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Thursday, June 2, 2016

Dolemite (1975): Boom Goes the Dolemite

 

My first introduction to Rudy Ray Moore and his 1975 Blaxploitation classic, Dolemite, came in the form of the Xenon VHS release. My memory is a little fuzzy about the first time I watched Dolemite on my own, but I do distinctly recall putting the film on one night when a group of friends were over at my place. The results were as expected: lots and lots of uncontrollable laughter. Of course, being in our early 20s, we were consuming beverages of the alcoholic variety, which did nothing but make us even more susceptible to the hilarity that was unfolding on screen. It was a true party movie experience, and if my memory serves correct, the first time I had been in a larger group of people all together laughing and enjoying a film for being unintentionally silly.

Flash forward some 15-20 years, and once again Dolemite is back, and this time he’s being given his due in the form of a Blu-ray release by Vinegar Syndrome. The reason why I say given his due is because not only does Dolemite and the films of Rudy Ray Moore deserve the high-quality love that a company like Vin Syn can give, this is the first time Dolemite will be seen as intended, in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Now, the reason why this is important is because every previous home video release of Dolemite, my VHS copy included, is in the wrong aspect ratio (full frame), which led to an unbelievable amount of shots where the boom mic is visible.


Naturally, the presence of a boom mic would make the film seem even more incompetent than it already is, so seeing it in the correct aspect ratio helps give the film a little more technical validity. With that said, even without the inordinate amount of sneaky boom mics, Dolemite remains one of the silliest and down right insane B-Movies ever made, and there’s really no aspect ratio that can change that.

Directed by D'Urville Martin, who is best known as an actor having starred in a number of significant Blaxploitation movies (Dolemite included), Dolemite is the simple tale of a pimp who looks to take out the people who had him sent to prison. This includes a handful of corrupt cops as well as Dolemite’s arch nemesis, Willie Greene (D’Urville Martin), all of whom will do whatever it takes to make sure Dolemite is sent back to prison, or worse yet, dead.

While the basic plotline is simple, Dolemite is far from a simple film. In fact, Dolemite is so sporadic and wild that it’s almost impossible to comprehend what anyone could have been thinking while making it. Dolemite feels more like a series of over-the-top vignettes poised to position Dolemite and performer Rudy Ray Moore as a sort of renaissance man with street cred than it does an actual film.


Much like the more well known Blaxploitation lead characters that came before him, Dolemite is a sort of ghetto superhero; a man who has risen above through sheer force of personality and presence, only to get what he wants, how he wants, when he wants, and all while sticking it to the man and anyone else who dares to cross his path. What you have here in Dolemite is a character who has nice cars, nice clothes, owns a nightclub, and even commands a small army of karate-trained prostitutes ready to do battle on his behalf. Dude has got it made, and he’s got it made because he made it for himself, by himself and shares it with those who stand by his side.

Throughout the course of Dolemite, there are numerous moments that feed into what is seemingly just a vanity project for Rudy Ray Moore. Moore, who attained minor recognition as a raunchy standup comedian, takes more than one opportunity to spew his creative and often hysterical rhymes. This is most significant during the third act of the film, where there is an uncomfortable amount of time dedicated to a stage show in Dolemite’s club. This includes everything from a musical performance, a tribal dance number and, naturally, a spoken word set via the man of the hour himself, Dolemite. All in all, the sequence is interesting because it’s a nice window into black culture of the time, and the performances are all genuinely great. However, it comes at the expense of pacing, as having an extended 15 minute stage show brings the film to a complete halt. Thankfully, this sequence leads to the film’s finale, which is a no holds barred action fest of silly inept karate moves and other various action atrocities.


The new Blu-ray release from Vinegar Syndrome is stellar and very much on par with what I have come to expect from the niche distribution label (their releases of Madman and Christmas Evil come HIGHLY recommended). The transfer – which was scanned and restored in 2k from a recently discovered 35mm negative – is impressive, with a good amount of detail and colors that pop right off the screen. It's very fitting for such a colorful movie (and such a colorful character at that). The special features are also noteworthy, with a solid 24 min documentary about the making of Dolemite, a full-frame “Boom Mic” version of the film and a 23 minute interview with Dolemite co-star and long-time collaborator, Lady Reed. The cream of the born insecure crop, however, comes from the commentary provided by Rudy Ray Moore biographer, Mark Jason Murray, which is insightful, and extremely informative about both the film and Moore himself.

