Nightmare City: Few would suspect you can fill a cinema shoulder-to-elbow by screening delirious dada like Nightmares in a Damaged Brain and The Witch Who Came from the Sea, but that’s exactly what happened at the Silent Movie Theater last month. In a fit of programming hubris, the Cinefamily spread screenings of thirty “Video Nasties” over as many October midnights. Westside cineastes, veteran horror freaks and hordes of the idly curious lined up on Fairfax Ave. every night for this high-concept splatter platter. Staff stamped contest calendars upon exit and ultimately more than twenty patrons attended all thirty of these formerly banned films. As you can see, my commitment to this brutish experience fell considerably short of such heroism-
Midweek crowds dwindled to a stubborn, chummy band of half a hundred regulars as October wore on, with Seventies dreadfuls like Mardi Gras Massacre and Snuff holding up just as badly for 21st century tastes as they did back in the long-gone day. This remarkable series provided evenly spaced blasts of Pavlovian self-conditioning for two marathon events later in the month. The midweek/midnight movie combination worked out so well for the house that Cinefamily just launched a Wednesday “Midnight Mafia” series, to be comprised of crazed effluvia like the 1979 disco comedy, The Face with Two Left Feet.
All Night Horror Show: Since October is always full of malignant coincidence, news that L.A. Decom was landing on the same Saturday the 13th as the New Beverly Cinema’s All Night Horror Show came as no surprise. As there can be no choosing between an eighteen-hour Burner party in the Cornfield and the yearly monster mash at L.A.’s Temple of 35 mm, my girl and I did both.
Decom opened at the downtown park at about 2 p.m. after some preliminary hassle with the fire marshal. We dallied awhile in the elaborately decorated but nearly empty park, where I gave my very limited photography skills a workout doing glamor shots of my girl, who looked her usual stunning. The event’s no late re-entry policy crimped our original plan, so we made a late-afternoon dash to the New Bev for the sold-out all-nighter. Thirty hardcore horror fans were already in line as we rounded the corner to park, with almost two hundred more to queue up behind us over the next hour. There was a reverential hush as longtime Grindhouse Night programmer Brian O’Quinn made with the intros and the twelve-hour event began.
First up was the fun Strange Behavior (1981), which turned out to be cheap, sleazy and abrupt to the point of farce. Nutwad scientists flush with government cash sink the whole wad into syringes of green shit that turn undergrads into homicidal psychopaths once injected through the eyeball. No kidding. Tangerine Dream did the score, but music honors go to the out-of-nowhere sockhop to Lou Christie’s “Lightning Strikes.” The hashish chocolate ingested in the line outside was humming in my brain nicely by then and short subjects and ancient preview trailers scattered throughout the night added to the general hallucinogenic effect.
A couple of vintage come-ons from exploitation great William Castle plus a Three Stooges short preceded the second movie. Big applause greeted Bela Lugosi’s title card, but the great Hungarian had little to do in Night Monster, a seventy-one year old Universal B unscreened in L.A. since 1949. Raised on such oldtimey Creature Features on post-midnight TV, I thoroughly loved it. During the break came a raffle in which both my girl and I held winning tickets, a coincidence even Brian thought miraculous.
The deft, intricate psychodrama Curtains (1983) proved an audience favorite, as did Neon Maniacs (1987), a grisly post-Re-Animator comedy shot with five nickels and a neophyte cast. Cool effects and bizarre monsters more than compensated for the stupefying implausibility of monsters easily destroyed by water plaguing San Francisco. Fans flogged sleep-deprived wits outside the cinema for hours debating the why of it.
It was around 4 a.m. when they cracked open reel one of The Psychic (1977), with most of the house still hanging in. Somewhere in back of a caffeine and hashish baked consciousness, I briefly thought of the swell party we were missing across town. About then, stunningly beautiful Jennifer O’Neill glided into view and I was transfixed, taking distant note of the film’s expert slow-build and creepy atmospherics (courtesy of genre maestro Lucio Fulci) without really allowing anything but her fabled face to register. It was a perfect dreamtime selection.
The finale was a sweet-looking print of the great Frank Henenlotter’s superb gross-out satire Frankenhooker (1990). A hilariously mean and squalid film about a man who re-stitches his late beloved out of scraps of Times Square trade, it was the only feature of the six we’d seen before and both of us giggled through every ludicrous second again. The daylight glare outside the theater was almost as startling as the ending of the movie. The roster of films was the event’s best ever and the crowd filed out hammerstruck. Henenlotter had nearly squeezed the last breath from us all and the overall curatorial effect of this marathon was stupendous, like a master’s seminar in the late 20th century horror film.
