Retro-View: QT lll Fest – Men, Women & Chainsaws – Horror Marathon

frankensteinconquersSaturday in Austin. Nine evenings of fun in the cinema coming to a big close. A perfect blue sky morning, with nothing to look forward to but coffee at Mojo’s and an afternoon at the QT III KIDDIE MATINEE, featuring one of my Toho favorites, FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD a 1965 odd re-imagining of the legendary monster done up Godzilla-style. This was a staple of late night horror television, my brother Scott and I bathed in the static glow of the Zenith whenever it popped up.

I was interested to see how Quentin would handle an audience of children, and it hardly needs to be said that he knew exactly how to do it. He talked to them as equals, got them pumped up and made the folks feel safe in his presence. I was surprised how many kiddies were there with their parents; it’s clear they were probably bigger fans of Tarantino then their scion. Instead of the usual exploitive trailers, there was a panopoly of Saturday morning toy ads, each one a delight to the memory senses. I’m sure the tykes came out of there bugging mommy or daddy for a Major Matt Mason. This was a fun screening and captured the perfect Saturday afternoon monster movie vibe. Hopefully, the kids were inspired to begin a lifelong interest in Godzilla and giant man-in-suit friends.

A few hours later. Night is imminent. Steel guitar twangs in the air…

This is the end, beautiful friend, the end. As the Texas dusk settles over Town Lake and Austin proper, I swing my precision German machine into the wide confines of Sixth Street, determined to brave the dusk-to-dawn horror-thon of the last QT III movie-go-round aptly titled “Men, Women & Chainsaws” (based on the excellent book by Carol Clover who taught a class of the same name when I was at Berkeley). Tarantino has selected a feast of genre titles to send us out in bloody style:

BLACK CHRISTMAS

EYES OF A STRANGER

THE PROWLER

TORSO

HELL NIGHT

THE BLOOD SPATTERED BRIDE

This will be a marathon post too, so bear with me. The trailers are going strong (here’s a favorite) as I enter the Alamo womb with a view for the final show. One minute in, and I’m already nostalgic for the festival. I find my usual seat and say hello to Harry Knowles (who never finished his QT III write-up, though it was funny to watch Quentin pore over them when Harry passed them to him — at the time he didn’t use the web). Here’s AICN regular Quint and his lengthy report. I order an ale and…you guessed it, pepperoni pizza. Fug it, Saturday night!

Alamo programmer maestro Lars Nilsen swings out to intro and thank QT and us for coming out. Quentin enters stage left, wired and excited, making sure the crowd catches his infectious enthusiasm. He goes into a long spiel, most of which I’ve lost to DNA, but favoring Clover’s theory of empowered women in the slasher genre, and he adds it’s one of his favorite film books. Quentin switches the focus to us with his Who Will Survive This Night And What Will Be Left Of Them speech. He warns us that HIS MOTHER is in the house and if she can take an all-nighter, then YOU better be able to, alright? We all give Connie a huge round of applause, honoring her for raising such an influential film geek. Robert Rodriguez, Richard Linklater and Mike Judge are also among the attendant Austin media mafia.

blackchristmasQuentin sets us up for the first film, Bob Clark’s 1974 classic BLACK CHRISTMAS. QT is a big fan of Clark and talks about his quadrant of memorable 70’s horror films, CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS; DEATHDREAM and DERANGED (which is a pretty amazing genre run before Clark unleashed the dismal PORKY’S upon the world). He talks about how influential BLACK CHRISTMAS was with its killer POV and various shock effects, although HALLOWEEN and WHEN A STRANGER CALLS received more attention a few years later. John Carpenter admitted to being a fan of BLACK CHRISTMAS as his script PREY was set to be directed by Clark in 1975. Apparently, Clark even gave him the genesis of the idea for HALLOWEEN. After setting us up, Quentin tells us we’re going to have a Best Of The Fest awards later on. He again gleefully reminds the audience to tip the fantastic invisible servers. He swings the microphone and drops it with an eerie THUD. Showtime.

