San Futuro Chronicles — Volume One

Way back in February, The Media Show, on Channel 4, was due to have covered Troma — the film company who brought us such delights as The Toxic Avenger, Surf Nazis must Die and (this one’s one of Jim’s faves!!) Rabid Grannies. However, there I was, waiting with bated breath, and they decided to show a program about “Irangate” instead. This wasn’t totally disappointing to me though, as the program was dealing with investigations by the Christic Institute into the American government’s “covert operations”, and specifically Brought To Light a “comic book” revealing just what our friends across the Atlantic get up to. Yes, this is it, a massive seven months in the making (about 6 months longer than it’d take to make the majority of Jim’s favorite films!!), and here it is… the comics article!! I guess that you’ve all heard some mention of the new Batman movie by now (don’t worry, I’m not about to waffle on about that), and you probably have vague memories of The Incredible Hulk and Wonderwoman on the idiot-box. However, the wonderful world of comics goes way beyond Spiderman, Superman (please note, all trademarks are used without the permission of their owners!!) et al. – just how far, I will attempt to show…

With all the Bat-hype of the past few months, it’d be difficult to avoid the fact that comics do affect other media, but the extent to which it has happened recently is quite surprising — it seems that comics are something of a cult hobby at the moment. Just this year, we’ve had: The Media Slow (as mentioned above); before that, there was an edition of Signals in January about The Day Comics Grew Up (which included pretty piccies from some of the better comics around and also had clips from Akira — The Movie Tokyo’s biggest grossing film of ’88 and a great event if it eventually gets over here (for more mention of who/what Akira is, read on gracious reader); in America, they’ve seen Batman, The Punisher, and Return of The Swamp Thing all based on comicbook characters. There’re plenty of rumours that Terry Gilliam is doing a Watchmen movie; Judge Dredd – The Movie is still, apparently, going to be produced. Maybe it’s a sign that comics really are growing up, mebbe it’s just a sign that there’re a lot of people out there in need of some good, cheap, escapist entertainment!!

As a complete escapist, I manage to totally ruin the cheapness argument, but still — who needs to eat anyway!! As an introduction to what’s available, here’s reviews of my favourite comics from the current crop – i.e. the ones I regard as the best of those I’ve bought recently (or at least of those I still look for in the shops, as some haven’t been seen lately, but aren’t officially over & done with!)

Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo – Published by Epic

Set in Japan after World war III, Akira tells of mutants with psychic powers. As a comic for ‘mature’ readers, it is somewhat unusual as the majority of the ‘cast’ is young. Kaneda, the 15 year old hero of the tale, his friend Tetsuo, and their gang of biker friends are ‘students’ at a “Youth Vocational Training School”, with all the bad habits that that suggests (drugs, general thrill—seeking and apparent death-wishes being their most obvious vices). Whilst working off some of their youthful enthusiasm, Tetsuo crashes whilst avoiding a mysterious figure. Kaneda is understandably worked up by this, and soon finds himself involved with terrorists, the government and various mutants with ‘special-powers‘.

Akira is a Japanese comic, and is something of an epic — apparently totalling some 1800 pages when the final ‘volume’ comes out. In Japan, Akira is in black & white, but Epic have seen fit to apply computerised colouration to it — this does, in fact, work a lot less tackily than the idea may at first suggest. You may consider a dozen issues into a series to be too late to start, but there’s a synopsis of “the story so far” in each issue to so new readers won’t be completely lost — go out & buy yourself a copy and prove to yourself how good Japanese comics can be.

Deadline by “Various Artists” Published by Deadline Publications Ltd (!)

This is a British, A4 size, Black & White anthology zine, and with strips like “Tank Gir1” and “Jonny Nemo”, should (hopefully) be around for ages. Varying from the anarchic to the insane, Deadline offers readers a chance to read great — if a tad arty – strips plus music reviews and interviews with personalities from the comics & pop worlds. Pop dowm to W.H. Smiths & treat yourself to a copy (assuming they haven’t already sold out of course!!).

Evangeline – Published by First

This is one to read purely for fun. Evangeline is a futuristic assassin in a science—fiction “space—opera” type setting. What makes Evangeline different is that she is an agent for the Roman Catholic Qiurch — a nun to be precise. Set in the future, Evangeline gets to zip around in space-ships wearing skin-tight clothing and carrying high—tech weaponry, with only an ever—present crucifix as a hint to her ‘mission’. I suppose the actual stories are sonewhat ‘ordinary’ comic fare, but somehow the writer/artist manages to bring Evangeline far enough above the Marvel/DC dross (i.e. the vast majority of Superman/Spidennan/Wonderwciinan/Daredevil etc.) to keep it interesting – plus of course, there’s the artists obvious enjoyment whenever he draws Evangeline. Unfortunately, as I write this, it’s a few months since I last saw an issue — it never was particularly regular though, so keep your eyes openl!

