue it’s inspired!

Proceed at your own risk, and bon crappétit!
 

Fried egg served on a bed of chilled pizza.
 

Because why the fuck not
 

A “cookie” that my dear friends made
 
More after the jump…

Posted by Amber Frost | Discussion
‘Sin in the Suburbs’ & other cinematic delights: Joe Sarno’s life in dirty movies
02.09.2015
07:50 am

Topics:
Movies
Sex

Tags:
sexploitation
Joe Sarno

Poster art for
 
There is nothing more inspirational, beautiful and harrowing than an artist who takes true risks. Being an artist, especially an independent filmmaker, is hard enough. It’s not like things like job security, steady paychecks and any sort of proper retirement are going to be a constant. Couple that with being a filmmaker who works within a genre that is often critically maligned and life is suddenly a much more harsh trek to cut through. But none of that ever stopped Joseph Sarno, whose cinematic trail began in the 1960’s, with such arty and dramatic forays like Sin in the Suburbs and Inga, then segueing firmly into being one of the most notable cult directors of the 1970’s and 80’s. His legacy was first covered in print thanks to RE/Search’s seminal Incredibly Strange Films book. However, it was only a matter of time for an enterprising filmmaker to come along and do a documentary on the man and his work.

It took Swedish director Wiktor Ericsson and his film, A Life in Dirty Movies to make this needed venture a vital reality and bless him for it.
 
Great Poster art for Sarno's amazing
 
Ericsson and company had the chance to delve into Sarno’s rich cinematic past, talk with a few of his key artists and associates, as well as portray a slice of life into Joe’s golden years with his former actress, wife/partner, the lithe juggernaut of a woman, Peggy Steffans-Sarno. But A Life in Dirty Movies is about more than just a man who who forged his own path in the worlds of sexploitation and hardcore cinema and even, to some degree, more about one incredible love story of loyalty. It’s about the heart and soul of an artist in his later years who has given so much of himself to something he truly believed in. There are few things more compelling than a creative person with a “damn the torpedoes” approach, especially when it is coming from someone as emotionally forward thinking and sensitive as Joe Sarno.

A Life in Dirty Movies is an interesting title for this film, since early on, it becomes readily apparent that Sarno’s approach to film was anything but dirty. In fact, a couple of commentators joke about how any raincoat crowd going to see one of Sarno’s moodier character studies would have been crippled when it came to having a private hand-party in the theater. (This all invokes one of my favorite film descriptors ever, courtesy of Eddie Muller and Daniel Faris’ book Grindhouse. The term in question is “a no hatter.” This was a term to describe a sexploitation film that failed to arouse the male audience, since they would often attend wearing hats for them to take care of business in.) But that’s the thing. Simple prurience can become boring quick unless there are other layers going on, which was something Joe often incorporated.
 
One of the best film titles ever.
 
With that, we get glimpses of his work, ranging from his exquisitely lit, black and white art-type 60’s films, like Sin in the Suburbs and Vibrations to his 1970’s color character-melodramas such as Laura’s Toys and Abigail Leslie is Back in Town. Former collaborators, ranging from editors to actors (including the fantastic Annie Sprinkle), noted film writers like Jim Morton, as well as admirers in the form of John Waters, are all interviewed and have similar observations of both Sarno the man, as well as the director. One of the biggest ones was Joe’s emphasis on female pleasure. In a world where male orgasm is king, while pleasure is relegated to borderline incidental for women, Sarno was indeed a rare bird in his time and, to a lesser degree, even now. He definitely paved the way for female-centric filmmakers in erotica, which would go on to include Eric Edwards (an actor who was in a number of Sarno’s films in the 70’s) and another ground breaker in the form of Candida Royalle, whose company, Femme, catered specifically to women. These were just two of many who were able to create what they created thanks to filmmakers like Joe. One impressive tidbit that is revealed within the film is that Joe wrote the scripts for every single film he ever directed and given that his filmography, including both his soft and hardcore work, is well over a hundred, that is no mean feat!
 
