Tuesday, 23 June 2009

BEASTS IN THE CELLAR: The Exploitation Film Career Of Tony Tenser

By John Hamilton
FAB Press
303 pages, B&W w/Colour Insert
Dimensions: H=27.1cm W=19.3cm D=2.2cm
SRP: £17.99(UK)

*All information above refers to the standard version. A signed, limited edition hardback with alternative cover art (shown below) is available directly from FAB Press themselves.

Well, after my review of BOOK OF THE DEAD, I said that subsequent FAB Press titles that came up for review would have a lot to live up to. Well, if you want to skip out on reading the rest of this review (thus missing out on the semi-nude pics of Racquel Welch and Linda Hayden), let me give you the capsule version right away...I am pleased to announce that they have done it yet again.

Some of you may no doubt be asking yourselves 'Who was this Tony Tenser guy, then?' about now. Indeed, it is likely that some of you may never even have heard of him before, but hardly surprising. Tony Tenser was the driving force behind a number of exploitation flicks such as Witchfinder General (AKA 'The Conqueror Worm' in the US), Blood On Satan's Claw, Hannie Caulder, The Sorcerors, Repulsion, Cul-De-Sac and a whole slew of others. The reason you may not be familiar with his name is because despite his oft-demonstrated ability as a master publicist, he was not particularly given to being a self-publicist, prefering instead to let the erstwhile stars of the show take the limelight. Whilst it is a slightly erroneous comparison, as all such comparisons inevitably are, he might be best summed up as the British equivalent of Roger Corman, i.e. a successful producer of lower budget exploitation fare with a track record of giving emerging talents (like director Michael Reeves, for example) a chance to show what they can do.

The template that the book adopts to explore Tenser's varied career is an interesting one. Ostensibly chronological, the text is staggered in such a way so as to accurately reflect the gradual evolution of each film project and those concurrent to it. Ergo, rather than having to wade through one whole chapter devoted to one whole film, we are instead given a body of text which is continually changing focus and thus illustrating the respective progress of each of these diverse 'storylines', effectively mirroring the workload (and attendant problems) that Tenser was juggling as part of his day-to-day business. It is not therefore uncommon for one period of time covered by a chapter to include the pitching and pre-production of one film, the shooting and post-production of another, and the theatrical release of another still. Variety is, after all, the spice of life, and I find this approach keeps things both interesting and informative at the same time.

Indeed, 'interesting and informative' could very well be bywords for this review. It's a fantastically well-written piece and meticulously researched. Asides from the wealth of information contained within the main body of text itself, each chapter has a significant amount of footnotes appended to it (individually rather than all crammed together at the back of the book) in which a further treasure trove of supplemental knowledge is bestowed upon the reader about various supporting players, both onscreen and off, in Tenser's storied career.

Perhaps the best testament I can offer to the quality of prose within is the fact Tenser's early years are comtemporaneous with those of Stanley Long (Author of 'X-Rated'), both having cut their teeth in the midst of the nudie/naturist boom, and also having collaborated on numerous occasions. As a consequence, I was already familiar with a lot of the information at hand, having already read about it in Long's book, yet never once did I think to myself 'I'll skip this'. There's a lot of reading to be had in this book (some chapters took me over an hour, and I'm a pretty fast reader!) and all of it is good.

If you read my review of 'X-Rated', you'll know I recommended it to aspiring low-budget exploitation filmmakers. I can make the same recommendation with Beasts In The Cellar as well, as whilst it not only covers the creative genesis and production process of these movies, it also gives the reader an eye-opening glimpse into the nuts and bolts business side of funding, promoting, marketing, selling, distributing, and exhibiting films as well. In truth, it is not just the story of Tony Tenser, but also the story of his company as well, and the evolution from Compton to Tigon to LMG, whilst simultaneously tracing the gradual, glacial progress achieved in terms of the relaxation of the film censorship situation in Britain at the time (again, much like 'X-Rated').

Whilst we're talking about the financial side of things, perhaps now would be a good time for me to interject with my opinion as to whether or not I think this book constitutes good value for money?

Again, the answer is a resounding yes...it's only a few pages shorter (yet it's a 'taller' book, dimensions-wise) than Book Of The Dead, but £2.00 cheaper. Okay, it only has one colour insert to Book Of The Dead's two, but then Book Of The Dead doesn't have pictures of Pamela Green in all her glory, either!

Quality beats quantity every time, I say!

Still, that's a fairly redundant argument with regards to both books, as they tick all the boxes in this respect. I shall squeeze in a few other reviews before I tackle the monstrosity that is 'Nightmare USA', but suffice to say, FAB Press are currently two for two with me, and long may their quality work continue...now all I've got to do track down their books on Fulci and Argento for a reasonable price. Kidney, anyone?


