Friday, December 23, 2016

Episode 32: Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

“Punishment is absolute. Punishment is necessary. ...Punishment is good.”
We all have our little holiday traditions, don’t we? While so many like to sing along to their favorite Christmas standards performed by the likes of Bing Crosby ans Nat King Cole, I prefer to rock out to the shrill wail of The Crypt-Keeper as he shrieks such classics as “Deck the Halls with Parts of Charlie” and “We Wish You’d Bury the Missus” (both featured on the dementedly delightful Tales from the Crypt Presents: Have Yourself a Scary Little Christmas album). While some like to kick back and revisit It’s a Wonderful Life (the movie title I couldn’t, for the life of me, remember while originally recording this episode), I always revisit Silent Night, Deadly Night, sometimes all five of ‘em. Most holiday-themed movies are just too damned wholesome, so it always warms the cockles of my little black heart to watch a bloodied axe blade decapitate a snowman lovingly assembled by orphaned children.

Though I’d always had an affinity for all things horror, there was once a part of me that temporarily set aside dismemberment and decapitation to join in on Christmas festivities. It would start the day after Thanksgiving, when I’d spend an entire afternoon cutting inch-wide strips of construction paper to create one ridiculously long, multi-colored chain used to decorate the walls and ceiling of my tiny little bedroom. As the years went on and the tradition continued, I’d add little stars and twinkle lights to the elaborate set-up. A three-dimensional Santa head soon joined the equation. Finally, the piece de resistance, a foot-high re-creation of a traditional Christmas tree, complete with grape-sized balls of cherry red. This treasure would stand atop my TV, where I’d line wrapped goodies for my family and close friends. I’d work myself silly each year. In early January, when it came time to take everything down, I was beyond crestfallen. Oh, how I hated to see it all come to an end.

As evident, Christmas once brought me such joy and, like all children, was a time of year I’d spend so many months looking forward to. That all changed shortly after my 18th birthday, when I got my first job as a cashier at a large department store. Encountering holiday shoppers quickly became a part of the day I learned to loathe. With all the griping, groaning, and grappling for sale items, I discovered just how nasty the holiday season made so many people. Patrons entered my line positively itching for confrontation and seized the first opportunity to unload all of their personal frustrations. I’d always assumed the time of year made everyone as happy as it once made me, but that first year standing behind a register showed me just how miserable visions of red and green could make people, and how horribly they often behaved as a result.

Being on the receiving end of such animus and vitriol quite literally changed my entire outlook on “the hap-happiest season of all.” No longer did I look forward to the colder months and the jingle-jangle of holiday bells. I lost the desire to create my own little Christmas village, stopped making paper chains. hanging lights, and yes, I even did away with the mini Christmas tree. December no longer made me smile. It made me sneer, grimace, and grind my teeth in anticipation of inescapable chaos. I worked retail for several years after that and my stomach always tightened with nervous knots when summer came to a close and the smell of autumn hung in the air, for that smell signaled impending doom.

I’d like to say that since those horrors are long behind me, my love of “the most wonderful time of the year” has been restored, but sadly, I cannot. I’m more apathetic than celebratory and see the 25th as a day not unlike any other. I suppose watching splatter movies while everyone else is merrily decking the halls is my way at flipping the bird at all those painted smiles and turning my back on what Silent Night, Deadly Night’s embittered store clerk accurately describes as “phony sentiment,” Thank Christ I don’t have kids. No one to act all fake and jolly for.

I do, however, hope that you, my B-movie fanatics, are all jollied-up for this latest episode of B-Movie Bonanza, as it’s centered around my favorite Christmas movie. So pour yourself a tall glass of egg nog (preferably spiked, as you’ll need a bit of alcohol to truly understand my breed of wit) and get ready to watch the studly Robert Brian Wilson hack up some bitches. My source: the Starz / Anchor Bay Entertainment Blu ray, which runs 1:24:54.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Episode 31: Criminally Insane (1975)

“My heart’s just fine as long as my stomach’s not empty.”

For a brief period last month, my YouTube account was, without warning, suspended. All previous episodes of B-Movie Bonanza—or at least those hosted there—had been taken down. Flummoxed, I contacted the powers-that-be for an explanation. What I received in return was anything but. I was told that due to my indiscretion, an indiscretion that continued to elude me, the suspension of my account would stand. They also encouraged me to carefully read over their rules and guidelines for uploaded content. Begrudgingly, I followed their supplied link and studied the dos and don’ts.

