Thursday, February 17, 2005

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls DVD review

Beyond the Valley of The Dolls (5 stars)
Directed by Russ Meyer, 1970, 105 minutes, R

All girl band The Carrie Nations hit LA in search of fame and fortune but all they find is sex, drugs and rock 'n roll. Seduced by the salacious charms of Ronnie "Z-Man" Barzell, a record producer and raconteur, the film follows the girl's downward spiral into the cesspool of the rock industry. Relationships are destroyed as the bonds that tie them together are stretched to breaking point. Suicide, orgies, abortion, fellatio with a handgun, sexually confused superheroes, the films unpredictable denouement leaves almost the entire cast in meltdown, all in the name of rock.

Russ Meyer stunned 20th Century Fox when he handed them Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Written by film critic Roger Ebert as an unofficial sequel to The Valley of the Dolls, the studio was not expecting the sordid drug filled epic that Meyer gave them. The film was given the dreaded X rating by the censors and an incensed Fox buried the film. Quite a bizarre move as they must have known the type of films that the breast obsessed director had been making. Full of blatant nudity, shocking violence, jive talking dialogue and outrageously proportioned young ladies it shouldn't have been a surprise.

Until this point in his career Meyer had been fiercely independent. From the early days as the King of the Nudies in the Fifties with The Immoral Mr Teas through to his torrid Sixties romps like Faster Pussycat Kill! Kill! Meyers work had been groundbreaking. His résumé reads as a step-by-step history of sexploitation films; Vixen, however, was the film that made him a rich man. Hugely successful for a limited budget the studios took notice and Fox put Meyer on a contract, which lasted two just films. Beyond The Valley of the Dolls failed at the box office and The Seven Minutes faired even worse; ironically as Meyer retreated back to his own mammary filled independent world he was soon making one of his biggest ever hits Supervixens.

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, however, revels in its decadent budget. The character of Z-Man is the films decadent trump card, foppish in style with groovy banter to match; it's no wonder that Mike Myers borrowed so much from this film for his Austin Powers movies. Whole lines of dialogue are matched word for word by the International man of Mystery in Myers homage to this wonderful film, "This is my happening baby, and it freaks me out!"

The tunes, written by Lynne Carrey are funky, the girls are gorgeous and Russ Meyers ex wife Edie Williams positively ravenous as party girl Ashley St. Ives "You're a groovy boy; I'd like to strap you on sometime." Meyer's directorial flourishes are abundant; rapid fire editing, candy coloured cinematography, inexplicable Nazis and lashings of naked flesh. The film is a joy from beginning to its astounding end and a must see for any aficionado of Cult Cinema.

Review first appeared on

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Sunday, February 13, 2005

Interview with Edgar Wright - Director of Shaun of the Dead

Fresh off a coast-to-coast American promotional trip, director Edgar Wright took time out of his busy schedule to talk with David Michael Brown about Shaun of the Dead, George Romero and casting 100's of Zombies.

How did the press junket across the States go?

It was great, across 17 different cities. The response has been really good; being somewhere where people don't necessarily know you and have the film go down well. Each night they'd be a couple of hard-core Spaced fans, people who watch it on region free DVD players but apart from that everyone was watching it completely cold so that was really nice. It was good that there wasn't anything that the Americans didn't get apart from a joke about Cornetto's but aside from that they really took to it.

What was it like seeing the film on the big screen for the first time? I was at the London Frightfest Festival a couple of years ago when you showed some footage and it went down really well.

Absolutely, I suppose in a way we've been slightly starved of an audience for a while as Spaced didn't have a laughter track at all. I started of making shorts and I showed them to audiences. That was the first thing that got me really excited having some form of palpable reaction or noise from an audience. It was funny, we were at Comic Con in San Diego, we showed the trailer and talked about Shaun, we also showed 10 minute clips of Spaced and it was amazing watching it with 3000 people, they were really laughing, it brought it home that we hadn't had this reaction for ages.

Watching Shaun of the Dead it reminded me of American Werewolf, half the audience laughing, the other half hiding under their seat.

