1970 EXPLOITATION TRIPLE FEATURE: EQUINOX, THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, AND TROG

taste-the-blood-of-dracula-1970

The 1970s were probably the most prolific decade in production of exploitation and horror films. The decade started off with Gordon Hessler’s mediocre Cry of the Banshee, co-starring Vincent Price and Diana Rigg. Daniel Haller’s adaptation of The Dunwich Horror was also surprisingly uneven, despite its well-received source material. Hammer Studios was still in full throttle, although its output increasingly met with mixed reviews and decreasing box office. Peter Sasdy’s Taste the Blood of Dracula was considered by many to be the last decent Hammer take on the infamous Count. Roy Ward Baker’s The Scars of Dracula was universally panned by critics. Scars‘ star Christopher Lee then made a stab at the character for a different studio in Jess Franco’s [1] Count Dracula, which co-starred  Klaus Kinski and Herbert Lom. Noticeably shot on a lower budget, Franco’s Draculawas deemed a faithful adaptation of the novel, but a noble misfire. Franco and Lee also teamed up for The Bloody Judge, which was a second-rate rehash of Michael Reeves’ final film, Witchfinder General.

cross-and-the-switchblade-1970

Michael Armstrong’s Mark of the Devil, starring Herbert Lom and Udo Kier, was another offshoot of the late Mr. Reeves’ swan song, with the addition of graphic torture, and it’s reputation as one of the most revolting grindhouse films ever made still holds strong nearly a half century later. Piers Haggard’s Blood on Satan’s Claw was the third Witchfinder General copycat in one year. It disappeared quickly (rightfully so). At the opposite end of the spectrum is the camp-fest fundamentalist Christian exploitation Cross and the Switchblade, which aptly cast the whitest white man who ever lived—Pat Boone—as Hoosier Pentecostal preacher David Wilkerson, going to the ghetto to convert gang member Nicky Cruz (Erik Estrada). It was such a hit with the fundie circuit that they even produced a cross-promotional comic book that was littered throughout church pews to take home and keep “if you got saved.”

equinox-1970

The primary influence on Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead (1981), the microbudget horror Equinox has a substantial cult following, enough to receive the Criterion Collection treatment. Equinox is a holy grail for lovers of  backyard filmmaking, and is almost as famous for its making of narrative. The story began with three teenagers, David Allen, Dennis Muren, and Mark McGee, who got together and made a monster movie. Discovering the likes of Willis O’Brien and Ray Harryhausen through the pages of Forrest J. Ackerman’s influential “Famous Monsters Of Filmland,” aspiring stop-animation animator Allen placed a personal ad in a 1962 issue of FM, inviting lovers of King Kong to correspond. Muren, whose monster memorabilia collection had been featured in an earlier article of the magazine, was the first to respond, followed by McGee. Shortly after that initial introduction, the three were meeting regularly for screenings and discussions of creature features and experimenting with 16 MM shorts. In 1965 Muren received money from his grandfather to make Equinox.

equinox-1970

Influenced primarily by Jacques Tourneur’s Curse of the Demon (1957), the film also pays homage to Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Robert Gordon’s It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955), and Don Chaffey’s Jason and the Argonauts (1963). The cast includes Muren’s grandfather as a hermit who is trampled on by Allen’s stop-motion demon, the Taurus. Ackerman has a voice cameo via a tape recorder playing in the hospital. Pulp fantasy author Fritz Leiber (once an apprentice to H.P. Lovecraft) plays Professor Waterman, who is in possession of a medieval book, which contains a gateway to another dimension called the Equinox. The movie begins on a picnic when David (Edward Connell) and Susan (Barbara Hewitt) discover Waterman’s book and unintentionally summon forth a demon.