I took silent stock of the material included in my silly little movie commentary podcast. Do any episodes contain nudity, sexual situations, or pornographic material? Absolutely not. Do any episodes contain explicit or excessive violence? No, sir.  Do any episodes promote violence toward either gender, or members of minority groups? Don’t remember ever in my life donning a swastika, so that’s another negative. Do any episodes contain spam or scams? Well, no, not unless you count my continued efforts to get listeners to buy my books. Last and most importantly, do any episodes contain copyrighted material? Since every commentary is a Brandon Ford original, i.e. 90 minutes of my nonsensical rambling without any music and/or audio/video samples of the films I discuss, that would be another no. I listed all of these facts in a detailed e-mail. Needless to say, when I received a response stating that they were standing by their decision, still offering no clear explanation, I was beyond befuddled.

I kept thinking back to late spring, when I started uploading rare/obscure movies to my YouTube channel as a coping mechanism. I’d just gone through a pretty gut-wrenching break-up (I still say there’s a special place in hell for those who terminate meaningful relationships via text message), so I really needed the distraction. And distract me it did. I spent hours each day going through my film library, picking and choosing rarities of all sorts. I uploaded the files to my channel hoping that subscribers would, when not viewing these hidden gems, have a listen to B-Movie Bonanza and maybe pick up a few of my books. This little side-hobby went on for a couple of months. In that time, I uploaded dozens of features. Unfortunately, it all came crashing down when a certain independent DVD distributor who owned the rights to one of these obscurities decided to report me to YouTube, thus earning my account a strike. I wrote an extensive essay about the experience on my personal blog, Brandon Ford’sSleepless Nights, which can be found here.

In hindsight, the strike was a mere slap on the wrist. My YouTube activity would be restricted for a period of 30 days and then I could go back to uploading content exceeding the 15-minute time limit. Also, the strike would be wiped from my account in 6 months, leaving me in good standing. I was more than a little paranoid, however, and didn’t want to risk losing my channel. As a pre-cautionary measure, I removed everything that wasn’t 100% mine and, just to be on the safe side, signed up with Vimeo so listeners would have a separate space to absorb my lack of film knowledge and stupid little anecdotes, should there be any further trouble.

Even though this was all behind me (my strike was even recently lifted), I couldn’t help wondering if previous uploads played a role in the suspension of my account, despite their removal close to 6 months prior. I wasn’t dumb enough to mention these files in my responses to YouTube, but continued to fight them tooth and nail. I claimed their decision was not only baseless, but absurd. Nothing on my channel violated their terms and conditions, so what was the problem? I felt as though I’d been sent up the river on the grounds of some trumped-up charges. Finally, I received an e-mail stating that, after some further investigation by the YouTube team, my account was back up and running. No apology, no explanation, no nothing. It wasn’t until I logged into my account that I received the answer I’d been searching for all along.

A disclaimer spread across my screen the moment I entered my password. It seemed that the Creepshow 2 episode of B-Movie Bonanza violated their terms and conditions, so it had been flagged. I wracked my brain trying to figure out what I could’ve possibly said during this particular commentary that would cause such outrage. I gave a listen. At approximately 17 minutes in, I briefly mentioned the original violation that earned my account a strike, the movie that caused all the drama, and the independent DVD company who reported me. In addition, I called the two guys at the helm a pair of “douchebags.” Ahhhh... Now things were starting to make sense.

Even though I’d removed their priceless gem from my channel and the incident was over with, it appears someone’s been keeping tabs on my YouTube activity (I can only assume to ensure I hadn’t uploaded any other fecal matter they hold rights to).  The same someone probably didn’t appreciate my schoolyard name-calling and pulled a wah-wah-wahhhh. Uh...I mean, reported abuse. And then I thought back to just two weeks prior, when my Vimeo account was mysteriously suspended. Hmm... Coincidence? I’m guessing not.

After a similar e-mail exchange with Vimeo customer service, my files were once again available for streaming. Could these doofballs really be cyber-stalking me? For a micro-second, I felt like Shelley Duvall, driven to extreme states of paranoia, safe and warm beneath the protective coating of a tin foil hat. But I got over that pretty quickly. Nevertheless, I decided not to upload this particular episode to YouTube, since it also mentions my previous encounters with those...uh...fine young gentlemen and, Criminally Insane is an early project by the same writer/director of the piece of shh---I mean...cinematic masterpiece that started this whole mess. So, it looks like this one’s going to be a Vimeo exclusive.

