Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Review: Saul at Night

Text © Robert Barry Francos / Indie Horror Films, 2022
Images from the Internet

Saul at Night
Directed by Cory Santilli
JawDoc Productions; Utopia
85 minutes, 2019 / 2022

Covid vaccines. Voting suppression. Conspiracy theories. In all of these, and more, there is a contingent of people who believe that the government is trying to control our lives. Of course, this is mostly nonsense, but this film takes it as reality in a dystopian, twisted way. No, there’s no martial law, no Big Brother monitors. It’s all sort of mundane, really. And it is expressed in the opening shot of sheep, which could be referring to sleep, or…

In this version of society, sleep is mandatory from 10 PM to 6 AM. For everybody. Well, everybody except the titular – unrelated to “Please Call” – Saul (Kentucker Audley). For he alone is, in the words of Rhonda Sheer, up all night, for the same 8 hours everyone else is in sleepyville. While he sleeps, the world goes on around him, including his wife, Kathyrn (Stephanie Ellis) and their early teenaged daughter, Cleo (Acadia Colan). Sleep is enforced and controlled, so you fall asleep and wake up on the dot, and do not wake up in-between (do people wear adult diapers to bed, or is that controlled, too, I wonder…).

Kentucker Audley

They’re all in the same house, at the same time, but when the females are sleeping, Saul is awake with nothing to do all night, and vice versa during the day as Kathyrn goes to work and the kid attends school. For him, there is no television (no one to watch it, technically, so nothing is aired), no radio, no open stores – though everything seems to be unlocked as he wanders about, including a shopping center (Swansea Mall) and museums – since no one else is awake to steal anything; and like a vampire, no sunlight (I hope he’s getting enough Vitamin D). There are only handwritten notes passed between Saul and his family. In this world, there are no home computers, and cell phones will not work for him since there is no one awake to talk. Well, the one computer proper we do get to see is an old cathode monitor rather than a slim type. And when Saul needs to check in with the government at an office, we see green text on black screen, like coding before WYSIWYG.

Suzanne Clément

When he’s not at home, he’s roaming around an empty Providence, RI (I’m surprised the street lights are on, because in real life, they would be turned off to save government funds), until he suddenly meets someone else who is awake, French-only speaking Amalur (Suzanne Clément, who is Quebecois). After being essentially alone after over 800 days with no one to talk to, or hug, this is a blessing, and a curse. Until they meet, there is perhaps only a dozen words spoken in the film. When Amalur talks, there are very easy to read big, yellow subtitles, I’m grateful to say.

For the longest time, this is a personality study about loneliness, and the lack of mutual spontaneous affection. Even though Saul and Amalur don’t understand each other’s monologs, talking past each other, the sound of another’s voice draws them to each other, even though they both have families. And yet, for some reason, we see the effects on the daytime side of Saul’s family, but not Amalur’s husband and three sons (we only see a photo of them).

There is a very subtle commentary on propaganda and mind control, as we see the rare television commercial (there is no new programming, apparently, as all we see is a clip from the politically safe The Dick Van Dyke Show from the early 1960s; MAGA?) and a billboard, both promoting sleep.

Stephanie Ellis

It’s interesting, of course, to see the slow burn relationship between Saul and Amalur, as they both try to communicate the best they can, and not let emotions muck things up, which of course they do, but not necessarily how one might imagine. The film does not take the easy or obvious road, but perhaps a more realistic one. Emotions and nerves are close to the edge for all involved, not just for Saul and Amalur.

The film has been described as science fiction, which is nonsense. I’m sure in the mind of whomever wrote their publicity the fact that it’s a dystopian, authoritarian existence that may be what gave them that idea as a descriptor, but with voting rights being stomped on and a possible Gilead in our future, where technology is controlled by the government, the alterations would be in shades of difference from our current reality, rather than some grand Zardoz (1974), Logan’s Run (1976) or even Orwell’s 1984 perspective. There is an old bon mot that states that films about the past and future are really about the present. This one is especially true.