Hawkworld – Published by DC

Two issues dowm, and it’s definitely looking good This is about a world populated on two levels, both socially & physically. The upper levels are occupied by the elite and the streets — way, way below — by a mixture of criminals & aliens that have been brought in as (basically) slave—labour One of the elite, ??????, becomes involved with revolutionaries attempting to gain fair do’s for the ground dwellers, but is caught, branded as a traitor & exiled. Eventually returning to the city (on the ground—floor of course!), he discovers that the society’s decadence has caught up with it & things are in horrendous disarray. At the end of the second issue, things look as though they could be hetting up, with a nicely degenerate world ready for rescue from itself and our hero in on the ground floor.

John Constantine: Hellblazer – Published by DC

John Constantine originally appeared in Swamp Thing, as the main protagonist of the “American Gothic storyline. Constantine is a British occultist, troubleshooting in the dark realms of demons and other evils. With the Delano/Ridgeway combination, some marvellous horror was produced — including the totally wonderful “Yuppies From Hell”. Ridgeway’s replacement artist was Piers Raynor, his style differed from R’s, but still worked… however, yet another artist turns his hand to the series now, as JC loses his dirty tan trenchcoat and gets mean with a black coat & shades — whether this is a good or bad sign has yet to be ascertained. The Hear Machine storyline, which has been running for the past seven or so issues, is now hurtling towards its conclusion, so anything could happen, and probably will. Just recently, the first Hellblazer Annual came out, giving a tale of Constantine & his ancestry, with art by Brian Talbot and a nice —— in a horrific sort of way —- storyline involving Merlin & King Arthur. Probably a good introduction to the world of Constantine, if you can find yourself a copy.

Knockabout – Published by Knockabout

Black & white anthology of comics from the world’s independant publishers/writers. As my re—introduction to comics, I have a soft spot for this, and its “underground” feel. It touches on many taboo’s, and could offend sensitive, moral majority readers, but I can’t see that bothering trashophiles like you lot!! It is extremely irregular, but is quite readily available — I first got it from a bookshop in Oxford. ‘

Love & Rockets – Published by Fantagraphics

Los Bros Hernandez produce this, and tis wunderful. Jaime Hernandez offers “Los Locos”/”Mechanix”, a tale of a group of girls, their friends, their relatives and their adventures (as the saying goes. . . ‘an everyday tale of lesbian, punk wrestlers‘ !!). Gilbert H. offers Duck Soup, set in a Central American town called “Palomar”, and tells of the events that affect the tovm’s inhabitants. What makes love & Rockets so special, is the characterization (terrible word, but it’s the one I want). Mebbe I”m just a sucker for a cute story, but this is one of the few comics in which I’ve found myself truly interested in what happens to a diaracter (probably because, just like in the real world, there’s no telling what could happen)

Miracleman – Published by First

Alan Moore’s aging superhero – he who was onoe known as Marvelman. A great tale covering the difficulties M’man has in coming to terns with his rediscovered powers. Probably one of the comics I’d have most difficulty describing without making it sound terrible, so I’ll just reoarmend that if you believe superheroes are asexual & inhuman, Miracleman could make you think again. N.B. This comes out very irregularly

Yunmy Fur – Published by Vortex

Decidedly odd, decidedly offbeat, but still decidedly pleasant. Yummy Fur is Chester Brown’s comic, and its contents show that CB has ideas aplenty. The main tale is that of “Ed the Happy Clown”, a pleasant enough chap, ho somehow gets into weirder and weirder situations. As a backup to this, CB is serializing Mark (Yup, the one from the New Testament!!). All in all, a decidedly odd combination.

Film Blitz

Dennis Hopper shows us ‘The American Way’

A couple of points arising from last time. “Blood Bath”, the Mario Bava film, turns out to be one of the many names for a film he shot in 1971, so he thus gets bonus points for making ‘Friday the 13th’ a decade before the Americans did. “Edge of Sanity” was reviewed last time – the director, Gerard Kikoine, is now strongly rumoured to be Jesus Franco. This is a bit of a surprise, since his other films i.e. ‘Virgin Among The Living Dead”, are naff. Still, anyone can make ONE good movie if they churn out enough of them – I’m now less hopeful his next will be as fun.

