Finishing the Complete Seventh Season (2020)

Season 7 was all in, arguably, one of the most entertaining and fun seasons to work on for me in a while. While Season 6 had the freshness of starting from the ground up to some extent given I’d been on a reletively short hiatus. This season to me, really felt like it had some momentum behind it. The wheels were spinning as early as late October 2019 in writing some of these episodes (My review of “The Warriors” being the first one that made it into the can) but work would continue right up until mid/late march to ensure that everything could be done in time!

For the most part, this season was pretty much decided right from the off…or at least 2/3rds of it were already pre-chosen. Originally “The Warriors” was going to open the season until I saw Cozzi’s “Hercules” about 10-11 episodes into writing for the season and I realised that that would be the PERFECT way to kick off this seasons run. the 4 part “Sleepaway Camp” summer special also came about pretty much at the last minute too, As I’d wanted to do a month on the Sleepaway camp movies pretty much since the 2nd season of theses reviews but could never quite fit them in amongst the other bits and pieces i’d got going on.

Salo: The Musical” was another one that had been in the making for a year or two before I finally decided to pull the trigger. it’s easily one of the most time consuming videos I’ve ever made in relation to it’s length. it may only be a couple of minutes or so long. but I assure you it took damn near a month of solid writing, recording, performing and motion tracking (For reference; the average 15-20 minute review on here generally takes about a week to complete from watching to final upload)

My favourite review of this season? is probably either “The Perils of Gwendolyn in the land of the Yik Yak“, “Salo” or “Return to Sleepaway Camp” all three were total labours of love (And hate) and im So happy with how they turned out as an end result.

All in all, this was just a damn fun season to work on, and while the steam that made up the creative process may have just started to dry burn towards the very end (Try and show me a way to be enthusiastic about having to spend a week with “Return to Sleepaway Camp”) overall; this was a total blast! I met some super interesting people over the last few months including the team over at Mutantfam.com who’ve recently agreed to host my work in an affiliated capacity. The Guys over at “Survivors Guilt“,”Video Creep“, “The Channel 83 Podcast” (Who were a top bunch of lads and had me on there show!) “The Best Little Horror House in Philly” and GG over at the “Midnight Movie Monster” Blog! Not only have they helped keep this Schlock jock sane during the absolute “Deep Hurting” that these films can bring in, but they’ve even contributed to helping make my content better and are all great people you should definitely go and check out at the next convenience!

At the time of writing my office/entertainment room is under renovation. everything is in boxes packed away and it wont be until August before we’re ready to reopen the archive and get back on track with the edit schedule. However! that’s not to say that this season is necissarily “Completely” over…Keep your eyes peeled as over the summer there’ll be more than 1 or 2 surprises creeping out until we’re back in September!

“Sleepaway Camp 3: Teenage Wasteland” (1989) AND “Sleepaway Camp 4: The Survivor” (1992)

So! a bit or a rarity! this week we’re doing double bubble! it’s been a VERY long time since I covered 2 movies in one review. in fact the last time was way back in Season 2 when I covered both versions of the “Night of the Living Dead” movies.

And todays is extra special because we’re not only covering 2 movies in one review! we’re covering 2 movies, 1 of which has never had a proper “PROPER” official release. Yes yes; there has been a cobbled together fan edit that attempts to complete it…but honestly? it’s a bit limp. I have to tread extra carefully around movies that never got completed as copyright law is slightly different for “Unifinished” works than completed ones.

Even so; I really did feel a bit like I was short changing you guys with my review of Sleepaway Camp 3 with this one. “It’s basically Sleepaway camp 2 again” is hardly the most inspired take for this one. and I was left in a bit of a dilemma as to; A: whether there was enough material to even MAKE a full length review for Sleepaway Camp 4 and B: Whether a trunkated review for sleepaway camp 3 would fly. As such it became quite apparent that the best thing to do with 2 stubby reviews that dont quite meet the usual goals and standards would be to push them together into a not so stubby double feature and treat SC4 as a bit of an addendum and ending to the production company “Double Helix films”.

Honestly?; While theres nothing inherently wrong with sleepaway camp 3, the fact that it’s basically more of the same always makes it difficult for me to appreciate this movie in the same way I do the original or Sleepaway camp 2. and Sleepaway camp 4 is missing so much information, that quite honestly? I feel bad for even talking about it. im only really doing it for completionist sake and because next week?…well it’s the season finale…and…oh god….even thinking about it’s making the space behind my eyes itch.