Dolemite the film, and character alike, is funny (albeit unintentionally), it’s violent, vibrant, ridiculous, and sexy (well, it tries to be). It's exploitation at its finest, and never has there been a better time to jump on the Rudy Ray Moore train than now.

 

Monday, March 28, 2016

Alternative Movie Posters II: More Film Art from the Underground

Reminiscing about the seemingly long lost art of movie posters is common among film lovers, and certainly a topic of discussion on this blog in the form of VHS/home video art. Over the years, the beautiful artistry of hand painted posters made way for a mixture of uninspired floating heads and photoshopped designs that look like they were thrown together 10 minutes before hitting the press.

Who’s to blame for the lack of creativity and artistry in modern film posters? Well, I’d say it’s a mixture of marketing departments and studio heads, though a portion of the blame can certainly be placed on the general public, as it is they who are the targeted demographic. Studios are selling what people respond to as well as what they think people will respond to. Keep it simple, keep it safe, and the people will come.

While it’s common to call the art form long lost (I already did in the first paragraph), the art form has started to make a mainstream comeback, which I think can be attributed to both the numerous artists of the world and the film lovers who actually appreciate their work. This is best illustrated in Matthew Chojnacki’s new book, Alternative Movie Posters II: More Film Art from the Underground.

A sequel to Chojnacki’s 2013 book, Alternative Movie Posters: Film Art from the Underground, Alternative Movie Posters II features poster art from nearly 100 artists, and covers all genres and films ranging from the fringe to big budget blockbusters. The book showcases two posters for each featured artist, as well as a few paragraphs dedicated to what went into the posters, the artist's influences, favorite film/genre, and so on and so forth. Needless to say, Alternative Movie Posters II is more than a book of gorgeous, film inspired artwork, it’s a gorgeous, film inspired book of art that allows the reader to get to know the artists behind the work as well as opens a window and shines a light on what inspires them.

While flipping through the book for this review, I had begun to take notes on some of my favorite artists, a list that would quickly grow. At one point, I realized the list would be too long, which is a testament to just how many fantastic artists and posters are featured in this 208 page book. And to be fair, while I certainly had my favorites, every featured poster is spectacular in one way or the other.

To enjoy Alternate Movie Posters II, one does not need to be a film fan (though, it certainly helps), as anyone who enjoys and appreciates art will surely love this book. The diversity on display and creativity that flows throughout is sure to win over anyone who is even remotely interested in such a subject, and Matthew Chojnacki should be commended for the work he put into curating such a wonderful book of poster art, not just once, but twice.

 

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Anatomy of A Murder Scene: Blood Feast (1963)


Blood Feast opens in what is either an homage to Psycho or a complete rebellion against it. The setting is virtually identical, taking place in a bathroom where a familiarly beautiful blond woman (Sandra Sinclair) is taking a bath. As the woman settles in for a nice long soak, a knife-wielding madman attacks the woman as she screams in agony and fear as her life quickly escapes her body. Immediately after his victim’s final breath, the man takes a brief moment to take in what he has just done, at which point a sadistic grin forms on his face in a fashion that could either come from pride for a job well done, or the happiness knowing what bloodshed was still to come.

The camera then takes a few moments to pan across the carnage, revealing the woman’s lifeless body, strategically covered in soap suds in a way that allows just enough of her breasts to peak through and possibly titillate certain viewers. More importantly, though, this is where it is revealed that the killer, Fuad Ramses (Mal Arnold), has removed the woman’s left eyeball, showing what would have only been imagined by the audience up until this point in genre cinema.


With so much grotesquery and carnage, this might have been a perfectly suitable way to end an opening murder scene, especially in 1963. However, this is only the start of what Ramses has planned for his victim, as he then goes on to hack away at her left leg until it is completely dismembered. Ramses then places his new possession into a black duffle bag, carefully cleans off his weapon and leaves the viewer to linger on the woman’s bloodied hand, no longer having the life force necessary to resist gravity, as it slowly slides down the side of the bathtub, leaving behind a streak of viscera.

Herschell Gordon Lewis’ Blood Feast did what no other film had done before, in that it showed on-screen violence and the gore that came with it, albeit in the crudest of ways in comparison to today’s standards of filmmaking. I find it utterly fascinating how Lewis opens Blood Feast with a scene that is, in essence, a dirtier reflection of Psycho, which had come only 3 years earlier. Hitchcock made us believe we were seeing Janet Leigh as Marion Crane be murdered on screen with expert editing, brutal sound design and an ear piercing soundtrack, though never was there any penetration shown, let alone much actual bloodshed.

