Monday, 16 December 2013

Pete Tombs remembers Colin Wilson (1931-2013)


News filtered through at the beginning of last week. The death of one of the most interesting individuals I’ve ever met and someone who in the future will, I am sure, be seen as a valuable and  much maligned thinker and writer. I’m talking about Colin Wilson. Depending on where you are in the world, that statement might seem baffling. In some countries (Japan, the US, mainland Europe) he has long been taken seriously; his books still in print and his past talks and lectures well attended. But in the UK, where he was born and lived most of his life, that was far from the case. The reasons for this say a lot about the narrowness of British intellectual life, the enduring strength of the class system and the elitism of the British literary world.

Colin was unfortunate (in retrospect, of course) in having been something of “an overnight success”. His first published book, The Outsider, which hit the shops in 1956, rocketed him to fame and, initially at least, some fortune. A recent article estimated that he earned, in today’s money, around £430,000 ($800k) in the book’s first year of publication. During that year he was everywhere and met everyone. From Marilyn Monroe to Albert Camus. He drank a lot, travelled a lot and talked a lot. The result was Wilson Overkill. So much so that when his next book, Religion and The Rebel, appeared, it was – in the UK at least – generally slated. Even those who had praised The Outsider went into print saying that they had been wrong about that first book and wanted to set the record straight by tearing the new one apart. In fact RATR is much more interesting and substantial than The Outsider. But the damage had been done.

The unfairness of it all is that Colin was only 24 when his first book was published. He was a young, working class guy who had never been to university and was in fact sleeping in a public park to save money so he could spend all his time writing. Who, in those circumstances, would not have bitten hungrily at any offered fruit when fame and fortune beckoned.

Despite his young age, he had already been married once and had a son. Without an alternative source of income, he had no other way of providing for himself and his family than by writing. And he wrote prodigiously. In the 5 years following The Outsider he published eight books, including his first novel, Ritual in the Dark. By the time of his death he had 115 full length books to his name and numerous articles, essays and introductions to other works.

His interests ranged wide, but came to centre around crime, the sexual impulse and (following the publication in 1971 of The Occult) the paranormal. The thread that connected all these was his lifelong investigation into the power and untapped potential of the human mind.  However, the perceived “lurid” aspect of such interests, alongside his prolificacy, led to a general perception of him, in the UK at least, as a “hack”.

Colin was very much aware of the brickbats being lobbed his way by the literary establishment. Being a generally optimistic individual he chose to set it aside, taking revenge via his prodigious output and comfort from the large and varied global audience that found much of interest in what he had to say, even if they didn’t (contrary to what the naysayers always assume) take everythign he wrote at face value.

I don’t wish to portray him as a saint. I only had a passing acquaintance with him, including a mammoth weekend session of interviews for a documentary film, and he could be opinionated, argumentative, naive and occasionally infuriating. But who isn’t? He was a human being, like the rest of us. He was an autodidact and exhibited all the faults of same, but also the virtues – a hunger for knowledge, a deeply held belief in the importance of thought and ideas, and a strong desire to communicate.

In both his novels and non fiction, that desire to communicate is the thing that shines most strongly. He is never less than readable and often quite compulsively so. At his best he can explain complex ideas in easy to digest forms. As one review said he can “make even a detailed account of a severe attack of clinical depression sound like something out of the last five minutes of the Choral Symphony”. At his worst, yes he can be credulous, over simplistic, and bumptious. But that’s part of the mix. In aiming at a moving target, there are always going to be lots of stray shots.

I first heard the name Colin Wilson when my parents started discussing him after a TV appearance. I was a kid, so this would have been in the 1960s. I remember my mother saying that she’d read The Outsider and it was “just a collection of quotes from other books”. The implication being that he was some sort of fake; that he’d let his readership down.