The source for this gem of an episode runs 1:01:56 and can be found on the E.I. Independent triple-feature DVD, which also contains Nick Millard’s Crazy Fat Ethel 2, sequel to Criminally Insane that utilizes half the original footage a la Silent Night, Deadly Night, Part 2, and Satan’s Black Wedding. Listen, enjoy, and I’ll be doing everything in my power to get this song out of my head.

Brandon Ford's B-Movie Bonanza - Episode 31: Criminally Insane (1975) from Brandon Ford on Vimeo.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Carnage Doesn't Stop Here!

That’s right, B-movie fanatics! Your favorite splatter commentator not only talks the genre—he writes it, too! I have several novels and short story collections under my belt, all available in paperback and Kindle editions! Just click on any of the images below to be taken directly to the Amazon listing, or here to peruse my Author Page, where you can also check out my many anthology contributions! I also have a secondblog, which features essays and news on my latest releases. Christmas is only a few weeks away and as I so often say, books make perfect gifts.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Episode 30: Blood Feast (1963)

“For Pete’s sake, tell ‘em not to eat anything!”

As a certain bee-hived, big-breasted, black-dressed Queen of B-cinema once said, “Hey, does anybody know what that movie was about? Uh, I’ll tell ya what it was about: it was about an hour-and-a-half too long!” In the case of Herschell Gordon Lewis’ Blood Feast, it was about 67 minutes too long. That’s right, the notorious film that outraged critics and introduced the world to gore in its extremist form isn’t even technically a feature, as it’s several minutes shy of a proper running time. I’m beyond grateful for that, however, as I don’t know how much more of this mess I could withstand. Over-acted, over-written, and just plain-old over-the-top, Blood Feast is far from one of my favorite cult films, but seeing as how it holds such cultural significance, how could I gloss this one over? And let’s face it, there’s just as much to mock—if not more—as Stephen Tyler’s The Last Slumber Party and Nick Millard’s Criminally Insane (stay tuned).

Yeah, yeah. I’ve mentioned more than a handful of times that these commentaries are meant to pay homage to the films, not ridicule them. But there isn’t much to praise when it comes to the many Herschell Gordon Lewis endeavors of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Okay, his films may be a shallow cut above the likes of Doris Wishman or—dare I say it?—Ed Wood, but I don’t think even he took them seriously while they were in production. It’s clear in this case, the focus was more on making money than making something good (or at the very least passable). How do you make money in the film business? You attract an audience, of course. How do you attract an audience? Well, showing them something they’ve never seen is a pretty good place to start, and in 1963, filmgoers had yet to see grisly shots of severed limbs, a human tongue pulled from a cavernous throat, and a bizarre ritual called an “Egyptian Blood Feast,” which would ultimately resurrect an ancient goddess known as Ishtar (not to be confused with the 1987 Warren Beatty flop).

I hadn’t seen the acquired taste known as  Blood Feast (see what I did there?) until I was well into my twenties, when my horror fanaticism started to fizzle. I was far from the genre-obsessed adolescent, who happened upon the H.G. Lewis splatter opus during John Waters’ 1994 cult classic Serial Mom, which includes brief clips of Blood Feast’s bloodiest and most gratuitous moments.

Funnily enough, Marcel Walz’s re-interpretation of Allison Louise Downey’s original screenplay premiered at Fright Fest less than one month after this episode was originally recorded. Funnier still, I didn’t even know there was a remake until yesterday, when I started assembling material’s for this blog post. After a little snooping around, I happened upon a review penned by Dread Central’s Matt Boiselle. Based on the synopsis, I can only assume that the 2016 version of Blood Feast is yet another in a long, long line of in-name-only “remakes.” I mean, this version is set in France, for cryin’ out loud, and Fuad Ramses (played this time around by Robert Russler, better known by genre fanatics as Ronald Grady of A Nightmare on Elm Street, Part 2) has a wife (Caroline Williams, of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Part 2), daughter, and runs his own diner while working part-time at an Egyptian museum. Though their review was more than favorable, I think I’ll skip this one.

Anyhoo, for this episode, I used the version of Blood Feast included in Something Weird Video’s 2011 Blood Trilogy Blu ray. The 1.78:1 transfer clocks in at exactly 1:07:12, so feel free to watch along, but don’t be surprised if my nonsensical ramblings are slightly more entertaining than the actual film—and that’s something I don’t think I’ve ever said before. .

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Episode 29: Dee Snider's Strangeland (1998)

“We must all go through a rite of passage...and it must be must be painful...and it must...leave...a mark...”

