The Returned [Series One & Two]

I don’t know how this show slipped by me. I try to keep up with every good foreign TV show but every now and then there’s always one where I am late to the party. I saw the remake on Netflix just as my father-in-law was telling me how much he loved the original and was hooked in by the mysterious elements. I thought I would do a bit of an experiment and try watching the remake first. I made it to about the third episode. The story was interesting but it was so utterly devoid of style and suspense that I couldn’t stick with it. After watching one episode of the original I was hooked.

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The Lost Films of Herschell Gordon Lewis

Herschell-GordonWhile the majority of Herschell Gordon Lewis’ films were unearthed and released to the public (by the likes of Midnight Vide, Palace Explosive and Something Weird Video) in the 1980s and early-nineties, three titles from his oeuvre continually eluded his loyal band of fans and collectors. Now, thanks to the efforts of Process Blue (a film restoration facility), the Lewis filmography is one giant step closer to being complete, with the discovery and subsequent release of three of the Godfather of Gore’s obscure and previously lost sexploitation films: Linda & Abilene, Ecstasies of Women (both 1969) and Black Love (1971).

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The Honeymoon Killers

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The early 2000s was a great time for DVD releases. It was also a really hard time to keep up with them all when you’re a fan of nearly every film genre. It was incredibly time consuming and a bummer to have to pick and choose which releases you went without. For me it was a no-brainer… Criterion releases (they were the first company to release Honeymoon Killers on DVD). I could buy three films for the price of one Criterion DVD. It’s a bit appalling considering I am such a huge fan of cult movies that I have only just now seen the Honeymoon Killers but the Cult Classics line is bringing some great films to NZ/Australian Cult film fans and the DVDs are dirt cheap at $10 while Criterion’s edition of Honeymoon Killers is still $25-$30 US excluding shipping.

The Honeymoon Killers follows Martha Beck (Shirley Stoler) and Raymond Fernandez (Tony Lo Bianco) as the two embark on a romantic relationship and con lonely women. The couple were known in real life as “The Lonely Hearts Killers” and are believed to have killed 20 women between 1947 and 1949.

Martha is a nurse who lives at home with her senile mother, is overweight, and has a pretty bitter personality. Her friend Bunny signs her up with “The Lonely Hearts Club” and through the club she meets Ray, a charming and confident New Yorker. The two fall in love, but Martha isn’t Ray’s first conquest and after Ray heads back to New York Martha threatens to kill herself thus worming her way into his life where the two con lonely women to fund their lifestyle: Ray the suave Spaniard and Martha his sister.

Although the murders took place in the 1940s the film is set in the 1960s and the hair, the fashions and sets give it a certain “sexiness”. I think it would have been a lot more dreary had they set it in 1940s, despite the lead actress being plump (real Martha was too) she still exudes a John Waters-esque aesthetic and I loved her look (the actors did their own hair and makeup). I swear Divine and Cookie Mueller must have been inspired by Shirley Stoler’s performance, the way those two combine snideness with fabulousness reminded me much of Shirley’s performance. It’s also well documented that John Waters is a fan of the film and he quite often makes his actors watch movies for inspiration.

Even though it is an older film it was still quite a confronting viewing. There’s a grisly scene with a hammer (special effects were a condom filled with red hair dye); slapping of a child and off-screen murder of said child which was pretty gut-wrenching, it kind of turns you against Martha as you realise she’s more Myra Hindley than Bonnie Parker. The cinematography verges on a Cinéma vérité-style and helps to create this realistic, stripped back tone with murky scenes where crimes are committed in the dark haphazardly.  Obviously if your metric for “shocking” viewing is video nasties and torture porn this ain’t going to disturb you, but in terms of its simpleness it at times manages to be really forceful. It is very much to do with the way it combines violence and sexuality: the ice cold emotionless Martha who slaps a child and then murders her all so nothing gets in the way of her being with her lover.

The first 15 minutes of the film make it seem like really exaggerated John Waters meets The Room and is completely hilarious but if you give it time it becomes a really great film. Martha’s emotional eating and weight become a source of humour which lends a bit of sympathy to her otherwise sociopathic behaviours.

At only $10 this film is a complete must have along with 99% of Cinema Cult’s releases. I am now off to check out the film loosely based about the case staring James Gandolfini and read every book I can about the case.

