Cannes, It Ain’t

Once again, that frantic fortnight known as the London Film Festival came round, with a strange, hybrid kind of beast this year. For a while, it looked like there were going to be two of them; long-time organiser Sheila Whittaker peeled off and made noises about setting up her own event, but after negotiations, she leapt back on board. So with everything still being run by the British Film Institute and their cronies, the chances of getting tickets for big events were slim.

Looking at this year’s programme, very little actually leapt out yelling “Watch me! Watch me!” Tumbleweeds rolled majestically across the pages of the brochure between things I’d marked down as must-sees. The Hong Kong section was especially disappointing, but what do you expect when you get Tony Rayns to choose things? One entry was not too hard to predict: Happy Together, both because it was directed by Rayns’ friend Wong Kar Wai, and was about homosexuality — but with 1997 perhaps the most important year in the former colony’s history, it would have been nice had that not been the sole film from there.

Bitching aside, I wasn’t too worried, as experience has shown that often it’s the films that you aren’t especially looking forward to which are the best (Miracle Mile, anyone?). I read through the synopses and eventually found some movies that sounded worth a look, and got tickets for most of them, though perhaps inevitably the closing gala had sold out. The relevance of this will become clear in due course…

Mimic (Guillermo del Toro) – The screening started 15 minutes late, not a good omen for the first film of the festival! Actually, it could have started early and you wouldn’t have too much to complain about — like so many other movies this year, plot is not a strong point! Them! is a clear point of reference, as giant cockroaches menace the New York subways after a genetic experiment goes wrong, and it’s so dark that ‘Se7en’ might also be an inspiration. Mira Sorvino gets coated from head to foot in gunk, which might appeal to some people; the rest of you should enjoy the effects and ignore the storyline. The director will also quite likely annoy the hell out of you by over-frequent ‘false scare’ scenes; as a result, when the real things turn up, he’s cried wolf too often and you don’t give a damn. Still, at least it’s certainly a cinema movie, because it makes full use of the sound system to have ‘roaches zooming round the auditorium… C-

Incognito (John Badham) – It’s hard to work out what the point of this movie is; Jason Patric is an art forger hired to paint a ‘Rembrandt’, only to find himself double-crossed and on the run. It’s not exciting enough to be a thriller, or funny enough to be a comedy, despite making nods in both of these directions. It also suffers from a dodgy sense of location: every time a scene takes place in London, a Major Landmark is sure to loom overhead, just to prove they actually were there. Add in lots of ‘quirky’ British ‘characters’, and it all gets rather wince-inducing. The best bit is probably a lengthy sequence depicting the creation of the painting, which is more like La Belle Noiseuse than anything else — although sadly, without the presence of any Emmanuelle Beart, and Irene Jacob as the French-babe-love-interest-art-professor isn’t quite in the same league. Alright, if you’re in an especially undemanding mood. D-

Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist (Kirby Dick) – My, I do like titles which also function as a synopsis, it saves so much time. Bob, the subject of a RE-Search book, lives up to his title in this documentary — the sequence of him driving a nail through his dick removes all doubt there. But he’s not just your average sicko-perv-Liberal-peer; in his case, it seems linked to his Cystic Fibrosis, which he battled for 40-odd years, and was his way of telling the disease, “Come and have a go, if you think you’re hard enough”. Possessed of a mordant, black wit, Flanagan rages against his life until death, inspiring others with his attitude – notably one 17-year old babe, terminally ill with CF – despite also understandably being prone to severe mood swings. It’s uplifting and depressing at the same time: I left feeling grateful for my good health, aware how fragile life truly is, and looking for a Cystic Fibrosis collection box. B

Metropolis (various) – Short films are a two-edged sword. While a great way to experiment with new techniques, they can also be an excuse for self-indulgent nonsense of the worst sort. This programme, with a vague theme of ‘London’, covered both, and points in between. It started badly with London’s Markets, a collage of elderly footage of Petticoat Lane, etc, overdubbed with out of synch sound and two French people philosophising. Dull. It got worse with Wavelengths, a lesbian cybersex fantasy, which was turgid, cliched, ignorant and soporific. Thankfully, that was the pits: Bicycle is a hyper-kinetic sprint through the streets of London and New York, while Double told the story of a man meeting his doppelganger — at six and four minutes long, neither out-stayed their welcome. The best was perhaps saved for last; Stood For This Massive, a documentary about sports gambler Harry Findlay, works simply because Findlay is so extraordinary and extravagant a character you wonder if it’s all a spoof. All they had to do was point a camera at him and let it roll. Truly a program of two halves, then, Jimmy… E to B+

Hana-Bi (Takeshi Kitano) – The seventh of Kitano’s films, and it’s all beginning to get a little over-familiar: this seems to combine elements from Violent Cop and Sonatine, yet ends up being less than the sum of those parts. Kitano is <sigh> a cop with a psychotic streak, who also has to look after his terminally ill wife, so he <sigh> takes her to the seaside. Of course, it all ends…well, if you’ve seen his other films, you’ll have a good idea of what to expect. There’s also shades of Bad Lieutenant in here too, as the hero is deep in debt to the mob, though Kitano’s reaction is slightly more measured, since it’s frequently demonstrated that he’s significantly tougher than the gangsters who lent him the money! The title means “Fireworks”, and while moments of this film light up the sky like the most brilliant of rockets, large parts of it seem impenetrable to those outside of Japanese culture, and sadly, bear more resemblance to a damp squib. D

The Life of Stuff (Simon Donald) – Well, at least being a Trainspotting wannabe is better than being a Tarantino wannabe. Though there are distinct nods to him as well, in this Scottish tale of a bunch of inexperienced criminals holed up in a dingy warehouse after ripping off ‘Mad’ Alex Sneddon for his drug stash. The film gives an interesting twist to the usual structure of such things though, by starting off hysterical and gradually calming down, rather than accelerating towards insanity. This doesn’t quite work; its origins as a theatre play are too obvious, there are embarrassing moments of soppiness, and you can see the ending from quite some way off. However, it’s a brave attempt, bolstered by a fabulous score from John Lunn and memorable characterisations by most of the cast. Part-funded by lottery money, it’s a good incentive to go and buy a ticket. B-

The Winner (Alex Cox) – Perhaps that should be ‘Alan Smithee’, as Cox has effectively disowned this version of the movie. I take his point: “you won’t see much editing”, he says in the production notes, but the finished version is packed with jump-cuts, even in simple conversations between two people. The film starts off like God of Gamblers, with a guy in Las Vegas who simply can’t lose a bet, and follows the machinations which surround him as various factions move to exploit the talent. Sadly, this potential is soon diluted by trailer-park angst, and I found there is a limit to the appeal of bickering white trash. It’s always nice to see Las Vegas — for much of the film, thoughts of ‘been there’ drifted distractingly across my mind. Intriguing enough to make me want to see Cox’s version, I think Richard Stanley is the only director with a higher average in the “getting screwed by Hollywood” field. C-

Twenty-four Seven (Shane Meadows) – A further step up the scale for the director of Small Time, reviewed last TC; this time, he’s got a star, specifically Bob Hoskins as the guy who sets up a boxing club in an attempt to keep kids out of trouble. This is an undeniably cliched set-up, and there are gaping holes here and there (the rival gangs stop feuding virtually as soon as the club starts), but Hoskins provides the necessary weight to make it believable. Shot in black-and-white, it occasionally feels more like a pop video for the songs that loom over the movie soundtrack. Although generally light in tone, the movie flips in the last ten minutes into something totally different. Kudos to Meadows for pulling this off, it could have seemed contrived and false, yet ends up ringing true. A name to watch in future. C+

Funny Games (Michael Haneke) – Desperate Hours meets Last House on the Left by a lake in Austria, as two excruciatingly well-mannered psychopaths take a family hostage for no readily apparent reason. This is a challenging film which plays with the audience — at one point, a villain talks directly to the camera, while there’s another, utterly audacious moment involving a remote control which simultaneously destroys and bolsters the cinematic illusion. The same director made Benny’s Video, which dealt with a similar topic — Funny Games is probably a film which I’m looking back on more fondly than I thought at the time; the family are mere cyphers, and the psychos have so much more charm that the film seems flat without them. It’s very bleak and cold viewing, which asks a lot of questions and offers no easy answers. In fact, I’m not sure it offers any answers at all, even hard ones… B-

The End of Violence (Wim Wenders) – This is bordering on the impenetrable, but I’ll give it a shot. A film producer gets emailed a document detailing a government surveillance plan. Then someone tries to kill him, though the hitmen are themselves shot before they can carry out the deed, forcing the producer on the run, from where he tries to piece together what’s happening. In the right hands, this could have been taut and tense, but Wim Wenders hasn’t got the first clue about adrenalin. It’s a mess, with films-within-the-film leading to what is perhaps the most meaningful line, from Udo Kier as a film director: “I should have stayed in Europe”. Looking at this overlong piece of nonsense, I begin to think Wenders should have taken his own advice. Andy McDowell turned up at the screening, at great expense to the BFI, no doubt, and to no real point. Wouldn’t mind, but, she still can’t act. E+

Memories (Koji Morimoto/Tensai Okamur/Katsuhiro Otomo) – Three stories for the price of one, though only the first, Magnetic Rose, bears much relation to the title. It’s also notably like Event Horizon, with a salvage team exploring an abandoned space-ship, which plays hallucinatory tricks on them, but at 45 minutes, works a lot better — the first view of the spaceship is a jawdropper, and excellent use is made of music, notably Madame Butterfly. The second, Stink Bomb is very hardware oriented, with a lot of loving attention to detail on tanks, airplanes and the rest of the firepower brought to bear on an unwitting salaryman-turned-chemical-weapon. The final part is an exercise in technique; it’s a single shot lasting over twenty minutes, though the purpose of doing this in an animated film escapes me. And, like Hitchcock’s Rope, once you get over the ‘cleverness’ of it, there isn’t a great deal of depth. A movie of steadily declining return. C

Er, that’s not Nastassja…

And that was it. Oh, except for the last movie at the festival, which was Mike Figgis’ One Night Stand, starring Wesley Snipes and oh, some German has-been actress or other — Anastasia something… Now, with this being the closing event, one would expect all the stars to come out, and I knew that Snipes was around, since an interview with him had been one of the featured events earlier in the festival. Was it too much to hope that my beloved Nastassja might also turn up? Probably. But I was there, outside the Empire, Leicester Square with my disposable Kodak camera, just in case.