Soap Opera meets Sexy Art: Abigail Leslie is Back in Town
 
Sarno’s love and respect for women can also be summed up by his decades long marriage to Peggy. Well educated and born from a wealthy family in New York, Peggy’s an absolute lioness to her lion in twilight. Dark haired with piercing eyes and a throaty, yet feminine voice, Peggy’s most striking feature is her absolute fierce loyalty and belief in her mate. Especially given that it is not the blind, Hollywood-variety of faith. She talks candidly about the harsh realities of their financial situation and past deals that did zero to line their pockets. (Talk about the sad, blues-song reality of too many talented and notable artists in their later years.) Their relationship is, in many ways, even more notable than Joe’s impressive filmography because it is so intensely rare.

More sweetness that is captured is getting to see Joe enjoy the beginnings of the revival of his art while he was still here. (He passed away on April 26, 2010.) It is hard to not feel some tremors of heart ache when you hear him say, “I thought everyone had forgotten me,” which makes moments like seeing him enjoy his very own tribute at the British Film Institute all the more resonant.

Speaking of tributes, A Life in Dirty Movies is an honest and loving one to an American filmmaker whose craft was, to quote Peggy, “...in his blood.” It’s a great documentary for fringe film fans and the curious alike. You don’t have to be into adult-themed films to appreciate the real-life story of a director who truly worked hard and cared about his craft and people in general.
 

Posted by Heather Drain | Discussion
Watch Nirvana sabotage Buenos Aires stadium show, opening with (still) unreleased song, 1992
01.28.2015
07:39 am

Topics:
Music

Tags:
Kurt Cobain
Nirvana

Nirvana
 
On October 30th, 1992, Nirvana were booked to play a major show in Buenos Aires, Argentina. They were so big at that point in time that they just about sold-out José Amalfitani Stadium, which can hold nearly fifty thousand people. Prior to their set, Kurt Cobain witnessed the negative reception their hand picked opening act received, and was so incensed that he considered canceling the gig. Nirvana ultimately did perform that night, but they were sloppy and their set-list was more than a little unusual, as they purposely incorporated rare songs from their catalogue that they knew most of the audience wouldn’t be familiar with, including a couple of unreleased numbers. It ended up being one of their oddest shows, and it was all captured on videotape by a professional film crew.

Kurt later shared his memories of the gig:

“When we played Buenos Aires, we brought this all-girl band over from Portland called Calamity Jane,” Kurt recalled. “During their entire set, the whole audience—it was a huge show with like sixty thousand people—was throwing money and everything out of their pockets, mud and rocks, just pelting them. Eventually the girls stormed off crying. It was terrible, one of the worst things I’ve ever seen, such a mass of sexism all at once. Krist, knowing my attitude about things like that, tried to talk me out of at least setting myself on fire or refusing to play. We ended up having fun, laughing at them (the audience). Before every song, I’d play the intro to ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ and then stop. They didn’t realize that we were protesting against what they’d done. We played for about forty minutes, and most of the songs were off Incesticide, so they didn’t recognize anything. We wound up playing the secret noise song (‘Endless, Nameless’) that’s at the end of Nevermind, and because we were so in a rage and were just so pissed off about this whole situation, that song and whole set were one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had.” (from Nirvana: The Chosen Rejects)

 
Kurt Cobain in Buenos Aires
Kurt in Buenos Aires

If you watch the show (which is embedded below), you’ll realize that Kurt was misremembering or embellishing a bit here and there. While they did unearth a handful of rarities from their odds-n-ends collection Incesticide (which hadn’t been released yet), as well as “All Apologies” (it later turned up on In Utero), they also played most of Nevermind (but not “Teen Spirit,” which they teased before two songs), and a few of the highlights from Bleach. One thing Kurt failed to mention that they most certainly did do to annoy the crowd, was open with a strange, jam-like number that those in attendance had definitely never heard before.

