Wakefield Poole’s Bible!

Wakefield Poole’s BIBLE on Amazon

Every now and then, you take a gamble on something that pays off. That is, actually, pretty much the mission statement of the crap cineaste, isn’t it? We keeping sifting through the silt, hoping for the occasional fleck of gold. It’s that rare strike that keeps us going, continuing through all the Italian zombie flicks, the hackwork rape revenge stories, the staid children’s films. That one true discovery. The movie that catches you unawares and reminds you why you even bother.

Surprisingly, I found Wakefield Poole’s Bible! to be such a movie.

I did go in with expectations fairly low. Vinegar Syndrome has been doing some truly astounding work on some of the most disposable movies of the last century: mainly adult movies like Vixens of Kung Fu, but also bizarre horror bottom dwellers like Dungeon of Harrow and Night Train to Terror. So I knew I was going to get a lovely image, at least.

What I didn’t expect was that Bible! would deserve it.

poole bibleWakefield Poole is a director primarily known for gay hardcore features. In 1973 or 74, he set out to do a “straight” feature, originally to be hardcore versions of Bible stories. He decided this was not a good thing to try in the death throes of the Nixon Administration (if, indeed, it could be said to be a good idea at any time), so he made a softcore movie, hoping for an “R” rating. As there is not MPAA rating on the film, box, or IMDb entry, I can only assume that the distributor never went to the expense of submitting it for a rating; therefore, it was assumed by the audience that it was another of Poole’s hardcore flicks, and thus was a miserable failure at the box office.

Poole has picked the saucier items from the Old Testament: Adam and Eve (of course), David and Bathsheba, and Samson and Delilah. Sex is an inextricable part of the last two, naked people the first. There are three things that set Bible! apart from other obvious analogs like oh, let’s say John Huston’s 1966 The Bible: In The Beginning, or other attempts to sexy-up existing literature like Alice in Wonderland. First the movie is silent (there is only one line of spoken dialogue) with a classical music soundtrack; second, Poole was determined to see if he could make “a beautiful movie”; and third, his varying approach to the stories.

Just to be different, Poole starts out Genesis with an atomic explosion, then footage of a fetus developing in a womb. Then Adam (Bo White) awakens in a cave, and climbs and swims his way out to a surprisingly beach-centric Eden. He is joined by Eve (Caprice Couselle), and they make love for the first time ever. In the Universe.

This is probably when the audiences starting walking out. Like I said, it’s softcore. There is no position changing, no money shot. The actors are young and pretty, the scenic photography is nice. So far, nothing truly special.

bible2bigThen we get to David and Bathsheba. Bathsheba (Georgina Spelvin) is presented as a neglected wife. Her husband Uriah (Robert Benes) is absorbed with military matters and the new slave girl (Nancy Wachter). The twist is Bathsheba realizes David (John Horn) is spying on her and decides to take her bath anyway – but the overriding twist is that Poole plays this all as a burlesque comedy sketch. Spelvin is a splendid comedian (she is also one of the few porn stars that could actually act, along with Jamie Gillis and Pia Snow/Michelle Bauer, so her skill at comedy shouldn’t be surprising). Spelvin also touchingly takes Bathsheba through a gamut of emotions before the frustrated wife finally decides to disrobe for her hidden admirer. A few more complications are tossed in before David suddenly barges in the front door and everything goes into fast-motion Keystone Kops chase territory (sadly, it is 1974, and Poole did not know to throw “Yakkity Sax” onto the soundtrack).

Forsaking the natural vistas of the Eden story for a studio, Poole’s crew has done a remarkable job on the set on a shoestring budget. There is no mistaking this for anything more than what you might find on a variety show comedy sketch, but it’s all perfectly serviceable, and the bath even has running water.

vlcsnap-00287Which brings us to Samson and Delilah, which is presented as a revenge tragedy. A blue-painted midget steals Samson’s knife, and Samson (Brahm van Zetten) kills him with his bare hands. The midget is apparently a servant of Delilah’s, though, and Delilah (Gloria Grant, a waitress who Poole cast on the spot) seduces and drugs Samson, so the midget’s mate can cut his hair while Delilah is on her knees, um, distracting him.