Well, when I say “outside”, I probably mean “somewhere in the general vicinity of”. All the best spots had naturally been nabbed by the tabloid photographers, and all the second best ones by gawking tourists with nothing better to do — and judging by the general height of those standing in front of me, there appeared to be a Croatian basketball team in town. I was reduced to sticking my camera above my head, pointing it in the general direction of the front, and hoping for the best.

Not that I need have worried, since (and I hope I’m not ruining the tension for you here), Nastassja failed to turn up. Indeed, neither did just about anyone else. Apart from Figgis and Snipes, the only other recognisable name was Alan Parker, the new president of the BFI, whom I suppose really had to be there. The fourth-ranked celebrity, in terms of flashbulbs expended, appeared to be, er, John Fashanu — and I suspect half the photographers there mistook him for the star of the film.

And this is perhaps an appropriate note on which to finish. It says something about the pulling power and international renown of the London Film Festival, that hardly anyone can be bothered to turn up to its closing gala. The selection of films this year was also pretty lacklustre, with only the odd one or two that I’d recommend. The most entertainment was to be found watching a man die a slow, painful death – and that also says quite a lot about the 1997 LFF…

Nights of the Round Table

A cellar bar, situated near one of London’s mainline stations, is home to the Round Table, a private member’s club which represents the next level of fleshly activity down — or up, depending on your point of view — from the likes of Browns’. Admission to the Round Table is by request only; they don’t advertise, and prospective applicants may face a grilling to ensure they are legitimate punters. Assuming you pass the test, you are told the location, and given the basic details: events happen on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, with special “stag do’s” on the first Monday of each month. Membership is forty quid a year, plus six pounds for a normal event and twenty quid for the stags. It’s then a question of screwing our courage to the sticking plate and going along. For (im)moral support, I went with a friend, expectations high that this was a ripoff, scam…or something worse. We descended into the depths of the Earth to meet the fabled “Reg”, the mastermind behind the Round Table…

For the sort of person whom the News of the World would undoubtedly label an “evil genius”, Reg seemed an entirely affable bloke, though I think the fact that there were two of us worried him a bit, since the rest of the customers all arrived on their own. Only Jehovah’s Witnesses and undercover cops work in pairs, but Reg’s greatest fear appeared to be that we were Inland Revenue. I toyed with the idea of pulling out my work id and yelling “Freeze, scum!”, but I’m fond of my kneecaps the way they are.

We paid our subs, got a spiffy membership card, bought a couple of beers, and watched the rest of the audience and the girls, arrive. Like other venues, the clients were a mix of City suits and casual dress, though as mentioned above, no groups were present. The three girls engaged to provide the evening’s entertainment were a Mediterranean girl, thin to the point of anorexia, a Eastern European, pretty but with such a frosty attitude that we nick-named her the Ice Pole. and an English lass, the best of the bunch, though a little plump. Below the standard of Metropolis or Brown’s, definitely, but scarcely unpleasant to look at, averaging maybe 6.5’s. Having reassured ourselves that it didn’t seem to be a con, our next question was the deeply philosophical “Why are we here?”, specifically, what would we get for our cash. We were answered fairly rapidly when the first dancer, the Mediterranean, appeared. Taking her top off in close proximity to one punter, the customer in question reached out and began caressing her breasts. “My”, we thought, “this is new”, eyebrows (amongst other things) rising. But they had to be pulled off the ceiling when this respectable-looking gent then began sucking lustily on the teat as if he’d never been weaned off milk. It was clear that at the Round Table, stripping was no longer just a spectator sport, it had become a participation event.

This culture shock resulted immediately in us both assuming defensive, crossed-legs postures, as the girl proceeded randomly round the room, receiving similar attention from other attendees. However, when a not unattractive woman is trying to sit in your lap, keen for you to run your tongue around her nipple…well, it would be churlish to refuse. My “rabbit caught in headlights” expression was soon replaced by a sizable grin.

The process was repeated with the other two girls, leading us to wonder just how far they would go. And, indeed, how far we would — this was not a place for faint hearts, and many of my companions who happily visit Brown’s would find the Round Table a breast too far. From the morality and fidelity points of view, one can defend “just looking” easier than “putting your head between them and going blubble-blubble”. Much as I love TC and its editor, there are (just) limits.

After the inevitable circulation of pint jugs, the next set of routines pushed those boundaries further, as the girls performed wearing nothing at all. Obviously, this offered better, ah, openings for entertainment, and the girls remained as pliable and available for interaction as ever (even if the Ice Pole still looked like she’d been sucking a nettle or two). This set the standard for the rest of the evening, with random variations such as baby-oil, up until well past 11. Though things were still in full swing at that point, I had to head off, my fingers bearing an unmistakable souvenir of the evening, which combined baby oil and a muskier, more intimate scent…

It’s probably true to say that events at the Round Table blur the boundary between dancing and prostitution. This was made abundantly clear when, less than half an hour after arriving, another attendee sidled up to us, and handed over cards inviting us to a “house party”, taking place in Peckham the next Monday. Twenty-five quid got us a show from two of the girls there that night, no pint jugs, bring your own booze and you were “guaranteed a fuck”. This was something of a shock: it’s one thing to see a girl on stage, and dream about having her, but the knowledge that you actually could have her, for the price of a decent meal, puts the whole event into a new dimension. It’s one with which I’m not exactly comfortable: as someone previously wrote in TC, “the gap between fantasy and reality is sometimes a pretty good idea”. So I didn’t go: besides, the cute English girl wasn’t on offer.

Other evenings since have offered other girls, of varying quality as well as the renowned “Sue the Swapper”, an amateur performer who turned up to perform on an ad-hoc basis. I was under the impression such women were merely created by the letter column editors of dodgy magazines, but this woman genuinely seemed to be into the exhibitionism. To each their own.

As for the stag events, they really weren’t worth the (quite considerable) extra money, unless you enjoy the sight of a rugby scrum of flabby men with their willies out, crowding round a woman, to the extent that nothing can be seen of her. As a spectator sport, it leaves something to be desired, though there is the odd alternative diversion. Seeing a woman stick two cucumbers, a can of Diet Pepsi, a can of Ruddles County, a marrow, and most of someone’s forearm up her pussy (no, not at the same time) is certainly an impressive sight, but is hardly erotic. Similarly Sue’s taking on of, literally, all-comers, leaving her looking like an open condensed milk sandwich (think about it…). The 1-on-1 action was a touch better, but overall it’s an experience I was left in no hurry to repeat.

If the legality of the pub joints is questionable, the legality of the Round Table must be even more dubious. I suspect many of the foreign girls probably don’t have all the necessary papers, which would limit their employment elsewhere. The premises were clearly not licenced, which led to a visit from the authorities, and a currently on-going hiatus. As for fire regulations, forget it. All this, in a way, makes it remarkable that it did appear to be “honest”, rather than a scam. Those who operate beyond the law are not required to have much concern for customer satisfaction, but to Reg’s credit, he seems to play it straight.

From the aesthetic point of view, the Round Table is never going to be up to the standard of other venues, where the women are prettier and generally at least give the impression of wanting to be there. You trade off a few seconds of very close attention, against a few minutes of more distant entertainment; which is “better” depends on too many variables to call. If Brown’s and Metropolis are the Serie A of stripping; the Round Table are the local park league. The quality on display may not be comparable, but you’re almost guaranteed a hell of a lot more goals. There are times when that will be just what you want. 

Undressed to Kill, Part 3

With another venue open in Hammersmith, the popularity of striptease as entertainment clearly continues to grow — unless you’re a Hollywood producer, in which case it’s better to cut your loss, give Demi Moore the $12m, and send her home. But the heterosexual male in the capital has an every-increasing variety of opportunities to see more-or-less gorgeous girls taking their kit off.

The reasons for this growth may be correlated to the decline in situations where men are allowed to openly interact with women on a sexual basis. Overstep the bounds and you could end up in court, as one prominent doctor found out. He either brushed against a waitress’s leg (his version), or put his hand up her skirt (her version): the truth most likely lies in between. Now, the “victim” worked in a theme restaurant, and dressed specifically to appeal to male fantasies: yet when they were acted upon, the perpetrator was found guilty of indecent assault, when surely “lack of self-control” would have been a more appropriate charge.

This just represents the bluntest over-reaction. Men are basically sexual creatures, and it’s not something that can be turned off like a tap. Two million years of instinct trump a century of Victorian morality, and less than a decade of political correctness: biology is destiny. Yet an off-colour remark in the office could result in a sexual harrassment suit, and catching a woman’s eye on the tube leaves you feeling like a pervert. It’s no wonder that men flock to places where they can release at least some unresolved sexual tension without fear of repercussions.

There are times, however, when the question of exploitation does rear its head. Less of the punters by the artistes, or vice versa, more the way both (but especially the girls) seem to be getting exploited by the venue. From what I’ve heard, it seems that at best they don’t pay the girls. At worst, the babes have to pay an up-front fee and also contribute a hefty slice of their takings – 30% was the figure I heard – to the house. Now, this money doesn’t seem to be used to subsidise the drinks prices: while not extortionate, neither are they exactly happy-hour-at-the-Student-Union. Someone, somewhere is making a very pleasant profit, which probably also goes a long way to explain the proliferation of such venues. From originally being little more than a way of getting customers into out-of-the-way pubs on slow evenings, the entertainment has now become the raison d’etre. However, it is something of a disincentive to realise that the asshole DJ is taking his pay out of every quid you drop in the jug.

