Seeing as it’s Father’s Day, it’s time for another paternal salute on this site. To contextualize everything else, we need to understand how we came to got to our own starting point. I blame my father. In 2011, it’s curious that greater channel choice doesn’t necessarily improve the offerings or operate in a manner that’s conducive to a hunger for obscure movies. I yearn for the days when post-11pm on a weekday or weekend would usher in an oddity bought cheap by a network that might play once and become a key part of a young person’s movie watching education. Somebody in the Grampian region might be lucky enough to get ‘Q — The Winged Serpent’ while we Anglia area dwellers had to make do with ‘Avant!’
It was a lot for a young mind to grasp.
I never trusted the timer settings on the weighty VCR that sat in a cabinet beneath the lounge TV and my knowledge of films barely extended beyond the usual suspects. My cinematic sage was my father, who would periodically spot something playing, sweep into action, throw in a Scotch 120 or 180 minute tape and leave it out for me to watch after (and occasionally before school). Given the sporadic nature of his taping, I’d regularly miss the opening ten minutes and hope that the ad breaks would announce the film’s name, but to this day I’m moved by these simple gestures to bless a young mind with some b-movie classics. In many ways it created my thirst for the esoteric, and there was barely a pattern to each sporadic offering beyond forays into the very violent or fantastical.
My father didn’t pay heed to the fact that many of these films were an ’18’ and I was eight years of age — I’m glad he didn’t too. I think he was fuelling my dual ambition to do horror film effects and draw comic books, because it was quite evident by my lack of patience or logic that I’d become an engineer like him or his father before me. Beyond that, I just think he wanted to share the cool things he’d spotted just before bedtime. It’s curious that particularly graphic body horrors never affected me like Medusa in ‘Clash of the Titans,’ Quint getting chomped in ‘Jaws’ or Colonel Dietrich’s melting face in ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ – those were horrors for all the family. I miss being able to recommend some goofy film where Christopher Lambert fights ninjas on a bullet train to him.
It’s the little things that set off big things. Shouts to all the dads out there who feed young minds with music, films and literature.
I only ever wanted to see ‘Klute’ because it was frequently cited by my father as one of the greats. Should a child be watching a complex thriller about kidnap and prostitute murder? Probably not. He taped this for me after a lengthy wait for it to be screened again, and while I got to see Jane Fonda topless, it bored me. Now I appreciate the movie a great deal more, even if it’s not on the level of Alan J. Pakula’s ‘The Parallax View’ or ‘All the President’s Men’. I’ve always assumed that Jane was my dad’s main reason for putting this in his top ten.
BLOOD BEACH (1979)
He only hit record on this one at least twenty minutes in and we never knew the name. It was just referred to as, “the one with the sand monsters.” My dad knew that I would like anything in the vein of ‘Jaws’ or ‘Alligator’. I remember enjoying it, just because people were sucked under the beach by some sort of beast whenever the pacing became intolerable and someone from ‘Enter the Dragon’ (John Saxon) and Pauly from ‘Rocky’ (Burt Young) were in it. The trailer really makes it look like a detective film rather than a creature feature, which I’ll never understand. The open ending with baby monsters made me assume a sequel was imminent. I waited many years before calling off the search with regards to a follow-up.
On the way back from the swimming pool and while parked up waiting for my brother to finish his monday tennis match, my father told me of a film where a creature ripped through a man’s stomach and ran away during an evening meal. The following day, I drew a beetle leaping out of an agonised looking man in an exercise book and had the pages forcefully removed by a concerned teacher. The aura my father had created around ‘Alien’ was so great, that when he surprised me with a taped copy a few months later, I was initially terrified — then underwhelmed — by the weedy specimen that tore out of John Hurt’s chest.
TALES THAT WITNESS MADNESS (1973)
Another VHS that commenced a little late into the film. In fact, after some inaugural fuzz, it started with the gore scene from the end of ‘Mr. Tiger’ — one of the most well-known segments (it was an anthology horror), before I could understand the purpose of the film. Donald Pleasance talks to four inmates who went insane about how they ended up in an asylum, and my dad was actually keen to show me one of the lesser stories, with Joan Collins terrorised by a tree, but it’s the changing portrait in ‘Penny Farthing’ that really disturbed me. I liked the hit or miss nature of this, ‘Tales From the Crypt’ and ‘Asylum’ — if one story fell flat, at least another was never more than twenty minutes away.
