follow us in feedly
‘The Finishing Line’: The grisly British educational film that scared kids and shocked parents
07:58 am


Educational Films
British Transport Films

Blood on the tracks
In 1977, a short film was produced in Britain to discourage children from playing on the railway lines and vandalizing trains—both problems in England at the time. But the documentary-style production did more than that: it scared the knickers off of kids and riled up their parents. The subsequent controversy surrounding this educational short was so great that it was ultimately banned. Even today, watching it is a shocking experience not soon forgotten.

Commissioned by British Transport Films (BTF) to be shown in schools, The Finishing Line (1977) is perhaps the most notorious educational film ever produced. The 20 minute short is akin to a gory episode of The Twilight Zone, or a Rod Serling-directed fake documentary. The atmosphere is so odd and the child body count so high, that it’s a wonder anyone thought this was a good idea to show to kids (the ages of the target audience was eight through twelve). Put simply, it’s a child’s nightmare come to life on the screen.

The film was directed by John Krish, a BTF veteran; Krish’s The Elephant Will Never Forget (1953), which documented the end of London’s tram system, is still one of the organization’s most popular movies. In a 2013 interview with the magazine devoted to blood spilled on the screen, Fangoria, the 90-year-old Krish said he was surprised BTF even wanted to make The Finishing Line:

I came up with this idea of a sports day on the railway line, and I was absolutely sure they would turn it down so that I could get on with something else, and bugger me, they loved it. They loved it! The psychologist in the British Transport’s employ said, ‘This is exactly what we need!’

The Finishing Line begins in a festive atmosphere of children and adults gathering for what looks like a day of fun, but the mood quickly turns foreboding, when medical personal appear with preparations for the inevitable carnage that will take place.

In the film, various events are staged on or near the train tracks. A kind of dystopian reality is presented, where games of life and death are the norm. At times, it brings to mind the black comedy Death Race 2000 (1975), in which racecar drivers earn points by killing pedestrians, but there’s no laughing at The Finishing Line. Here, children lose their lives in games staged by adults, and there is little mourning for the dead. In this world, there is no such thing as “innocence.”

Krish’s documentary-style filmmaking creates a tone that is completely unsettling. Weirdly, the film is staged as a child’s fantasy (what kind of kid would fantasize about his classmates being killed?!), yet the realistic look of the film could still be misinterpreted by a young person as an event that actually happened. If nothing else, the shear amount of gore and dead bodies is enough to upset any pre-teen viewer.

Though the director claims it was unintentional, The Finishing Line contains elements of the horror genre. For the last event, Krish filmed the kids walking briskly through a dark tunnel, capturing it in such a way that the children approach the camera as shadowy figures. The scene resembles something straight out of future horror films The Brood (1979) and Children of the Corn (1984). There’s no music, just the sound of hundreds of shuffling footsteps coming closer and closer. It’s very creepy.
The Great Tunnel Walk
Krish wanted the final moments to resemble the carnage of a war zone after a battle, and the sight of adults and teenagers carrying a hundred or so dead kids—symbolically laying them across the tracks, and doing so with a complete lack of emotion—is truly startling.

“The cumulative effect is shocking, and must have been all the more so for the young audiences to whom the film was screened. Not surprisingly, it immediately generated controversy, even becoming the subject of a Nationwide (BBC, 1969-84) television debate following a television screening of the film. Some commentators and parents worried that children would be traumatized, others that it might actually encourage copycat vandalism. Many defended the film as an appropriately tough response to a serious problem. Nonetheless, in 1979 the film was withdrawn and replaced by the much softer Robbie.” (BFI Screenonline)

All told, Krish has had four of his pictures removed from circulation, telling Fangoria, “I’m the only documentary director who’s had four films banned! And I rejoice in that.” In 2003, he was honored with a retrospective, which included the first public airing of The Finishing Line in over two decades.
John Krish
John Krish

Though it may have been inappropriate for the audience it was created for, The Finishing Line stands as a fascinating and significant film from a director still getting his due. It’s a disturbing and strange little picture—it’s also unforgettable.

The short is available for purchase via British Transport Films Collection Vol.7 – The Age Of The Train, and as a bonus on the DVD of Captured, another of Krish’s banned works.

