Another late night and no peaceful end in sight unless I write. Write anything, write something. The winter is coming so depression might actually set in as soon as the snow falls. Only one way to counter those thoughts. Talk about movies. Sweet freaking movies. But for this write up let’s make it more meta. Let’s select a few movies that actually talk about movies and why they truly kick ass. Not just as documentaries but as entertaining flicks that will make you wanna watch sweet flicks. Here is a list of some of the best docs that have been in the shop over the years and are must viewing for B-movie nerds!
These first three movies I wanna talk about are from the man above, Mark Hartley. Now at DEDFEST we had the honour of showing one of docs, ELECTRIC BOOGALOO, and along with his other two I have to say Mr. Hartley broke the mold on how not to make a boring by the numbers documentary film that you might remember watching in school barely being able to keep your eyes open while viewing. No, his “trilogy” of Movie docs are simply entertaining, enlightening, engaging, and informative. So let’s break all three down shall we?
Growing up from the video stores in the 80s as a kid when it came to flicks from the land down under the obvious movies that came to mind that we all knew were Mad Max, Crocodile Dundee, and maybe even Yahoo Serious but sweet baby jesus these crazy film makers from Austraila did some work in their land that even I was not aware were from the land of Kangaroos. Honestly, watching this doc sends you down a journey of no film industry to a heavy hitter known as WAKE IN FRIGHT, the movie where they killed real animals, through the sexual openiness of the 70s and creeping into the 80s with pure action and horror genre flicks!
The amazing interviews, stories, clips, and bizarre stories told in this doc not only make it a must see but will make you wanna grab a pen and paper to write all the titles of the films they mention down. After my first viewing of this film many years ago I did my best to bring every film mentioned into the shop and to this day try to keep them sitting on the shelves for customers who wanna experience a blast from the past from a far away land.
After Not Quite Hollywood Hartley dove even deeper into B Movie magic with his exploration of the subterranean world of the rarely explored province of Filipino genre filmmaking. Machete Maidens Unleashed is a lesson on what are willing you to suffer through to save money, be outragous, and get your flick made to screen as a double feature in the 70s at the drive in!
The movies that came out of this land were nuts. There is truly no other way to describe it. The doc itself will give you stories from the producers, actors, directors, and everyone else involved that, aside from the talking about the actual movies, tell us about the work conditions. How life was kinda cheap over there, the local military ran the country and every day of filming your typical horror, women in prison, or action movie could possibly have someone die from your crew. Along with the real life terror of filming in a politically uprising of a country come some of the most hilarious stories as well. Also anytime we can have the likes of Pam Grier, Sid Haig, Joe Dante, Roger Corman, or John Landis tell us a tale in a documentary you know it will be fun! And if nothing else this movie told a lot of young people about a film simply known as LADY TERMINATOR. A must watch if you have not seen it.
All that being said it was Mark Hartley’s thrid Movie Documentary film that hits closest to home for an 80s kid like myself. If you happen to be at the age of going into your local video store in the mid 80s there was one movie company logo that outshined them all to us kids because we knew when renting a CANNON Beta or VHS tape we were gonna get some Ninjas, Chuck Norris, Chuck Bronson, or simply T and A for no apparent reason. The beauty of being a child in the videostore world back then was that we never were really too hard on lack of good story or acting and CANNON FILMS was our perfect junk food of cinema.
What can be said about the mad gensius behind Cannon Films. On paper the documentary could be simply be described as ” A film about Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus – two movie-obsessed cousins whose passion for cinema changed the way movies were made and marketed – and the tale of how this passion ultimately led to the demise of the company they built together.” but this does not do the film justice. No, this company was built on mad wheeling and dealing, no budget, broken promises, crazed filmmakers and crazier film deals that produced some of the most outrageous 80s beloved films, for better or worse, we can ever forget from an era long gone. And every now and then they even made a “good” movie by accident like RUNAWAY TRAIN.
From action to sex, from sci-fi to horror, from fantasy to hard hitting drama and eventually leading to break dancing CANNON FILMS and the stories told from the people involved in the company for 2 decades make for one amazing documentary and movie you do not wanna miss. And more importantly, from a personal childhood point of view, if it was not for CANNON none of us kids would begged our parents every Halloween to dress us up like ninjas because this was the company that introduced us to our hero known as SHO KOSUGI and the brilliant trilogy!
Never forget.When in doubt what to grab from a videostore you are always good to go with Enter The Ninja, Revenge Of The Ninja, and Ninja III: The Domination. The rules that applied in 1985 still apply today. Atleast at my shop anyways. Fact. Moving on!
Director JAKE WEST made a couple fun flicks before doing these docs. EVIL ALIENS and DOGHOUSE are videostore favourites in my mind. I’ll even forgive him for making an unfortunate Pumpkinhead sequel but I’m guessing that was for a paycheque so touche. Now, it’s hard to believe in 2019 but if a shop like mind had been open in England in the early 80s I would be in jail. Or atleast on trial. You see, the moral outrage going on in the UK back then during the new found era of VCRs and Video Cassettes was nuts because the children were able to rent the crazy and nasty horror flicks that would never be available to them to go see in a cinema. Shit got so out of hand that politicians, police, and judges were involved in saving the souls of the youth by arresting local videostore shop owners and banning films for the greater good of the future world. These movies banned would be known as the VIDEO NASTIES!