Unavailable on any of Nirvana’s archival releases and believed to have been performed at just this show, the track has come to be known by the most-excellent of titles, “Nobody Knows I’m New Wave”—though there is no documentation available to confirm its validity. The go-to source for Nirvana bootleg info, Live Nirvana, believes it is just a jam, largely due to official biographer Michael Azerrad’s assessment in his book, Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana:

“The first thing they played was an improvised jam, which deteriorated into a fifteen minute fest from Kurt, with breaks when he would stop to glare at the crowd.”

The circulating video of the show begins with “Nobody Knows I’m New Wave,” but lasts less than three minutes, so it’s difficult to know what Azerrad is referring to. Does the tape begin twelve-plus minutes after their set started? Or has Azerrad himself embellished or misremembered the event?

Though the majority of the lyrics were probably made up on the spot (including “I promise to shit on your head”; “I’m new wave/I’m old school”) and the racket they’re generating collapses after just a couple of minutes, structurally it does have a chorus, which makes me think it was somewhat worked out beforehand. Either way, this isn’t the sort of track most groups would start a stadium concert with.

In Come As You Are, Azerrad also notes that the band “had hardly practiced, their enthusiasm was low, and they played badly.” Regardless, there are some great moments, like the especially heavy version of “In Bloom” (though Kurt messes up a lot); when Dave Grohl brings a toy drum kit to the front of the stage for “Polly” (and Kurt cracks a smile); the aforementioned catharsis that is “Endless, Nameless”; and the intriguing opener. Is it a song or just a jam to piss-off the Argentineans? You decide.
 

Posted by Bart Bealmear | Discussion
‘How to Undress in Front of Your Husband’: The exact opposite of a feminist film
01.19.2015
07:10 am

Topics:
Feminism
Movies
Sex

Tags:
Dwain Esper
John Barrymore

How to Undress in Front of Your Husband
 
The short film you’re about to take a look at is more than just a cheap, extraordinarily sexist exploitation film from 1937. Indeed, How to Undress in Front of Your Husband is most certainly that, but if you can put the stupidity of the attitudes expressed in the film aside momentarily, you’ll notice that it also happens to be surrounded by a bunch of weird, perhaps even interesting facts. Case it point: It involves the huckster distributer of Reefer Madness and his salacious screen writing wife, the film bears a mysterious similarity to a LIFE magazine article featuring photos of ex-burlesque stripper, June St. Clair made in the same year, one of the lead characters (such as there are characters) is the fourth wife of John Barrymore and the other lead character was an ahead-of-her-time suffragette.

I’m not a big fan of Internet lists, but I’m presenting the following one as a matter of expediency. Believe it or not, there’s a lot to cover here for a smutty little fourteen minute film.

1. How to Undress in Front of Your Husband is an exploitation film: To cut right to the chase, this movie is about a lecherous, camera-wielding Peeping Tom and two different women taking their clothes off in preparation for bed. According to the film’s male narrator, there is a right way and a wrong way for a woman to do this if she wants to properly entice her husband, and each woman demonstrates her pre-bed ritual as the narrator looks on through a key-hole. It’s really an awful flick, but notable if you’re interested in this particular fringe nook of filmmaking, truly the bottom of the creative barrel.
 
Reefer Madness Poster
A reproduction of an original Reefer Madness poster.
 
2. The Reefer Madness connection: How to Undress in Front of Your Husband was directed by Dwain Esper, the same fiendish mind who brought us everybody’s favorite joint-sploitation film, Reefer Madness along with Maniac, Sex Madness and Marihuana. Esper was a sleazy but fascinating persona. A serious snake-oil-salesman-type, he traveled around the country “four walling” his racy films in rented tents and theaters in order to work his way around the 1934 Production Code that wouldn’t allow his work to be distributed through conventional channels. In fact, the very title of the film may very well have been part of what was a typical strategy for Esper to get around movie censorship. By billing his screenings as “educational,” as in WE’RE HERE TO EDUCATE YOU ABOUT THE HORRORS OF OPIUM!!!!, he and others like him could attempt to pass off their salacious materials as important public service announcements. After taunting entire towns with tantalizing “Adults Only” promotions, Esper would screen whatever piece of smut he was pitching for a few days, count his money, pack up his gear and get himself the hell out of Dodge, preferably before the town’s morality police could do it for him.