There are no extras and the audio is pretty hissy and crackly,  but aside from that well worth adding to your collection.

Some random trivia:

  • The Honeymoon Killers is Francois Truffaut’s favourite American film.
  • Martin Scorsese was hired to direct but was fired for working too slowly and a few of the scenes he directed are in the film.
  • The film was banned in Australia in the 1970s
  • Shirley Stoler is Mrs Steve in Pee Wee’s Playhouse and was also in Frankenhooker and the Deer Hunter

Ecstatic Stigmatic

Ecstatic-StigmaticEcstatic Stigmatic is an early product of the New York Cinema of Transgression movement which was active during the late 70s to late 80s. Directed by Gordon Stevenson (bass player for the seminal No Wave group Teenage Jesus and the Jerks) and starring his wife Mirielle Cervenka (little sister of Exene Cervenka of the band X), Ecstatic Stigmatic is the bizarre tale of Rose F., a stigmatic who is confined to a psychiatric hospital.

The film opens with a reading from Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis which happens to include an entry on Rose F., a stigmatic who was formerly the leader of a dangerous blood-letting cult. We are then introduced to Rose at her current residence, a home for the mentally ill where she lies around in the crucifixion pose convulsing in ecstasy and speaking in tongues while bleeding from her hands, feet and mouth and refuses to eat anything but the Eucharist (this is all explained via narration).

Inter-cut with the hospital scenes are flashbacks to Rose’s childhood where we see young Rose (Mirielle Cervenka now wears pigtails and cute little dresses) interacting with her Father, a deranged preacher / tattoo artist and mother, a tattoo-covered performance artist. One night, while backstage at one of her Mothers performances poor little Rose is molested by a hilariously creepy and face-painted Arto Lindsay (of DNA “fame”). There also multiple visuals of religious imagery, gay pin-ups, tattoos of the crucifixion.

As it goes on, the film gets increasingly harder to follow but is mainly made up of scenes of Roses parents, Rose convulsing and being drip-fed raw egg, Arto Lindsay doing his facepainted multiple personality act, and plenty of other oddities.

It appears Ecstatic Stigmatic was shot mostly silent and then overdubbed with overly dramatic sound effects and a soundtrack of alternately screeching violin, No Wave-esque rock, Jazz and short bursts of white noise. Sadly the picture isn’t too hot as the only available copy of this film is a nth generation VHS dupe.

All in all Ecstatic Stigmatic is a highly experimental film that manages in turn to shock, confuse and at times even amuse. Sadly it was Stevenson’s one & only film as he died not long after from AIDS. A few years later, his wife and leading lady Mirielle was killed in a car crash.

I’d highly recommend fans of Transgressive, Experimental and Art-house cinema to seek out this obscure little flick.

The Drift


Based on Tennessee Williams’ novella, The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone, The Drift tells the decadent tale of Karen Stone, an aging, recently widowed actress who moves to Rome looking for love. While in Rome Karen meets The Countessa, a glamorously degenerate Madam who hooks her up with a succession of gigolos, then, once she has fallen for one known as Paulo, threatens to blackmail her with photos of them together…

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Freaks and Geeks: The Complete Series


It’s crazy that I am old enough (well I’m only 28) to say things like “I remember the days when DVD was new on the scene… and I couldn’t wait for *insert TV show/film here* to be released”. Twin Peaks season 1 (and then the horribly long wait for season 2), Lone Wolf and Cub, John Waters films, one by one they got released and I added them to my collection. But two releases that never seemed to get a release were Freaks and Geeks and the ’60s Batman TV series. Now there’s a  six-disc Region 4 release thanks to Madman, and finally the amazing news that finally the ’60s Batman series will see a release it so badly needs and deserves.

Freaks and Geeks is centered around a group of dorks and a group of dropouts at McKinley High School, in Nowhereseville Michigan in 1980. The main characters are the Weir siblings, Lindsay (Linda Cardellini) a former Mathlete turned rebel and her brother Sam (John Francis Daley) a geek with a crush on a cheerleader. Lindsay winds up entering the world of the slacker/stoner kids and distances herself from her Mathelete past and her best friend/Christian do-gooder Millie, while Sam and his two dorky sidekicks (one of whom is Martin Starr) navigate their way through boyhood, girls, and constant bullying.