Here it is, The Finishing Line:

Posted by Bart Bealmear | Discussion
follow us in feedly
‘Graduation Day’: New Wave Slasher, 80s Style
12:42 pm


Herb Freed

Poster Art for Graduation Day
Fewer sub-genres of horror are more maligned and critically sneered at than the Slasher Film. To the extent that in my academic past, I had not one but two teachers borderline horrified by my love for some of the films in this often grue-filled category. One of them actually said, “But Heather, you’re so sweet! How could you be into those movies?” If I hadn’t been the highly awkward and sheltered young person that I was back then, I could have responded with something about art exploring our darker impulses and tragic circumstances. Then, backed that up with historical references to the Grand Guignol theatre in France, some of Shakespeare’s bloodier works and any number of ancient Greek plays. Instead, I’m sure my response was something pithy like, “They’re cool.”
Targets for the Black Gloved Killer
As far as early 1980’s slashers go, Graduation Day is one cool movie. Made in 1981 by director Herb Freed, Graduation Day on the surface seems like your slasher-prototype. In a small California town,  the star runner on the high school track team, Laura (Ruth Ann Llorens), dies of natural causes immediately after winning the big race. A few months later, a black gloved killer start offing her teammates, even dramatically crossing their faces off with lipstick on a framed group photo. Naturally, there are red herrings. Could it be the Laura’s strange older sister, Anne (Patch Mackenzie)? Maybe the hard-bitten Coach Michaels (Christopher George) who leers at his female students a little too long? Even the nosy and possibly brain-damaged Officer MacGregor (Virgil Frye)? Or even Anne’s creepy, alcoholic stepfather who still hangs on to the grief of losing her younger sister?
There's a Killer on the Loose.
It could be any, all or none of the above and for a film like Graduation Day, I would hate to spoil which one it is. The film does play with certain conventions that were already veering towards cliché by ‘81, right down to an appearance by future epic scream queen Linnea Quigley as a cute and often topless stoner high school chick who seduces her teacher for a passing grade and attempts to have sex in the woods. (Granted, Linnea Quigley popping up is something that should really happen in every movie.) But scratch underneath the surface and you have a film with some fairly strong cynicism painted towards adults, brilliant quick-cut editing courtesy of Martin Jay Sadoff that brings to mind films like Fando y Lis and Easy Rider, a nifty twist-reveal ending and a killer appearance by the eternally underrated New Wave cult band Felony. (More on them in a minute.)
Linnea Quigley and friend getting stoned at the park.
The universe of Graduation Day is populated with teachers and authority figures that range from sleazy/borderline pedophile to abusive to bumbling but at least harmless. The latter includes a hilarious turn from the inimitable Michael Pataki as the ineffectual Principal clad in a polyester-pants nightmare. Pataki, who sadly passed away back in 2010, was one of those guys whose mere presence improved everything he was in, which ranged from voicing George Liquor in an episode of Ren & Stimpy Adult Party Cartoon to playing a homophobic biker in the gay motorcycle-gang film, The Pink Angels. Graduation Day is no exception and the film gets even better whenever he is on screen.
Best school dance band ever. Felony.
The aforementioned editing is incredibly creative and heightens the darkly strange tone of the film. Looking at Sadoff’s resume, it all makes sense when you realize he worked on the visually stunning 1971 underground erotic male tone poem, Pink Narcissus.

Another unlikely pairing that works greatly to the film’s advantage is the appearance by the band Felony. A Los Angeles based group whose ultra-charismatic lead singer, Jeffrey Scott Spry had previously played with Ron Asheton’s existent-for-a-hot-minute band The New Order back in the 70’s, Felony were and remain one of the quirkier rock bands that emerged out of the New Wave scene. Here, they perform their non-album song, “Gangster Rock,” looking like a bunch of gothed-out Mafiosos, their appearance is the absolute highlight in the whole film. It doesn’t matter that the song, which seems to be played in a continual loop, goes on for several minutes because it is so good that you barely notice. Even if you do, the odds of you minding are fairly slim. Felony would later on have a bit of a hit with their song “The Fanatic,” which was used on the soundtrack for the film, Valley Girl.

