Wednesday, 3 September 2014

One Year Ago Today ...

On the one year anniversary of the great director's death, our friend Simon Birrell shares memories of his friend José Ramón Larraz.



One year ago today, my old friend José Ramón Larraz died. I won’t say “passed away”, because he would never have said it. If there’s one thing he didn't do, it was mince words – he told it like it is, come what may. Abrasive, hilarious - he was the living definition of irascible, and a tremendously talented and cultured man. His loss was too raw last year, but now I’d like to share a few memories.

I met him in Madrid, where he was hanging around a film school I was attending. He had a habit of attracting young, wide-eyed admirers who would throw themselves into his projects, typing scripts, visiting producers and sending emails for him (he refused to use computers). I was neither the first nor last of these admirers, but what began as a series of “work” meetings, became a ten year friendship.

Originally, we were going to write scripts together. That didn't last beyond the first act of a script about a satanic cult – I made the mistake of criticizing one scene he’d written for having too much dialogue. He called me up late at night and proceeded to read out an entire scene from “The Spiral Staircase”. “Count the lines!” he roared. “Is that too much dialogue?” After that I settled more into the role of a translator-secretary, rendering his Spanish scripts as I best I could, surreptitiously snipping out the odd line.

As a film-maker he had an incredible eye for detail, a command of the practical side of his craft and the eye of an artist. His framing and economy came from his work as a comic book artist, which has recently resurfaced and is quite gorgeous. He told me that the pressure of producing a daily newspaper strip forced him to work out ways to economize the drawing needed in each frame. So in a jungle strip he might draw the front half of a lion and hide the rest out of the panel, perhaps saving himself an hour’s drawing.



In film, he used similar tricks. Watch the beginning of “Black Candles” – a scene apparently shot in Heathrow Airport was made as follows: a few shots of the customs area quietly (and illegally) filmed by him with a 16mm camera are intercut with a single shot of the two protagonists ostensibly waiting for their luggage. The way that latter shot is framed, with a few extras, conveys the impression that they’re in the airport, when in fact they could be anywhere. The overall effect is seamless. It’s not an “artistic” shot, but it’s a highly effective, economical and workmanlike one. José Ramón was a master of putting together a film like this with minimal resources, and without having the obviously low budget look of contemporaries like Franco or Naschy.

Apart from his artistic ability, a big part of this came from meticulously studying the masters, breaking down the way classic films had been put together and adding the techniques to his palette. He could describe from memory complete scenes from “Cat People” (one of his favourites) and explain shot by shot where the camera was placed, the actors positioned and precisely how they all moved. He would explain how the exotic setting of Port-au-Prince at the start of “I Walked With a Zombie” had been created with a single gangplank and a barrel.

As noted in “Immoral Tales”, he could generate a mysterious atmosphere from the simplest of situations. In the “Coming Of Sin”, there’s a scene where the threesome at the centre of the story are sitting by the fire, drunk. It’s years since I’ve seen the film, but there’s a shot of the lead actress playing with her hair that is quite unique. It’s just a gesture, but it sums up what’s going on beyond any of the dialogue. “I showed her how to play with her hair”, Larraz told me with satisfaction.

This love of detail contrasted oddly with the casualness with which he dismissed much of his work, and with some of the later, poorer films. The raunchy Spanish comedies are an acquired taste and “Edge of the Axe” or “Deadly Manor” are quite simply deadly. But he would try anything, from the award-winning TV epic on Goya, to some romantic comedies that were never made, probably to his benefit. The best stuff though, is the work rooted in his personal obsessions.

Despite professing that he had no interest in his career in cinema, he had a tremendous drive to try and launch new projects, right up to the end. I was one of many who labored to get “Vampyres II” off the ground. The script, co-authored with Tim Greaves in some incarnations, is a genre bending mélange of witchcraft and vampirism and has little to do with the original film. I took one version of the script to an aging film distributor in New York, who told me, “I love it! It gave me an erection,” and asked for a new version with more sex in it. José snorted on hearing this, “What do I care about Alex’s erection?”, but duly turned out a new version stuffed with depravity. There are numerous other unmade stories, including “Voodoo” and “The Onlookers”.