I clutch my black mug packed with blacker java. I saw the trailer for BLACK CHRISTMAS in 1975 at a military base theater before the awful forgotten Elliot Gould “comedy” WHIFFS (tho I don’t know which film is scarier). Watch that creepy trailer here. Freaks me out even in daylight. And the movie is just as frightening. Set in an all-female college dorm during a snowy Xmas time, Clark directs with a sure hand, creating an atmosphere of increasing fear and dread, with almost no blood whatsoever. We start with the now cliche POV shot of the panting madman entering the attic of the house, planting himself there armed only with a phone… Soon, the women start to receive the most disturbing phone calls in movie history from “Billy,” who talks in a variety of voices and modulations. You will never forget this schizoid sound collage once you hear it. Never.

black-christmas-the-eyeFeaturing a low-budget , yet game cast of Olivia Hussey, John Saxon, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder and a young Andrea Martin, the film moves them through their claustrophobic paces, guided by the ever-gliding camera that keeps taking us where we don’t want to go. Clark keeps things humorous when he can, and the roots of PORKY’S are here with Clark’s signature auteur moment: characters laughing uncontrollably (I swear, this scene shows up in almost every one of his films). His direction is surprisingly stylish, with split-diapter shots and effective framing. I won’t give anymore away, suffice to say that the unlikely but terrifying ending of BLACK CHRISTMAS never lets you off the phone hook… I think it’s the scariest final scene until THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT came along. In fact, BLACK CHRISTMAS remains in my top three scary films of all time. I defy you to watch this alone at night. Of course, the great irony is that the man who directed the most frightening Christmas movie also directed the heartwarming classic, A CHRISTMAS STORY. Bob Clark RIP. It’s only the first film and I’m already slumped in my chair, anticipating the cine-terrors to come through the night.

During the first break, I tell Quentin he should bring GODZILLA VS THE SMOG MONSTER to his fest, my personal oddball Toho favorite, the SKIDOO of Godzilla movies. He says he’s been trying to find a really good print (and he did bring the film to the very next QT Fest). We talk about Japanese monster movies. Hey, it’s Saturday nite at the horror marathon.

81eyes_of_a_stranger-thumbUp next is the 1981 slasher/thriller EYES OF A STRANGER, starring The Love Boat’s cruise director, Lauren Tewes, and a young Jennifer Jason Leigh in her film debut, playing a deaf/blind girl traumatized by a childhood abduction. Steve Tipoli plays their pudgy creepy neighbor who also moonlights as a serial rapist killer. With this charming premise comes an above-average, uber-bloody and ultra-sleazy little film that delivers some unsettling thrills and gorey Tom Savini kills.

Tewes is fine as a disc jockey plagued by phone calls from the psychopath, well-played by Tipoli, who is genuinely creepy. Directed with exploitation panache by Ken Wiederhorn who also helmed the nifty SHOCK WAVES from 1977 (about zombie WW II soldiers controlled by Peter Cushing), EYES OF A STRANGER mixes 80’s gore with taut suspense. Though the violence is lovingly dwelled on, the film has its moments. The most powerful and disturbing scene comes when the killer cruelly taunts Leigh by moving objects out of her reach. The audience was vocally disturbed. Happily, it ends on a karmic bloody note for the killer with maximum Savini syrup and latex. And if the Alamo had a shower I would have used it after EYES OF A STRANGER. I just pretend it’s 42nd street in 1981…

‘Round midnight. Another welcome break. The crowd relaxes, taking over their seats and space. People walk and stretch, the outside air calm and cool, the theater alley redolent with the hazy aroma of American Spirit and Mary Jane. Sixth Street booms as hundreds of people stream from bar to restaurant to street back to bar. Somewhere in another theater, “Science Fiction Double Feature” is playing… Up next…