(In the UK sleepaway camp 3’s poster is basically Sleepaway Camp 4’s poster but cropped in exclusively to the cleavage area and with a title change…I dont care much for the US poster of 3…and the full length poster for Sleepaway Camp 4 just looks like the weirdest glamour shoot I’ve ever seen…these are not great posters…)

So You’ve Ruined Your Life: A Guide to Terrible Cinema And How You Can Avoid It (By Embracing It) – Part 2: The Atomic Age

So…the 1930’s happened. It was a relatively quiet year…not much happened…there was a little bit of tension in Europe but things quietened down quite quickly (Some things never change)…World War 2 pretty much decimated the European film industry at the time. What at one point was an incredibly flourishing experimental and creative industry lost almost 50% of its resources over the course of the 2nd world war and countless movies were either destroyed for being deemed “Obscene” by both sides of the battlefield or halted due to the ongoing conflict. The result of the conflict had only one “Winner” from a filmmaking perspective really. The US, who used their several years not being involved in the war growing and firmly rooting their time into an industry they had started some 20 years prior. Hollywood is a small section of Los Angeles, no longer than16 blocks wide and five blocks high, this tiny piece of land was established in the name of film and film production some time around 1910 and over the following 20 years it would go on to grow one of the most substantial film industries in the world. America hadn’t been directly affected by World war 1. In fact quite the contrary quite a few creatives most likely immigrated into the US around this time to escape the conflict. And through the 20’s this industry would grow and grow and grow. By 1925 American movies were making up to 50% of all foreign film rentals and by the 1930’s Eight studios basically owned Hollywood. Universal, Fox, Paramount, RKO, Loews Incorporated (Part of MGM), Warner Brother, United Artists and Columbia Pictures.

(The “Land” bit fell down…so they took it away…the rest is history.)

All of these studios were fairly well known for each having a genre that they excelled at and largely stuck to. Universal for example was seen as a Horror Studio, RKO was known initially for musicals before branching out more into fantasy and Sci-fi and so on. There was however a growing issue. The film industry was running the risk of becoming quite insular and there was a growing concern that there may come a time where noone outside of those 8 film studios would be able to successfully market their film. While it wasn’t quite an anti-competitive environment…if you weren’t one of the “Big Eight” and were planning on having any success outside of your town in filmmaking…you’d might as well not bother at this time. There was equally an even bigger concern that through various backroom dealings, these big companies may eventually merge. Effectively creating one “Super company” that would have complete and total power and influence over the market. And while the US loves them some capitalism. They’re generally petrified of the idea of a single company owning close to 100% of all assets in one particular industry (As well they should).

(Theres a love for Capitalism…but not TOO much capitalism…and a hatred for sharing…I dont get it either…)

Equally their was a growing call for more regulation around the content of films themselves as the industry had slowly been edging closer and closer to more and more edgier content designed to shock, disgust or nauseate audiences. because of this in 1930 “The Hays Code” was introduced to predominantly stop the possible intervention of the government in enforcing their own brand of regulation on the industry. It was technically entirely voluntary but the oligopoly of studios quickly adapted the code as a means of keeping those reactionary pressure groups and the government at bay. The code was pretty broad and unclear. There wasn’t anything specifically “Banned” but it was effectively a set of guidelines that covered the basics (No on screen sex, no drug use on screen, no gore or heavy blood, no profanity etc…) the code was in effect until 1966 and quite nicely cuts across the decades we’ll be covering today.

Both the 1940’s and 1950’s would effectively be dominated by 2 major events, the strict regulation on competition laws within cinema itself and the rise of science fiction/horror films. And the former is probably the best place to start. As mentioned earlier from the mid 20’s to the mid 30’s the Hollywood system was basically “If you arnt part of the Big 8, don’t bother”. You might think that’s a bit of a defeatist attitude but the reality is that even if you made your film in this time, there wasn’t any way outside of being incredibly chummy with someone who owned a cinema for your film to ever be screened anywhere because of a practice largely known as “Block Booking”. Y’see a few of these big 8 owned the cinemas that their films played in. So only their films played there. And the studios that didn’t own their own cinemas? (Or didn’t own a lot of cinemas) they’d simply “Block book” out a cinema almost indefinitely with their films to stop other companies taking their patch. Effectively they’d pay up front to book out every screen of every cinema sometimes taking entire chains. Just to screen their own movies for infinite periods of time. Had MGM not owned a cinema chain they would realistically just pay all the cinemas within a certain strategic distance to only play their movies sight unseen. Blocking out any competition and keeping their movies more profitable over the competitions. You might see this as being a bit unfair…and so did the US department of Justice.  In 1938 the issue became so bad that the department of justice sued all 8 major studios for the practice which was settled on a “Gentlemens agreement” in 1940…the studios did what all studios do the moment something isnt hard legislated though and threw that “Gentlemens agreement” straight into the trash. And while they did sort of reduce their amount of block booking, the agreement suggested that no block booking should take place at all…it would be a bit like promising your flatmate you weren’t going to eat his food anymore, eating all his food. But when he confronts you about it claiming “Well hay! I left you some milk for your cereal!…assuming you had any cereal left…”

(You cant like…OWN food that grew in the ground man…)

 