In today’s world, just about everyone has a web presence. There’s video, audio, and thousands of images associated with essentially every name, whether you’re an A-list celebrity or an everyman selling carnations on a freeway off-ramp. I got online way back in 2000, long before terms like “blog” and “selfie” had entered the zeitgeist. MSN was my Internet provider and I connected to the web by way of a 56K modem that was not only slower than hell, but frequently booted me off. In addition, the good ol’ Microsoft Network always seemed to be down. I can’t begin to count how often I’d endure that obscenely shrill dial-up dissonance and just when I thought I could log on to check my e-mail or visit one of my favorite chat rooms, an error message pulled the plug on my online adventure before it even began. It’s amazing I didn’t spend more time wailing at customer service representatives over their many, many connectivity problems. Rot in hell, flawed technology.

Speaking of chat rooms and online personas, it’s so strange to think of the way it was in comparison to the way it is. While the flow of text was endless, the faces behind the words were, more often than not, absent. I rarely knew the actual identity of those I corresponded with and it wasn’t until some semblance of a friendship was established before first names were exchanged, let alone photographs. Internet paranoia ran ridiculously rampant, as so many web users were convinced they could, at any time, be in communicado with a mass murderer who could track them down if they revealed even the smallest fragment of their true identity. I remember engaging in a very pleasant conversation with a girl around my age. Even though she didn’t live in the same state, she refused to give up her first name when asked for it. She chose instead to initiate a game of 20 Questions, where it took at least a half-hour before I came to find that the person I’d been chatting with was named Marisa. And then I never chatted with her again.
On some level, I was a part of this group of paranoids who feared they were putting themselves in immediate danger just by entering certain chat rooms and communicating with the wrong people. During one of my earliest chats, I came in contact with someone in Florida who was quite unbalanced. Due to our differences of opinion, he saw me as his mortal enemy and went on to describe how much he’d enjoy ripping me to shreds. His threats became so violent and disturbing that I felt comtpelled to log off, shut down, and unplugged my PC from its electrical outlet, as if this cyber menace could somehow come crashing through the monitor and disembowel me just as he’d promised.

I’m willing to bet Twisted Sister front man Dee Snider had similar experiences, but being the total badass he is, I think it’s safe to say he handled himself a little better than I. It’s these experiences that must’ve inspired the original screenplay for Strangeland, the tale of a deranged, yet highly intelligent, serial killer, who uses the Internet to lure victims of all shapes and sizes to his chamber of horrors, where he not only murders them, but uses needles, hooks, and an array of surgical instruments to torture them before doing so. He even performs home-piercings, but the holes he punctures couldn’t be further from the victim’s earlobes.

In addition to writing and producing, Dee Snider plays the demented villain known by the screen name CaptHowdy. His online profile describes him as an average nineteen-year-old dude-bro, whose priorities are sports, keg stands, and good times. However, the figure lurking behind this carefully crafted profile rocks a long, thick wave of pink hair, dozens of facial and body piercings, and a tribal tattoo that carries up his arm and conceals one half of his face. While not perusing the web for his next victim, or inflicting further torment on those already held captive within his basement lair, he thuds around the house wearing not much more than a loin cloth and knee-high combat boots. Online, CaptHowdy is the party-hungry friend anyone under 20 would love to have. In the flesh, he is the epitome of sadistic evil.

Though it’s since garnered a minor cult following, I’ve always considered Strangeland to be one of the most underrated horror films of its time—a time when all everyone wanted was Scream. Soon after the Wes Craven phenomenon hit theaters in December of 1996, it spawned a slew of copycats that put an exhaustive effort into producing horror films that were hip, polished, and most importantly, self-aware. An endless stream of characters who’d seen these movies before and went through painstaking efforts to avoid the mistakes made by their predecessors became an almost unavoidable plot element, and a very boring one at that.

Strangeland brings horror back to a much grittier time, before slasher films became a mixture of blood-and-guts and Dawson’s Creek-style drama. The good ol’ days before teenage characters regularly threw around five-syllable words, as though the entire ensemble never left the house without a pocket thesaurus. One of many reasons Strangeland is far superior to the likes of Urban Legend, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and the rest of the paint-by-numbers movies of the time was because it went against the grain, not with it. At the same time, going off in an entirely different direction could’ve hurt Strangeland’s chances of success among fans and critics, who wanted a very watered-down version of the genre.

For this episode, I chose the Blu ray edition of Strangeland, which runs 1:26:37, as a source. I believe the unrated Artisan DVD will also work just fine, should you decide to watch along. So, listen and enjoy. I’m off to get myself an ampallang. Dee Snider, you have inspired me, sir.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Episode 28: Stripteaser (1995)

“I dunno about everybody else, but I certainly got a hard-on.”

