Author: Justin LaLiberty

 

At about the midway point of Alan Moyle’s TIMES SQUARE (1980), we see our two leads – Pamela (Trini Alvarado) and Nicky(Robin Johnson) – dancing wildly to Talking Heads’ “Life During Wartime” on the sidewalks of the titular section of Manhattan. On their way, they pass marquees of the notorious 42nd street grindhouse cinemas, one offering Bruce Lee and the other offering HOUSE OF PSYCHOTIC WOMEN (1974). Upon passing the titles, the young women mimic martial arts moves and strangling motions, respectively, losing the already erratic rhythm they’ve established in the tracking shot thus far. TIMES SQUARE may not be about the neighborhood it is named after, but its structure, motivations and influences are as inspired by it as Pamela and Nicky are.

 

Peter Greenaway’s 1989 magnum opus of skin, excrement, violence and gallows humor opens with restaurateur Albert (Michael Gambon) smearing dog feces all over a young man that he then has stripped naked outside. Albert introduces his wife to the man, “This is my wife Georgina Spica, she’s got a heart of gold and a body to match” then himself, “I am Albert Spica and I have a heart of gold and a great deal of money to match” and then the victim “And you are Roy, who’s got absolutely nothing, except what you owe me. You are humiliated in front of a lady, you are humiliated in front of us”. At this point, Roy is naked and in a near fetal position on the ground under Albert to which he sets the tone for what is to follow in the next 120 minutes: “Now I’ve given you a good dinner, and you can have a nice drink” – he then unzips his pants and urinates all over Roy – “Now you behave yourself in the future and pay when I ask you or next time I’ll make you eat your own shit after forcing it through your dick like toothpaste”. End scene.

The 1980s are often considered to be a sort of ‘Golden Age’ for testosterone fueled action cinema, mostly manifested under the guise of some sort of jab at the violence perpetuated – and perhaps warranted – by the Reagan administration. Leading actors carrying guns of increasing size and power was a trend that could be traced back to 1971 thanks to DIRTY HARRY’s ever present .44 magnum which was “…the most powerful handgun in the world and would blow your head clean off…”. That film was acclaimed and accepted by the public but deemed fascist by major critics including Roger Ebert and Pauline Kael, which should come as no surprise to the screenwriter – self described “zen fascist”, admitted firearms diehard and oozing machismo – John Milus. Following DIRTY HARRY, the vigilante film would become increasingly financially viable and an integral part of Americana, both on and off screens. DEATH WISH (1974) and TAXI DRIVER (1976) opened only a couple of years apart and were both set in the modern day wasteland one was likely to see/visit, New York City. Violent crime across America was a problem and, as in accordance with COBRA’s (1986) advertising campaign, it needed a cure and the movies were going to give it one. Or at least die trying.

 

When I was growing up in the early 1990s, the sci-fi section of the video store was my second home. Most of the tapes that I took home were DTV dreck with glossy artwork and succinct, sensational quotes adorning the packaging. The majority of these were one-off titles that I would forget almost immediately after the end credits began, but I was working towards something bigger. There were two franchises that sounded very similar to my adolescent self. Both were tucked away close to the end of the alphabet but took up ample shelf space and I wanted them all: SCANNERS and TRANCERS.

 

The presence of the magician in cinema is about as old as the medium itself, and it should be of no surprise considering film’s inception and the many early figures that shaped its production and exhibition. Naturally, the b-movie purveyors, side show hucksters and run of the mill exploiters of the 40s through 70s saw plenty to capitalize on in regards to magic and those that performed such acts. Such films as the Tyrone Power film noir NIGHTMARE ALLEY (1947), the Vincent Price starring 3D horror shocker THE MAD MAGICIAN (1954) and Herschell Gordon Lewis’s blood soaked opus THE WIZARD OF GORE (1970) paved the way for the much more bombastic, big budgeted magic films of today like THE PRESTIGE (2006) and NOW YOU SEE ME (2013).

 

It’s the future (the film was made in 1990); the gangs are violent, the schools unsafe. The answer: robots. This may not be the succinct tagline that adorns the theatrical one-sheet for Mark L. Lester’s CLASS OF 1999—that would be the much more ambiguous “The ultimate teaching machine…out of control”—but it’s about all you need to make an educated (sorry) decision on whether or not you want to spend ninety-nine minutes of your life watching Lester’s pseudo-sequel to his seminal punks-on-film opus, CLASS OF 1984.

January 29, 2014 / / Main Slate Archive

 

Thanks in no small part to the vampire film resurgence of the early 1990s, with titles like BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (1992), INNOCENT BLOOD (1992), BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA (1992) and INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE (1994), 1995 saw the American release of no less than six movies with bloodsuckers front and center. Those six films wouldn’t all be confined to the horror genre and they would target surprisingly specific demographics from each other, the films are: DRACULA DEAD AND LOVING IT, EMBRACE OF THE VAMPIRE, BLOOD & DONUTS, VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN, NADJA and THE ADDICTION. Strangely enough, you could split them in half between either falling into a comedy or horror approach and you could also halve them based on one other trait: the latter three all take place in New York City.

January 24, 2014 / / Main Slate Archive

 

In the early 1970s, British horror studio juggernaut Hammer Films, found a need to re-invent itself. The days of traditional gothic horror sharing (or dominating) the contemporary marketplace for genre cinema had past. Though they would still release ‘safe’ vampire titles featuring their mainstay count, such as SCARS OF DRACULA (1971), DRACULA AD 1972 (1972) and THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA (1973), a new batch of films featuring eroticized female bloodsuckers would answer the new, decidedly more scandalous, demands of the growing audience of the genre. They would be known as The Karnstein Trilogy.

January 22, 2014 / / Main Slate Archive

 

For most filmmakers, starting a career with features titled 9 LIVES OF A WET PUSSY and THE DRILLER KILLER, would not lead to much – if any – mainstream success. Abel Ferrara may not be a director that has courted Hollywood acceptance but is one that found a way – unlike most of his down and dirty exploitation peers – to strike a balance between the grit of his earliest work and the commercial viability of the type of cynical, excessive genre cinema that would take off in the 1980s.

October 25, 2013 / / Main Slate Archive

 

When NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD was released in 1968, it was far from the first zombie picture. From the 1930s onward, zombies were a frequent – if not prominent – feature in horror cinema, starting with Bela Lugosi starring in WHITE ZOMBIE. But what George Romero would do with a little over $100,000 would practically undo everything that came before it and become the barometer of quality, financial success and fandom disputes for anything to follow.