Fragmented Films from somewhere in 2013

In 2013 when Streetpress Australia downsized the size of their magazine they cut my cult dvd column. Another media outlet expressed interest in picking it up. I wrote this for them and never heard from them again. I wonder why? I just found it while cleaning up my computer. Enjoy…


Not enough horror films encourage alcoholism. When monstrous evil aliens drop by to dine on human flesh, we’ve usually got a gaggle of disparate folks thrown together and forced to draw upon their diverse range of skills to survive. Grabbers (Monster) asks what if their only skill is drinking?
It’s the kind of film that you’d expect could only have been conceived of within the confines of a pint of beer, because in a peculiar plot twist blood spiked with alcohol is fatal for these slimy squid like bloodsuckers.

Set on a small sleepy Irish island, when the police chief goes on leave, his burnt out drunken protégée is left in charge, alongside a tea toting ring in from the mainland.

Grabbers owes a lot to Matinee monster horror films of the 50’s, though it’s very much a playful homage. Its mixture of horror, comedy and romance stands alongside Gremlins or 1990’s Tremors, where the monsters, whilst fearsome are also mined for their absurdity and barely a terrifying scene is allowed to go by without a wisecrack or two. The comedy in the main comes from the eccentric island inhabitants relieving each other of urine, and the thick at times barely penetrable Irish brogue. There are “feck’s,” and “gob shite’s” flying thick and fast from this rough and ready lot, as the townspeople do the only sensible thing and get absolutely cement trucked when the monsters come calling.

If you believe that this kind of premise raises a few comedic possibilities then you’d be right, and the execution is much classier than you would expect. It’s shot with real imagination and the effects, particularly the CGI are not only convincing but terrifying.

Perhaps what’s most fun about Grabbers is the kind of reverse horror morality at play. The notion of getting ‘shit the bed’ paralytic as a tool to defeat the evil runs counter to the conservatism of the 50’s monster mashes that the filmmakers hold so dear. But we’re now living in a post Shaun of the Dead world, and subverting the rules and poking fun at the archetypes of the past is now considered post ironic irony, or some such detached but knowingly cool combination of words.

Even the romance angle, whilst questionable whether necessarily required, is handled with a certain believable sensitivity, making Grabbers possibly the only booze soaked slimy bloodsucking alien flick that also works for date night. Drink up – maybe you’ll get some action.

There’s one scene above all the others in Dead Sushi (Madman) that could ruin date night forever. Once witnessed it will never leave you. You could call it an ‘eye worm,’ something that will have you replaying the wrongness over and over inside your head attempting to comprehend what the filmmakers were intending and sending yourself spare in the process. The head sushi chef is having an affair with the owner’s wife. When they kiss she asks if they could kiss in the ‘special Japanese’ way. The chef dutifully cracks an egg into his mouth and puckers up; with the couple swapping the raw yolk repeatedly each time their lips meet. The actors are struggling, their gag reflexes working overtime; you can’t fake this kind of disgust. The act raises many questions, but one drags itself above the throng. What the hell were they thinking?

Yet egg yolk swapping has a precedent. It first arrived on screen in the 1985 Japanese comedy Tampopo, though where those filmmakers found it is a complete mystery. On the interwebs the practice has captured the imagination of the masses, with illuminating comments like “I think it just ruined Asian chicks for me,” under clips of the offending scene. It would be somehow reassuring if it could be traced back to an ancient ritualistic erotic tradition, though more than likely its just a freaky gross idea that the director thought up and wondered if he could convince his actors to do it.

The only explanation as to why it pops up again in Dead Sushi is that the filmmakers caught Tampopo and thought it was just the right mix of stupid and gross to steal. It’s the work of Nobaru Iguchi (Machine Girl) whose motto is special effects first, concept second, and plot, well I’m sure we’ll get to that at some point. It’s the tale of humble sushi that has been brought back from the dead, learns to fly, and develops big teeth and an insatiable thirst for blood. With rice spewing zombies and a giant tuna monster, words like outlandish and silly don’t even touch the sides of Dead Sushi’s hysterical world.

