Tuesday, February 15, 2011

R.I.P. David F. Friedman

A giant and important figure in cinematic history has died. David F. Friedman, producer and distributor of several exploitation films since the 1940s, has died of heart disease. He was 87.

Whether you love or hate exploitation films, there's no denying how important Friedman was in the world of low budget, independent cinema. He was a charming and smart huckster of what many would label trash films or sleaze. He was responsible for movies such as SHE-FREAK (1967) BLOOD FEAST (1964) and TWO THOUSAND MANIACS (1965) both films which ushered in the subgenre of splatter films. Other standout titles he produced: TRADER HORNEE (1970) JOHNNY FIRECLOUD (1975) THAR SHE BLOWS! (1968) and THE EROTIC ADVENTURES OF ZORRO (1975) He was a vital force behind sexploitation movies and the "nudie-cutie" pictures that flourished in the late 50s to the mid 60s. He was a pioneer and a wise old businessman who got his start by working in the carnival business. He was a close pal of Russ Meyer and together they fought puritanical censorship against their productions. My friend, filmmaker Lee Gordon Demarbre, met Friedman in L.A. years back after Meyer died and together they toasted a drink in his memory.

A notorious film he was behind was the 1975 epic ILSA: SHE WOLF OF THE SS! which starred busty Dyanne Thorne as a dominatrix Nazi running a brutal war camp.

Friedman even got in front of the camera. A notable appearance was his cameo in the 1984 skin flick BLONDE HEAT: THE CASE OF THE MALTESE DILDO starring Seka.

Below is a video that is a nice way to remember the man.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Goodbye Pussycat (Tura Satana 1938-2011)

"I never TRY anything. I just do it. Like I don't beat clocks, just people! Wanna try me?"

Men smart enough knew NEVER to try Tura Satana.

She had an onscreen journey that went from the witty and regal cinema of Billy Wilder in the 1950s (Irma Le Douce) to the rough and raw exploits of filmmakers like Ted V. Mikels (The Astro Zombies) and Russ Meyer in the role that made her a cinematic icon: as the violent and fierce go-go dancer Varla in Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill! in 1966. She was exotic beauty with a background in strip clubs. She had a towering build and a robust chest. She didn't stand down from an ornery man onscreen nor off.

Tura passed away on February 4 at the age of 72. She lived a full and unmerciful life. She was tough and had to be. She experienced rape and abuse as a child but lived to strengthen herself and build a larger than life sense of character that made her a survivor. She was the only woman to stand up to the iron fisted ways of Russ Meyer. Meyer demanded that while shooting Faster Pussycat that no cast member was allowed to have sex while the film was being made, as a calculated way of controlling his actresses and keeping any sexual tension saved for the camera. Satana was brave enough to object to Meyer's orders and she enjoyed a roll in the hay with the assistant cameraman in defiance. Despite her insubordination, she gained Meyer's respect. She solidified herself as a true individual and standout cinema siren of the 1960s. She was one of a kind and has been imitated but never surpassed.

Back in 2006, I made a goofy short film entitled Naked Democracy which was basically a cutesy little comedy about nudists who stand up to the ultra conservative Prime Minister of Canada. I sent it to Tura eager to hear her opinion on it. She politely commented that she thought the storytelling was unpredictable but overall said she really didn't care for it. I was little crushed by the response but after thinking about it I did appreciate her honesty and attention. She was nice to her fans and appeared at conventions to meet them. An acquaintance of mine sat on her lap at a Toronto convention while she signed her autograph for him.

Her contribution to cult cinema is an important one and she paved the way for strong and dominant females in the movies in a unique and powerful way. She won't be forgotten.

The WTF Files: THE FOREST (1982)

THE FOREST is the bastard child of the extremely large slasher film family of the early 1980s. A very low budget independent affair from director Don Jones (an ex-boxer who went by the name of Irish Frankie Conway), The Forest is an anomaly in the slasher genre. There's no pre-kill T&A with nubile teenage bodies, in fact there's no teenagers at all. The victims here are adult couples who decide on a whim to take a camping trip, with the wives getting a head start on the highway in an unwise move to prove to their dunderheaded husbands that they're safe and competent on their own (they're not).

The two husbands fall behind because their truck breaks down and after they are overcharged by a grinning, gap toothed mechanic, they finally make it to the forest only to find themselves lost and unable to find their wives. A sheriff pulls up in his truck to give them the obligatory warning that people who come round' these woods go missing and are never found. He tells them, he'll come back in a week to check on them. Since law enforcement officers are useless in these kind of movies, he never returns. The two men go through an arduous search for their loved ones and one minute it's bright daylight and in the next frame it's pitch black only to return to sunniness. The inconsistency of night and day is reminiscent of the filmmaking of Ed Wood.

Not only do they go missing, but they fall prey to a grizzled, cannibalistic killer (Gary Kent, from Satan's Sadists) who lives in a cave dressed with candles and a rocking chair where he enjoys his victims roasted and crispy. His dead children and wife appear, disappear and reappear all over the forest to haunt the unlucky campers. The children, two cheerless and creepy kids doing something of a cheap Shining imitation, warn the campers that "daddy is going hunting".

The Forest is beyond bizarre and the kind of movie you find covered in dust in the .99 bin at a pawn shop next to the 8 track players and top loader VCRS. It's soundtrack alternates between bad 80s synth to really bad soft rock to horrible theme songs with lyrics such as "You'll have to pay the cost, cause many of died, in the dark side of the fooorrest!"

The dialogue, especially in the opening scenes, is wonderfully laughable. When the spouses are planning their trip and teasing each other in a battle of the sexes verbal exchange, one of the men makes an inexplicable joke: "Listen honey, the only backpacking you ever did was in bed!" Huh?

If the dialogue is funny, the killing sequences are jaw dropping and hilarious. The film's most memorable scene is a flashback which explains how the killer was driven mad by his slutty wife whom he finds in bed with the refrigerator repairman. Why is it that in movies unfaithful wives are always doing it with repairmen? In the middle of the afternoon when the husband is due home no less?

Anyways, the repairman flees the scene wearing only his black undies and our soon-to-be-killer is taunted by his wife as she teases him about being impotent. Meanwhile, she has locked her children in the closet. Horrified and angered, our vengeful husband passionately kills his wife and goes outside to deal with the fridge man, who has actually returned to fixing the appliance! Hey, at least the wife was honest about his profession!

The two men enter into a fight but Fridge Man is overcome by the husband's unexplained power to disappear and reappear with a new weapon every time the Fridge Man turns his back and runs in a different direction from him. He meets his painful fate when his stomach kisses a buzzsaw courtesy of the jilted husband. His kids are witness to this and after Mr. Maytag is finished off, he embraces his children and tells them they must leave this awful place. To the Forest they go! End scene.

It's not enough to explain the surreal madness that is this film. It's degree of badness can only be compared to the 1983 Spanish splatter pic PIECES, although it's no where near as gory as that film. Code Red, a great distributor of lost 70s and 80s exploitation titles, released this lost oddity on DVD and fans of slasher films should seek it out. It's awful, but fascinatingly so. It's bungled ambitious storytelling and lack of convention make it an atypical entry of the genre. Gary Kent plays his man eating murderer to the hilt, complete with an intense daze and monotone speech that show that he's one basket short of a picnic...but he has plenty of human limbs for his lunch.