For this segment, Poole’s sets are composed of cloth blowing in a non-existent wind and two-by-fours leaning against each other, forming abstract shapes. The results are eerily beautiful, and with the bright colors of the costuming, the whole thing takes on the air and grace of a Fellini spectacle. I was not expecting this.

Poole gets a lot of use out of his variable-speed 16mm camera, that’s for sure.

poolewcameraIn an effort to end on a kind of an up note, the movie ends with a brief, abstract representation of the Immaculate Conception, which is a bit of a time shift, but worth it, I suppose, for that final irreverent image of a neon sign for the Bethlehem Hotel with a flashing NO VACANCY. I would probably not like Wakefield Poole’s Bible! as much as I do if he had gone ahead with his original vision – I find porn mind-numbingly boring. But going the softcore route, with an actual eye toward composition and effect provides many dividends, not the least of which is that I find Spelvin’s and Grant’s unveilings truly erotic, that frequently misused word. There is genuine emotion and some artistry involved here – enough that I think this is a genuine find and bravos are due to Vinegar Syndrome for bringing this back to the light of day.

Night Train to Terror (1985)

night_train_to_terror_poster_01Night Train to Terror is a very strange beast; I’ve been hearing about it most of my adult life, in one way or another. I think I first encountered it in that battered first edition of Mike Weldon’s Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film.  It’s an anthology film, and the stories contained therein are (according to who you’re reading) drawn from three, or two, or no unfinished movies. This often puzzled me, because early on in my amateur critic career, I reviewed one of the “unfinished” movies excerpted here, and it seemed pretty complete at the time.

Well, we finally have what has got to be the definitive version of Night Train to Terror, thanks to Vinegar Syndrome, who put out the most gorgeous presentations of the least defensible movies ever. And we can finally, finally figure out some of this thing’s ancestry.

We see the title train chugging on through the night, alternately as stock footage or a model. One entire car is given over to a music video. At least, that’s what it appears to be, with singers singing and dancers talking directly to the camera, all wearing clothing that was fashionable for about five minutes in 1985. Or on the set of Jem, take your pick.

vlcsnap-2011-03-09-17h29m48s71In another car, God and the Devil (Ferdy Mayne and Tony Giorgio, respectively) are having a meeting.  Satan is none too happy about the music video, which is something that always puzzles me when it crops up in a movie like this. Everybody knows that rock is the Devil’s music, so why do cinematic Satans always hate it? Maybe it’s because in this case, breakdancing is involved, and Satan has some standards.

It doesn’t matter, anyway, because the train is destined to wreck in ninety minutes, and all those poppers and lockers and gyraters will be dead. To pass the time, God and the Devil go over the case histories of three individuals, with the aid of the Night Porter (Earl Washington). As far as framing stories go, that’s not bad.

…because we’re going to leave the bad to the stories themselves.

screencap-02-03The first story, “Harry”, is going to test our mettle tout d’suite. This is the only segment actually taken from an unfinished movie (although there are rumors of available copies), Scream Your Head Off. The story is so disjointed, I fear actual brain damage can result from trying to follow it, but here goes: Harry (John Phillip Law!) is a jerk who crashes his car on his wedding day, killing his bride and putting him in the care of Drs. Fargo (Sharon Ratcliff) and Brewer (Arthur Braham), who brainwash him into drugging and kidnapping women. For what purpose, we’re not sure, except for Richard Moll to paw them. Then there’s some new footage that tells us that Richard Moll’s stand-in (note the hairy arms) cuts them up and the parts are sold to medical schools. Except for the ones that get lobotomized. Or something. And I deserve a medal for even figuring that much out.

There are some versions of Night Train that put “Harry” in the third position rather than the first. Putting it first certainly makes you appreciate what comes afterward – if you continue watching. I can see a whole lot of people jerking the tape/disc out of the player before the movie can unleash anything else in their direction. Then, I also know a whole lot of other people for whom “Harry” would only be an appealing appetizer.