49e4TORSO! TORSO! TORSO! The trailer is far better than the film, especially the narrator intoning, “From Carlo Ponti, the man who brought you WAR AND PEACE and DR. ZHIVAGO…TORSO!” At the witching hour, I was still into it, but my memory of TORSO is scant. I’ll just copy and paste Tarantino’s intro from Quint at Ain’t It Cool News as it’s accurate:

“For the first half of it you’re going to think, ‘What the fuck did he bring this piece of shit here for?’ Now I’m really a big fan of Italian horror films. You got to apologize for some parts of them, all right. Having said that, I’m a big fan of them. The first part of Torso sucks. It’s like “Oh, My God!” Once a plot thing happens, you’ll know it when it happens, once it happens it kind of becomes a different movie. Then all of a sudden you’re really watching a really different movie… After it being really silly the first half, all of a sudden it’s really scary and the killer is really scary. You just gotta put up with the first half and you’ll be rewarded in the second half.”

Whether I was, I truly can’t recall. I was driftin’ and dreamin’…What I saw was terrible. But the killer in his blank white stocking mask was creepy. Eli Roth showed TORSO when he did his fest at the New Beverly, so there’s clearly fans out there. I do love the purple pulp of the giallo genre, along with their exotic titles, typically Morricone soundtracks and inventive killings, but TORSO was no BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMMAGE. Perhaps the horror marathon is getting to me, but there’s no escape lest I be labelled chicken-shit in QT’s and the audience’s book. I’m committed. Plus, I’m having fun. I catch some zzz’s and awaken for one I’ve been wanting to see, THE PROWLER…

Onstage, Quentin nods approvingly at the still-crowded house. He raved over the gore level in the cult 80’s fave, THE PROWLER, our second Tom Savini extravaganza of the marathon. I’d read about this one in Savini’s great make-up book and Fangoria magazine back in the day. Directed by Joe Zito (who helmed the superior FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER), and starring Farley Granger, years beyond STRANGERS ON A TRAIN; and Lawrence Tierney years before RESERVOIR DOGS.

prowler05An above average slasher film of the era, THE PROWLER starts out in post World War II with a rejected soldier-boy enacting revenge by pitchforking his ex and her new boyfriend at a graduation dance. As is wont with the genre, we cut to 35 years later and the inevitable First Graduation Dance Since The Tragedy. Soon, a new generation of youth are gutted, kebabed, and bayoneted by the killer clad in army fatigues and helmet. Savini’s bloody handiwork is state of the art and outrageous, especially the infamous blade through the head trick. The killer is revealed to little surprise but his explicit demise was applauded by all at the Alamo.

What time is it? Around 3 am. I drink more coffee and order a healthy salad to keep my strength up. The marathon will continue with HELL NIGHT…

Is it 4:30 am? Not sure anymore, ensconsed in my seat, still awake, not tired after my TORSO snooze. More coffee, garcon! Quentin jumps onto the stage, pacing nodding grinning like a wolf, “Okay, you wanted gore you got it, alright?” He goes into his intro for HELL NIGHT, basically saying how cool and scary it is. The microphone falls like an axe and we’re back to the 1981 horror future.

I’d seen HELL NIGHT on NBC in its TV debut, cut up like a paper snowflake (“Edited For Television”) then again uncut on HBO, where I appreciated what is still one of the top three decapitations in the genre (I don’t know the others, I only know there’s three — DAWN OF THE DEAD might be the other two). Starring Linda Blair, who was reduced to a slew of lesser films since her Best Supporting Actress nom for THE EXORCIST and her unforgettable broom assault scene in 1974’s BORN INNOCENT (a NBC Made-For-TV Movie!) and directed with surprising skill by Tom DeSimone, better known as “Lancer Brooks” when he helmed the 3-D classics, PRISON GIRLS and HEAVY EQUIPMENT, along with several gay and exploitation films. In a nutshell, HELL NIGHT deals with the inevitable attempt by meddling college kids to party hardy at a cursed mansion. I’ll let Roger Ebert chime in:

But then of course HELL NIGHT is in bad taste. The only child that need concern us is the youngest Garth, who was named Andrew and was born, we are told, a “gork.” None of the dictionaries at my command include the word “gork,” but for the purposes of HELL NIGHT we can define “gork” thus:

Gork

(n.) Deformed, violent creature that lurks in horror movies, jumping out of basement shadows and decapitating screaming teenagers.

