Monday, December 25, 2017

It Won't Turn Green, Damn You Seventeen

2015 kicked my ass. 2016 kicked everybody's ass. 2017 discovered our collective asses were numb from all the kicking, so a series of sucker punches, rope burns, paper cuts, and other attacks ensued. But still we stand, maybe more flecked with red than green today, with wobbly knees, but fully upright.

My experience has been that it's better not to write at length in the midst of an existential crisis - there's too many opportunities for narcissism, bathos, purple prose, and in general, putting something into print that I will regret later. As written, NOT by Abraham Lincoln or Mark Twain but by Maurice Switzer, it is better to remain silent at the risk of being thought a fool, than to talk and remove all doubt of it.

So yeah, as has been the pattern over these years of attrition, I didn't see enough movies, especially the ones that would actually benefit from my elevation, thus this list carries an asterisk and a side-eye from the cineastes that matter. Nevertheless, The Top 13 of 2017* (your mileage may vary):

13. I, TONYA






7. mother!







"Life's a mess, dude, but we're all just doing the best we can, you know."

(graphic arrangement courtesy of Jeff Gargas)

Friday, May 26, 2017

Fostering the Fantastic

Now available for streaming on Night Flight Plus is the influential 1977 Fantastic Animation Festival, the first widely-released collection of animated films, which became a hit with midnight movie lovers, was the first exposure for dozens of respected animators, and spawned like-minded follow-up compilations for decades to follow. It premiered on television as one of the earliest episodes of “Night Flight” in July 1981.

For many years, it was difficult for ordinary moviegoers to see any kind of animated short subjects beyond the big studios’ franchise cartoons.

Occasionally, one of the majors would get behind something unique – Columbia Pictures released the Mel Brooks-voiced The Critic in 1963 – but most of the time, you had to go to a museum or other artsy venue to see avant-garde animation, or hope to catch one as filler between shows on a PBS station.

In 1976, programmers Chris Padilla and Dean Berko put together an assortment of shorts at the Laguna Moulton Playhouse in Laguna Beach, California, which sold out multiple shows and drew almost 30,000 people during its run.

An L.A. distributor took note of this success, and proposed that they create a version to play nationwide.

Fantastic Animation Festival, containing sixteen shorts from their event, opened in theaters in 1977 and set records. As Padilla recounted to Variety in 1997, “[It] earned over $300,000 in its first two weeks in sixteen theaters in New York. It had its premiere the same day that Star Wars opened.”

The festival quickly found a following with the “head shop” contingent. Rockers, stoners, and other types who rarely set foot in high culture confines could now go out and see the mind-blowing sights they normally sought from concerts and laser shows…likely with some pre-show “enhancements” consumed in the car beforehand.

Even the ads indicated this was a trip-out event, with an ELO-style spaceship painted in colors reminiscent of blacklight posters from Spencer Gifts.

 Horror writer and historian Tom Weaver, who had worked at sub-distributor Films Inc. once remarked, “We had six or eight prints just in the New York office…and we couldn’t keep ‘em on the shelves.”

This collection did for animation what Lenny Kaye’s Nuggets compilation album did for ’60s music: elevated several artists to world awareness.

The biggest star to rise from the fest is surely clay animation pioneer Will Vinton whose cautionary environmental reverie “Mountain Music” and Academy Award-winning short with Bob Gardiner “Closed Mondays” were standouts.

Due to contractual licensing, “Closed Mondays” was not included in the “Night Flight” broadcast, so you can watch it right here as an appetizer.

Another name that took off after their inclusion here is Steven Lisberger, who created the romantic and trippy “Cosmic Cartoon” with Eric Ladd, and went on to make history by directing Tron in 1982.

There are also some lesser-appreciated filmmakers in this assembly that we’d like to salute.

Ian Emes’ “French Windows,” scored to Pink Floyd’s bass-thumping “One of These Days,” opens this program with a bang. The contrast of orderly, geometric shapes and patterns with fluid, exuberant rotoscoped images of live dancers suggests the paradox of art, the goal of perfection against the human inconsistencies that make each creation special.

Pink Floyd were so impressed by Emes’ film, they played it at their shows, and he was commissioned to create more material to be projected in their concerts, such as this prelude for “Time.”