This is followed up by more rock, then “Gretta”, which is taken from a movie called, unsurprisingly, Gretta. Vinegar Syndrome was kind and conscientious enough to actually track this sucker down, though they could only find a one-inch video master. I’ve only had time to skim it, but it is odd. Gretta (Meredith Haze) is an adventurous young lady who gets picked up by rich douchebag George Youngmeyer (J. Martin Sellers) at a carnival. He exposes her to a better way of life, which involves starring her in porn reels. Her true love in life Glenn (Rick Barnes) sees her in one of these stag reels while visiting his old frat and knows he has to immediately seek her out.

nighttrain19Youngmeyer gets Glenn involved in his “Death Wish Club” (which appears to be another title under which Gretta was released), a bunch of rich idiots who have, in one way or another, barely avoided dying violently, and try to replicate that rush at their meetings. In the first, one of the members has brought a “Tanzanian Flying Beetle” whose sting means horrible, instant death. In Gretta, it’s a realistic insect. In Night Train, however, it is a fairly cheap bit of stop-motion animation. It eventually flies out a window and kills a guy necking on a park bench, and his bloody, boil-bursting demise is another addition for this anthology.

vlcsnap-2011-03-09-17h34m57s84There are two more encounters with the Death Wish Club, though Gretta and Glenn want nothing to do with them; in the first, involving random electrocution. they are held at gunpoint. (Once again, the fairly gruesome fatality here was specially made for Night Train). In the second, involving a bizarre pendulum with a wrecking ball at the end, they are forcibly kidnapped. The wrecking ball takes out the perverse countess who was bankrolling the whole affair, but that’s only something you find out if you watch Gretta – in Night Train, she just dies, and the story ends, and Satan is told by the Night Porter that Gretta “went off with the nice young man, and lived happily ever after. Isn’t that nice?” A kiss-off that would probably lead you to guess that this movie was never finished.

But that is exactly what happens in Gretta. They probably could have trimmed its coda down and included it in Night Train, but there was no horror there, I guess, so it got tossed away. In a way that would piss off Old Scratch and the audience in equal measure.

Which brings us, at last to “Claire”, which is taken from the movie I had reviewed so many years ago. Originally called Cataclysm, the version I saw was titled The Nightmare Never Ends, and it honestly does have some nifty stuff in it.

It starts with an old Jewish man recognizing a young man named Olivier (being interviewed on TV) as a notorious Nazi war criminal – who has apparently not aged a day in 35 years! Oooh, there’s some devil shit involved, you can be sure of that! Cameron Mitchell is the cop who doesn’t believe the Old Man (but starts believing when the Old Man dies violently trying to shoot Olivier), Faith Clift is Dr. Claire Hansen, who is destined to go toe-to-toe with the Man-Goat, and Richard Moll – yes, again – is James Hansen, author of the international bestseller, God Is Dead. Who the Antichrist kills just to be a dick about it.night-train-to-terrror2

There is more of Cataclysm‘s source material in evidence here than in the other two cases, making it the strongest of the three stories, but doesn’t mean it’s any more coherent. There’s an itinerant priest roaming around telling people they’re messing with the Devil, but faster than you can say “The Omen”, he gets pulled down to hell by a stop-motion demon.

nighttrain10I really don’t remember any of the three stop-motion beasties that crop up here occurring in Nightmare Never Ends, and they all look like they were done by the same person who did the Tanzanian Murder Beetle in “Gretta”. Another argument that these sequences were done post-production (way post production) is their interaction with the tiny humans they terrorize isn’t done with foreground plates or any of that other fancy Harryhausen stuff. They made little puppets for the priest, and Richard Moll, and one other dude who gets  stomped by a big demon. And the puppets are very cartoony – it all looks like Davey and Goliath Go to Hell.

