Vigilante (1983)

I was going to kick myself for not watching WILLIAM (MANIAC) LUSTIG’s VIGILANTE (1983) sooner but I decided to thank the universe for waiting for the exact perfect circumstances to lift the curtain on this prize instead. Don’t sweat the plot- it’s about a guy who believes in the law until justice flips him the bird after his life is demolished, who then decides to take matters into his own hands. Things explode and bad, bad people die in ways they really deserve. See, this is why I can’t get worked up about remakes and sequels; multiple interpretations of the same potent theme are the lifeblood of genre filmmaking. You know this place even if you haven’t been here before.

Two major factors catapult VIGILANTE over its peers. It’s got a fantastic cast, ROBERT FORSTER, CAROL LYNLEY, FRED WILLIAMSON, JOE SPINELL and RUTANYA ALDA (she of AMITYVILLE II and no relation to ALAN-drats!) and a super talented sinfully underrated director. LUSTIG may have a habit of delivering semi-unsatisfactory climaxes but the road to that minor disappointment is paved with major brilliance. He certainly knows how to engage the audience with his characters and he excels at keeping you on edge worried about how far he’ll go next. What’s more, I have to hand it to LUSTIG for his striking and yet never overpowering visual sense. Is it just me? I love his use of color and his penchant for finding strange fluorescent beauty in the blandest of areas. It can’t be accidental, amidst jaw-dropping violence there’s something about VIGILANTE (and MANIAC) that feels like unearthing stray blazing rubies in piles of grey gravel. I’ll throw down some images below but I think that analogy applies to how LUSTIG’s films operate as a whole too. The world may be hopeless, grim and falling apart but if you look close there’s always something shining in the wreckage.

Traumafessions :: Reader Greg from Oakland on The Dark Tower Game & Madame Tussauds Chamber of Horrors

To the good people at Kindertrauma:

Assuming you’re interested, this is a two part-episode Traumafession, connected only by my father and his Anglophilia. In hindsight, I realize that my dear old dad chose one of my Christmas gifts when I was eleven years old, a board game called The Dark Tower. The game featured a dark gray plastic fortress tower with crenelated edges and a black electronic display screen with buttons that, when pressed, would randomly determine your fate as you moved across the board. The object was to collect keys and conquer the tower, or something like that.

I remember two things about this weird remedial-Dungeons & Dragons board game with the mysterious revolving monolithic phallus (I was just about to enter puberty, so give me a break.) One was the playing card depicting enemies called the “brigands.” (This has to appeal to my dad, so they can’t be called “boogeymen” or “demons” or anything pedestrian like that.) These fiends were depicted as howling creatures bearing white soulless eyes, black thin bodies with sharp shoulders, fanged beaks, and gnarled goat horns on their heads. They freaked me out, but what was even worse, oddly enough, was encountering and slaying a dragon, a moment celebrated by the tower with an early electronic dragon-shrieking-as-it-dies sound. It gave me the willies, but of course, victory is always bittersweet. (Also jarring were the “plague,” “lost,” and “starvation” sounds, all of which can be heard HERE.)

The reason why I know my father decided to get this for me: I stumbled on a 1981 television commercial for this game with ORSON WELLES in dark cloak narrating a suitably histrionic tale of battle that one might enjoy in the process of playing Dark Tower. ORSON WELLES, of course, is American, not British, but my dad adored his Shakespearean gravitas, and he probably thought, “If it’s good enough for ORSON, it’s good enough for my son,” possibly not realizing (or in denial about the fact) that poor penniless ORSON would whore himself out for frozen peas and cheap wine at this point. ORSON’s enormous bulk takes up half the screen while the titular dark tower glows ominously in the background.

The following summer my dad treated me to a trip to England in order to follow my brother’s rugby team on a short tour, during which the American teenagers would be repeatedly, methodically, and quite naturally annihilated by various English school boy teams (perhaps that dragon-slaying sound would be appropriate here). Anyhow, one of the London sites my dad and I visited was Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, including, of course, the notorious Chamber of Horrors. Keep in mind that my father would routinely take me to films that were not exactly… age-appropriate: I was nine during the legendary Summer of 1980, when he took me not only to see THE CHANGELING with GEORGE C. SCOTT, but also THE SHINING.

So here was the Chamber of Fricking Horrors at eleven: the Manson Family with shaved heads, some bespectacled freak named John Christie who dismembered women and secreted their body parts in various nooks and crannies of his home (you get a glimpse of these through a crack in the kitchen walls of the display), and on the staircase heading down to the chamber, there was a wax figure of Adolf Hitler encased in thick glass, probably because too many people would deface the bastard’s image. Worst of all—for me, at least—was the display of Marat’s body in a bathtub. He was the French revolutionary with a bad skin condition that required, for some reason, lots of baths; Charlotte Corday took advantage of his vulnerable position and stabbed him repeatedly with a knife. His body was immortalized by the French painter David, and this wax display was modeled after it. One had to mount several steps in order to look into the bathtub, as I recall, like walking ceremonially past an open coffin. Marat’s head was swaddled in a towel, bearing a disturbingly peaceful look on his face, as if he were just napping and might bolt awake at any second.