Tuesday, 16 June 2009

X-RATED: Adventures of an Exploitation Filmmaker

By Stanley Long (with Simon Sheridan)
Foreword by Robert Lindsay
Reynolds & Hearn Ltd.
256 pages, B&W plus Colour Inserts
Dimensions: H=23.8cm W=16cm D=2.4cm
SRP £17.99 (UK)

Time to get away from horror-related book reviews (yet not entirely, as I will go on to explain) and instead tackle a genre that is near and dear to every red-blooded male's heart...sexploitation!

Have you ever experienced that strange phenomena, when you've just sat down with a book or film and something occurs to make you say to yourself 'You know what? I think I'm going to like this...'? There is some sentiment or opinion expressed that mirrors your own exactly, and you know that you are about to enjoy a work by someone who is singing from the same hymn sheet.

Prior to cracking open this book, the last time I can recall such a phenomenon was when I began to watch the no-budget French movie 'I Am The Ripper' and two party guests are discussing the relative merits of Alien and Predator (before the advent of the AVP franchise), leading one to exclaim that 'Alien is nothing! It's just a thing with a big head!'.

Well, I made it no further than than Mr. Long's prologue until I got that exact same feeling again when he trots out the following line:

"I see ITV filming episodes of Midsomer Murders in my village every year and there are bloody hundreds of people scurrying about with clipboards like blue-arsed flies."

Clipboard-bearers are the bane of my existence, I tell you. If you ever watch a Premier League game on the TV, have a good look at the shots where they show the players lining up in the tunnel, and I guarantee you that there will be at least one functionary with the obligatory clipboard standing there doing nothing (I actually saw two at a recent Blackburn game, which is probably about half the average home attendance at Ewood Park!). What do they do? What are they there for?

From what I can gather, the book is mostly a transcription of lengthy audio interviews which I assume co-author Simon Sheridan has then tidied up and pared down into book form. What's great about this is that there are a number of passages in the book where it is evident that they haven't been cleaned up much at all, and you get a real sense of Stanley Long in his own inimitable vernacular. I appreciate it when people shoot from the hip and tell it like it is instead of trying to sugar-coat it, and suffice to say Mr. Long is not one to mince words, which makes this book all the more entertaining.

Stanley Long's name is synonymous with the sexploitation genre (with movies such as 'The Adventures Of A...' series and Eskimo Nell), especially in the UK, and that is probably what he will forever be best known for (indeed, the cover image of the book, lifted from 'Adventures of a Taxi Driver' should make that abundantly clear).

However, it is not until you read the book that you gain a full appreciation of what a diverse and varied career he has actually had. In addition to the sexy romps he is best known for, he has also worked with the likes of Roman Polanski, Peter Cushing, and Boris Karloff...see, I told you we weren't getting away from horror entirely, didn't I?

(I should add at this point that the listing for this book on Amazon.com mentions an afterword by Roman Polanski. My UK version does not have this, so buyer beware!)

What we have here then is the archetypal tale of working class boy makes good (only he's done a lot better than just 'good'), and it makes for a fascinating read from a variety of perspectives. On the one hand, purely as a biography, it's a very interesting read as this is a guy who was clearly moving in all the right circles in Swinging Sixties London. From a film historian's viewpoint, particularly one also interested in the history of censorship in the UK, it is a similarly invaluable document, as many of his contemporaries mentioned therein are also important names in the field, like Harrison Marks and John Lindsay. Anybody with even the remotest fondness or recollection of the films and stars of that era will be well pleased with the amount of behind-the-scenes anecdotes Long serves up, but I would also recommend this book as a useful primer to anyone contemplating chancing their arm at producing their own low budget genre movies. The author has added an appendix entitled 'Ten Tips For Making A Successful Low-Budget Movie', but if the truth is to be told, you'll glean just as much (if not more) simply from reading the book. Again, that predilection for telling it like it is makes this a real eye-opener for the aspiring producers amongst us.

For me personally, I was surprised at the amount of overlap with my own interests. Aside from the mutual disdain of clipboard-bearers, there are recollections of the likes of Tony Tenser, Maureen Flanagan, and Golan-Globus, all of which I have got books on. He also shot footage for Circlorama, which I remember enjoying at a theme park or possibly a zoo or safari park as a child...you know, the film projected onto a dome and you watch a rollercoaster ride and start swaying about and falling over? IMAX has nothing on it. Ah, the heady whiff of childhood nostalgia!