Considering this is the director’s initial feature after a few shorts, it is quite the impressive debut. The acting is all top notch, though considering the history of the talent that is hardly surprising, and despite the slow and steady pace, there is still a feeling of tension and urgency among the angst. A beautiful and moving film, as well as a warning of what may be around the corner.

Available on AppleTV, Amazon, and Altavod.

IMBD Listing HERE 


Wednesday, January 5, 2022

(RONNIE) SPECTOR of the Eighties (1980)

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 1980/2022
Images from the Internet unless indicted

Live at the Left Bank (Photo by Robert Barry Francos)

(Ronnie) Spector of the Eighties

Veronica Bennett Spector and the Ronettes, was one of the key voices of the ‘60s girl group sound. They, along with the Shangri-La’s, were early proto-punks, standing up to authorities and their parents, to love whom they wanted how they wanted.

The queen bee was Ronnie Spector, whose glorious voice demanded you be her little baby, insisting that you pass the litmus test of walking in the rain with her, and if you did that, baby, she’d love you.

I don’t remember exactly how the opportunity came up, but Ronnie was finally out from under the thumb of ex-husband/producer Phil Spector (d. 2021), and recording her Siren album with Genya Ravan’s Polish label, and I was offered the chance to interview her. Hell, yeah.

This interview was conducted by myself with an assistance from John DeCeasre, and was published in FFanzeen No. 6, dated Year-end 1980.

During the week of August 11, 1979, the day that Patti Lee Smith Smith played the Dr. Pepper Festival in Central Park during the day and CBGB at night, photographer/friend John DeCeasre dreamed that he saw Ronnie Spector on stage with Patti. Sure enough, there she was, doing “Be My Baby,” with her on the aforementioned night. A dream come true for John, who has been a fan of Ronnie’s since he first saw her on stage at the Fox Theatre in Brooklyn, home of the Murray the K rock’n’roll shows in the early ‘60s.

Ronnie Spector has been through a sort of hell and has come out the other side. Years of loneliness, locked away in a 23-room mansion by husband and producer, Phil Spector, have now led her to performing and touring with such major artist as Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes and “The Boss,” Bruce Springsteen. A few recordings have come out here and there, most notably a dynamic version of “It’s a Heartache,” which was totally lost in the shuffle of the Bonnie Tyler release of that same song. With these recording under her belt since her divorce from Phil in 1974, she signed with Genya Ravan, who produced her first album, Siren, which has just been released. Thus was the beginning of Polish Records and the start of a new career for this ex-Ronette.

Ronnie, a health nut who likes White Castle hamburgers, sat with her two admirers in the office of her manager, who was also present (neither John or I caught her name, thinking the other had), on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The date was September 18, 1980.

RBF & Ronnie
(photo by John DeCeasre)

* * *

FFanzeen: More or less, everyone now knows about your history in the Ronettes and until your break-up with Phil in 1974. I’d like to talk about the period after that.
Ronnie Spector: Is that machine on?

FF: Yes, it is.
Ronnie: Oh, my God!

FF: After your marriage, there is this empty void up until – I remember seeing a picture of you in Musical Express– about ‘76-’77. What happened between the two?
Ronnie: I sort of semi-retired at that time. First of all, when I divorced Phil, I went to Buddha Records and Phil sent them a letter and said that I was still under contract, and so right away they said, that’s it.
Boom, I was out. That happened a couple of times. It seemed he was just gonna destroy everything I attempted to do. So, I just retired. So, I stayed in Europe for a while with friends. Then Dick Clark asked me to do his “Oldies but Goodies” show. I would co-headline with Chuck Berry. I did that. But I also thought I wasn’t remembered, because during the marriage, the Ronettes were never mentioned and I only recorded one song, “Try Some, Buy Some.” So, I didn’t think people remembered me.