My girl won tix to see the Famous Monstergirls Burlesque show the next Friday night at Fais Do Do. As with all such affairs, a pair of low-end comedians traded inane quips while the ladies, in this case the cuties of Peepshow Menagerie, bumped and ground. The Playmate took a delighted interest in such dollybirds as these while a beefy guy to my left actually barked in delight.
GG Sand: The Echoplex looks vastly empty with only a dozen or so in the audience, but Tucson ought to be proud of the way Russ Tolman Band threw down for those lucky early arrivals on this rainy Thursday night. I’d been listening of late to a lot of hyper-melodic Eighties roots music from the likes of The Del-Lords and Los Lobos, and RTB tracks nicely within that tradition. Tolman came up as one of two guitarists in True West, a Paisley Underground act of no small renown. His voice and picking skill told of half a lifetime’s mastery of audiences and this turn was no exception. Tolman did a shoutout to an old fellow near me who turned out to be Sixties TV cowboy Don Quine before dueting with indie rock icon Barbara Manning. The tiny crowd cheered and hooted and kept the band on until the house pulled the plug to general dismay and groaning.
Turnout was light for headliner Giant Giant Sand, which mystifies save as anything but fear of rain, since Howe Gelb’s Silverlake following ought to be far larger and more sentimental. Eccentric genius behind three decades’ worth of Giant Sand albums and one of the first indie rock cult objects, Gelb was biting and philosophical, his smartass monotone worn down to a croak more eloquent than like Whispering Bill Anderson’s. Half a hundred people stood quiet and undemonstrative while he and this latest stutter-monickered version of his band threw country, punk, shoegaze and a couple of genres as yet without name into the blender and pressed “Quirk.” Gelb can pile on Giants in Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World fashion, but his music and manner are singular and to be treasured.
Let It Bleat: As my girl and I rounded the alley and ducked into The Smell, melodious grinding and crunching sounds from the stage indicated Upsilon Acrux cranking at maximum rock-and-wreck. We filed past wearies sacked out in the sofa-strewn front space into the recesses beyond to witness about thirty fans in the terminal throes of an advanced tonal skullfuck. I’ve been a fan of UA for many years, but this was her first listen and she deemed it “mesmerizing.”
The wait was short for Mermort Sound System, a Tokyo noise quartet on a brief stateside spree. After a preliminary fusillade, the band settled into a short, heavily textured groove with lots of cinematic bravura, rather like those brooding Morricone pastiches on old Wall of Voodoo LPs. Such fine (and very loud) chamber music invariably brings on much swaying and thousand-yard staring, so even the non-committed observer may judge its relative worth by depth of gaze and arc of sway induced. About thirty fans knotted before the stage hummed and wove impressively until the foursome wound tinkertoy down.
Tonight was the first Polar Goldie Cats show in ages and this longtime post rock act were flogging Distant Spices, the latest full-length to succumb to the oldfangled craze of vinyl records. Their self-titled first album came out on Thurston Moore’s Ecstatic Peace label back in 1996 and now here they were hawking twentieth-century noise pop for this new age of petroleum platters. The crowd swelled to seventy or so as the Cats limbered up in the front room, easing by degrees into metronomic avant noise heavy on reverb heroism. Chance put me next to one of the room’s steel supports so I rested my skull against and let the hammering vibrato work into my bones. It felt like something I should do more often.
Horrorthon!: The Aero is but a few blocks from our place and the Playmate so enjoyed the New Beverly all-nighter that the very idea of driving out to some underground, desert or house party for a giggle seemed petrol-foolish. Indeed, the night she drove me straight off the plane to a Cowboy Bebop all-nighter at San Francisco’s Bridge Theater, I knew this was the start of a beautiful friendship. On the last Saturday night of October, we wound up at the front of a very long line chatting amiably with fellow deranged until the doors finally opened an hour late on their 7th annual Horrorthon. Once all settled in for the long night ahead, Grant Monniger barreled out shrieking wildly of candy before heaving great handfuls of the stuff recklessly into the audience, along with DVDs, Blu-Rays, hats, even a paperback copy of Emma by Jane Austen. At my feet slid a Blackenstein DVD that I’ll cherish at least until screening the much-maligned turkey. Grant modulated his psycho barker spiel enough to thank and remind us the reverent silence at the New Bev wasn’t in force here. This is a party, freaks!