equinox-1970

There are two versions of Equinox. In the original, the narrative is ambiguous and really just an excuse to unleash stop-motion monsters (courtesy Allen and Jim Danforth). In the second version, Jack Woods, credited as a co-director with McGee and Muren, over-explains everything to the point of tedium. Although neither cut is a long-lost masterpiece, the original, pre-tampering version is definitely superior. But it’s the winning extras in the Criterion Collection disc that are the highlight, spinning a narrative of fan love for the genre, paid homage by commentary from the surviving principals.

equinox-1970

Equinox has some “American dream” success stories: Muren went on to become an Oscar-winning visual effects artist for Industrial Light and Magic, and worked on Willy Wonka And The Chocolate FactoryFlesh Gordon, the original Star Wars trilogy, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the television series “Battlestar Galactica,” E.T.The AbyssGhostbusters IITerminator 2, Jurassic Park,  A.I., HulkWar of the Worlds, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, among many others. David Allen also had a successful career, working on Flesh GordonThe HowlingQThe Hunger, Young Sherlock HolmesGhostbusters II, Willow, Puppetmaster, and Honey I Shrunk The Kids, before dying prematurely in 1999. McGee had a career in B-movies, and Woods went on to work in sound.

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DIRECTOR RETROSPECTIVE: THE FILMS OF DAINA KRUMINS

THE DIVINE MIRACLE (1972, DAINA KRUMINS)

During one of my incognito Sacred Heart Catholic Church field trips with my Aunt Greta, visiting from the Arizona desert, I received a mild scolding—albeit not from immediate family, who would have flipped out had they known my father’s sister had smuggled me into one of those Catholic churches. Rather, it was from Greta herself, who corrected my venial sin: in being transfixed by the statues of the Infant of Prague (a toddler Jesus in drag), Our Lady of Sorrows (Mother Mary with seven knives jabbed into her chest), and Teresa of Avila (she of Lorenzo Bernini’s orgasmic ecstasy), I made the mistake of saying: “It’s cool that your church has such weird imagery, worships women, and you don’t have to worship Jesus.” Greta very quickly and sternly pointed out to me: “We do worship Jesus, and we don’t worship Mary or Teresa. We venerate them.” In hindsight, and putting aside that I was in my teens that was probably the first time I became vaguely conscious of a latent (although denied by some) connection between feminism and blue-collar Catholic Surrealism.

Divine Miracle (1972, Daina Krumins)

The films of Daina Krumins have these qualities, and more. As with most Krumins followers, I was introduced to her via The Divine Miracle (1972). I can’t recall where I first saw it, but it was in the late seventies, and Aunt Greta’s parish icons immediately called to mind Krumins’s film. Another weird image that I had cemented at the time, mixing my mythologies, was from a TV documentary about the suicide of George “Adventures of Superman” Reeves, in which the narrator described the late actor’s devoutly Catholic mother going to the crime scene and placing holy cards of saints on all the blood stains and bullet holes in the room (the narration was accompanied by eccentric flashing images of devotional postcards). The reason I reference the latter is that there’s something of a holy cards-on-bloodstains texture to Krumins’ work.

THE DIVINE MIRACLE (1972, DAINA KRUMINS) still

Krumins was born in 1947 in a Munich refugee camp. Her family immigrated to the U.S.A. Like her mother, Krumins suffers from Asperger’s syndrome. Fortunately, her father, who was an accomplished photographer, and her uncle, a Latvian painter, encouraged her early creative eccentricities, which included collecting metal shavings, wax teeth, snakes in formaldehyde, jellyfish, and crabs. Ignoring her teachers’ advice to be more social and pursue a normal life, Krumins received her BFA at the NYU Film School, followed by an MFA from the California Institute of the Arts, and found employment as a rotoscoper with Lookout Mountain Films. Images from her art and film can be viewed on the filmmaker’s website).

Daina Krumins art

Krumins is a New Jersey resident and has been described as a “homegrown Surrealist.” That description suggests something coming from the earth, which is apt. Krumins refers to her film, photographs, woodwork, and sculpture as preoccupations with textures. To date, she has completed a total of four  films,spending anywhere from nine to seventeen years working on each.