A pleasant development on the scene has been the introduction of table-dancing to, first Metropolis, and then Brown’s — the service lets you select a dancer and have her perform for you in relative intimacy. The cost is about a fiver per head, which gets you a song’s worth of undiluted attention in a curtained-off area. While remaining strictly a visual pleasure, it’s an experience I’d recommend to anyone — these girls are good at their job, and when you get to pick the best of them, it’s like having a blow-torch turned on your libido. The sensual equivalent of freebased cocaine, you get a cheap, instant, intense high, followed by an overpowering urge to repeat the experience. Fortunately, unlike crack, the main problem is supply and demand: especially at Metropolis, after ‘booking’, you may have a lengthy and for some reason nerve-wracking delay as you stand around, waiting your turn.

This innovation appears to have come about partly in response to a venue called ‘For Your Eyes Only’, which opened last year in the exotic location of, er, Hanger Lane. This new Gyratory System specialises in the table dance, but has not yet been visited by TC since it’s a) miles from anywhere else you’d ever want to go and b) £20 to get in, which goes against our philosophy. When one can see babes of the quality of Ulrike and Marianne for free, why bother paying?

This is especially true when the escalative spiral is continuing apace in more accessible areas. For a while, Brown’s offered “lap-dances” — though let’s be clear, we are not talking anything like the full-contact, sticky trouser experience seen in Showgirls. [See Beer and Writhing in Las Vegas for details] It was more like a point-blank table dance, so close you could feel their body heat, and strictly no contact permitted. This required incredible will-power – or sitting on your hands and to enforce the rule, it all took place ‘in the open’. However, after about ten seconds, you didn’t notice, and though the girls may be only topless, it was better value than their table dances.

That wasn’t their only new feature, though the appeal of the tequila slammer escaped me: five quid to lick salt from your girl’s arm, down the alcohol and pluck the lime from between her teeth seemed a bit steep. Both innovations only lasted a few months, but it’ll be interesting to see how their competitors respond: will Metropolis begin doing proper lap dances? Whatever happens, we, the customers will likely be the ones to benefit, illustrating perfectly the delights of competition in an unregulated free-market economy…

[Eagle-eyed readers may have spotted Brown’s making the news in August — sadly, for all the wrong reasons. Three employees were shot, when a group they’d thrown out for hassling the girls came back. One bouncer took six bullets, while his colleague and the manager were also injured. Sobering stuff. Not that it’s stopped us from going there, of course!]


The Good Striptease Guide to London’
by Viad Lapidos, Tredegar Press, £4.99, pp.84.

A slim volume, and one surprisingly hard to track down. From first word of its appearance togqtt a copy took six months; “available from slightly disreputable bookshops”, maybe. It contains a swathe of information about the times and places in which striptease may be seen, right down to telephone numbers. All kinds of venues are covered, in and around London, from posh theatrical joints like Raymond’s Revue Bar to seedy dives, evaluated for ambience, visibility and totty quality. Fleshing out the bones are anecdotal tales and, for some reason, architectural observations. Perhaps behind the author’s (blatant) pseudonym lurks Prince Charles?

Given the anticipation, the book was something of a disappointment, inevitably. There’s not an enormous amount of information — I read it on the tube, between Liverpool Street and Victoria — and most of it will be known to any seasoned regular. Though a few venues were new to me, it didn’t sounds as if I was missing muchl The tales of attendance were the highlight; describing one dancer as like “a particularly languid sloth on a diet of beta-blockers” vividly evoke the imagination. But it’s all too slight to have more than passing interest: not worthless, by any means, especially for the novice, for whom it’s probably priceless. But anyone else would be better off using the money to get 4/5 of a table dance from the babe of your choice.

Cover Versions

“Fuck off seven famous actress. Hyper Adonis, this time queens are young, bad and shakin’ hip, it’s hippy hip! With fruity smile and soup.”

There is a school of thought which suggest that not showing something is more evocative than if it is clearly seen. This applies to horror movies, and also to sex — certain critics bemoan the excesses of the modern era over the understated subtleties of former times. It’s not an argument I personally accept (if I want to “use my imagination”, I don’t need to shell out hard cash to do so), but in some cases, will admit that it can prove culturally productive.

The tasteful, restrained front…

Take Japan which, despite stern censorship, has developed a pornography industry second only to America, probably far surpassing the stale “legitimate” movie business, both in terms of turnover and invention. Each month, the number of tapes released is well into three figures, with the video companies publicising their wares in lavishly illustrated, full-colour brochures of sample sleeves. These are true works of art, in the same way that London telephone boxes become art galleries of the minimasterpieces which are prostitute’s cards — though in comparison, those look like a child’s finger-painting. If ever anything made me want to splash out on a colour cover for TC, these sleeves did, despite the same stringent rules for censorship still applying. Thus, all genitals are obscured, with a colourful range of red ink, black blobs and intriguing cross-hatching that makes every willie look like it’s been wrapped in straw.

The reason for the intense effort that clearly goes into the covers is simple: in a jam-packed market, you’ve got to leap off the shelf and grab a punter by the ‘nads in the time it takes his eye to sweep across your sleeve. Hence, gold, silver and flashy fonts are in order, though the format hardly varies across titles or companies. The front cover almost inevitably has the women who star in the video, the back is crammed with a cut-up assortment of stills from the film. The most notable point is that the immaculately coiffured woman on the front is all but unrecognisable when getting down and dirty “in action”…

Then there is the interesting usage of English. Now, taking the piss out of foreigners is childish and puerile xenophobia, but if you’re going to use a foreign language in your advertising material…let’s just say that those who live by the word, die by the word. Sometimes, though, the results have a grace and beauty that are almost poetic, as in the following, taken from the Garden of Schoolgirls sleeve:
      In the forbidden garden
      the defenseless girls
      who were carried away by sexual impulse

Not quite the traditional 5-7-5 syllable structure of haiku, but lyrical and graceful none the less. This was, however, an exception, and the vast majority treat English like a prisoner of war. The following samples, like every other one in this article, are presented with exactly the spelling, grammar, capitalisation and punctuation as they possess on the covers:

  • “Oh, my God! Let’s enjoy sexual costume play with Sexy Doll Clice and have a ecstacy”.
  • “A sex oil sticky level 100% The Ultra Estrus Girls”
  • “I’ll make you feeling ecstacy by my buxom bust”
  • “Bye Bye Super Very Bad Blue Days!! Good morning Satisfaction!!”
…and chaotic, fully-detailed back!

The last of these sounds more like an advert for breakfast cereal than X-rated pornogaphy. However, my personal favourite leads off this article, deserving to appear in large text and a different font, since it manages to be simultaneously evocative and completely incoherent,

The most superfluous warning has to be the “Caution X rated!” with which ZET Video is careful to label its product. This does seem somewhat pointless when the rest of the cover ensures that the tape is most unlikely to be mistaken for a Disney movie, and probably falls into the category of reverse advertising, done to lure rather than warn.

ZET are just one of the many companies competing for business: others, such as Big Morkal, eightman, Sodom, and the engagingly named ‘Atlas Radical Adult Fantasy Mega-Pictures’, are also out there pitching to the market. Some produce generic erotica while others have found smaller niches: Cinemagic do bondage, while Miss Christine are a “costume play” outfit i.e. dressing up, as nurses, schoolgirls or whatever. The Tiffany label specialise in debutantes, and this is reflected in titles such as Legend of Virgin Shrine, New Sensual Princess, and Virgin Princess (but oddly, there is no sign of Sensual Shrine).

The actual titles of the films represent an extension of the mutant English mentioned elsewhere. They range from the relatively straightforward (Uniform Lesbian BattleRoyal), through the slightly obscure (New UniformSniper — which perhaps raises more questions than it answers) to some that…well…would you rent Illegality Violate Tits [A program on a different channel version]? Here are some other interesting candidates:

  • Body Conscious Hunting — Revival of Ultimate Costumes
  • Welcome!! Super Exciting Pink Saloon
  • Super Maniac Play Text for the Beginers
  • When the Lecherous Ladies Violate a Man
  • The Best Fucking Game With Pretty Baby
  • Precious – Wedding Fuck
  • Satomura – Mad Obscenity – Please ejacurate on my breast.
  • The Wonderful Cock Suckin’ Rolling Thunder Special Sperm is on Heat

Of course, the all-time classic title remains Jesus Clitoris Superstar, if only because it lets me tell the (quite possibly apocryphal) story about a Japanese department store whose Christmas display featured Santa Claus nailed to a cross…

Film Blitz

The Arcane Enchanter (Pupi Avati) – Startlingly tedious Italian ‘horror’ movie, which looks lovely, but has all the entertainment value of a drying fresco. The story, about a guy sent to act as scribe to a heretic with occult leanings, is worth about thirty minutes — at movie length, it’s near unendurable, and I came close to walking out. Said heretic appeared to spend large chunks of the movie asleep, and I can sympathise, every scene seems to go on twice as long as even fractionally interesting. It’s nice to be reminded occasionally of why I tend to the view that most Italian horror movies are vastly over-rated. E

Armageddon (Gordon Chan) – I’m a big fan of religious apocalypse films like The Rapture and The Seventh Sign, and this is an HK spin on the theme, with Andy Lau as a tycoon who finds himself caught up in…well, weirdness is perhaps the best word, including SHC and the re-appearance of his dead girlfriend, while sceptical cop Anthony Wong investigates. It’s stretched thin for a movie, but Wong and Lau are good fun to watch between plot elements. After a bad start (the worst English accent I’ve ever heard), the menacing atmosphere improves as the film progresses and a fair head of steam is built up. Definitely different — just when you think you’ve got Hong Kong cinema figured, along comes a curveball like this! B-

Beavis and Butthead Do America (Mike Judge) – In a year of strangely unsatisfying Hollywood blockbusters, it was at once scary and wonderful to find this among 1997’s best, purely because it succeeds at what it’s trying to do, which is simply be funny. I’m no fan of the original TV show at all, but it was a stroke of genius to turn their moronic music video commentary into a road movie, by making it about B&B’s hunt for their stolen TV. This broadens out the horizons to permit more than their usual “This sucks”, and it’s honest enough that you’ll know whether or not you’re gonna like it within seconds of the start: if not you can probably claim you’re in the wrong cinema and get a refund. As for me, I was creased double for most of the film, and very few comedies manage to do that to me. A-

