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Monday, May 28, 2012

The New Jean Rollin Discs from Kino Lorber/Redemption

The newest batch of DVDs and Blu-Rays from Kino Lorber and Redemption hit stores this week (May 29th) and I am happy to report that all three are absolutely exceptional releases. I have written my thoughts on The Rape of the Vampire, Requiem for a Vampire and The Demoniacs on numerous occasions, so I will just be posting on how these new discs look and sound here as well as offering up some thoughts on the numerous extras. Since all three of these titles were available as part of Encore's incredible box-set collections the big question I am sure most hardcore Rollin fans will have is are these new discs worth the upgrade and I can absolutely answer yes, especially in the case of The Rape of the Vampire and Requiem for a Vampire.



The Rape of the Vampire: Rollin's first film has never looked that good on home video, even Encore's print suffered from a number of issues, so seeing the film so lovingly restored on Redemption's new disc is a real pleasure. Rollin's confrontational black and white debut can now finally be enjoyed via an incredibly vibrant and sharp looking print mastered from the original 35mm negative. Image and detail are sharp throughout and, some minor-print damage aside, The Rape of the Vampire has never looked more glorious or seemed more relevant.
The original French-language soundtrack (presented with optional English subs) is also consistently strong, although some small occasional issues due to the original low-budget production remain. The inventive score from Yves Geraud and Francois Tusques is presented really particularly well on the disc allowing viewers to appreciate just how strong it is.
Extras on the Encore collection included an audio commentary from Rollin and interviews with Jacqueline Seiger, Alain Yves Beaujour and Francoise Tusques. Sadly none of these are available on Redemption's new disc, but some splendid new supplements have been made exclusively for this release including a weighty documentary on the making of the film by Daniel Gouyette (which features informative and moving interviews with Rollin, Jean-Denis Bonan and Jean-Pierre Bouyxou) a video introduction by Rollin, an interview with Jean-Loup Philippe and an alternate (clothed) version of a scene. Rollin's excellent two early short-films Les Amours Jaunes and Les Pays Loin are also on the discs and a wonderful essay by Tim Lucas is featured in the extra 16 page booklet (this is also a part of the other two discs as well).
While the missing extras from the Encore release will make fans wanting to hold onto that version, this edition of The Rape of the Vampire is without question the most essential one and is highly recommended.



Requiem for a Vampire: A framing issue hurt Encore's otherwise splendid edition of Requiem for a Vampire, which contained a Rollin commentary, some alternate scenes and interviews with Louise Dhour and Paul Bisciglia. This new version corrects the framing problem (presenting the film in its correct 1.66:1 aspect ratio) and offers up a additional interviews with Rollin, Natalie Perrey and Jean-Noel Delamarre. The Dhour interview is ported over from the Encore set, although the commentary track is not.
You'll feel like Pony Castel and Mirielle d'Argent are in the room with you while watching Redemptions new disc. Requiem for a Vampire has never been more intoxicating than in this spellbinding new print that brings out Renan Polles brilliant photography tremendously well. Rollin's film has never felt moodier or quite as dazzling as it does with this new disc. I am jealous of newcomers who will get to experience it this way for the first time (it's a far cry from my first experience 15 plus years ago with Something Weird Video's Caged Virgins VHS cut).
Redemption have offered up two-audio tracks (original French and English dub) and both mono mixes sound as good as they can. Pierre Raph's essential score is balanced well with the spare dialogue and has never sounded better.
While the supplements aren't as exhaustive as some of Redemptions other new Rollin discs, the picture quality of this Requiem for a Vampire make it instantly the go-to disc for this mesmerizing title.



The Demoniacs: Of the three new releases in The Cinema of Jean Rollin collection, I would say the least revelatory is the new disc of The Demoniacs (simply due to the fact that the film looked so splendid via Encore's box-set). Redemptions new BD does offer up some additional detail and Jean-Jacques Renon's stunning photgraphy has a renewed clarity that is quite breathtaking.
Encore's set was among the lightest, extras-wise, of their collection with only a commentary by Rollin, some deleted scenes and an interview with the great Willy Braque on hand. Redemption's new disc is, again, missing the Rollin commentary (and Braque's chat is gone as well) but a number of new extras are here including additional deleted footage, two cut sex-scenes and interviews with Rollin, Jean Bouyxou and the much-missed Perrey.
This new disc for The Demoniacs probably sounds the best of the new releases with the mono-French track (again with optional English subs) sounding quite clean and balanced.
The Demoniacs is being presented as an Unrated Extended Cut. Being included, for the first time, is a brief bit of dialogue and an extended sequence of the stunning Joelle Coeur ravaging herself on the beach at the end of the film (these extra bits do not included the explicit closeups offered as an extra on the encore disc).
While the new disc of The Demoniacs is not quite as eye-opening as The Rape of the Vampire and Requiem for a Vampire it is still an essential release and a no-brainer purchase for Rollin fans, especially those that don't have Encore's set.

