All posts by Alfred Eaker

Alfred Eaker is the director of Jesus and Her Gospel of Yes!, voted Best Experimental Film in the 2004 New York International Film and Video Festival (which can be downloaded from DownloadHorror.com here), and the feature W the Movie. He writes the column "Alfred Eaker's Fringe Cinema" for this site, covering the world of underground film, as well as regularly contributing essays on other subjects.

SATURDAY MORNING WITH SID AND MARTY KROFFT

Some may count the 1980s as the last great decade of pop culture. I disagree. The first half of the 80s was undoubtedly influential, but it was a continuation of the individuality of the previous decade. Around the halfway mark, the 80s gave way to the lack of personality blandness that saturated the 1990s (and beyond, to today). Rather, the 1970s was the last decade of pop heaven, and Saturday Morning With Sid and Marty Kroft serves well as the Calgon to take us away to that Neverland time capsule.

This Rhino DVD collection of pilot episodes will probably be best enjoyed with a bowl of Quisp cereal and some full blown Vitamin D milk. None of that wimpy 2 % or skim crap (you might also enjoy a bowl of Quake, if you can find it). Now, slip into a plaid robe, a pair of fuzzy house slippers, kick all those boring hyper-realists out of the house. Then, turn on the TV and hit play. DO NOT fall into the temptation of using the remote control (yes, it’s a DVD, but let’s try to get as close to the genuine experience as we can). Throw the pillows on the shag rug carpet and let the cartoons begin.

The pilots assembled here make for a grand psychedelic starter kit, but some are surprisingly subdued; the series would reach higher planes of inspired lunacy later. No matter. Sid and Marty Krofft stuck to their idiosyncratic formula, which was characterized by prepubescent heroes and heroines, puppet comedy relief, knee-tapping kitsch songs and (badly) canned laughs from the laugh track. It is extremely doubtful that the Krofft Brothers were insightful or perceptive enough to realize just how surreal their macrocosm was. Yes, for me, Sid and Marty Krofft are big bold, dopey examples of . It is no accident that the 1970s animated programs of Sid and Marty Krofft proved to be among the all-important aesthetic diving boards for many later and contemporary surrealists artists, such as Paul Ruebens, , and many more.

Still from H.R. PufnstufThe Krofft Brothers’ first three series shared much in common, and only a single season was filmed for each (although reruns kept them in syndication for an additional year or more). H.R. Pufnstuff is the first and most famous. The pilot premiered in 1969 and began as a series heavily influenced by The Wizard of Oz (1939) with a dash of “The Magic Flute.” The Oz theme of a child being transported to an otherworldly dimension would serve as the primary ingredient in the Krofft recipe.

Jimmy (Jack Wild) and his magic flute, Freddy, are shipwrecked on Living Island. Little do they Continue reading SATURDAY MORNING WITH SID AND MARTY KROFFT

THE COLLECTIVE VOLUME 4: EMOTIONS (2012)

Indie filmmaker Jason Hoover and JABB Pictures are on their fourth volume of “the Collective.” Each volume contains ten 10 minute short films, each created by a different team. This anthology deals with the themes of emotion. (Volume three, a collection of  shorts directed by women, revolved around the theme “Ten Minutes To Live”; Volume Two was themed around a box, and Volume One explored “the Meat Eater.”)

If Indiana has a reputation at all in the independent film scene, it is for its endless crop of ultra low-grade horror corn. Being an Indiana-based project, The Collective, predictably, caters to that independent horror scene, which limits it. That aside, the selection of films, although naturally uneven, is steadily improving. The first volume was, for the most part, a weak start. Volume Two was a slight improvement, but the ongoing series started picking up steam with volumes Three and Four. At at least there are no zombies this time out (the genre’s tell-tale sign of creative bankruptcy).