Back at our hotel, the bathroom had a claw-foot bathtub that reminded me of the one in which Marat sat slumped in death. From my bedroom at night, I could see the dark form of the tub, and I imagined the silhouette of a toweled head slowly lifting above the edge. It was the first time in years that I joined my parents in their bed, and in the cold light of morning, I felt like a total wuss.

God bless the Internet, right?

Thanks for all your good work.


Greg from Oakland

Painting By Numbers: 40 Paintings, 40 Nights (Confessions of a Convention Vendor)

Something I can always look forward to is the Monster-Mania convention that visits my neck of the woods a couple of times a year. I’m not big on crowds because I’m always half sure they’ll pull a DAY OF THE LOCUSTS routine at any minute but seeing so much horror memorabilia in one place at one time is worth putting my phobias on hold. One of my favorite venders has always been this guy who does original acrylic paintings based on iconic horror imagery. I’ve always dug looking through his work and appreciating the one of the kind expressive quality of his creations. There’s invariably plenty new and he even makes sure to do work inspired by whoever might be appearing at that particular convention. Little did I know until recently that the artist in question PHILIP MERTZ had contributed some excellent traumafessions to Kindertrauma under the name Grimpressions on several occasions. This was too cool to be true but it also made a lot a sense because Grimpression’s posts here at KT were just as clever and one of a kind as his artwork.

So at this last Monster-Mania instead of just loitering around his table I finally got to meet PHILIP aka Grimpressions and his lovely wife JAMIE. They were both really cool and easy to talk to and my favorite kind of horror fans; enthusiastic and down to Earth. I came away with two new pals, a FUNHOUSE painting (which now hangs center stage in Kindertrauma Manor) and this great documentary that PHILIP and his wife put together. The doc is called PAINTING BY NUMBERS: 40 PAINTINGS, 40 NIGHTS (CONFESSIONS OF A HORROR CONVENTION VENDOR) and it shows Grimpressions in his natural habitat creating art with special guest appearances by his son Sabian and cat Toxi and a score by Lawrence M. Fischer. I can’t help but be incredibly impressed watching PHILIP’s paintings come together starting as simple brush strokes and ending as works of art. If you’re a horror fan or even just a fan of the painting process you’ll probably feel the same way. I posted a few select images below but jump over to PHILIP’s Facebook Page HERE to view more of his work and stay up do date with his activities. Also PHILIP is eligible for a Rondo Hatton Award for his work so why not support the arts by casting a vote for him HERE!

Fright (1971)

A bunch of years ago I remember having a used DVD copy of FRIGHT in my hands all ready to buy when a friend I was with pulled one of those, “Oh, I’ve seen that” sourpuss, “Meh” routines. Dummy me dropped it from my purchase pile. I suppose my pal had a point; FRIGHT is nothing extraordinary but certainly this person should have known me well enough to realize that a babysitter, an old dark house and an escaped maniac would be more than enough to warrant a viewing. So what if I’d seen this song and dance before? Familiarity may breed contempt for others but for me, it breeds contentment. Plus, I now realize that FRIGHT predates the films that drove the concept into the ground. That’s gotta count for something. If that friend knew me at all they would have said, “It’s from the early seventies-you’ll love it!” but looking back I believe the only real information I was meant to take away was that so-and-so had seen this film before me. Big whoop. Here’s an oversized stuff animal prize.

FRIGHT is of its time and may frustrate modern viewers especially those who expect characters to act as they (theoretically) would and get incensed when they don’t do the exact smartest thing in every possible situation. Our babysitter Amanda (SUSAN GEORGE) does some seriously boneheaded things in FRIGHT and she cries and screeches a lot too. If the film was made today, I’m sure she’d be depicted in a much stronger, more valiant way but I’m going to give her some leeway as she’s just a kid and a maniac is trying to kill her. Why not scream and cry? Is there a better time for such a response? Oh yeah and her boyfriend kicks the bucket right in front of her face! That might upset a person.

I know I’m an apologist but critiquing a character’s response to a violent situation, to me, is sort of like a friend telling you they’ve been mugged and you’re like, “Did you punch them in the face? Did you grab the gun away? Why not, what’s wrong with you?” Everything is easy from the sidelines and everybody thinks they’re boss until they’re not. Truth is, you really don’t know until it happens to you. When real fear comes a knocking all bets are off, the world is upside down and a truckload of kooky chemicals are poured into your brain. You might have a hard time remembering your own name let alone be expected to suddenly morph into an expert at guerilla warfare. Amanda’s not alone in the questionable decision making department either. Nearly every character here, including the police, reacts in ways that are unbelievable by today’s standards. In the end though, all the reactions present are more likely then say, Bigfoot so if I can believe in Bigfoot, I can believe in this. He’s out there!

