November 13, 2012

A Chip Off the Old Block II

Here are some additional Lego movie reenactments I have done - the first batch of photos can be seen HERE

Chopping Mall (1986)
Friday the 13th (1980)
Hell Night (1981)
The Pit (1981)

November 12, 2012

The Freakmaker aka The Mutations (1974)

This article on The Freakmaker (1974) originally appeared on and is reprinted with permission.

Someone (or some-THING!) is kidnapping the young (and incredibly stylish) students from the local university. A few days later, the visiting carnival showcases some "new additions" to their "Freak Show" attraction. What's the connection?

This 1970s oddball curiosity stars horror icon Donald Pleasance as the creepy and super-serious Professor Nolter, a teacher who has bizarre theories of combining plant and animal life through mutation and metamorphosis. He's so serious about his teaching that when a snarky student makes some jokes during one of his lectures, he deadpans in his weird accent, "We are interested in cloning...not in clowning." Sheesh.

Now enter, Mr. Lynch (played by an unrecognizable Tom Baker, made famous to cult audiences as the most popular incarnation of Dr. Who and, most recently, as the wry narrator of the BBC hit sketch show, Little Britain), the horribly deformed, self-loathing and vicious owner of the traveling sideshow. Together these two form a villainous alliance in the pursuit of creating the ultimate living plant/creature.

This film, which can best be described as a mix of classic Frankenstein elements and an homage to Todd Browning's 1933 Freaks (with a healthy dash of The Little Shop of Horrors thrown in for some gooey, shock thrills), is no doubt a strange and unsettling one. This is due largely in part to the eerie and surreal soundtrack and the casting of real human "oddities", not to mention the effectively gruesome make-up job on Tom Baker's evil Lynch character. However, the story falls into the typical cliches of the horror formula, with the usual chase scenes, "damsel-in-distress" moments and ultimately, the gruesome and well-deserved demises of the villains - complete with final eradication by fire, an end most always found in horror films.

The performances? Pleasance is fine, as usual, and rather underplays the whole "mad scientist" role, where as he could have gone in the complete opposite direction. Tom Baker is memorably gruff and intimidating and definitely cuts an imposing figure with his tall stature and big floppy hat, hideous face wrapped with a scarf. The rest of the cast is pretty forgettable, except, of course, for the genuine human oddities used in the film, like the "Alligator Woman", "The Human Pretzel" and "Popeye", who despite being visually memorable, fail to register on a dramatic level due to their lack of acting experience.

The Freakmaker, which was quite low-budget compared to today's standards (the film cost approx. $400,000), looks pretty amazing. The laboratory sets are quite elaborate and the carnival location provides an effectively murky and seedy atmosphere. Most curious of all is the fact that this typical "B"-type picture, one which features many tried-and-true exploitation elements, is directed by none other than Jack Cardiff, the brilliant Academy Award-winning cinematographer and director whose work ranged from photographing the hypnotizing Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger films such as Black Narcissus (1947), The Red Shoes (1948) and others, as well as directing a wide variety of films that range from Sons and Lovers (1960) and My Geisha (1962) with Shirley MacLaine to the spy spoof The Liquidator (1965) and, ultimately, the psychedelic Girl on a Motorcycle (1968) with Alain Delon and Marianne Faithfull. However, despite Cardiff's lapses into different genres, The Freakmaker still seems to be the strangest contribution to his resume and career. It also remains his last directorial effort.

The 2005 DVD released by Subversive Cinema offers a lot of great supplemental material for fans of the film and curiosity seekers. There is the usual still gallery (including lobby cards and the spooky and effective poster art), trailer gallery (including other cult titles from the Subversive library, like the Japanese Battlefield Baseball (2003) and the kidnap thriller The Candy Snatchers (1973)) and a half-hour featurette on the making of the film, complete with interviews of Jack Cardiff, co-star Brad Harris and writer/producer Robert Weinbach. All three also participate in a commentary track.