This weakening of guidelines did have the benefit of allowing some films to finally start slipping through the cracks. Some re-edited in the form of serialisations and others in an actual full length feature format. As you can well imagine this slight creaking open of the door inevitably cause the splurge of more “Independent” features shoot through the cracks…some pretty decent…others…not so much. The so called “Poverty Row” were the groups best suited to come out of this agreement in the best light. They we’re a small conglomerate of B-movie and lower budget production studios desperately trying to make big money but forever held back by the studio system of the time and the general fact that the majority of their crews and castings were misfits. Wannabe scriptwriters, directors with a “Vision” actors who thought they were Betty davis when in reality they were more Weird Al. Poverty row was a fairly shortlived concept but in that moment between 1938 and 1948 they were in their element. Producing such classics as “The Mad Monster” which was basically a poundland rip off of the wolfman with non of the charm and about 1/10th of the visual creativity. Or “White zombie” a film starring Bela Lugosi only 1 year after he defined the vampire Genre with Dracula playing a Haitian zombie master who can resurrect the dead, who decides he wants to kill a woman and bring her back to life to be his forever alive wife…yeh things got a bit weird sometimes on Poverty row.

(An Example of Poverty Row…Small and mighty)

These films were usually personified by cheap sets, bad actors and ropey editing, cheap and quick filmmaking where studios were constantly in a state of Pop-up and decline. But for that 10 year gap they were making serious cash. But that all came to an end when paramount (a long time member of the now rechristened “Big Five”) was sued formally by the USDJ for once again flouting the rules on block booking. And in a historic ruling it was finally written into law that film studios were now not allowed to just blind block book out entire chains of cinemas solely for the screening of their movies. That any cinema screening films must have at least 2 distributors under there books at any one time, that discrimination against smaller film companies was to be outlawed, and that screening schedules must be uniform so as not to allow some theatres to be bribed with premiers over others.

(And 8 became 5…)

This was both the make and break of Poverty row. On the one hand it effectively gave them free reign to put any of there content into cinemas. On the other it quickly bought the success of these schlocky B-movies to the attention of the Big Five who realised they could make a small fortune in producing smaller, better quality horror/scifi films in the vein of these B-movies for a fraction of the effort and cost. This in turn birthed what is probably the most famous era of B-movie filmmaking in the history of cinema. The age of the Creature Feature.

While the term “Creature Feature” wouldn’t be coined for at least 2 decades beyond when the era actually started (It was also referred to “The Atomic Age” because of the overuse of Nuclear materials as a means of creating said creatures) it came to stand for a swathe of films released in the 1940’s and 50’s that ranged from supersized animals, to abominations, to people transforming into creatures. (What would later morph into the Cronenbergian nightmare subgenre of Body horror). this included films like; “Man Made monster”, “The Wolf Man”, “Them!”, “The Thing from another world”,  “The Blob”, “Tarantula”, “The Deadly Mantis”, “The Fly”, “The Crawling eye”, “The Black Scorpion” and “Attack of the Giant Leeches” the list literally runs into the hundreds of titles. And about 90% of them could be summed up as follows. “A scientist has a plan to make the world a better place by developing a chemical or technology that in theory will solve a major ecological crisis. Something goes wrong with the chemical/machine and an animal or human cells are caught in the crossfire resulting in either a giant or mutated version of said animal/human destroying everything in it’s path until it’s either taken down by the army of dies of it’s own self inflicted injuries”. This also usually involved a hell of a lot of back projection to make these creature look massive, or in the case of a human prosthetics to make them look hideously mutated. If it isnt a scientist working for the benefit of mankind, then it’s a mad scientist looking for revenge on mankind of shunning his idea of wanting to create a 90 foot spider or a half man half Wotsit hybrid.

(Sort of…)

Its important to appreciate that there was a very narrow window of a few years where these movies transitioned very quickly from “Genuinely impressive must see cinema” to “Oh jesus how bad can these films get!?” nightmares. And it was simply due to repetition. Too many people making exactly the same film but with varying effects budgets and different types of animals. It’s an important takeaway in the film industry. I always try to live by the motto of scriptwriter Terrance Dicks who said “You can have an original idea; but it need’nt be YOUR original idea” but you also need to be aware of your surroundings when living by that rule. It’s fine to make an action movie, or a mafia film, or an emotional experimental black and white art housefilm dubbed onto tape for realism…but if your doing that at a time when those genres are being made by literally absolutely everyone else (And yes. I am talking everyone outside of this university campus as well) then your touching attempt at making a powerful impact on your audience will land about as well as an egg to the face of a minister. I always encourage film makers to look out beyond there “Clicks” their friend circles and actually explore what other university film makers, what other indie film makers are making. And then avoid that stuff like the plague unless you can genuinely improve on those ideas. Because if you cant (And it’s typically very unlikely that you can) your film will be utterly defanged and it just wont land the way you think it will.

(I guarentee one of you at some point in your film making career will make a varient of this)

Poverty Row ended for a mixture of reasons, in part because the big studios realised they could make more money by just making marginally better versions of films that were originally made by the starving artists of the Hollywood system and in part through syndication the row would all but cease to exist by the mid 1960’s due mainly to the films being screened in syndication on television. The row moved into TV and TV movies became the new poverty row of cinema. Something that’s only really started to be corrected in the last 10-15 years really. But we’ll get to TV movies another time because we’re already pushing our luck here and I haven’t even got round to talking yet about what is arguably the best and worst thing that Poverty Row birthed in it’s time.