(photo by Robert Barry Francos)

FF: They never forgot.
Ronnie: I’m noticing that now. At that particular time, I had no idea that people even remembered the Ronettes, Ronnie Spector, anything – the voice or anything. After ’74, I did the Dick Clark (show) at Madison Square Garden and there were 23,000 people there. I got a standing ovation. I had three encores and then we went off and people were still screaming and I thought it was because Chuck Berry had come on stage. We were already in our dressing room and we had to come all the way back ... on stage and do another “Be My Baby.”

FF: Was that with the Ronettes?
Ronnie: Not the originals, it was just two girls I hired. The first two were my sister and my cousin.

FF: I have only two questions to ask about Phil.
Ronnie: Sure, you can ask anything.

FF: Did you see the program on PBS called “All You Need Is Love,” in which they showed this long segment of Phil just sitting there talking about how depressing he now is?
Ronnie: Phil? No.

FF: The second is, do you still keep in touch with him?
Ronnie: Yes, well, we have a child so we’re still on speaking terms. Maybe if we didn’t have a child we probably wouldn’t be. Phil is a very arrogant, very bossy, very pushy sort of person. So I probably wouldn’t be as friendly with him if it weren’t for our child.

FF: Getting back to the Dick Clark Show ...
Ronnie: Well, right after that I retired again, ‘cause I didn’t like to be associated with the name, “Oldie but Goodie.” First of all, I’m in my early 30s; if anybody should be the “Oldies but Goodies” it should be the Tony Bennetts, the Frank Sinatras, you know what I mean. It was crazy to me, but I enjoyed doing the Dick Clark Show, only ‘cause it showed me I still had fans. And I love Dick Clark as a person, anyway. He’s a wonderful man, and that’s why I did the show with him. As a friend. Then I retired again. Then I went out with (John) Lennon one night – this is after he had broken up with Yoko – so I went out with him for a while. So, Lennon introduced me to Jim Iovine, who was the engineer for the Jukes and Springsteen, and I was sitting home doing nothing one night and they called me to come down to the Record Plant, one of those recording companies, just to watch them, whatever. So, I went down and started singing along with them and everything and they freaked. They said, “Ronnie, would you –,” and that’s when I did “You Mean So Much (To Me Baby)” [from the Jukes’ I Wanna Go Home album – Ed., 1980] for John. Southside Johnny (Lyon). After that, Billy Joel had written “Say Goodbye to Hollywood,” so the East Street Band [Springsteen’s band – ed., 1980] backed me up on that. Springsteen and Lyon were the producers. Nothing really happened with it over in the States. Even now it’s a classic; you can’t get it. But at that particular time, I couldn’t find the right producer because everybody that I looked at, everybody wanted to be a Phil Spector. Everybody. It was like “Be My Baby,” and if it didn’t sound like “Be My Baby,” it sounded like “Walking in the Rain.” So, I got really disgusted about the whole thing. I just retired again. Then I got a call, sitting home; I was reading a book, I got a phone call from Genya Ravan. She said, “You never met me before, but I’m gonna be your next producer.” She didn’t say, “Let’s think about it; I’d like to talk to you about it.” She said, “I’m gonna be.” She said, “For five years I’ve studied your voice and for five years I’ve looked for you and tried to find you and I couldn’t.” She was so persistent. I said, “I gotta go meet this woman.” So, I went over and met her and we hit like that. Vibes. She knew my voice like Phil would. That’s how Siren all started. A lot of people ask, “Why did it take so long?” ‘Cause it’s been almost two years getting the material. Because everybody was sending songs that sounded like “Be My Baby” or “Walking in the Rain.” And she didn’t want that; she wanted something in the ‘80s. She wanted her own thing. Phil did his thing; she wanted to do her thing. She was absolutely right. And I was looking for that too. I was looking for someone who didn’t say, “I can’t beat Phil Spector.” She was the first. And that’s why I’m back now.

(photo by Robert Barry Francos

FF: What about Jack Nitzsche (d. 2000)?
Ronnie: Well, Jack Nitzsche was supposed to do the arrangements on the songs, but he had to be out of town and so it didn’t work.