Alice (Jan Svankmaer) – Very strange animated/live version of Lewis Carroll’s story, with just Alice ‘live’, and even her only for some of the time. Takes a bit of time for your brain to adjust to it, though when it does, the effect is perhaps a little like a Sam “Evil Dead” Raimi version of the Magic Roundabout – steak and socks come to life, Alice attacks the White Rabbit etc. It was partly produced by Channel 4, so keep an eye out for it. 7/10

Amazon Women on the Moon (Joe Dante, John Landis & others) – Based around a spoof 50’s Sci-fi film, that keeps getting interrupted by commercials & other programs. Like all ‘compilation movies’, highly variable – most of it is hysterically funny (an “Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World” style program called “Bullshit or Not?”) while other bits have one inspired idea and drag it out too long. Stars ‘lots of actors’ – Russ Meyer, Sybil Danning, Carrie Fisher & Steve Guttenberg among others. Definitely worth a look. 8/10

The American Way (Maurice Phillips) – Dennis Hopper and his group of weird Vietnam vets, who run a pirate TV station from an old bomber, do battle against an ‘Iron Lady’ presidential candidate in a media war. Black humour, reminiscent of “Repo Man” in parts, that superbly piss-takes TV evangelism, politics and life in general. Great characters, even if I did spot the twist in the tail very early – only other complaint is a badly mixed soundtrack which is sometimes hard to decipher. 8/10

Angel (Robert O’Neill) – Child prostitutes being stalked by psycho killers? Yes, it’s Roger Corman and New World Pictures time! Thoroughly moral tale (Angel isn’t allowed to ENJOY her work) with some nice characterizations, decent acting and gratuitous shower scenes, as you’d expect from the company who made “Reform School Girls”. It never sinks beyond the bounds of good taste, yet retains a tacky sleaziness which makes it almost plausible, except perhaps when the killer shoots his way out of an identity parade! Recommended. 8/10

Avenging Angel (Robert O’Neill) – Less of the same, in this sequel to “Angel”. The cop who helped her in the original is killed, so Angel returns to the streets to try and find the killer. After a barn-storming first 15 minutes, which surpass anything in the first film, it calms down into something dangerously near a TV movie , with little of the grittiness of it’s predecessor. Most of the cast are back, but seem sadly out of place and Donna Wilkes is too all-American to believe in. 4/10

Big Meat Eater (Chris Windsor) – Spoof sci-fi pic with a hint of Rocky Horror which throws everything but the kitchen sink (psychopathic Turkish butcher’s assistant, aliens, corrupt mayor, psychic Middle Europeans, etc) at the viewer. This scatter-gun approach has some hits, notably the BAD effects (the aliens are really battery toy robots) but overall the result is too blatantly “let’s go and make a cult movie” to work. 5/10

Cannibal Ferox (Umberto Lenzi) – Sums up all that’s worst about Italian ‘horror’ films. Totally pedestrian direction, diabolical plotline and rotten effects almost make this a candidate for the Incredibly Bad section, with the highlight being two women captured by the cannibals indulging in a spot of community singing to raise their spirits. Purporting to be social comment about whether we are more civilised than the savages, the only question it raised in my mind was ‘Why do cannibals in Italian pictures only ever eat intestines or brains?” Unfortunately, there are some totally pointless scenes involving cruelty to animals which mean it probably does deserve to be banned. Someone tell these people there’s more to the genre than being unpleasant to furry things. 2/10

City of the Living Dead (Umberto Lenzi) – A priest kills himself, opening the gates to hell and causing the dead to rise (cue spooky music). Christopher George and company mst put a stop to this before All Souls’ Day – alonmg the way there are a few brains being eaten and a girl is forced to puke up her internal organs. Yum, yum.

Dangerous Liaisons (Stephen Frears) – Trash City reviewing an Oscar winner? After last time, with ‘The Accused’, this might be a surprise, so to retain street-cred, I’ll claim I only went because Uma Thurmann was in it. However, it is a damn good film – ‘Dynasty’ in pre-revolution France (Stephen Malkovich’s accent being more Brooklyn than Bordeaux), with lots of intrigue, an approach which is occasionally surprisingly trashy (helped by Peter ‘Lair of the White Worm’ Capaldi) and Uma Thurmann IS very cute! 8/10.

Demons 2 (Dario Arge.. No, make that Lamberto Bava) – That rare beast, a sequel that’s BETTER than the original! Admittedly, not difficult since ‘Demons’ was BAAAAAD and anything would be an improvement. This has a slightly less ridiculous plot and the set-pieces are OK; the censor seems to have been a little more tolerant too. Still not good, atrociously dubbed and tedious long before the end. 4/10

The Devils (Ken Russell) – Faintly reminiscent in parts of “Name of the Rose”; Oliver Reed is the priest who is framed on witchcraft charges for getting involved with Cardinal Richelieu’s political machinations. Some HEAVY religious imagery means it occasionally looks like a Christian Death video though it’s salvaged by excellent performances by Reed (to my surprise) and Michael Gothard as the obsessive witch- hunter; watch out for Brian Murphy (“George & Mildred”) as a torturer! The sets, designed by Derek Jarman, are also breathtaking and, overall, it’s a pity that it’s been suppressed due to it’s ‘blasphemous’ imagery. 9/10