1871He’s right, but he didn’t like HELL NIGHT. I really did to the degree you can enjoy one of the endless 80’s HALLOWEEN and FRIDAY THE 13TH clones (and it’s mind-boggling how many there were). But this one was produced by Irwin Yablans, who brought us HALLOWEEN, so we’ll cut him slack. It’s fairly fun and stylish for the genre. Even Vincent Van Patten has his own weird charm. I love it when one of the co-eds pulls out a transistor radio and they both start rocking out to Geriatric Rock Cue # 587. The film has that anticipatory suspense integral to the genre as Garth takes out his vengeance on the collegic intruders. What’s perhaps most memorable about HELL NIGHT is Mac Ahlberg’s atmospheric cinematography, casting the terror in blue shadows. And bad taste or not, Andrew Garth is a particularly great gork; his comeuppance is one of the best and brutal of the decade. I’d forgotten how great. The Alamo was whopping it up at 5:30 am. Or was it six yet? Where was I? Gork? One more film to go and maybe we’d see sunrise again…

This is it. We’re hovering at around six in the damned aye em. But I’m prepped for the final film of the night and the entire festival. I’m already nostalgic. I should not leave out Quentin stomping onstage to tally up the best of the fest. He started with the Best Title Scene since we talked much about them. COONSKIN won by nature of its ownage and would have been my second pick, but my lame shouts for PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW didn’t convert the crowd. JUNIOR BONNER was also a deserved favorite. But Quentin wanted us to WANT IT, alright? For Best Moment, Harry Knowles called out for that incredible dissolve between George Kennedy and Jim Brown in TICK…TICK…TICK. Good call. Quentin nodded, “Oh, going for the arty thing.” Wish I could remember the rest of the best of the fest…

Tarantino surveyed the human wreckage before him, then set us up for the final movie. He was enamored of THE BLOOD-SPATTERED BRIDE from 1972 (so enamored he used it for a chapter title and main character in KILL BILL) and thought it sexy, subtle, bloody great Euro-trash. He said it was his favorite Lesbian Vampire Film. He warned us it started slow but would pick up and go to crazed places. He applauded us for making it through the night and the festival, and with a resonant THUD, Quentin dropped the microphone one last time.

blood-spattered-bride-1I liked the desolate open with a car driving through the woods, the red title card superimposed over a close-up of our heroine’s face, a wedding veil drifting around her face. Susan is a young virgin freshly married to a wealthy brute. After she imagines him assaulting her in their hotel room, they arrive at the husband’s atmospheric estate. Susan discovers a faceless portrait of a woman, who turns out to have murdered the great-grandfather after attempting “unspeakable acts” on her. As this image haunts Susan’s bloody nightmares, her husband acts out his own domination fantasies onto her. The husband is such a bastard, even shooting a trapped fox (for real), that you can’t wait for her inevitable revenge.

That comes in the form of the film’s most indelible image, a woman buried in the sand except for her exposed breasts and scuba-masked face. Who is she? Carmilla, of course. The couple take her back to the estate, where she immediately assumes the ghostly aura of the Woman In The Portrait. She seduces Susan and thanks to Susan’s disgust for her loutish husband, they become bonded in blood. Is Carmilla a vampire? That’s what the husband suspects as the film’s POV shifts to him, revealing of the film’s own odd perspective.