Graduation Day may not be a perfect film, with the last twenty minutes dragging a wee bit, but between the editing, a great cast, especially Pataki, George and Patch Mackenzie as the strong but subtly sensitive Anne and a willingness to explore a darker universe where kids are never truly safe, killer or no killer, it is a surprising treat of a movie. Previously available through Troma, it has been cleaned up quite nicely by the always reliable folks at Vinegar Syndrome, complete with multiple supplements to keep even the staunchest of horror film cineastes happy.

Posted by Heather Drain | Discussion
follow us in feedly
Is banned art-film, ‘Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story,’ the weirdest music movie ever made?

Director Todd Haynes is well-known for his arty, fictionalized depictions of music iconography. Velvet Goldmine was a glam rock epic, with characters modeled after Bowie and Iggy, while I’m Not There features seven different actors portraying “fictional” facets of Bob Dylan’s personality or mystique. Both films blur reality with stylized interpretations, but neither takes even a fraction of the liberties Haynes exercised with his 1987 grad school student film, Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story.

The film opens up on Karen’s death, then flashes back to narrate her rise to fame. It’s a spasmodic format—switching between interviews with peripheral music industry people, random footage and fascinatingly elaborate mise-en-scène reenactments staged with Barbie dolls and melodramatic voice-overs. In reference to Karen’s anorexia, Haynes actually whittled down her Barbie effigy with a knife for later scenes, mimicking the progressive emaciation of her body. It’s a dark portrayal of a slow death, Karen and Barbie, both icons of American perfection, wasting away before our eyes.

Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story is technically illegal to exhibit, although since the advent of YouTube, it’s a bit of a moot point (the upload embedded below was posted in 2012). Karen’s brother Richard sued Haynes for copyright infringement. MOMA has a copy but even they aren’t allowed to screen it. Even if Haynes hadn’t used Carpenters songs, there’s a good chance Richard Carpenter would’ve found basis for a lawsuit. Haynes portrays Karen as the victim of her narcissistic and tyrannical family, even suggesting Richard was closeted.

It’s difficult not to be sympathetic to Richard Carpenter who probably viewed the film as mere ghoulish, exploitative sensationalism. It’s a strangely invasive and voyeuristic piece of art, and the argument could be made that it’s totally unethical in its ambiguous, semi-biographical fiction. It’s also totally hypnotic, with a compelling narrative and a pioneering experimentalism that makes it one of the great cult classics.

Posted by Amber Frost | Discussion
follow us in feedly
This ridiculous Burt Reynolds paperback might mark when the 1970s truly began!
10:34 am


Burt Reynolds

One of the many mystifying aspects of the 1970s was the American public’s seemingly unquenchable appetite for Burt Reynolds. The same decade that is widely considered the strongest for uncompromising American cinema, a decade that produced The Godfather, Chinatown, Taxi Driver, and Nashville.... was also the decade that multiple times bestowed on Reynolds the title of America’s top box office star.

It isn’t so much that Reynolds is bad, exactly. It’s just that often his fame and celebrity success often seemed to come in advance of the cinematic accomplishments. If you look at Reynolds’ finishes in the “Ten Money Making Stars Poll” annually conducted by the Quigley Publishing Company, you get this:

1973: 4
1974: 6
1975: 7
1976: 6
1977: 4
1978: 1
1979: 1
1980: 1
1981: 1
1982: 1
1983: 4
1984: 6

Number one box office star—five years in a row. That feat was duplicated only by Bing Crosby from 1944 to 1948. If you look at 1973, the first year Reynolds made the list, he finished ahead of (in order) Robert Redford, Barbra Streisand, and Paul Newman. At that point his primary accomplishments as an actor were being second lead in Deliverance (an admittedly excellent movie in which he is also very good) and a brief appearance in Woody Allen’s Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask). In addition, of course, Reynolds had starred in The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing. For the next few years, it didn’t really matter what movies Reynolds starred in—the American public wanted more.

One of the most attention-getting episodes in Reynolds’ career was his hunkalicious nude appearance in the April 1972 issue of Cosmopolitan. Clearly, women were lusting after the cocky (ahem) and hirsute thespian and former athlete, a fact that leads us into the true subject of this post.

In 1972 Signet Books released a remarkable paperback, authored by Burt Reynolds, with the title Hot Line: The Letters I Get ... And Write! It was less a portrayal of Reynolds’ life as a man of letters than a kind of palatable, not X-rated version of his Cosmo pictorial.