(This handsome mother lover!)

Edward D. Wood Jr is a name synonymous with bad and cult film making. A poster boy for the age, his movies regularly chart as some of the worst ever made. I would happen to disagree with those polls but hey; everyones a critic these days…Mainstream audiences will probably best know him as the subject of Tim Burtons biopic “Ed Wood”, being played rather eccentrically by Johnny Depp. Now I should be clear; their are much MUCH worse film makers out there. Not just in the modern day but in the past as well. The likes of Coleman Francis, Clark Paylow and even Harold P. Warren would give Wood a run for his money. But Ed was an auteur. And the one thing he had going for him was a ruthless drive to get his films out there to as wide an audience as possible no matter what. Whether it was via exploitation cinema and the likes of his gender identity crisis spectacular “Glen or Glenda” or whether it was marketing his magnum opus “Plan 9 From outer Space” as being the last feature film of Bela Lugosi (Only a half truth as Lugosi is only in the opening minute and a half so of the movie and is then played by doubles for the rest of the film…what a way to go….). If there was an angle that could be taken for low to no money, Ed was the man to take it.

Set’s were mainly cheap wood or cardboard, there was little to no set dressing (A plane cockpit was literally just bowed cardboard, a curtain and 2 bog standard plastic chairs. Not even desk chairs. Just cheap garden chairs.) Let it never be said by anyone (student or otherwise) that you dont have the budget to realise your vision. Ed was doing octopus fights and graveyard based alien invasions with nothing but a few pie plates and a few good people who were genuinely captivated by the enthusiasm of this man.

(While not an “Official” set photo…I’d be surprised if the real Ed wood Didnt pull this face while filming his masterpieces at some point)

I think thats an important lesson to take away from this period of film making if nothing else. Have passion for your film. Genuine passion. If it isnt keeping you awake at night and making you dance between thinking its the best idea in the world and making you a nervous wreck, it’s not worth making. If you develop an idea and your half hearted about it; Bin it. It’ll never be great and by the time you get to shooting you’ll want to cave your skull in out of hatred for it. But if you really truly love something. Even if it’s just the seedling of an idea, it’ll carry you the whole 9 yards and then some. From experience filmmaking has taught me that the best films are made with 2 kinds of energy, absolute enthusiasm, or hatred sought from vengeance. These are the only two energies that seemingly get the job done (And done well) you’re either making your film because you genuinely believe it’s worth it’s existence. Or because you want to prove to someone or something who’s been negative towards you that it’s worth existing and has meaning and value.

Some of the best films I’ve seen have come from those two places, and Ed wood was definitely in the former of those camps. All his films are corney, laughably bad and bordering on the unwatchable in places. But because he genuinely thought these films were worth their existence they possess a quality that half loved or unloved films can never achieve. That kind of positive energy resonates through the film in the direction, the cinematography and the performances. You can almost hear Ed in the background radiating a “This will be the shot they remember me for!” attitude. And thats why his films have lasted in the public consciousness for so long, they’re fun goofy little movies that have a charm all of their own accord.

Rather unfortunately Ed would never experience the adoration that was bestowed to him by cult cinema fans. After Plan 9 he made 2 further mainstream features “The Violent Years” and “Night of the Ghouls” both slightly more grindhousey than his previous works. As if marking the end of an era “Night of the ghouls” was released in 1960 and it was his last attempt at mainstream success in B-movies. While he would try on and off over the next 2 decades to get another chance. It would never come.

(Truely it was the end of an era.)

After “Ghouls” he slowly began to sink into a tide of pornographic direction to make ends meet and alcoholism. Ed died in 1978 due to a heart attack, he was 54 years old. Less than 2 years later Woods “Magnum Opus” “Plan 9 from Outer space” would be voted the “Worst movie ever made” by the founders of what would go on to be “The Golden Turkey Awards” hollywoods most esteemed honour when it comes to terrible film making. In 1986 Wood would feature extensively in the book “Incredibly Strange films” and in the early 90’s MST3K would riff 2 of Woods films to great audience response. The 10 years following woods death would see his entire ouvre re-evaluated and what was at one time unwatchable dross was now loved unwatchable dross…and that changes everything.

(Ed’s last film was found quite recently and has been released on Bluray. I havent seen it yet but I certainly hope to.)

As we see out tonights session Im going to play you Woods Masterpiece “Plan 9 from Outer Space” I’d like you to bear in mind while watching this film that Ed Wood thought this was the movie that would “Make” him. The film that was going to get him the star on the hollywood walk of fame and would set him up for life. And…in some ways he was right. Though probably not in the way he had intended. As always im happy to talk about any of the films mentioned tonight and im also happy to recommend any titles should anyone here be interested in learning more about Ed wood, film makers like Ed wood or the Atomic Age of film making in general. Thank you again all for coming. And Enjoy.