And there’s also a woman who shows up at the climax in an operating room (Claire has to put the Antichrist’s heart in a special box, because God uses the Snow White playbook, or something), and I know she had something to do with the plot, but now she’s just some crazy chick who shows up in scrubs and blood and starts stabbing the Antichrist (she always shows up on the video box). But if you haven’t kissed any hope of linear storytelling good-bye by now, you are far more of an optimist than I.

band2The train crashes, via stock footage of a building burning behind a model train. And God seemingly resurrects the music video on the next train, just to piss off Satan. The end.

Now, there is not a lot of terrible acting in Night Train to Terror, except in the music video segments. This is actually a pretty good bunch of actors trapped in a series of weird, if not outright bad, movies. Scream Your Head Off was never going to be high art, but Gretta is an intriguing little oddity and Cataclysm/The Nightmare Never Ends, as I said, has some good stuff that never quite managed to jell into a solid movie.  The slicing and dicing involved here did those two movies no favors.

It does, however, have a wild feeling of anarchy and desperation about it that’s kind of cool, if not ultimately satisfying. It’s the sort of thing you can inflict on your friends with a semi-clear conscience, especially if a copy of Things or Nukie is not readily available.

And there’s cheesy stop-motion. What more can you ask?

Just try to resist Vinegar Syndrome’s trailer:

Labor Day Weekend & The Getting Back of Grooves

I know I’m not the only person who thought August sucked. Reports have poured in from all over the globe that yes, the August of 2013 was particularly brutal in all sorts of ways. Yours truly was seeking to get his mojo back, and not having a whole bunch of success. Let’s see how that shakes out:

The small matter of diabetes. Generally this was pretty favorable, as I settle into my new official lifestyle. The last week I was working on a solid seven days of healthy sugar levels when bam! my levels Saturday night shot up to 207. The cause? Apparently the stress of performing in my weekly show – that was the only change in my daily routine. For someone who has been acting most of his adult life, this is a daunting development. Frustrated, I had a cheeseburger after the show. The next morning, my fasting sugars were normal.

Wacky. I prefer to take this as a lesson in the magic of cheeseburgers, nature’s perfect food.

One thing I did manage when I wasn’t ruminating on the heat attempting to kill me and everything around me, was to develop a plan for re-organizing my home office. Yes, because I don’t have enough things to occupy my Copious Free Time. This is actually connected to one of the other problems of August, the Not-Watching of Movies.

Oh, I still did, as these infrequent ramblings prove. Just not to the excess or with the zeal of previous months. That most notorious of self-imposed regimens, The List, may not be completed this year. Things change. I change.

"I hate you, Netflix! HATE YOU!!!"

“I hate you, Tom Cruise! HATE YOU!!!”

I’ve done two movie-watching challenges this year, and those have done a number on me. I don’t necessarily regret either, but the cost extracted is problematic. I enjoy watching movies, and injecting a definite discipline into that watching kills some of the joy. Probably one of the reasons I never pursued a career as an actual film critic: I want that joy to stay. I’ve seen too many give in to a gradual souring until all they can do is point out negatives; I respect people who continue their love affair with the movies on a regular basis, and keep their writing fresh and accessible.

So. Just because I haven’t been watching movies on a regular basis doesn’t mean I stopped acquiring them, either. I now have quite a few movies I am genuinely excited about watching.

Which is why I want to re-organize my office.

My office pretty much arranged itself organically. When we moved into this house twelve years ago, most of the bookshelves found their way into my office, and they got filled. Then filled again. Then the overstock started hitting the floor. Then I added a reading chair. My computer desk has not moved from its corner, where I can look out the window and, if necessary, see who may be approaching the house – the paranoia of my youth has not completely vanished. There is an increasingly narrow path from the door to my desk.

booksSo current plans involve clearing out the piles of electronics and cabling and power sources that have landed in this room over the years. Clearing out the table that holds a TV/DVD player that hasn’t worked in ten years. My laserdisc player, which surprisingly, still does. Cataloging and boxing up stacks of books and either clearing a space in an equally chaotic garage to store them, or actually investing in a storage room (not ideal). Unpacking the boxes of DVDs that sit in the center of the room, determining which of them I am never going to watch and getting rid of them, and putting the rest in theoretically cleared bookshelves.

