Pere Ubu’s Film Jukebox

Pere Ubu
Pere Ubu

Pere Ubu’s new album Carnival of Souls has received much favourable attention on its autumn release, not least with two tracks being chosen as themes in Fox Network’s hit series, American Horror Story. David Thomas, founder and lead singer, includes himself when he describes the band as ‘cogs’, working towards a perfection of the machine that is the Pere Ubu project. Below, he tells us about his choice of favourite films, with additions by Robert Wheeler (electronics and theremin), Keith Moliné (guitar), Gagarin (electronica and keyboard), Darryl Boon (clarinet and musette) and Steve Mehlman (drums). Unsurprisingly, the band members are as diverse as the music they record, as reflected in their film choices. Taking to the road with their new album from November 12, the band will also be appearing in the Brighton Film Festival with a live underscore to X, The Man with the X Ray Eyes. For tour dates and to buy tickets, visit the songkick website. You can listen to the track ‘Road to Utah’ (taken from Carnival of Souls) on soundcloud.

1. Event Horizon (Paul W. S. Anderson, 1997)
This is a movie I always want to watch… in the hope that it’s gotten better by means of some Fortean twist in the fabric of the universe. It is flawed. You might even say ‘deeply flawed’. The premise of a haunted spaceship, suspended in a poisonous, outer planet’s atmosphere at the edge of the solar system is terrific. The film’s dodgy reputation has more to do with failing to live up to the brilliance of the premise than anything actually ‘wrong’ with it as a space adventure. Haunted house movies are dependent on the cast of characters being trapped inside, unable to escape. There’s nothing more ‘trapped’ than being in a spaceship. Less horror/melodrama/CGI FX and more of the psychological terror of House on Haunted Hill would have served this movie better. Now they’ve ‘used up’ the idea. But I will keep watching. Who knows? Maybe someday… David Thomas

2. Un chien andalou (Luis Buñuel and artist Salvador Dalí, 1929)
We were exposed to some really cutting edge and out-there cultural experiences at school in the 60s and 70s, studying the beat poets in English, Stockhausen and tape composition in music, and films like this in ‘general studies’. At 16, surrealism was something we were all drawn to, and this is one of the true early surrealist films. It’s laden with heavy symbolism around religion and sex, much of which we needed explaining, together with some truly shocking and scary moments. The image of ants emerging from stigmata, and the razor cutting open an eyeball have stayed with me as two of the most disturbing things I’ve seen. It’s a dark and unrelenting 20 minutes, and as a teenager that dark world seemed like an exciting flip side. Now it just feels like a place I inhabit quite comfortably. The structural ideas of surrealism have always influenced my music, mostly through the use of found sounds and recontextualised samples. Gagarin

3. Adaptation (Charlie Kaufman, 2002)
I like seeing the creative process foregrounded to the extent that it becomes the actual subject matter of the film. Charlie Kaufman movies are great for this, and Adaptation is his masterpiece. The story of a writer struggling to adapt a book for a screenplay, eventually calling on his novice, hack screenwriter twin brother for help, is told through a hilariously rendered imagining of their completed script. The last 20 minutes tell you exactly why so many Hollywood movies collapse into mindless action set-pieces and ludicrous plot twists – by dissolving into mindless action set-pieces and ludicrous plot twists. Keith Moliné

4. The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955)
Robert Mitchum as ‘Reverend’ Harry Powell, with HATE tattooed on the knuckles of one hand and LOVE tattooed on the knuckles of the other hand, made a big impression on me when I first saw this at the age of 14. He’s one of the scariest characters ever on film – think Hannibal Lecter and Frank Booth. And it has Lillian Gish. It’s the only movie Charles Laughton directed, and in my opinion it’s one of the most frightening movies ever made. ’Leaning on the Everlasting Arms’ will never sound the same again. Robert Wheeler

5. Macbeth (Orson Welles, 1948)
Another deeply flawed movie. There is something fascinating about the flawed. The soundtrack is notoriously painful. Everything about it is under-budget, in the same category as those Lost in Space papier-mâché-rocks episodes. Of course, it’s not the best Welles film, but it’s my favourite. The sense of dread and doom is pervasive in spite of its failings (due solely to finance). The set design and costuming, cheap and otherworldly, are mesmerizing. And Orson is… Orson. David Thomas