Thanks to Kino-Lorber and Redemption for continuing their amazing The Cinema of Jean Rollin collection. Be sure to buy these releases and continue to show your support. The next collections are due in late August...the titles, The Living Dead Girl and Two Orphan Vampires!

...

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A new Joseph W. Sarno Collection is on the way!

Joseph W. Sarno's landmark film Inga, as well as its solid sequel The Seduction of Inga, have been out of print on DVD for a number of years now so the announcement of a new box-set containing the films is very welcome news. Arriving on August 14th from Retro-Seduction Cinema The Inga Collection contains both of Sarno's great Inga films (including two cuts of each film) as well as The Indelicate Balance, one of Sarno's truly great works. This three-disc set looks to be basically a repackaging of the now hard to find original Retro-Seduction releases from early in the last decade but I thought it absolutely deserved mentioning for folks who might not have those original discs in their collection. Plus at under thirty dollars this lovely collection is a steal. Here are the full-specs and I do hope the liner-notes mentioned are the original ones written by Moon in the Gutter friend (and past Q&A participant) Michael Bowen, as they are extremely informative and valuable.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

Disc 1

- Uncut Bonus Feature Film: Inga Swedish Version (English Subtitles)
- Inga Trailers: 2 Versions! Plus Trailer for the Inga sequel The Seduction of Inga
- Ultra-Rare Outtakes
- Commentary by Director Joseph Sarno, Asst. Director Peggy Steffans-Sarno, Producer Sam Sherman and Film Historian Bruce G. Hallenbeck
- Exclusive Audio Interview with Star Marie Liljedahl

Disc 2

- Documentary: “Innocence Lost: The Story of Inga”
- Documentary: Vernon P. Becker's "Memories Of Inga”
- Pop Video: “Inga's Theme” by Benny and Bjorn
- Sneak Preview: Joe Sarno's Suburban Secrets (2005)

Disc 3

- The "Grindhouse" Cut of Seduction Of Inga
- Feature Film: The Indelicate Balance (1969) with commentary by Peggy Steffans-Sarno and Gary Huggins
- Joe Sarno Trailer Vault
- 12 Page Booklet Featuring Historical Liner Notes

Monday, May 21, 2012

Ben Haggar from Breakfast in the Ruins on The Escapees (A Guest-Post)

One of my absolute favorite spots on the net is the incredible Breakfast in the Ruins, a film blog run by a really terrific writer named Ben Haggar. I was really excited recently to hear that Ben was going to contribute a guest-post for Fascination and today I am thrilled to present it! So here is Ben's excellent new look at one of Rollin's less-discussed films, the very intriguing Les Paumees Du Petit Matin (The Escapees). Thanks so much to Ben for contributing this very fine piece and I hope everyone will head over to Breakfast in the Ruins after reading!




With the renewed interest in Jean Rollin’s work that has followed in the wake of Kino/Redemption’s reissue campaign and FindersKeepers soundtrack releases, now seems as good a time as any to lavish some attention on what I’d consider to be perhaps the most overlooked item in his catalogue, 1981’s Les Eschappees, aka The Runaways, aka The Escapees.

Long written off as a minor film, ‘The Escapees’ remained largely unseen for many years, only seeing release on Region 2 DVD from Redemption in 2008, seemingly after they’d long cleared their vault of everything else Rollin-related. Even Tohill &Tombs, in their landmark study of Rollin’s work in ‘Immoral Tales’, seem lukewarm on the film, praising the opening and closing scenes and the way the relationship between the central characters is developed, but largely writing it off as a ‘failed thriller’, concentrating on the problems Rollin encountered with proposed co-writer Jacque Ralf, and noting that the film ‘drags woefully’ (Immoral Tales, p.160).

Perhaps this general lack of availability and critical enthusiasm – together with the lack of fantastical or exploitation elements – has tended to make the film a bit of a hard sell for casual fans. Despite all this, I would still consider ‘The Escapees’ to be an essential Rollin film. Though as flawed and idiosyncratic as anything else he lent his name to during the ‘80s, it is still a singularly personal piece of work, invoking all of his key concerns as both a director and a human being, and gaining a particular poignancy through its investigation of what happens when the fantastical world he created in his ‘70s horror films makes the painful transition to the drab and impoverished reality of marginal French life in which those films were actually produced.




It’s certainly hard to imagine a more quintessentially ‘Rollin-esque’ opening to a story than the one found here, as two troubled girls (Laurence Dubas and Christiane Coppé) make their escape from the stifling confines of a particularly oppressive psychiatric institution, united in their search for … who knows what? Adventure, beauty, companionship? Above all, the mysteries of ‘the real world’, of which they know little, despite extrovert Michelle’s claims to the contrary. With a little tweaking, we could almost be watching an unfilmed prequel to ‘Requiem for a Vampire’, but rather than entering a fairytale world of chateaus and vampires, Michelle and Marie now find themselves lost in altogether more mundane circumstances.