Caged Fear (Fred Olen Ray) – A rather clunky retitling of Fugitive Rage, which, combined with the cover, is designed to play up the women-in-prison angle, despite the fact that only perhaps the first third of the movie takes place behind bars. It’s closer to Nikita, with Wendy Schumacher as the girl given the chance to get out of jail with pal (and Penthouse Pet!) Shauna O’Brien, providing she finishes off the mob boss she shot and injured – which got her in jail to start with – though her victim is keen to finish her off too. Fred’s best work is made tongue-in-cheek, and while competent, this one is played too straight, despite the amusing efforts of Toni Naples and Nikki Fritz. With the action lame and the sex mediocre (Shauna O’Brien doesn’t get her kit off nearly often enough), it definitely needs something more. D-

Caroline at Midnight (Scott McGinnis) – A Roger Corman production, with the usual cast of B-grade actors, headlined here by Mia Sara, who’ll always have a place in my heart for her black-lipsticked appearance in Legend. Seems to have rounded out a bit since then, though I detect the hand of silicone at work. Her and Virginia Madsen both make fine, smouldering femmes fatales, taking on double-dealing corrupt cops and investigative reporters in a risky game involving drugs and cash. Pity the direction relies too heavily on cliched techniques, and the script left me far more interested in Mia’s occasionally-exposed charms. A fast-forward job par excellence. D-

Conspirators of Pleasure (Jan Svankmajer) – Possibly the downright strangest feature film I’ve seen, Svankmajer’s third feature is almost entirely live-action, only the final quarter explodes into the sort of warped animation for which he’s famous. You want high-concept? Try this: “six people have a wank”. Any further description is futile, and it’s the world’s most un-pornographic sex movie. If there is a theme, it’s “different strokes for different folks”: one guy pretends to be a chicken, a postwoman snorts bread balls, a TV newsreader gets her feet tickled by carp. It all loosely ties together, despite the lack of dialogue, and I can’t fault the imagination on view, which is often very funny in a dreamlike way. Not so sure that it works on a more intellectual level, and despite having the long-term impact of a pop promo, it remains a refreshingly bizarre change. C

Crying Freeman (Christophe Gans) – This adaptation of the manga and anime is a faithful recreation, which fails to ultimately engage despite some well-handled set pieces. Mark Dacascos is Freeman, an assassin who falls in love with a girl he’s supposed to kill, amidst a web of betrayal and death. Y’know, the usual. The performances are pretty decent, though the director has an unnerving fondness for the hero’s bottom. It’s problem is one of pacing, the first half crawls past and it takes ages for the hero and heroine to get together. When they finally do, sparks fly, and both Freeman’s first hit and the final battle provide memorable moments, albeit too late. As straight-to-video fodder, better than average; as a cinema release, I’m less sure of its merits. D

Cutthroat Island (Renny Harlin) – After the disappointing Long Kiss Goodnight, I was pleasantly surprised by this – though admittedly wasn’t expecting much – as Geena Davis gets support from Matthew Modine, Frank Langella and a bunch of other memorable characters. It lacks the heavy-handed moralising which sank ‘Kiss’, and Harlin pitches it with the right level of tongue-in-cheek. Things getting slow? Let’s blow something else up. This attitude culminates in an explosion which is so large it tends to suggest pirates had access to nuclear weapons. A fast, flashy and unpretentious film, which substitutes things going ‘Foom!’ for a real plot. B+

Darklands (Julian Richards) – Craig Fairbrass’s three-film contract with Metrodome has churned up two of the worst British genre pictures ever: Beyond Bedlam and Proteus. This one isn’t quite as bad, but is amazingly unoriginal, being a remake of The Wicker Man set in South Wales. Fairbrass is a journalist who investigates a pagan cult and…you can guess the rest. Which is a major flaw: you know where it’s going, so there is precious little suspense, and what there is seems largely to devolve from sequences nicked from other films. This is a shame; given the half-million pound budget, it is technically fine, with good use of music to generate atmosphere. It’s just a pity the director didn’t have the courage to make something a bit less derivative. C-

Dobermann (Jan Kounen) – Dutch director, French film, mentality somewhere on another planet. The titular hero gets a gun as a christening gift; leap forward 20-odd years — he’s graduated to blowing up tankers and has embarked on a crime spree with his (equally weird) cohorts. To catch an excessive criminal, it takes an even more excessive cop, and no prizes for guessing it will all end a) excessively and b) messily. This is perhaps the most amoral film of the year; all the nice characters get ripped off, beaten up or killed — which is exactly the way it should be. Well-shot in both senses, it’s somewhere between Man Bites Dog and Delicatessen, and there are worse places to be. B-

Ed Wood (Tim Burton) – I can see why this bombed, big-time. It’s 127 mins long, in b&w, and the hero is a transvestite — not qualities that appeal to middle America. It also doesn’t go anywhere, being a biography of a life without true highlights, even though it almost skips Wood’s descent into alcohol and skin flicks. Despite this, for any fan of his movies, there’s a wealth of detail that rings true, regardless of whether it is or not. Johnny Depp plays Wood with much sympathy, putting him across as someone deeply cunning when it came to raising finance, yet remaining naive. Martin Landau also stands out as Bela Lugosi, and Burton pushes his usual themes of isolation and “being different”. A total mess of a movie, yet none the worse for it. B

Electra (Julian Grant) – One hoped this might be a spoiler of the oft-promised Elektra Assassin movie; it isn’t. Instead, it’s Shannon Tweed (a woman for whom time is clearly running out) as the stepmother of a young man who holds the key to a serum that gives its subject superhuman speed and strength, and who is consequently in demand by a lot of bad people. Far too restrained – it’s one of those films where people keep their clothes on while having sex, and even Shannon only gets ’em out once – with strictly low-rent production values: there are almost no extras, everyone in the film is in the film. Never actually dull though, and one of the evil henchwomen (sadly, not fully identified in the credits) has definite potential as a leather-bitch-goddess. D-

Felony (David S.Prior) – David Warner, Jeffrey Combs, Lance Henriksen, Joe Don Baker, Ashley (Hellraiser) Lawrence, Charles (Supervixens) Napier: truly a cult cast to die for, in this thriller where Combs is a cameraman who films Warner’s gang killing a SWAT team. As a result, everyone wants the video. Though double-crosses abound in this standard fare, the pedestrian action and plot are saved by the aforementioned actors who show why they are in the Hall of Fame: Joe Don Baker just sneaks the honours, as a CIA agent — or is he? Whoever was casting this deserves far more credit than the director. C+

Une Femme Francaise (Regis Warnier) – Staggeringly dull French film, which even actors of the calibre of Daniel Auteiul and Emmanuelle Beart fail to make even remotely interesting. Wartime soap-opera stuff, with Beart as a woman whose husband (Auteiul) returns from the war to discover her infidelities. Tedious beyond belief, I found myself reaching for the fast-forward in the hope of finding a) anything interesting or b) whatever provoked the ’18’ certificate. I failed. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a movie that failed to justify its existence so completely. Such is the life of a reviewer; we suffer so that you don’t have to. Many more turkeys like this and Beart is in danger of disappearing up her own art-house. E

Ferocious Female Freedom Fighters 1+2 (Jopi Burnama + Arizal) – This pair of Indonesian movies, catchily retitled by Troma, star the very lovely Eva Arnaz, and TC fave Barry Prima, last seen battling killer shrubbery in Special Silencers (TC 10). Only the first even partly lives up to its title, as a gang of women forced into prostitution fight against their captors with some of the worst kung-fu I’ve seen (Moon Lee will not be losing sleep), and also one of the most gratuitous mud-wrestling bouts. The second is bizarre: part melodramatic love story between Prima and Arnaz, part occult horror, part kung-fu, and Arnaz’s grip on the action (or at least, her stunt double’s) is notably better, which just gives it the edge. Prima is his usual square-jawed and heroic self, while Arnaz looks decorative and emotes a lot. Dumb trash, not without its charm. C- and C

The Frighteners (Peter Jackson) – Meatier than your average Hollywood FX-fest i.e. it actually has a plot, yet something of a disappointment as Peter Jackson movies go. Reminiscent of Mr. Vampire 3 (exorcist teams up with ghosts to make money, only to find himself facing a seriously peeved spectre), it lacks the strong, memorable characters which made his other films such classics. Michael J. Fox is almost forgettable as the exorcist and the superfluous heroine is severely underwritten; only Jeffrey Combsè saves the day on the acting front, playing an utterly mad FBI agent. The effects work well and the New Zealand locations are excellent, but it has a mildness (’15’ rating!) that’s a bit worrying, even if there have been far worse Hollywood debuts. Note: it’s his third consecutive film with a domineering mother. Tell us more about your childhood, Mr. Jackson… C-

Grosse Pointe Blank (George Armitage) – John Cusack makes the transition to action hero in this unlikely but likeable tale of a hitman who returns for his high-school reunion, only to find he’s the sanest man there. The action and comedy elements are great: good to see Benny Urquidez again, and Dan Ackroyd is excellent as a rival killer. However, Minnie Driver, as Cusack’s old flame, seems to have wandered in from a Nora Ephron movie; maybe she’s supposed to be the ‘straight man’, but the overall effect is more to deaden and slow the pace and a better (albeit incestuous) match would be sister Joan, who plays his wonderfully kooky secretary. An amazing gun-battle wraps things up admirably though, and the end result is slick and fun. B+

Howard the Duck (Willard Huyck) – Slagged off last time, Miles Wood insisted I re-view it: “it is a terrific movie”, he said, “you owe it to yourself and to Howard to give it a measly two hours of your life”. So I did. And? It still hasn’t a clue what it’s supposed to be: if it’s a comedy, it ain’t funny, despite leaving no “duck” pun un-utilised. Lea Thomson asking “Can I find happiness in the animal kingdom?” is satisfactorily perverse, and the hyper-extended, excessive climax almost makes the effort worthwhile. However, the novelty of a kid in a feather suit soon wears off, and Howard comes across as just plain unpleasant. Perhaps that explains the original title: ‘A New Breed of Hero’ means one you don’t like very much. What are people like Thomas Dolby and Tim Robbins doing in this? [save inane mugging in the latter’s case] Divide by the budget and you certainly have a viable contender for Worst Movie Ever, on a per-dollar basis. Sorry, Miles! E+

