Don't lose hope. If we survive this we'll probably both get a chance to act in better movies.
This poster was made for the horror movie The Terror, and we're showing you the Japanese promo art because—as is often the case—it's nicer than the U.S. promo. Boris Karloff and Jack Nicholson star, actors passing in the night, Karloff aged seventy-six and on the downward slope of a legendary film career, Nicholson aged twenty-six on the upslope. The latter plays a French army lieutenant named Andre Duvalier who becomes stranded circa 1806 in ye olde creepy-ass castle on the hill, which is occupied by Karloff's rickety Baron Victor von Leppe. Jack sees a mysterious woman wandering around. Karloff explains that she's the ghost of his wife, the Baronness Ilsa von Leppe, who died twenty years ago. Nosy Nicholson doesn't believe that for a millisecond, but the Baron sticks to his story, even admitting he killed the Baronness with his bare hands for the crime of adultery. Nice confession, but the Baron is lying or being duped, as far as Nicholson is concerned. In either case, the question is why?
Director Roger Corman was working from an Edgar Allen Poe template here, and in fact he shot on castle sets originally used for The Raven, which had wrapped earlier in the year. It's always good to save a buck where you can, but any advantage was lost due to Corman working from an unfinished script, which led to reshoots by Francis Ford Coppola, Dennis Jakob, Monte Hellman, and Jack Hill. All that talent wasn't enough to put together a film befitting Nicholson and Karloff, but the two leads do their damndest, and the result, though not good, isn't an embarrassment. Afterward, Karloff continued coasting into the twilight, Nicholson and Coppola moved on to widespread acclaim, Hill helped launch the blaxploitation cycle and make a star of Pam Grier, and Hellman directed the cult masterpiece Two-Lane Blacktop. It's a miracle they all contributed something lasting to cinema, because you'd never suspect it watching The Terror. It premiered in the U.S. in 1963 and reached Japan today in 1964.
Hong Kong sexploitation epic isn't very good, but give it credit for ripping the scab off a historical wound.
Above is a poster for the sexploitation flick Nu ji zhong ying, known in English as The Bamboo House of Dolls, and to get right to the heart of the matter, this one must have set Sino-Japanese relations back a few years. The film stars Danish actress Birte Tove as a nurse in Hong Kong who during World War II gets corralled along with her co-workers into Japanese Women's Concentration Camp 13, there to undergo various indignities before finally deciding that escape is her only option. You know the drill.
Tove is the marquee attraction, but the film is largely cast with Hong Kong actresses such as Lee Hye-Sook, Hseih Wang, and others, which means that while the movie resembles entries in the women-in-prison sub-genre—with the scheming wardeness, lesbian sex, group showers, and half-cocked escapees made into examples of what not to do while in a tropical women's prison—the obvious historical context of Japan actually sexually abusing Chinese women during the war gives it an underlying grimness that's hard to ignore.
We suspect that if this were made today it would spark an international crisis, insults traded by high ranking officials on Twitter, and possibly diplomats kicked out of China and Japan, but 1970s filmmakers did not shy away from uncomfortable subject matter—and this is about as uncomfortable as it gets. That isn't the problem, though. Well, that isn't the problem for us. The objective problem is the movie is just bad.
Legendary Hong Kong producers the Shaw Brothers (and by legendary we mean Run Run Shaw would be knighted in 1977) wanted to copy Jack Hill's women-in-prison movies The Big Bird Cage and The Big Doll House, but possibly overlooked the fact that setting such films in imaginary Central American hellholes as Hill did was worlds away from making the Japanese villains in a historically laden sexual abuse epic. But what do we know? Run Run got knighted, not us. In any case, Tove's escape plan runs into some snags, but we won't reveal what those are, just in case you're in the mood for politically explosive titillation. Our advice? Give it a pass. Nu ji zhong ying premiered in Hong Kong today in 1973.
I get the feeling there's history here. Since I'm from Denmark, maybe I can I just leave?
Welcome to the school of hard knocks and sharp knives.
How does an interest in bad cinema start? For us it began with Switchblade Sisters. We'd seen scores of bad movies growing up and through college, but after those years we moved toward mainstream movies and well reviewed indie cinema. Sometime after we started our magazine we received a comp ticket to a late night showing of Switchblade Sisters. It was an old b-movie also known as The Jezebels being re-released by Quentin Tarantino's Rolling Thunder Pictures, and we watched it in a landmark cinema packed with people primed to have a raucous time. It was a hell of a night*, and the afterparty was good too.
Plotwise, what you get with Switchblade Sisters is a juvenile delinquent flick about a high school gang called the Silver Daggers and its women's auxiliary the Dagger Debs. Robbie Lee plays the head Deb, while Joanne Nail plays a new girl brought into the gang. Everything is fun and games until jealousy rears its ugly head due to the fact that Lee thinks her man, who's the leader of the Silver Daggers, wants the new girl. Matters deteriorate when Nail sets off a war between the Silver Daggers and a rival gang. These are seriously murderous clans, fully intent on killing each other. Gunplay abounds, blood flows copiously, and the lesson is— Well, we aren't sure. Say no to gangs, we guess.
Switchblade Sisters is atrociously acted in parts, and mediocrely acted in all the other parts, but Robbie Lee deserves special mention for making a three course meal of her role, delivering every line as if she has a case of lockjaw. Someone must have told her tough people speak through clenched teeth. But so do constipated people. Someone should have told her that too. But some movies are more than the sum of their parts, and Switchblade Sisters falls into that category. It's terrible, but uproarious. Dumb, but immensely entertaining. We can't think of many better films to watch with friends. And that's worth a lot in this crazy world. Switchblade Sisters originally premiered today in 1975.