We kicked off with a long swatch of absurdist A/V crammed with bizarre movie trailers, medicinal prayers to the Corn Gorn, motel ads, old TV credits sequences with patrons’ names superimposed (I saw myself cast as President Warren G. Harding in an episode of The Six Million Dollar Man and wondered which other universe contained my lost residual check), butt-dead disco videos, PSA announcements enjoining use of dirty catheters, and a pissed-off prairie dog endlessly yelling “Alan!” as the caffeinated audience howled back. This tomfoolery repeated with minor variation between films all night, rousing sleepers and raising the roof.
Clive Barker’s Hellraiser (1987) was, for me, the evening’s dud. Happily, the grossout effects and pretentious atmospherics that so enchanted fans back in the late Reagan Age were taken by this audience as humor, which speaks well of the collective sanity of this era’s fans. My girl liked the goopy FX and general mucous-y mise-en-scene. Next up was an old favorite of mine, Motel Hell (1980), a morbidly funny chuckleroast update of the Sweeney Todd story in which a kindly old Dixiecrat named Farmer Vincent (deadpan ex-cowboy star Rory Calhoun looking fit to run for Congress) grinds up Yankee patrons to serve as sausage to dumbbell passersby. At one point, the suave old bastard muses “I can’t help but wonder about the karmic implications of all this.”
The Devil’s Rain (1975) suffers from a hellish reputation, what with a minimal plot involving Satan-worshippers freighted with hambone perfs by Ernest Borgnine, William Shatner, and Eddie Albert plus comatose turns from Tom Skerritt, Ida Lupino, and near-infant John Travolta, making the whole outing more a procession of famous fat floating heads than a B-horror movie. Most of the cast dies in the titular deluge, flesh melting from smoking bone that remains the most effective finale cult director Robert Fuest ever put on any of his handful of genre films.
Several hours of jollity little prepared us for Christine, John Carpenter’s nasty 1983 adaptation of a derivative Stephen King yarn, with a nerd kid turning Fifties fuck-you rebel under the influence of a classic Eisenhower-era otto-mo-beel with decidedly retro tastes in music. If this sounds like My Mugger, the Car, it doesn’t play that way. Carpenter cut through the author’s stock evil twin trope nonsense with a fast-paced brute narrative highlighting the lethal effects of having a big rolling piece of Detroit iron mad at you. The house p.a. fittingly let loose with sweet Gene Vincent’s “Be Bop a Lula” as the lights went up.
The penultimate flick rolled just to sunrise. This 1974 Italian zombie epic was shot in England by a Spanish director and released worldwide under scads of lurid titles, my favorite being Breakfast at Manchester Morgue. Crackpot agricultural experiments set flesh-eating zombies to roaming England’s mountains green, while muttonhead fascist cop (Arthur Kennedy, sounding like the Lucky Charms leprechaun after a two-week bender) tries to pin the ensuing gory mess on a couple of weird city kids. Suspense, artful gore and more than a bit of the old ultra vee kept the audience up and squirming.
Nearly half those remaining simply gave up and lugged for home, leaving a hoarse Monniger to thank us for being awesome before rolling The Manitou (1977). This little bon-bon pitted Tony Curtis and Michael Ansara against a reincarnated shaman growing out of Susan Strasberg’s back. Criminy. Grindhouse guru William Girdler’s last movie makes little sense, but the director keeps the action skipping across gaps in time, space and logic too fast for the viewer to care. My old bud Paul Mantee shines in a strong supporting role as a decisively bewildered M.D., with Girdler’s rapid-fire setups relying on Paul’s nimbly expressive face for the kind of reaction shot that sells gonzo pulp like this.
The giddy crowd filed out amid cheers loud and bleary at about half past nine Sunday morning. Wobbling to the exit, I nabbed the last gift certificate for free popcorn and gave it to my girlie. There’s always next year.
The Night They Drove Mitt Romney Down: While Campaign 2012 baled bullshit by the ton and enough raw hatred to make UMWA contract time Back Home look like a Partridge Family reunion, there was a gorgeous flash of madness at the end. For months on end, a national political party babbled on-cue like the very species of hateful fact-denying paranoid I knew in rural Dixie during the Time of Falwell. Most of the people I know out here are creative and harmless folk puzzled and frightened by the G.O.P.’s incessant bawling of union goons, “job creators,” welfare moms, the uterus as public utility, rape babies, treason plots, and science denial, along with the usual thousand years of darkness, but such raw nonsense is as familiar to me as so many crates of Royal Crown Cola, which tastes, according to consensus south of Mason-Dix, worse than carbonated gopher guts.