6. Amadeus (Miloš Forman, 1984)
Amadeus was released in the year I began studying at music college. Most of us were struggling with the transformation from being the school star, pushed into a highly competitive environment, and this film gave a pertinent lesson in handling the fact that there are always going to be people apparently better than you. The genius of the film is that the dialogue gives classical music the same immense, physical impact that stunned me the first time I played in a full orchestra. Salieri’s ranting gives a foreboding to the Commendatore scene from Don Giovanni, which must have been how the 18th-century audience felt on hearing it for the first time. Darryl Boon

7. A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick, 1971)
I first saw this when I was 19. I went on a road trip to Atlanta to stay with my brother’s housemate who was home on leave (they were naval shore patrol, stationed in Naples, Italy). I spent the whole night trying to keep up with these two older, kind of meat-head dudes (’What are we taking? I’ll have twice as much please.) and I failed miserably. When we finally headed back home, I was completely trashed, so after they both went to sleep I decided to pop in a movie – A Clockwork Orange. Needless to say, considering the night I’d just had, it blew my mind. Visually stunning, blurring the lines between good and evil, institutional corruption, doctors playing God, old ladies with purple and orange hair, and a bit of the old ultra-violence. I loved it, and immediately watched it again… and wallowed in the hallucinations. I’ve probably seen it over a hundred times by now. Steve Mehlman

8. Bullitt (Peter Yates, 1968)
It’s a great ‘style’ movie. Steve McQueen looks amazing, of course, but the other lead characters really are San Francisco, like the eccentric, cool old aunt, and the two muscle cars – the Charger and the Mustang – testosterone-filled grumbling, roaring beasts. Somehow the Mustang comes over like the white-clad hero of a cowboy movie with the Charger more of a Jack Palance baddie. I was a car fanatic at the time and those muscle cars just oozed sex, power and machismo (totally unlike me at 14!) while San Fran felt like the centre of a hip world that I really wanted to be part of. The pacing of the film is beautiful and the car chase still without equal, choreographed to one of the greatest of all soundtracks. Lalo Schifrin combines jazz, pop, classical and ‘world’ music elements with brass, wah-wah guitar and percussion, driving the movie and creating drama in a way as important as the pictures, and more than the dialogue. Importantly for me, it inspired me to play the bongos, with their high-pitched tension and detailed chatter, and within a year I’d bought my first pair. Gagarin

9. Wavelength (Michael Snow, 1967)
Speaking of the foregrounding process, this is the ultimate example – a classic of avant-garde film. It’s one 45-minute shot, a slow zoom in on an apartment as various people come and go – though there are long stretches where nothing happens – or perhaps that should be typed ’Nothing’ happens. I admit I’ve only sat through it once, about 20 years ago at a film club somewhere, but it made an impression. The shape of the film is everything, the few half-seen events that constitute narrative almost irrelevant. That’s like rock music – the riffs, solos, lyrics – everything that we assume we should focus on are in themselves unimportant. They just colour in the design and are usually entirely interchangeable. Keith Moliné

10. The Time Travelers (Ib Melchior, 1964)
I’ve only seen it once, maybe 45 years ago, and I’ll never watch it again, but it contains the single most memorable scene I’ve ever witnessed, and so must be listed as a favourite film. The plot is something about scientists travelling into a future dystopian society. There, the mad scientists of the future manage to break the fabric of time with one of their experiments. The film is unendurably tedious until the last couple of minutes, when time has been broken and becomes a feedback loop. The Time Travelers repeats itself over and over, faster and faster, until it becomes a blur and then pops into blackness. End. And such is the glory of the lost tradition of the B-movie: one cool idea engulfed by nonsense, a single-minded plot and low-budget ephemera. David Thomas

A Catholic Childhood of Unwatchable Terror

Driller Killer
Poster art for Driller Killer

Unwatchable terror started in my Roman Catholic school. Horror films of incredible brutality or porn of whispered disgusting degradation. Films so extreme they couldn’t be imagined, only described. They were forbidden and filthy. Sometimes, it would just be a scene without context. A relatively tame example would be The Omen 2 where a man is chopped in half by a cable in an elevator. For some reason – my imagination still informed more by Tom and Jerry than George Romero – I thought ‘chopped in half’ meant bisected cranium to crotch, but such misunderstandings make up a wonderful miasma surrounding the actual mundane irreality of the films themselves.

