Adults Only: House on Straw Hill (1976)

lhIn the early 1980s British home video stores found themselves in the center of a storm when moral panic swept through the U.K. Religious leaders, parents and politically motivated individuals created what’s now known as the “video nasty” scare after discovering that stores were renting graphic horror films usually reserved for American grindhouses and indiscriminate drive-ins. Most of the objectionable movies were made in the U.S. or Italy where excessive violence and nudity had few problems getting past censors if it was properly rated but in Britain film censorship tended to be much more restrictive. Movies with explicit content and titles that often intended to shock such as CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980), THE DRILLER KILLER (1979) and I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (1978) caused widespread outrage throughout the U.K. that led to them being removed from video stores, criminally prosecuted or cut for British audiences. The only British film that was apparently singled out during the video nasty scare was James Kenelm Clarke’s THE HOUSE ON STRAW HILL (aka Exposé; 1976). For decades this notorious erotic thriller has had the reputation of being one of the sleaziest films ever produced in Britain during the 1970s, which made it difficult to see. Badly cut or edited video copies circulated among the curious but the quality was always questionable. Thanks to the efforts of Severin Films I recently had the opportunity to catch up with this infamous film on DVD but it didn’t exactly live up to its seedy status. Is it an unsung cult classic waiting rediscovery? Or is it one of the most depraved movies ever made? In truth it’s neither of these things but I’m glad that Severin has saved the film from obscurity and given it a new life on DVD.

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Snapshots of the Fall

The art house film calendar that I program goes to press in two days and, although I’m still waiting for some confirmations, I’m sharing the rough-draft with TCM readers, along with some brief thoughts regarding the choices made.

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The Spring Lineup

Before delving into some highlights for my upcoming calendar film program, which has everything from singing cannibals and Robby the Robot to sex addicts and Pam Grier (in-person!)… I’d like to back-track a little. In my last post I wrote that the venues where I screen films were akin to a leaky rowboat. While this statement remains essentially true, especially when we are compared to any state-of-the-art dedicated film theater, I would like to amend the metaphor a bit. In retrospect, I feel it would be more accurate to say that the film series I program is more like the Orca boat commandeered by Robert Shaw in Jaws. It’s big enough to chase large game, but you still can’t help wishing you had a bigger boat – especially when you get a clear glimpse of the challenge ahead. When I previously said that we do a lot with very little, the “we” in that statement referred to the small crew that has kept this particular boat from becoming an artificial coral reef on the ocean floor, and this despite staying afloat long past its expiration date.  [...MORE]

Geneviève Bujold is ISABEL (1968)

Paul Almond’s ISABEL (1968) begins with a train journey across a snow-covered landscape. We watch as the film’s star, Geneviève Bujold, sits awkwardly in her seat and squirms uncomfortably in front of the camera’s unrelenting eye. She is biding her time by shuffling through a small stack of books and papers in an effort to fend off unpleasant thoughts and feelings. You see, Isabel is a woman haunted by ghosts. These ghosts have hidden themselves deep within the recesses of Isabel’s troubled mind but when she’s asked to return to her family’s ancestral home following her mother’s death, Isabel is forced to confront the phantoms that posses her.

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THE TRAILERS THAT MADE MY BRAIN

I spent this morning watching a compilation DVD that was sent to me by filmmaker/artist/musician Cory McAbee. It was titled “TnT” (which stands for Titles and Trailers), and it was the focus of a presentation he did a few months ago for the UnionDocs Collaborative in Brooklyn in conjunction with Rooftop Films (whose byline is: “Underground Movies Outdoors”). Their program notes that short films have now become a predominant form of entertainment, thanks in part to the growing popularity of video-sharing websites. But long before everyone was glued to YouTube or their cell phone, we were (and are still) watching short films on the big screen in the form of trailers and credit sequences – both being made, for the most part, by “outside parties (who) were hired to create a short interpretation from the film itself or from unused elements.” Cory’s TnT collection were specific “short films” that had influenced his own work in meaningful ways. While I can’t think of title-sequences that have influenced my life, I can certainly think of more than a few trailers that had a big impact on who I am now.  [...MORE]

Cine-Fun at Night School

This session of Night School, the midnight movie series at Facets Multi-Media, has just passed the halfway point. Night School does not run consecutively but is offered in sessions of five to ten weeks. Over the past two years, our unique take on the midnight movie has attracted several regulars who show up most Saturday nights to hear a Facets staff member introduce the film and then moderate a Q&A afterwards—in the wee hours of the morning.