About sixty of these aforementioned Angelenos, most of them Burners, turned up in the Red Loft downtown for an early evening BYOB party to see, for weal or woe, this lunacy finally end. We arrived a little after seven, when Fox News was calling a 162-162 tie. Despite this, there was a palpable sense of on-air grief and dread that impressed the crowd at Paynie’s place. I settled into a wing chair, having already given Romney Virginia and Ohio through chicanery but sure the president would win anyway. Al Jazeera and CBS were already handing the thing to Obama; the former blandly, the latter with caterwauling ill-grace, as one hired G.O.P. head after another burbled of hurricanes and fiscal cliffs. My dear girl brought her own port and giggled with delight as state after state went Democratic, as I snorted at all the wingnut discomfiture and my desert pals bulged the walls with cheers for the president. In concession, Romney absorbed a pachyderm’s beating in the Electoral College seeming as rambling and disconnected as ever, but the president looked vindicated and fierce in victory. Obama’s measured and forceful words were received in mostly respectful silence at the Loft, until he spoke of “hope,” and a stentorian voice to my left put in “You better do some of that shit this term!” When we left, toadlike Pat Caddell was croaking how the G.O.P. is on its way to Whigsville. Perhaps that’s too much to conjure, but Tuesday’s results marked a ceremonial burning of the last bridge back to Reaganland. Few (outside Cold War nostalgia fans) will mourn an imaginary 20th century anyway.
RIP BIP L.A.: While it lived, BIP L.A. (spinoff of the old Beauty Is Pain boutique on Highland) was the model of a classic L.A. underground rock dive. How underground? Far enough below mainstream magma to encounter this piece of D.I.Y. iconography among the merch-
Sure enough, there was Luke McGarry’s L.A. Record caricature of R. Garmon- all three feet of Frankenstein forehead intact – up there on a badge chockablock with Crowley, Manson, and other notable degenerates, all on sale for one buck each. Steve Carrera of The Cigarette Bums saw the badge and craved it, so my girlie proudly pinned it on him. Meanwhile, a series of stupendous convulsions wracked the room and a haul of punks in soppy punkwear streamed out in ones and threes, muttering “Sick,” “Awesome,” “Killed it” before opening act Badwater filed out to confirm they had indeed killed it. Nobody knew anything about Spaceships but manager Mani Quin, who mumbled “Get this” in my ear. A short fusillade of arty brusque noise pop followed, highlighted by Jessie Waite’s impassioned powerhouse vocals. There ensued a gooey community sweat and all was drippy cheers and well-kicked ass.
The Cigarette Bums were up next. Already among the first rank of Eastside bands, they bid as fair to be Silverlake’s champion road dogs, playing this last local stand before departing for yet another tour. They swaggered to the stage and laced into their customary biff-bang-pow like nothing else mattered. Midway through, Steve broke a string, leaped from the stage, faceplanted beautifully, and bombed out the door to return with a replacement guitar twenty seconds later. The set concluded when a short-circuit briefly snapped off every light in the building. Cheering was little short of maniacal as the Bums took bows in the dark.
Peg Leg Love closed out the night early, with their third song interrupted by the LAPD making inquires into origin of all the goddamn noise. Mani laughed, “I told those guys to turn the fuckin’ bass down!” We soon departed, but BIP LA was up and running again that Friday night, but shuttered by the cops for good later in July.
Only a Moron Argues with Ruby F.: Onstage with her Orchestra, Ruby Friedman is a feverish song-belter of the Nina Simone school. Over e-mail and cellphone crackle, she sounded as jacked-up and animated as the o’fuck-thirty a.m. she rang to quiz me closely about the life of William Lloyd Garrison. Knowing she seldom gets this riled over anyone not long dead, I made note of this Feral Kizzy phenom she swore had blown her right out of her four-inch heels. Some femme-fronted band out of that same Punk Industrial Complex already going like bongbusters in the South Bay when I landed up here half of somebody else’s lifetime ago, or words to similar effect.
We drove to Long Beach and stood among trodden toes and fat drunkards at the Prospector, a loud, ill-lighted place, through two acts so forgettable I’ve since forgotten them entirely. Feral Kizzy took the stage at last, now reduced to an accidental power trio due to a keyboardist temporarily stuck in San Diego’s awful gravitational pull. Fiercely elfin fronter Kizzy Kirk cried “The monitors fucking suck!” before lacing into a preliminary bombardment that took the place by sonic shock and charismatic awe. This kind of disciplined lack of restraint gives rock music what life it still has. By the time the set careened to a sideswipe finish, I was smitten as Ruby. Click here for a reasonable idea of what they can do.