New York Centerfold Massacre, The (1985)

2.5 out of 10
In the fantastic world of cult cinema there are films that, for all sorts of reasons, attain a certain infamy. Some are remembered because they are plain weird, others because they are exceptionally gory. Truth to tell, there are many reasons. These are the films that stand out. They are the exceptional films. However, there are others which are sought after completely different reasons. For, some films are desirable simply because they are incredibly rare. In turn these then become the Holy Grails of exploitation film. These are the ones that the collectors seek. They are the quarry of the completist. At times, however, it may turn out to be the case that the films themselves are not actually that good. That, in itself, shouldn't matter. Not to the collector. Because worrying too much about that would mean missing the point somewhat. After all, it is all about the thrill of the hunt. It is the rooting around in archives, through esoteric film texts, catalogues, fairs and car boot sales. It is a compulsion in itself. It may be odd to outsiders, but to psychotronic film fans it's understandable enough. After all, there is a certain satisfaction that can be gained from seeking, and finding, a film that was long thought to be lost. For example, just imagine what fans of Pre-code Joan Blondell would feel were a copy of Convention City to turn up! Anyhow, one such rare film is Louis Ferriol's The New York Centerfold Massacre. It is possibly the holiest of holies for the slasher film fan. But question is: is it worth seeking out? For collectors, and traders, the answer would be a most resounding YES! After all, it is rare as fuck. It may just be the Penny Black of the exploitation cinema world. But for the casual film fan? Probably less so. The New York Centerfold Massacre was shot and distributed on video. So, it never made it into the cinema. Indeed, there was absolutely no chance, whatsoever, of it appearing as a double feature with The Breakfast Club, The Goonies or Out of Africa! But, even though it was only available on tape, it was also unlikely to appear in video stores. It most certainly wasn't going to show up in Blockbuster Video alongside Romancing The Stone, Starman, Splash, or any of the other popular rentals back then! No! You really had to go out of your way to find a copy of The New York Centerfold Massacre. This is because the original Vidimax release was only available, sans cover-art, through mail order from Macabre Video Underground. However, it's not as though there is a lot to The New York Centerfold Massacre. After all, there was only 39 minutes of it. That's all! This is because the rest of the footage was destroyed in a warehouse fire. What remains of the film was pieced together like some crazy, sleazy, collage. The result is a series of jarring, grainy images. So, there's some striptease, singing of hymns, torture and a repeated close-up of some newspaper ad. So, with any discernable plot reduced to ashes, it is all little more than a montage of random dispiriting violence, misogyny and bizarre theocratic interludes that are, here, provided by clips of a television evangelist. And it doesn't get any better than this. Honestly! It really doesn't! Early in the feature, a cop asks: "How high up did he put his hand? Near your crotch?". He then concludes that, without touching of the vagal area, there can be no sexual assault. OMG! Is this the whole tone that is set? Ugh! This all feels like horror entertainment for those poor souls who have a search history consisting solely of "upskirt"! Ahem... Right, that's not me, erm, by the way. Honest! Look, let's change the subject okay? I mean it! DROP IT! Anyhow, as I was meaning to say, despite this, the film does really possess something. It has a certain mood. Or, to paraphrase British indie veterans, The Shamen, it all feels naughty. Very naughty. This, incidentally, is a feeling that is somewhat enhanced by the non-acting performances of the cast. Indeed, It is just that something about The New York Centerfold Massacre feels a bit wrong. No! Scrub that! Everything about The New York Centerfold Massacre feels very wrong! It is just one of those films. You know? Those films that leave you with a certain unease? The ones that leave you feeling like you need a shower immediately after viewing? Well, The New York Centerfold Massacre is one of those films! There is a lot of films that fit this sort of tone. Downbeat films. Scuzzy films. Combat Shock is one, for example. New York Ripper is another. Or how about Island of Death, Nightmare in a Damaged Brain, Buio omega, Giallo a Venezia, The Sinful Dwarf, and so on and so forth. So what is it that links these films? What is it that they have in common? Well, it's possibly the setting. You see, these are the films that occupy a slightly grotty cinematic world. But, for all their lo-fi aesthetics they feel like masterpieces when placed alongside The New York Centerfold Massacre. Indeed, The New York Centerfold Massacre looks, and feels, just how you would probably imagine a snuff film to look. It's what we would expect to find on the tape in Tesis! Were Danish filthmeister Ole Ege, or indeed Color Climax, to make horror films, then this is how they would look. Probably! It's all that grim! Or, as one succinct reviewer commented on Letterboxd, the film is "Fucking nonsensical garbage. It shouldn't even be considered a movie". They're right!