I tried, Tim tried, Pete Tombs tried, Jonathan Sothcott tried; there was lots of interest, but no-one would actually sign a cheque. The last interest we had was to make it in 3D, which would have been something. As José Ramón got older he started lowering his expectations, but never stopped beavering away. He wrote scripts for others, even comedy sketches for TV. Finally, he started writing novels, which can be ordered in various language on Print-On-Demand sites. He approached novels in the same way as films, reverse engineering Henry Miller and trying to apply the same techniques to his own stories.

 He had a reputation as a ladies man, and his colourful autobiography bears this out. A Spanish wife, a French wife (who was raised by Eleanor Roosevelt) was followed by Diana, the love of his life, and finally Vanesa Hidalgo, star of “Black Candles”. But there were many others, including a second, parallel family in Scandinavia and a string of models from his period as a fashion photographer.

He always insisted that he had behaved professionally towards his actresses, but there were differing opinions. Alfredo Landa claimed Larraz had spent much of the film they made together chasing the female cast, which José Ramón disputed furiously in his autobiography. I don’t know the truth, and I wouldn’t put money on it. The cover of his autobiography is a classic:



By the time I knew José Ramón, the glory days were long behind him. But I saw him in action just once, and it was awesome to behold. We were scouting the location for my short film “El Último Deseo”: a large apartment in the centre of Madrid occupied by six girls in their early twenties. They were a motley assortment of nurses, makeup artists, accountants and students and we had to both plan the shots and sweet talk the girls into giving up their home for a week of chaotic filmmaking. We went from room to room meeting each one, and José Ramón methodically hit on every single one of them. He would tell one girl that she had a perfect face for photography (“Trust me, I’m a professional.”) and the next girl he would compliment on her political beliefs (“I’m a republican too!”). He was in his eighties and clearly wasn’t planning on doing anything, but I think it was just an old instinct kicking in. By the time we finished, there were six rather dazed young women who had given us permission to make their life hell, and some of them even joined the crew.

Finally, he was both a misanthrope and a born entertainer. He stayed at home, preferring his wife’s company and pottering about his projects, rejecting opportunities to go out and network with people who could have helped him. Yet once he was out of his shell, he was unstoppable.

We took him to a small film festival in Caceres where they gave him a lifetime achievement award. Celia Novos’ film crew hung around to shoot the event for the documentary “Vampyres and Other Symptoms”. That night he declared that he wanted to go partying with the youngsters and we took him round a series of dives. He didn’t sit down once in the evening, standing till 3am spouting blue jokes and a series of hilarious stream-of-consciousness monologues and invectives about the Spanish, politicians, the film business and himself. He totally dominated the festival, to the extent that the gentile Eugenio Martin, also attending, would run in terror when he saw José Ramón approach. Listen to the Vampyres DVD commentary track for a feeling of what he was like when switched on.



His last outing was at the Madrid Filmoteca, where they had somehow united a wizened Paul Naschy, Larraz, Jack Taylor, Antonio Mayans and Eugenio Martin for a round table. Once the organizers made the mistake of letting him speak, they couldn’t shut him up. The audience was in stitches as he ridiculed the genre and the universe in general. The best toe-curling moment was when he asked why anyone would want to see a film about Dracula, with some portly toupee’d idiot in a black cape and plastic fangs trying to play the gallant. This, sitting next to the mortified star of “Count Dracula’s Great Love”.

As it turned out, that was his last public hurrah, and Naschy’s too.