Psycho’s shower scene is one of the greatest and most respected on screen deaths in cinema history, and that is due to the audience's’ imagination being allowed to work overtime, filling in the gaps of of what Hitch showed them. By the time we would get to 1963, and Herschell Gordon Lewis was looking to get people’s butts in theater seats, he had to do something that no one had done before. And that’s exactly what he did with Blood Feast, and never is it more apparent than in the film’s opening ‘bloodbath sequence’.


This opening death makes a statement by taking the familiar setting of Psycho and pushing the envelope much further, almost mocking what audiences had seen in that famous shower scene. It was an opportunity for a ballsy filmmaker to say to the audience: you think what you saw in Psycho was horrific? Wait until you see what WE have in store for you! As Blood Feast’s antagonist murdered, hacked and mutilated his victim - all things that were certainly not present in Hitchcock’s film, let alone any before it - this opening threw down the gauntlet.

Blood Feast is an otherwise forgettable and completely inept horror flick that became the jumping off point for a different type of horror picture. It changed the landscape of horror cinema, birthing an audience that now had an insatiable hunger for gore and violence, and for films that pushed the envelope of good taste. The opening bloodbath sequence sets the tone for the movie, but more importantly, it set the tone for horror to come. Blood Feast, and its opening scene alike, is a statement; it’s two fists slamming down on a desk with the declaration that horror will never be the same. And quite frankly, it wasn’t, regardless of whether or not that was Lewis’ intentions.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Great gifts ideas for... Alexander DeLarge


There's no feeling worse than the pressure of coming up with that perfect Christmas gift, especially when the big day is coming quicker than a teenage boy discovering I Dream of Jeannie for the first time. Relevant crass jokes aside, when it comes to gift shopping, some loved ones are more difficult than others. Generally, parents are bathrobes, framed photos of your shitty family and gift certificates to restaurants where the average price per plate is $8.99. Now, when it comes to shopping for someone such as your uncle Alex, well, things get a little more difficult. Especially seeing as he's a bit of an arrogant snot. Nevertheless, he's our arrogant snot, so creatively shop we must, which is where this handy gift guide comes into play.
  • Ovaltine Rich Chocolate Gift Set: We all know Alex enjoys himself a nice glass of milk plus before a night of the old ultraviolence. And really, I think it’s the plus part where many of his issues stem. A glass of delicious vitamin and mineral-filled chocolate milk should feed Alex’s taste buds in a way that will make him to forget about the whole “plus” part, which should, in turn, keep him out of trouble.
  • Systane Ultra Lubricant Eye Drops: Let’s face it, dude could really use some love for them eyes, as nothing is worse than not being able to close them for hours on end. If you don’t believe me, try to not blink for 60 seconds. I’ll wait…
SEE?!?! It totally sucks.
  • Beats By Dre: What better way to enjoy an old friend such as Ludwig Van and the dreaded Ninth Symphony than with a pair of Beats By Dre? They’re hip, stylish and best of all, perfect for the road, which is valuable on those days when a long walk while reflecting on the previous night’s in-n-out is due.
  • Tide Plus Bleach Alternative Laundry Detergent: Nothing gets blood and semen out quite like a good whitening detergent with bleach alternative, and a gift of this magnitude will show that you really pay attention to detail and truly care about the Alexander DeLarge in your life.
There you have it. Now you are armed with a handful of brilliant gift ideas to ensure your ol’ uncle Alex is right, right this holiday season.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Satan’s Blade (1984): A Warm Turd On A Cold Day

The slasher boom brought about an overabundance of films ranging in quality, budget and notoriety, and if ever there were a genre with deep cuts, the slasher genre is it. It’s not much of a surprise, as it doesn’t get any simpler and more cost effective than a group of people being stalked by an unknown killer in a single location, especially when that location is as free of charge as nature is. Of course, delivering on the quality takes far more work than slapping together a group of friends to spend a few weekends in the woods being chased by some guy with an axe. There needs to be tension; there needs to be a sense of dread; there needs to be a certain level of craftsmanship on display; and there needs to be some sort of passion injected into the project.

This is why a slasher film such as 1984’s Satan’s Blade is such an interesting one. On the surface, Satan’s Blade is a terrible slasher film. It’s not particularly well made, sharing more in common with a public access show than something like Halloween or Black Christmas. The performances, while being consistent, are amateurish and best comparable to that of an eighth-grade school play. And even the story – which focuses on two groups of vacationers being stalked and slashed by a guy who, as it turns out, is possessed by the spirit of a killer mountain man wielding the titular blade – is somehow convoluted, despite being so simple.