The Jerky Boys (Scott Melkonian) – Looks like a possible influence on Beavis and Butthead Do America, with two foul-mouthed layabouts getting mistaken for mob hitmen, after which things then spiral out of control. The main difference is that Johnny Brennan and Kamal Ahmed (noted American phone pranksters, as yet almost unknown here) are smart rather than dumb, constantly outwitting the gangsters led by Alan Arkin. Though I suspect it’d be funnier if you’re familiar with the New York borough of Queens, the Jerkys are nice characters, and there are a quite adequate number of laughs. Nice to see James Lorinz, of Frankenhooker – and interviewed way back in TC 6 – is still alive, playing a much put-upon associate. C-

Killer: A Journal of Murder (Tim Metcalfe) – James Woods playing convicted serial killer Carl Panzram may not be particularly subtle casting. But who can really complain? Woods, as usual, is excellent, overshadowing Robert Sean Leonard as the prison guard who uses a diary to try and understand what’s going on in the murderer’s head. The major flaw is that once the central concept (“Society’s to blame”) is made apparent, it is rammed home for the next hour or so without significant variation. It might have been more interesting to have made the guard question Panzram about taking responsibility for his actions – instead, there’s nothing here that will challenge anyone’s views to a significant degree. D+

The Natural (Barry Levinson) – On one level, this is your usual shallow baseball film: team of no-hopers fight for the championship. Yet there is rather more to it than this, from the moment when Robert Redford’s farmhand easily strikes out the era’s biggest superstar to win a bet, it’s clear that something special is happening. Even a somewhat curious shooting incident only delays the inevitable by a decade or two before this amazingly gifted “middle-aged rookie” hits the major leagues, an almost mythic figure in status, with a bat hewn from a tree struck by lightning as his Excalibur. This is the stuff of legend, and an excellent supporting cast (Glenn Close plays the Guinevere role, plus you’ve got Joe Don Baker and Michael Madsen in small parts) make it rewarding, probably even for non-fans. B-

Nick of Time (John Badham) – Why this went straight to video here, when so much dreck gets a cinema release, is a mystery; it’s a perfectly solid thriller featuring Johnny Depp and Christopher Walken. The former has his child kidnapped by the latter, who gives him 90 minutes to kill the governor of California, or his brat gets it. Aside from the fact that the kid is no nauseating, you pray for her demise, this works well, propelled by the effective idea of unfolding the film in real time. Badham is a past master at this sort of thing, and delivers tension by the spadeful, with Walken outstanding as ever. Implausible as hell, yet if you can accept the central premise, the rest runs like a Swiss watch. B+

A Nymphoid Barbarian in Dinosaur Hell (Brett Piper) – Odds on that being the title before Troma got to it: slim. Post-apocalyptic prehistory, with the heroine fighting off mutants and dinosaurs, while trying to keep her top on — though the cover art bimbo is rather more impressive than the reality there. If you’re a fan of stop motion animation, this will be right up your street, with a lot of surprisingly decent (given the budget) work on view. However, the rest of the movie isn’t as engaging or appealing, and unless you have a keen interest in the works of Ray Harryhausen and his like, there are better post-apocalypse movies to be found. D

Once Upon a Time in China and America (Samo Hung) – Jet Li returns as hero Wong Fei Hung, only this time in the US, defending Chinese miners from small-town bigotry. Lighter in tone than the original, it really tries to cram in too much: there’s a sub-plot involving Indians (who switch between English and their native tongue semi-randomly!) that just peters out half-way. There’s also every cliché under the sun, which may or may not be sly parody. Oh yeah, and a great deal of fighting — it’s a surprise this hasn’t been done before, seems like an ideal combination, even if the result is bordering on a dog’s dinner. C+

Paganini (Klaus Kinski) – This is vanity film-making at its most excessive, with cinematic wildman Kinski writing, directing and employing his relations in this tale of a tortured artistic genius bonking his way round Europe; I imagine any similarity to Klaus is purely deliberate. Much of this is completely laughable – Paganini’s music apparently made women instantly go all squishy, and even starts horses shagging, in a scene reminiscent of Borowczyk’s La Bete – yet Kinski has the charisma to (barely) pull it off, assisted by some of the most berserk violin-playing you are ever likely to hear. I’m left wondering why anyone would give out money for this project but, let’s face it, would you be brave enough to turn the man down? C

The Prophecy (Gregory Widen) – Another entry in the “religious apocalypse” genre (see Armageddon above), Christopher Walken (again!) plays rebellious archangel Gabriel like a mobster, as he hunts the blackest soul in the world. Only people between him and it are a good angel (Eric Stolz) and a priest who lost his faith and became a cop instead. Gothic horror-fantasy, effectively driven by Widen, that uses FX sparingly on the whole, leaving Stolz and Walken room to act. After this, the finale is something of a disappointment, with dodgy optical work (Widen wrote Highlander, which had the same problem), though Viggo Mortensen as Lucifer almost steals the film. I suspect we might get more of this sort of thing as the millennium approaches… B- [Indeed, there is also in existence ‘Prophecy II’, which certainly comes into the category of “more of this sort of thing”. Sadly though, in this case more is less, and even the return of Christopher Walken can’t manage to save a very tired looking sequel, possessing little or none of the innovatively creepy stuff which characterised the first film. The Devil may have all the best tunes, but he also has some rather poor movies…]

The Razor (Misumi Kenji) – Seriously tacky Japanese film, from much the same team as Lone Wolf and Cub. The hero is a renegade cop, macho beyond belief, who interrogates women by bonking them into submission, having honed his technique on sacks of rice (and a training regime which adds a whole new dimension to ‘beating your meat’). After finding a conspiracy to cover up some high-level goings-on, he comes under pressure to drop the case. Three guesses whether he does. Body fluids everywhere and a script full of double-meanings, are wrecked by a tendency to go on and on, plus the deeply incongruous 70’s soundtrack (19, rather than 1770’s). A Shogun Assassin style edit of two or three entries in the series would be an improvement, and conceivably an undoubted trash classic. C-

The Relic (Peter Hyams) – In these post-Jurassic Park days, monster movies have changed. It is no longer acceptable to hide them in the dark, the odd claw peeping out, they have to be in your face. And, Mr. Hyams please note, in daylight, too — never has a film looked so murky. With a heroine who is self-centred and whiny, my sympathies were with the monster; some Amazonian DNA-fungoid-mutant-lizard-human, though its origins were obscured by copious technobabble, Rather gory for a ’15’, with a great decapitation, it is a stream of missed opportunities. When the monster finally lumbers into plain sight, it’s quite, quite lovely — you just wish it had appeared 90 minutes earlier. D-

Return of the God of Gamblers (Wong Jing) – A long time after the original, and choosing to ignore completely the Chow Yun Fat-less pseudo-sequels, this was a huge hit in Hong Kong, becoming the first movie ever to gross HK$50m. Despite this, it’s a strangely flat kind of film, which is simply just not as good as the original — for example, in it, the humour seemed to flow naturally from the characters, but in ‘Return’, it all seems forced in there, with some parts feeling like discards from a Steven Chow movie. It doesn’t take itself seriously, which leaves the dramatic elements flailing around aimlessly, especially a villain whose sheer evilness goes beyond caricature, and that’s before he kills Chow’s wife and unborn son. Speaking of Chow, he is, of course, charismatic and powerful as ever, yet even he ends up strangely unmemorable — there are hardly any moments which will stay with you once the movie has ended. C-

The Silencers (Richard Pepin) – An interesting counterpoint to what might be seen as the cynical pro-Conspiracy propaganda of Men in Black (“the MiB are your friends!”). Here they are the advance guard of an alien invasion, while a Secret Service agent and a dude from the Pleiades try and stop them. Owing quite a bit to The Hidden, though the heroes here lack the same chemistry as McLachlan and Nouri had there, The Silencers tries to make up for this deficiency with nifty whizz-bang action scenes — it’s 45 minutes before any significant plot turns up. The pyrotechnics are cool, but the stuff between them is facile and banal. At least you know you’re no more than ten minutes from another car flying through the air. C+

Swallowtail Butterfly (Iwai Shunji) – This Japanese movie is all over the place in genre terms, combining drama, blood-spattered action, comedy and musical numbers – if the end result is some way short of perfect, it’s always interesting to watch. The setting is the underbelly of Tokyo’s sprawl, peopled by gangsters, junkies, whores and migrant workers; a group of the last-named stumble onto a tape of computer data, and use it to forge money. Lots of money. Needless to say, the Yakuza owners are keen to get the tape back: cue mayhem (the fire-fight in a car is particularly impressive), intrigue, and a grunge version of ‘My Way’. While it’s at least half an hour too long, and sags badly in the middle, it’s buoyed up by a host of great characters, and is a glimpse into a part of Japanese culture that is rarely seen. B

Teenage Catgirls in Heat (Scott Perry) – Another Troma contender for Inspired Title of the Year, possibly too inspired, as it’d be hard for any movie to live up to it. This is basically a micro-budget comedy slant on Cat People, with an ancient Egyptian cat-goddess coming back and turning the local girls into cats (or was it the local cats into girls?). It reminded me of Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, with worse production values – difficult though that might be to believe – while the producers must have had the gift of the gab, going by the number of women they talked into taking their tops off. I have to admit I did laugh out loud on a few occasions, though it won’t be replacing the Kinski flick in my affections, I was amused enough. C+

