Tag Archives: exploitation

THE ‘HIT’ MAN: An Interview with Dominik Starck by Kent Hill

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Dominik Starck is a cool guy who loves and makes movies. That’s a man I’m down for spending some time with – so I did. His new movie, The Hitman Agency, is a complex nest of intrigue, danger, action and redemption. Throw those altogether and you have a great blend that tastes a little like something we’ve had before – yet it’s flavored by Mr. Starck’s unashamed passion for his many cinematic influences as well as the sheer joy he has being a filmmaker.

Most of us, at one time or another, who make fatal decision to go off and pursue a career as an artist, are met with the inevitable speech for our parents which carries the immortal lines like, “You’ll never make any money,” or “Why don’t you get a real job.”

Now Dominik tried that – he tried to deny the fire inside, the voice telling him he wasn’t doing what he was meant to be doing. He wasn’t, as the Bard would say, to thy own self being true.  So he started doing what he had to do, and, for my money, what he does well – he started making movies.

“Making an indie film is close to being a hitman; choose your goal, aim and go after it no matter the obstacles. And like assassinations, it’s a hit and miss with movies. I consider our movie the latter but it’s up to the target audience to decide if that’s the truth or not,” says Starck, the writer/director. While the German independent production by Starck Entertainment and R.J. Nier Films is represented by distributor Generation X Group GmbH at the film market in Cannes (May 8th to 17th) for international sales, the US audience is the first to be able to watch THE HITMAN AGENCY on Amazon.com where it’s available for rent and buy.

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This movie is the directorial debut of writer/producer Dominik Starck who previously worked on the award winning mercenary action film ATOMIC EDEN, starring Blaxploitation legend Fred ‘The Hammer’ Williamson and Lorenzo Lamas (RENEGADE). While being a deliberately different type of movie, THE HITMAN AGENCY features a special appearance by 11 time kickboxing champion Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson from BLOODFIST-fame. Starring American-born Erik Hansen (THE COUNTESS) and LA-based Everett Ray Aponte (ATOMIC EDEN) as competing hitmen from different ends of their assassin-careers, THE HITMAN AGENCY is a character-driven conspiracy-thriller with twists and turns, spiced with some martial arts outbreaks and assassinations. Shot on locations in Germany in English with more blood, sweat, and tears than a real budget, this underdog movie is proof to the phrase that nothing can stop you from making a movie when you really want it. Not even in Germany where there’s no platform for genre films at all.

Like I said at the top, Dominik is a cool guy and a cool filmmaker. He was worried about his English before we spoke but I tell you now as I told him then – “his English is as beautiful as his film-making.” Seek out THE HITMAN AGENCY… (follow the link below)

https://www.amazon.com/Hitman-Agency-Everett-Ray-Aponte/dp/B07BY5Y1XL

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It’s good to be the King: An interview with Larry Cohen by Kent Hill

There is a quote attributed to Robert Rodriguez (another independent maverick filmmaker) that states:

“If you are doing it because you love it you can succeed because you will work harder than anyone else around you, take on challenges no one else would dare take, and come up with methods no one else would discover, especially when their prime drive is fame and fortune. All that will follow later if you really love what you do. Because the work will speak for itself.”

It is the always interesting, ever-changing, always inventive, ever professional life and work of Larry Cohen that really personifies the above quotation. King Cohen has been out there in one form or another in an impressive career spanning multiple decades. He has been the director of cult classics; he has been the writer of hot scripts that have incited Hollywood bidding wars. His work has been remade, imitated, venerated.

These are the hallmarks of a man and his movies whose personal voice rings out loud and clear, high above the commercial ocean of mainstream cinema that carries, beneath its shiny surface, schools of biodegradable blockbusters that are usually forgotten about only moments after having left the cinema.

This is not true of the films of Larry Cohen. For his work is the stuff (pardon the pun) that came before, the stuff the imitators latch on to, the stuff from which remakes and re-imaginations are conceived. This is the fate of the masters. The innovators come and bring forth art through trial and error. They are followed by the masters who take the lessons learned from the innovators and make them, shape them by sheer force of will. But, then there comes the imitators who stand on the shoulders of these giants and take home the glory.

Still, when there is an artist that is in equal parts innovator and master; this causes the imitators to stand baffled.

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Rather than accepting my humble oration, I urge you to seek out Steve Mitchell’s most excellent documentary KING COHEN. Watch it, marvel, rejoice, and remember that there are great filmmakers out there. They may not be coming soon to a theatre near you, but they did once, and their work still stands, silently, waiting to be discovered.