So You’ve Ruined Your Life: A Guide to Terrible Cinema And How You Can Avoid It (By Embracing It) – Part 1: The Silent Age

(So…since around 2013 I have had in mind a series of Lecture “Talks” charting the history of alternative, cult and “Bad” cinema. How through awareness of these often overlooked films that filmmakers and in particular student filmmakers can learn about the pitfalls of film making and in doing so can apply this knowledge to their own work. This year I have decided to publish these talks in a series of volumes with recommended viewings per session. Each of these in an academic context would pool clips for reference and would typically end with a screening of a film reflective of the talk in question. I will try to replicate these as best I can below for reference. Please also bear in mind that a lot of this would be spoken to film students within an educational environment and while not verbatim the below is going to read a lot less like an essay and much more like a script. So here is part 1 , it wont be entirely reflective of the rest of the series but that’s largely because it covers Bad and cult cinema from the 1890’s to 1939. Thank you.)

I want to open with a question just to get a feel for the room. How many people here when trying to justify a film idea to a tutor or lecturer would reference a known terrible movie as the reason why your film should get made?

… (The Assumption would be not many)

Alright…and how many people here when trying to pitch a film idea to your lecturer or tutor would include references to films currently in the cinema or films that have high critical acclaim? Say from magazines like Sight and sound or empire…y’know…good stuff?

…(The Assumption would be quite a few)

Okay. And would you say it was fair to say that if you watch good films, award winning films, that you will learn from those films how to make good movies. Great ones even?

…(The Assumption would be a mixed response as a few people would realize this is probably a trap)

But then…How do you know what exactly quantifies a bad movie?…I only ask because having been to universities and colleges multiple times to work with students on their films to help gain a better understanding of their work, I see the same thing time and time again. Students get so wrapped up in the visuals, the look, the feel of the film. the idea that they want it to be the best it can possibly be. How they strive for perfection and how they’ll sink hundreds (And in one students case who I worked with thousands) of pounds into 4 and 8k cameras, professional actors, the purest of the pure audio recording equipment, just to try and get the cleanest and best possible image. that they don’t stop to consider exactly whether the idea they’re pursuing is even a good one.

You can make a film out of anything. I firmly believe that. Any item, location, person. There’s a film there. A story something to be discovered. But how you approach that discovery can be the make or break of a films success. Modern mainstream cinema is two things. Diverse and homogenised. We are currently living in a time where there has never been more choice in what to watch and yet at the same time everything more or less looks the same. We have entered a period of cinema history where every film that comes out is polished to within an inch of it’s life. has sharp contrasting colours, is mainly shot in front of green screens and the emphasis has been levied on a “Fix it in post” culture wherein by filming things wide, flat and in the mutest of colour profiles the entire film can be both physically and emotionally constructed in the edit. It’s processed film making. And outside of the fringe film-makers. The people who are literally one man bands or who manage tiny indie productions. People who can rarely score a local cinema screening letalone a national one for there independent release. The industry seems to feel that this processed method is the best way to make movies that make money and keep costs down.

Theres a reasonable chance that the people sat here tonight are predominantly producing films based on this processed diet. That is to say, your scope of the film making landscape extends to films that have played nationally in cinemas and maybe one or two “Safe” out there films like “Baby Driver”, “Mandy” or “The Neon Demon”. That’s fine. Im not going to judge you…but you should all be ashamed of yourselves…Im joking…im not joking. it’s clearly a safer option to assemble your film in post over running the risk of trying something new and it potentially going wrong on set. I can practically hear some of you right now thinking “It’s all well and good telling us that…but it’s my degree thats on the line with these productions” and thats fine. I get that. what I do need to say though is that, making mistakes is useful. it teaches us not to do them again, it also makes us think about the processes we do in filmmaking completely differently and may even lead to a new and even better idea than we had previously.

I love bad films. I love cult films. the two arnt strictly the same thing. you can have cult movies that are absolutely astoundingly good. And you can have bad movies that even I wont touch with a ten foot pole. As a film student many years ago I found myself a bit adrift to my peers. They were obsessed with perfection and terrified of failure. Unless it was HD they didn’t want to know. If it was older than 12 months without attaining “Classic!” status they pretty much weren’t interested. Myself? Well I and my flatmate at the time who also studied film wanted schlock. We wanted awfulness. We watched some of the worst movies ever made during our time at university, purposefully and with intent to learn. At the time we saw students on the verge of bankruptcy if not a full mental breakdowns due to the stress of striving for that perfection. This wasn’t what film making should be about. Film making should be a fun experience. A beneficial experience. Something that while stressful to organize should be relaxing to shoot.

When I made my films lecturers were always curious about my references and sources as they were always typically for terrible films. I would always tell them that the best way to describe what I was doing was that while other students were desperately trying to climb an endless ladder spewing money and energy in the process in search of a film they’d probably be unlikely to obtain; I’d pulled out my shovel and I was digging down to see how deep the ladder was buried. And I had a blast doing that. Naturally when digging you tend to find odd things and some were very useful…not everything…but some things were…and one of the gateways to help me get a foothold on what I affectionately call good/bad cinema? Was Mystery Science Theatre.