Although it came after That 70s Show and only ran for one season I think it’s a better quality show and it deals with a lot stronger and interesting themes such as substance abuse, gender, bullies, fitting in, religion, identity and infidelity. Freaks totally shatters typical high-school tropes. It has such an authenticity about it and this is probably due to the fact that most of the things that happen in the show really happened. The producers made the writers answer questions such as “what was the best/worst/most humiliating thing to happen to you during high-school”. There is one fairly obvious sub-plot inspired by the Howard Stern Show but I won’t spoil it.

It’s been 14 years since I had seen the show and I was in for a total shock, that cute stoner guy I thought was hot is JAMES FRANCO. Bleughh. Starring a cast of then little known upcoming comedy actors you could turn it into a drinking game “Spot the Gawky Celebrity”. Without using IMDb I spotted Martin Starr (Party Down, Silicon Valley), Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jason Segel (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Jeff Who Lives at Home), Lizzy Caplan (Masters of SexMean Girls), Rashida Jones (The Office, Parks and Recreation),  Jason Schwartzman (Bored to Death) and Ben Foster (The Messenger).

For me re-watching Freaks and Geeks was so nostalgic, it took me back to a time where I was fearless and innocent, it reminded me of how I idolized  the bad kids and of my intense hatred of school, authority and rules. It also kinda freaked me out that I could possibly be dealing with a teenager like one of these in characters in 13 years or so.  Freaks reminds one of a time before cellphones, the internet and digital cameras, a time I am bummed out my two-year-old will never know. We had fun and social lives but actually lived them in the real world and not on a computer or cellphone. Did I really just type that? I sound like a total nana.

If you haven’t seen this show it’s worth checking out. I’m going to show this to my 13 year old sister-in-law the next time she stays as we’ve watched teen/high-school shows like Awkward and Suburgatory together so am interested to see how well it holds up to the cellphone addled/YOLO/ #swagfag/I watch films and shows on my Ipod generation.

Madman’s release comes loaded with lots of extras from behind the scenes, commentaries (29 of them!), bloopers and more so there’s lots of stuff here for the hardcore fans. An excellent release that is long overdue and definitely a must own. Madman you rule, now please release a region 4 set of Batman.


  • 29 Commentary Tracks
  • Audition Footage
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Outtakes, Bloopers and Alternate Takes
  • Behind the Scenes Footage
  • Original Promotional Footage

Freaks and Geeks: The Complete Series is available on DVD from Viavision & Madman Entertainment


Portlandia [Season One]


Portlandia is a sketch series from IFC which parodies the hipster utopia of Portland, Oregon. The show stars Saturday Night Live‘s Fred Armisen and Sleater-Kinney‘s Carrie Brownstein. Portlandia centers (I use this term loosely!) around a couple who have recently relocated to Portland from Los Angeles. Brownstein and Armisen play a variety of different roles that poke fun at a wide variety of trendy hipsters ranging from vegans, dumpster divers, artists and environmentalists.

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Repo Man

Otto Maddox (Emilio Estevez), a young punk living in Los Angeles, gets fired from his mind-numbing job as a supermarket clerk, only to discover that his stoner, aging hippie parents have donated the money they promised him for finishing school to a colourful televangelist. Broke and wandering the streets, Otto falls in with Bud (Harry Dean Stanton), a hardened repossession agent (or ‘repo man’) who offers Otto a job at the small car repo agency he works for. Openly scornful and repulsed by the job at first, Otto is quickly seduced by the cash, the drugs, the pressurised fast pace, and the thrill of a successful repo. His life takes another unexpected detour into the bizarre when he picks-up a new waver and UFO obsessive named Leila (Olivier Barash), who tells Otto about a 1964 Chevrolet Malibu on its way up from New Mexico, which reportedly contains two dead but still dangerous space-aliens in its trunk. Initially skeptical at first, a $20,000.00 reward offered for the Malibu convinces Otto that Leila is onto something, and the pair soon find themselves competing with each other, as well as government agents and a gang of Mexican car thieves, as they try to locate and take ownership of the Malibu, which is being driven around Los Angeles with a crazed scientist behind the wheel. Continue reading

The Ma Barker Story

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From the Pope of Aesthetic Nihilism himself – Jon Aes-Nihil – comes this bizarre reimagining of the Karpis-Barker gang saga. This family/gang of criminals terrorized the Midwest with a series of bank robberies, kidnappings and murders in the 1930s.