Recalling the bleak visual sensibility of the previous year’s ‘Night of the Hunted’, Rollin’s camera captures suburban France at its most dismal and overcast, as the girls undertake their journey through freezing dockyards, rainsodden woods and motorway scrubland. Colour only enters proceedings when they stumble upon Maurice’s travelling show - a threadbare troupe consisting of a couple of exotic dancers and a faded fairground stage-set, who set up for business in a car graveyard near an unnamed port town, performing to a weather-beaten audience of workers, sailors and transients.

The poverty-stricken sadness of Maurice’s show and its patrons is beautifully evoked (presumably because the production itself was pretty poverty-stricken), with the dancers performing to tacky canned music, just in front of the train tracks, where anonymous carriages roll on into the night. Conjuring the most forlorn kind of faded funfair seediness, the scene puts me in mind of the Graham Greene quote immortalised by the Mounds & Circles weblog: “Seediness has a very deep appeal; it seems to satisfy, temporarily, the sense of nostalgia for something lost”.




Although functioning as a simple and affecting tale in its own right, ‘The Escapees’ can on another level be read partly as a extended metaphor for its director’s struggle to realise his more outré visions amid the crushing banality of the world outside his head – an interpretation that the film at times seems to explicitly acknowledge. Certainly, the monologue Maurice delivers to the two girls in defence of his show could scarcely be any more on the nose when it comes to drawing a self-reflexive parallel between the plight of the film’s characters and the way that Rollin viewed himself and his collaborators in the ghetto of porno/horror filmmaking;

“Everyone here is an artiste. A true artiste. And what you see here is theatre. The theatre of the street. The original, the most beautiful. […] Look at my fairground stall, the sailors arguing… it is the great mystery of the fairground show.”

Although impossibly hackneyed by conventional standards (despite the increased realism, Rollin’s gift for naively stilted, unnatural dialogue scenes has not deserted him), the wider resonance of Maurice’s monologue, his exultation of a grand mystery within what any ‘respectable’ citizen would deem a squalid, tacky and dangerous situation, is moving indeed.

There is a certain warmth and romanticism to the way in which Rollin presents Maurice’s show that echoes through the whole film. The drunken crowd remains polite and respectful (for the most part), and a jovial, inclusive atmosphere reigns, even as sexual favours are bought and sold, and as the men invade the stage and lift the dancers above their heads in celebration. The party atmosphere only dissipates when the police arrive, and the crowd abruptly vanishes into the night.

Throughout its run-time, ‘The Escapees’ seems to evoke nostalgia for a kind of human warmth that has been lost from the modern world of wealth and respectability; a warmth that can now be found only amongst misfits and petty criminals, in places where progress fears to tread. Thinking back, this is a theme that can perhaps be traced throughout Rollin’s work, in the comfort his characters seem to find in the old, the derelict, the abandoned – only now the chateaus and cemeteries have been replaced by the community spirit found at Maurice’s show and, later, in Louise Dhour’s docklands bar.




The scenes in Louise’s bar struggle with that particular brand of awkwardness that often afflicts inter-character scenes in Rollin movies, but here too, it’s a convincing sense of warmth and belonging that shines through, anchored by a superb performance from Dhour herself as the matriarchal proprietor, drawing her small ‘family’ of damaged runaways around her as she reads the tarot and imparts advice, sharing an implicit understanding that they all basically share the same history, the same dreams. (A formidable vocalist, her rousing performance of the nautical ballad ‘La Mauvaise Priere’ is a real highlight too.)

It’s perhaps not the most original scenario ever conceived, but again, the simple empathy of Rollin’s approach to his characters gives it a comforting power that’s hard to deny. Until the quartet of decadent rich folk enter proceedings at the film’s conclusion in fact, it’s notable that ‘The Escapees’ is a drama in which the on screen action consists almost entirely of people being kind to each other, as the girls receive unquestioned courtesy and generosity from almost everyone they encounter. The film’s only real antagonists are poverty, social inequality, the law, and the unfortunate constraints of reality itself.




Like all of Rollin’s films, ‘The Escapees’ is an unapologetically sentimental work, thrown together in what can often seem an inexcusably slapdash and fragmentary manner. The earthbound setting perhaps draws undue attention to these perceived imperfections, and the film’s drifting pace, unconcerned with narrative urgency, may prove a bit of a stumbling block for some viewers, just as newcomers to the director’s work might find it hard to deal with the way the characters suddenly lapse into poetic reverie at every opportunity, giving voice to their dreams and fears into stilted, quasi-symbolist fashion.

That the film never even secured a release when it was initially completed is hardly surprising in the face of such wilful eccentricity, but now that we have the privilege of viewing Rollin’s films at our leisure, it would take a hard heart indeed to sneer as Michelle flicks through a picture book, telling Marie of shells shining on the ocean floor and pirates with their cutlasses, or as their friend Sophie announces that her forthcoming journey will take her far away, to unknown adventures. Like the ‘outsider’ and neo-primitive artists Rollin admired so much, his blunt manner of communicating his characters’ inner feelings bypasses the cynicism of any receptive viewer. As fans, we allow him to get away with bungling and pretension that would have us guffawing at the work of any other filmmaker – we can implicitly understand the honesty and depth of feeling he has invested in his characters, and the wider meaning of their plight, and we have no choice but to drop our critical guard accordingly.