Cool! There are lots of other horror comedies that I love like Evil Dead 2 and Braindead, both of those go further into the comedy side. Both of them are very cartoonish, more live action Looney tunes that horror. American Werewolf probably plays its scares a little straighter. In a way, even though it's a comedy we wanted the horror aspect to have a straighter edge to it. It is a nice mix and in a way I think every horror comedy going to be different, there's a world between Shaun of the Dead and American Werewolf or Evil Dead 2 and American Werewolf. Even Young Frankenstein and American Werewolf. They all work in slightly different ways and that's what's interesting about them. Other ones such as Scary Movie are much more of a spoof; you wouldn't call it a horror film in any regard.

You mentioned Evil Dead 2 and Braindead, were Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson big influences on Shaun of the Dead?

Well not specifically in terms of humour, if anything both of them were an inspiration to me as a director, specifically in the way they started. We were really lucky that both of them have actually seen the film, they both loved it and gave us press quotes. Peter Jackson said it was his favourite film of the year and Sam Raimi said "Shaun of the Dead Rules!" I came back from the States to find a German Evil Dead 2 poster signed by Raimi and Rob Tappert which was really sweet. They saw it in LA whilst we were touring and really liked it.

Another obvious inspiration is George Romero's Dawn of the Dead. All the way through the film we get snippets of Goblin music, Shaun works at Foree Electronics, lots of scenes are played out from his Zombie films, has Romero seen it?

He was the first to see it once we finished it and he loved it. He's bigged us up on several occasions now which is very sweet. He watched it on his own; he just really went for it. I think he didn't now what to expect, he'd heard it was happening and when he actually watched it he was like "Oh right! Its like a proper film." I think he was kind of expecting it to be like a student film. It was really cool that he really liked it, he gave us two different press quotes and his name is on the poster and that means the world to us.

The full version of this interview appears on
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Thursday, February 10, 2005

Under Andy's Shadow update

Lots to report on my Paul Morrissey book. I will be interviewing one of the stars of Women in Revolt, Penny Arcade in Sydney next month, she is over for Sydney's infamous Mardi Gras celebrations and is performing at The Studio at the Opera House. I have also been in discussion with photographer Gretchen Berg and hope to be using a selection of her never before seen photographs from the set of the film, including shots of Warhol and Morrissey at work and on the streets of New York. In additional news I will also be interviewing Nat Finkelstein about his memories of the Warhol Factory and his recent contributions to the New York show Edie: Unseen Photographs of a Warhol Superstar. I have also recently visited the London offices of the British Board of Film Classification where I viewed the files for Morrissey's films Flesh and Trash; both of which caused major controversy when they were first released in the UK, it makes for fascinating reading and extracts will feature in the book.
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Friday, February 04, 2005

Takashi Miike's Ichi the Killer DVD review

Ichi The Killer
Directed by Takashi Miike, Japan, 2002, 129 minutes, Rated R18+

Even if you are familiar with the work of maverick Japanese director Takashi Miike nothing will prepare you for the shocking horrors of Ichi The Killer. Most will have first heard his name after the psychological nightmares of Audition, many would have seen the stylised ultra violence of Fudoh: The New Generation, a few will have seen the sing-a-long a zombie comedy of Happiness of The Katakuries but nothing from Miike’s world compares to this.

Frankly its hard to recommend everyone to see Ichi the Killer; profoundly disturbing on almost every level, a vain attempt is made to add a humour element to the film but nothing can tame the retina scorching imagery on display, once you’ve seen Ichi, you’ll never forget him. Beautifully crafted, Miike’s attention to detail is remarkable, especially considering he often makes up to five movies a year.

Kakihara is a sadomasochistic yakuza with a grudge. His gangland boss has been killed. This dastardly deed was perpetuated by Ichi, a truly psychotic killer under the control of Jijii, an ex-cop who is determined to end the yakuza’s control of his hometown of Shinjuku.

Bizarrely almost all of the add campaigns for the film focused on Kakihara, the blonde sado-masochistic yakuza who is patchwork of piercing and scars topped with blonde shock of hair. In one alarming scene he saws off the end of his own tongue to prove his allegiance to the yakuza, not surprising once you’ve seen him puff smoke out of the slashes in his cheeks when he smokes a cigarette.