All these elements considered, Satan’s Blade is genuine and, dare I say somewhat ambitious. Sure, much of the movie reeks of ineptitude, which comes in the form of an abundance of static shots and even an entire sequence where the killer and the lead character fight in the living room with the lights off. Despite this, however, there are times where the film shows signs, slight as they may be, of artistry.

One of these moments in particular is an effective dream sequence where a killer is attacking a group of women in a hotel room. The claustrophobic location alone is enough to create unease, but things become all the more terrifying when being forced to watch as the killer, who wears a simple yet frightening mask, viciously murders each woman in the room as the others watch in fear, knowing it will only be a matter of seconds before he comes for them. The sound design and the fashion in which the sequence is shot only adds to the effectiveness of the scene, making it a true standout in a film that maybe doesn't warrant it.

One element of Satan’s Blade that really stands out is its location. Shot in and around Big Bear Lake in California, the winter-set mountain location is simply gorgeous to look at and certainly a high point of the film. Of course, the location may be a tad overused, as there are an overabundance of nature shots clearly used to fill time and ensure the film is feature length. Regardless, a good setting can add a lot of value to a film, and the snowy mountain locations make for the perfect backdrop to spill a little blood, which thankfully comes in abundance.

Courtesy of a sleeveless mad man wearing tan construction gloves and wielding “Satan’s blade,” the death scenes are aplenty in the film’s short 82 minute runtime. Now, while the kills are consistently simplistic throughout the film – mostly relegated to straightforward stabbings, manly in the back – there remains a brutality about them that is unexpected, especially when you consider how unimpressive they are. In fact, I believe that the simplicity of the kills are actually a benefit, as the lack of flash feels grounded in reality and slightly more effective as a result.   

Satan’s Blade is the only film writer/director L Scott Castillo Jr. ever made. It’s not much of a surprise, seeing as there were a slew of one and done slasher film directors in the heyday of ‘80s horror. If you were lucky, there was money to be made, and a number of folks went and tried to cash in on the craze. I honestly don’t think this was Castillo’s intention, as the results are certainly that of someone trying to get every idea they have out and onto the screen, almost aware that this was their one big shot at doing something special. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t looking for a big payday, but at the very least there as some sense of care put into his project.



A sane person might consider a film like 1984’s Satan’s Blade to be a terrible movie. A sane person, however, has more than likely never even heard of a film like Satan’s Blade, let alone seen it. Let’s face it, movies such as Satan’s Blade only speak to a certain demographic of movie fan, specifically one driven by people who are able to brush off a turd and find that glint of polish just below the surface. To say it takes a special kind of person would be an understatement, and really, it’s those people who are keeping a certain segment of cinema alive, and all during a time when the odds are (or at least should be) most stacked against them.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Salute Your Shorts: Tim Sullivan's A Christmas Treat (1985)

Tim Sullivan A Christmas Treat

It's Christmas Eve, and as Jason is being tucked into bed, his parents warn him that if he doesn't get to sleep soon, Santa will not be bringing him any gifts. It isn’t long before Jason does finally fall asleep, only to excitedly wake up in the middle of the night and rush downstairs to see if Santa has brought him all he wished for. Much to his surprise, Jason finds Santa himself, as he's leaving behind a plethora of joy just waiting to be celebrated by the young boy. Excited beyond belief, Jason takes this opportunity to try and meet Santa, but what Jason neglected to consider is there's a reason why good little boys and girls are encouraged to sleep through the night, and no matter what, should never try and see Santa for themselves.

Brimming with 80s Christmas decor and set to the comforting sounds of Nat King Cole’s The Christmas Song, A Christmas Treat is a holiday-themed horror short that perfectly hits the nostalgia mark by recreating the joy of Christmas from the perspective of a young child. Of course, the brilliance of the short is that it builds up all of these youthful memories and warm feelings, only to take it all and turn it into a complete nightmare. Albeit, a very fun and satisfying nightmare.

Written and directed by a 21-year-old Tim Sullivan when he was studying film at NYU, A Christmas Treat garnered Sullivan a Short Film Search Award from Fangoria Magazine, which is really impressive considering this was his first film. It’s not much a surprise that it received such positive attention, honestly, as A Christmas Treat is indeed a treat, and certainly one that is well worth 4 minutes of your time this holiday season and during holiday seasons to come.