Dogs in Space (Richard Lowenstein) – Winner of the TC3 prize for making a little plot go a long way is this film about life in a Melbourne squat during the halcyon days of punk (remember them? I don’t.). The inhabitants have wild parties, sleep around, go to concerts and take drugs, with the expected tragic consequences. Michael Hutchence (pause for at least one reader to take a cold shower!), late of INXS, does well when he doesn’t have to act, though he fails to gain our sympathy when he should do. Overall, a successful film that knows it’s limits and works well within them. 6/10

Les Eaux printanières (Jerzy Skolimowski) – Nastassja’s latest pic, shown in competition at Cannes, is a variation on the eternal triangle story, set in Germany around 100 years ago. NK plays the rich wife of an Army officer – her idea of fun is watching duels, which she has provoked. Timothy Hutton is the man who becomes infatuated with her (and no wonder – she’s looking as good as she has in quite a while), though it all comes to a Bad End [Apologies for any errors in the above; the version I saw was in French!]. Lushly photographed, reminiscent of ‘Tess’ in style, this is a lot better than I feared with a decent amount of Kinski, even if she is clothed! After a couple of bad films, even by her standards, hopefully this points the way forwards – if she’s not going to appear in trash films, at least she can appear in GOOD art-house movies.


The Exorcist II – The Heretic (John Boorman) – This weak sequel to the excellent original has Father Lamont (Richard Burton) discovering that some of the evil is still alive in Regan (Linda Blair). The storyline gets a bit mixed up and Burton’s performance is like he’s been put in a trance by one of the hypnotic devices seen in the film. Max von Sydow puts in an appearance in flashbacks and new footage.

Finders Keepers, Lovers Weepers (Russ Meyer) – Possibly the most uneven director in trash cinema, Meyer is capable of making superb films, combining wit, action and sex, while also turning out turgid melodramas like this clunker, which has ‘dated’ written all over it. A plot which combines brothels, robbers and frustrated housewives who want to be go-go dancers might sound promising – however, it takes so long to get going that you’ll have lost interest long before the end. The most interesting, and downright implausible, part has a man tied up with rope using a blow-torch to cut himself free… 3/10

Hairspray (John Waters) – A particularly unsubtle plot which shoe-horns a racial integration message into a TV dance show setting still leaves you a fair bit to enjoy in this mildly trashy (by John Water’s standards) film. The music is naff and the dances cringeingly awful; the acting is good, especially from Divine who plays both the heroine’s mother and the (male) owner of the TV station. Stylish and colourful – can’t see anyone doing a similar film about the 80’s! 6/10

Ilsa, Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheikhs (Don Edmonds) – Third in the ‘notorious’ Ilsa series, after ‘She-Wolf of the SS’ and ‘Tigress of Siberia’, and surprisingly mild, with little even the BBFC could object to. Bimbos galore, the odd chunk of imaginative nastiness and the pneumatic Dyanne Thorne make this a solid action/ adventure pic. Storyline? Yep; the sheikh is keeping the rightful heir to the throne in a dungeon but there’s revolution in the air… 8/10

The Immoral Mr. Teas (Russ Meyer) – One of his earlier films, nothing more than a chance to show pretty ladies in a state of undress by following the ‘hero’, a perpetual voyeur, around. Still, it operates with such a delightful sense of self- parody, aided by a commentary that veers wildly from the smutty (“Men have been fretting over G-strings ever since” – about guitars, of course), to the totally irrelevant. The final conclusion, that “some men just enjoy being sick”, is one that I feel sure we can all agree with… 7/10

The Kindred (Jeffrey Obrow / Stephen Carpenter) – Slow starter this one, perks up noticeably when Amanda Pays (soon to appear, wearing WET lingerie, in “Leviathan”) arrives. This genetic-experiment-on-the-loose pic rips off ‘Alien’ & ‘The Thing’ in equal measure, with bits from ‘Re-Animator’ and ‘The Evil Dead’. Plus points: lots of slime, a couple of nice effects + Amanda Pays. Minuses: Predictable, not enough annoying American teenagers get killed, Amanda Pays vanishes too early and the monster is laughable. 5/10

Lady Jane (Trevor Nunn) – ‘The Middle Ages – sanitized for your protection’ should be the motto of this historical drama, where grubby peasants are only glimpsed in long shot and disease is no more than a plot device. Apart from that, and a hideous tendency to sink into sickly Mills & Boon romance far too often, this is actually a pretty nifty movie. The cast are without exception excellent (including Michael Hordern & Jane “The Dark Angel” Lapotaire), Helena Bonham-Carter acts her socks off as usual (though unfortunately not the rest of her clothes) and there are some moments of completely absorbing drama. 7/10

