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.


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

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!***