The Ma Barker Story is essentially a prequel to Aes-Nihil’s 1984 film Manson Family Movies, as linked by a historical connection between a young Charlie Manson and Alvin “Creepy” Karpis. It seems when Charlie was locked up as a youngster in the early ‘60s, Creepy took him under his wing and taught him to play the guitar.

Starring lovable transsexual-quadriplegic-drag queen the Goddess Bunny as Ma Barker and queer Christian cow-punk Glen Meadmore as Alvin “Creepy” Karpis, The Ma Barker Story depicts a week (or so) in the life of the notorious gang. Continue reading

Frankenhooker [Blu-ray]


Henenlotter is (or should be!) a well recognised name among devotees of psychotronic celluloid, he’s the man behind such awesome cinematic atrocities as Brain Damage, Basket Case and more recently  the excellent Bad Biology. Frankenhooker was made somewhere in-between the above-mentioned titles and plays out as a horror-comedy, a subgenre that in my opinion almost always falls flat, but when handled with Henenlotter’s magic touch proves to be nothing less than genius. The film essentially follows the standard Frankenstein plot but with a couple of minor adjustments – a woman is assembled from exploded hooker parts.

When Jeffrey Franken’s fiancé Elizabeth is accidentally dismembered by a runaway lawnmower he manages to salvage her head and a few other parts, hoping to someday breathe new life into them. After some stimulating Black & Decker trepanning he soon comes up with a master plan – find & kill some hookers and use their parts to complete Elizabeths body – and sets out on his murderous mission.

Having sourced a few ladies of the night Jefferey has another problem: how to dispatch them. He soon hits upon another brilliant idea, Supercrack! Everyone knows ho’s love to smoke that rock, so why not cook up a batch of ultra-pure stuff that’ll snuff ’em after one hit. But his experimental Supercrack proves slightly too strong for the ladies and one after another they explode in a splatter-fireworks display of epic proportions.

Jeffrey dutifully picks up the pieces and heads home to reassemble the body parts and wait for the electrical storm that will resurrect his loving fiancé. Sadly once Elizabeth is reanimated she doesn’t quite seem herself and stomps off into the night heading for the stroll with Jeffrey close behind her.

Frankenhooker is a cocktail of late ’80s schlock with more severed limbs and tits on display than you can shake a dick at. It oozes that authentically seedy Times Square vibe which is reinforced with numerous location shots of 42nd St. with its XXX theatres, Johns and streetwalkers littering the avenues. Ultimately what makes this horror-comedy mix work is that it’s played straight-faced, particularly by James Lorinz who stars as Jeffrey; no matter what insane dialog he’s spouting or how many barrels of bisected breasts he’s sifting through, he plays it totally stone cold.

So, if you’re a fan of low-rent garbage like Street TrashSlime CityRe-AnimatorThe Complete Toxic Avenger and the early Troma school of thought but haven’t seen this magnificent film, do so immediately.

I’ve long owned a beat-up VHS copy of this film so it’s a treat to now have it on Blu-ray. Although, I must say it looks great on either format, as its grimy washed-out look on VHS compliments it as much as the clean Hi-Def Blu-ray with gaudy colours all aglow.

Synapse Films’ Blu-ray disc presents the film in High-Definition 1080p Widescreen (1.78:1) with digitally remastered 5.1 surround sound and plenty of extras including: Audio commentary with Frank Henenlotter and special effects designer Gabe Bartalos; Featurette wherein Patty Mullen who portrayed Frankenhooker speaks on her experiences making the film. (9 mins); Frankenhooker make-up effects featurette in which Gabe Bartalos explains how various FX worked. (21 mins); Jennifer Delora remembers Frankenhooker. One of the hookers from the film rambles about life since making the film and fond memories. (20 mins); Jennifer Delora’s Frankenhooker Photo Scrapbook. Photo slideshow narrated by Ms. Delora. (11 mins) and a Theatrical Trailer.

Frankenhooker is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Synapse.