Sunday, August 24, 2008

You'll Have To Wait Until Oct 28th For a Chainsaw Massacre

Pieces (1982) holds a very special place in the heart of just about everyone who grew up on the slasher films of the early 80s. A perennial favorite at the local Video Vault, it wasn’t unusual to find the space behind the ultra-lurid VHS box empty (“No, we’re not renting Splatter University instead – because it sucks, that’s why!”) It’s been years since I’ve sat down and watched the film from beginning to end, as it never got a proper US DVD release, and the import that I had picked up years ago had gone missing in the back of a closet. It was recovered during a recent fact finding expedition, but before I had the chance to give it a spin, I find this:


Featuring a pair of the best taglines in exploitation history, “You Don’t Have to go to Texas for a Chainsaw Massacre” and my personal favorite, “It’s Exactly What You Think It Is!”, Pieces quickly became infamous for its copious bloodletting and plentiful nudity – two items that the very film that it chose to rip-off had almost none of. After The Texas Chain Saw Massacre bowed in 1974, it became an overnight watermark for nearly all subsequent low-budget horror productions. Out massacring the Massacre became a decades-long game of one-upmanship in terms of gore, while none we able to recreate the palpable air of fear of Tobe Hooper’s masterpiece. Eventually they stopped trying.

Made with European money by a Spanish crew, Pieces dispensed with any semblance of serious minded horror in the attempt to stuff as much blood and boobs into 90min as humanly possible. It was the second to last film for star Christopher George (the actor died of a heart attack in 1983) and came at the end of an admirable string of grindhouse classics, including Lucio Fulci’s The Gates of Hell and William Girdler’s Grizzly, which used George’s square-jawed countenance to excellent effect. But the film’s most memorable performance comes from Paul L. Smith. The larger than life Smith (imagine Sydney Greenstreet with the face of Peter Lorre) was a very active genre player in the 70s and 80s, appearing as a heavy in projects as diverse as Robert Altman’s Popeye – you’ll never guess who he played! – and Alan Parker’s Midnight Express. In Pieces, Smith plays one of cinema’s most obvious red herrings; a school handyman if memory serves, who lurks around crime scenes smiling like a mental patient while lovingly caressing his chain saw.

A new interview with Smith is just one of the delights waiting inside Grindhouse’s 2 disc set, so I’ve decided to hold off on revisiting the picture until it streets in October.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Coming To You Straight From Maine...

Our friend Don May, Jr. (co-founder and president of one of the great independent DVD companies, Synapse Films) has just written a nifty piece for Fangoria following a visit to the set of Offspring, based on the book by Jack Ketchum. Ketchum’s Offspring is a brisk, genuinely unsettling horror yarn about a tribe of juvenile cannibals preying on some very unfortunate vacationers in a rural area of Maine. The book is actually a sequel to one of his earliest books, Off Season – a superior work, if only for having been written first.

Ketchum, an excellent writer with a fiercely original voice, hasn’t had terribly good luck with the film adaptations of his work. Red, despite a lead performance from the great Brian Cox, was beset by production difficulties resulting in the removal of director Lucky McKee, and there was probably no way for the adaptation of Ketchum’s greatest work, the shattering The Girl Next Door, to be anything more than a pale reflection of the source material and still be palatable enough for general release.

While watching the two year slide of Showtime’s Masters of Horror series from boisterous mediocrity to numbing unwatchability, we couldn’t help but think how perfect either Off Season or Offspring would have been to adapt to both an hour-long format (both are slim volumes and can be read in a single, white knuckle sitting). But Don's set visit makes us hopeful that we'll have a crakerjack feature to look forward to.

If you’re wondering why Offspring is being filmed first, you’ll have to check out the article, here.

n.b. - There are some pretty graphic makeup EFX pics that are probably not work-safe unless you have a private office or work at Fangoria.

Monday, August 11, 2008

You'll Always Be The Duke

Shockingly, Isaac Hayes died today in Memphis at age 65. I can’t honestly say that Hayes was one of those people that I ponder frequently, but his presence as an actor and musician is undeniable. His score for Shaft is beyond seminal – it immediately became musical shorthand for brash, in your face hipness, and for nearly 4 decades it has withstood even the clumsiest ironic usage. Say what you will, it’s as much a piece of Americana as anything by Cole Porter. Although Hayes appeared in less than a handful of Blacksploitation pictures as an actor, he provided the soundtrack that started it all; his presence is felt every time Fred Williamson lights up a cigar, each time Ron O’Neal kicks a crooked cop in the stones, and every time Samuel L Jackson tries to co-op their legacy.

Though Hayes will be irrevocably tied to a specific genre, he only appeared in two Blacksploitation films (both released in 1974), Tough Guys, an Italian-produced actioner that featured Hayes as an ex-cop set to bring down a Chicago mobster played with Fred Williamson, and the more polished Truck Turner, featuring Hayes and Yaphet Kotto as dueling hitmen. But Hayes’ appearance in features became strangely infrequent; in spite of a fabulous turn as the Duke in John Carpenter’s Escape from New York (“Yoooo’re the Duuuke”) and an hilarious image spoofing in I’m Gonna Get You Sucka – sometimes known by its alternate title, Keenen Ivory Wayans’ I’ll Never Make You Laugh Again – his film career seemed to mysteriously stall out There was always lots of television work, including several guest shots on The Rockford Files, and a recurring role on South Park, which Hayes probably never thought would end up as the most controversial of his career.

Hayes’ (a newly minted Scientologist) departure from the show came on the heels of the 2005 episode, Trapped in the Closet, featuring the animated adventures of Lord Xenu & Friends. Hayes, proving that a lack of humor is a common bond among all religious zealots, quit the show in a huff, and for the first time in his professional life, Isaac Hayes was decidedly uncool.
It's extra sad that such a great musician would end a career on a discordant note.

The above image is from the yet to be released Soul Brother and came from Hayes’ official website (which had not yet posted anything about his passing. It is, considering recent events, both eerie and amazingly sad.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Feel Lucky?

I know that I’m a little late to this particular party, and crapping all over photoshopped theatrical posters is old hat by now, but this one was just too funny to ignore.

As far as I know, the story with their characters was that they were forced to marry or live together or something because of some jackpot winnings, and instead of putting out a poster suggesting the age-old chestnut of romantic-comic antagonism, they gave us this (anyone else think Ashton has the wrong finger up?) It's not even a poster, it’s behind the scenes goofing caught on film. It’s a given that the days of using actual drawings and paintings for posters are at an end, but even in the age of digital-real images it’s possible to manage something great

…whatever you think of the film in question.