Also, as I used to distribute R18 rated videos in the UK, I too know the inimitable joys of dealing with BBFC, a subject which Stanley is more than qualified to expound on, and which he duly does in some style. He takes great pleasure in exposing the blatant hypocrisies of the censorship regime in the UK, even going so far as to recount a couple of amusing anecdotes about winding up Mary Whitehouse. Anybody who is a foe of Mary Whitehouse is a friend of mine.

I could go on, but I feel as though I'd be giving too many of the best bits away (and I haven't even mentioned the dramatic emergency landing incident, or his penchant for famous next door neighbours either...or the BBC-sanctioned hardcore porn shoot, for that matter! Oh, and he apparently invented the highly collectable VistaScreen viewer too!). Oh, and as it was the (literally) Swinging Sixties, everybody was shagging everybody else at the drop of a hat too. Not that I'm envious or anything, you understand.

Oh, and if that's not enough, he then went on to establish a highly successful editing and post-production rental facilty too...I told you he'd done better than just 'good', didn't I?

Not to put too fine a point on it, but I enjoyed this book immensely, indeed possibly a little bit too much in fact...I tore through the thing in the space of two days, it was that engrossing. Still, I can happily envisage re-reading it sometime in the near future and making some copious notes on low-budget filmmaking philosophy from a man who has worn many hats in the industry (cinematographer, director, producer, distributor) and seemingly had a damned good time doing it.

It's certainly good value for money (indeed, a veritable snip at the price Amazon.co.uk currently have it going for), and is a well produced and well-laid out book. I tend to notice little things like that, and this is very well done in that respect, right down to the fonts used. I know Simon Sheridan has done a couple of other books on this genre, so I definitely wouldn't be adverse to checking them out now. Whether they would be anywhere near as interesting as this book remains to be seen...had X-Rated been solely about the heyday of the Sexploitation era, it would still have been a very interesting read, but as it stands, it is so very, very much more than that, and I can most happily recommend it.

Stanley Long's Official Website


Sunday, 14 June 2009

HOLLYWOOD FAIL II: Electric Boogaloo

I'd like to take the opportunity to address the phenomenon known as 'PIS', which stands for 'Plot-Induced Stupidity'. This occurs when characters in a film do something preternaturally stupid, completely against all logic, simply to advance the plot.

Case in point: The bridge sequence in Mission Impossible III.

Ethan Hunt and his IMF agents are apparently the cream of the cream of the crop, but once they touch down in the USA with high profile captive Owen Davian, it seems their ability to think rationally goes straight out of the window.

Rather than just landing their plane at a fortified military installation, they instead elect to transport Davian via a convoy, and just a regular convoy at that. No armoured vehicles, and no air support either. Then, just to compound their stupidity that little bit further, they decide to drive over a narrow bridge completely surrounded by ocean on both sides, meaning there's nowhere to go. Do they have gunboats in the water, shadowing their route? No. That would be far too logical.

If you've ever seen the classic convoy assault technique (and chances are, if you've seen enough action movies you will have...there's a great example of it in 'Clear And Present Danger', for example), it usually involves taking out the front and rear vehicles in the convoy to pin the remaining vehicles in and stop them from escaping. The only hope for the remaining vehicles is to ram their way out and make good their escape.

If it's a civilian target (like the opening robbery in Michael Mann's 'Heat', then you can just block the target in by using your own sufficiently heavy vehicles. If it's a VIP target, like a visiting dignitary, then the security services will normally have cleared the route of all traffic, hence necessitating the use of an RPG launcher to take out the vehicles and cause the blockage.

In MI:III, there is civilian traffic on the road. Yes, that's right, we're supposed to believe that the guy previously smart enough to break into CIA headquarters at Langley now doesn't have brains enough to think ahead and close the road off to civilian traffic...and who's to say that it is civilian traffic? Could be a plethora of highly-trained and heavily armed mercenaries bearing down on the convoy from both directions for all they know.

What's most funny is that Hunt is now apparently an IMF instructor. Suffice to say, with mission planning like this, he needs to take his ass back to class, because this is an unadulterated FAIL on all levels.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

EATEN ALIVE! Italian Cannibal and Zombie movies

Edited by Jay Slater
256 pages, B&W w/ Colour Insert
Dimensions: H=23cm W=17cm D=1.8cm
SRP £14.99(UK) $19.95(US)


This one takes a somewhat different approach...it's a series of articles, reviews and interviews, from a variety of different authors. The articles are arranged in chronological order, but as there is no linear meta-narrative joining them together, you are free to pick and choose where to pick up and leave off. If you've read my review of Zombiemania, you'll know this is something I rather like, and the same applies here. Eaten Alive! is another one for the 'bathroom bookshelf'.