By the end, he was frail, walking slowly with a cane and starting to lose his memory. He was also broke, despite having lived in castles in Scotland and manor houses in Kent in better days. He finally married his devoted Vanesa Hidalgo and they lived in a one room apartment in Madrid. He constantly complained about Spain and talked of returning to live in his beloved England, but in his heart he didn’t want to leave Vanessa. The plans for filming got sketchier and sketchier, but none of us had the heart to stop helping him in his projects.

In one of history’s great understatements, Casanova starts his enormous autobiography, “Whatever I have done, for good or evil, I have done freely. I have lived.” José Ramón Larraz was a comic strip artist, a fashion photographer, a film-maker, a TV director and finally a novelist. He left a large body of creative work behind. And he lived. How many of us can say that?


Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Mondo Macabro goes Blu!

Later this year, we will unleash upon the world our first forays into hi-def entertainment!

On September 9 we liberate THE SLAVE!



















Blu Ray and DVD Combo Pack
Label: Mondo Macabro
Pre-book: 8/12/14 Streets: 9/9/14 SRP: $29.95
UPC: 843276015596 Cat: MDO155 Run Time: 100 Minutes
In Italian with English subtitles. Genre: Cult/Erotica
Color. 2.35:1 anamorphic 16:9. Region One
Director: Paquale Festa Campanile
Stars: Haydee Politoff, Rosanna Schiaffino, Romolo Valli, Gabriele Tinti
Production year: 1969 Rated: NR

Silvia (Haydee Politoff)  is young, beautiful and rich. She has everything - except the bondage and humiliation she craves to fulfil her erotic yearnings. Margaret (Rosanna Schiaffino)  is a legendary movie star who loves to wade thigh high in
10,000 lira bank notes - and who is only too happy to give Silvia what she wants.
In a strange, secluded house in Rome, the two women create a bizarre private world where Silvia’s fantasies become real, as Margaret turns her into a slave, a plaything of flesh, subject to the whims of an all powerful owner who can use her in any way she desires.
Pasquale Festa Campanile (Hitch-Hike) directs a masterpiece of decadence, packed with sumptuous and shocking images .

Brand new transfer from film negative;
Interview with critic Roberto Curti;
Justin Harries of Filmbar 70
on Italian genre cinema;
Interactive filmographies;
Trailers;
Deleted scenes;

Mondo Macabro previews;

On October 14, we get down to THE DEVIL'S BUSINESS!




































Blu Ray and DVD Combo Pack
Label: Mondo Macabro
Pre-book: 9/16/14 Streets: 10/14/14 SRP: $29.95
UPC: 843276015695 Cat: MDO156 Run Time: 75 Minutes
In English. Genre: Horror
Color. 1.78:1 anamorphic 16:9. Region All
Director: Sean Hogan
Stars: Billy Clarke, Jack Gordon, Jonathan Hansler, Harry Miller
Production year: 2011 Rated: NR

Veteran hitman Pinner (Billy Clarke) and his young, inexperienced ward Cully (Jack Gordon) break into a house at night, awaiting the return of owner Kist (Jonathan Hansler) whom their gangland boss Bruno (Harry Miller) wants dead, with no questions asked.

As midnight approaches, Pinner keeps the nervous Cully entertained with an eerie story about a previous hit he had carried out on a beautiful striptease dancer. Before he can finish his tale, a sound from outside the house draws them into the night, and to a horrifying discovery that plunges them into the shadowy darkness of their own tortured souls.
The Devil hasn’t finished with them yet…
Interview with writer/director Sean Hogan
   and producer Jennifer Handorf
Director and Producer audio commentary
Interview with actor Billy Clarke
Interview with composer Justin Greaves
Behind the Scenes
Music videos Crippled Black Phoenix and Se Delan
Outtakes
Mondo Macabro trailers

Monday, 16 December 2013

Pete Tombs remembers Colin Wilson (1931-2013)



INSIDE THE OUTSIDER

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)
CLONUS
LIVING DOLL
SNAKE DANCER
MANSION OF MADNESS
CRAZY LOVE

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!