The character of Ichi is even more unsettling; a timid shy young man who cry’s when shouted at until he snaps and heads on a killing rampage. His history, sexual desires and the general depiction of violence against women is at odds with all that is acceptable but one has to look at the film in context. Based on a violent Manga cartoon that is sold to children in Japan, it is interesting to compare what is and isn’t acceptable in the cinema’s of the East and West. Full frontal nudity is very rare in Japanese film, there is none in Ichi the Killer, but it is ok to smash a body to pieces in shockingly graphic detail. I’m sure if this had been a Western film it would have been cut to shreds but as it is sub-titled and therefore not going to be seen by the masses, it is ok. It’s a strange world we live in.

Ichi the Killer will be a must see for fans of Miike’s work and fans of extreme cinema and Siren’s uncut DVD is an excellent way to see it. Anyone else with an interest in the bizarre should probably start with some of the directors other films and build up an immune system first!

Siren’s excellent Region 4 DVD features a small collection of extras including a Photo gallery, behind the scenes footage and the trailer make up the extras. On the audio side the film is available in Japanese with subtitles and in a dubbed English version, both in 5.1 Dolby Digital. Miike also contributes a running commentary.

Review first appeared on

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Martin Scorsese's After Hours DVD review

After Hours
Directed by Martin Scorsese, 1985, USA, 96 minutes, M 15+

Paul Hackett (Griffin Dunne) is stuck in a dead end job and feels his life is going nowhere. After a chance meeting with a beautiful young girl Marcy (Rosanna Arquette) he calls her up and goes on a date. To say things go wrong is an understatement; after the disastrous date the distraught Hackett just wants to get home but finds every avenue to get there is blocked. “I just wanted to leave my apartment, maybe meet a nice girl and now I’ve got to die for it?”

The only way for Martin Scorsese was down; having given us arguably some of the finest films ever made with Mean Streets, Taxi Driver and Raging Bull he had at last been given a chance to direct his long cherished dream project The Last Temptation of Christ. A big budget epic, the devout Catholic director was distraught when the film fell through at the last minute. Needing to get back to his roots he wanted to make a low budget film back in his hometown of New York and looked back at a script he was offered by Griffin Dunne and producer Amy Robinson, After Hours.

The film benefits from these relatively low budget trappings; only shot at night this delirious black comedy is a succession of excruciating events as our hapless hero desperately tries to get to the other side of town. Scorsese’s direction is extraordinary, his camera flies in every direction, the nervous energy as he pushes his actors and crew to the edge is apparent in every frame. The films calling card shot, as a set of keys are thrown from a tall building down to Dunne is still breathtaking in its ingenuity.

The films trump card, however, is Griffin Dunne who gives a wonderful performance as Hackett. A veteran of such cult classics as An American Werewolf in London his career never really built on, unfortunately he will be better known by younger readers as Madonna’s romantic foil in the dreadful Who’s that Girl? He has since had a successful career as the director of Practical Magic and Addicted to Love

The rest of the cast including Rosanna Arquette, Teri Garr, Linda Fiorentino, John Heard and Cheech and Chong all play excellent cameos as they all contribute to our hero’s nocturnal nightmare. Even Roger Corman regular Dick Miller makes an appearance as a homage to the man who first gave Scorsese work.

After Hours falls in a strange place in Scorsese’s oeuvre of work; more King of Comedy than Raging Bull it shows a very weird and dark side of New York and benefits from its wilfully obscure view of the directors beloved city.

Warners excellent Region 1 disc features an excellent featurette called Filming For Your Life featuring new interview with Dunne and Macdonald. Dunne recalls how he auditioned for the part of an eleven year old in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore aged eighteen, failed completely but got a chance to chat to the great man. You also get a great running commentary by the director, star and producer, a nice selection of deleted scenes and a trailer.

Interview with Tura Satana, Lori Williams and Haji - The stars of Faster Pussycat Kill! Kill!

"Faster Pussycat Kill! Kill! Is beyond doubt, the best movie ever made. It is possibly better than any film that will be made in the future" Fine praise indeed as Pink Flamingos director John Waters so eloquently put it, there is no other film like Faster Pussycat Kill! Kill!. The film has named LA rock groups Faster Pussycat and Tura Satana, the title track has been covered by The Cramps and original poster won't leave you much change from $2000 but why is this initial box office failure cited by many as the ultimate cult film? The women!