The Legend of the Holy Drinker (Ermano Olmi) – Rutger Hauer should be well known to readers, for his performances as a psychopath in ‘The Hitcher’, a barely controlled psychopath in ‘Wanted: Dead or Alive’ and a psychopath (medieval variety) in ‘Flesh and Blood’. Although always near-perfect, he never seemed to be out of second gear which made the prospect of him playing a down-and-out an intriguing one. Set in Paris, he is given 200 francs by a mysterious stranger (Anthony Quayle) with the request to pay it back to a church when he can. Unfortunately, he keeps meeting figures from his past who distract him from this goal and gradually tell us about his earlier life. With no ‘action’ and almost no plot, the film relies heavily on Hauer, with him rarely being off the screen, so it’s a good job he’s up to the task. He seems very aware of the risk of over-acting, especially in a character of few words as he has here – indeed, if anything he’s TOO subtle, making the viewer concentrate to avoid missing the gestures and looks without which some scenes are meaningless. Ermanno Olmi shows us a different side to Paris from that normally filmed, and overall, perhaps the best tribute is to say that from now on, when I see Rutger Hauer, I’ll no longer automatically expect him to pull out a shot-gun and start blasting! 8/10

Lorna (Russ Meyer) – Another Meyer tale of frustrated housewives, escaped convicts, religious maniacs, sex and death. A morality play in the same way that “Friday the 13th” is (have sex and die), this is bad, even by Russ’s standards – acting alternately completely OTT or non-existent, pantomime characters and not much nudity, since it’s about 30 years old. Brilliant, it isn’t; fun, it is. 6/10

Mountaintop Motel Massacre (Jim McCullough) – Fractionally above average slasher that rehashes “Psycho”, with the mother being the murderer. A couple of messyish murders and a sub-plot involving singing bimbos are the nice features, which just about compensate for the sheer predictability of it all. The best thing about it is the “Reform School Girls” trailer at the start. 5/10.

Parasite (Charles Band) – Bob Glaudini has a monster (designed by Stan Winston, who went on to create the ‘Aliens’ amongst others) in a thermos flask, and another in his stomach. When a gang of punks steal the thermos, old Stan has a GREAT time steering said monster through people’s heads… 6/10

Pink Flamingoes (John Waters) – What can you say about a film where the most memorable moment is a female impersonator eating a freshly dropped dog turd?? Blegh! Difficult to believe this is directed by the same man as ‘Hairspray’, since it’s a very amateur film yet not without style. It doesn’t quite gel as a whole; unlike Russ Meyer’s best pics, where the sex does seem to fit in, here we have a chunk of plot, then a totally irrelevant bit, and now a scene to SHOCK you! 5/10

Pretty Baby (Louis Malle) – The good news is this has Brooke Shields ‘getting her kit off’. The bad news is, er, she was eleven when she made it. Distinctly unnerving experience, seeing an undoubtedly beautiful (I stress, in an AESTHETIC sense) pre- teenager playing a New Orleans hooker, whose virginity is auctioned off for $400. Fortunately, it’s shot unleeringly (though that didn’t prevent problems with the censor) and a good supporting cast (Susan Sarandon, Antonio Fargas and Barbara Steele) make it a film that is both worthy and justifiable. 7/10

River’s Edge (Tim Hunter) – Group of delinquent American teenagers discover one of their number is a murderer and agonise about what to do. I briefly fell asleep in the opening credits and, on the whole, would have preferred the shut-eye. A couple of far more interesting sub-plots are never fully developed, and the movie doesn’t really gets going. 3/10 Salome’s Last Dance (Ken Russell) – Rampant camp version of Oscar Wilde’s banned play, set in a London brothel on Guy Faukes’ night. Never been much of a fan of Mr Wilde (too witty by half), fortunately we don’t see much of him. Instead we get Stratford Johns as Herod and Glenda Jackson as his wife mixing it with midget Jews, page 3 models for guards and a highly-impressive Imogen Millais Scott as a lollipop- licking, high-heeled Salome who resembles Bonnie Langford on cocaine. Very, very odd, definitely trashy and strong evidence for Ken Russell’s insanity! 8/10

SS Experiment Camp – Another ‘banned’ film & surprise, surprise, it is quite one of the worst, most tedious ‘horror’ films ever. It’s sole raison d’etre it to show remarkably well-fed ‘Jewish’ women in the nude (at least the actress in ‘Love Camp 7’ LOOKED Jewish). Very little ‘so bad it’s funny’ potential either. Reread the first sentence so it sinks in. More enjoyable than falling under a train. Just. 1/10