Reynolds was not a man without a sense of humor, as can be seen in his confident, silly pose on the hand chair. (Yes, that’s right—hand chair.) The letters—who can say where these letters came from?—all acknowledge Reynolds’ fame and sex appeal as immutable facts and engage in some heavy double entendres—what one writer terms “Swahili.” Here’s a typical sample:

Dear Burt,

MAN, DO YOU EVER TURN ME ON! You’re great. When I told my husband how I love you, he said, “Well, just pretend that I’m Burt Reyolds.” To which I replied, “Nobody in the world has got that much imagination!”

I have to tell you this funny thing that happened at the office where I work. We have this 60-yr-old supervisor (lady). When we showed her the miniature picture of you from Newsweek, she said, “Well, that doesn’t turn me on!” The rest of us girls decided it would take all the men of South America put together to turn her on.

But you’re just the hottest! If I knew my tropic zone number I would use it rather than my zip code. (Sin)—Cerely


Dear Fay:

Why don’t you introduce your husband to the 60-year-old supervisor? Forget about your tropic zone number and bone up on your erogenous zones.

The pictures of these luscious babes literally draping themselves on Reynolds’ torso are a kind of visual corollary to the libido that the sexual revolution had just unleashed. You can’t exactly imagine Clark Gable doing this pictorial…. this was the new sexual frankness that would come to define the decade. In fact, you could argue that this stupid book, or the Cosmo pictorial, was the first thing that really reeked of the Seventies the way we think of it today. That hairy chest just needs a coke spoon to complete the picture.

Here are a few shagadelic scans from the book—I’m confident you won’t soon forget them.


More Burt Reynolds than anyone in this century could ever possibly want, after the jump…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
follow us in feedly
‘Combat Shock’: The Troma film inspired by Suicide’s ‘Frankie Teardrop’
08:03 am


Combat Shock

Frankie’s having a terrible day. His wife and infant son are starving. He’s run out of money and food. Now he’s going to be evicted. He’s got a gun. Let’s hear it for Frankie…

If this sounds familiar, it’s because the story of the 1984 Troma movie Combat Shock bears a striking resemblance to that of Suicide’s harrowing song “Frankie Teardrop.” The movie concerns the struggle of a young man named Frankie to feed his wife and child in blighted Staten Island, and if you’ve heard the song, I don’t have to tell you that it ends pretty badly for Frankie, his family, you, me, and the entire human race.

Frankie isn’t a factory worker in this version of the story, but an unemployed Vietnam vet whose days and nights are continually interrupted by flashbacks of ‘Nam and the torture he suffered at the hands of the VC. These, in turn, lead to flashbacks within flashbacks where, for purposes of exposition, Frankie relives arguments with his father, now estranged because a) Frankie has refused to carry on the family legacy of race hate and b) Dad disapproves of Mrs. Frankie. Suffering through the exposition of any movie is itself a form of torture.

However, these gestures toward the conventions of plot are mercifully few and brief, and Combat Shock soon makes with the laffs and gasps you crave from late-night horror fare. Much of the pleasure of watching Combat Shock comes from the genre detail writer, director, producer and editor Buddy Giovinazzo adds to extend Suicide’s story to feature length. For instance, because of Frankie’s exposure to Agent Orange, and because this is a Troma movie, the child looks like a cross between the Eraserhead baby and Edvard Munch’s screamer.

Until the awful climax, the movie takes its time presenting a loser’s-eye view of urban anomie. If you’ve ever lived in a place that had a TV set, you already know all these characters: Frankie’s slow descent into madness involves demoralizing encounters with small-time hoods (Frankie’s creditors), child prostitutes, junkie thieves and social workers (one of whom is missing a Ronco Veg-O-Matic). There are also one or two thrilling surprises, even for the very jaded.

And in case you somehow feel cheated of your full share of human misery after watching Combat Shock, here’s a kind of sequel to “Frankie Teardrop,” Alan Vega’s 12-minute bum-out “Viet Vet.”

Thanks to Greg Bummer of Azusa, CA!