As for the articles themselves, as you might very well expect it's quite a pot pourri given the diverse list of contributors, and there are some real surprises in there too. When I saw that Troma figurehead Lloyd Kaufman had contributed an article, I was expecting a rollicking and irreverent pun-filled yuckfest in keeping with the mood of his own superb book "All I Need To Know About Filmmaking I Learned From The Toxic Avenger" (Which I can more than happily recommend, if you're wondering), a comedic counterpoint to some of the more serious critical analysis which undoubtedly lay ahead. Instead, you get an insightful, intelligent and utterly straight-faced dissection of Cannibal Holocaust which contextualises the film and the themes therein brilliantly.

Script snippets and portions of interviews with the leading lights (both from behind and in front of the camera) of this particular sub-genre are skillfully interwoven between the articles. All of the usual suspects are there (Morghen, MacColl, McCulloch), but it is disappointing to hear what low regard some of them have for these movies. Still, the inclusion of numerous juicy Lucio Fulci anecdotes does go same way towards redressing the damage.

Is it good value for money? I would answer with a most enthusiastic "Yes!", but you have to bear in mind that I picked my copy up off of Ebay for less than a third of the SRP, postage included...and I'm still feeling incredibly smug about it, thank you very much. Had I been forced to pay full price, I wouldn't be shedding too many tears though. If you can scare yourself up a copy for around the £10 mark, then you will have got yourself a genuine bargain (although not as good as mine!!!).

Of course, no doubt some of you are saying to yourselves right now: "Cool! So, which one should I get? Eaten Alive! or Cannibal?"

If you're anything like me (and I assume you are since you're here), then my honest answer would be to get both. Eaten Alive! seems like a slightly more substantial work...it certainly has more pages, but they are smaller than the pages of Cannibal and not in glossy full colour either. The truth is that whilst they cover very much the same ground, they are as different as apples and oranges. Cannibal is the product of a single author, with a linear narrative. It's in full vibrant colour and is extremely well written...the only downside for me is that it is just too short. The old adage of 'Always leave them wanting more' has never been more appropriate.

Eaten Alive!, on the other hand, you certainly gives you a little more for your money (and it's cheaper too), but this is partially due to the fact that Slater is able utilise the work of multiple authors on the same subject (for example, there are no less than three pieces on Cannibal Holocaust), whereas John Martin only has the luxury of one.

Ultimately, it's the choice between a sixpack of domestic beers versus maybe a four-pack of a premium quality imported beer. You could make a similar analogy about hookers too, I guess, but I'm just too damned classy.

In short, if you like Italian exploitation flicks it's all good. If not, you have no soul.


Thursday, 11 June 2009


I have decided that I want a copy of Tim Lucas' universally-celebrated Mario Bava book 'All The Colors Of The Dark'. To this end, I am selling kidneys. Not my own kidneys, but they are kidneys nonetheless.

All enquiries to the usual address, cash prefered as apparently PayPal have some sort of archaic totalitarian rules about using their service to pay for human organs. Fascists!

When I was younger, I did a door-to-door collection for a Kidney charity in the UK, and they didn't even send me so much as a thank you card, so the way I figure it is that I am owed some kidney-related payback, and it has come time to collect!

I know some of you might feel a little uneasy about the ethical implications of such a venture, but I believe that there is a reason that God gave people two kidneys, and that is so they could sell them and raise money and buy this book. I also believe God blessed mankind with the intelligence to create dialysis machines so that we could also sell the other kidney so that we can afford to take out a subscription to Filmrage as well. The Lord Giveth, and The Lord Taketh Away apparently, and who are we to question His divine omniscient wisdom?

It is God's Will, I'm convinced by it.

Monday, 1 June 2009

ZOMBIEMANIA: 80 Movies To Die For

By Dr. Arnold T. Blumberg & Andrew Hershberger
Afterword by Mark Donovan
Telos Publishing Ltd.
497 pages, B&W
Dimensions H=21cm W=14.9cm D=2.5cm
SRP £14.99 (UK) $29.95 (US) $29.95 (CAN)


Another day, another book about flesh eating ghouls. I knew I should have gone with the porno review blog idea...but anyway, the latest entry into my library of the living dead is this tidy little package care of Telos.

After the brilliant-but-Bataan-Death-March-esque tome that was 'Book Of The Dead', this comes as a welcome (and thankfully light) relief. The book is split up into 80 small sections dealing with all the zombie flicks you would expect, plus a few more besides. Each section follows the same format, neatly divided up into subsections such as 'Synopsis', 'Necrology' (i.e., what 'rules' do these zombies follow?), 'Behind The Scenes' '6 Degrees Of Necrophagia' and so on. This means you can get right at the information that interests you without any unnecessary reading, and it also facilitates quick comparisons between one or more of the films featured, should you so choose.