After creating more art and animation for other musicians like Roger Daltrey and Mike Oldfield, Emes switched to live-action directing, helming the youth music drama Knights & Emeralds, an episode of “The Comic Strip presents” featuring multiple alumni from “The Young Ones,” and the too-hot-for-TV Duran Duran music video, “The Chauffeur.”

Mihail Badica was the first Romanian animator to work in stop-motion, in a more surreal and fanciful style than his fest-mate Will Vinton.

His short “Icar” (or “Icarus”) is a funny but thoughtful observation on how evolution and discovery depends on one soul not settling for the status quo and willing to be ridiculed as they try for what seems to be impossible.

After years of making shorts under the close scrutiny of the often repressive Romanian government, Badica defected to Denmark in 1985, where he works and teaches today.

He recently did the animation for director Helene Kjeldsen’s 2015 short The Outing, featuring music by Nick Cave.

As you’re watching, if you think that we left in an ad break by mistake, you’re wrong: a pair of acclaimed commercials are showcased in this collection as well.

“Stranger” is a wild psychedelic Levi’s commercial about finding liberation through pants, narrated by velvety-voiced Word Jazz artist Ken Nordine, with art direction by graphic artist Chris Blum and rotoscope animation directed by Lynda Taylor.

The spot won multiple awards, including a Clio, in 1972.

Lynda would later have the weird distinction of contributing animation to three sketch comedy movies of the ’70s, all centered around the subject of TV: The Groove Tube, The Firesign Theatre’s Cracking Up, and perennial "Night Flight" favorite, Tunnel Vision!

That’s followed by “Uncola,” an equally groovy 7Up spot with smiling moons, butterfly girls, and hundreds of bubbles, for thirty seconds of eyeball high!

The computer effects came from visual effects forefathers Robert Abel and Associates in a process called “candy-apple neon,” which was later employed in fest-mate Steven Lisberger’s Tron to give that gleaming look to computerized Jeff Bridges.

“Night Flight” was less than a month old when they premiered Fantastic Animation Festival on TV in July 1981. Listen to the commercial bumpers and you’ll notice it’s not Pat Prescott doing the announcing!

As mentioned earlier, not all the shorts that played in the theatrical version were able to be included in the “Night Flight” airing, so, to make up for it, the producers added a bonus short, which we think is really super, man.

Literally, it’s the first Superman cartoon by Max & Dave Fleischer, complete with a brief origin of the Last Son of Krypton’s arrival to Earth, and a mad scientist supervillain with an evil bird and a death ray at his disposal.

The national success of Fantastic Animation Festival led to many spin-offs.

Rock band promoters Craig “Spike” Decker and Mike Gribble, who helped circulate flyers for the original Laguna Beach event, soon launched their own touring shows, most famously Spike & Mike’s Sick And Twisted Festival of Animation, which, despite the death of co-founder Gribble, continues to this day.

And the International Animated Film Association partnered with Landmark Theaters in the late ’70s to release their annual “International Tournee of Animation” shows to adventurous venues for two decades.

Today, you can find animated shorts on cable, on the internet, and in theaters on a regular basis, and we think you can thank some bold artists and a couple brash Californians for stoking that appetite.

Watch “French Windows,” “Icarus,” “Bambi Meets Godzilla,” and more in the 1981 “Night Flight” presentation of Fantastic Animation Festival, now streaming now at Night Flight Plus!

(This essay was originally written for Night Flight Plus. It has been recreated in the style it was presented in at the site, and matched to its original date of publication. Tremendous thanks to Stuart Shapiro and Bryan Thomas for the platform.)

Monday, April 10, 2017

Look What They Done to Our Gals, Ma


The 1972 murder mystery What Have You Done To Solange?, part of a wave of stylish and memorable foreign-made horror films during the ‘70s, has recently been added to Night Flight Plus’ selection of titles from the Arrow Films library.

After serving as cameraman to Sergio Leone on his breakout hits A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More, Massimo Dallamano struck out on his own as a writer/director, building a reputation for sex-tinged thrillers, such as the very mod Dorian Gray with Helmut Burger.

Around this time, two very popular styles of murder mysteries had emerged in the European film scene.

Italy had fostered the “giallo,” a catch-all term for lurid thrillers involving elaborate killings and sex derived from the Italian word for “yellow,” the standard color of the paperback covers such pulp fiction was printed on.

Meanwhile in then-West Germany, a similar subgenre called the “krimi” (short for “kriminalfilm” – “crime film”), prolific adaptations of books by English writer Edgar Wallace, entertained audiences with secret vendettas and left-field killer revelations.