FF: He’s all over the place.
Ronnie: He wanted to do it. At that particular time, Nitzsche was going through a lot of problems. That’s another reason he wasn’t on the album. And Genya just kept on trying. She had the confidence in me – she didn’t even look for record companies. She was so confident in me, she formed her own record company, Polish Records. And all because of me. She didn’t have another group already that was big and then say, “Well have Ronnie.” I was the one that made it happen.

FF: Other records she’s produced have been for Sire, like the Dead Boys’ Young, Loud and Snotty.
Ronnie: Right.

FF: How did you get associated with Patti Smith?
Ronnie: Patti Smith introduced herself to me. One night I went with Genya to (CBGB) and Patti Smith said, “I heard Ronnie Spector’s in the audience,” ‘cause she sings “Be My Baby” in her act. Patti tells me, and Debbie Harry, all these girls, that I was their inspiration. I freak them out. Vocally, they all wanted to make it because of me. That’s such a compliment.

FF: You have to remember that you were the epitome of the all-girl groups of the sixties, that (Phil Spector) “wall of sound” sound. The Marvelettes, the Shirelles ...
Ronnie: The Shangri-Las.

FF: The Shangri-Las were something else again.
Ronnie: And again and again.

FF: Ike and Tina Turner. That record flopped, “River Deep, Mountain High.”
Ronnie: In America. It was number one in Europe. That’s why Phil retired. I was married at that time.

FF: I listen to that record and I have to stop everything. I think, I’d like to meet that man.
Ronnie: No, you wouldn’t. No, (just kidding).

FF: I would have liked to have been there. As he was playing with the controls.
Ronnie: He’s a great producer, or was, or what-have-you.

FF: What do you think of his work on the Ramones’ new album, End of the Century? It’s been getting a lot of bad press.
Ronnie: I don’t like the Ramones that much anyway. But the Ramones had a lot to do with their album. Even though Phil did the production, the Ramones still had a lot of control

FF: You do a Ramones song on your album, “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow.”
Ronnie: Right. And everybody thinks I did that because the Ramones did my “Baby I Love You.” And that is not true. In fact, I did a radio show the other day and they asked me that ... and it wasn’t true. It was just a good song. And Genya was looking for good songs. That’s what took so long in making the album. It took a year to get the right material and all that stuff, and she was very choosy and I like that. She didn’t go and say, “Boom, boom, boom because you’re Ronnie Spector and I can make a quick dollar and that’s it.” She didn’t feel that way.

FF: There’s a group called the Steinettes who perform a few of your songs.
Ronnie: Another compliment ... Whether its Patti (Smith) or Debbie (Harry), it’s really incredible. Donovan had that “Oldie but Goodie” album he did with all the old – well, he did “Be My Baby,” but he wouldn’t put it on the album. He called and he said, “Ronnie, I can’t do it. I can’t. It’s such a classic, and the way you do it and the way I sound, forget it.” A lot of people have attempted it. Andy Kim did “Baby I Love You,” the Ramones did “Baby I Love You,” Cher did “Baby I Love You” [as did Dave Edmunds – Ed., 1980]. But nobody will touch “Be My Baby.”

FF: Patti has it on a bootleg called You Light Up My Life.
Ronnie: When I did it with Patti, I had no idea she would call me on stage. I had no idea anyone knew I was even in the audience. And she said, “I heard Ronnie Spector is (in the audience), and if she doesn’t get up here right now ...” – you know. So, I got up and did “Be My Baby” and the audience went crazy.

FF: I bet she was in shock, too.
Ronnie: She was. Which is all a compliment. It’s giving me back the confidence I need. Phil took a lot of confidence away.

FF: He’ll pay for that in his next life. He’ll be born deaf. [laughter] Just a little joke ... Now it’s not an all-girl group anymore.
Ronnie: (Now) it’s all men. I’m the only female in the group.