As crazy as it sounds adults truly felt these movies, 72 to be exact, were causing the decay of their country’s moral fibre. Now in this 3 disc set you get over 13 hours of history. Jake West’s actual doc on disc 1 is fascinating and really takes you back to a different time and place that might surprise you. Now if the doc is not enough for you disc 2 and 3 examine every film accused of leading to future murderers, rapists, and cult leaders and breaks down why each was banned by experts of the genre and showing the trailers for all the films.
A follow up documentary was made by West called Draconian Days due to an infamous child murder by a teenager who blamed the movie “Child’s Play 3” of all movies on it and caused another potential ban of 82 more films. Again. Strange times were happening in England and this 3 disc set tells the tale and one more time breaks down all the films accused of being the worst of the worst.
These following two documentaries I love recommended and have playing in the shop. Now from my personal point of view the movies themselves, to a hardcore fan of both horror and grindhouse cinema, teach us nothing new. They are pretty run of the mill, covering as much as possible in their 90 minute runtimes, the history of their respected genres over the last 90-100 years. BUT…if a young lad and lady comes walking in my shop, if a person who is new to these films comes stumbling in to the old dusty videostore, then these two films are must viewing for them. I used to assume that everyone knew the useless movie info that I did and had seen the “obvious” films that I have. But as I get older I remember that many of the people out there are younger, have lives, families, jobs, and hobbies to deal with as well so maybe their movie knowledge needs a history lesson 101 manual. Well, these two films do just that!
What really sells these movies are the two men telling us the history behind all the films, filmmakers, and the impact they left on the movie world and movie going audience. For Nightmares In Red, White, and Blue telling the story of horror films in the USA we get genre legend Lance Hendricksen. From Omen II to Aliens, from Pumpkinhead to Near Dark, from Man’s Best Friend to Mom and Dad the man has been with us for decades with that beautiful smokey voice. And it works perfect in this doc. And when it comes to the American Grindhouse movie the great and recently sadly late Robert Forster is the perfect calming and attentive voice to have take us on the jouney of explotation cinema from the 20s all the way to now.
When it comes to giving every detail from everyone involved that would be available to be talked to and recorded for a documentary these four movies nail it. Each dealing with their own franchise or film all are beyond satisfying. The Elm Street and Friday movies are lot to break down. In the cases of their documentaries they leave nothing untounched. With Nightmare clocking in at 4.5 hours and Friday hitting a whooping 8 hours you get everything a fan boy or girl could want in having being told how shit went down from movie to movie. The good, the bad, the TV spinoffs, the remakes, and regrets. So engaging that even if you think you knew everything there was to know about the movies you soon realize you were wrong. And as a lifelong Creepshow fan Just Desserts again delivers the goods from actors to FX. And finally the Return of The Living Dead doc More Brains is simply a delight in everyway possible. I never am shy in saying it is one of my all time favourite films so to have a documentary that is up to the task of telling everything it could about this childhood fav is a beautiful thing. All highly recommended!
Now I promise I will make a part 2 to this list. Sadly it is getting late and there are so many great docs to choose from but my eyes are getting heavy and that damn videostore needs to be open in a few hours time from now. But I wanna end this first list with a movie that was a film festival favourite that we screened here at DEDFEST many years ago. At the time it seemed like it would be the tragic story of another brilliant director that got chewed up by the Hollywood system and left to die. Luckily this one as of today has a happy ending but let’s focus on then. This is LOST SOUL: The Dommed Journey of Richard Stanley” Island Of Dr. Moreau.
Richard Stanley in the early 90s was on the fast track to becoming the next big genre iconic film director having giving us movie nerds a double dose of goodness with HARDWARE and DUST DEVIL. Two very different but trippy and brilliant films that said this guy was on to something and had an eye for the out there cinema . So when the opportunity presented itself to allow him to direct his first big studio film which just happened to be a new film adaptation of one his personal favourite stories, The Island Of Dr. Moreau, how could he say no? And what could possibly go wrong? Well, in a nutshell…EVERYTHING!
If it wasn’t bad weather, clash of vision with the studio heads, Brando’s eccentric behaviour, Kilmer’s ego, bad creative decisions, the budget, or simply being over his head this movie tells the tale that at the time looked to have killed a great thinker in the genre film industry’s career just as it was getting going. This is a must watch for all young filmmakers that desperately wanna get to work on a studio film. Be careful what you wish for.
I’m happy to say as I’m writing this piece that Mr. Stanley is back on the up and up as his new film, HP Lovecraft’s Colour Out Of Space starring Nic Cage, is getting great buzz from the movie world and I myself can not wait to see it when it hits our city. It has taken a few years but it looks like he is back in a big way. I briefly met the man himself at Fantasia Fest back in 2013 when we were there screening our short film THE LAST VIDEO STORE. Living up to his nature I will never forget my director Tim asking him for a picture at the pub we were drinking at and him simply looking at Tim saying “If it makes you feel better about yourself”. Tim, not missing a beat, grabbed Stanley by the shoulder and snapped a selfie with him saying “Hell Ya It Does!”. Being a cool cat that he is Richard and Tim proceded to smoke a joint and talk movies for the next several minutes that night. Class act all the way.
Well my friends, bed is calling me. My tea is empty. And the sun is begging to rise soon so I bid another farewell. Till next time keep living the videostore dream. Come on down, grab some cinema and never let the school of learning about movie culture close it’s doors on you. There is so much more to learn.
And always remember.. the videostore loves you especially when you return your movies on time.