Underworld (Roger Christian) – One of the better Tarantino ripoffs, it clearly helps a lot to have someone like Dennis Leary mouthing your “amusing” dialogue, since he actually makes it funny. He is in full-on wacko mode, a psychotic psychotherapist (he got the degree in jail) now out to find and eliminate all those who put his Pop in intensive care, while dragging Joe Mantegna with him round a city virtually devoid of other life. Oh, and he sings selections from the work of Rogers and Hammerstein while he’s at it. Compared to him, every else in the movie seems to be operating at half-power, and while undeniably loopy, you can’t help liking his character. It all takes place over the course of a single night and thanks largely to Leary, comes over as an elegant, compact item. B

Wax Mask (Sergio Stivaletti) – Despite the limited resources, this is entirely acceptable as cheerful tack. Originally intended for Lucio Fulci, Stivaletti makes a decent fist of this remake, but ultimately falls down because he doesn’t bring anything much new to the old “waxworks using real people” story. Its looks do belie the $1.25m budget though, with the sets especially worthy of mention, and there are a few decent babes too, so it’s never tedious. However, it is hard to distinguish the actors from the waxworks, and ripping off the climax from Terminator probably wasn’t a wise move. C-

Wing Chun (Yuen Wo Ping) – A neo-feminist kung-fu flick? For here we have two sisters, neither much in demand by the local men — at least, not until they rescue a beautiful widow from bandits, and give her a home. The movie then teeters between bedroom farce, OTT kick-ass action, and something disturbingly close to a lesbian sub-plot for the rest of the way. Even if the action is too “fly by wire” for my taste, it somehow works: recent Bond girl Michelle Khan (no, hang on, if it’s Tuesday, it must be Michelle Yeoh) is perhaps the only female action star who could be mistaken for a man, as required here. It’s also nice to see Donnie Yen back, and the overall package is highly entertaining. B-

Trash TV #2: In Bed With Callisto

The Supplemental Delights of ‘Xena: Warrior Princess’

Back in the mid-80’s, there was a distinct sub-genre of films known as “barbarian bimbo”. These had titles like Warrior Queen and starred Sybil Danning, Lana Clarkson or some similarly formidable creature, who looked good wielding an F-sized sword. Watching Xena – Warrior Princess brings it flooding back: dodgy accents, small outfits pretending to be armour, and everything else that will warm the heart of a true fan of televisual tack.

Played by the delightfully named Lucy Lawless, Xena began as a spin-off from Sam Raimi’s TV show Hercules. Originally a minor character therein, Xena proved popular enough to merit her own show, also set in the nebulous time and space known as “Ancient Greece” (for which, 1990’s New Zealand is apparently a suitable stand-in). Starting off as a bad girl – in black armour, naturally – leading a horde of bandits, Xena switched to the side of good after rescuing a baby, of necessity swapping to a lighter shade of costume too.

In her own show, she acquired the traditional accessory of heroes: a perky, annoying sidekick, as personified by Monique Gabrielle in Deathstalker II. And, hey, Xena’s sidekick is called Gabrielle! A subtle in-joke? Could be: as a Sam Raimi production, anything’s possible. As far as influences go, they willingly admit HK movies, with Bridgette Bride With White Hair Lin a particular source of inspiration for Xena. Her every facet seems cunningly crafted to provoke awe. Hell, this woman had a spring-loaded cleavage dagger, and when she squeezed her (A-grade) mounds together, it shot out, oh, yessss… Rumours, sadly unfounded, abound of Lawless’s secret past as a porn star.

One interesting sidelight is the alleged subtext. Xena is a dyke icon, remarkably good taste on the part of the lesbian community, compared to their usual choices, such as Jodie Foster, and much panting goes on over the Xena/Gabby relationship, encouraged by unsubtle innuendo from the makers. However, it mostly relies on “meaningful glances”, and much as I enjoy a spot of hot all-girl action, I’m more inclined to point out one eyebrow-raising thing about ‘Hercules’: the quantity of young guys in skimpy leather outfits, hanging round the plot for no readily apparent reason.

Far better, of course, to have young women in skimpy leather outfits, and on her own, Lucy Lawless would be enough. Yet she is not the top-rated beauty on the show…

“Love is just a trick nature plays to get us to reproduce. I want no part of it”.

Every good show needs a good villain: Batman had the Joker, ST:TNG had the Borg, and Xena has Callisto. One of the strengths of Xena: Warrior Princess is its ability to get good performances from unknowns. Lucy Lawless had done little of note before, and the same applies to Hudson Leick (“like”), who plays Callisto: despite a minimal resume, she creates perhaps the most memorably evil TV creation of the 1990’s.

Her history dates back quite a while, to when Xena was still a bad girl herself. Her army rampaged through Callisto’s village, and while Xena’s rules were strictly Leon-esque i.e. “no women, no kids”, Callisto’s family were burnt alive. After growing up, Callisto dedicated her life to Xena’s extermination: starting with her reputation, moving on to her friends, and only then killing the warrior princess herself.

Callisto has even had a sword to Xena’s throat, and let her go, since she wants first to utterly destroy all Xena loves. Not the least of which is Gabrielle… Without wishing to give away too much plot, in the second series Callisto succeeds in changing the pacifistic Gabrielle into a revenge-driven harpy of rage. This feat forever endeared her to those of us who share Callisto’s opinion of Xena’s sidekick as an “irritating blonde”.

Such devotion to duty helps explain Callisto’s appeal — apart from the fact that Leick is a total babe! With cheekbones so sharp you could use them to cut glass, the blonde badness of Callisto does the unthinkable, and makes Xena look dowdy in comparison. Leick’s slimness is also the subject of some bitching, especially from fans of the relatively chubby Xena: but, hey, ‘Callisto: Warrior Anorexic’ has a nice feel to it.

They say the devil has all the best tunes, and in this show, she also get most of the best lines, as Callisto delights in playing mind-games with Xena, smearing her with bloody memories from the past. The quote above is an example of her philosophy, though it sadly puts paid to idle subtext-esque fantasies of Xena and Callisto, and never mind Xena and Gabrielle! But Leick doesn’t even need spectacularly excessive dialogue (“You created a monster with integrity, Xena — scary isn’t it?”), not when she can load up an innocent line like ‘Here comes trouble!’ with a deadly, insane edge, and make it ring like chipped crystal.

After one episode in the first series, it was no surprise to anyone when Leick was invited back for more in the second. And such was her success that not even death, smothered in quicksand, could stop her. She moved across to ‘Hercules’ and traded with Zeus’s wife Hera, agreeing to kill Hercules in exchange for life. Needless to say, she didn’t quite manage her side of the deal, but… Callisto is now godlike in the strictest sense, having eaten ambrosia — no, not the rice pudding, the food of the gods. As far as Xena is concerned, the phrase “Here comes trouble!” leaps to mind once more, with regard to the upcoming third season…

Despite her success, it seems unlikely that we will see Callisto in her own show. American TV is not ready for an evil heroine, and somehow the prospect of Callisto turning good like Xena has little appeal. Though this has been kinda seen already: after Lucy Lawless broke her pelvis in an accident with a horse, the makers used a range of tricks to finish filming — one of which was “Xena taking over Callisto’s body”. The result was… well, it’s an interesting place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there. Instead, to see Callisto in full evil flow is a wondrous experience: truly nothing succeeds like excess.

Some reckon the camera should merely spend 50 minutes panning smoothly up and down the firm, lithe bodies of Callisto and Xena, without unnecessary plot interference. Yet the makers insist on inserting stories and, worse still, making them imaginative and inventive. It’d be easy for the series to degenerate into a repetitive saga of “Kill the baddies, save the village”; that it doesn’t is a pleasant shock, even if it’s by wholesale plundering outside the Greek mythos, including Charles Dickens and Indiana Jones.

The characters, too, are often unexpected: Charon, ferryman of the dead, as a stand-up comic, or Sam Raimi’s brother Ted as an ineffectual wimp, and Bruce Campbell turns up as Autolycus, the king of thieves. But it’s Lawless herself who’s the biggest revelation, bringing a surprising amount of depth and colour to a role that could also have slid into the banal and cliched. In the episode Warrior… Princess… Tramp, she plays three totally different characters, and they are all perfectly believable. About the only weak link is Renee O’Connor; her attempts to bring variety to Gabrielle’s character are usually squirm-inducingly bad, and stand out all the more because virtually everyone else in the series is so good in their roles.

Oops. This sort of thing can happen to anyone. No, it’s not another “frankie”, this is the genuine article: Lucy was singing the National Anthem at an ice-hockey play-off match, and got a little, er, over-enthusiastic for her costume. That sound you hear is a million VCRs going “whirr” to preserve the moment for posterity! [2021 update: After her role in Spartacus, this seems rather redundant…]

Xena has succeeded where other female action heroines have been critical and commercial failures: Lori Petty, Pamela Anderson, etc. Before Xena, you have to go back to ‘Aliens’ for a kick-ass babe who made such an impact. And Sigourney didn’t have pop-up breasts. It’s become the biggest syndicated show in America, providing something for everyone: women can appreciate the strong female characters, men can appreciate the, er, strong females. It’s no surprise that it’s one of C5’s top ten rated shows — though, let’s face it, anything with an audience in double figures would probably qualify there…

Stitched Up

Pre-face… It suddenly occurred to me, as many things spuriously do, that I have a reputation to live up to. At least, a meagre one within the bounds of Trash City – let’s say the McLennan crowned King of High Weirdness.

Nominally, I don’t consider my exploits or persona weird in any way. True, at times, I remark on “how strange” recent events have been (1992-1997), or how “that person in the shop gave me a disturbed look as I walked past”. All things being relative, I think just about every other living being I chance upon is distinctly weird, a minor tremor of disconcerting reaction quivering through my mental ionosphere. I rarely analyse the circumstances I exist in, or the body blows and seductive caresses destiny deals me. I live pretty much from day to day, pausing only to discern some discernible linear structure in my world. This may be, of course, by examining a map, or taking a rough guess at which phase of the moon I’m in. Obviously, then I have to wait for nightfall to challenge my earlier celestial presumption. Usually, I am completely wrong, and if you were to see my glimmering face in the solar-neon-wash bouncing off a lurid full moon, you might think “Now there’s a man who looks confused”, expecting, as I was, to be staring heavenward at a pretty innocuous ‘first quarter’.