During the first summer holiday of video recorders, a friend and I would rent out from the nonchalantly permissive petrol station a whole swathe of what would come to be lumped together as ‘video nasties’. We saw The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Exterminator, Evil Dead, Driller Killer, Dawn of the Dead and several films I can’t remember the titles of, but where people died in horrific ways, one involving a helicopter blade and a door.

Watch the trailer to Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide Part Two:

I say I saw these films, but I actually only saw them partway through, three quarters I’d say. The thing was, by the time we’d walked down to the station, made our choice and walked back, we’d start the film and after an hour I’d have to go home for my lunch. Then my friend’s mother would be in from her cleaning job in the afternoon and we’d have to take the videos back to the garage.

Consequently, I grew up dénouement-less. Teenagers got sliced and tortured, innocents despatched, the evil unleashed, then I went for banana sandwiches and crisps. The films swelled in my imagination, and only two things were sure: the killer was still on the loose and no one was safe.

These were sinful films. Films I could not believe people would appear in, or be responsible for. It occurred to me that the people who made these films had to be not merely disreputable but actively evil. There was no other excuse for what they wanted us to watch, for what they thought up. And my watching the films was shameful and sinful too.

But as bad as all these films were, the instant you watched them they obviously ceased to be unwatchable and other films, films I only heard of and hadn’t seen, took their place: Zombie Apocalypse, Cannibal Holocaust and Necromancer. All these movies held the fusty lure of the snuff movie, the hint that what you were watching was somehow actually happening.

Urban legend soon became part of the marketing campaign. The adverse reactions of audience members were written up as good copy, heightening expectation and creating hysteria from Psycho to The Exorcist to The Blair Witch Project, with theatre owners complaining of ruined upholstery and vomit-stained aisles. ‘This Film Could Only Be Made in South America …Where Life Is Cheap’ screams the tagline to the 1976 grindhouse film Snuff. Though Snuff was actually a re-edited, re-titled 1971 film called Slaughter, with an extra murder thrown in to capitalise on a recent media scare about snuff films. The publicity earned the film more money in its opening week than One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest but also managed to cement the idea of real snuff movies firmly in the public subconscious. Sometimes the publicity backfired on the filmmakers. Most famously when Ruggero Deodato ended up in a Milanese courtroom having to prove he could replicate the gory impalements of Cannibal Holocaust without having to off a dollar-a-day native.

What it came down to essentially was wet death, the gory revelation of our physical moistness summed up by that wonderful onomatopoeia-become genre: splatter. The messiness of it always made it seem more authentic to me. It was like that juvenile cousin to horror and porn (another article to follow on this subject) the custard pie fight. You can’t act being hit in the face by a custard pie. You just get hit in the face with a custard pie. And so it seemed with gore. Even if the limbs were fake, you still got covered in all that gunk. This, by the way, is why CGI blood and guts ruin horror. The tactile reality of dampness is gone and unwatchable films become – as the video nasty generation hits adulthood – merely ‘unrated’. From the queasy extremes of Audition to the adolescent relish of Hostel, ‘torture porn’ reveals the dry-wet calculus all too obviously.

Of course being brought up a Catholic brings with it a complicated relationship to sin. I was a devout Catholic, went to Catholic schools, attended mass three times a week as an altar boy and even thought I had a vocation to be a priest at one point. The Catholic Church’s participation in The Exorcist makes perfect sense to me. The film very effectively portrays a world view in which the only salvation is to trust priests to do whatever they like with your little girls. It is a truly terrifying film in that respect. Even with our watching habits.

Watch the trailer to The Exorcist:

Though the headmaster might rail against these films and boys with dirty, grubby minds, the school also invited anti-abortionist group SPUC to come and show us videos of real-life abortions taking place, the gory reality of it. The mortifying of the flesh has a long tradition and gruesome martyrdoms are all part and parcel of the Catholic love-hate, hate, hate relationship with the body. Mel Gibson’s dripping The Passion of the Christ is its cinematic apotheosis, the ultimate wet death. It is the gaping at the unwatchable. I would have happily watched it one summer’s morning, although I would have missed the end and Christ would be chained to the pillar still.