FF: In what way is the music different? What image are you trying to portray?
Ronnie: I’m not portraying any different image, ‘cause I’m always gonna sing “Be My Baby.” I’m always gonna be loose on stage. I’m not gonna change my whole entire act – all of a sudden come out in gowns with gloves up to here. I’m just gonna be Ronnie Spector. Still dancin’, still loose; spontaneous.

FF: How do you feel about your upcoming Bottom Line performance [which was cancelled until late November so she could do a video and start the next album – Ed., 1980]?
Ronnie: I can’t wait! I had to wait a year and a half because Genya wouldn’t let me work or perform anywhere. I love performing so much that I’m going stir crazy ...

FF: What are the other two Ronettes doing now?
Ronnie: They’re my sister and my cousin, and they’re both happily married. Which is nice, if that’s what you enjoy doing. I don’t mind anything. [laughter] No, I’m serious. If you enjoy it, what the hell. I mean, I maybe would have enjoyed being a housewife with Phil if he had worked from nine-to-five. Phil never went out. Annually, we went out together. So, he was constantly there. Plus, being a housewife, I never cooked, I never cleansed. I never had to do anything ...

FF: Not in a 23-room house?
Ronnie: Five people on the household staff, I had nothing to do. I may have been happier if I had something to do. It was the cook’s kitchen, not mine.

FF: Where do you want to take your career from here?
Ronnie: Up and up and up and up and up. I don’t care as long as it goes up, not down.

FF: At the beginning, you’re probably going to have people coming up to see Veronica of the Ronettes, before they’ll be coming to see Ronnie Spector.
Ronnie: At the beginning, I had to say Ronnie of the Ronettes. Now it’s just Ronnie Spector. I guess it’s because of Springsteen and the Jukes tours. They never said, “Here’s Ronnie of the Ronettes.” They always said, “Here’s Ronnie Spector.” So, people know me as just Ronnie Spector, which I’m thrilled about.

FF: How do you feel about – if you’ll pardon the expression – a has-been making a comeback? [Note: I cringe at this question now, and humbly apologize to Ronnie – Ed., 2022]
Ronnie: I don’t think I ever was a has-been, ‘cause I left at the peak of my career ... I just feel very excited about it, and that’s all I can say. People can speak of the past and the present, but no one can speak of the future, including myself. I’m not God ... I don’t see why it can’t work. I never had management before, and now I have management and the right kind of management. And I have the right producer. When I was with Cleveland International, they were calling Phil to do my stuff. They were getting paranoid about it. With Genya, it’s all different now. I got management, I got a producer, I got an album. I never had an album. Everybody thought that the album of the Ronettes featuring Veronica was an album, that we went into the studio. Never had my own personal album. This is very exciting. I never had management other than Phil, who was husband/manager/everything, so it wasn’t really what you’d call management.

FF: Then I take it you’re satisfied with the say Siren came out?
Ronnie: Very satisfied. [pause] Take your time. I’ve got two minutes. [laughs] I’ve been at band rehearsal all day. It’s tiring, but it’s exciting.
Manager: You might be interested to know that Ronnie has an autobiography coming out, as well as the album.
Ronnie: And also, a movie of my life, playing my own part. I’m playing my own part, baby!
[As far as I can tell, as of now, no autobiographical film on Ronnie’s life has been released – Ed.,2022.)
Manager: And there’s another album in the works.
Ronnie: We’ve already got five tunes on the second album ... I’ve been secluded too long. And I like the challenge.

FF: How is the recording doing on airplay?
Manager: We have 52 major stations.

FF: Tell us more about the film.
Ronnie: It’s gonna start, I assume, from the time I was twelve and all through my marriage and the crisis, till now.

FF: Do you think you’ll have trouble playing yourself?
Ronnie: No. Not if I get Dustin Hoffman, who I want to play Phil ... He’s so short. So, I don’t know yet. All I do know, is that the autobiography is coming out first, then the movie. Next week, I’m meeting with a ghostwriter (Vince Waldron – Ed., 2022).
Manager: The book is being published by Polish Records, as well.