Naturally, the film will be mainly of interest to fans of the performers and director Cardiff, but as an attempt to view it solely as a film and as a story, it's quite disappointing. On the other hand, it's a much more entertaining experience if you watch The Freakmaker with the second commentary by Weinbach and Harris. Their candid and often amusing remarks about the making of the film reveal plenty of odd details about the cast and crew including some gossip about the real freaks in the film such as the "Alligator Woman" who, in real life, had seven children with her husband and an illegitimate eighth child with "The Frog Boy."

November 11, 2012


I've been trying to draw more often - here are few recent sketches.

One of my favorite characters from the Stars Wars films -
the bounty hunter, Bossk, who first appeared
in The Empire Strikes Back
Gag drawing: "Gena Pizza Roll-ands stars in Gloria."
Quick sketch of Fluffy the crate monster from Creepshow.
I doodled this in a meeting on a Post It note.
Another favorite Star Wars character: Jabba the Hutt

November 10, 2012

A Chip Off the Old Block

About seven years ago I went through a period where I was using Legos to reenact scenes from my favorite films. The photographs got pretty popular online and I began to see them posted on random websites which made me feel really good. Unfortunately the images were always credited back to my old Flickr alias, Mom Smackley, so I don't think people had any idea who the real person was behind those shots.

The idea behind this project was to spoof the movie tie-in marketing of toys but with movies I actually wanted to see made into playsets. Lego has all sorts of licensed movie themed lines - Star Wars, Pirates of the Caribbean, Harry Potter - so why not have a Lego Friday the 13th? Or a Lego The Honeymoon Killers?

Chopping Mall (1986) 
Creepshow (1982)
Friday the 13th (1980)
Hell Night (1981)
The Honeymoon Killers (1970)
Motel Hell (1980)

November 9, 2012

Private Parts (1972)

This article on Private Parts (1972) originally appeared on and is reprinted with permission.

Years ago while thumbing through the Leonard Maltin Movie & Video Guide, I came across this review:

"If Andy Warhol's Chelsea Girls had been co-directed by Alfred Hitchcock and John Waters it would come close to this directorial debut by Bartel." 

Whoa. I stopped dead in my tracks and thought, "I have GOT to see this movie!" As a connoisseur of cult and trash films, this sounded like a long-lost gem that I needed to find. The name of the film? Paul Bartel's Private Parts from 1972. Boy, was I not disappointed! A few words to describe it? Creepy. Kinky. Gross. All of the things I look for in a film! Ann Ruymen (whose other memorable acting credit is the 1973 TV movie, Go Ask Alice) plays Cheryl, a young, bored and curious teenager who has run away from home and decides to stay with her mysterious Aunt Martha, who runs a large, old hotel in seedy, downtown Los Angeles.

Clearly, Aunt Martha (played with gusto by the always interesting character actress Lucille Benson) is keeping some secrets as she warns Cheryl not to go snooping around the huge, labyrinthine building. Cheryl disregards her aunt’s warning (where would the movie be if she didn’t?) and begins exploring the hotel and meeting its collection of odd tenants, including an S&M obsessed reverend, a demented, giggling old woman and the handsome, yet sinister photographer George who has a darkroom in the basement and an eye for Cheryl.

The film is clearly influenced by several suspense and horror films from the 1960s, most notably Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho and Michael Powell's Peeping Tom due to the film's ongoing obsession with voyeurism, transvestism and other sexual "perversions". The wonderfully atmospheric score by Hugo Friedhofer is even reminiscent of the work of regular Hitchcock composer, Bernard Herrmann.


The film dabbles with kinky plot lines and images but is never overly graphic - the film leaves a lot to the imagination and certain plot points (particularly the scenes and back story of Aunt Martha) are deliberately left ambiguous, giving the film a truly fascinating edge that allows the film to be revisited several times.