Esper’s wife Hildegarde Stadie, herself an ex-carnival performer who in her younger years often posed nude with a python around her neck to entice people into buying her Uncle’s cure-all tonics, wrote How to Undress in Front of Your Husband as she did many others in the Esper repertoire. Neither of them actually wrote Reefer Madness, by the way. Esper simply bought the film, originally funded by a church group with the intention of legitimately steering people away from the deadly smoke. Esper realized how much of exploitative payday would come from screening the very bad but very “shocking” movie. You can read three Esper screenplays in Marihuana, Motherhood & Madness from 1998.
 
Dwain Esper
Cinemaniac Dwain Esper
 
3. The LIFE article: Interestingly, an article, also from 1937, appeared in the February 17th issue of LIFE magazine depicting almost the exact scenario of the Dwain Esper film and pictures from the article have circulated around the internet over the past few years. Promoting one Allen Gilbert who was ostensibly trying to get the word out about his “Manhattan School of Undressing,” the article shows two different women in the act of preparing for bed, one clumsily, the other, ex-burlesque stripper June St. Clair, gracefully. The conceit of the article is that because of rising divorce rates, women needed to place to go where they could learn to be more sensual when getting ready to slip into bed with their husbands. No mention is made of the husband’s role in the pre-bed ritual, although, due to reader demand and, in some cases, outrage, a subsequent issue of LIFE included an article with men in the same scenario. It seems almost impossible to imagine that the article and the film below weren’t somehow related, although I can find no evidence to substantiate that claim.
 
How to Undress
The right way for a woman to undress in front of her husband according to a 1937 article in LIFE magazine.
 
How not to undress
The wrong way for a woman to undress in front of her husband according to a 1937 article in LIFE magazine.
 
4. John Barrymore’s fourth wife: Yes, the lead role the film went to Elaine Barrie, alcoholic actor John Barrymore’s fourth wife at the time. Famously, a youthful Barrie (she had the last name of Jacobs at this point) kindled her relationship with Barrymore through a letter asking for an interview with the aging Svengali actor who was in the hospital attempting to dry up at the age of 53. Barrie continued to “interview” Barrymore, and the two eventually married in 1936. Their relationship was a press free-for-all (Barrie was 30 years younger than Barrymore and their relationship began when Barrymore was still married to his third wife) and the Espers were almost certainly capitalizing on her new-found national attention when they cast Barrie in the roll of the ideal wife in How to Undress in Front of Your Husband. The film’s narrator vocally ogles and hubba-hubbas his way through Barrie’s downright scandalous-for-1937 appearances in the film as she sensually quaffs her hair, applies pre-bed perfume, rolls down her stockings and shimmies out of her clothing while strategically never becoming completely nude. The purveyor of the pervy voiceover is of course pleased. “She not only knows how to get a husband, but how to keep him,” he says.

5. The suffragette: Last but not least, one of the most interesting things about this weird little piece is the appearance of former stage and vaudeville actress, Trixie Friganza. She plays the role of the not-so-sensual clothes remover; the representative of “how not to undress in front of your husband,” and the narrator says some truly vile things about her while she goes through her supposed pre-bed ritual. Really, it’s cringe–inducing and mean-spirited. Friganza, a large woman, seems to have made career out of poking fun at her own size, but she was also an outspoken women’s rights activist often using her public notoriety to speak about the arts and for economically downtrodden. She was progressive for the time, even keeping her maiden name and continuing to work after marrying in her early life, a fairly bold statement in the early 1900’s. Friganza’s on screen appearance in How to Undress in Front of Your Husband was one of her last, as she ended her film career in 1940 due to complications with arthritis. After a long career she died in relative obscurity in 1955.

So there you have it, everything I know about the oddball film. For better or for worse, here’s How to Undress in Front of Your Husband in all its schlocky glory.  It skips just a tad at the beginning, but extensive Internet searching yielded this as the best copy. 
 

Posted by Jason Schafer | Discussion
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