John Bleasdale

Pete Walker’s Flesh and Blood Show

House of Whipcord
House of Whipcord

The House of Walker – a season of Pete Walker films presented by Cigarette Burns

Screening dates: 1-29 November 2014

Venue: Barbican, London

Director: Pete Walker

UK 1970-1976

Pete Walker will be in attendance for the screening of House of Whipcord on 22 November 2014

Barbican website

Brighton-born independent director Pete Walker blazed a stylish and successful trail of mayhem through the flailing British cinema industry of the 1970s with a string of ‘terror’ pictures which delved further into the dark side of the human psyche than Hammer dared venture.

Beginning his filmmaking career in the early 1960s producing short ‘nudie-cutie’ films, graduating to sexploitation features, and soon spotting a gap in the market for grimy, gritty contemporary horror features, Pete Walker was a gifted director on an unashamed mission to provide cinema-going punters with the lurid thrills they wanted – as far as he was able given the constraints of British censors and slender budgets.

The son of flamboyant music hall comic Syd Walker, Pete was something of a showman himself, and delighted in playing the pantomime villain of the British film industry, outraging the moral majority – especially self-appointed guardian of British morals, Mary Whitehouse, and tabloid newspaper readers – with his oft-grisly, taboo-busting films. He once told Film Illustrated: ‘I don’t want people coming out of the cinema saying “what a lovely well-made picture”… the truth is that people don’t go to see lovely, well-made pictures.’ They may not have been lovely – it isn’t generally the first word that springs to mind when you consider Pete Walker’s films – but they were consistently well-made – and in contrast with much British movie-making at the time – highly profitable. What’s more, they still pack a punch today.

He hit his stride in the early 1970s, when he began to focus more exclusively on what he called his ‘terror’ pictures rather than comedy and sexploitation. Walker’s self-financed films (the profits from one would finance the next) bore the distinctive signs of an exploitation auteur. Shunning the now-hackneyed period settings of Hammer Gothic, Walker’s work was relentlessly up to date – sharply zooming in on a gloomy, grey, glum Britain, adrift in an austere, uncertain decade, the acid-tinged optimism of the 1960s an increasingly distant memory. Amidst the sex and violence, Pete’s films were shot through with bleak cynicism, and an uneasy air of disquiet. Short on happy endings, ambiguous in their political slant, and not suggestive of any easy answers, Walker’s best features reflected the awkward tension between permissiveness and repression in that fascinating decade, as youth and establishment collided, and often dwelled on the idea of corruption at the heart of seemingly respectable social institutions, like the Catholic Church, or the Prison Service. But these were no dreary political pieces; they were made to make money, and Walker optimised the exploitation content, working closely with excellent screenwriters including David McGillivray and Michael Armstrong. There was sex, there was repression, there was perversion, there was violence; but amidst all this bleakness, there were also Hitchcock-inspired flashes of sharp, dry, jet-black humour.

There are many lurid delights to savour in the Pete Walker canon. You might begin a whistle-stop tour through his back catalogue with Man of Violence (1970), one of his formative early works, a splendidly amoral gangster tale, where it’s hard to tell the goodies from the baddies. Described by Walker as a ‘Bogart-style spoof’, it was – of course – torn to pieces by critics at the time, but now fascinates both as a sleazy period piece and a piquant ingredient in the Brit-gangster melting pot that would shortly afterwards serve up Mike Hodges’s Get Carter (1971).

After that, why not move on to The Flesh and Blood Show (1972), an atmospheric, bloody multiple-murder whodunit set in a suitably spooky old theatre at the murky end of the pier – shot on location in Brighton – and starring a picture-postcard selection of young heartthrobs of the time: Ray Brooks, Robin Askwith, Luan Peters and Jenny Hanley. Who will survive? Who will snuff it? It’s splendid stuff, and as the title suggests, there’s plenty of flesh and plenty of blood.