Eagles Over London (1969)

6.5 out of 10
What's in a title? Well, if that title is Inglorious Basterds then the answer is: a whole lot of homage! Because, this is precisely what it is. It is a homage to Enzo Castellari's classic men-on-a-mission Macaroni Combat caper Inglorious Bastards. Indeed, thanks to this simple choice by celebrity Psychotronic magpie, Quentin Tarantino, Enzo G Castellari would finally get his 15 minutes in the eyes of mainstream audiences. And about time it was too! You see, while Enzo occasionally delivered excruciating pain, such as Cold Eyes of Fear, he was also responsible for such gems as Keoma, High Crime and the glorious Street Law. Of course, such largesse couldn't go unanswered. So, Enzo replied in kind. He would, in 2010, release his own Caribbean Basterds. The title, of course, being Castellari's homage to Tarantino's homage to, erm, his earlier film! It is also, incidentally, a homage to Clockwork Orange and it stars the lovely Eleonora Albrecht. But, sadly, the bandwagon rolls ever onward. So, with Inglorious Basterds forgotten, journalists could go back to their default mode: forgetting about Enzo G Castellari. Instead, mainstream media decided it could give us the benefit of their recently cribbed Django notes. So.. What's that you say ? Lots of unofficial Django sequels? Well, I never! You are all soooo clever! Who'd a'thunk it! Hey, wait a minute! You guys are reading from notes... It's enough to make any fan of Italian cult cinema spit feathers. One day the ignore us, the next they... Nevertheless, we don't care! Do we? Because, we know full well that there has always been a solid fanbase for Enzo G. Castellari outside of the multiplex herd. This will remain the case long after those with film tastes as bland as popcorn have moved on to the next cinematic fad. Anyhow, there are many, of a certain age, that will know of Enzo for another reason. This is because, during the VHS era, he was responsible for a number of popular dystopian features. These, of course, are Bronx Warriors and its sequel, both starring Mark Gregory, and The New Barbarians featuring Giovanni Frezza. He was the mop-topped kid from House By The Cemetery! You see, each of these were big-box rental favourites back in the day, and would bring Castellari's work a whole new international audience. Incidentally, these titles have since gone on to become bona fide cult classics. Deservedly so, too! However, also around this time, Enzo would also gain a little infamy due to the release of his L'ultimo squalo. Known in English as The Last Shark, it would be the subject of a lawsuit brought by Universal Pictures. It was simply too similar to Jaws! So, anyhow, what are Castellari films like? Well, to be honest, most of the time: fun! You see, what he specialises in could best be described as hyperactive budget-end actioners. Often these would be infused with a small pinch of slightly slapstick, and typically Castellarian, overthetopness. There was often a certain playfulness that would creep into his work. In the case of Eagles Over London, this comes in the shape of a random, and slightly silly, punch-up. It is executed with all the seriousness of Any Gun Can play. Despite this, any moments of levity are short-lived. Because, buried deep down within Eagles Over London, there is a serious film that is digging its way out. Indeed, this is evident in the desire to foreground real historical events. You see, Eagles Over London is concerned with events leading up to The Battle of Britain. As a result, the film is a uneasy alliance of fact and fiction. It deals in the plausible and the fanciful in equal measure. Eagles Over London exists in a sort of weird Interzone that resides equidistantly between The Winds of War and 5 For Hell. That, incidentally, isn't necessarily a bad place. To be honest, though, few Macaroni Combat films are likely to be described as epics. Not in the traditional sense anyhow. However, when it comes to Eagles Over London, the cap certainly fits. There are some delightful set pieces, especially early on. These give the feeling of something a little more than what is offered up by so many titles within the Macaroni Combat milieu. The question, of course, is how can a film attain epic status without an eye-watering budget or a cast of thousands? The answer? Why, special effects of course! So there are delightful split screen scenes, Antonio Margheriti-esque miniatures, exploding dummies and oodles of archive footage. Okay, it's no Bridge Too Far. But as Italian war films go it's still