FF: Total control.
Manager: You have to, because this girl is really a legend. People who were little children at that time, they know her music.
Ronnie: About a year and half ago, I did a ... tour called “Vaudeville Rock.” The Ronettes, the Drifters, Eddie Fisher, Donald O’Connor.

FF: I read that, but I didn’t know you were on that.
Ronnie: It was fabulous. People coming backstage, even the young kids, 19 and 20, saying, “You were fantastic, I loved the records, I love your songs, I love your voice.” It freaked me out. We had a dress rehearsal the day before the tour started and Eddie Fisher (d. 2010) and Donald O’Connor (d. 2003) called my room just to tell me what a fabulous voice I had. I thought it was such a compliment because from two older people – Eddie Fisher could be my dad, age-wise ... A lot of groups, most of the Shangri-Las are, unfortunately, dead. All of the Marvelettes are dead. Frankie Lymon.

FF: I just saw a video of him at the Ritz.
Ronnie: And he’s dead now (d. 1968).

FF: Very dead. One of the original dead ones.
Ronnie: He was my inspiration. What a voice, huh?

FF: Frankie Lymon and you were almost, like, synonymous. The voice.
Ronnie: My mother was a waitress across the street from where Frankie Lymon lived. I was 11 years old. He was about 17 or 18, and she asked him if he could come to my birthday party. I was in love with him. I had never seen a picture of him or anything, but I was in love with the voice ... “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” would come on the radio and I was moved. He came to my party and only because my mother was a waitress at the restaurant where he used to have lunch.
Manager: You know what’s interesting, tell them some of the people that sang back-up for you because I’ve never seen that in print before.
Ronnie: Leon Russell (d. 2016), Glen Campbell (d. 2017), Herb Albert, Sonny (d. 1998), Cher, I mean I could go on ... It was all the incredible people. There was Hal Blaine (2019) on drums, there’s Barney Kessel (d. 2004) on guitar. And Barney Kessel is one of the greatest guitar players in the world. And all these people were on my album. And I used to wonder with Phil – I mean, these guys worked their asses off. Leon Russell would come out (of the studio) and his hands were actually bleeding. I would say, why do they take that from him? Phil was very strong. But that’s what I liked about him. That’s what made me fall in love with him. He was so powerful and people would do exactly what he said. But then I figured it all out as I got older – all those guys were learning. I used to think, I wouldn’t take this shit from him, I’m not gonna sit here all night and have bleeding hands, and he would say, “Five minutes for coffee,” and that was it ... And they would go right back in there, and I wouldn’t have done it ... Bruce Springsteen – Phil inspired him. Vocally, as Frankie Lymon inspired me, Bruce was inspired by Phil. There are a lot of producers today that Phil did inspire. He was the first man to attempt to make a record three minutes long instead of two. He got away with it. He was the first person to put on a record, “Produced by ... “ Nobody ever did that before.

FF: I think I even have on “Be My Baby,” “Arranged by Jack Nitzsche.”
Ronnie: Jack Nitzsche. Jack “Specs” Nitzsche. All that. And then after that, everybody started doing that. Phil was first. The Ronettes were the first to wear short dresses, silted eyes, beaded hair. We were the first with a lot of things. We were the first girl-group that had only three girls. Usually, it was four girls or five. We had three girls. Even the Supremes when they started had four girls.

FF: You did shows at the Fox with the Shirelles, the Miracles, Little Anthony, Temptations.
Ronnie: Stevie Wonder.

FF: When he was Little Stevie Wonder.
Ronnie: Tom Jones.