Watch the trailer to House of Whipcord (1974):

You’re on to the bona fide classics once you get to House of Whipcord (1974), a remarkably moody, brooding, brutal prison drama. In this dreadful establishment, young women are punished for ‘permissive behaviour.’ Forced to swap their Carnaby Street gladrags for hessian tunics by unhinged, corrupt prison governor Mrs Wakehurst (Barbara Markham), they receive regular whippings from the cruel wardress (played to perfection by gimlet-eyed Sheila Keith, who was a Walker regular). Oppressively shot on location in the Forest of Dean, creepy, chilling, pessimistic and relentlessly bleak, this is top-drawer Walker. It even impressed critics – eager to unearth allegories in his work – to Pete’s surprise and wry amusement.

You can’t go wrong with Frightmare (1974) either, perhaps Walker’s masterpiece, which gleefully combines lurid, critic-baiting cannibalistic thrills and gory exploits with a power drill (wielded by Sheila Keith, joined here by Rupert Davies), with a gently persuasive subtext about the ineffectuality of psychiatry. It was extreme stuff, as far as British cinema was concerned, and – as usual with Pete’s films – provoked some negative press. Of course, that’s the kind of publicity money just can’t buy, and the director made the most of it, plastering the bad reviews across his advertisements like badges of honour. ‘A despicable film,’ sniffed The Observer; Pete cheerfully whacked it on the poster in big letters, and another coachload of punters flocked to see it. The film remains the director’s personal favourite.

Watch the trailer to Frightmare (1974):

Corruption in the church is the theme of House of Mortal Sin (1975), particularly the perverse desires of nasty Catholic Priest Father Meldrum (Anthony Sharp); it all ends badly, and no one is saved; while The Comeback (1977) features singer Jack Jones – playing a singer trying to revitalise his recording career – caught up in a bizarre murder mystery involving a highly Hitchcockian knife-wielding transvestite, who looks a lot like Norman Bates’s mum. It’s a gorily entertaining oddity indeed… they just don’t make ‘em like that any more, alas.

Watch the trailer to House of Mortal Sin (1976):

Calling it quits after shooting his most traditionally Gothic horror, The House of the Long Shadows (1983), which entertainingly teamed Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Vincent Price, John Carradine and the aforementioned Sheila Keith, Pete Walker gave up filmmaking and invested his money in property – notably buying a chain of cinemas in the Isle of Wight. Pete didn’t want to make films for the home video market, as he later confessed: ‘My love was the cinema. It was darkened auditoriums and shadows on a screen and shared experiences.’ Pete Walker’s love of cinema shines through all of his work; and the years have not diminished his finest features. Now, as then, when a Pete Walker ‘terror’ picture is playing, the auditorium is surely at its darkest.

Vic Pratt

Felizol & The Boy’s Film Jukebox

Felizol & The Boy
Felizol & The Boy

Felizol and The Boy are Athens-based filmmakers and musicians Yiannis Veslemes and Alexandros Voulgaris. The subversive duo merge controversial fields of modern dance music with 1980s subculture including Max Headroom, Joe Dante, Prince, Yello, and Oingo Boingo. In addition to performing live in house clubs, heavy metal dungeons and hippy-friendly festivals, they have also composed music for numerous films. Felizol and The Boy’s debut single ‘O.H.I.O/She Is My Party She Is My Port’ was released on vinyl in May 2010. Their new album Like Cannibal Father Like Cannibal Son (Optimo Music) combines dance tunes with a haunting cinematic score, radiating delicious, unsettling sleaze in the vein of Kubrick or Carpenter. The album is now available on LP and digital download and is distributed by Kompakt. Below, Yiannis and Alexandros pick the 10 films that have most affected them.

1. Careful (Guy Maddin, 1992)
In this ‘pocket opera’ Guy Maddin blends German expressionism, early Technicolor melodrama and silent educational mountain films to explore the story of a family, and eventually a whole society, isolated in an Alpine village in the early 17th century. In this village loud noises are prohibited because they can easily cause lethal avalanches. Incest, vitriolic black humour, retro ghosts and anachronistic art direction create a film that refers to almost everything in early cinema history but ultimately looks absolutely unique. YV