What starts as a potential, albeit exploitive, feminist take on the vampire mythos (and lesbos) turns into a thriller about male castration fears — and featuring a graphic shotgun emasculation. The husband is presented more sympathetically as he tries to rescue his wife from the clutches of the she-devil (so he can further abuse her?). This leads to a violent, dream-like climax and a terrific shock ending. Sadly, the film seems to espouse a Latino machismo by the end, making Susan’s transformation into one of sexual transgression. And that ain’t too cool.

bloodspatteredbrideposterDirected with erotic gothic panache by Spain’s Vicente Aranda, THE BLOOD SPATTERED BRIDE unfolds at a leisurely pace, so much so that I drifted in and out enough to be as confused as Susan and her visions. The erratic shocking bits of sex and gore would pull me awake and I kept myself wide-eyed for the film’s effective finale so as not to sleep through the festival’s last minutes. But the crowd’s energy was subdued after it ended, a fact which bothered Quentin so much he spoke of it years later at the Best of QT Fest and regretted showing this as the last film of the night (or morning). He would also eliminate the double all-nite marathon. He said it didn’t work twice, but I think Quentin is 100 percent absolutely wrong. He programmed two fantastic nights of exploitation and horror films.

And that was it. Lights up. We survived the night. I bid farewell to Harry Knowles, walk over to say hello to Connie Tarantino and thank Quentin for the festival. He thanks me for sticking around. I say a silent goodbye to the Alamo Drafthouse and exit to the nine AM sunlight already bouncing off the Austin pavement. Slipping into the car, I crank up my festival anthem, “Chilly Winds” and drive through the empty streets of my present hometown. I feel complete, nay cleansed, after this nine-day celluloid baptism. Being at the fest was like the extended mini-series version of KILL BILL with director’s commentary. I found treasures such as PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW, JUNIOR BONNER, FREEBIE & THE BEAN, THE LADY IN RED, TICK…TICK…TICK, HELL NIGHT among others now etched in my movie DNA. I also got to see what a true cineaste Quentin Tarantino is; I was altogether impressed with his deep knowledge and passion. He just loves film.

Crawling into the bed with the prospect of all day sleep, I reflect how lucky I am to be here in Texas on the edge of the 20th century after the greatest movie-going week of my life.

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8 Responses to “Retro-View: QT lll Fest – Men, Women & Chainsaws – Horror Marathon”

  1. Just passing by.Btw, you website have great content!

    _________________________________
    Making Money $150 An Hour

  2. christian Says:

    Thank you “Mike”!

  3. Good God. Between not having slept since Thursday night/Friday morning and reading this, I feel like I’m going to fall down to the floor.

    Insanely great recap of all of this, Christian. What a monumental undertaking! Loved every piece, and this was the finale of all finales!

    Can’t believe I still have to see Eyes of a Stranger and Hell Night! I’ll have to have a mini-QT III-inspired fest myself very soon.

    Thanks again for all of this, Christian. What an amazing experience!

  4. Il Boss Says:

    Really, really enjoyed your QT Fest recaps and insights! In fact, it seems a crime that there are not more of these for each and every QT Fest out there on the web. Someone needs to record/post all of his intros for posterity. Thanks again

  5. christian Says:

    Alexander: Thanks much for reading – I know you don’t get any sleep as it is;] I picked up a beautiful widescreen VHS of HEL NIGHT at Amoeba for 2 bucks last month and I actually love to watch it. Lotsa scary bloody fun.

    Boss: Thank you! And I agree, there really should be a posterity archive, but the QT Fests have a no taping or photo rule. Maybe it’s just meant to live in its own time…until somebody decides to relive the experience…

  6. thanks for sharing that trip down memory lane, christian, terrific stuff. made me wish i was there! (plus i have a soft spot for austin, my uncle is from there and he’s just about the nicest fella you could ever meet)

    and ‘black christmas’ – legend. nuff said.

  7. christian Says:

    Muchas gracias Leah. Wish you were there! Try to make it for the next QT Fest for sure if you’re uncle lives there…Texans are about the nicest folk I ever did meet in this country.

  8. i’m there! (perchance to dream, anyway)

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