Superstar (Todd Haynes) – Tells the story of the death of Karen Carpenter (of The Carpenters, noted squeaky-clean duo of the early 70’s) from anorexia, using (wait for it) Barbie dolls instead of actors. A well-intentioned idea, symbolising as it does commercial packaging of women, etc – unfortunately it’s just too ridiculous to work and when I saw it the audience giggled throughout. A shame, too, since the non-Barbie bits, a mix of found footage and hand-held video, are well thought-out and do perhaps give something of an insight into the world of the anorexic. 5/10

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (Jaromil Jires) – In our perpetual quest for the odd, here’s a 1970 Czech vampire film, full of beautiful imagery & subtle symbolism. The bad news is that I fell asleep in the middle. What I saw, I enjoyed, even if the complexities of the plot, involving a girl who discovers her grandfather is really her father (or is he?), went over my (nodding) head. I’ll make an effort to see it again, if I remember to take the black coffee with me. 6/10

The New Avengers

  1. Patrick MacNee, one of the most instantly recognisable characters on British TV over the last 30 years. With his bowler hat, umbrella and disarming smile, he is the archetypal English gentlemen – he still appears, irregularly, as An Upper-Class Eccentric (his recent performance in “Waxwork” is a classic example of how to steal a movie).
  2. Joanna Lumley, as well as being one of the loveliest creatures to grace the television screen and possessing a voice resembling liquid honey, capable of charming the birds out of the trees, also possesses an acute intelligence which has earned her the awful label of “thinking man’s crumpet”.
  3. Gareth Hunt. Yes, well. Er… Now more notorious for appearing in the Nescafe coffee commercials, even if he did turn up in the Pet Shop Boys film.

With there being word of a film version of ‘The Avengers’ (Mel Gibson having been slated for the Steed role), it seems like a good time to review the sequel series, following last issue’s look at an American spy soap. This will be more of a homage than a fact-file – if you want the latter, I suggest ‘The Avengers Anew’ by Dave Rogers, as THE definitive volume. Let’s look at one episode in particular : ‘Gnaws’.

When written down on paper, the plot is ridiculous. Giant creatures roaming the sewers of London, thanks to a scientist pouring a radioactive growth hormone down the sink, may show a total disregard for the laws of physics and biology but while watching it, the ludicrous storyline is easily forgotten. This wasn’t an especially OTT episode either – others included “K is for Kill”, with Russian agents in suspended animation for 30 years, “Last of the Cybernauts”, where robots in sun- glasses are out to kill the trio or “Sleeper”, in which all of London (except for Purdey, in her pyjama suit) has been gassed to sleep by some robbers who want to extend bank opening hours to include Sunday mornings. Little wonder the same production team could easily switch to making a Hammer Horror film – ‘Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter’, one of the better late efforts.

I digress. There are rumblings in the drains and Purdey, Gambit & Steed are sent down to investigate (I’d have thought MI5 would have better things to do, like tapping phones, than worry about the imminent collapse of our sewer system). In the course of their investigations they meet up with a Russian agent, on a similar mission. Interestingly, for a pre-glasnost series, although Russians were sometimes the ‘baddies’, thse were often ‘free-lancers’, operating against the orders of their leaders. In this case, the Russian joins forces with our side, though not before Purdey has kicked him about a bit.

Meanwhile, the mysterious something is busily chomping it’s way through a mixture of courting couples, maintenance men and also one of the mad scientists responsible for the creature. Our three friends concoct a vile-smelling substance in a bid to lure it into the open; the Russian is shot by the remaining scientist; Purdey arrives just a little too late and is captured, with the eventual aim of using her as bait. However, as she’s about to be nibbled to death by the thing, which turns out to be a giant rat, Gambit arrives in the nick of time, carrying an armour-piercing rocket launcher, and produces Rodent McNuggets.

As I said, pretty ludicrous. However, as in much of the best trash entertainment, the holes in the plot whizz past at such a rate that you can hardly see them, let alone realise what they are. The highly hackneyed subject matter (so you thought radioactive mutants went out in the 50’s!) is given a fresh lick of paint to bring up to date what is, after all, little more than a remake of ‘Them!’. If you can make the leap of accepting the basic premise, the rest follows surprisingly easily and there are a few moments that are genuinely, well, frightening might be going a bit far, but not by all that much.

It only lasted two series. Twenty-six episodes, and that was it. Still, it does get repeated, usually at about two o’clock in the morning – keep an eye out for it in the schedules and you might well be surprised at just how well it’s withstood the passage of time.