2. On the Silver Globe (Andrzej Zulawski, 1976-1988)
My personal most underrated film of all times. This three-hour science fiction epicwas mostly shot in 1976. However, the communist authorities stopped the production of the film when it was almost finished and destroyed the sets and costumes. Zulawski left the country, while the crew and actors hid the film stock. Twelve years later, Zulawski completed the film in an unusual and very moving way. It is the most ambitious piece of work of this wonderful director and one of the most important experiences that one can have. AV

3. Alien from L.A. (Albert Pyun, 1988)
Albert Pyun is the king of Z-movies. You can provide him with a small corner in a bar, a few meters of wallpaper and a purple light, and he can recreate the ambience of any glorious science fiction dystopia. In this Cannon flick, he tells the story of a naïve Californian girl who searches for her father in an underground alien civilisation near the core of the earth. The film often gives the impression of a luxury futuristic school play or of a fever teen dream where all your favourite films (Stars Wars, Blade Runner, Indiana Jones) are magically remade. YV

4. Angst (Gerard Kargl, 1983)
Another underrated masterpiece by one-time director Gerard Kargl and the famous animator Zbigniew Rybczynski who, on this film, served as the cinematographer, editor and co-writer. Erwin Leden delivers his most disturbing performance and Klaus Schulze a memorable soundtrack. Maybe the best film about the mind of a serial killer. AV

5. Miracle Mile (Steve De Jarnatt, 1988)
After his debut hit Cherry 2000 (1987) Steve De Jarnatt moved on to make his most ambitious film: Miracle Mile. The box office and critical failure of this film meant the end (at least in cinema business) of the director’s career . Impossible to categorise and different from his sci-fi debut, Miracle Mile shares with it the same melancholic and gloomy idea about the end of the world. Two young outcasts fall in love in the wake of a nuclear holocaust. Miracle Mile begins with an almost parodic presentation of Darwin’s theory and ends as a cheesy 80s pop ballad about the two lovers who will eventually become fossils in the museums of the distant future. YV

6. Café Flesh (Stephen Sayadian, 1982)
For me this is the best porn film ever. A science fiction musical with amazing cabaret performances à la Bob Fosse. Stephen Sayadian (here credited as Rinse Dream) is one of the most original filmmakers (see also Dr Caligari, which he made in 1989) and one of the main inspirations of the alt porn movement of the 00s. AV

7. Singapore Sling (Nikos Nikolaidis , 1990)
This is one of the few Greek films that had a cult following – at least in a European circuit familiar with bizarre, twisted and really weird cinema. In Nikolaidis’s homage to film noir and black and white American horror, a mother and daughter, imprison a loser detective in their villa and subject him to acts that are beyond the limits of morality and reality. A mummy ghost of the father, electroshocks, guts that still function after they have been removed from their bodies and sex acts in various combinations are some of the tools the director uses not just to shock but to share his obsessions, and to boldly declare that love has many faces. YV

8. Shaye St. John (Eric Fournier, 2004)
This is a series of short videos that Eric Fournier uploaded on the internet a few years back. Shaye is supposed to be a supermodelwho was deformed in an accident. Shaye St. John is not a film but a video character, something like my childhood favourite, Max Headroom. By far the most disturbing and addictive thing that I’ve seen. AV

9. Zombie Flesh Eaters (Lucio Fulci, 1979)
Fulci used the conventions of exploitation cinema to create strange, absurd and sometimes abstract dreamy landscapes of films. Behind the sloppy storylines, the bad acting or the often tight shooting schedules hide great films which, consciously or not, explore the origins of terror in the dark human psyche. In Zombie Flesh Eaters, the last inhabitants of an isolated island struggle to remain alive in a world that provides no hope and no meaning. Fabio Frizzi underlines Fulci’s desperate and nihilistic vision with a tribal electronic soundtrack that awakes atavistic instincts and repressed memories. YV

10. Wake in Fright (Ted Kotcheff, 1971)
This Australian film by Canadian director Ted Kotcheff (First Blood) was considered lost for many years until Martin Scorsese and Nick Cave talked about it and people started to get interested. I really like Australian new wave cinema of the 70s and 80s (check also Celia and Bliss for an unusual experience), and Wake in Fright is the absolute masterpiece of this period. It contains the most brutal and shocking scene that I have even seen. Beyond anything that I used to consider bold and hardcore, this film takes violence and social criticism to a whole new ground. AV