The tone of the book is a pleasing combination of both the serious (embodied by the meticulous attention to detail when it comes down to technical matters such as the relative merits of the various DVD incarnations) and the sublime (though always recognising that the authors' razor-sharp tongue planted firmly in the cheek is not as important as the razor-sharp shard of wood planted equally firmly in Olga Karlatos' eye).

The anecdotal information presented herein is damned good...if you're a fan of certain films, you more than likely know all the ins and outs of that particular movie's genesis and journey to the screen, such as 'the refrigerator incident' from 'Day Of The Dead'. Such incidents are part of horror fandom lore. However, the authors have reall dug up a wealth of interesting tidbits and gossip which you can shock and amaze (or alternatively irritate and bore) your friends and family with. Indeed, having read both this and 'Book Of The Dead' in such close proximity to one another, I now feel as though I am in a position of such zombie movie knowledge ('zomniscient', anyone? I'm claiming it), that George Romero should start calling me for advice (and I haven't even seen 'Diary Of The Dead' yet either, which is apparently when most people seem to think George Romero should start calling them for advice, or so I've heard).

The films are not listed chronologically but rather in alphabetical order, and I find that the format of the book itself encourages me to forget about that and just crack it open at random and see what I get. One of the inherent advantages of Zombiemania's layout is that you're never more than 4 or so pages away from the start of one movie and the end of another. As such, it's very easy to just pick up and read a chapter of it without having to devote too much time to it. If you, like me, have the awful habit of taking books into the bathroom with you, then I can guarantee you that you won't expose yourself to the risk of haemorrhoids by sitting on the throne too long because you just want to finish the chapter you're reading. Zombiemania is like the guilty indulgence food you can eat between meals without ruining your appetite.

(Wow...from anal to oral in the same paragraph...it's like that Ass-To-Mouth discussion in 'Clerks II'...what would Freud have said? We already know what Rosario Dawson would say. Maybe it's my subconscious telling me I really should have gone with the porno blog?)

Indeed, even the size of the book suggests it was intended to be something readers could just 'grab and go' with...let's be honest here. Nightmare USA is an awesome book, but there's just no way you could justify taking something of that size and weight (and price!) on a camping trip or on holiday with you. Zombiemania, on the other hand, I could see fitting into a rucksack or suitcase quite nicely.

After the main body (or reanimated corpse, if you prefer) of featurettes is done, there is a film index of over 550 titles, perhaps to be explored in more depth in a future volume, plus a useful cast and crew index. However, in the grandest of grand traditions, they have well and truly saved the best until last with a superb afterword by Mark Donovan of 'Shaun of the Dead' fame. Maybe it will not resonate as much with readers of a different generation, but for me, as an 80's child, it certainly hits all the right notes and brings back many happy memories of the VHS era. It's also a rather inspiring piece as he relates his journey from humble horror fan to the cover of Fangoria, no less (Dr. Hook be damned...the cover of Rolling Stone is for pussies)!

However, I have a sneaking suspicion that what landed Mr. Donovan the Afterword gig is the fact that he has played Tor Johnson in a stage production of 'Plan 9 from Outer Space' (...the authors seem to have a somewhat unhealthy obsession/running joke going with the iconic B-Movie legend, as you will no doubt see for yourself when you read it), but that is neither here nor there at the end of the day.

Suffice to say, the Afterword really sends the book off on the proverbial high note, and puts one in the mood for an 80's-nostalgia-fuelled viewing of Zombie Flesh Eaters at the soonest possible convenience, especially given the amount of extremely colourful anecdotes the authors venture about the guy who plays the fat zombie on the boat. I wonder if Robert Englund or Doug Bradshaw have ever tried to solicit a hooker whilst in full costume and makeup?

My only quibbles/complaints about the book would be lack of colour (but that would unquestionably make it a lot more expensive) and the fact that a few of the images show very slight signs of pixelation. That's all I've got, and that's being really nitpicky.

Price-wise, I'd have to say it's about right at £14.99, but who honestly pays retail when Amazon have usually got some sort of deal on? If you can get it for less than the SRP then my advice would be to go for it. It's an easily-accessible book both in terms of layout and approach to the subject at hand, and as such I think it's a great entry-level book for those zombie afficionados who aren't really that bothered about the socio-cultural subtext that they might be missing, but do care about seeing some guy getting his entrails ripped out.

***UPDATE: I have been heeding my own advice on this one. It has subsequently become my go-to 'Bathroom Book'.***