Daina Krumins Aether (filmed performance piece)

The Divine Miracle, which runs approximately six minutes, was the film that made her reputation, winning a total of thirteen awards including first place at the Ann Arbor Film Festival and the Silver Hugo Award at the Chicago International Film Festival. The Divine Miraclewas shown on PBS and frequently made the rounds of art museums.

The Divine Miracle (1972, Daina Krumins) John Tyler as Christ

In some quarters, The Divine Miracle, with its embrace of surreal kitsch, was erroneously assessed as a parody of Christianity. Krumins, raised Lutheran, disagrees, saying that she believed in all the fantasy world miracles from Sunday school.

Daina Krumins collection Canyon Cinema

For those accustomed to youthful portrayals of Christ (i.e. Jeffrey “I was a teenage Jesus” Hunter in 1961’s King of Kings) John Tyler’s stiff, gray-bearded Christ might prove disconcerting, but the portrayal is in step with 1927’s silent King of Kings, which featured H.B. Warner in his mid-fifties, with the charisma of a cardboard-cutout messiah. It’s also in step with the late, overtly religious work of Salvador Dali, which many critics dismiss as kitsch. Actually, apart from his work in the medium of film and still photography, Dalí’s late, semi-orthodox work is his best, its kitsch quality rendering it even more authentically surreal. Krumins, being a more substantial Surrealist than Dali, takes that surreal quality further, crowning her middle-aged savior with a Gustav Klimt-like golden halo and literally outlining him with bold, thick, opaque lines, as if he just stepped out of a hole-in-the-wall Catholic shop coloring book.

The Divine Miracle (1972, Daina Krumins) John Tyler

Tyler’s Jesus has the most bizarre sycophant disciples ever committed to celluloid: mop-topped bodiless cherubs (just a head and wings, all played by Scott Martin) who encircle their master like horseflies buzzing round a field cow (which, come to think of it, is sacrificially befitting). Jesus’ martyrdom on the cross is followed by an ascension, which looks like a Georges Melies’ Trip To The Moon (1902). In roughly six minutes, Krumins says, and gets right, what other filmmakers have failed to accomplish in three-plus hours. Her film is honest about the idiosyncratic tenets of Christian mythology and, ironically enough, this most Catholic of all films was made by an American Protestant.

Daina KruminsDaina Krumins

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POP MEETS THE VOID (2015, WILLIAM CUSICK)

Pop Meets The Void (2015, William Cusick)

William Cusick‘s Pop Meets The Void (2015) is what independent film should be: an alternative to mainstream cinema, as opposed to a low budget imitation of Hollywood fare.

Cusick sees the artist as in revolt against common sense and repressive conventions of the social order. The musician protagonist of Pop Meets the Voidencounters the fingernails-down-chalkboard inquisition that almost every artist endures from bourgeoisie muggles: “Are you a real artist or do you just wanna be?” Fill in the appropriate follow-up blank: “Are you famous? Are you rich? Do you have a recording contract with a big label? Have you published a book? Have you acted in a real movie, like the ones from Hollywood? Have you sold a painting for a million dollars yet?” Followed by “So, what’s the point?”

Pop Meets The Void (2015, William Cusick)

German Expressionist painter Franz Marc astutely addressed the artist’s encounter with the bourgeoisie in an entry from the famous “Blue Rider Almanac”: “It is strange that people should value spiritual treasures so differently than material ones. If someone conquers a new colony for his country, the whole country rejoices for him and does not hesitate to take possession of that colony. Technological achievements are met with the same rejoicing. On the other hand, if someone should think of giving his country a spiritual treasure, it is almost always rejected with anger and irritation; his gift arouses suspicion and people to try and do away with it. Why new paintings and why new ideas? What can we buy with them? We already have too many old ones.”