Whilst Rollin is often written off as a ‘naive’ filmmaker though (even using the word in a positive context himself in describing films like ‘Requiem..’), his perceived amateurism shouldn’t obscure the fact that much of his technique is still extremely effective. In particular, the experience gained through nearly fifteen years worth of zero budget, shot-on-location filmmaking (has ANY Jean Rollin film ever boasted enough money for a purpose-built set?) had by this stage given him an incredible gift for capturing the emotional resonance of his locations – a skill which is utilised more clearly than ever on ‘The Escapees’.

Seemingly shot over a series of bleak and freezing dawns, the early morning scenes set in and around the docks have an incredibly evocative, sleepless feel to them - a girl slipping out of nightclub door hugging a leather jacket around her, rusty machinery, broken milk bottles and sailors lounging on the wharf watching cargo containers being lifted aboard ship. Whilst the film strives to keep the location fairly anonymous, these images effortlessly capture the transient world of every industrialised port city, from Hamburg to Yokohama, and the way Rollin is able to pull such deep associations from pretty much nothing at all helps highlight his strange, instinctive genius as a director, the surroundings in his films speaking to us as eloquently as his characters’ more direct flights of fancy.




As in ‘Night of the Hunted’, the sudden lurch into sex/violence footage that takes place in the final ten minutes of ‘The Escapees’ is strange and deeply uncomfortable, and, as is often the case in Rollin’s films, the motivation behind its inclusion is uncertain. Was he obliged to insert some salacious material into what would otherwise be a terminally un-commercial film, or was he just including it out of habit by this stage in his career? Or, more interestingly, was he shifting the tone for deliberate effect, to shock and repulse us just when we’d settled into the groove of a modest, heart-warming little film? Despite their tawdry explicitness (instantly upsetting the balance of what would otherwise be the one Rollin film you’d perhaps be able to sell your uptight world cinema fan friends on), the scenes featuring Brigitte Lahaie and Jean Philippe Delamarre as one half of a pair of duplicitous bourgeois couples who trick the girls into accompanying them home are still horribly effective in their own way. By this stage, our identification with Michelle and Marie is so strong that the very thought that they might not make it to the ship that awaits them at the harbour at 4am is unthinkable… and the fact that their fantastical voyage is halted by an invasion of sleaze and gore of course adds a further tragic resonance to the self-reflexive message Rollin seems to be trying to convey in this film.



The struggle between romanticism and realism in Rollin’s later films is nowhere more apparent than in the desperate need we feel for these girls to embark on their journey. Of course stowing away on a naval vessel bound for parts unknown is by any yardstick a pretty bad idea for a pair of young women, but from their own naïve point of view, it is the only possible course of action: to keep moving, to always be ‘elsewhere’, to try anything to escape their dismal surroundings. As Michelle says at the start of the film, “It doesn’t matter where. Elsewhere. There are always elsewheres everywhere.”

At first I thought ‘The Escapees’ and ‘The Runaways’ were pretty bland, utilitarian titles for this movie, but the more I think about them, the more perfect they seem. Michelle and Marie aren’t simply ‘escapees’ from the institution at the outset - their entire lives are focused on escape – from loneliness, from social norms, and from the confines of reality itself.

In one sense, their escape attempt proves futile, as venality and lust leave them more trapped than ever. On the other hand though, isn’t it a *direct* way out of the cold world around them that they’ve been seeking all along? By rolling out the ol’ ‘Bonnie & Clyde’ ending, isn’t Rollin essentially echoing the unsettling final message of many of his best films (Iron Rose, Lips of Blood, to name but a few), encouraging his characters to welcome death with open arms, as an opportunity to step beyond earthly banalities and embrace a kind of eternal mystery..? What are his films after all, if not a celebration of mystery, and what greater mystery can there be than that which lies beyond the veil?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Only the Cinema's Ed Howard on Lips of Blood (A Guest-Post)

***Today I am very pleased to present this guest-post from Ed Howard, one of the best writers on film and music around. Ed runs the terrific Only the Cinema, a blog that features some of the most incredibly absorbing and intelligent writing on film imaginable. I have followed Ed's work at Only the Cinema since he started it back in 2007 and his work is always extremely inspiring. I was thrilled recently when Ed wrote his first piece on one of Jean Rollin's films and I am grateful that he is sharing his new look at Lips of Blood here today! For more information on Ed, please visit his terrific Only the Cinema and comments, of course, are always welcome here. Thanks to Ed for doing this and I hope other writers who admire the cinema of Jean Rollin might consider offering up a guest-post as well!***



Jean Rollin's best films use B-movie horror plots and low-budget production values as portholes into an eerie, unsettling dream world that ultimately has little to do with typical blood-and-gore horror movies. This is especially true of Lips of Blood, one of the director's finest works, and one of his most dreamlike and abstract. The film is a slow, sensuous study of the power of memory and the lure of childhood fantasies, a feverish dream of a film that chronicles a quest that's as much mental as physical.