Volume Four features two films with exceptional acting, one of which is refreshingly surprising.  was the star of the 2010 indie feature Lethal Obsession where essentially, she played the walking, talking doll that we have seen a thousand times in unimaginative films. I do not know if Duncan has taken acting lessons, privately studied better examples of film acting, or has simply become more introspective, but her performance in Bryan Wolford’s “Myctophobia” is a vast improvement over her previous work. Duncan plays Kelly, a woman who has an almost crippling FEAR of the dark. This has made her sensitive to how her handicap may affect her marriage and suburban life. In the space of a few, brief moments, Duncan impressively balances expressed aspirations, self-doubt, fear of marital and societal expectations, and fragility. Unfortunately, her accomplished acting has a mundane script to overcome. The beginning promise, with Kelly conveying her crippling phobia to a psychologist (Steve Christopher), soon flounders. We immediately see it coming because we have seen Michael Caine in De Palma’s Dressed To Kill (1980), along with countless other films. Soon, Duncan’s Kelly is yet another victim being pursued. One somewhat endearing oddity is Wolford’s decision to use the assigned emotion in a positive light, although the effects conveying Kelly’s fear are kitschy. The camera work and lighting compliments Duncan’s earthy, mature performance. In the opening and closing segments, hiding within the skin of her coat, Duncan sheds all plasticity to reveal an awkwardly vulnerable, real person .This makes her far more Continue reading THE COLLECTIVE VOLUME 4: EMOTIONS (2012)

PROMETHEUS (2012)

Numerous artists, from Ludwig van Beethoven to modernist composer Luigi Nono and Trappist monk Thomas Merton have found useful symbology in the legend of the great existential seeker Prometheus. ‘s Prometheus (2012) filters the legend through the director’s pop science fiction sensibilities. Prometheus is the most ambitious film of the Alien franchise, so it is not surprising that fans are not altogether responding to it.

Still from Prometheus (2012)Alien (1979) was, of course, Scott’s breakthrough. It is a film that holds up far better than many of the period. Alien borrowed from other films, including ‘s Planet of the Vampires (1965) and numerous old dark house movies. A highly stylized film, its intensity is most nervously heightened early on. The infamous indigestion scene with John Hurt and the building tensions between  and Sigourney Weaver (climaxing with the two actors locked in a mortal combat involving a girlie magazine) create searing impressions. Weaver’s performance in the original film is a pitch-perfect example of femininity locked into Herculean survival mode when coming fact to face with H.R. Giger’s impeccably designed monster of the house. Still, following the Jacques Tourneur rule, the most frightening of the man-meets-monster scenes involves Tom Skerrit, in claustrophobic setting, pitted against an unseen adversary.

1986’s Aliens (dir. James Cameron) was a rousing take on the Ritz Brothers (as redneck outer space Marines) versus a slew of aliens with a returning Weaver (complete with Joan Crawford shoulder pads and ray gun) leading the charge. While Cameron’s Aliens appeased twelve year-old boys fantasies, it was also filled to the rim with risible dialogue. Weaver, surprisingly, received an Academy Award nomination for her second turn as Ripley, even though her performance was nowhere as nuanced as it was under Scott’s direction. Her nomination, although deserving, is even more surprising when viewed today because she is saddled with eye-rolling, tough guy one-liners and a hackneyed scenario in the director’s cut (wherein we find that, during her hibernation, her only daughter had grown old and died. This, of course, gives Continue reading PROMETHEUS (2012)

GLASS LIPS (2007)

Lech Majewski’s Glass Lips (2007) debuted as an instillation piece at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It’s original title was Blood of a Poet, paying homage to Jean Cocteau’s 1930 film. Surreal, kaleidoscopic, and predominantly silent, Glass Lips feels like a series of interrelated shorts literally forming a “motion picture.”

Sebastien (Patrick Czajka) is the poet in question in this painterly film, which begins with his birth atop a towering rock. The sound of the infant wailing, his umbilical cord dangling, is the only one we hear from his lips. This image later connects to a waterlogged dream of his mother (Joanna Litwin) giving birth to a bloodied rock.

Maternal inertia is the dominant pigment used in painting Sebastien as the scourged poet. One striking image calls to mind early photographs of artist Andres Serrano (when Serrano actually counted). The sensual, nude mother, clothed only in pathos, glides by row after row of slaughtered hogs. The Serrano image, so striking and, for some reason, long unavailable, showed the image of Christ (a young, blonde woman, dressed in a short, black nightclub dress) before the swine (the hog’s bloodied torso hanging from a hook in the ceiling). Paradoxically, iconoclastic and liturgical metaphors repetitively intertwine in Majewski’s parochial bedlam.