Pop Meets The Void (2015, William Cusick)

Painter Paul Gauguin advised young artists to worry less about the finished work and locate sacrament in the artistic process. This is Cusick’s spirit. He retreats and takes the role of artist as hermit, keeping his music attic-bound. As a hermit, his worldview encompasses the artist as misfit prophet.

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Our Short film: “Hallows Dance” (2008)

This was our short film for the 2008 48 HR film festival.I supplied the narrative (co-scripted by myself, J. Ross Eaker, and Terry Dellinger). It is based of the tragic, true story of my assistant manager (having taken place in the early 90s).

James Mannan and Robin Panet co-directed. I co-acted with Jason Hignite.

Our Short Film: “9” (2009)

This was made for the 2009 48 Hr film contest. It was written by myself, using the poerty of John M. Bennett. I co-directed with Robin Panet and co-acted with frequent collaborator James Mannan.

After the premiere, one of the judges took me aside and said: “I dig your film and really wanted you guys to win, but you just broke too many rules.”

We did indeed.

HEART OF THE BEHOLDER (2005) & THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST (1988)

Heart Of The Beholder (2005) poster

In 2005, Ken Tipton made a labor of love, an indie film called Heart of the Beholder, regarding the true story of the initial video release of Last Temptation of Christ and the effects it has on a family who owned a small video chain in St. Louis, Missouri during the 1980s.

Heart Of The Beholder (2005) screenshot

The CFD, Citizens for Decency, arrived when the owners of the chain chose to carry  Martin Scorsese’s controversial film.  These God-loving red, white and blue, flag- waving Americans came out in droves to harass, bully and literally threaten their employees, family, business and life.

Heart Of The Beholder (2005)

These are the same Americans who undoubtedly burned Dixie Chick albums when that group criticized God’s ambassador here on earth, little George W, and are the same Americans who still visit the Heart of the Beholder website telling Mr. Tipton and company that they are going to  hell while undoubtedly pleasuring themselves at the thought of the filmmakers frying for all eternity. Heart of the Beholder is a damned important, desperately needed film.

Heart Of The Beholder (2005) poster.

Although Heart of the Beholder received positive reviews and even won some festival awards, predictably, no distributor would touch it.  One would surely think that the making of the film would have brought in some support, perhaps from Temptation‘s producers, Scorsese, etc.  However, even in matters of something this vital, money talks.

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LA LONTANANZA NOSTLAGICA UTOPICA FUTURA (short film)

http://www.theindependentcritic.com/la_lontananza_nostalgica_utopica_futura

THE FILM IS ALSO TEMPORARILY AVAILABLE FOR VIEWING (WITH STATEMENT) @

http://366weirdmovies.com/la-lontananza-nostalgica-utopica-futura-2014/

IMDB LISTING

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4258080/?ref_=nm_flmg_dr_2  James Mannan as Van Gogh in La lontananza nostalgica utopia futura. Alfred Eaker as Paul Gauguin in La lontananza nostalgica utopia futura.James Mannan as V. Van Gogh in La lontananza nostalgica utopia futura.

LA LONTANANZA SHOOT 8Alfred Eaker as Gauguin (ravaged by syphilis) in La lontananza nostalgica utopia futura.LA LONTANANZA SHOOTLA LONTANANZA SHOOT 2Alfred Eaker as Gauguin2 (ravaged by syphilis) in La lontananza nostalgica utopia futura.James Mannan as Vincent Van Gogh,  in La lontananza nostalgica utopica futuraJames Mannan as Vincent Van Gogh in La lontananza nostalgica utopia futura.