Frederic (Jean-Loup Philippe) is at a party when he sees a photograph of a ruined castle that triggers a previously suppressed childhood memory or dream. He comes to believe that he's been to this castle as a boy, and that he's forgotten it for some reason; his childhood is a blur to him, and he's long felt disconnected from the stories that his mother (Natalie Perrey) has told him about his forgotten boyhood. The photograph instantly opens a path into his memories, stirring up images of a dreamlike night that he spent in the castle, watched over by a beautiful young girl (Annie Belle) dressed in white. He'd repressed the memories of the castle and the girl, but now that they've entered his mind again, he becomes obsessed, fixated on discovering the castle's whereabouts and trying to locate the girl.



Frederic is haunted by this dreamlike memory, and the film is all about the power that this fixation has over him. At the party at the beginning of the film, he compliments a girl on her perfume, prompting her to pointedly respond, "scents are like memories; the person evaporates but the memory remains." In Frederic's case, the memory too had evaporated for twenty years, but now it's wafted back up into his senses, and he begins seeing the mysterious girl from the castle everywhere. He goes to see a movie — the poster outside is for Rollin's The Nude Vampire, but the theater's actually showing The Shiver of the Vampires, suggesting how intimately connected all these gothic vampire fantasies are — and the girl appears in the theater, beckoning him to follow her. She leads him to a crypt, where Frederic unwittingly releases a quartet of creepy vampire girls (Catherine and Marie-Pierre Castel, Anita Berglund, and Hélène Maguin) who shadow him throughout the rest of the film, continually intervening to rescue him from the mysterious forces that seem intent on stopping him from locating the castle or the girl who dwelled within it.



The film moves at a typically lethargic, dreamlike pace, blending gothic horror imagery — bats and graveyards and vampire girls clad in gauzy robes — with a weird conspiracy thriller vibe. A photographer (Martine Grimaud) who tries to tell Frederic about the castle winds up dead, another woman poses, unconvincingly, as the girl from the castle, and a mysterious assassin tracks Frederic through the night, while the vampires stalk around the fringes of the plot, fading out of the shadows. Rollin's films have often been comparable to the surreal quest narratives of his contemporary Jacques Rivette, with worse acting and more nudity, and nowhere is that comparison more relevant than here. Rollin renders the city as a quiet, nearly unpopulated stage, pools of colored light highlighted in the darkness, shadows cast large and threatening on stone walls as Frederic wanders around the city, searching for answers and chasing phantoms through the streets.



The film feels like a loosely connected series of set pieces, with Frederic's frazzled state of mind creating the sense of disorientation and confusion that dominates his increasingly desperate journey. He begins to doubt his own sanity: the girl from his memory, or his dream, pops into being and blinks out of existence just as suddenly, leading him through the night, eventually guiding him directly to the answer he seeks, the location of the castle from the photo. Meanwhile, the vampires attack and kill random people, baring their uncomfortable-looking fangs and bloodying their mouths on the necks of their victims. At one point, the Castel sisters disguise themselves as nurses in order to rescue Frederic from the mental hospital where he's been locked up by his mother, who seems to know something about all these secrets and mysteries.



Indeed, Frederic's mother provides the obligatory burst of exposition that suddenly explains the story towards the end of the film, setting up the fantastic final act in which Frederic confronts the true nature of his reawakened memories. He's found what he's been searching for, and in the final ten minutes of the film Rollin adopts a tone of lunatic celebration, reveling in the embrace of the supernatural and the bloody. The supernatural is rarely to be feared in Rollin's work. The supernatural is, instead, erotic, alluring, haunting, beautiful, a fixation for Rollin just as the castle becomes for Frederic. There is thus an air of real melancholy in the final act's confrontations between vampires and vampire hunters; Rollin's sympathies are obviously not with the men with their stakes, menacing these girls, but with the vampires themselves, so young and lovely and sensual, retreating in fear before the men. The vampires are the real victims, not to be feared or hated but desired, respected, adored, just as Frederic desires the girl from his memory, who is, of course, also a vampiress, using her power to lure him back to her, to get him to set her free.



Rollin makes the embrace of the supernatural a cause for celebration here, particularly in the ecstatic coda, in which the long-imprisoned vampire relishes her newfound freedom, taking pleasure in the sensuality of nature. Together, Frederic and his vampire love run along the striking, apocalyptic, by now very familiar beach that so often symbolizes the pathway between worlds in Rollin's work. It's here that Frederic embraces his fate and is reborn, and in the finale — at once gloriously silly and wonderfully romantic — the lovers sail off together in a coffin, heading off into a new undead existence together.

