Archive for Herschell Gordon Lewis

Two Hundred Million Maniacs!

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 2, 2015 by dcairns

The Blogathon is GO —

David Ehrenstein visits the land of THE DEAD here. The last John Huston.

I try to consider the merits of BUDDY BUDDY in five-line verse at Limerwrecks. The last Billy Wilder.

But here on Shadowplay, the very-much still active Matthew Wilder considers the not-quite-last effort of Herschell Gordon Lewis and finds it TIMELY —

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TWO HUNDRED MILLION MANIACS! by Matthew Wilder

Why, just this morning Donald Trump and Marco Rubio were trying to out-harsh each other in coming up with “Muslim registry” scenarios—the crescent moon perhaps subbing for the yellow Star of David. At the same moment, there was some question as to who it was that Ben Carson was calling “rabid dogs”—bad apples among the Syrian refugees (not sure who that might be) or just Muslims generally? In any case, the top three Republican options as of Nov. 20, 2015, were Trump, Carson, and Carly Fiorina—the unsuccessful CEO of Hewlett Packard who has successfully marketed herself as a mixture of Sheryl Sandberg and old-time religion. (Her dominant campaign meme is a description of a late-term abortion that appears never to have existed.) It’s clear that showmanship trumps substance—or is it? Are voters aware of what they want, and wish to “act out” more than act? (That’s what all the Occupy protesters, save maybe a few in New York, did.) Are Americans being sold a bill of goods, or are they, as per this interactive economy, writing their bill of goods themselves?

The most trenchant movie analysis of the politics of 2015 comes from 1972. And no, it’s not Michael Ritchie’s THE CANDIDATE, an inquiry into the bake-off nature of modern American politics that still entertains; nor is it TOUT VA BIEN, Jean-Luc Godard’s and J.P. Gorin’s whirlwind farce about strikers and bosses and the delirium in between. Instead, it’s a little, almost lost movie called THE YEAR OF THE YAHOO! by one Herschell Gordon Lewis. Now—is this “late style,” you ask? Well, it literally is: HGL abandoned the cinema full time after THE YEAR OF THE YAHOO!, and went, oh so tellingly, into the world of marketing. (People in the world of marketing tell me that Herschell Gordon Lewis is a known name—and not for his splatter movies.) What is appealing about THE YEAR OF THE YAHOO! is that it deconstructs the smoke-and-mirrors aspect of the contemporary marketing of candidates in strangely hyperreal, real-time terms: there are moments as literal-minded as the key scenes of PRIMARY or THE WAR ROOM or other classic campaign docs. One expects cartoonish buffoonery from Herschell Gordon Lewis, but instead he paints a queasily familiar world.

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A giant riff on the Elia Kazan/Budd Schulberg A FACE IN THE CROWD, YAHOO is less histrionic, less preachment-filled and more convincing. Here, a group of party consultants—the 1972 ancestors of Lee Atwater and Karl Rove—tell the powers that be that their candidate (who remains off camera, but is described as a Mitt Romney-like dullard) just ain’t gonna cut it. The incumbent is a liberal as gray and anemic as Gore Vidal in BOB ROBERTS, maybe a little more so: as played by Robert Swain, this Senator Burwell looks like a cross between Robert Lowell and the mad-doctor character from REPO MAN. Anticipating the Reagan revolution to come, the party analysts see that Burwell can be beat. The incumbent Governor has a long list of hacks to put up against Burwell, but the analysts aren’t having it—they want a pop star.

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One of the glories of THE YEAR OF THE YAHOO! is that it never moves in the direction you expect. When the string-pullers decide they want a country singer, we expect Hank Jackson (Claude King) to be a grinning, manipulative ape like Andy Griffith’s Lonesome Rhodes in FACE IN THE CROWD. Instead, our first glimpse of him at work shows him wowing a crowd with a Goth-dark slice of psychedelic country that rhymes “no hope” with “rope”: Jackson and his band are like the Joy Division of Nashville. Soon enough, in a brilliant touch of Lewis-ian irony, Hank’s gloom song has been repurposed as a campaign song…for a commercial where the word HOPE hangs in space like a mothership filled with Obama t shirts.

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Shot, like all Lewis’ movies up to this point, in the rancid, postcard color of Educational Films, YAHOO! never quite reaches the level of frenzy of, say, HGL’s equally exclamation-pointed TWO THOUSAND MANIACS! But what fascinates about it is how Lewis’ fascination with the mechanics of marketing drives him to render the making-of-a-fascist scenes in eerie, unfurling microdetail. In one dazzlingly virtuosic scene, the main handler, Hollywood-born Sid Angelo (played by terrifying HGL veteran Ray Sager) shows his chops: Hank Jackson plays before an adoring throng who, when he announces he is running for the Senate, shriek and crash the stage in a giant mob. Sid calls “Cut!”—jarring us out of what seemed like a plausible case of spontaneous hysteria—and then directs the mob in how to be spontaneous and hysterical, drumming beat after beat into their thick skulls like a factory foreman. The movie is a relentless deconstruction of every kind of emotion-stirring political image, yet its invention never flags—Lewis always has some fresh weirdness in the wings.