REQUIEM FOR THE RELENTLESS FATHERS (2012): FILM & DIRECTOR’S STATMENT

 

DIRECTOR’S STATEMENT:

Requiem For The Relentless Fathers (2012) is a short film I made for theology graduate school. “First and Second Samuel” was a class taught by Dr. Marti Steussy. Among Steussy’s assignments was an artistic presentation from the text.  requiem for the relentless fathers. saul (alfred eaker)  tormented by evil spirit of god (jen ring)  © alfred eaker 2012

Embedded theology oversimplifies the Samuel narrative: Samuel, the Judge of Israel, is the protagonist. Saul, the first King, disobeys God, and is therefore the antagonist. God consequently replaces Saul with the hero David, whom God loves. Even as a child I had issues with that elementary assessment. Regardless of what my Sunday school teachers taught, I found myself sympathizing with the antagonist. Perhaps it is in my nature. After all, I never could manage to find sympathy for any of the characters in Richard Wagner’s symbolist opera “Parsifal” except the alleged villain Klingsor. Still, having had a class with Dr. Steussy previously, I rightly concluded that she would supply fresh insight into the narrative.

Alfred Eaker Requiem for the Relentless Fathers  © alfred eaker 2012

 

Dr. Steussy discarded tradition. She inspired us to go directly and honestly to the text without preconceived notions. After knocking the dust off my Bible, I did exactly that. At the end of the semester a few fellow students, upon seeing the film, pointed out that they would not have been open to my interpretation if they had seen it at the beginning of the semester.

Requiem For the Relentless Fathers. Alfred Eaker as King Saul, James Mannan as the prophet Samuel.  © alfred eaker 2012

Since Requiem is a short, many details are naturally left out. The film is what the title says: It is a requiem for three complex, relentless fathers in an authentically strange Biblical narrative. Samuel and Saul are the primary focus. However, we tried to depict even the secondary character of David as embodying more than meets the eye in his initial introduction. (Perhaps someday, we will be able to do a follow-up film of the Davidic character). The historicity of Samuel was not our concern, which is why we placed it in a relatively contemporary setting.

Requiem For The Relentless Fathers. Alfred Eaker as Saul (the sacrifice)

Dr. Steussy proposed a question—“Why is it important how we judge Saul?”—followed by an answer—“It is important because it reflects how we are apt to judge one other.” Of equal importance is an honest approach to the text as an un-hallowed narrative, stripped of our over-familiarity. I found the story of Saul to be a fresh and surprising chronicle; often bizarre, adverse, and morally questionable.

%22Requiem For The Relentless Fathers.%22 James Mannan and Alfred Eaker as Samuel and Saul

The cast includes James Mannan as Samuel/God, myself as Saul, Robert Webster as David, Jordan Wheatley as Michal, Nate Saylor as Jonathan, Robbin Panet as the woman of Endor, and Jennifer Ring as the Evil Spirit of God. Director of photography: Robin Panet. Assistant Directors: Robbin Panet and James Mannan. Sets: John Claeyse. Music courtesy of Tahra Records. The script was inspired by 1 Samuel and the Samuel commentaries of Dr. Marti Steussy and Dr. David M. Gunn.

Requiem For the Relentless Fathers.Jordan Wheatley, Nate Saylor,  Alfred Eaker, Robin Panet.  © alfred eakerRequiem For the Relentless Fathers. Robert Webster, Jordan Wheatley.  © alfred eakerrequiem for the relentless fahters. Steve making Chris up  for the killing of the priest.  © alfred eaker 2012requiem  for the relentless fathers. Jen Ring being made-up as the evil spirit. © alfred eaker 2012

*originally published at 366 weird movies

THE RAPTURE (1991): CHALLENGING, HUMANISTIC & CHRISTIAN (WHEN INDIE FILM HAD GUTS)

THE RAPTURE 1991Once upon a time there was a breed known as independent filmmakers. Usually with shoestring budgets, the indies, taking no prisoners, discarded business plans, forgot to look at marketing strategies, and the image of a proposed target audience was as abstract and surreal to them as their films often were to audiences. The indies were decidedly reactionary to the Hollywood institution. Maya Deren once said “I make films for what Hollywood spends on lipstick.” It was the indies who were progressively harking back to the dawn of cinema, before the rules of filmmaking had been established and canonized.