These two movements were joined in gory harmony when Italian and German producers joined forces with Dallamano in 1972 to create his most well-received and enduring film, What Have You Done to Solange?

A married teacher at a London girls’ college, brazenly carrying on an affair with one of his pupils, becomes the first of many possible suspects when an insular clique of popular chicks are killed off in particularly nasty fashion, and launches his own investigation to clear his name.

We’re not going to tell you much more about the story, suffice to say the terrain of kink and degradation that follows makes it abundantly clear that Solange is not a movie you could remake today.

Solange stars handsome Fabio Testi as Henry, the teacher-turned-detective. He drew worldwide attention in Vittorio De Sica’s Oscar-winning Italian film The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, and would become a favorite of Two-Lane Blacktop director Monte Hellman, appearing in three of his films.

Christina Galbo, who plays his student mistress Elizabeth, was previously in another classic perversion-and-murder-in-a-girls-school thriller, Narciso Ibanez Serrador’s The House that Screamed, which recently received an excellent BluRay release from Scream Factory, and has been praised by Guillermo Del Toro as “a powerful, transgressive retelling of the Frankenstein myth.”

Although she does not appear on screen for almost an hour, Camille Keaton makes her memorable film debut as the mute, ethereal Solange herself.

Keaton would later become immortal for playing an assault victim turned vigilante in I Spit on Your Grave, and recently reprised the character for an official sequel.

All of the onscreen nastiness is staged with a gorgeous score by Ennio Morricone, featuring operatic soloing by Edda D’Orso, who previously provided the arias for “Jill’s Theme” in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West.

In America, Solange was acquired by genre specialists Hallmark Releasing, who created the legendary “IT’S ONLY A MOVIE” campaign for Last House on the Left, and they released it under different titles for years.

The best known alternate moniker was The School that Couldn’t Scream, which was used in 1977 to suggest it was a spiritual cousin to the Southern horror hit The Town that Dreaded Sundown – the advertising even claimed that, like Sundown, it was based on a true story (it wasn’t), and that it made the bigger film “look like a puppet show!”

Exploitation historian Chris Poggiali has documented all the other names Solange hid under in this post at his Temple of Schlock blog. We’re particularly amused at how they tried to make it look like a cheerleader comedy under the name Rah Rah Girls!

Two years after the release of Solange, Dallamano directed and co-wrote What Have They Done to Your Daughters?, which was not a direct sequel to the earlier film, but did continue the concept of young girls murdered amidst sleazy behavior with authority figures.

This outing blended giallo stylings with another emerging Italian subgenre, the “poliziotteschi”, or “police action” drama, modeled on American hits like Dirty Harry and Bullitt, that offered car chases and cynical politics alongside the slayings.

The handy website The Giallo Files likens this entry to a “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” episode, and indeed, it’s quite interesting to see how salacious stories like this, once the domain of drive-ins and fleapit cinemas, are now fodder for a respected and long-running TV series.

Dallamano had co-scripted and planned to direct a third installment in what was now unofficially called the “Schoolgirls in Peril” trilogy, but the 59-year old filmmaker died in a car accident in November 1976 before he could begin production on it.

The story went through more writers, and with Alberto Negrin taking over direction, Enigma Rosso aka Red Rings of Fear was completed and released in 1978.

Solange star Fabio Testi returned, this time as a police inspector who, in looking into a co-ed’s very brutal demise, discovers a group of “mean girls” at her school up to most unsanctioned extracurricular activities, that make them the next targets of the killer.

Interestingly, long before “Twin Peaks,” Testi’s detective finds the victim wrapped in plastic.

To the best of our knowledge, it’s the only movie we’ve seen where a cop dramatically describes the size of the murderer’s…weapon…to shake school authorities out of their complacency.

Co-starring with Testi were former Warren Beatty paramour and frequent Rainer Werner Fassbinder star Christine Kaufman (who just recently passed away in March 2017), and American expat turned Spanish horror icon Jack Taylor.

The film has been announced for BluRay release later this year from Scorpion Releasing.

Arrow Films now offers the original Solange in a beautiful restored transfer available for streaming at Night Flight Plus.

After you watch it, we encourage you to purchase their Blu/DVD combo edition that includes bonus features, such as interviews with surviving cast members, and an even more thorough history of the “Schoolgirls in Peril” trilogy by horror historian Michael Mackenzie.