The cast is made up of a hodgepodge of odd, yet memorable faces - including Laurie Main (best known as the voice of the narrator in the Winnie the Pooh cartoons!) as the leather-wearing Reverend Moon and, perhaps the most unusual actor to appear in this sordid tale is none other than Stanley Livingston who played Chip Douglas on the wholesome TV series, My Three Sons! Again, just a few more touches of weirdness thrown in to keep the viewers on their toes.

The director of this underrated cult classic is none other than Paul Bartel who would go on to find even more success and cult stardom with his 1982 film, Eating Raoul, in which he starred (alongside frequent co-star Mary Woronov) and directed. Like Private PartsEating Raoul was an over-the-top mix of sick humor, kinky sex and horror elements all wrapped up in a perfect package for the midnight movie crowd and cult film fanatic.

Dark humor and trash aesthetics was clearly Bartel's forte, as other films in his work (as well as his acting appearances) followed this style. Other notable films he directed during his career included 1975's Death Race 2000 with producer Roger Corman starring David Carradine and a young Sylvester Stallone and 1985's Lust in the Dust with Polyester co-stars Divine and Tab Hunter.

Like fellow filmmaker, John Waters, the late Bartel (who unfortunately died in 2000) told stories that focused on the absurd and grotesque and celebrated filth and decadence. Private Parts would make a perfect double feature with one of Waters' early 1970s films, such as Female Trouble or Pink Flamingos, as they all share an affinity for society's misfits and a penchant for tacky and gross comedy.

The only supplemental feature on the disc is a typically exploitative 1970s trailer that plays up the "psycho-sexual" angle of the plot as well as basically giving away the entire ending!


November 8, 2012

I Am Not Creative

One of my biggest pet peeves – besides Dancing with the Stars or people who talk on their phone in the bathroom – is people who say, “Oh, I can’t do that. I’m not creative.” That’s a bunch of baloney and I don’t believe anyone who says that.

If you say that about yourself then you are not giving yourself enough credit. Or you are being lazy. Everybody is creative. Maybe you didn’t go to art school or win first prize at a crafts fair – but I guarantee that you have made creative decisions. Some of them are probably good, too.
You make creative choices every day and probably don’t even realize it. Even putting your groceries away requires some degree of creativity. And if you have children, there is no doubt that you have relied on some sense of creativity in dealing with dinner, bedtime or any of the other plethora of issues that come up while raising a child.

It annoys me when I hear someone put themselves down because they don’t see themselves as a “creative” or an “artistic” person or that they couldn’t possibly do anything like draw a picture or take a photograph. Never second guess yourself. By doing so, you are denying some real potential. So you can only draw a stick figure? So what? There are entire art forms and comics devoted to the quirky stick figure. Even “bad” artwork is popular and endearing. You really have no excuses at this point.

Still having a hard time with this? Start by giving yourself homework assignments. Make yourself a goal of doing at least one creative act a day. It doesn’t have to be huge – you won’t need to apply for a grant or write an artist’s statement or even spend a lot of money on supplies. It can be as simple as adding a bit of style or a unique detail to your outfit. Or even rewording an email you’ve written to make it more “you”. Try something you’ve never attempted before, like oil painting or knitting. Think of something that makes you roll your eyes (like the Bedazzler) or something that seems impossible and try it! Try wood burning! Or maybe you have a screenplay floating around in your head. Try everything and see if anything sticks out. Involve other members of your family (or not)!

Denying yourself a creative outlet should be made illegal. Imagine if Andy Warhol, Georgia O’Keeffe or the lady who wrote all of those Twilight books denied themselves an artistic escape. We don’t necessarily need books about sparkling vampires or Campbell’s Soup Cans screenprints, but the world would be a lot less fun without them.

So put down your phone or the remote and try something today – you might just surprise yourself.

November 7, 2012

Ladies They Talk About (1933)

In an effort to beef up my blog with some new material, I’m going to start reposting old articles I’ve written over the years. I used to write a variety of movie and DVD reviews for Turner Classic Movies/ (where I was working at the time).

This article on Ladies They Talk About (1933) originally appeared on and is reprinted with permission. The film will be airing on TCM on December 20, 2012. 