Mystery Science Theatre 3000 or MST3K for short was a series that ran from 1988 until 1999 in the US before being cancelled until 2015 when Netflix revived it. it’s still running to this day and if you want to dip your toe into the ocean of utter trash that’s been released over the years. This would probably be your gentlest way. The series which originally aired on public access television straight out of Minnesota has a very simple premise. A janitor for a generic company who’s pretty easy going, is kidnapped by his bosses and blasted into space aboard a ship fitted with a cinema of which he becomes an unwilling test subject in an attempt to weaponised bad movies to break the will of the people of earth over which the bosses would rule as overlords.  Stay with me…the janitor however is able to remove some of the parts from the ships projector. The ones that let him play, stop or fast forward the movie. And with those parts he builds himself several robot friends who help him keep his sanity by poking fun at the films and acting as a bit of a make shift family. Much to the annoyance of the bosses.

Still with me? it sounds ridiculous but I assure you it’s one of the best ways to get a foot hold on the world of bad movies if your new to these things. The original run covered films dating back as far as the 1930’s and as recent as the 1990’s. the current series has films as recent as 2016. The writers are fantastically sharp, the jokes are funny and the films are indeed some of the worst ever produced (As a reference point I highly recommend: “Rocket Attack U.S.A”, “Manos: The Hands of Fate”, “Hobgoblins” and “Cry Wilderness” if you want a good starting point on these) theres over 200 films covered by these guys and they’re a really great resource for learning about terrible film makers like Coleman Francis, Bill Rebane and Sam Newfield. But I digress.

Why should you care about bad movies? Well. My reasoning is that if you only watch good movies you’ll only learn how to make movies that conform to whatever the societal construct of “Good” at the time actually is. And in effect you wont actually be making a good film you’ll actually be making a bland but visually nice and appropriate for the time film. I want to help you break that mold. By watching bad and underappreaciated movies not only will you balance your film diet but it’s hoped that you’ll learn something ultimately much more important. How to avoid the pitfalls of trying to make a good film and ending up with a bad…or worse. Bland film. by seeing and understanding how a film maker can go so wrong even if it was intended as their shining masterpiece you should *In Theory* be able to recognise when you yourself are going or are about to go down a very dangerous path to mediocrity and failure. consider me your guide on this journey. My word isn’t gospel and there will be people who will disagree with me about what I will say through this series. So do bear in mind that these are my own observations and opinions and if you don’t agree with me. that’s absolutely fine. I will hang around after the screening to chat about anything you want to question or discuss.

The first distinction we need to draw here is what makes a film “Bad” and what makes a film “Cult” over this series I’ll be talking about both films interchangeably so getting the definitions from my perspective here right is pretty crucial as I don’t want to mislead any of you at any point. A Cult film isn’t necessarily a bad film. All cult really means ultimately is that it appeals to a niche audience. Typically cult films are good. They just don’t tend to follow the modern constraints of mainstream appeal and as a result a much smaller audience appreciate them. cult films can also be enjoyably bad…that is to say so bad they’re entertaining. We’ve all seen a film where an actors hammed a performance, or a cameras cut at just the wrong time or held too long on a shot and it can be funny. Good/bad movies are a cornerstone of cult cinema and as a result they often go hand in hand with just obscure but good cult movies. Bad movies by contrast are not necessarily always cult. Sometimes a bad movie can just be bad. as in. not even enjoyably bad.

Sometimes bad films can be entertainingly bad but still not be cult due simply to just how few people have actually hear or seen them. it means that just because a film is enjoyably bad doesn’t necessarily make it cult and just because a film is often viewed as a cult film doesn’t necessarily mean your automatically going to be viewing something made for 20p and shot in someones back garden. I know this sounds overly vague and not helping matters, all of what I’ve just told you is on a sliding fluid scale. That is to say a film that could be seen as bad for a number of years can ascertain cult status by building up a following over a long period of time. Equally films that were seen as cult in their time can over time just become bad movies. And to throw another curve ball into the mix if a cult film becomes popular enough it can transcend its own cult status and become a mainstream classic. But we’ll get round to examples of all of these in good time. For now it’s just safest for me to say that if I say a movie is a bad movie. Its bad. if I say it’s cult I’ll clarify what I mean by that if needed and so on.

So In order to understand what im on about and to kick all of this off we’ll need to take a trip back to 1920’s to what is widely regarded as the first “Proper” cult film. A film that at one point or another has been in all 3 catagories we’ve talked about. And that film was F.W Murnau’s “Nosforatu: The Symphony of the night”. Before Nosforatu, silent film cinema…and to be fair…cinema in general was in a period of distinct infancy. There were classics in there own right released but in what might come as a bit of a shock to some of you at least 75% of films produced between 1895 and 1936 are missing…AT LEAST. That number is very likely to be higher due simply to the fact that there wasn’t really a comprehensive list of films made around this time and that the records we do have are often riddled with inaccuracies and duplications. As a result while it’s probably fair to say their were bad films during this time. The fact that they either no longer exist or are presumed to no longer exist and that their isn’t really any records of reviews of these films to back them up kind of make them a moot point. Bad films in this period however can kind of be a bit more forgiven. The craft of film making was literally just beginning with a  lot of it’s influence carried across from theatre. The earliest films were usually quite literally just recorded stage shows or recordings of life at that time. And the actual full feature films that were produced were often just adaptations of these stage recordings utilizing actual locations instead of sets. They were still directed as theatre productions and it was rare to see films utilize shot setups, or advanced direction/cinematography.