*The best part of that premiere night was actually showing up for the film. The promotional company had reserved a row of seats for local reviewers. PSGP was our magazine's movie critic. He showed up in this packed cinema and took a reserved seat. Some fratboy-looking chump in the row behind him leaned forward and told him, “These seats are reserved.” It's here we should mention that PSGP doesn't look like what most people would think of as a film critic, so he knew exactly what was happening—this moron, who was not anyone of any importance or authority, and had no connection whatsoever to the premiere except he probably won tickets from a radio giveaway, took a look at PSGP and decided to play citizen enforcer.
Fratboy chump got up and told the people running the premiere that someone had invaded the reserved seats. PSGP saw it happen. Fratboy flagged down someone, had a conversation while pointing directly at PSGP, and probably felt full of power for calling the cinema cops. PSGP savored the next moment, when the guy was told the evil seat inavder was in fact one of the invited critics and was sitting in exactly the right place. Fratboy moron, crestfallen, went back to his seat, and PSGP, without turning around, said, “That didn't work out the way you hoped, huh?” He got good mileage from the story at the afterparty. And the fratboy? He wasn't invited.
If you’re looking for mercy you’ve come to the wrong place.
The Big Bird Cage finds writer-director Jack Hill at the top of his form as he sticks star Anitra Ford in a Philippine jungle prison where an evil warden uses the female inmates as slave labor to process sugar. Pam Grier and Sid Haig are revolutionaries who want to recruit women for their cause, so Grier infiltrates the prison and primes the women for a big break out. This is one of the most remembered of 70s B-romps, a sleazefest filled with iconic scenes such as Ford being suspended by her hair, and seven-foot model Karen McKevic slathering her body with grease and dashing naked through camp. The classic poster is above, a brilliant production photo appears below, and if you’re looking for actual reviews, well, there are about a thousand online. Wild, weird, and oh so incorrect, The Big Bird Cage premiered in the U.S. today in 1972.
A new tabloid hits the newsstands with a twist on the usual formula.
In our continuing search for rare magazines of high entertainment value (if sometimes dubious quality), we stumbled across the above gem—the first issue of the self-described sexploitation film graphic Flick. Published in the U.S. out of Libertyville, Illinois, it was basically just reviews of x-rated films in tabloid form. The publishers admit in their introductory editorial that the tabloid market is glutted, but insist America needs a magazine that helps porn consumers separate the wheat from the chaff. They do it with utter seriousness and, as a bonus, also throw in some musings on film history, with discussions of Rudolph Valentino, Douglas Fairbanks, Theda Bara, Jean Harlow, and Hedy Lamarr, who all had pre-Hays Code flirtations with screen nudity.
It might be difficult to imagine actors appearing nude on screen during the 1920s and 1930s, but the idea back then was that, because the medium was considered an art form, motion picture nudity was no different from nudity in sculpture, photography or painting. Theda Bara's and Jean Harlow’s screen nudity was merely implied, but Hedy Lamarr went all the way in her 1933 Czech-made romance Ekstase, aka Ecstasy, in which she ran starkers through the woods, giving audiences a gander at her backside and breasts. She was known at the time as Hedy Kiesler, but it’s her.
There’s also a non-nude love scene containing what some critics believe is the first cinematic depiction of an orgasm. As you can imagine, Ekstase was controversial. Only four-hundred prints were ever made, and most of those were butchered by censors. By the 1940s, the only complete copy known to exist was in Russia. It had first been Hungarian property and had been exhibited in Budapest in ’33, but because the Hungarians had fought alongside Nazi Germany and helped conquer swaths of Russian territory in the early 1940s, when the Russians reversed those gains and occupied Budapest in 1944, they sort of helped themselves to a few choice cultural treasures.
Elsewhere in this inaugural Flick you get reviews of the adult films A Hard Man’s Good To Get, Sisters in Leather, College Girls, and Jack Hill’s first full-length effort Mondo Keyhole. The editors remind readers that their magazine is a collector’s item. At the time—January 1970—they probably imagined it would be quite valuable in forty-one years. Well, we got it for $4.00. But just for the hell of it, maybe we’ll hang onto it for another forty-one years. You never know. By the way, if you’re curious, you can actually see that famous Hedy Lamarr nude scene here. It is not a complete version, though. We doubt a complete one exists. See ten scans from Flick below.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1937—Chamberlain Becomes Prime Minister
Arthur Neville Chamberlain, who is known today mainly for his signing of the Munich Agreement in 1938 which conceded the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany and was supposed to appease Adolf Hitler's imperial ambitions, becomes prime minister of Great Britain. At the time Chamberlain is the second oldest man, at age sixty-eight, to ascend to the office. Three years later he would give way to Winston Churchill.
1930—Chrysler Building Opens
In New York City, after a mere eighteen months of construction, the Chrysler Building opens to the public. At 1,046 feet, 319 meters, it is the tallest building in the world at the time, but more significantly, William Van Alen's design is a landmark in art deco that is celebrated to this day as an example of skyscraper architecture at its most elegant.
1969—Jeffrey Hunter Dies
American actor Jeffrey Hunter dies of a cerebral hemorrhage after falling down a flight of stairs and sustaining a skull fracture, a mishap precipitated by his suffering a stroke seconds earlier. Hunter played many roles, including Jesus in the 1961 film King of Kings, but is perhaps best known for portraying Captain Christopher Pike in the original Star Trek pilot episode "The Cage".
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