Posted by Oliver Hall | Discussion
follow us in feedly
Death Trip: How would YOU like to be killed by Iggy Pop in Dario Argento’s new movie? Here’s how!
10:34 am


Iggy Pop
Dario Argento

Dario Argento The Sandman staring Iggy Pop
According to the master of Giallo himself, Dario Argento’s upcoming release will be a Christmas movie called The Sandman. The film is a tribute to Argento’s vast film career and will star everybody’s favorite punk, Iggy Pop. Based on a short story written in 1816 by German author E.T.A Hoffmann, Iggy is set to play a serial killer who takes pleasure in murdering his victims with a melon spoon, scoops their eyes out with with said melon spoon then, saves the unfortunate peepers as trophies.

Says Argento about the premise and inspiration for The Sandman:

On this Christmas a child witnesses his mother murdered by a serial killer. I am tired of these Christmas movies showing goodness. Beauty, snowflakes, sleds being pulled by reindeer. I’d rather have a Christmas movie where there is also violence, strength, and horror. And this is what I’m going to do. Christmas is coming and so is The Sandman!

Argento is using funding site Indie Go Go to raise $250,000 to make The Sandman. Below is the highly amusing teaser for the film that features Iggy who confesses that making this film with Argento would be a “dream come true” for him. A pretty tall order coming from a man who’s pretty much done it all.

And speaking of dreams that could come true, the reward for a $15,000 donation will not only get you a role in the film, it will also give you bragging rights to saying you’ve been killed killed by Iggy Pop while under the watchful direction of Dario Argento. Wow!

Posted by Cherrybomb | Discussion
follow us in feedly
Behind the scenes of Martin Scorsese’s ‘Mean Streets’
07:05 am


Harvey Keitel
Martin Scorsese
Robert De Niro

I saw Mean Streets in my teens on late night TV after the parents had gone to bed and I’d stolen a couple of my mother’s cigarettes to smoke. Fourteen going on fifteen and pretending to be grown-up, but once more being made aware by that picture box in the corner of a world somewhere out there where things really did happen. That’s what Mean Streets made me feel. It made me want to go and live in New York and find and meet the people who made this film and learn more about them and their lives. It was a fantasy, just like the fantasy world Robert De Niro’s character, Johnny Boy, lived in, yet, there were some connections that made sense. When you’re a kid, if you can’t be a superhero then you want to be a gangster. I guess you could say I unfortunately had the pedigree for that—one uncle had served time convicted of manslaughter, another robbed a Territorial Army barracks for weapons but left drunk laden only with booze. I was working class and raised a Catholic with family hopes of the priesthood and was all too aware of that old country superstition that kept Harvey Keitel’s Charlie in check—the fifteen decades of the holy rosary and the candle-lit novenas to saints. How their world of Little Italy was caught between the traditions of the past and the monetary reality of the future which loomed large on screen in the form of the newly built Twin Towers.

The title for the film came from Raymond Chandler, who wrote in The Simple Art of Murder:

In everything that can be called art there is a quality of redemption. It may be pure tragedy, if it is high tragedy, and it may be pity and irony, and it may be the raucous laughter of the strong man. But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.

According to the producer Jonathan Taplin, Martin Scorsese had wanted to make Mean Streets for so long that he had “literally drawn out every single shot.” In 1970, Scorsese briefly moved out to LA to make the big time in movies and find someone to produce his film. He met Taplin at his house and they talked by the swimming pool. Taplin in trunks, Scorsese wearing a long black leather coat, like the kind the Gestapo used to wear in those wartime B-movies. All through their discussion under the blazing Californian sun, Scorsese never took off the coat, just sat melting into the deckchair, enthusing about his project. LA was not Scorsese’s kind of a town, New York was what he knew and what he liked.

Growing up in Little Italy, Scorsese had first considered being a priest, like a lot of Catholic boys do, but found a better vocation from watching movies on TV. This was where he learnt his trade, watching B&W films on television. For a time he attended seminary school, but gave it up to study film at NY University. Here he met the first of the people who would later play a major part in his life: a young court stenographer called Harvey Keitel and an Iranian born immigrant called Mardik Martin. Together this trio of ambitious film makers would star, write and direct in Who’s That Knocking at My Door? (1967), a film that took four years to make, which explains why Keitel visibly aged during its 90 minutes.