Years later, while at college, I came across some paperback reprints of his “Lovecraft” themed books, The Philosopher’s Stone and The Mind Parasites. The Wilson name rang a bell and, being a Lovecraft fan, I bought the books and was blown away by them. I thought, if this guy’s a fake, then bring on more of them. It was populist, genre fiction with a side order of mind expanding ideas. I soon discovered that whenever you start talking about Colin Wilson there’ll always be others within earshot who have their own opinions of him (for and against) and are not shy about sharing them. From one of these I learned about the “New Existentialism” and the underlying thrust of all Wilson’s work to that point.

I went on to read all of Colin’s fiction and most of his non fiction. Later, while working in the publishing industry, I was involved with a new edition of one of his earliest and perhaps least typical novels – Adrift in Soho. It was during that period that I began to communicate with Colin directly and, eventually, to meet him. This was at a talk he was giving in central London to promote the publication of From Atlantis to the Sphinx. He was in the company of another Wilson fan, an American who turned out to be Gary Lachman former Blondie song writer and bass guitarist. Gary told me that he’d spent much of  his royalties moving to the UK to be able to get to know Colin and later he collaborated with him on a number of books and articles.

I remember the talk well. It was a mixed audience of wannabe hipsters, a few Wilson freaks and a scattering of those who looked as though they’d wandered in off the street because the door was open. Colin soon launched into an explanation of his theory of the mind and the power of intentionality, as usual, via a series of anecdotes. One recounted how, a few years before, he had begun to feel that he was losing his sex drive. He was on a train to London and some schoolgirls got into the carriage. He thought, “Hmmm. Let me concentrate on the legs of these schoolgirls and see if I can get an erection.” Which, to his delight, he did! A small, but memorable illustration of the power of the mind…

As the anecdote progressed, you could feel a ripple of unease pass through the audience. Over the next few minutes a fair number left and the mood chilled noticeably. But I remember thinking – here’s a guy who’s totally fearless and completely honest. And, let’s be frank, what man hasn’t at some point done what he did? But to do it as part of some existential experiment. That’s near genius.

We kept in touch and some years later, following discussions with fellow Wilson fan Paul Woods, I pitched to Colin the idea of making  a documentary film about him. With fortunate timing, this coincided with the writing of his autobiography Dreaming to Some Purpose, so he was in something of a self reflective mood. I remember we considered postponing the initial interviews as Colin had suffered a minor stroke. But he kept to his word, despite his poor health, and insisted that we go ahead. He invited us down to his house in rural Cornwall and was very disappointed when he learned that we’d booked into a hotel as he was more than happy to put us up and feed us for the entire weekend.

Over the course of the next three days he was generous almost to fault, not only with his time but with his food and wine. I’ll always remember both him and his wife Joy with great affection. Although I was certainly old enough to be long past the gushing “fan” stage, I’ll admit I was more than a little in awe of him. That didn’t stop us having a fair few disagreements and I began to take some pleasure in provoking him from time to time. I thought we’d get the best material that way.

Sadly, the documentary was never finished. We planned to do a number of follow up interviews and license some archive material, but Colin was hugely busy with his autobiography and a punishing work schedule. His large global audience and huge list of publications hadn’t translated into great wealth. He was a working writer who needed to work, and that was what he remained all his life.

Over the course of the interview we discussed the negative aspects that had been attached to him. Including the strange notion that he was some sort of crypto fascist or Satanist. I can remember him telling us with relish about an alleged quote from David Bowie (deep into his Thin White Duke phase, I guess), that he had been initiated into a satanic coven in the West Country whose eminence grise was Colin Wilson!

Much of this negative commentary comes from the use in his work of such theories as “the dominant 5%” in human evolution and the notion that most of us sleepwalk through life in a robotic state. What his critics seem to miss is that, far from praising this state of affairs, Colin’s analysis of it was centred around the notion of finding out the secrets of the dominant so that we could all share them, and thus go beyond the robot phase and live life to the full. Whatever one may think about such ideas in the first place, his goals were the very opposite of fascism and elitism.