One Easter holiday I rushed downstairs on a bank holiday morning to find this Italian sci-fi gem waiting for me. I never knew it existed, and my pre-teen brain never really picked up on the ‘Star Wars’ similarities — I was just happy to have something with lightsabers and robots in, plus Michael Knight from ‘Knight Rider’ kicking arse. It felt more like a futuristic Ray Harryhausen flick with all that stop-motion work executed admirably under a tight budget. I asked my mum if there were ‘Starcrash’ toys later that morning and she laughed.
THE THING (1982)
The first time I can remember my dad being away on business, he woke me up and gave me some kind of ‘Empire Strikes Back’ Marvel comic holiday special with an ad for movie soundtracks in. I think I was around three, and I obsessed over that page — I loves the ‘Mad Max II’ artwork, but it was the ‘Halloween’ and ‘Halloween II’ images that really did it for me. I used to gawp at the Betamax of ‘Escape From New York’ when my parents went shopping and think that John Carpenter sounded like a very cool name. He told me there was a film where a severed head sprouted spider legs and scuttled off, but never mentioned that it was a Carpenter film — I requested to see it and he taped it during the next screening. This film was life-changing — from the effects to that downbeat ending.
SOUTHERN COMFORT (1981)
My dad always told me that ‘Deliverance’ was awesome, but it never seemed to be on TV. We both kept an eye out for it (bizarrely, I even got my hands on James Dickey’s book as a kid), but one saturday he broke out this Walter Hill classic on tape and told me that it was “a lot like ‘Deliverance.” I loved this film — the weapons, the atmosphere and the traps…it was all about the hillbilly traps. I was obsessed with the booby traps in John Wayne crapfest, ‘The Green Berets’, but there was far more menace in this masterpiece. Because I saw ‘Southern Comfort’ first, ‘Deliverance’ always seemed a lot duller by comparison.
THE LAUGHING POLICEMAN (1973)
Not as well-known as other Walter Matthau vehicles of the era like, ‘Charley Varrick’ or ‘The Taking of Pelham 123’, ‘The Laughing Policeman’ is actually quite a smart procedural thriller. While there were heroic cops who acted outside the rules making box office dollars at the time, this one presented them in a far less glowing light, and this film reps for a wave of American pictures that would birth today’s sweary cable TV anti-heroes holding it down on the law’s side. Of course, I found this one dull as a kid, but dad taped it because he liked it, and felt that the opening scene, where eight people are brutally machine-gunned to death on a night bus, was one of the most violent things he’d ever seen. I loved watching that scene again and again — it was pretty brutal.
THE SWORD AND THE SORCERER (1982)
He taped this one unprompted and in its entirety, which indicated that he’d seen an advert or read up on it, realising that it might be my kind of film. ‘Conan the Barbarian’ was great, but I was always a big ‘Beastmaster’ fan (‘Deathstalker’s VHS art was badly misleading). From the opening where the titular sorcerer rips a woman’s heart out just by holding his glowing fingertips out, I was obsessed. The sword that fired a blade, a brutal crucifixion scene and the cel animation and cinematography was a sleight-of-hand that distracted me from the low-budget. Apparently Oliver Reed recorded a slurring, drunken narrative that was scrapped, and the end titles promised a sequel which was actually released last year, but I’ll be avoiding it for fear of sullying my love for this stupid movie.
KILLER FISH (1979)
Back when we first obtained a VCR, he taped the last chunk of this thriller on a half hour tape and it mystified me for a long, long time. For years I actually thought this film was ‘Piranha’ and could never fathom the excitement over Joe Dante’s classic, but this was still pretty good — there was Lee Majors and Margaux Hemingway, plus a mix of heist and hostage film as well as a very timely application of piranhas too. All the good stuff happens at the end — on watching the rest of it recently, I think it was a happy accident that my dad excised the dull first three-quarters and cut to the action.