Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Guest Review: Italian All Night Splatterfest (Phoenixville, 8/30/2014)

Former 'zine editor Tim Mayer is back with another festival review, this time from the Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA, famous for its appearance in THE BLOB (1958). These days Tim runs the blog Safe House -- but if you're too young to remember the five issues of Fear of Darkness that he cranked out in two years (1982-1983) with the help of such contributors as Bill Landis, Jim Morton, Rick Sullivan, Richard Green, Kris Gilpin and Dave Szurek, then you need to read Chris P's interview with Tim in the book Xerox Ferox, pronto! While you wait for your copy to arrive from Headpress, check this out...

Colonial Theatre's
Italian All Night Splatterfest 3
August 30, 2014
Colonial Theatre
Phoenixville, PA

by Tim Mayer

Another year has passed and another Italian Splatterfest at the Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville has come and gone. This was the third one. I attended last year’s but didn’t make the one previous so I can’t compare it. Once again I made it all the way to the end. This time my buddy Bill who attended with me made it to the end as well, but our mutual friend Troy couldn’t be there. But there is next year...

The crowd was much the same as last year. A smattering of local metal heads, punkers, film students and over the hill cinemaniacs (such as myself). Some people did the smart thing and had lounges in the back row so they could relax. Some even brought blankets and pillows. Thank Gawd the theater served coffee in the lobby because I needed a boost between movie four and five.

The Colonial has been doing an outstanding job bringing these odd little feature films to the area. If you’d told me in my Exploited Film Society/Fear of Darkness days that I would someday be able to see quality prints of these obscure films in an art house I’d assumed you’d taken leave of your senses. But a dedicated group of fans have sought out the prints and secured the rights to show them in a real theater. Well almost all the rights: more on that later.

As usual, the show opened with a warm-up from the committee who puts on the First Friday horror and cult movie shows. They mentioned the titles of the films we were about to see and credited the theater for allowing them to be shown. Then they handed out prizes based on the ticket number given on entering the theater. Won a DVD of RATS myself, but gave it to the metal couple sitting next to me. I’ve got enough DVD’s and don’t need any more.

From the announcements it became clear one of the movies they were going to show had a rights issue. Thus, in keeping with their request, I’m not going to mention the name of it. I will say that I’d never heard of the film before, which is always a plus.

After some trailers of other Italian horror movies, the show began. The first movie was THE BEYOND (a.k.a. THE SEVEN DOORS OF DEATH. A cheer went through the crowd as Fulci’s name appeared under the director’s credits. This was your standard blood and guts Italian gore fest with little in the way of plot. Filmed in 1980 in the southern USA by an Italian cast and crew, it was one of the best films to be shown. The print was in very good shape, so I’m assuming they got hold of one of the Grindhouse releasing versions. It was complete, unlike the one I saw in St. Louis over 30 years ago. The plot is about a woman who buys a cursed hotel outside New Orleans. It may possess the entrance to hell. With plenty of gore effects, including a man getting his face eaten by tarantulas, this proved to be a big hit.

After some popcorn and soda, the next film began: CREEPERS (PHENOMENON). The print was in good shape and I’d been eager to see this one on a big screen after seeing it for the first time on video years ago. This was director Dario Argento’s attempt to have the same success he’d had years earlier with SUSPIRIA. A film star’s young daughter finds herself in an exclusive Swiss boarding school where a sinister killer is offing local girls. Is the killer someone she knows? Will the local police detective solve the case? I wish I could say it was worth the wait for the big screen version, but the film just doesn’t hold up that well. It was nice to see a young Jennifer Connelly on the big screen, but the movie’s plot ran in all sorts of directions. And most of the big name 80’s rock bands whose music were featured in the film had only a token amount of songs.

And of course you need a real humdinger like DOCTOR BUTCHER MD to make the festival. Originally filmed as ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST, the movie was released in the U.S. as DOCTOR BUTCHER in 1982 when given a new opening and different score. At the time, some New York City fans got into the act by staging a whole Dr. Butcher road show complete with fake patients and nurses. The film itself is about a SE Asian island where zombies are roaming and cannibals are on the rampage. Naturally it begins in NYC, but shifts to the exotic locales once the plot starts moving. This was by far the worst looking print of the evening as it had faded into a red hue. However, the audience didn’t seem to mind.

Next was the movie we’re not supposed to mention due to the rights issue. I will say that [deleted] was faded red, defiantly shot in Italy, and concerned a murder mystery as opposed to a gore express. I didn’t recognize any of the actors in it, another reason why it never had a big release in the U.S. [deleted] featured a masked killer who went around whacking people while dressed as a Roman Catholic cardinal. I wish I could say more, but we were specifically asked not to mention the title on social media. Shhh!

By now the hour was late and many attendees had left the theater. I managed to stagger to the lobby and buy a coffee which kept me going to the final movie: CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (U.S. title: MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY). One of the many “Terror in the Jungle” movies which were lensed by Italian studios in the late 70s, CANNIBAL FEROX is the standard most film fans use for extreme splatter porn. I’d never had the opportunity to watch it, cannibals on the rampage isn’t a theme which attracts my interest. The plot concerned a group of Americans who travel to the jungles of South America to prove that cannibalism doesn’t exist. I am not making that up. Along the way they find out otherwise, but not before dealing with drug dealers on the run and vengeful indigenous people. Surprisingly, it was the best movie of the bunch, with a good group of actors, tight direction and a decent story line. What I didn’t care for, and what is the biggest criticism of the movie, was the casual slaughter of animals during the film. Several times we get to see the local tribes hack up live turtles and gut alligators for dinner. I could have done without either of those scenes. The “hook” ending is just as bad as I’d heard.

About 3:30 AM we all managed to stagger out of the Colonial Theatre and make our way home. I was surprised at how many people made it all the way to the end. As for me, this will be a warm-up to the 24 hour horror festival this October in Philadelphia.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Movie Ad of the Week: Herschell Gordon Lewis' The Blood Shed (Chicago, 1968)

The Blood Shed, Herschell Gordon Lewis' short-lived attempt at Théâtre du Grand-Guignol, opened at 1331 North Wells Street in Chicago's Old Town on Friday, July 19, 1968. Before the Godfather of Gore moved in and painted it red, the building had been home to a restaurant called Mr. Pumpernickel. Lewis turned the kitchen into a projection booth so he could show horror movies, including his own, but the theater's raison d'être were the stage shows featuring characters like Wanda Werewolf, Irving Vampire, and especially Count Satan, who would simulate the throat slashing of audience members and even recreate the infamous tongue ripping from BLOOD FEAST. Daniel Krogh, co-author of The Amazing Herschell Gordon Lewis and His World of Exploitation Films (FantaCo, 1983), worked as "the non-union projectionist" as well as "sometime ticket taker and troubleshooter" at the Blood Shed, and provides a description of the theater and its gruesome live shows in his long out-of-print book (Chapter 11, "Butchery Live on Stage: The Saga of the Blood Shed Theatre"). Not one of Lewis' more successful business ventures, The Blood Shed -- later renamed Le Cinema Bizarre -- didn't stick around Old Town for more than a few months but remains a fascinating sidebar to his films and most likely inspired him to make THE WIZARD OF GORE two years later.

Compiled by
John W. Donaldson
and Chris Poggiali