The familiar faces who drop by each week have made the Night School experience much more than I imagined when my colleague, Phil Morehart, originated the program two years ago, and I signed on to help. The atmosphere has always been informal—as most midnight series tend to be—but this session has been especially warm and friendly. Groups of regulars return each week to mingle in the lobby, sign up for the raffle prize, grab an accompanying handout, and then saunter into the theater. The aura of familiarity has created a cine-club vibe that makes the interaction between the presenters and the audience more relaxed and has turned the post-movie Q&As into discussions.

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Notes From Underground

Tonight (Friday 10/15) begins the fifth season of our late night cult movie franchise, “TCM Underground.” This feat is pretty near and dear to my heart, as I was put in charge of programming the show when it first started five years ago. As a fan of cult movies, it’s obviously a big dream come true to have the chance to program “Underground.” I’m happy that there is room for some of the strange, late-night fare amongst our other programming.      [...MORE]

Secret Messages

It has been called “a virtual social H-bomb,” and it detonated at a press conference in New York on September 12, 1957.  Advertising researcher James M. Vicary announced that he had successfully tested a device that could implant subliminal messages in the minds of moviegoers.  Vicary, Rene Bras, and Francis C. Thayer were partners in Subliminal Projection Company, Inc.  Their “Trinity Site” had been the Fort Lee Theatre in New Jersey.  There, a special projector known as a tachistoscope (capable of flashing an image at 1/3,000th of a second) conveyed secret messages to the audience, one every five seconds, during the run of the movie Picnic (1955).

There were two messages:  “Eat popcorn” and “Drink Coca-Cola.”  Vicary boasted that, during the six-week test, sales of popcorn increased 57.5% and Coke 18.1%.

Life Magazine ran this simulated image of what they imagined the subliminal projections must have looked like.

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It Came from Kuchar

Long ago, in a class on modern art, a professor once explained to me the value of art deemed avant-garde, underground, or even offensive. One point stuck out and has stayed with me over the years: Art that pushes the edges of accepted aesthetics, tastes, and standards—and, sometimes breaks free of them—keeps that mode of art from becoming too safe, narrow, and confined.  The theory is that if a few artists push the boundaries far beyond the norms and conventions, then those artists that prefer the middle of the road work within a broader range, preventing the art form from becoming stale, repetitive, and hollow. Not only should there be artists who push the edges, but there should be outlets for the public to see, hear, or experience that art, even if they are appalled, bored, or offended by it. It expands culture by broadening the tastes and tolerance of the mainstream public.

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Mock Up On Mu

Mock Up On Mu

When I arrived in San Francisco one of the first things I did was look through all the film programs for the area. There were many great titles to choose from, but the one that caught my eye was only playing for two days at the Red Vic on Haight Street. The program notes promised “a feature-length ‘collage-narrative’ based on (mostly) true stories of California’s post-War sub-cultures of rocket pioneers, alternative religions, and Beat lifestyles. Pulp-serial snippets, industrial-film imagery, and B- (and Z-) fiction clips are intercut with newly shot live-action material, powering a playful, allegorical trajectory through the now-mythic occult matrix of Jack Parsons (Crowleyite founder of the Jet Propulsion Lab), L.Ron Hubbard (sci-fi author turned cult-leader), and Marjorie Cameron (bohemian artist and ‘mother of the New Age movement’). Their intertwined tales spin out into a speculative farce on the militarization of space, and the corporate take-over of spiritual fulfillment and leisure-time.” [...MORE]

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