For many of us, a great weekend night was watching a scary movie and a helping of “Night Flight.” Now, you can have both in one sitting, anytime you like!

However, beware of secret teen girl squads and black gloves!

What Have You Done To Solange? — along with other selected titles from the Arrow Films library — are now available for instant viewing at Night Flight Plus.

(This essay was originally written for Night Flight Plus. It has been recreated in the style it was presented in at the site, and matched to its original date of publication. Tremendous thanks to Stuart Shapiro and Bryan Thomas for the platform.)

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Rocky Varla Picture Show

(Or: Faster, Frankenfurt! Kill! Kill!)

Respectfully dedicated to all my friends at Sins o' the Flesh and Girlwerks Media

Sometimes, the unexpected pleasures of watching your favorite films more than, well, the average person revisits a favorite film, is that you begin to see wild symmetries and convergences among them that make you appreciate them even more.

If you watch THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW enough times, you'll notice that someone on the production was a Russ Meyer fan. After all, I don't think anyone at 20th Century-Fox was thinking about corporate synergy in such a fashion to pressure the art director into putting a BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS soundtrack album in Columbia's bedroom. This was intentional homage. For that matter, there's certainly a case to be made for kinship between the two counterculture musicals, what with both telling a tragicomic saga of nice kids in a wild new environment of sex and drugs being manipulated by a sociopath of fluid sexuality. At the very least, they're a dynamite double feature.

However, upon a recent viewing of Meyer's other stone classic, FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL!, I began to see connections that had eluded me before, little things that made me speculate as to whether just maybe, amidst all the direct allusions to monster movies and Old Dark House mysteries, there was also some buried homage being paid to this chronicle of go-go girls gone-gone amok, at a time when only seriously savage film lovers would have picked up on them...

"I would like, if I may, to take you...on a strange journey..."

"...two young, ordinary, healthy kids..."

"...there were dark storm clouds - heavy, black, and pendulous - towards which they were driving."

"It was a night out they were going to remember...for a very long time."

"Say, do any of you guys know how to Madison?"

"This isn't the Junior Chamber of Commerce..."

"How forceful you are...such a perfect specimen of manhood. So...dominant!"

"That's no way to behave on your first day out."

"Do you want her to see you, like this?"

"He had a certain naive charm, but no muscle."

"You better wise up..."

"Suddenly, you get a break."

"All the pieces seem to fit into place."

"And Paradise is to be mine."

"It's not often we receive visitors here, let alone offer them hospitality."

"I'm sure you're not spent yet."

"Such strenuous living I just don't understand..."

"This in itself was proof that their host was a man of little morals..."

"...and some persuasion."

"What further indignities were they to be subjected to?"

"How did it happen? I understood you were supposed to be watching!"

"Food has always played a vital role in life's rituals: The breaking of bread, the last meal of the condemned man... and now this meal ."

"However informal it might appear, you can be sure that there was to be little bonhomie."

"I loved you...and what did it get me? I'll tell you. A big Nothing!"

"Now the only thing that gives me hope is my love of a certain dope."

{"Rocky doesn't give a fuck, he's hungry!"}

"That's a rather tender subject."

"'Emotion: Agitation or disturbance of mind; vehement or excited mental state.'"

"It is also a powerful and irrational master."

"Oh come on...admit it, you liked it didn't you? There's no crime in giving yourself over to pleasure."

"If only we hadn't made this journey...If only we were among friends...or sane persons."

"Even smiling makes my face ache."

"Well, unfortunately for you all, the plans are to be changed."

"I ask for nothing..."

"And you shall receive it..."

"... in abundance!"

"You won't find [me] quite the easy mark you imagine."

"What a sucker you've been, what a fool. The answer was there all the time."

{"Chest of steel! Back of steel! Shoulder of steel!"}

"And now...your time has come. Say goodbye to all of...this..."

"...and oblivion!"

"I made you, and I can break you just as easily!"

"And then she cried out..."


"The game has been disbanded."

"You should leave now while it is still possible."

"And crawling...on the planet's face..."

"...some insects...called the human race..."

"...lost in time..."

"...lost in space..."

"...and meaning."


acknowledgements to blogger/Tweeter @jodamico who, independent of me, previously had a similar inkling, and to Al Ewing and Sarah Peploe at Freaky Trigger, where many of the best images for this essay came from