Nosforatu in the modern day is widely regarded as a legendary classic that bought the Bram stoker novel Dracula to the big screen for the first time. However on it’s actual release it was widely regarded as an absolutely interminable boring watch. Critics at the time complained the film was way too long and soon after it’s release a lawsuit from the stoker estate effectively saw the film banned and copies of the film set by court order to be destroyed. Luckily for Nosforatu by the time of the court injunction prints of the film had already been sent to several countries worldwide and when the film hit france…while the critics of the time still disliked the film. it was tremendously well received by the French surrealist movement and members of the counter culture. Who held it up as an icon of what would develop into the German expressionist movement. As a result Nosforatu is widely regarded as being the first “Cult” film. it found it’s niche audience and because of this it was able to survive the court destruction order. With fans across the world producing dozens and dozens of copies and hiding them in the hope of preserving it’s legacy.

Today Nosforatu is held up as an example of a classic of the silent era. Widely adored by critics and still shown at screenings around the world. It’s an impressive film. the critics of the time were absolutely right, it’s a very long and quite boring film in honesty…im not a fan. But I’d be hard pressed to deny that it was highly revolutionary for it’s time and that had this film not survived the world would be a significantly poorer place for it. heres a clip:

Now; considering how badly this film was reviewed. Even in light of it’s reevaluation. You’d be hard pressed to deny the menace and atmosphere created in that sequence. The striking shadowy shots in the long hallway shot, the fear expressed by Hutter even the colour tinting sets a tone and feel within the film. it’s a beautiful set of shots in an incredibly early example of genuine tension building cinema. And had the film not had the re-evaluation, the slow building of a cult audience. It most likely wouldn’t exist today and as a result a massive amount of films would either not exist or be fundamentally different as a result. The main point im trying to make here is, even films that are considered bad may have moments within them that are actually quite brilliant. and that what makes a film bad today may make it a masterpiece tomorrow. It’s important to keep an open mind with cinema and not to rely too heavily on the promotion of a film to sell you the premise. It was important in the 1920’s and it’s absolutely critical in the 21st century.

Through the 1920’s the german expressionist movement would proceed to dominate the European markets with similarly cultish movies such as “Faust”, “Metropolis” and “The Man Who Laughs” and it’s influence would dictate the style, look and direction of cinema through the decade. While I certainly wouldn’t say “The World Adopted german expressionism” it’s fair to say that young directors and producers around that time were heavily influenced by their styles and stories. In the US in particular these films “Flare” would be adapted quite heavily within horror and science fiction and this would be Crystalised by one studio in particular.

Universal Studios was fairly in it’s infancy at this time having been created in 1912, they quickly tried to establish themselves as the “Horror Studio” in 1923 they released their first “Proper” horror film  an adaptation of “The Hunchback of Notre dame” followed up roughly 2 years later with an adaptation of “The Phantom of the Opera” which was only just over a decade past it’s publication date at this time (Which is a bit weird to think about really). The success of these films would lead universal at the turn of the 1930’s to set in motion plans for a series of films which would change everything. While “The Hunchback” and “The Phantom” are considered universal horror films. it was the “Universal monster movies” series that would cement and secure universal as a major studio power. The 5 films they would release through the 1930’s and early 1940’s (Plus the dozens of sequels to these films they would release from the 1930’s to the 1950’s) set the standard for monster movies that would act as the “High bar of horror and sci-fi” right the way through to the mid 1960’s. films like Dracula, Frankenstein, the invisible man, the wolfman each bought something new and previously unseen to screens. These were at the time however considered “The Mainstream” audiences would flock to see these movies in the same way that audiences go to see the new marvel movie or the latest block busters today.

But while Universal was capitalising on the success of these new monsters, rival company MGM silently released a horror movie which in my opinion; blows all of the universal horror films clean out of the water. A film so shocking that it had to be withdrawn from it’s initial release and shortened to 65 minutes from it’s original 90 minute runtime just for how powerful it was in effecting audiences. This film is the one we will be watching in full tonight. Tod Brownings “Freaks” has been described as “existing in a subgenre of one” and it’s fair to say that you will most likely never see a film quite like this again. The big selling point of this film at the time (And…sort of today as well really) was that the cast was more or less entirely made up of heavily deformed, disabled or afflicted actors. The plot: a horrifically cruel hearted tale of a trapeze artist known as Cleopatra who seduces and marries a dwarf called Hanz who secretly owns a large fortune, with the aim of killing Hanz with the help of a strongman called Hercules. Im not going to say anymore than this until the film is over. but even in the 21st century I would consider this film fairly shocking still.