It’s closing time at Zipper’s Clown Palace, one of Hollywood’s sleaziest strip clubs, when a deranged gunman (Rick Dean) strolls on in and holds the remaining patrons, as well as its employees, hostage. As a long night wears on, we come to find that our verbose villain has developed an unhealthy infatuation with Christina Martin (Maria Ford), one of the club’s most popular dancers, and decides this is the night they meet face to face.

Like many Roger Corman productions, especially of this era, Stripteaser is very much a family affair. Dean and Ford have appeared in numerous Concorde / New Horizons Home Video quickies (a handful of ‘em together), as have Nikki Fritz and Duane Whitaker.  Duane, most often seen in front of the camera, penned the screenplay directed by Dan Golden, who stood at the helm of several Concorde films. Fans of low-budget thrillers will undoubtedly recognize the name Andrea V. Rossotto, cinematographer on more than 70 productions, a good percentage of them for Corman. Tossed into the mix is R.A. Mihailoff, who played the title role in Jeff Burr’s under-appreciated Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III. Here, he’s wielding bottles, as opposed to power tools, playing “Little,” the bearded, beer-bellied bartender.

Though I’ve been a long-time fan of this micro-budget, straight-to-video epic, I never before noticed the endless padding throughout its 74-minute running time. From extended dance sequences to opening titles that seem to go on forever, Stripteaser utilizes a number of methods to maximize what couldn’t have been more than a 50-page script. It’s actually over 7 minutes into the film before any dialogue is spoken. Nevertheless, there’s enough here to keep the viewer entertained, especially if said viewer enjoys excessively gratuitous nude scenes. There’s a moment in the film where one of the dancers, fully disrobed, stands over a strategically-placed stage light and there’s practically a near-glimpse of cervix.

While there’s no doubt that Stripteaser is a T&A film (the title pretty much says it all), some of the performances are particularly strong. Rick Dean plays a pretty convincing psycho and delivers every line (and demented cackle) as though this were a mainstream film meant to be seen by a much larger audience. Maria Ford, who probably holds the world record for playing more strippers than any other actress, has always given her all, despite the lackluster material she’s so often given. Here, she plays the doe-eyed woman-in-peril to the letter.

Much to my surprise, Stripteaser is available for streaming via YouTube and in its uncut, unrated version. However, if you’d like to watch using the Concorde DVD, which runs 1:14:06, please feel free to do so.

Brandon Ford's B-Movie Bonanza - Episode 28: Stripteaser (1995) from Brandon Ford on Vimeo.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Episode 27: Serial Mom (1994)

“Are those...pussy willows...?”

While many hardcore John Waters fans prefer his early, grittier works (Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble, Desperate Living), others gravitate more to his family-friendly titles (Hairspray, Cry Baby). There’s a small group of about four who actually enjoy A Dirty Shame (I mean, come on. How can you not bust a stitch when Tracey Ullman, known for a slightly different brand of comedy, delivers such insane lines as “Now that’s what I call sneezin’ in the cabbage!” or “Something is the matter with your vagina!”) and I’m proud to say I’m a card-carrying member.

My absolute favorite Waters opus has always remained Serial Mom, a “June Cleaver with an actual cleaver” story of a domestic goddess, who discovers there’s a more efficient way of dealing with people who don’t properly take care of their teeth, refuse to recycle, and yes, steal her parking space. This was a role tailor-made for Kathleen Turner, who gives what I humbly consider to be the performance of her career. John himself has said no one could’ve played the role of Beverly Sutphin the way she has and I wholeheartedly agree. With conviction and a motherly smile, Turner is well within her element brandishing such weapons as a leg of lamb, scissors, a hairspray blowtorch, and, of course, a butcher knife.
Sadly, Serial Mom did quite poorly at the box office (didn’t even make back its $13,000,000.00 budget) and received mixed reviews from critics. As so many other cult classics of the ‘80s and ‘90s, the film did, however, find an audience on home video—an audience who obviously loves reciting quotes like “IS THIS THE COCKSUCKER RESIDENCE?!” and “You can’t wear white shoes after Labor Day.” The Blu ray edition, running 1:33:46, was used as a source for this episode, which contains lots of anecdotes on John Waters and his extensive library of trash cinema (and I mean “trash” in the best possible way), not to mention what it was like meeting the man himself at a book signing here in Philadelphia way back in the fall of 2005.