Channel 5 have very recently (October 6th) released a couple of videos of the series; neither of them feature the story discussed above, but at 9.99 each, they’ll do for now! The four episodes are “The Last of the Cybernauts”/”Sleeper” (both of which are mentioned above) & “Target”/”Faces”.

The Mail

Not as many letters this time – my paranoia tells me that this is because I’ve succeeded in alienating most of the subscribers. Alternatively, it could be that TC was so perfect last time that no-one had any complaints. However, these are probably both complete rubbish and you’ve all had better things to do with your time over the summer (if this is the greenhouse effect, pass me that aerosol!). Pleasantly, it means I can taken up Glyn Williams’ suggestion from last time and print more than two lines per letter! “…” indicates an editor’s edit, by the way. Let’s start with the last word on Argento & Bava :

Ben Gruber, New York – “I’m beginning to believe that there is only one director in all of Europe, who just resorts to thousands of pseudonyms to fuck us Yankee barbarians…This ultimate schlock-meister’s primary identity always contains the initials J-F – I believe there must be a Masonic connection? … Did get to see an unrated version [of “Troma’s War”] which, although repetitive to the point of having to watch the same 40 odd players getting resurrected about ten times, had a pizazz about it that kept me watching till the end.”

The censorship debate continues; here’s a letter with some interesting points :

Alun Fairburn, Ammanford – “I can also understand why certain films should be banned; my hit list is as follows – “Nekromantik”, “Island of Death”, “Faces of Death” and various films that depict ‘a day in the life of a murderer’, depicting gore without a good storyline to involve the viewer… To keep what ‘they’ regard as obscene videos out of the country, they must make them illegal AND curb the demand for them, by censoring mail and all publications (commercial & otherwise) that carry reviews of them. Their half-baked, half-democratic methods have created a massive black market that can supply these films to the younger generation in a far more uncontrolled manner than would video stores.”

On a lighter note, some more on Wendy O. Williams, star of “Reform School Girls”:

Richard Owen, Skewen – “In keeping with ‘Reform School Girls’ & female masturbation [bet you want to see the preceding paragraph!], did you know Wendy O. Williams once got arrested for that act? It happened when she was with the Plasmatics, when on stage in about 1979 and I believe it was in Oregon. I can’t remember whether the charge was masturbation, simulated masturbation or simulated masturbation with a microphone. I can’t remember the outcome, either. Someone gave me a Plasmatics record a few years back – one of the best picture discs I’ve ever seen, bugger taking acid, just lob the record on the turntable and get euphoric whenever you want. Turn the sound down first though, ‘cos the song is crap.”

Was nearly tempted by a Plasmatics video I saw while on holiday, but decided to wait until I’d got back to buy it. Needless to say, I haven’t seen it since. Meanwhile, the Linnea Quigley backlash starts here; Richard again :

“…stood up and told genre fans about the lies they are being told by innumerable publications. The woman is ugly… From the accompanying photo it looks like, god forbid, she has actually put on weight. Her cheeks look fatter and she shows all the signs of a possible double chin… Can this mean she will no longer look like Kylie Minogue with tits?… She might be pregnant. Remember, you heard it here first.”

Mr. Owen has now gone into hiding to prevent a suicide attack by crazed “Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers” fans. “It Must Be True” generally provoked ‘intrigued repulsion’ :

Simon Wood, Newcastle – “There is a (somewhat hazy) line where articles can be just TOO sick, and that’s where real suffering is involved. I wouldn’t say that your article crossed the line, as obviously…those involved were incredibly lucky to be alive and so the article was basically positive…I did read an article in another fanzine where the writer reviewed a number of actual accidents that he’d seen.”

Sounds fair enough. It was the fact that the people involved in the accidents did survive that attracted me – if they had died, I wouldn’t have been interested. The “Sunday Sport”, a while back, scraped the bottom of the barrel – they had a story about babies being sold for their skeletons, illustrated with a picture of someone cutting a (supposedly live) baby’s head off. If real, it showed quite appalling insensitivity and if fake, it’s was probably an even more sickening example of ‘journalism’. Meanwhile, in the ‘what-I-did-on-my-summer-holidays’ stakes :

Michael Braithwaite, Sheffield – “Over this summer, I have been working at Tonka in their reliability labs testing all the toys and as temporary jobs go, this must be one of the best out… The tests we had to do varied from item to item; for example, on Care Bears we attached weights to their eyes, using hot wires to sizzle the plastic and get a good grip. This test made sure the eyes wouldn’t pull off. We also got to torch the bears to make sure they weren’t too flammable – it was great fun!”

Lucky man! To finish off with, here’s a perfect example of how you can’t please all of the people all of the time, from TC2’s ‘Incredibly Bad Film Show’ :

  • D.J.Lewis, Kent – “I liked the picture on page 30.”
  • RO – “If I ever see that bloody still from ‘Lust for a Vampire’ again, God knows what I’ll do…”

What’s an editor to do?