All in all, I’d say FRIGHT is very much worth hurdling over its hokey chasms. If you blur your eyes to a few glitches it’s a beautifully shot, cleverly edited, atmospheric suspense film that must have had some kind of influence on HALLOWEEN. Whether the resemblance is coincidental or not, I’d say it plays like a precursor to that film even more so than the often-sited BLACK CHRISTMAS does. Although not gory or gruesome, the potential for something truly horrific to occur is intensely strong in certain scenes. The child in peril business is particularly off-putting and something I’m sure you’d be unlikely to see attempted today. The little tyke in this, TARA COLLINSON, is actually the director’s son, which makes the situations he’s thrown into a little bit easier to condone. There’s a bushel of hammy dialogue on hand but the performances are uniformly above par. IAN BANNON as the escaped lunatic nearly goes over the top but there’s something convincing about his wild scattered energy too.

I should have bought this movie way back when, as now the price seems to have jumped. Sheez, you’d think that getting to see HONOR (Pussy Galore) BLACKMAN who plays the mom getting her groove on at the local restaurant would be enough for some people! Yep, it could have been better but it deserves more than a shrug too. That, or I just love babysitter vs. maniac movies. In any case, there are worse things in life than hanging with SUSAN GEORGE in a dark mansion for an hour and a half, even if she is a little screechy.

Traumafession:: Unk on Snuff (1976)

Me and SNUFF aren’t friends. I’m going to politely decline the invitation from the trickster in my head that is daring me to watch it again. I suppose that over the years, since the first and only time I saw it, there is a possibility that SNUFF like BLOOD SHACK and TERMINAL ISLAND, transformed from diabolical to adorable but I doubt it. It’s not very open-minded of me I guess, but a person has to draw the line somewhere. For those happily not in the know, SNUFF is, if I recall correctly, an inordinately lousy movie with a notorious tacked on ending that pretends to be real way before people were so hung up on things pretending to be real. So I guess that makes SNUFF a trailblazer, a very awful, boring, tasteless and deceitful, trailblazer.

I saw SNUFF back in the early days of video and when I first came across the box, it looked like fine stuff to me. I still do very much enjoy the artwork on the cover and as I recall, it came off hip and modern at the time. SNUFF was actually made back in 1976 and I encountered it on VHS around 1982. That six-year difference doesn’t seem like much now but it was to me back then, and the distance between the grainy hippie movie I got and the slick eighties flick I expected was drastic. Just look at the guy with the maniacal face on the cover- he’s wearing, for all intents and purposes, an Izod! Izods were big at the time! The 3-D letters being slashed apart, the geyser of blood contrasting with the tightening ropes, the crimson nail polish, the blasting lights, the screaming lady in the background (who I now realize also appears in the artwork for DEMONOID), all conspires to suggest an animated, wild, exuberant time which SNUFF is not.

If there’s anything more gratifying in life than renting a pile of tapes and watching them with like-minded people into the wee hours, I still do not know what it is. I was around 14 and I had a friend staying over and we had a pile of rented horror movies. One of them was SNUFF and as it was the most anticipated, it was saved for last. I knew something was afoul as soon as the film began. I tried to stay with it but it was impossible. Nothing was going on and people were just running around in a jungle with no purpose. My head began to wobble and sway and and soon I was asleep. SNUFF had nothing on glorious slumber. Sometime later my friend jostled me awake. I had to see what was happening! We rewound the last moments and watched aghast as an actress was ambushed by a film crew who recorded her murder cinema verite-style and then waved around her entrails. It was gross but not gross enough to keep me from going back to snoozetown. I never at any time wondered if anything in the film actually happened.

Sometime later I was on a bus coming back from the mall reading the latest FANGORIA magazine. In the letters section somebody was complaining about the atrocity of SNUFF and how disgusting it was that it included a real killing. My stomach dropped and I felt nauseous. Had I inadvertently watched a woman being killed? That poor actress! Here I was supporting her victimization with my rental money! Why don’t the police arrest the culprits? They should not rent this movie to people! Why, I do believe there’s something morally questionable about killing people to make entertainment! I don’t like the idea of censorship but perhaps this movie should be banned! I don’t know when or how I came back to my senses but I eventually did. No, they do not rent snuff movies at the mall and yes, the police might intervene if they did. The funny thing is, that one angry letter in FANGORIA convinced me of the film’s authenticity even after the film itself had failed on every level imaginable to do so. All I needed was an outraged voice and I began to see the same exact phantoms that they did. I sold my own perception to the wind in a heartbeat in exchange for nonsense wrapped in misguided righteousness. So I guess I did learn something from SNUFF, but that doesn’t mean I’d ever want to watch it again.