On to the chosen title of my latest piece. Luckily, for you, and for my organic psychosis, the previously mooted verbiage on Vomiting was never, well, spewed up. It could have been good, but we’ll never get to digest it.

‘Stitched Up’ is a passionate account of a sometime deranged flatmate, hospital insanity, film making, red-red kroovy and pigs trotters.

IN A CRAMPED STUDIO ROOM

Barnes north, suggesting itself to be a film crew, were four horrendously tired people. A camera lent crazily on insecure legs, teetering as we did, pointing in all directions, trying to follow just one. Midnight had slunk past like a junkie cat at the end of a fishing line, and everyone felt envious of the imagined sleeping masses around. The final shot in the short film – admittedly at my behest – was an explosion. I admit under questioning that I have a penchant for things that destruct amid brimstone and fire. For your benefit, I have included a copy of the storyboard in question [see fig. EXPLO #1. Minds are turning now, I feel your outcast mental processes shuddering – drug damaged neurons plaintively trying to connect with others – but there are no others! But one, lone neuron! Sorry, reading the psychiatrists report. You sick little monkeys – yes! Yes, I was injured! Wait, you gore fiends!]

That sketchy hand – my hand! It was my hand! That speaker? Fabricated, as was my future ‘reason for injury’ tale to interested parties. Even though it’s 2:29am, I am in a generous mood. I will provide a diagrammatic representation of the explosive used. I like to taste fear in my mouth, but not to have it piss down my throat. Therefore, I took safety precautions…….

  1. Crash Helmet! Good for deflecting flaming pieces of debris!
  2. Cardboard taped around waist. You never know!
  3. Bollock guard. Stuff me full of grapes, I forgot to bring one.

Spend two hours carefully placing the charge on a carefully angled metal plate, and very carefully placing both into a carefully constructed cavity. Carefully drill out sections of the wood sides of the speaker which aren’t in camera view, so as to hopefully manipulate the explosive force. Which will blow out the carefully positioned speaker cone, of course being held back at a distance of 0.14 inches by a carefully secured tension wire. The carefully weighted structure will ensure the desired energy transference, and a spectacular visual effect! Lovely!

Hmmmm! I smile when I think back. How cunning my plan was. How exacting my devious construction. How fucking perfectly it would all go. With the camera assistant crouched fearfully behind a bunch of boxes (“Don’t like loud bangs”), and the camera operator crouched fearfully behind that teetering camera, me stood bravely and without an ounce of pussy-whipped fear in his body before the awesome danger (alright, I was a little anxious) – Sarah, my sometime wild flatmate and director of said film, pushed the button.

At this juncture, it might be useful to tell you what that button was. Operating instructions on the explosive charge mention something about a pissing NINE VOLTS. I laughed with righteous scorn. Toys take 9 volts. Safety devices take nine volts. A glorious moment was not going to be born to a stubby-chunk of over-priced electro chemicals. No. I jacked the whole contraption straight into the mains. “There we go”, I grinned. “That will light a fire under it’s arse”.

Later, in hospital, I learned of regret. Two hours into NHS purgatory and mental insanity, I learned of hell. Charing Cross Hospital is a Mecca to the deranged. A terminally drunken, stinking woman in a wheelchair constantly shouting “Excuse me! excuse me!” to anyone that came near her, then “Where am I? What time is it?” OK, you take pity, you tell her what’s what. Not after two hours of the same monologue. You want to introduce her to a Remington 10 Gauge. Men walking into walls. Combat trained ants. Nodding cameras when you proffer your wound to its roving lens. Psychos. Crazies. The wounded, the dying. Sure, just like any New Cross pub – but when you’re in pain, sadistically denied any painkillers, blatant NHS travesties. One of many. At 2:30am, 2 hours after I had first limped thorough the foreboding doors, a meek and apologetic nurse emerged from the bowels of the protoplasmic hospital. “I’m very sorry, but we only have one doctor on at the moment. You’ll probably have to wait another two hours.” Spittle flecked my lips, but I was too tired for remonstration.

I went home. To nurse my sorrows and blast damaged arm. Familiar surroundings brought me to my senses. The next day, I found myself in St. Thomas’. Ah, yes. The sanctuary of a world famous hospital. As I checked in, at the incongruous reception for A&E, the outside doors nearby burst open and a stretcher was thrust in, hurried along by ambulance personnel and a few policemen, carrion like. The man on it didn’t look so good. In fact, somebody was heaving up and down frantically on his chest. For a fleeting second, I thought I was watching a staged theatrical version of Casualty. He disappeared with attendants through to the emergency ward. Minutes later, I laid eyes upon several despondent solemn faces as they emerged; another tragic loss. I had witnessed my first clinical death. The reality of the scene I had experienced hit home. With a lurching stomach, clutching at re-awakened mortality, I headed into the casualty to have my hand stitched up.

In a small cubicle. A small trolley laden with a practitioner’s tools was wheeled in by a disarmingly charming female doctor. I felt better already. “So, ” I started, “is it true you practice stitching on pigs skin?” She faltered for a moment, needle and local anaesthetic in hand, then replied “Yes. Well, on pig’s trotters actually.” She leant forward. “Sorry, but I have to inject this into the actual wound.” The length of steel ebbed into raw, open flesh. Hmmm. Fluid and blood leaked out like forced tears. Pain flooded into my cerebellum. Think of the pig, Andy, I reminded myself: Bacon, pork and post-mortem stitching practice. Some afterlife. Later, I carried myself home on the No. 88 to Clapham, nursing small plastic strands poking out from my hand. A small sacrifice for one’s art I believed, as I keyed my front door, and headed for the bed once more.

Wounds happen like chance meetings with disastrous consequences. Foolishly, I ratified the fact in my brain that this was the year’s quota of knotting together accidentally separated flesh. I can laugh now. How I can laugh. Not for the first time in my life, I was gravely mistaken. Playing with fire has always been my downfall – a spiritual hazard – my mind wanders back in time……..

A NIGHTCLUB! FREE VODKA! FREE BEER!

Am I dreaming some imagined paradise? No! It was real! A record label party. New toons, new faces. Acclimatise, listen without prejudice, fight the seething mass for another double Vodka. The top level of the Subterranea warms my soul, engages my emotive spirit. To drink, to forget, to enjoy, to have a bloody good time at someone else’s expense.

A certain tome by Milton ebbs into my consciousness. Sarah, sometime wild flatmate, something to do with that fire hazard I was talking about, was conspicuously drunk. Leaning strangely against the balcony railing, having left my misappropriated chatting up of a Chinese girl (boyfriend was there too – but, honestly, I didn’t mean anything – blah, blah, blah).

Suddenly, afore-mentioned flatmate cries my name; it registers in the dim void that is my consciousness Aaaa….. nnnnn…. dddd….. eeeee! The noise is lost in the inner tumult that is vodka drenched brain cells. She leaps on me. From behind. Charmed, I’m sure. My legs buckle, you can guess the rest. The scene, the moment of utter embarrassment, pain and loss of dignity – oh, how cruelly it is etched on my mind. The first points of contact with the floor, in order of descent: (a) chin (b) elbow (c) knee. None survived. My chin split open like (I want to say “ripe melon”, but besides being cliched, I have never imagined my chin as a large fruit) – like a rabbit’s side being hit by a Ford Granada doing 40 mph (how’s that?). I lay, dazed and confused, blood leaking around. Pain. Lots of pain. Staring at me was, amongst other people the manager of the record label who I had been talking to not 30 minutes earlier. I struggled to my feet, heavily concussed. I can’t remember the exact phrase hurled at Sarah, but she hurried off. I couldn’t see the wound, obviously. Hey, I’m a big man. Didn’t feel that bad.

The stares of horror I was getting seemed to contradict my diagnosis. I wobbled to the bar. The manager was concerned. The barman was concerned. “Christ, that’s really bad.” Shit. “Do you want a drink?” Yeah. Yeah, there’s a good idea. Goo dripped from my head. I knew what it must feel like to be hit by Tyson. Commiserations to the loser. “Vodka. Big vodka”. More vodka. The club manager had now appeared on the scene. Oh-my-God. The evening had turned well and truly sour. A medi-kit appeared, and I was ushered – supported – into the toilets. There, through an endorphin haze, I saw what had once been my chin. A fleshy, split beaver of a chin (well, it had to come, didn’t it?). I felt sick. A huge dressing was taped over. Thanking everyone, as you do, I had to make my way through the entire crowd, to the awaiting taxi.

Sarah came with me. Guess where we were going? Paddington Hospital. Enter. Triage nurse. Classification of injury. Sit down. Wait your turn. I knew the procedure. Meek, drunken apologies from my flatmate. Hmmm. Now, as you might be thinking, the madness must be coming to an end. Ha. Ha. Ha. Sitting to my left was Methadone Man. Junkie Man. Crazy fucking man.

“Alright mate. How did you get that?” I duly explained. “What are you in for, man?” I quizzed. He grinned and peeled back a suspicious dressing on his lower leg. I saw a festering hole in the muscle. “Heroin, man. Inject it, but can’t use any of the veins in my arms, or neck, ‘cos they’ve all collapsed….” – my stomach flipped – “so began injecting my cock.” What do you say? I merely nodded. “But that’s all fucked up, so I started on my leg. But as you can see……”. Jesus Christ. This is what they didn’t show you in ‘Trainspotting’. We chatted. Compared veins. That sort of thing. Still drunk, I found solace in personal amusement – as you have to. Even when he plopped a copy of The Guardian on my lap. A bleeding heart Liberal, eh? Underneath he told me, was a present. I looked. “100mg. of Methadone. Pharmaceutical. Don’t give it to your friend, because she’s drunk.” I didn’t understand. “Man, if she takes this when she’s drunk, she’ll die.” I clearly relived that scene from Pulp Fiction, and made a note absolutely not to give her any. Ever. “Ur, thanks.” I replied. “Something for a rainy day”, he grinned. “Great!”, I concluded.