One of the aspects of his career that we discussed was his status as a novelist and how this has increasingly been seen as secondary. Interestingly Colin mentioned that in Japan he was best known for his fiction and he suspected that any obituary there would be for “Colin Wilson author of Spider World”. My way into his writing was through the fiction and I still think a fair number of his novels bear reading (and re-reading) today. The “Lovecraft” books for sure (The Mind Parasites, The Philosopher’s Stone); and The Space Vampires, The Glass Cage, Ritual in the Dark, Necessary Doubt, The Killer, God of the Labyrinth, Spider World, all are recommended.

Interestingly, although he dabbled in genre fiction, Colin was not a great fan of genre films. A number of his books were optioned for the screen and he made money from writing treatments for, among others, Dino de Laurentiis. However the only one of his books to reach the screen was Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce, based on The Space Vampires, a film I have a lot of time for. To Colin it was not just a bad film, it was “probably one of the worst films ever made”.

A friend has just pointed out to me that The Space Vampires has now been optioned anew, this time for a TV mini series. We can only hope that the long form version stays closer to the original novel and that, if it’s a success, it leads, finally, to the publication of the follow up. The elusive Metamorphosis of the Vampire, of which I’ve read a lengthy extract from what is apparently a 1500 page epic, is one of the most eagerly awaited of all Colin Wilson’s unpublished works. Its appearance now would be a worthwhile epitaph for this still controversial literary figure.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

THE SNAKE GOD has been unleashed!!

Today is the day! Piero Vivarelli's Italian soft-core psychodrama THE SNAKE GOD is now officially available from most reputable online retailers.You know you need it!

If huge, faceless corporations are your thing Amazon will meet all your Eurosleaze needs. If you're looking out for the little guy, give Diabolik DVD a chance.

Here are some advance reviews if you still not sure if this is worth a spot on your shelves:
Mondo Digital
A/V Maniacs

We'll post more reviews as they come in. Watch this space! And buy THE SNAKE GOD!!

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

This is the time when we give thanks for all we have ...

Or lament the things we don't have. For the past several months we've gotten a lot of questions about titles going out of print. Well, the dust has settled and the following titles are now officially OOP.

Let's have a moment of silence for:

BOLLYWOOD HORROR (all volumes)

There are varying reasons for each going out-of-print: from rights expiring to the simple costs of keeping a title in print that has been available for years and doesn't sell all that well anymore. The basic facts are that the market for niche films like these continues to contract. We will continue to release new and interesting films from all over the world, but don't be surprised if they are released in far more limited editions than previously. The moral of the story? If want a title - don't wait: purchase it as soon as you can!

Thanks for all your support over the years, and we promise there's still lots of great stuff to come!

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Coming Next Year!

Pasquale Festa Campanile's "Scacco alla regina" aka "Check to the Queen", which we will be releasing under the title THE SLAVE!

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Franco's HOW TO SEDUCE A VIRGIN out today!!

Released Today – October 8th, 2013

How to Seduce a Virgin

Directed by Jess Franco

The beautiful Countess Martine de Bressac is released from the expensive asylum where she was incarcerated after castrating her former lover. She returns to her luxurious villa on the coast and goes at once down into her private underground dungeon. It’s here that she indulges herself in the perverse sexual practices that give her life meaning, surrounded by the bizarre human statues of her previous victims.
Her husband, Charles, feeds his wife’s sick fantasies, aware that she is his meal ticket to a life of luxury. He announces that he has a new game for her - they will befriend and seduce the young and virginal daughter of a rich neighbor. But things do not go exactly as planned...

Games of decadence and debauchery lead to mayhem and murder.

This one of Jess Franco’s sexiest and most subversive films. We present it here for the first time ever on official US release and in English friendly form.

Get it now while you can!