When he moved to LA Scorsese wanted to make a film about Little Italy and the people who lived there. He had a story, a script, one actor, and all he needed was the finance. Taplin had worked with Bob Dylan and had relocated from the east to the west coast with an ambition to make big movies. If he could organize 150 Dylan concerts then he could certainly put a movie deal together. Taplin raised the $500,000 needed and Scorsese went back east. The final piece of Mean Streets came together when Scorsese auditioned a young actor called Robert De Niro. The pair hit it off from the very first meeting mainly because, as De Niro later explained:

We were both brought up in the same area, and we see things the same way, I think, also, we both had a sense of being outsiders.

Mean Streets was shot quickly, on location, on the streets, with real people in the background not extras. Scorsese shot up to 36 set-ups a day often hand-held which gave the film a rough urban documentary feel. From its opening shots it felt like you were watching real people living real life—not actors saying lines on the screen—which is probably why I wanted to go live in Little Italy when I first saw the film all those years ago.

This selection of behind-the-scenes photographs captures Martin Scorsese directing Harvey Keitel, Robert De Niro and the co. during the making of Mean Streets.
More urban realism from ‘Mean Streets’ after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
follow us in feedly
‘Good Grief! Cancer Boy!’ Charlie Brown in nihilistic German existential cinema parody
09:32 am


Charlie Brown
Apocalypse Pooh

You may remember a post last week on “Apocalypse Pooh,” a fantastic little pre-Internet mash-up of Apocalypse Now and Winnie The Pooh released in 1987 through underground tape-trading circles by art student Todd Graham. Though Graham is still best-known for his prototype mash-ups, I was pleased to find his fantastic little original short, “Good Grief! Cancer Boy!” a nihilistic portrayal of Charlie Brown in German (I mean, it’s more nihilistic than the original).

The disdain of his peers, the conniving sadism of Lucy, the general alienation of modern life, even in childhood—really, the material is already there. Todd Graham himself is brilliant as our tragic protagonist, and you can really feel the existential despair, you know?

Posted by Amber Frost | Discussion
follow us in feedly
‘Harmontown: The Documentary’ is the best psychodrama of the season
08:45 am


Dan Harmon

Last year I proclaimed Harmontown to be the best comedy podcast, and in the intervening time I have seen nohing to change my mind (although I have grown fond of Greg Proops’ Smartest Man in the World and Pete Holmes’ You Made It Weird. A couple of days ago saw the release of a documentary about Dan Harmon and the nationwide tour his podcast made in January 2013. It’s available to stream on Amazon for $6.99 (to purchase, $12.99/$14.99).

The question arises, how is it? The simple answer is, it’s very good. I’m a little too close to the subject to review it properly, so while recommending the documentary (directed by Neil Berkeley, who also directed Beauty is Embarrassing: The Wayne White Story) I thought I’d also express some thoughts about why Harmontown (the podcast) is such an achievement as well as a few things the documentary inevitably missed (not a diss, it would have been impossible to cover everything).

Spencer Crittenden, Jeff B. Davis, Dan Harmon, and Erin McGathy
Dan Harmon is a TV writer and showrunner who is responsible for Community (NBC) and Rick & Morty (Adult Swim). He’s from Milwaukee and he drinks too much and he’s got some impressive verbal gifts and he has issues with people telling him what to do. Harmontown (the podcast) is taped every Sunday at the NerdMelt Theater, the back room of Meltdown Comics in Hollywood. The governing conceit is that Dan Harmon is the mayor and his buddy Jeff B. Davis is the comptroller. Dan occupies a unique niche, as something like the world’s most dangerous showrunner (i.e. writer who oversees a television show). The advent of high-quality TV that requires attention to long-form narrative issues has made a figure like Harmon nearly inevitable—who knew who ran Kojak?  If America loves Chuck Lorre’s shows, then that leaves an opening for an uncompromising indie showrunner who caters to a coterie—that’s Harmon, who plays Pulp to Lorre’s Oasis, perhaps.

Every show involves a mix of discussion about whatever has been occupying Harmon lately, audience participation, special guest appearances (Robin Williams, Patton Oswalt, Eric Idle, etc.) and a 20-minute chunk of D&D. The shows are entirely unscripted, and somehow they manage to be pretty darn diverting just about every week. As Davis points out in the movie, because it’s constructed from scratch every week, every episode feels completely different. What’s guaranteed is that because everything is filtered through Harmon’s lively, dangerous personality, there’s not much out there like it. What it feels like is unprecedented.