***Lips of Blood can be ordered on DVD and Blu-ray here***

Friday, May 11, 2012

The sweet smell they adore, I'd rather smother: Ron Link's Zombie High (1987)


While its title suggests a cheesy Grade-Z horror film, Zombie High (1987) is in reality an extremely smart and savvy look at the disturbing conservative-streak that swept through much of America's youth in the Reagan-ruled eighties. Featuring a wonderful cast, including the always dazzling Virgina Madsen and a pre-Twin Peeks Sherilyn Fenn, Zombie High is one of most surprisingly topical and resonate horror-satires from the eighties in existence and has always been deserving of a much larger audience.

Young Middle-class liberal Andrea has been given the seemingly golden-opportunity of being one of the first female attendees at a posh up-state boarding school, Ettinger Academy, previously only filled by upper-class males. Andrea's initial excitement turns more and more to dread when she begins to notice a robotic conformity sweeping over her fellow students, including the once free-thinking and free-wheeling friends she had made upon her arrival.

Zombie High was the first, and final, film from Ron Link, an artist who worked for most of his life in the theater. The late Link (who passed away in 1999) was in his mid-forties when he shot his low-budget, but ambitious, film, which has much more in common with Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Stepford Wives rather than Night of the Living Dead or Zombie. Link's direction is hampered by his budgetary limitations but Zombie High still stands as an impressive first-feature and it's a shame he didn't direct for film again.

Zombie High was the brainchild of troubled USC film school graduate Aziz Ghazal, an aspiring filmmaker who committed suicide in 1993 after murdering his wife and daughter. Ghazal wrote the savvy script for Zombie High while he was a student at USC and would end up producing the film along with several others including Elliot Kastner. Even though Ghazal's life ended with a horrific tragedy, his script (which featured some additional pre-production input from television writer Tim Doyle and relative novice Elizabeth Passarelli) has a real spark to it and shows him as a talented man with a real flair for topical humor and clever dialogue.

While it is so incredibly clear today that Virginia Madsen was one of the great American actors to come out of the eighties, when she shot Zombie High she still had almost two decades to go before her skills were properly recognized (via a much-deserved Oscar nomination for Sideways). It was mostly Madsen's stunning looks that were focused on in 1987, but she was always much more than a pretty face with a luscious figure and she actually gives one of her best performances as the young liberal looking to keep her spirit and sanity in Zombie High. Her work as Andrea is incredibly strong and stands among the best genre performances of the period and is certainly the equal to her more popular performance in Bernard Rose' Candyman about five years down the road.

The entire cast of Zombie High is quite notable with special mention going to the equally charming and creepy Richard Cox (who had been so memorable in Friedkin's Cruising earlier in the eighties) and, of course, young Sherilyn Fenn (sporting a huge eighties hair-style) seen here a year before he break-out role in Zalman King's Two Moon Junction. Fenn is granted some of the film's wittiest dialogue and it's clear that really special things are just around the corner for her.

Zombie High is far from a perfect production but most of the problem's on hand can be correlated back to ambition exceeding its budget. The film's final act, which features a few too many chase sequences, doesn't measure up to the sly first-hour and the film's soundtrack by Daniel May dates it much more than the clothes or Fenn's enormous hair. Regardless of its shortcomings, there is a lot to love about Zombie High and anyone who felt disheartened by the creepy conservatism that affected so many youths in the mid-to-late eighties will probably feel more than a little affinity with the film.

Zombie High has a had a troubled release history to say the least. Very briefly released in a few theaters in 1987, where it would gross less than $25,000 the film would appear on VHS in 1988 where it would gather dust on the shelves of many mom and pop stores for years after. Never released on disc Zombie High is now available thankfully for rediscovery streaming on Netflix. I must admit, despite the fact that Virginia Madsen is one of my favorite actors, I only recently saw the film for the first time due to my mistaken belief that it was just going to be a schlocky cheese-fest. The title Zombie High might have been the film's undoing as it's misleading on a number of levels. Title be damned though, Zombie High is a really perceptive film and still stands as a great message for young people to embrace individuality and open mindedness, and to not become just another one of America's conservative douche bags whose only motivating factor is the almighty dollar.

***

Saturday, May 5, 2012

A Moon in the Gutter Q&A with Distribpix's Steven Morowitz

Today I am absolutely delighted to present this recent Q&A I conducted with Steven Morowitz of Distribpix, one of most important film and DVD companies in the world. I have celebrated Distribpix, and several of their most essential releases, time and time again here at Moon in the Gutter and it was an honor getting to pick the brain of one of the leading film archivists on the planet. I know Steven is hard at work on what will be one of the most important restorations of the decade, Radley Metzger's masterpiece The Opening of Misty Beethoven, so I really appreciate him taking some time to answer these questions for us. Comments are appreciated and I hope everyone enjoys the interview, it was a real pleasure!



First off, let me say thank you for taking the time to participate in this Q@A. I think that Distribpix is doing some of the most important archival cinema-based work on the planet so this is a real pleasure. I know Distribpix has had a long and fascinating history. Can you tell me about how the company got started back in the mid-sixties?