Then: Reorienting the former TV table and the reading chair to face each other. Buying a TV manufactured in this century and (ideally) a region-free Blu-Ray player. Maybe a sound bar, probably not. I still have the Roku that was on the downstairs TV, but I mothballed when we got a Smart TV.

When I bought that TV and its companion Blu-ray, I thought I was being exceptionally sly by making sure the first thing seen on it was Dancing With The Stars, thereby convincing my skeptical wife that it was, indeed, a necessary purchase. In the style of classical tragedy, however, this rebounded on me by ensuring all subsequent broadcasts of Dancing With The Stars had to be watched in HD, and I swear to you that fucking show is on four nights a week.

"And we have PEGGED Freeman's Hate Meter!"

“And we have PEGGED Freeman’s Hate Meter!”

So. I of course rarely buy DVDs anymore, because drool drool Blu-ray slobber giggle. And ergo, I need my own little island of Blu-ray viewing so I can watch these fabulous movies I’ve been stockpiling, at will.

The real problem with this dream is the amount of work it’s going to take, in a schedule that includes my part-time job, the other part-time job, the other other part-time job, and the two ongoing writing projects, not to mention any housework, cooking, or parental duties. I estimate two months before I’m even ready to price TVs (I’m lying, I’m already doing that) and start reaping the benefits of this madness.

But like i said, in the meantime, I managed to watch some movies.

the-vixens-of-kung-fu-movie-poster-9999-1020686440Sometimes your interests in obscure movie subgenres lead you down a darkened alley with whispered promises and then punches you, takes your lunch money and runs away. Actually, that’s a pretty fair description of what happens most of the time. That is certainly the case with Vixens of Kung Fu. It’s a somewhat legendary grindhouse feature, primarily legendary because for years, it was damn near impossible to see. It’s a hardcore sex film with kung fu elements, although the martial arts elements here make David Carradine look like Jet Li possessed by the spirit of Bruce Lee.

Bree Anthony is walking through some autumn woods and gets accosted by three porn actors (One of whom is supposedly Jamie Gillis, though I didn’t recognize him). She runs away, but get shot in the back. The three lowlifes then proceed to rape her semi-conscious form while the music changes to bluegrass. About a half-hour later, under the tender lesbian ministrations of a female kung fu master (C.J. Laing), we are told that she was shot with “the gun of anesthesia”, which explained the lack of bullet holes and other trauma, I suppose.

So there are some ladies who are Laing’s students, who practice some questionable martial arts and meditation that causes smoke to issue from their lady parts. A lanky yellow-clad caucasian monk ventures into their territory, gets waylaid, is declared an unsatisfactory lover and tossed out. He begs another female master – currently disguised as a cook in a Chinese restaurant – to teach him “Golden Dragon Raising Head Kung Fu”. Which involves training and masturbating in the woods. There is another showdown, with the Monk and Anthony acrobatically schtupping each other into unconsciousness.  Yeah, forget the rapists, I guess they were too expensive to bring back for a vengeance scene.

vixens fuThe Vinegar Syndrome DVD is unbelievably gorgeous – the autumn foliage really pops. Porn, however, is always boring, and there wasn’t anything Vinegar Syndrome could do about that. Vixens has its wild moments that raise it slightly above the norm, but there’s not enough of it to make it interesting enough for a recommendation.

Hey, remember Jack Reacher? Remember how a lot of people were pissed off that Tom Cruise was playing the main character? Man, that seems like it was so long ago. Long enough that the Blu-ray is cheap, so I bought it, primarily because I was intrigued by the idea of Werner Herzog playing the bad guy.

tom-cruise-goes-badass-in-new-jack-reacher-poster-117953-00-1000-100I haven’t read any of the books – and was, in fact, unaware of the character at all – so I didn’t have a dog in the Tom Cruise hunt. What I did find was a pretty serviceable, if fairly unoriginal, crime investigation movie that morphs into an action flick as our heroes get closer to the truth.