Harmon’s a dork of long standing, and his audience overwhelmingly consists of smart, introverted creative people (this is a euphemism for “on the Spectrum”) who, possibly, were bullied in high school; were far too interested in the Alien movie series and pop culture artifacts of that type; and have found some private fulfillment as adults in some interesting endeavor. What’s key is that the generosity, tolerance, and democracy behind Harmon’s sincere efforts at outreach have struck a massive chord among the people of this sub-sector, who in turn regard Harmon as their own special hero. The documentary is largely about Harmon going out into the country from LA to meet the throngs that make up his adoring audience. As Harmon often jokes, “his people” aren’t great at eye contact, which made the lengthy meet and greets after every session of “HarmonCountry” interesting social events in their own right.

The documentary covers all of this back story—the poster’s touting of the appearances of Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Joel McHale, and John Oliver is a bit of a cheat, they only appear in the movie for a couple of seconds apiece, as talking heads testifying to Harmon as a co-worker in the world of TV (Sarah Silverman and Jason Sudeikis are both in the movie in a fuller way). Implicit in that promotional strategy is that there’s not that much here to sell the movie. Much like Community, Dan Harmon himself is an aquired taste, and people watching the documentary should know that the movie features huge amounts of footage of exactly four people: Harmon, Davis, Harmon’s girlfriend (now fiancée) Erin McGathy, and Spencer Crittenden, the D&D dungeon master who was recruited from the live audience in an early episode and has appeared in the largest number of episodes since, excepting Dan himself of course).

Watching the movie, I found myself wondering what non-devotees will make of Dan Harmon. It’s a little like when you introduce your favorite noise-rock band to a friend, you might not have the best antennae about who will like this band. Same thing here—I love Harmon, but from all external appearances he’s a talkative alcoholic and egomaniac with a mean streak. It would be easy to imagine him wearing on people, which I sincerely hope doesn’t happen because I think Harmon’s worth the trouble. The thing to understand about Harmon is that he’s an idealist of the highest order. For instance, the HarmonCountry tour, even if it was the act of an egomaniac, was essentially an attempt to execute the world’s largest hug. A devotee of the Jungian mythologist Joseph Campbell, Harmon sincerely believes that his own writing accomplishments are merely a reflection of universal wisdoms that could equally well be expressed some other way. Harmon drinks too much and is self-destructive, all of which makes his penchant for unvarnished revelation all the more admirable. The list of his uncomfortable admissions (his purchase of a Real Doll many years ago, for instance) would be long indeed; would that we were all so honest! (Thus we see the idealism at work.)

One of the central issues in Harmontown the documentary is Harmon’s treatment of McGathy, who is clearly Harmon’s #1 supporter as well as his lifetime companion. The legendary Pittsburgh entry of HarmonCountry devolved into a huge onstage argument between Harmon and McGathy; the tour was clearly taking a massive toll on their relationship (they’re still together, obviously). Harmon did a bit about trying to become “visibly” aroused in full view of the audience by fantasizing about an attractive young lady in the audience, a bit that understandably wounded McGathy, who said so onstage some minutes later. The slack-jawed Pittsburghers were treated to a bit that wasn’t a bit, in essence a drawn-out, gut-wrenching conversation about the ways Harmon can wound McGathy and Harmon’s refusal to change. 

Harmontown the documentary faithfully captures the complexity of Harmon and the appeal of the show, almost entirely. Inevitably, a documentary of this type must maintain its focus on Harmon and the rapid rise to nerdy prominence of Spencer, the D&D dungeon master. What a movie of this kind can’t, by definition, capture is one of the central sources of appeal of the podcast, which are the longer-form discussions/banter, and especially the longer set pieces in which Harmon improvs a rant about the injustice of being told to tie his shoes or the faulty logic of Uber or why Captain America is an unsatisfying movie. That’s the stuff I go to Harmontown for, and there’s virtually none of it in the documentary (again, not a diss; Berkeley made the right movie that was there to make). For that, go to (episode 1) and listen to the podcasts. I wish they’d captured the dapper charm of Jeff B. Davis or the comedic genius—yes, genius—of Erin McGathy. In the movie you would get the impression that McGathy is a fairly typical supportive indie chick, but she has a lengthy background in improv and her comedic instincts are every bit as developed as those of Harmon himself. If anything she’s even quicker, and her bits don’t always depend on the filter of her own psychodramas. She has a podcast of her own about relationships called This Feels Terrible, which I highly recommend.