Tura Satana, Haji and Lori Williams starred as a trio of go-go dancers, high on life and wild for kicks. These actresses were the living embodiment of breast obsessed Meyer's ultimate women, outrageously proportioned, sexually liberated nymphs who knew what they wanted and always got it! By turning the tables on the usual stereotypes, Meyer’s gang of go-go dancers tore around in fast cars, kidnapped young girls and broke men’s backs. Everything about the film worked: the beat-driven dialogue, the out of place Fifties monster movie soundtrack and the stunning black and white cinematography.

Tura Satana, an astonishing half-Japanese, half-Cheyenne Indian voluptuous karate expert, played the leader of this jive-talking girl gang, Varla. She steals the show and has developed into a cult figure and feminist icon "I think that the film became so popular with the public, because it shows that women can be just as tough, if not tougher than some guys. Women love to see some guys get their butts kicked instead of the women getting knocked around. Russ always says that the film was basically a flop when it was first released, but nothing that is a flop can achieve the status that Faster Pussycat Kill! Kill! has achieved over the years." Haji, who played Varla's lover Rosie has different views on the reasons for the films cult status "Well because we all have large breasts! and there are lots of fast cars, female domination, lots of fantasies for men, but without the women being taken advantage of, so it was for women also" Lori Williams agrees “I think one reason is that women didn't "Kick Ass" in film when Faster Pussycat was made in 1965. It seems to have really picked up momentum since Thelma & Louise. I also feel it was shot in a very unique style and the Black and White film makes a strong statement.”

The films opens with our girls hard at work, go-go dancing their audience into a carnal frenzy to the power pop tunes of the Mighty Bossweeds. Racing their Porsche’s for cheap thrills they come across a couple, Tommie and Linda, playboy playmate Susan Bernhard, in the middle of the desert flats racing time trials. The trio challenge them to a race and the resulting skirmish results in a dead boyfriend and a kidnapped waif. Using the girl to infiltrate their way into a local household, the girls come across a wheelchair bound, dirty old man, played with relish by Meyer regular and war buddy Stuart Lancaster, and his sons Kirk and the Vegetable. Legend has it that the old man is sitting on a fortune and the girls decide to use their womanly ways to seduce the cash from out of his hands. The delirious denouement ends in violence and tragedy as the inner turmoil’s and raging passions of the girl gang boil over.

Where would Meyer find women who could play such venomous roles? In his own inimitable style, he found his actresses from all walks of life. “I was dancing at a nightclub and someone sent Russ to see me.” purrs Haji “Russ saw the show and said he was a director with a small part in a film, and would I read for it. I read for the opening of Motor Pyscho and ended up getting the lead. This terrified me. Before I had never even considered acting. I ended up doing four more films for Russ. Also helped him cast films. I also worked behind the scenes as production assistant, hair, make up and wardrobe. It was a great education on how to make movies with a five man crew”

Haji also had a part in getting Satana the role of Varla “I got a call from my agent, and went to the interview. Later I heard my role was gotten because Haji had mentioned my name to Russ. This was never mentioned to me. So, I can’t say for sure, but I do know that I went to the interview in my costume for Irma La Douce wedding scene. It was a little rough being Varla in a skin tight pink dress, with a pink pillbox hat with a tulle flower on it!”

"I met Russ at an Audition” recalls Lori Williams “my agent Paul Kohner sent me on for the movie. They wanted one girl completely the opposite of Haji and Tura. It was a cattle call and I had 2 call backs before I got cast in the part of Billie. No, I wasn't a Go-Go-dancer. I worked in the Beach Party films and a few Elvis movies as a dancer.”

Williams remembers filming with fondness “The atmosphere on the set was very good. We all got along very well Susan Bernard and I kind of stuck together and Haji and Tura were friends from before this film. I think they danced together for a while” Satana, however, did not make friends with everyone on set. “Pussycat was filmed in the Mojave Desert and it was extremely hot there. Everything was a ball on the set. We had fun, but there were times when there was some tension on the set with Susan Bernard's mother. It became necessary for me to make Susan very afraid of me, in order to get the reaction that was required of her.”