The suffering mother is forced to witness her only son’s humiliation by a severe, unyielding father (Grzegorz Przybyl). The mother seeks to both nurture and be nurtured. She is not milked and can no longer can provide milk. Therefore, she baptizes her naked body, as Sebastien witnesses. For the father, mother is not fully human. She is merely a hole for his convenience. She is, at first, replaced by a blow-up doll.

Eventually, the death of his wife resonates and the father peels away layer after layer, to discover his own folly. But, neither is Sebastien guiltless. His romanticized nihilism might be something akin to dysfunctional stained glass windows that simultaneously mythologize, canonize and eroticize his projected experiences.

Alpo as the Eucharist; erotic playtime between Ma and Pa as Sebastien, bound and adorned in first communion dress, stands in for the host in this poetic reenactment of transubstantiation.

Still from Glass Lips (2007)The homoerotic frescoes of St. Sebastien are re-imaged with a Marian sheen. Mother repeatedly replaces son in martyrdom. Rows of the maternal tree, reduced to an orifice by exploring patriarchal hands.

There is also resurrection. Nothing is permanent, possible because the martyr also co-created his passion, painted his pathos, and unraveled the rope which ties him to the cliches and traditions of the doomed poet.

Majewski himself composed the impressive score, creating  a lush language to supplant impotent words. Glass Lips not only inspires the viewer to labor in his or her voyeurism, but the film also demands some sweat from those who write about it.

DAY OF THE NIGHTMARE (1965)/SCREAM OF THE BUTTERFLY (1965)

Something Weird Video offers up two of the most obscure, absurd, sexually depraved white trash soapers in this 1965 double feature.

Day of the Nightmare was directed by John A. Bushelman. Bushelman’s directorial credits are few, but he was a prolific editor of low budget cult trash. Cat Women on the Moon (1953), Frankenstein 1970 (1953, starring ), the Sinister Cinema favorite Tormented (1960), and Village of the Giants (1965) are among his (ahem) “notable classics.”

Familiar B-actor John Ireland (who had an off-screen reputation rivaling ‘s) virtually sleepwalks his way through what amounts to a supporting detective role, despite receiving star billing. That leaves the rest of the acting chores to unknowns who, with one exception, are not up to the job. The direction and lighting is as bland and anonymous as the acting and the title, which is unfortunate because, despite lethargic execution, Day of the Nightmare teeters on the edge of having real sensationalist potential by mid 60’s film standards.

The plot is related to ‘s more atmospheric Homicidal (1961). Jonathan Crane (Cliff Fields) is an artist with a few loose screws. He is married to Barbara (Beverly Bain, in her sole screen credit). Poor Barb is a much put-upon wife, and Bain is the only actor able to overcome Bushelman’s static direction.  She invests enough into her character to create an interesting portrayal which, alas, does not salvage the film.

Still from Day of the Nightmare (1965)Crane cries (embarrassingly) at his psychiatrist office, Crane has a drag persona, Crane likes to watch lesbos get it on, and Crane has an S & M fetish. The film opens with our hero lashing an unattractive model on her buttocks.  Cliff Fields’ turn as a queen has to be one of worst drag performances ever burned into celluloid. He sports sunglasses at night, a crumpled raincoat and a lopsided dishwater blond wig (he looks a bit like an uncanny precursor to Michael Caine’s transvestite psycho killer in 1980’s Continue reading DAY OF THE NIGHTMARE (1965)/SCREAM OF THE BUTTERFLY (1965)

SHANTY TRAMP (1967)

Elmer Gantry (1960) with a dose of The Intruder (1962) on a 75 cent budget.”

There is the one-sentence synopsis for Shanty Tramp (1967), written and directed by Joseph P. Mawra. Mawra was a lesser-known director of numerous grindhouse films (such as 1964-1965’s Olga trilogy, produced by Glen or Glenda‘s George Weiss). Movies from this sadosexual school of filmmaking were often referred to as “roughies,” and here the lighting alone justifies that moniker.

After watching Shanty Tramp, you’ll never think of the song “When the Saints Go Marching In” quite the same way. The film opens with a worm’s eye-view of the Shanty Tramp herself (Lee Holland, in her only film role), barely squeezed into a tight white dress and pumps from hell as she shakes, jiggles, and marches her tramp way into a tent revival, choreographed to a gospel tune.