something of an ambitious affair. It all begins sometime between the dates of 27th May and 4th June, 1940. Hundred of thousands of troops, from the British Expeditionary Force, are being evacuated. This is thanks to the mobilisation of a flotilla of pleasure craft. However, it isn't just British and allied soldiers that are sailing westwards. Because, what if I what if I was to tell you that, among these evacuees, there was a cell of German spies? That'd be plausible wouldn't it? Of course! Yet at this point, things start to take a turn towards the ahistorical. In other words, from here on in, Castellari starts making stuff up. During the war Signal, the Nazi house journal of the occupied territories, would bizarrely suggest it was a "funny old war"!!! But, even by the standards of these weird claims, things in Eagles Over London start to spiral into oddball land fairly quickly. Indeed, things things just get curiouser and curiouser. Because, forget everything you ever learned about The Second World War. What really happened, apparently, is this... A bunch of undercover Germans, on a bit of a mission, head for a slightly Mediterranean looking Portsmouth, Hampshire. There they engage in a bit of a compound siege. Overpowering the guards, they manage take out the radar! Thus, with England's defences laid low, they lay the ground for the Battle of Britain. Yeah, I know, it's berzerk! But, but, erm... according to Enzo, It Happened Here! So, despite the fact that none of this makes its way into the official history books, it must be true. So, anyhow, I bet you thought that you knew all about World War 2, huh? After all, if you would only have spent an hour or two, per day, watching Discovery and then you'd learn tons of stuff. For example you would now be extremely familiar with tornadoes. You'd know everything there is to know about sharks. You would be clued-up on Hitler's Flying Saucers. You'd even now know that the Dunkirk evacuations were known as Operation Dynamo. But, I bet you'd never have heard about the time when a band German secret services laid siege to London's Fighter Command! I mean, does this sound familiar to you? No? Well, apparently, according to Eagles Over London, this is precisely what occurred! After all, they need to do this in order to win The Battle of Britain. Or something. But, thankfully for dear Blighty, the Germans spies were ultimately foiled. Hurrah! Yeah, yeah! I know! None of this was taught in schools! Yet, Italian exploitation director Enzo G. Castellari suggests that all this is precisely how it happened. But, if all this revisionism is a bit hard to swallow, then simply keep repeating it's only a movie, it's only a movie, it's....

Aguirre, Wrath of God (1972)

9.0 out of 10
In 1992 the BBC had a notion. A bit of a harebrained one as it would turn out! They would launch a new soap opera. No, not Albion Market! That came earlier. Besides, it was on the other side. Of course, the question was: would this be another Eastenders or another Triangle? Well, lets just say that things didn't really go that well. People simply didn't take to Eldorado. Maybe it was the fact that performances were patchy and inconsistent. Or the stories were weak. Maybe it was the fact that a large portion of the cast were not acting in their first language. It could also have been that the setting, among the ex-pat community in Spain, was not one with which many viewers could identify. In fact it could have been all those things, or more. But, for whatever reason, Eldorado bombed. Then it was pulled. The search for gold in Eldorado, it seems, was pointless. It was probably a foolhardy quest from the outset. Then again, didn't Werner Herzog warn us? Indeed this is precisely what he explains, two decades prior, with Aguirre, Wrath of God. After all, he knew full well that there would be no riches at the end of such a journey. There was no gold in El Dorado! You see, for Herzog, El Dorado was not some nonsense with characters called Marcus Tandy, Bunny or Fizz. No! It was a lost city. It was in a jungle. It was a city that a hardy band of conquistadors sought. Their journey was not unlike that in Matthew Kneale's The English Passengers. Except, whereas for Kneale The Garden of Eden provides a motivation, our Spaniards are looking for lost gold. It is a cover for colonialism. Pure and simple! And all sanctioned by a church that, as we are informed, habitually takes the side of the powerful. However, despite the fact that this sixteenth century expedition may be looking for a City of Gold, we the viewers