The women-in-prison movie genre has always been a favorite stable for lovers of cult and exploitation films and it's one that's enjoyed a long run in popularity that continues to this day. Starting with the seminal, cliche-establishing Caged (1950) the genre continued to gain momentum and popularity with such films as Women's Prison (1955) featuring Ida Lupino as the psychotic superintendent, House of Women (1962) with Shirley Knight, and the Spanish/Italian production of 99 Women (1969) starring Mercedes McCambridge. The 1970s offered up what is probably the best WIP (Women in Prison) film of the decade, director Jonathan Demme's Caged Heat (1974) featuring Barbara Steele as the evil, wheelchair-bound warden. Since then, the WIP genre has upped the level of nudity and violence as well as showcased a more tongue-in-cheek approach with such outrageous and sleazy fare as Chained Heat (1983) and Reform School Girls (1986). With all that in mind, it's surprising to learn that the genre was actually established in the 1930s with Ladies They Talk About (1933) starring Barbara Stanwyck.

Stanwyck plays Nan Taylor, a gangster moll who is sent to prison after assisting her goon buddies on an early morning bank heist, wearing a platinum blonde wig (looking very similar to her character in her next film, Baby Face, also released in 1933). While in prison, Nan encounters all of the standard prison genre cliches that would make the later films so memorable; large, burly matrons, the scheming, jealous rival inmates, the no-nonsense warden, odd and grotesque older prison inmates or "life-ers" (including, most notably, veteran character actress Maude Eburne as the beloved and former bordello madam, Aunt Maggie, whose former profession makes up for most of the films running jokes). The film also showcases some brief, subtle references to lesbianism through the character of a masculine, cigar-smoking inmate who flexes her muscles for an adoring fellow prisoner (a quite strange, fleeting scene that no doubt ruffled some feathers during this Pre-Code era of film making). No women-behind-bars spectacle is complete without the expected cat fight, which this film also includes. 

Unfortunately, the prison dramatics play backseat to the real focus of the story, which revolves around Nan's romantic relationship with the city's politically aspiring evangelist character played by Preston S. Foster. As with all of her performances, Stanwyck radiates a natural, down-to-earth quality devoid of heavy theatrics; she tosses out snide one-liners and viciousness as well as coming across quite sympathetically in her true desire to "go straight" and leave her wicked ways behind. However, with any film on retribution, the character has to go through one final test of wills. In this case, during the second act of this considerably short film (69 minutes), the action is focused on Nan's role in helping her crime buddies escape from the men's prison (which is located on the other side of the women's section).

The period music used in the film is quite memorable - a mixture of classic blues and jazz tunes. One highlight being a scene in which fellow inmate, Linda (played by Lillian Roth, who would later chronicle her troubled life in her autobiography, I'll Cry Tomorrow, which was subsequently made into a film starring Susan Hayward) croons "If I Could Be with You" to a photo of comedic actor Joe E. Brown.

The film was based on a play called Women in Prison by actress Dorothy Mackaye, who incidentally, served a brief sentence in the San Quentin Penitentiary. Mackaye was sentenced for one to three years for "attempting to conceal facts" in the beating death of her husband, stage actor Ray Raymond. Raymond died as a result of a fight between himself and screen actor Paul Kelly. Kelly and Mackaye were having an affair which instigated the confrontation between Raymond and the couple. (Mackaye later married Kelly in 1931). While in prison, Dorothy made productive use of her time. Being an actress herself, Dorothy started an acting group for her fellow inmates. Amusingly enough, one of her productions included a cast of all convicted murderesses; Clara Phillips, the "Hammer Murderess" and Dorothy Ellington, the "Jazz Slayer".

Dorothy also made note of the women's plight and living conditions within prison, great material that she would use to piece together her play, which was received positively. That ultimately led Warner Bros. to purchase the rights and bring it to the screen as Ladies They Talk About (before settling on that title, it was alternately called Women in Prison, Lady No. 6142, Prisoner No. 6142 and Betrayed.)