Finally, I was in the work room. That room – with the stretcher, the overhead light rig, the surgeons tools. And with the gorgeous doctor. It works. It really works; the pain vanished before feminine radiance. I lay down. Putty. She placed one of those green surgical numbers on me. But over my head, with my mashed chin poking through a small rectangle! This is fucking ridiculous, I thought. “How did you get that?” she chirped. “Ah, urm, well, I was at this nightclub, and, well, free Vodka, and the girl I was with, well, she leapt on me, and, well, yeah, this is what happened.” We laughed together, until she jammed a thin bit of steel into my flesh. The smile vanished. 7 stitches later, I was uncovered like a medical display, fiddled with my new plastic stubble, and headed out into the night. I can shave properly now, just a small lump to remind me of that grim evening. But further bad karma-sutres lie ahead, I’m sure…

[Please, do not try and re-create any of these stunts at home, dear readers.
Remember, Andy Collins is a trained professional…
]

High weirdness by Mail

Tim Greaves, Eastleigh — “One major league disappointment, however. Where was the “frankie” of Gillian Anderson? I mean, the Phoebe Cates one was very nice, and quite by chance I’d seen the one of Meg Ryan that you referred to (some guy at work was showing a colour print-out of it round a couple of weeks ago, convinced it was real…yeah, like she’d pose for something like that). But I wanted Gillian Anderson!…To ask me in the text if I “fancy Gillian Anderson sucking a rather large dick” (eliciting a scream from yours truly) and then not deliver the payload is just too damn cruel.”

TC’s printers are a tolerant lot, but I suspect even they might draw the line at graphic oral sex. I merely plead cowardice, having no desire to pen this edition from Wormwood Scrubs. However, I noted with some amusement that a few months after we brought the topic to your attention last issue, the Sunday Sport had a series of articles on the same topic – naturally saying how terrible it all was while providing lots of examples! But for the sake of Tim’s health, I should mention that they didn’t print the Gillian Anderson one either…

Claire Blamey, Great Yarmouth — “I am now working at the Citizens’ Advice Bureau, and at last have found somewhere that I can use the mine of useless information that is sloshing around in my grey matter. We have such intelligent queries to sort out e.g. “Where is the sea?” (this is mostly in the summer) — I say “Go to the window. See that wet patch with boats on it? There you go” — and the occasional “I want to sell my kidneys, do you know where I can go?”

I have also been trying to pass my motorcycle test – trying being the operative word:
    1) so nervous I couldn’t use the clutch properly
    2) the intercom they use didn’t work
    3) a car ran into me and I went bouncing down Norwich ring road at 40 mph
    4) the speedo cable came unstuck, so I had to guess how fast I was going. If I had stopped, I’d have failed for not having a roadworthy machine. I was failed for speeding
    5) the instructor’s bike broke down
    6) the instructor was taken ill and died of a heart attack later on
    7) I had flu and had to cancel

Then my licence ran out and I’ve got to wait a year before trying again. What annoys me is that I’m a really good biker and I see some appalling and dangerous people out on the roads who have got their licences.”

Claire, your problem is not that you’re too dangerous to be let loose; you’re just too unlucky. After the litany of woes above, who’d ever sell you any insurance?

Paul Burney, Prestwich — “Good to see Showgirls given a mention…any film which features Siouxsie and the Banshees, good choreography, Triumph bikes and produces a classy picture book can’t be all bad… Disappointed you didn’t mention its stars — or more importantly, feature any pics. Elizabeth Berkely (Nomi) appeared to take much of the flak – even her agent ditched her – but has managed to rebuild her career in The First Wives’ Club [Er, clearly a different definition of “rebuild” to mine!] Her new agent is the same one as Sandra Bullock; I think any chance of her co-starring in Speed 2 is just wishful thinking.”

Probably lucky for her given the box-office receipts. Bullock’s career is apparently riding the Winona-spiral down; maybe she could swap with Berkeley, and do Showgirls 2 instead?

Robin Bougie, Saskatchewan — “Normally, I hardly ever find anything you write that I disagree with, but this time I actually did…The third season of The X Files is the lamest one, not the best…in most episodes [it] works as the opposite of propaganda for the CIA + FBI. If anything, it shows how they’ll fuck you over and leave you dead in a ditch. That said, I don’t really like the show.

However, with one or two exceptions, little of the “fucking over” is done by the FBI, who seem to be presented mostly as guardians of truth, justice and the American way

Robin continues: ‘In defence of Showgirls‘ and the Barb Wire review reeked of “Look! I’m Jim McLennan! Look how different I am! I think the opposite of what everyone else thinks!” Both movies sucked shit. It’s okay to think Verhoeven is a maverick genius and still think ‘Showgirls’ blew, y’know. We don’t have to gobble up our idols’ faeces… Tell Rik his art is swell, but that girl’s hand on the cover is fucked…unless that’s supposed to be a grotesque mutated meat-hook on the end of her arm, and I’m missing the point.”

I had it down as a tribute to the “handgun” in Videodrome myself… As for Barb Wire and Showgirls, I genuinely enjoyed both. Deal with it. Robin does however win the award for ‘Best Decorated Envelope’, with the splendid illo reproduced on the previous page. Our postman hopes to come off Prozac soon.

Steve Midwinter, Scunthorpe — “…yep, I certainly did have some difficulty with the local police. In late October, the plain clothes police knocked on the door at this address, which is where I rent a room in a terraced house as my office. They had a warrant to search the premises and I was told to open the back door where there were more coppers waiting in case I did a runner! I was immediately arrested for ‘Obscene publications for publicational or financial gain’ and told to sit down while the 8 officers took my place apart. They basically cleared me out totally of stock, as well as my own mags, paperwork, computer, files, the lot. They wanted to search two locked rooms upstairs (my landlord’s bedroom and junkroom) but he was at work so they kicked the doors in (and found nothing, of course). I was then taken to my girlfriend’s flat which was also searched, and all my videos were taken from there… I was taken to the station, booked in, searched, and chucked in a cell, thankfully only for an hour before being interviewed (the usual stupid questions about snuff movies, stills from Cannibal Holocaust being real, selling video nasties, etc, etc). I was then released on bail until January 15th.

The good news is that when I answered bail, they said that they were not going to charge me, but that they wanted to keep some of the videos (titles from the banned list and hardcore porn) which I signed away. They also wanted some of the stuff they’d sent to London to be checked out by the Obscene Publications Squad which included: Darkside, Headpress, Divinity, Penthouse Comix, In the Flesh, Mondo Argento, Necronomicon Book, Killing for Culture, Uncut, Fatal Visions, Lord Horror and a load more [I’m disappointed not to make the list. Where did I put that pic of Gillian Anderson…?] I wouldn’t agree to that so they said that, if we couldn’t come to some agreement, it would have to go before a magistrate to decide, which I was quite happy to do. Finally, they let me have everything back except one copy of The Blackest Heart which had some stills from porn movies in showing erections, so I let them keep that. Apparently I was raided because some guy in Hampshire got the same treatment (he was selling banned videos) and they found a flyer at his home for Dark Carnival. They said it was a letter talking about videos, but I know that was a lie, [Lie? The police? No!!!] because I don’t know the guy and have never dealt with him before… And that’s the end of it apart from the fact that I’m seeing my solicitor about some sort of compensation, at least for the smashed door”. [Update: “needless to say, they won’t pay anything”…]

Nice to know crime is so rare that the cops can waste time fabricating charges against magazine distributors. I need hardly add that you should send off two quid for Steve’s (very impressive) catalogue; the man clearly deserves your support. The full story of how he “helped the police with their enquiries” may be found in #3 of ‘It’s Only a Movie’, also available from Steve. Details of both in the ‘zine section.

Mal Aitchison, Liverpool — “In ‘Against The X Files’, there was mention of the episode featuring a malevolent computer resembling a bad 60’s thriller. This is an outrageous, indefensible accusation. It’s quite blatantly a rip-off of a 1970’s episode of The New Avengers“.

I stand corrected – though at least it was deliberately stoopid. Oh, and if you wondered where Andy Collins had got to, after hijacking the letters column last time… See the next article.

Stoopid is, as stoopid does

“Psst, kid”: Don’t fall for cheap cig scam – UI student latest victim of con artist

A 20-year old University of Illinois student was the latest victim of what police believe to be a series of scams involving an attempt to buy cheap cigarettes.

The student told police Monday that he was approached three weeks ago by a man who offered to get cigarettes at $8 a carton and the student gave him $24 for three, according to a Champaign police report. They went to an apartment at Sixth and Healey, but the man never returned, the student said.

The student encountered the same man in a campus restaurant again on Wednesday, and the man claimed he returned but the student was gone, the report said. The man told the student he could get the money back from another person, and took him to an apartment in the 500 block of East Clark Street. The man came back from the apartment and said he needed $17, because all the other person had was a $50 bill. The student gave the man $18.

The man told the student he needed $20 more to make the correct change, so the student withdrew $20 from his bank account and gave it to the man. The man then said the person who had the student’s money was in jail and they could bail him out for $100. The student wrote a cheque for $40 and gave it to the man, according to the report.

The man again returned from the apartment, saying the bond had been raised to $200 and he needed $70 more. The student wrote another cheque for $70, cashed it and gave it to the man. The man said the other person had $300 in cash but needed $105 more, so the student wrote another cheque, cashed it and gave him $105, the report said.

The man asked if the student would like to make some money and the student agreed. The man and the student went to various stores, buying a radio and videocassette recorder and some groceries with cheques written by the student.

They then went to an apartment in north Champaign. The man told the student he would be right back with money for selling the radio and videocassette recorder, for more than the student had paid, but again he never returned.

The student waited a few hours and called police.

[News-Gazette, Champaign, Illinois]

The idiocy of certain members of the human race never fails to amaze. I know a guy, Kev, who staggered out of a casino in London, and was accosted by a stranger who offered to take him to a gambling joint, in exchange for a three-figure “deposit”. [You can see where this is leading, can’t you?] He took Kev through a maze of side-streets, and left him standing before a door, saying he’d go get the security key. Guess whether stranger, or deposit, were ever seen again…