Haji agrees ”All the girls were great to work with, but Susan Bernard was young and whiny, and it drove Tura crazy. I used to find it amusing. No complaints about the crew. Russ never put sexual pressure on anyone, no uncomfortable feelings, not even a little” Contrary to Russ’s legendary sexual appetite he was on best behaviour as Williams recounts “Russ ran a very professional set and was more like a father image to me at the time. I really enjoyed working with him! Russ ran the whole show. He would listen but he made all the calls. I didn't want to do some of the lines the way he called for. At the time I thought they were too camp! Well, time has certainly proven me wrong. That is exactly what sells this film.”

Satana also made the most of Meyer’s distinct film making style “Russ was a teacher in any of the films that he has done. When you worked with Russ, you learned to do all kinds of things from being a Grip to being an assistant director. You learned al the different aspects of a production company.” Haji wasn’t quite so forgiving of the hard working director “Russ was tough to work with. There is no other word for it. He yelled, was very demanding, long hours and no one could leave the set, even if your scene was over. Even though we were miles from any towns, he would keep an eye on us, even at night. No one could even go for a drive. We would live and shoot on location, with rattlesnakes, tarantulas and lots of scorpions.”

Where do you go after a film like Faster Pussycat Kill! Kill!? Satana appeared in Ted. V. Mikel’s Astro Zombies and The Doll Squad but her appearances dried up “I quit acting and went back to dancing for awhile as a tassel twirling go-go dancer. It was a combination of my strip routine and go-go dancing. I stopped acting because I was not one to go sleeping with any of the casting directors.” Williams also followed with a career in dancing “I went to Las Vegas after FPKK to dance in a show at Caesar's Palace. I then went to Italy to do a few movies so wasn't really around for Russ's movies. He did try and get me for Beyond the Valley of the Dolls , but I was already committed.” Haji was the only member of the gang to continue working with Meyer, she appeared in Good Morning and Goodbye , Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and Supervixens as well as working with the likes of sleaze merchant David Friedman in Ilsa, Hareem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks and John Cassavetes in The Killing of a Chinese Bookie “My favourite director was Cassavetes, he was always a gentlemen, he made me very comfortable with improvisation. He was ready to use me again and then he died, that was a very sad day for me”
With talk of the girls getting together for two films, Kill kitty Kat Kill and Vixen Highway we may well see the girls together again but they will always be remembered as the kittens with the sharpest claws in Faster! pussycat Kill Kill!

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Go Baby Go! - The making of Faster Pussycat Kill! Kill!

I am also researching a book on the classic Russ Meyer film Faster Pussycat Kill! Kill! I have interviewed the three stars Tura Satana, Haji and Lori Williams and am trying to locate more members of the cast and crew. Obviously Meyer has sadly passed away but it is still a project I would love to complete.

If anyone has any information, contacts or promotional materials that they think would benefit the book please do not hesitate in contacting me.

Under Andy's Shadow - The Life and Films of Paul Morrissey

I am presently researching a book on director Paul Morrissey entitled Under Andys Shadow: The Life and Films of Paul Morrissey. I am collecting together interviews, promotional materials and information on Morrissey and the Warhol Factory scene.

I have already spoken to a wonderful group of people including Mary Woronov, Gerard Malanga, Holly Woodlawn and Morrissey himself as well as conducting e-mail interviews with Billy Name, Ultra Violet and others.

If anyone has any information or contact details that they feel may of interest please do not hesitate in contacting me.

Latest News - Feb 2005

I have begun contributing book reviews for Australia's Metro Magazine. I will also be writing a major article entitled Tarantino and the Re-invention of the Martial Arts Film for the magazine later in the year. Interviews with Son of The Mask producer Erica Huggins and visual effects producer Susan Macleod will follow on from my Jamie Kennedy interview in Starburst #321. A brief chat with Kennedy also features in next months Filmink. My House of Wax set reports will soon begin to appear in Shivers and Starburst.

Latest New - Jan 2005

My recently published articles include an interview with Paul Morrissey in the latest issue of Filmink to tie in with the Force Entertainment's DVD boxset and my regular columns in Internet AU. Overseas a report on my set visit on Son of The Mask at Sydneys Fox Studios will be appearing in issue number 321 of Starburst including an interview with star Jamie Kennedy. Talking of set visits I'll be heading to Melbourne soon to interview the cast and crew of Ghost Rider starring Nicholas Cage and John Voight. I'll also be visiting the set of an independent horror film set in Sydney called I Know How Many Runs You Scored Last Summer; I'll keep you posted.