Salute Your Shorts 4.5

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The End of Chucktober aka the Post-Halloween Hangover

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It’s pretty fantastic having Halloween fall on a Saturday, as it gives all of us the perfect excuse to enjoy the wicked holiday all weekend long. However, despite finishing up a watch of Hollow Gate after falling asleep halfway through the night before, and enjoying a few Halloween episodes of Roseanne during Roseanne’s Halloween Hangover on WE (which is an awesome thing to do, by the way), the deep down feeling that the party’s over is impossible to shake.

As the day goes on and the rotted jack-o’-lanterns find their way into the trash to finish their slow dissolve into fly infested nothingness, the sadness of it all starts to settle in, knowing that it’ll be yet another long year of anticipation for the fun to all begin again. As somewhat depressing as that may sound, with the exit of another Halloween season comes the opportunity to reflect upon it, and when all's said and done, it was a good season indeed.

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This year’s jack-o’-lanterns courtesy of my inflatable wife (right jack-o) and myself (left jack-o).

As per usual, the last few months have been filled with the usual intake of Halloween-themed snacks and goodies as well as a number of delicious seasonal beverages. That stuff is always a highlight for a junk-food junkie and lush like myself, that’s for certain. The only thing that might top overdosing on Halloween treats is spending a month plus watching horror films and various Halloween specials throughout the season, which actually goes well with all the Halloween junk food, as I have perfected the art of eating and watching my television at the same time. What can I say, I’m multitalented.

As mush as I love junk food and horror films, this Halloween was enjoyable for reasons other than orange-colored treats that may or may not cause cancer, and that comes in the form of my daughter, Hallowbaby herself, Clara.

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Don’t be skerred, fall-jacket Jason.

Clara was born on October 25th of last year, which as luck would have it, meant her first birthday fell on the Sunday before Halloween. Now, for those of you who don’t know (and really, why would you?), the town I live in does trick or treat the Sunday before Halloween, unless Halloween lands on a Sunday, of course. This basically gave us an excuse to do a Halloween theme for Clara’s first birthday party, which was graciously hosted at my in-laws’ house.

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Clara’s first birthday cake, designed by yours truly. The main cake is vanilla and the cupcakes chocolate, because daddy don’t play. 

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Hallowbaby digging into some smash cake aka cake that gets smashed by an infant and is a nightmare to clean up.

Timing wise it couldn’t have worked out any better, as immediately after we got home from Clara’s party, trick or treat had begun. While I don’t love the idea of trick or treat being held in the afternoon (usually from 2:00 PM to 4:00 PM) and on a day other than Halloween, I am always thrilled by how many spooky boils and ghouls show up at my door looking for a handful of treats, and this year was no different. I didn’t keep count, though I really should have, but I am willing to bet at least 50 kids came to my door, and each one was greeted with a fistful of Halloween candy, which only ensured our home will A) be the cool house and B) never get egged.

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It’s hard to make out, but four adorable girls who came to our home for trick or treat - then proceeded to sit on the corner of my lawn and dig into their stash - wrote trick or treat on my sidewalk. My black heart melted, naturally.  

In any event, Halloween itself was enjoyable as well, being filled with special Halloween cookies, the flickering of Yankee Candle candles, tons of Halloween-set movies and horror films, and even a trip out to the local fairgrounds for a little Halloween fun, with a heavy focus on the word little. As great as the big day was, however, it was Clara’s birthday mixed with trick or treat that turned out to be the real highlight of this Halloween season, and I honestly couldn’t ask for anything more.

Here are some more notable photos from the past month of madness for you to dig into:

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Clara’s babysitter did a little art project with the kids, and this was the result. It is Clara’s first art piece, and fittingly it’s Halloween related. You know, because she is Hallowbaby.

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Clara doesn’t care much about TV, but for some reason she was drawn to Roseanne’s first Halloween special, BOO, which only proves that she has a good chance at one day being crowned “the master.”

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Again, not really into TV, which only makes Clara’s interest in It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown on Halloween morning a pretty special moment for me. Hallowbaby is clearly not a uniform; it’s a lifestyle.

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And lastly, I freed my lovely inflatable wife from the basement so she could take this adorable photo with Clara, in full Hallowbaby attire, on Halloween.

At any rate, I hope you all had a wonderful Halloween, and I also hope you enjoyed all the Chucktober festivities I put together this year. Naturally, things are going to slow down here on the blog now that October has passed, but I do plan on trying to put together something for December. Until next time, however, thanks for reading my endless blabbering!

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