The plot concerns a sniping incident involving the death of five people, apparently the work of a crazed loner trained in Iraq. His only statement under interrogation is “Get Jack Reacher”. Reacher is a former Military policeman who caught the culprit in a similar incident in country – but there are several inconsistencies with the current shooting that stick in his craw. Behind the machinations, of course, is Herzog as a man known only as “The Zeck” – who once gnawed the frostbitten fingers off his own hand in Siberia to prevent gangrene.

Herzog is muted and incredibly creepy as the criminal mastermind. I thought Cruise was fine as Reacher, though, as I said, I have no prior knowledge of the character to color my judgement. The supporting cast is terrific, there are a couple of good fight scenes. Overall, though, you can wait to see this on Netflix.

Over the past year or so, I’ve watched two movies about Idi Amin. One, Amin: The Rise and Fall, was a somewhat sensationalized docudrama. The second, The Last King of Scotland, was pure fiction with enough basis in fact to make it solid. So somehow I find myself watching Barbet Schroeder’s General Idi Amin Dada: A Self-Portrait, which is undeniably the real thing.

general-idi-amin-dada-a-self-portrait-movie-poster-1974-1010675046Amin granted Schroeder a number of interviews and staged several adoring rallies for the camera. He also gathered together 150 French citizens living in Uganda and threatened to kill them if Schroeder didn’t cut three minutes from the movie. Schroeder, of course, did so, and at this point the “Self Portrait” portion of the title came into being, as Schroeder felt it was now totally under Amin’s control. After the dictator’s deposing, the cuts were restored, and that is the version Criterion rightfully issued.

The cut portions mainly concerned public executions, and a few snippets from a dispassionate narrator mentioning the staged appearances, or pointing out people who would later be found mysteriously dead or vanish altogether. These quite undercut the persona Amin presents otherwise, an affable man of the people, always ready with a joke or a laugh – downright charming, most times. It’s surprising Amin didn’t want one entire section cut, when he is conferencing with a very critical group of senior physicians, and Schroeder zooms in his face – unhappy, brooding, eyes darting back and forth as if seeking escape – as in that moment he actually looks capable of ordering the death of almost 300,000 of his countrymen. Then he turns on the charm and gets the doctors laughing.

Schroeder ends the movie with that same close-up, and with a bit of narration that Amin did insist be cut; that cut remains, and the moment plays out in powerful silence.

Labor Day I journeyed into town with pal Dave to see an animated movie that he – and a couple of my other friends – did voice talent for a couple of years ago: Last Flight of the Champion. This was apparently the culmination of two brothers’ lifelong dream, and by golly they even managed to get a (very) limited theatrical release. There were about seven of us in attendance, and we owned that theater.

the-last-flight-of-the-champion-105892-poster-xlarge-resizedThe plot isn’t new; galactic despot is taking over planets (I guess because he can), and a painfully earnest young turtle guy finds a buried spaceship left over from the last round of galactic despot fighting, the Champion. Yes, turtle – this is a sci-fi universe populated by animal toons alongside humans. The turtle puts together a crew of similarly painfully earnest misfits and flies off to take on Darth Meanie and his armada.

I went into this movie with great misgivings, mainly thinking that there were movies I really wanted to see but couldn’t carve out the time, like The Conjuring or You’re Next, but here I was walking into a theater to see something that had been described as having computer animation on the level of a local TV commercial.

Well, it wasn’t that bad. Pixar has nothing to worry about, but there were some very nice sequences. The characters aren’t very detailed (and there are way too many of them), and for some reason the animators, when the script says “Let’s hurry!” still has everyone cycle through the same walk animation they’ve been using the whole time. The script is pretty good, though there are some clunky parts, and the story shows some drastic cutting – but my friends did good work, there’s some cleverness in the background details, and overall, it didn’t suck. In fact, it was downright painless.

So that’s The Last Flight of the Champion. You got kids who like science fiction, it’s a safe bet.

“Rated PG for some rude humor.” Huh. That means a monkey flings poo. Offscreen. People only talk about it. I don’t get the MPAA.