FF: The Dovelles.
Ronnie: Wayne Newton. I mean, you name it. And people ask, “Who have you worked with?”, and I always turn around and answer, “Who haven’t I worked with?” In those days, you had 17 acts. And every act had a Number One record. It was the single generation. Maybe it cost 15-20 dollars a ticket, but to get15-16 acts with Number One records ... and I think those days were great because today you get one act – say Springsteen or Jackson Browne – and you get one person, one concert for all that money, whereas in our day, you got 15-16 acts and they hall had Top Ten records ... Tom Jones was on that show (and) he was so bad that when he had “What’s New Pussycat” out, Murray (the K) had to hire two girls to put them in little pussycat suits. He wasn’t good. The audience didn’t accept him then, where they accepted him seven or eight years later. I worked with everybody.

FF: What’s the scoop on Murray the K (d. 1982) when he was running the Fox? What was that all about? Was he in control there, or was he just the M.C.?
Ronnie: No, he was (the man). It was, like, his production ...
Manager: What’s interesting is the fact that her producer, Genya, is not only involved with the record ...
Ronnie: Genya did the arranging, Genya did everything.
Manager: I’m not only talking about the record. She comes down to all the rehearsals and makes sure those guys are reproducing the sound that she put on the records – live.

FF: Now that we’ve covered the after-Ronettes period, what about the before?
Ronnie: Ronnie and the Relatives? We never really worked with that name ... My mother had seven brothers and seven sisters, and everybody did something. If it wasn’t a comedian, somebody was an opera singer; if they weren’t an opera singer, they were the Mills Brothers. I mean, it went on and on. Three of my aunts were the Andrews Sisters. It was a show business family. Not professionally, just on the weekends to please grandma. I had so many cousins my own age, ‘cause my mother had so many sisters and brothers, and they all had kids at the same time. So, I had, like, 23 first cousins. We all got together on the weekends and we sang and danced. One of my aunts was a dancer, she taught us how to dance. Stuff like that.

FF: Ronnie and the Relatives.
Ronnie: Mom shortened it to the Ronettes. And my mother traveled with us everywhere. Even at the Brooklyn Fox where we didn’t have to travel – we just came from Manhattan to Brooklyn – my mother was there at every show, backstage.

FF: Was she a “stage mother”?
Ronnie: No. She wasn’t pushy, she wasn’t do-this-do-that. She was just there to help us out (and see that) there were six shoes, three dresses.
Manager: Her mother said she used to sing on the bus when she was three years old ...
Ronnie: When I was three, people thought I was one, one and a half, ‘cause I was so tiny. I used to belt it out ... Most people sing in the shower. I sing anywhere. When I performed our first performance when we got paid, I said, “They’re giving me money? To sing up there for twenty minutes and dance? It’s like a party. I love it.” I couldn't believe we were getting paid. For doing something I would have done for free anyway. I mean, I did the Bruce Springsteens and the Southside Johnnys and I didn’t get real money.

FF: You didn’t get paid for it?
Ronnie: Not what I call money, no, I didn’t. I mean, I didn’t come home with anything in the bank. I mean, I had a lot of food, clothes on the road – no mink coats. And still today, I would do it for free.

* * *\

Sadly, Ronnie passed away on January 12, 2022, exactly one week after this interview was republished, at age 78. 


Saturday, January 1, 2022

Favorite and Not Favorite Horror Films for 2021

 Favorite and Not Favorite Horror Films for 2021

Text © Richard Gary / FFanzeen, 2022
Images from the Internet

As always, I will first republish the rules I have about such lists as these:

I have an issue with “Best of” and “Worst of” year-end lists for the following reasons: most are chosen from either those that play in theaters. For me, I like to watch the DIY ones, for these tend to have more heart. My list consists of films that I saw and reviewed in 2021, not necessarily ones that were originally n that year.

As for Best and Worst, I never liked those terms; art is just way too subjective, which is why I called them Favorites and Not Favorites. That being said, even the “Not” ones have redeeming qualities, and the fact that I felt they had issues means nothing. I have hated films that have won tons of awards, and liked some that other find abhorrent, so don’t take anything I say, good or bad, as the definitive. It’s just opinion, and I welcome you to agree or disagree. It’s all good.

These two lists are alphabetical, rather than ranked (another thing I don’t believe in).