Until you get to see KING COHEN please, feel free to bask in my little chat with the king himself, Larry Cohen, a gentleman of many parts, many stories and of course . . . many movies.

Ladies and Gentlemen . . . Larry Cohen.

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CAT SICK BLUES (2016) – A REVIEW BY RYAN MARSHALL

 

There’s an audience out there (make that far out there) for contemporary exploitation cinema of the most unadulterated variety – I like to believe I fit in there somewhere and somehow – and it’s easy to imagine that there are those who go for this kind of stuff based purely on unorthodox spectacle. This is the market that Dave Jackson’s demented CAT SICK BLUES seems to be best suited for, and while it’s certainly not devoid of merit for merely curious parties, it can be inferred that for most, it bumps up against established limits a bit close for comfort.

That’s of course by design, as this bizarre cinematic concoction concerns a sleazy serial killer who runs around wearing a black cat mask as well as a grotesquely long strap-on dildo while suffering from frequent seizures; you see, he’s attempting to collect the blood of nine female victims so that he may resurrect his recently deceased feline friend. It’s an inspired and often amusing premise, and though Jackson seems to embrace the humor inherent in its dark heart, it nevertheless walks a fine line between fluff and ferocity.

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Take, for instance, the case of Claire (Shian Donavan), a young woman who the psychotic anti-hero Ted (Matthew Vaughan) takes a shine to after learning that they share similar grief over an absent pet in their respective lives. Soon after she’s introduced, the poor woman is subjected to a particularly fateful afternoon when an unstable fanatic intrudes on Claire’s privacy; killing, an internet sensation, by twisting its neck on accident before raping her on camera.

Much like the majority of the more affecting sequences, this is mostly just exceedingly uncomfortable, and then Jackson dares to show the animal being thrown out of the apartment window and hitting the pavement; initially bordering on unbelievable, and it more or less stays that way, but the sight of the corpse/doll rebounding off the bike racks on its way down brings to mind fond (and hilarious) memories of the infamous suicide from Euro-trash classic ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST, in which some sorry son of a bitch flings himself out a hospital window and loses his arm in the end, only to have it reattached in the next shot.

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The experience on a whole wears this kind of conflicted emotional pallet proudly, inspiring almost as many uneasy laughs as prolonged cringes. There are attempts at blatant social commentary (regarding the relationship between technology and the people) which remain almost remarkably one-note throughout and Claire’s potentially poignant sub-plot is unfortunately undercooked at best and genuinely tasteless at worst, with Jackson’s script failing to explore her trauma in any sort of subtle or satisfactory way. Sure, one could argue that the sleaze aficionados of old were hardly any more enlightened (in the traditional sense), but they certainly had more going on, and acknowledged that some semblance of humanism has to be brought with them into such transgressive terrain. The world the film envisions is neither condensed nor elaborate enough to support this kind of weight, and so it simply collapses under it; reveling in its own ugliness until it achieves only tedium.

The narrative essentially moves full speed ahead until it hits the home stretch. Jackson, a native Aussie, delivers the icky goods in spectacularly over-the-top fashion, generously rewarding viewers for their patience, and to his credit it’s impressive what unsavory horrors the writer/director and company are able to achieve on a low budget. This applies to the rest of the film as well; it looks nice most of the time and Jackson is able to get decent performances from his main cast. Nevertheless, it’s a film of several severe tonal and moral miscalculations, most of which are clearly intentional but no less debilitating. The brutal murders committed at the hands of Ted become increasingly more visceral as his spree goes on, resembling music videos at a certain point (what with slow-motion and insane amounts of hyper-stylized bloodshed) and let’s not even get into the synth score, which seems to imply heavily nostalgic undertones.

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It’s just not a good look for a film that constantly prides itself on how utterly distinctive it is, though mileage may vary based on one’s tolerance for this specific brand of pandering – which, to be fair, doesn’t necessarily define the experience, but it would be better off without it. It’s all a bit exhausting in the end, though not necessarily in the way(s) that its makers intended. There’s enough ambition here to garner interest in whatever Jackson has in store for the foreseeable future – in hopes that perception and perversion balance each-other out in the next outing and that the brain need not be checked at the door.