The little incubus-Eve is bound and determined to distract Preacher Man and every other male with red blood, which includes Daniel, a young African American male whose Ma warns him about the wiles of evil Shanty Tramps.

There’s a gleam in Shanty Tramp’s eyes when she spies the tithing basket. There’s a gleam in Preacher Man’s eyes when he spies Shanty Tramp’s popping cleavage. They promise to rendezvous later for a “spiritual lesson,” but Shanty Tramps get easily distracted.

The local rock-n-roll bar is man meat magnet for our heroine. Shanty Tramp grinds. Shanty Tramp flirts. Shanty Tramp gets fought over and the winner is… Savage, the leader of a biker gang! “Come on big man! You promised me a fin! I wanna see it!” She tells Savage. “Shut up and put out, babe!” Put out she does, and darn it, Savage actually lives up to his name and frolics rough.

Meanwhile Daniel’s Ma is still warning her son: “Tain’t good for black folk to be out at night! You get that Shanty Tramp outta your mind! ” “Oh come on Ma!” “Them whites in this town, they’re the same ones who strung up your Pa!”

Still from Shanty Tramp (1967)Daniel’s not listening. He’s hearing the call of that succubus Shanty Tramp. The wise words of Ma can only fall on deaf ears when Shanty Tramp does her mating call. Daniel’s just in time to hear Savage yodel, “You teasing’ little bitch!” Poor Shanty Tramp has lost her top. It’s the exploitation version of Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (1943) with Daniel and Savage substituting for  and , They crash into a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon. Daniel proves the better man and our heroine rewards him with some interracial action. Unfortunately, Shanty’s drunken Pa stumbles in to see Shanty and Daniel sharing a sweaty cigarette.

The redneck villagers, torch in hands, are in full pursuit of the black monster while his Ma has to pay the ultimate sacrifice for her little Cain. Shanty’s Pa gets sober enough to realize his little girl was engaging in consensual interracial sex. Pa grabs the old testament whip and … off with her top again!

Thrown in patricide, exploding cars, racial revenge, and bed-hopping that goes full circle back to Preacher Man, who don’t mind sloppy seconds so long as he gets to save a soul from the Devil’s lair. The sacrifices poor Preacher Man has to make doin’ the Lawd’s work!

Enjoy it with friends, but after shuffling your guests out the door, a tub full of Calgon is strongly advised to take you away from all that Shanty Tramp residue.

CHILD BRIDE (1938)

Do not be alarmed! The loud thud you are getting ready to hear is merely the sound of your jaw dropping to the floor while watching Child Bride (1938). And before the credits roll, you will know that you have truly entered a twilight zone from the gutter cinema of yesteryear.

Of course, in 1938 movies were deep in the law of the Hays Code, and the only films which managed to subvert Will Hays’ dos-and-don’ts-list were the exploitation features. That is because they contained an “educational, moral message” for the masses.

Child Bride was a government funded film which begins it’s sermon with: “These child marriages must be stopped!” Predictably, the film then wallows in its own tawdry agenda. Written and directed by the rightfully forgotten hack, Harry Reiver, Child Bride is a ripe candidate for one to the most disturbing examples of unintentional weirdness.

“Here is a page from the Book of Life… in Thunderhead Mountain. We do not aim to ridicule the back yonder folk, but if our story abolishes their child marriages, then it will have served its purpose.” If the music from Deliverance (1972) starts coming to mind, then take it as a warning: Be afraid. Be very afraid. The only thing missing is the horror horn and fear flasher from Chamber of Horrors (1966).

Still Child Bride (1938)Ma and Pa Colton (Dorothy Carroll & George Humphreys) don’t like no child marriage. They even have a book lying on their front porch saying it’s a crime, which is a tad ironic since their eleven year-old Jennie (Shirley Mills) does lotsa provocative stretching and shows plenty o’ leg in her homemade miniskirt, cut up to her crotch (the ‘dress’ looks like it was cut with lopsided scissors), while doing her early morning chores before trotting off to school.

Jennie’s sort-of mountain boyfriend Freddie (Bobby Bolinger) stops by to accompany her to Continue reading CHILD BRIDE (1938)