Flicks - Sin cinema
Celebrating schlock and gore flicks from the '60s and '70s
The '90s brought with them one of the oddest forms of cultural nostalgia. As developers gutted and botoxed the former sin pot known as Times Square to make way for family-friendly movie houses, suddenly a nation of sleaze lovers waxed Paul Harvey nostalgic for the good old days of the filthy porn- and graft-centered Deuce.
Sleazoid Express authors Bill Landis and Michelle Clifford join that cacophony of voices championing the wonder years when junkies, freaks, porn-dogs and gore fans prowled 42nd Street looking for cheap thrills. Landis, publisher of the esoteric typewritten zine of the same name since 1980, and his exploitation enthusiast wife Clifford offer a book-length ode to the bizarro cinema that filled the sticky-floored Times Square theaters the Eros, Globe, Anco and Rialto in the '60s and '70s. A reminder of a time, quickly fading from memory, when Times Square was actually scary, Sleazoid goes back and forth between a naive delight in the strip's excesses and a choking-back-the-bile amazement at its lows.
Mr. and Mrs. Sleazoid argue for the merits of the era's disreputable sub-subgenres of gore, S&M and horror exploitation, boasting titles like Olga's House of Shame and Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS and featuring stock motifs of dominatrixes, torture, killer drag queens, gang rape and murder by any number of creative implements.
On one hand Sleazoid Express makes one thankful for the various incarnations of subterranean fandom that have rescued a significant amount of film culture from the trash bin. After all, Sleazoid Express is merely following in the footsteps of the loftier cineastes at Cahiers du Cinema, who in the '50s championed American lowbrow "trash" like Westerns and film noir and later — here's where they lost some — the spastic spectacles featuring comic "genius" Jerry Lewis.
But it's one thing to valorize an Anthony Mann oater and quite another to argue for the value of something like the creaky Herschell Gordon Lewis viscera-fest Blood Feast (1963). Though the lowbrow musings struck just the right cultist note in the scruffy Xeroxed pages of the original Sleazoid Express zine, the authors fail to adequately convey the rationale for their kinky interest in the book's overview. Landis and Clifford never quite explain the essential attraction of these films and why some, like Shauna: Every Man's Fantasy, are simply "beyond distasteful" while 1977's "shocker" Last House on Dead End Street has the power to "impress and enthrall." The authors never define the fine line of distinction between honest smut and despicable trash.
What does come through is the fascinating scumbag parade of the debauched personal lives of the men and women who made these films. Imagined, in some cases, as lovable, eccentric uncles (albeit the kind of uncles who like to hear the sound of riding crops slapping bare ass), others are described in no uncertain terms as no-account guttersnipes like snuff verite kingpin and pedophile Gualtiero Jacopetti, whose 1963 Mondo Cane anticipated the current "reality" genre.
Polygamists, fetishists, sadists and general creeps — these Times Square habitues are a Hubert Selby cast of characters whose bottom-dwelling real lives often bled over into their films. Sleazoid confirms every nightmare vision of 1970s Times Square as a Midnight Cowboy den of human parasites and sexual vampires waiting to suck anything with a sign of a healthy pulse dry of his/her bodily fluids.
If only more of the book's focus had been on these Caligula-esque denizens and the weird social codes of the Deuce. Instead, too often readers are forced to endure the ninth circle of hell known as secondhand plot exposition, laborious filibusters that challenge even the most devout lowbrow enthusiast's attention span.
Many will chafe at not only the vulgar, ham-fisted prose but at the authors' shifting moralistic-then-cavalier approach to the grindhouse mainstay of grotesque misogyny. But there is also a sloppy subversiveness in Sleazoid Express of two outre film fans united in syrupy devotion, whose obsession with the grimiest brand of exploitation is a love connection just crazy enough for old Times Square.
Sleazoid Express: A Mind-Twisting Tour Through the Grindhouse Cinema of Times Square. Bill Landis and Michelle Clifford. Simon & Schuster. 315 pages. $16.??