BLOOD FREAK (1972) – A REVIEW BY RYAN MARSHALL

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Brad Grinter’s BLOOD FREAK is a consistently bewildering acidheaded cinematic turkey; in theory, it’s a real piece of shit, but in practice, its many moralistic contradictions and aesthetic misjudgments give it a flavor that is somehow anything but dry. A select few films are permitted to get by on their boundless imaginations alone, and this is one of them – a steaming pile of 70’s counterculture and pent up anxieties, to which Grinter’s film is hardly the solution, but you can’t help but commend him for trying.

On a sunny day, Vietnam vet Herschell (Steve Hawkes) spots a pretty young thing named Angel (Heather Hues) whose car has broken down on the highway, and promptly whisks her away on his motorbike. Angel takes him back to her house, which she shares with her promiscuous sister, who offers Hershell some pot upon his arrival. At first, he refuses, but eventually gives into temptation after the sister seduces him one day by the pool. Herschell finds himself with an immediate addiction (!).

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Herschell takes a job at a local turkey farm, where a couple of bumbling scientists are testing experimental chemicals on the livestock. They require a human guinea pig for this operation, and bribe Herschell into participating by promising to replenish his stash little-by-little. However, the effects of devouring the chemically altered meat prove to be nightmarish after Herschell suffers a seizure and enters a violent, hallucinatory state.

Without spoiling too much in regards to this bold new narrative direction, the film’s most memorable sequences reside after this point – any research on the film will surely lead to inspiring images of a horrible life-size papier-Mache turkey head. So that’s where this film goes; that is to say, way off the deep end. The entire last act is a hysterical collage of grotesque regurgitated sound effects and aimless animalism as Herschell carves his way through a series of sexual deviants and junkies.

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This can be most obviously read as an anti-drug PSA disguised as a cheapo psych-out horror picture, which is particularly amusing when one takes note of the director’s frequent appearances throughout the film in which he chain-smokes as he comments on the action. To think that Grinter’s tongue might be planted firmly in his cheek might be giving the director the benefit of the doubt, as the way in which he handles this material is almost characteristically incompetent. For instance, it is heavily implied throughout – and later confirmed – that Herschell suffers from PTSD and is self-medicating as a result. The film ignores the poignancy of the subject and goes straight for shock value; and let’s not even begin to discuss its puerile vision of rampant drug culture.

It’s an outsider view of just about everything it claims to stand for, which proves to be quite problematic – but it is precisely these kinds of seemingly innocent miscalculations that make it so consistently entertaining. The opening scene assumes a strange kind of schizophrenic rhythm that Jess Franco might have admired and then never follows up on it, the writing is a special kind of awful, its treatment of women is even more pedestrian now than it was back in the day – and yet there is so much enjoyment to be derived from the experience, in spite of patches which veer dangerously into Dullsville. The filmmakers can’t even seem to pull focus most of the time and yet they’ve emerged with a work of exceptional amateurism that would put most professionals to shame. Most seasoned viewers won’t appreciate it, but the sleaziest among us will continue to rejoice.

 

I DRINK YOUR BLOOD (1970) – A REVIEW BY RYAN MARSHALL

One look at David E. Durston and one might guess that he would be the least likely person to have directed one of the most genuinely shocking horror films of the 1970’s, and one brief glance at the truly ridiculous synopsis for his crowning cinematic achievement, I DRINK YOUR BLOOD, might cause one to anticipate that the sum will not indeed be greater than its parts. Billed during its time alongside I EAT YOUR SKIN, a voodoo cheapie straight out of the 60’s, this is the sort of film that we only think we know going in, although most viewers will soon discover that this is not the case. This is a curio and a half, an invigorating subversion of genre filmmaking that is as delightfully demented as it is thoroughly engaging. It wears its sleaze on its sleeves, devoid of any real pretentions; all thrills and chills with little time for filler.

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We open on a naked fireside ritual being held somewhere in the woods amongst a group of hippies with a penchant for the dark arts, led by the exotic Horace Bones (Bhaskar, an Indian performance artist). They kill a chicken and drain its blood into a goblet before spotting a local girl (Iris Brooks) sneaking a peek at the action from between some trees, who is then chased down and raped by a couple of their men. Devastated, she drags herself back into the sleepy town of Sally Hills the next morning, where she’s taken into the care of her kid brother Pete (Riley Mills) and the owner of the town bakery, Mildred (Elizabeth Marner-Brooks).  Her grandfather comes over to check on the poor girl and decides that these rowdy characters must be dealt with immediately.