Brand new transfer from film negative
Interview with writer Alain Petit
Introduction by critic Stephen Thrower
Newly created optional subtitles
Extensive production notes
Mondo Macabro previews

How to Seduce a Virgin

UPC 843276015398

RRP $24.95

Don't just take our word that this is a great release - check out these reviews!

Mondo Digital
Rock! Shock! Pop! 
10K Bullets 

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

José Ramón Larraz, 1929-2013

A couple of kind folks have just pointed out to me that with the recently announced death of José Ramón Larraz, all of the main figures that Cathal and myself wrote about in Immoral Tales are now dead. Great! Thanks, guys… Although it took a few years, we finally got the last of the bastards.

But seriously, it does make you realise that we have reached - in that much abused phrase – “the end of an era”.

What exactly that era was we leave history to define. But I guess we can say that it was, in film making terms, a period when borders were crossed, rules questioned and moulds broken.

In many ways, José Ramón was one of the most traditional of the six film makers we covered. And yet his works have a timeless – or rather “out of time” – quality that sets them apart. The flared trousers and mullet haircuts might be firmly date stamped, but with most of them set in isolated, claustrophobic locations, ringed by empty fields and eerie woods, the modern world seems curiously absent from his films.

The best of them seem to take place in a kind of dream space, an inner landscape where familiar but oddly unreal characters meet, mate, part and perform in a  ritual that seems to suggest meaning, but never finally reveals its purpose. The awkward dialogue, the obscurely motivated actions, the languid pace, the shadow filled framing,  all create an ominous sense of unease, a feeling that anything could happen; but that when it does, it will be tragic and ultimately lead nowhere. Although often written off as a maker of cheap exploitation pics, Larraz is much closer to Samuel Beckett than to Derek Ford* in the way his films embrace or express the ultimate pointlessness of things, while at the same time underlining the fact that we will always keep on keeping on.

I first met him some time in the early 90s, when Cathal and myself went to see him at his home in Tunbridge Wells – “Royal Tunbridge Wells”, as he liked to remind us, with a twinkle in his eye. He was an iconoclast and an old leftie, but he was also a huge anglophile and loved the grand British traditions, or at least the idea of them. We’d driven down there with a UK producer who reckoned he could drum up enough funds to make a small exploitation movie, helmed by Larraz. In the end we talked about almost everything but that project.

We met again a few times over the years, had dinner together on his rare London visits, and I spoke to him on the phone; but the last time we met was at Sitges in 2009. I encountered Larraz walking the corridors of the Melia hotel, almost in a trance. We had a brief conversation and I was convinced he didn’t know who I was. Later he phoned to apologise, explaining that he had just received an award and had been thoroughly “zombified” by the experience. We got to talking about the script he had for Fascinatrix – the sequel to Vampyres.

In typical Larraz style it was not a sequel at all, but a film about a subject that deeply interested him – witchcraft, men’s fear of the power of women, the evils of organised religion. All classic Larraz themes and served up with a heavy dose of irony as well as dollops of sex and violence. It would have been a classic, and maybe in 1977 we could have raised the cash to make it; but in 2009? Not so easy…

What impressed me in discussing it with him was how alive the thing was in his mind. He had ingenious and thoroughly workable solutions to all the technical problems that we raised, ideas on how to cheat the couple of historical crowd scenes the script required, tricks to create the illusion of the forest of hanging witches that occurred at one point. I really do think he was the most technically adept of all the film makers we wrote about and had it in him to make a masterpiece or two. And yet, as he said himself – “If you want to make great films, important films, you have to spend time where the money is, not hang out with your friends and people you like. But I chose to spend my time with people I like.”

That can’t be a bad epitaph for anybody and it sums up the warm heart and humanity of the man. Let’s hope that the best of his work, those first six or seven films, will one day receive the quality releases they deserve.

* btw – No insult intended. I fully expect to have that comparison thoroughly challenged soon via an in-depth analysis of the mighty Ford oeuvre.