But when you pare it down Dead Sushi is simply a cautionary tale about what happens when our food tires of being eaten and decides to turn the tables. It’s a must see for all people who have eaten food in the past or are considering doing so at some point in the future.

In the late 70’s US B-movie producer Roger Corman had one of those genius ideas that only a sleazy low rent slimeball can, one that he hoped would not only get the kids jumping but could earn him some coin in the process: Disco High School.

It practically sells itself. Rebellious high school shenanigans with kids sticking it to the man over a funkyfied soundtrack of smooth groovy disco. This was why his films never lost money no matter how inept. They usually hitched themselves to a fad, a craze or a bigger budgeted more hyped film that would take care of the publicity for them. You could call Corman many things: cynical, exploitative, parasitic, a peddler of crap, a cinematic sweatshop owner, but you can’t deny that for over 60 odd years he’s had his finger on the pulse and his hands in the till.

Unfortunately Corman took his idea to director Allan Arkush (later to helm Caddyshack 2) and writer Joe Dante (Gremlins) who took it upon themselves to dissuade him and destroyed his disco dream. Corman himself appears in the extra features mistakenly explaining that the kids knew better. They proposed Rock and Roll High School (Umbrella) and Corman, with his eye on the green agreed.
So in an iconic moment the director went into the offices of Warner Brothers and asked for a band. He was offered a hot edgy new rock band on the proviso he could control their wild hedonistic ways. Ultimately he didn’t go with Van Halen, but this experience does illustrate how this film was put together.

Arkush eventually chose punk rock icons The Ramones and they are the only reason we’re still talking about this film some 34 years later.

It’s a very odd fit. A low rent Grease with a much better soundtrack. The film is cheesy, with stupid sight gags, bad dialogue and hopelessly clichéd characters. It’s your typical run of the mill 30 year olds pretending to be teenagers flick. Much of the humour either falls flat or is inexplicable. But then something strange happens. Perhaps it’s nostalgia, but every time The Ramones are on screen it’s riveting. That’s despite the fact that they oscillate between creepy behaviour like Dee Dee popping up playing his bass in a teenage girls shower, and total cringe inducing acts like making one of the kids an honorary Ramone. Wisely however Arkush films lengthy sections of their live show with tunes like Blitzkrieg Bop, Teenage Lobotomy and California Sun and weirdly enough it’s some of the best concert footage of any band you will ever see.

Some questions remain however. Who thinks high school was ever even remotely like this? How was Arkush allowed to go on to direct episodes of Melrose Place and Dawson’s Creek? And why does Marky Ramone have more hair now than he did then?


Fragmented Frequencies September 2014


Lou Reed’s sixth solo album was released in 1975 and it freaked everyone out. Many thought it was a middle finger to his label – a way to fulfil his record contract. But they were wrong. Metal Machine Music boasted no songs, rather it was a real Walk on The Wild Side, 60 odd minutes of brutal distortion laden barely controlled guitar. Reed set up a number of amps, with repeat and tremolo units, tuned and placed his guitars at various intervals from the amps where the feedback sounded nice. With the feedback systems interacting and harmonics colliding creating new tones, Reed then played more guitar over the top. It was ahead of its time, a ballsy move that has since spawned a legion of Japanese noise artists.

Yet it surely came as some surprise to Reed when decades later Reinhold Freidl, Dutch bandleader of Zeitkratzer got in touch and asked permission for his modern classical/ experimental ensemble to play Metal Machine Music live. ‘It can’t be done,’ was Reed’s blunt response. ‘Too late,’ offered Freidl, ‘its already been transcribed.’ This month they’re released the results, all four parts of the piece for clarinet, trombone, piano, bowed guitar, violin, percussion, violincello and double bass. The results are quite remarkable, the timbre of the instrumentation softening the brutality of the original, and the diversity of the instruments fully articulating the harmonics previously barely hinted at. Grandiose and ridiculous, surely it’s a work of futile madness, but then again aren’t most great pieces of art?