THE RAPTURE  CAPTIALIST BANALITY

Stanley Kubrick was the closest Hollywood would get to the indie spirit, but Kubrick, for all his aesthetic brilliance, was, essentially, an academic. Whatever Kubrick’s genre, be it sci-fi, porn, horror, war, swashbuckler, his approach stemmed from a safe classroom distance. Kubrick lacked the fevered intensity and aesthetic struggle of the indies, and subjects such as horror and sex were rendered as studies and, therefore, matters on somewhat safe critical ground for the mainstream.

THE RAPTURE (1991) MIMI ROGERS

Newly minted and authorized film critics, such as Roger Ebert, would lavish heaps of praise on Dr. Kubrick, but Ebert was clearly out of his ivory towered ball park when trying to grasp the likes of Larry Cohen`s God Told Me To or Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate, which is unfortunate considering Ebert once scripted for Hollywood outsider Russ Meyer.

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THE NEW NIGHTMARE THEATER WITH SAMMY TERRY: FIRST IMPRESSIONS

I have gotten several requests to do a write up on the new “Nightmare Theater” with Sammy Terry.

Despite the requests, I have been reticent for several reasons. The new
Nightmare Theater is in the grass roots stage, although whether or not it
should be is debatable. After all, Sammy Terry has a fifty year legacy, so it should not be a case of having to compete with the Johnny-come-lately horror hosts, of whom there are far too many of dreadful quality. With his long history, Sammy Terry could be venturing into new territory, rather than reconquering the market of local television, especially since local television really no longer exists.

Sammy Terry (Bob Carter).

The first and most glaring problem with contemporary horror hosts is the question of whether they’re needed. In the golden age of horror hosts there were a half dozen or so local television stations, and the video/cable/Internet age was something akin to science fiction. If one wanted to watch Frankenstein (1931), then you might get the chance to see it once a year via the local host, who, in our case in Indianapolis, was Sammy Terry on WTTV 4.

Today, the horror host is simply not a necessity, so in order to entice an audience the host should have interesting personality, story, and characterization. Today’s hosts simply get up and do their shtick. Often, one questions whether or not they have even watched the hosted film. If the host wants the audience to acknowledge his or her entertainment value, then his enthusiasm needs to be contagious. It rarely is. The host hardly has to have a back story and, indeed, some sense of mystery should be retained. Today’s audience is much more sophisticated; the personality of the host, and his or her ability to make us care, is vital.

Sammy Terry (Bob Carter)

Instead, contemporary horror hosts can often be seen hawking their wares at various horror conventions. Often, They seem more like used car salesmen than mysterious entities.

Mark Carter is the son of Bob Carter, the original Sammy Terry. Bob has retired and has passed the cape onto Mark, who is a dead ringer for his dad. Mark has an answer for the inevitable question “are you the Son of Sammy Terry?”—a classic “only Sammy’s blood has  worn this cape.” Unfortunately, Mark’s ready-made response has yet to be put to use in an actual public interview. Instead, when local news programs interviewed the new Sammy Terry, he broke character when the question arose, which was a misstep.

Nightmare Theater

I fondly reviewed the original Nightmare Theater 2 years ago (at 366 weird movies), but the primary reason I have been reluctant to do this follow-up is because I have numerous associates working on the new Nightmare Theater. I sat in on a few round table discussions with the team. I made and documented a few suggestions, then went back to other endeavors. In the time since, a few associates have broken away from the Nightmare project. There have been conflicts and competitive egos. Several other associates continue to remain with the team. Luckily, I have been at a distance from it, so I feel objectively free, at this point, to go ahead with my observations—and those are unfortunately mixed, because I feel there is considerably rich potential for Sammy Terry and the New Nightmare Theater, but there are also legitimate disappointments.

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