Distribpix Inc was founded in 1964-65 in NYC, by my father and his business partner. They began by creating and producing, low budget, black and white sexual melodramas, for the cinemas of NYC. But, before long they had established such a strong base for theatrical distribution and production, they had began to attract the attention of several up and coming filmmakers, like Michael and Roberta Findlay, The Amero Brothers(John and Lem), Ron Sullivan, Joe Sarno, and even Leonard Kirtman. Now, Distribix was a major force behind much of the east coast film production, based around NYC, in the late 60's-early 70's. They had the directors, they had the theaters and they produced!

Can you tell us about some of the key works from this period the company was involved in putting out?

Some of the key films from the Distribpix Filmograpghy are as follows:

1. 1966, The Bed and How To Make It, Directed By Joe Sarno, an important film. Starred Sarno favorite, Judson Todd, and future wife, Peggy Stefans. Filmed in NYC and has cameos by both producers, Farber/Morowitz.




2. Satan' Bed, The Findlay's, Starring a young Yoko Ono.

3. The Amero Brothers' Dynamite and Bacchanale.



As the seventies arrived Distribpix really began to thrive as the premiere New York based company making and releasing adult films. It was during this period that the cream of the crop of mostly New York based players began to appear. Legendary names like Georgina Spelvin, Tina Russell, Jamie Gillis and Harry Reems became aligned with your company. In your estimation who were the key players in that period in front of and behind the camera?



Yes, once the seventies had arrived, and even before Deep Throat, Distribpix was already a major production/distribution house- theatrically(remember this was still before videocassettes). So in the early seventies, films like the Postgraduate or Sexual Customs in Scandinavia, were all over the theaters of NYC. These were perfect examples of "white coaters". These were films where the sex was looked at as acceptable, because there was some type of 'academic' angle, where sex was used to illustrate the professor's lesson, but in reality it was sex. These 'white coaters' starred the very same legendary actors who went on to star in the most well known films of the 70's, like Harry Reems, Jamie Gillis and Tina Russell. As a matter of fact, Distribpix played a major role in the landscape of sexploitation and adult cinema, as it became a grounds for actors and directors to work together, find common bonds and make magic.



The Key actors, cast, crew. etc during this time in my opinion would be the following and I am coming from an east coast standpoint, as Distribpix was based in NYC:

Directors like Joe Sarno really showed off his NY style of art house filmmaking with Distribpix. He was a major part of the company, going on to continue working with them for the next 20 years. Also, Ron Sullivan made some great films for Distribpix like, Lust Weekend and Scare Their Pants Off. Jonas Middleton, famed director of Through The Looking Glass, got his start producing Cherry Blossom, under the Distribix label. The famous Amero Brothers film Bacchanle was distributed by Distribpix, as well as many other films they directed in the 70's like, Blonde Ambition and Every Inch A Lady.


***The great Jamie Gillis is The Amero Brothers' classic Blonde Ambition, one of Distribpix's essential releases.***

The key actors of this time were the usual group of NY based actors, like Jamie Gillis, Marc Stevens, Jason Russel, Tina Russell, Harry Reems, these were the same guys that were doing 'loops', they became the face of the NY adult scene. Actually, some of them were incredibly talented.


From the beginning, Distribpix treated the adult-film genre as a viable art-form. Looking at the many titles in the seventies, what are some of the real watershed films that you are most proud of having in the Distribpix library?

Some of the best titles in our library are Through The Looking Glass, Take Off and Expose Me Lovely, The Original Inside Series(Inside Seka, Inside Jennifer Welles, Deep Inside Annie Sprinkle, Inside Little Oral Annie), Felicia, Blonde Ambition, and most of the Chuck Vincent films, like Roommates and Wanda Whips Wallstreet.


***A lobby card from Chuck Vincent's masterpiece Roommates, a future Platinum Elite release from Distribpix.***

Not too mention the super incredibly popular "Henry Paris" features.


While I am a great fan of many of the actors who worked so much with your company back in the day like Eric Edwards, Kelly Nichols, Jamie Gillis, CJ Laing, Sharon Mitchell, Samantha Fox, Seka and Jennifer Welles, I have to say that my absolute favorite is Veronica Hart.


***Veronica Hart, Kelly Nichols and Samantha Fox***

I know you are planning special editions of two of Veronica’s most important films, Roommates and Wanda Whips Wall-St, and I was wondering if you might give us a preview of those upcoming packages?

As fas as details on the Veronica Hart stuff, it is difficult for me right now, as I am fully immersed in the restoration of Radley Metzger's, The Opening of Misty Beethoven.

Even though your company houses works by truly great directors such as Sarno, Radley Metzger, Chuck Vincent and Shaun Costello I suspect you must have some opposition from certain film fans and critics who don’t take the adult genre seriously as a viable art form. Is it tough convincing the establishment that these films are much more than just ‘dirty movies’?