know, thanks to the magic of hindsight, that such a city doesn't really exist. So, were they simply living the dream? Maybe! Or, then again, maybe not... Indeed, this point forms the basis of the story: the attraction of illusions. Of mirages. You see, this is what the film is about: Phantoms! Upon these phantoms, each character is able to project an idealised self. So, for the slave, the city is a place where he can be free. There will be lots of women. For others it is a place of riches. Or even a seat of power. After all, muses Herzog, what is a throne but a plank covered in velvet? It could be anywhere. As you can probably well imagine, the search for a non existent city proves to be somewhat problematic for our starry-eyed bunch of emaciated dreamers. As a result, all is not well within the expedition. After all, despite the obvious futility of the entire enterprise, the terrain is inhospitable; rations are running low. There is no salt left and the finals grain are being counted. Yet, Don Lope de Aguirre, himself, cares little for any of this. So what does it matter if there is a little dissent in the ranks? After all, he figures, every crisis presents itself as an opportunity. So this unease is both cultivated, and at the same time exploited by the ambitious noble. Played, to hunched and shifty perfection, by the fantastic, pointy-faced, Klaus Kinski, Aguirre, through guile, uses this to become leader. As a result he gets others to follow his dream. All are then compelled to seek his vision. His idealised El Dorado. For Aguirre envisages a new Mexico. He believes that the colonisation of Mexico came about simply because orders were not followed. So he fancies doing similar. Though it's not as though he especially wants a country, per se. You see, it is about immortality. It is all about having a name that is associated with greatness. In the words of The Jerk, it's about having a special purpose. Being a somebody. Most of all, it's about being remembered. However, like Fitzcarraldo and his boat, the reality is simply an exercise in vanity that precedes the awakening from a pipe-dream. It could be argued that Aguirre, Wrath of God is a film that is about aiming high and yet, at the same time, aiming in the wrong place. Following false prophets and so on... Of course the film works simply as an adventure film. So, even discounting all the cleverness, watching Aguirre, Wrath of God should still prove to be a rewarding enough experience. It even, for those sicko, sleazeball, exploitation film types, has cannibals in it! However, disappointingly, there is little in the way of gut-munching gore. So, we only see a skull and a few bones. No actual cannibalism. The film does feature a beheading though. But, still, suffice it to say, this is an inhospitable Green Inferno of the Ruggero Deodato sort. Albeit in a far different period setting. Oh, and co-incidentally, there is a cannibal village that is on fire here. It even resembles the one in Cannibal Holocaust. You know it? The one where there is a blood-soaked native chick with a stick up her chuff? You've seen that, right? No? Go on: admit it! You have, haven't you! You sick fucks!!! I, on the other hand wouldn't, um, err... Anyhow, moving on... There is also a bit of rafting for action film fans. Plus a little gunplay. Also, a cannon gets fired, a raft explodes, and some arrows get released. On top of this, for added coolness, the action mostly takes places upon whitewater. But this isn't simply a film for adrenaline junkies. Far from it. Indeed, for all sorts of film fans, Aguirre, Wrath of God, is the cinematic gift that simply keeps on giving. It even has one or two moments of levity that are provided by a few, choice, witty ad libs. But, let none of this fool you. For this is, at heart, a film that will appeal first, and foremost, to the arty-farty crowd. What this means, in practice, is that it is a film that has stuff to think about in it. It has metaphor and other clever stuff like that. So, it provides plenty of opportunity for beard stroking. Not, incidentally, of the Geri Halliwell sort. Natch! No! Here, instead, we get to muse on stuff like Machiavellianism, idealism and what would later come to be termed as The Shock Doctrine. So, in effect, we are allowed a space to ponder the seduction of tyrants and of the corrupting effect of an idealised future. Especially in times of crisis. Finally, in conclusion, the film even offers a glimpse of the ultimate destination of such a philosophical journey. It's all death, destruction and chattering monkeys!