Borderline Cinema

The following contributed article isn’t standard, cheery TC fare, but I think it needs to be printed. I print it in the form it was received, with minimal changes to punctuation and text. The contributor wishes to remain anonymous. You have been warned.

There has been much debate in these pages, and in the film & comic magazines, about censorship, certification, and the damage done to material by ‘censoring’ offending bits (for example, the razor blade sequences in “Hellbound: Hellraiser II” or the ‘flip you’ in “Repo Man”). It is very difficult to agree on the grounds for cutting or even if there are grounds, if the integrity of the material suffers.

At least, that is how I would have summarised things yesterday. Yesterday, I could not conceive of any material being COMPLETELY unsuitable for viewing. There is a world of difference between foul language / exploding latex heads and the video I saw last night. It is one thing to see Leatherface chew hippies with chainsaws. This is special effects, clever editing, acting, FANTASY. It is quite another to witness the real thing.

I know what you’re thinking: I’ve been there! You’re thinking that you can handle it, that you’ve seen just about everything and that you wouldn’t be distressed. Wrong. I discovered that I couldn’t imagine the real thing. I’ve never witnessed anything stronger than violence on TV news. But to actually see such monstrous acts performed on a living human in front of the camera? Are you beginning to understand me?

I watched a woman beaten and tortured until she wept. I saw her raped with objects designed to cause intense pain. I looked at her, cowering in the corner, shivering and crying. That was 10 minutes into the film. My notes stopped with the words ‘Shit, this is for real’. I felt like I was riding an emotional roller-coaster – I couldn’t get off and was powerless to intervene. That I was fascinated by the total lack of respect for human life is an indication of it’s ‘power’. It’s ‘purity’. It’s hate. After they had beaten, humiliated and disfigured her for life, I had to deal with the realisation that the people who took part in it are really sick fucks, probably beyond help, and the rest of us must ABSOLUTELY be protected from this.

My apologies if I glamourise this in any way; it was genuinely appalling and whatever language I use to describe it can not do my horror justice…

[ I recall seeing something similar myself once; to be more accurate, 25 seconds of it before I realised what it was and hit the STOP button. I wanted to watch on, and try to find some evidence it was all a sick joke – I don’t think I’d have found any.

The whole thing brings up quite a few points that deserve to be answered. Where is the line between ‘acceptable’ and ‘unacceptable’ violence? I can handle most things, as long as I know that it didn’t ‘really’ happen – I’m quite happy to cheer when people get torn apart, be it by zombies, hooks on the end of chains or demons – but anything that smacks of reality, and I’ll sit in stony silence. I remember seeing on the news, footage of Israeli soldiers taking boulders and using them to break the legs of Palestinian demonstrators. That shocked & frightened me far more than just about anything I’ve seen on video or film.

The closer something gets to reality, the worse it is. I don’t find psychos with masks on stalking girls entertaining, because such things HAPPEN. Rape scenes, no matter what the context of them, give me no entertainment at all. REAL violence of any sort has a very good chance of making me reach for the off switch.

All of which gives the lie to the much repeated statement that watching violence leads to a ‘desensitisation’ in some way. True, it diminishes the appeal of the same thing, but ONLY on screen. The ‘peeled body’ in “Hellraiser” was shocking; by the time “Hellbound” appeared, it was ‘oh look, a peeled body’. It is, as mentioned above, an astonishingly different thing to see it for real. I don’t think there can be any justification for showing REAL violence on REAL people as entertainment.

From here, it’s a short step to the taboo subject of snuff movies. The general standpoint of most genre publications is that they don’t exist. The 25 seconds I saw were fucking close. If there’s anyone out there who has seen one, and STILL feels that censorship is a bad thing, I’d like to hear from them – complete anonymity will naturally be preserved.

Apologies if any of the above is a little incoherent. It’s not an easy subject to talk about. I, too, felt that there was nothing more that could shock me, that I’d seen it all. It was only by accident – I was given the wrong tape – that I came across the film at all. The brief glimpse I had of it left me, for the first time ever in my life, NEEDING a drink. It was BEYOND anything even my imagination could come up with. Nightmares, from which I’d wake up shaking, and fumbling for the radio switch, were amateur in comparison.

There can be no excuses. To watch such a film proves, beyond all reasonable doubt, that you are sick. Not even the ‘release’ argument holds good – people who need such a channel for their energies don’t need an outlet, they need help. Certain things do not qualify as entertainment. The deliberate infliction of pain on unwilling human beings is one of them, and it has no place in the splatter genre, or in society as a whole.