Download Harmontown the documentary—for some interesting insights into the making of the documentary, the Nerdist episode with Harmon and director Neil Berkeley is well worth a listen.

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
follow us in feedly
Wild Sex! Gore! Monsters! It’s the twisted, sick and nasty ‘Blood Island Trilogy’!

There I was, 1971, ten years old, bored, and flipping through the newspaper when BAM! It hit me like a ton of bricks! The exact thing my ten-year-old eyes dreamed of seeing: A huge half-page ad with a giant grotesque monstrosity ripping its own head off printed in blood red ink! Dripping red letters screamed BEAST OF BLOOD! I was an avid monster magazine reader then (and now) and even made a slew of my own monster mags. This ad was so very important to me that part of it was used as the entire back cover of “Monster Journal” a one-off handmade on loose leaf paper by a couple of ten year olds (one of them being me, natch). The monster ripping his own head off was the centerfold.

Luckily I somehow still have it. Here’s the front cover, centerfold and back cover:
Having misbehaved, I was punished the whole week this movie played in our neighborhood theater and I never got to see it, cementing it even deeper into my psyche, as it became my own demented folklore in my personal history. That I had to wait at least fifteen years—and for VCRs to be invented—to see it may be hard for young people to grasp in these days of consumer enlightenment, but such was our world back then, and believe me, the rewards were truly that much more rewarding when it took you that long to find something.

Not so strangely enough, this is exactly what these now 54-year-old eyes still dream of seeing. I have been buying a lot of DVD’s of late and was missing one of the “Blood Island” films so I bought a box set that came out called The Blood Island Vacation on Amazon. The so-called “Blood Island trilogy” has quite a convoluted past. Even the box set has four films in it. There are at least three or four other films that also fit into this trilogy.

The Blood Island saga begins in 1959 with Terror is a Man (later retitled Blood Creature, of course).  It borrows its basic plot from The Island of Dr. Moreau—an obsessed scientist on a secluded island experiments with changing animals into humans. But the film is anything but a cheap rip-off. Terror is a Man is surprisingly intelligent, stylish and suspenseful, and from the same creators/directors/producers as the “Blood Island” trilogy: Eddie Romero, Gerardo De Leon and Kane Lynn. But let’s deal with the three main films to start with.
Brides of Blood (1968) begins the way all of the “Blood Island” films do, with our hero John Ashley (long time Hollywood B movie favorite starting out in fifties monster and juvenile delinquent films, graduating to sixties beach party films, doing quite a lot of weirdo flicks in the Philippines in the seventies, and then winding up producing TV shows like The A-Team, etc.), some hot chick with a specific reason for going to the island, some natives and the ships captain all sailing out on a steam ship to the dreaded island. This first film co-starred the ample real life stripper/actress Beverly Hills and 1930’s-1950’s B movie star Kent Taylor as her scientist husband (Kent Taylor was apparently the inspiration for the name of Superman’s alter ego Clark Kent).

They arrive on Blood Island and are met with the usual hostile/fearful islanders. Something weird is going on. Why are these people here? Everyone has their own concept of the monster in this film but to me it looks like a big burnt deflated Michelin Man with fangs and ummm… lipstick?
The big gimmick for Brides of Blood was the wedding ring give-away. Theater managers were encouraged to order hundreds of plastic wedding and engagement rings to give to every unmarried female in the audience.  Hemisphere Pictures even made a special trailer to advertise the rings. I actually have a set of them that were still in the press book for the film that I bought many moons ago. The marketing and advertising for these films is amazing. Wild trailers, including deranged narration from demented doom comedian Brother Theodore on the Mad Doctor of Blood Island trailer (see below), gorgeous posters done by world-class artists (paperback book cover artist icon Charles Copeland on Mad Doctor of Blood Island and Beast of Blood, comic artist Gray Morrow on Brain of Blood) etc.
You can read a great and funny review of Brides of Blood from here. The whole film can be watched for free on Hulu here.

More ‘Blood Island’ after the jump…

Posted by Howie Pyro | Discussion
follow us in feedly
Page 2 of 207  < 1 2 3 4 >  Last ›