Unsurprisingly the film garnered incredibly negative reception in both its cut and uncut form from audiences and critics alike. It more or less killed the career of Tod Browning the man who bought us the Universal “Dracula” amongst other horror gems at the time and was the only MGM film ever to be pulled completely from release before completing it’s domestic engagements. We’re quite privileged really to be able to even view this film tonight. MGM effectively disowned it, selling the rights to the film in 1947 to an exploitation film director who proceeded to run the film through the 1960s, 70’s and 80’s at various midnight movie screenings. The film was banned in the UK for 30 years due to being too exploitative. And im only referring to the cut version here…the original 90 minute cut at this time is considered lost…so lord knows what wider audiences would have made of that version in contrast.

The film never received a VHS release in this country. And a DVD release was quietly shuffled out in the early 2010’s with a couple of extra features explaining why a third of the film is missing. There is no Bluray of this film available. Though it Is currently in my top 5 films I would love to see get a full remastering. It’s not a perfect movie. but I very much doubt you will ever see any kind of film from this period look and feel the way this one does. But that’s enough Hyperbole for now. lets get started:

Now; Im not expecting everyone to have loved that film. Quite a few people will be offended by that film. but that’s good. Its okay to be offended by films. its okay to think this film was rubbish. Im hoping that after this you will all go out…maybe to a pub or coffee shop, or even just on the ride home, and talk about what you’ve just seen. Explain why you thought it was offensive, why you thought it was rubbish. Or if you thought it was brilliant like I do that you talk about why you thought it was brilliant.

Theres plenty to take away from this film. the ending in and of itself at the time would have been seen as utterly horrific but by modern standards has almost a streak of black comedy running through it. the idea that Cleopatra ultimately ends up becoming the one thing that terrifies her the most. The one thing she spends most of the film ridiculing is satisfying but at the same time quite a harsh contrast to a film that does have a lot of merriment about it. it could be argued that the title “Freaks” is an offensive title given the castings. But I would argue that the film is actually an act of wordplay. With the afflicted cast in this picture actually showing more humanity about them than non afflicted members who in many ways are the “Real” Freaks of the feature. Indeed Hanz and his fellow performers have depth, character detail and actually run a spectrum of complex emotions that really is very unusual for the time in cinema of this era. it acts to shine a light on decency and humanity. It would be easy to dismiss this film as exploitation on a surface level. But even digging remotely deeper below the surface unveils a quite complex script and Brownings direction only enhances some of these elements without being overly handholdy.

If you want an example of genuine exploitation 6 years later in 1938 Sam Newfield would release “The Terror of Tiny Town” which was basically a western script that no studio wanted that was eventually picked up purely because Sam and his writing partner Fred Myton repitched the fill with the exact same plot but suggested that it be filmed with an all dwarf cast. With mini Shetland ponies standing in for full size horses and scaled down sets. That’s a real film. im not making that up and it’s one of the most genuinely offensive exploitation films ever made.

The difference seemingly here was the scripts way of relating to the cast in “Freaks” and “A terror in tiny town” with the formers script being adapted from a short which puts the disabled cast in such a light that portrays them as human. That actually gives them human qualities and doesn’t try necessarily to portray them as weird, evil or one dimensional. And the latter instead doing the opposite. Taking a generic script and turning it into a film purely through it being a spectacle to see the disabled cast members act in the film. in many ways turning it into a sideshow (Which is ironic given the former is more endearing to the cast and is LITERALLY set in a sideshow)

Freaks was a film ahead of it’s time. Had it been made 10 years later it probably would exist in full to this day and would also probably have had much less of an impact. Through the rest of the 30’s horror and science fiction would be released in the dozens year on year and would gradually become a staple of the film industry it was around this time that the idea of a “cult audience” was initially developed, As films that didn’t necessarily do as well as they could have (produced by the likes of RKO and other smaller film companies) would attain small but reliable followings. The decade would see the release of fantasy movies like “King kong” scifi movies like the “Flash Gordon” B-pictures  and towards the end of the decade horror would be firmly run into the ground with films like “The Phantom Creeps” illustrating exactly why “Just because Hollywood could, doesn’t necessarily mean is should” but in the 1940’s B-movie and cult cinema would continue even further down the rabbit hole. And in the next session we will be taking a look at the gradual collapse of some aspects of the film industry and the seeds being sowed for the rise of a new genre of film making and film makers.

All of the films I have spoken about today I would highly recommend you seek out, they’re all worth watching. Even if I haven’t been particularly favourable about them, because at best they’ll challenged your pre-existing thoughts on how cinema should behave and at worst you’ll waste 90 minutes of your time and probably laugh at least a couple of times at the absurdity of them in the process. As always im happy to answer any questions or offer additional recommendations should you wish to explore this era further. And I hope to see you all again soon. Thank you.