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THE YEAR OF THE YAHOO! marks the point where governance ended and spectacle began. It was shot at the moment when Richard Nixon, still smarting from the first Watergate revelations, won a staggering landslide victory over George McGovern: Nixon’s Silent Majority theatrics overwhelmed McGovern’s almost unimaginably indie campaign slogan—“Come Home, America.” (If you’re gonna go down, go down like a saint, seemed to be McGovern’s motto.) YAHOO anticipates our present moment, where candidates have moved from being objects of fantasy projection, like Ronald Reagan, to the kind of magnetizing sheer trainwrecks seen on reality TV—one doesn’t want to be them, one wants to watch them writhe and squirm. This is a new phase of devolution: Voters want not to identify with a candidate and play make-believe, but rather want to sit and passively watch a nutjob’s antics, the more grotesque the better. In an age of the real-time Internet, all politics is as remote and creepily giggle-inducing as webcam porn. It’s not really meant to stir a fiery mob, it’s designed to be passively consumed by a supine spectator on a laptop.

YAHOO is the origin story of the depoliticization of politics—and somehow it’s eerily perfect that it was one of Herschell Gordon Lewis’ drive-in movies and not a sober, inside-baseball work of mature satire like Ritchie’s THE CANDIDATE. It also seems right that this augury of a post-ideological future was essentially HGL’s kissoff to the directing life. (He has been roused out of retirement a couple times in recent years to direct features that pay homage to his sixties splatter self.) It ends on a hopeful note—with a character who could’ve popped out of Ford’s THE LAST HURRAH as an ironic victor—but Herschell isn’t fooling anybody: tomorrow belongs to him.

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Green Fingers

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 8, 2009 by dcairns

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Arse! I watched a film by mistake.

MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND, directed by Eddie Romero and Gerardo DeLeon, was my third experience of Philippine horror, after the rather classy TERROR IS A MAN, lent dignity by Francis Lederer (Jodie Foster’s drama teacher) in the mad scientist role, and THE BLOOD DRINKERS, a truly psychotronic mad-fest glazed with brain-searing colour.

I was watching MAD DOC as part of my See Reptilicus and Die quest, based on a gruesome fanged and mangled creature, sprawled on a beach,  illustrated on page 207 of Denis Gifford’s A Pictorial History of Horror Movies. But the monster in this movie, the chlorophyll man (it should really be called MAD DOCTOR OF CHLOROPHYLL ISLAND) never winds up on a beach. What gives?

DSCF1828Tasha the Siamese brushes up on her Philippines horror cinema.

Reading Gifford’s caption more carefully, I discover that what he’s actually saying is… what he actually is saying. “Opposite below: the chlorophyll man, a Philippino favourite, was all washed up in Mad Doctor of Blood Island (Hemisphere 1970) — but struck again in Blood Devils.” Which, with the talk of being “washed up,” sounds like he’s attributing the still to MAD DOC, but then it sounds like he isn’t. So now I have to see BLOOD DEVILS.

Still, MAD DOC isn’t all bad. The bald vampire with bad skin and sunglasses from BLOOD DRINKERS, Ronald Remy, here plays mad/bad scientists Dr. Lorca (since Romero and DeLeon are so fond of using BLOOD in their titles, I’m surprised and disappointed that Dr. Lorca did not return in BLOOD WEDDING) who has attempted to cure cancer with chlorophyll from a unique dancing shrub (we eventually see a sample in his lab, wiggling its branches to and fro in an eternal vegetative froug). Filling out the cast are stray jawbone John Ashley and local floozy Alicia Alonzo, who “became a whore for love,” according to Dr. L.

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Alicia is the film’s most interesting and non-generic element. She proudly tells how Ashley’s father first took her sexually at the age of 14, and how she’s never experienced a man like him. And not for want of trying. It’s a rather startling, adult, distasteful yet at least unusual bit of characterisation. Unfortunately, Ashley’s father, officially dead, is still roaming the jungle as a half-plant maniac, ripping innocent naked girls into gaily-coloured heaps of flesh and entrails. The movie has a real fascination with gory abjection, much more explicit than the same year’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, and in colour, yet. The other point of comparison might be Herschell Gordon Lewis, with his BLOOD FEAST etc, but Romero and DeLeon (the latter apparently still working at 85) have made a film roughly 50,000 times more compelling than Lewis’s depressing squaloramas.

While TERROR IS A MAN deployed misty b&w for atmospheric Lewtonesque shadow-work, getting close to the beauty of Gabriel Figueroa’s photography except that here the lighting and diffusion changes randomly from shot to shot, and BLOOD DRINKERS has that hyper-intense gel-lit palette, the main technique in this one is the zoom — whenever the chlorophyll pedophile attacks his victims, cinematographer Justo Paulino masturbates his zoom bar, sending the lens pulsing frantically in and out, just a little, sending ripples across the viewer’s retina as the image jumps towards the eye, then away again, twice a second. I felt like my temporal lobes had been trampled by boys.

vlcsnap-72789Green on green.

The waterfalls and scenery are quite nice, the naked girls welcome, the gore is rather impressive and horrible, the acting has that same dreamy flatness (quite different from the nativity play mix of tension and ineptitude in HG Lewis) and as with the other Philippine horrors I’ve seen, there’s a nice feeling that the usual genre conventions may not apply, everything’s up for grabs. Now I need to find BLOOD DEVILS…

Help a brother out! Use this link to buy your BLOOD ISLAND BOX SET from Amazon, and support Shadowplay.
The Blood Island Vacation (Brides of Blood / The Mad Doctor of Blood Island / Beast of Blood / Brain of Blood)

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