Great point, it is so upsetting to me and my team. I work with guys all over the world. Film experts, audio guys, videographers, etc. We take our original negatives and perform 2k scans with thousands of dollars of color correction/scratch removal, etc. We spend months producing extras, commission custom box art. Yes, it is very frustrating. We are like on our own island. We have no major distributor in the mainstream world, no this stuff will not be on the shelf at Walmart, but that is not my point. The point is that we are doing very high level work, the product sells and it should be sold by a major distributor. I sometimes wish that there was no sex in the films, as I feel we would be taken more seriously, it is a damn shame. I dare anyone out there to buy the upcoming "Misty Beethoven" package and tell me that it is not one of the best DVD packages of 2012!!!!


***Distribpix have been allowing fans to follow their behind the scenes work on their upcoming special edition of Metzger's stunning The Opening of Misty Beethoven at their blog and Facebook page!***

You recently played an important role in the edition of Brian De Palma’s Blow Out on The Criterion Collection! Can you tell us a bit about that?

Really, the Blow Out Thing was a fluke, I own and operate a large film archive, with some kool stuff in it. Some early films from some of the greats. I own the original film elements for Francis Ford Coppola's, Tonight For Sure, which will be an upcoming HD transfer, as well as other rare and odd titles.



De Palma's Murder A la Mod was one of them. They were doing a re-release of Depalma's Blow-Out and a film friend of mine, contacted me and said that he noticed that Criterion was looking for a copy of Murder A la Mod, I had the pristine 35 mm elements, so I contacted them and we made a deal. I really did not have much else to do with it, but I did take the film to the lab and Criterion let me sit in on the transfer, which was super kool! In that case, I was paid for the film rental and that helps to pay the bills. I had no plans for the film, but I do have the archive, so all in all, I was happy to help and get my name on the DVD booklet!




I think it is safe to say that your Platinum Elite Editions are the absolute finest DVDs of their kind ever released. So far you have released Blonde Ambition, Deep Inside Annie Sprinkle, The Passions of Carol and now The Henry Paris films as these super-deluxe editions. How did you go about choosing them from your vast catalogue?

For something to get a Platinum release or a major overhaul, it needs to have some sort of importance, a good cast , a great seller, or maybe it was cut/edited really bad, etc. We assemble the elements, see what we can do for extras, begin to script, and go from there. We have so many films that have been transferred and archived, that we have a lot of low hanging fruit and we can harvest them at any time. Unfortunately for us, the video market is tough and right now we are focused on the Metzger stuff-Henry Paris!



Which brings us to your Henry Paris Collection! You have released phenomenal editions of The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann, Naked Came the Stranger, Maraschino Cherry and the rest of Radley Metzger’s ‘Paris’ films are on the way. Tell us a bit about how these landmark films came to you and the care you are taking in putting them out.

Well, The Radley Films are very special to me. First of all, My father dealt with Radley back in the late 70's and 80's. When Mature Pix was running the "World Theater", they played long runs of the Henry Paris films, and soon after my father began to operate that Theater and he knew how successful these films were, but the relationship was cemented, in the early 80's when my father was doing the VHS distribution of the Henry Paris films, under Quality-X, Sam Lake's previous label. Eventually, my father had purchased Maraschino Cherry, which was the last of the Henry Paris films, and Radley kept ownership of the rest.

This opportunity came to me, when a friend of mine found out that Radley was looking for a new distributor to handle his Henry Paris films. When I found this out, I jumped at the opportunity, as more often that not, I sit around too long. I wrote a 2 page hand written letter to him and I spilled my guts and told him that I would be the best person for this job. I heard back from him a few days later, he asked me if I would be able to work within his financial parameters and I agreed. We began to correspond and before long we had an agreement.

The work we are now doing on these Henry Paris films is by far the most in depth, we have gone, not only in the film restoration, but by adding a ton of extra value to the films, like video extras, commentary, subtitles. They are really turning into something special. People from all over the world are buying them and they love what we are doing. Some are amazed that we would even go to these lengths, but it becomes addictive, Each project gets better and you keep learning. So you never know what is next.



What are your hopes for Distribpix in the upcoming year and are there perhaps any other special releases on the way we haven’t covered here?

My hopes for upcoming year is that we continue to have great success producing the Henry Paris films. We are working on finding a licensing deal that would give us the freedom to finally release our Distribpix collection, in a proper fashion and with a mainstream distributor, not the X-rated films, but the sexploitation/exploitation stuff, all 2k scans!! And of course there will be other surprises.

Thanks again for doing this! I have always thought that a film historian who ignores adult-films is a bit like a music-buff who ignores the industrial and underground-punk scenes. Thanks for treating these films, directors and actors with the respect they deserve and I wish you much continuing success at Distribpix!

I also want to thank you for being such a huge supporter of the films that we are restoring and releasing. Your great write-ups have surely been beneficial in bringing us some attention and that is greatly appreciated.

***For more information on Distribpix, please visit their blog for behind the scenes stories, release information, links to their other sites and more!***