Meanwhile, the Manson-esque cult makes themselves at home in one of the town’s many abandoned hotels, where they run rampant hunting rats and destroying what’s left of the furniture. The grandfather grabs his shotgun and heads out the door in search of the group, but when he finds them, they take him down and he is force-fed LSD before returning home. Unable to stand by whilst his grandpa is in the throes of a bad trip, Pete takes the gun and goes out into the woods to do some snooping of his own. While exploring the woodland, Pete spots a rabid dog that charges at him, but he’s quick to shoot and after killing the wild animal, he takes some of its blood in a syringe. And what, do you imagine, he does with it? Why, what any other reasonable young fellow would – meaning that he injects the blood into some meat pies back at the bakery, which are then sold to the hippies.

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Everyone but Andy (Tyde Kierney), the suspicious and insecure local kid who somehow got mixed up in the group’s nasty business, digs in to the pies and you can probably – emphasis on PROBABLY – imagine where it’s going from there. What ensues is nothing short of sheer lunacy. Psychopathic – not to mention hydrophobic – hippies running rabid around a US ghost town, foaming at the mouth and spreading their disease far and wide. Durston goes all the way, trying his damned hardest to offend as many parties as he possibly can – religious folks, animal lovers, anyone with the tiniest glimmer of hope in the Good Old American Way – and he gets the job done with a more genuine style and class than one might expect.

Jacques Demarecaux’s work here (as cinematographer) should be commended, certainly more than it has been in the past, with his ethereal and startlingly naturalistic compositions complementing the film’s shamelessly nasty contents. Sometimes, filthy movies are shot beautifully, and this is one of them. However, it’s Durston’s willingness to manipulate tone and audience expectations that makes this a significant cut above the rest and it’s interesting to note that it doesn’t immediately register as a dark comedy for most viewers. This nevertheless appears to be the intention, or so the unforgettably over-the-top dialogue (“Let it be known, sons and daughters, that Satan was an acid head!”) and performances, totally psyched-out self-aware soundtrack (credited to Clay Pitts, who has yet to be found), blatant disregard for scientific fact and frequently amusing editing would suggest.

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Sure, it all seems quite mean-spirited, but deep down it is the work of a man whose roots and interests were not necessarily in the macabre, and whose sole desire is to entertain. The tonal shifts may prove to be a bit much for some, alternating between hysterical hippie hangout and sad, disturbing body horror once the pies have been consumed, but they are undoubtedly what make up the film’s distinctive identity. For all their inherent crassness, one feels something akin to sympathy for the deadly deadbeats by the end of their separate ordeals, although it’s understood that they’ve made their own problems up to this point. As hard as it is to watch them destroy one-another, it does make for some spectacular set pieces, such as a sequence which has a mute Lynn Lowry wielding an electric meat carver, and another where Horace squares off against a fellow rabid Satanist, Rollo (George Patterson) in an axe-sword fight. There are many others, but one should embrace all the secrets and ask questions later.

The residents of Sally Hills are like lost souls occupying a space where time does not apply. Mildred looks as if she’s just walked off the set of a porno film, Pete’s an overly moralistic little shit who is most likely based on Durston himself, and the construction workers are an ugly bunch who show their true colors once the epidemic is well underway. A kind of hazy ambience hangs over the film, infusing it with a surreal sense of danger which in turn ensures that it never feels too relaxed. There is authentic tension here, and the pacing could not be more perfect; as mentioned before, there’s little time left for wandering around aimlessly. This is a spectacular entertainment as well as a surprisingly transcendent one and there even seems to be a running commentary about the deconstruction of the American Dream, but perhaps that’s all just as a result of context. It’s nothing that is explored in great detail, but these are the kinds of themes that can make or break a movie like this just by showing up (or not).

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We feel as if we’re seeing something we shouldn’t, and the emotions that such an experience arouses from deep within are conflicting to say the least, but healthy nevertheless. The grime oozes consistently from this one – reach out and touch it and you might just learn something. I DRINK YOUR BLOOD revels in its absurdism and artifice, playing more like a perverted piece of performance art than a silver screen serenade, and also works well as an invaluable time capsule. Some films skate by on that alone, but luckily Durston’s opus has plenty more going for it. This is quintessential viewing for the insane, the unstable, and the amoral; it may be the closest some come to sheer filth without actually involving themselves directly. The title may be misleading, as there is no drinking of the liquid red at any point and this is certainly no vampire tale, but make no mistake – this is a groovy good time, an important entry in the unofficial “psych” horror sub-genre that is less about mind-melting visuals and more about the essence of psychedelia.  Exploitation cinema doesn’t get much better. “Drink from his cup, pledge yourselves. And together we’ll all freak out!”