These are condensed reviews. The link to the full, original review is at the bottom of each listing.


Dante’s Shadow of Sin
Directed by Dakota Ray
I ask you: in the time of Covid, what’s a man supposed to do? Easy, just down a glass or two of absinthe, get a new and sharper lens for your camera, and direct your eighth film of nihilistic behavior, as has done Denver-based director/writer/cinematographer/editor Dakota Ray. Ray’s characteristic use of monochrome-colored filters, in this case one that is a rich, dark blue hue, the new lens really is incredible at showing details. As is his wont and right, the title character is played by the director and his insanely deep voice, who in the first line, explains the nihilism that clouds his very soul: “My name is Dante, and I serve no man but myself.” He is remorseless, unhinged from reality, and a complete narcissist. There is a lot of fine editing by Ray, which improves with every film, between characters, objects, Satanic symbols, and insects in various states of health. These, their use as subliminal commentary on the action, all become characters in their own right in a way, rather than just be filler. Two years after committing a horrific murder, Dante is contacted by an acquaintance, Mahoganny who has inherited the Boleskin House (referencing the Boleskine House in Scotland, owned by renowned Satanist Aleister Crowley and guitarist Jimmy Page). Mahoganny suggests they get together and go to the house. The name Mahoganny is more symbolic for the hardness and darkness of his heart rather than skin color. Throughout the film, we hear the thoughts of the two central characters more than words are spoken, which makes sense since so much of the planning of these two are secretive, so we become cognizant of just what the hell is going on. We also hear the drug-induced disembodied voices of objects such as dolls, a white rabbit and a goat head who represent the Satanic elements. Dante, though not redeemable, kills for a purpose, even if it is self-gratification. With Mahoganny, however, slow and painful control and sadism is more his speed. These two both know that the time in the vacation house will not end well, and each has a motive to be the only one out, but the build-up to the confrontation is a large part of what is going on through the story. With hexes, drugs, alcohol and just sheer deviance of a multitude of natures, these guys have a deep hatred that Ray manages to convey quite strongly. It a steadily intensifying to-the-death duel, both mentally and physically. The lightening in the sky is a foretelling of the bad actions to come. The film is broken into a number of chapters via long title cards. This is also common among Ray’s films. However, story-wise, this is the most cohesive of the eight, being rather threadbare in its plot. Rather than mixing a number of different stories into one, here he focuses on the two main characters, and yes, you could say that it still two tales into one, but its focus is more exact, with less opaque moments. As much as I have enjoyed all of Ray’s releases, I think this one could be a turning point as far as a pathway. As much as I like the past ones, I look forward to the swing in this direction.
Full review and trailer HERE 


The Forever Room
Directed by Kevin Hicks
This psychological thriller starts off with Claire, a young woman who is chained by her ankle in a basement somewhere that has basic necessities, and a bucket for, well, you know. However, there is naught but herself to spend the time. She is way angrier than she is scared of her captor, an older woman named Helen. The latter accuses Claire of committing a heinous crime and states, “You have a lot of skeletons in your closet, dear,” which Claire vehemently denies. That’s just the opening. As the film progresses, things are not always what they seem at first, and much of the story is the basis of the relationship between these two women. Claire is confused and angry, and Helen is (mostly) calm and calculating, many of their exchanges being when it is feeding time. Each conversation builds on the previous one, with bits of information to the audience to fill them in. Despite the claustrophobia of the small room in which Claire forcibly occupies, the story is interesting, and the viewer wants to know more and more of what put these two people in this dire situation. Claire doesn’t remember anything before being chained up, but parts of her past are telegraphed by both events that happen to Claire in the room, and the things she hears. Meanwhile, people keep appearing when Claire is alone, such as a middle aged man, Ethan, Rebecca, who is closer to her age, and a boy named Michael who seems to be playing a game of hide and seek with Claire. Rebecca explains how she is a figment of Claire’s imagination (“Haven’t you ever had an imaginary friend?”), but something dark brings out these three…and a couple of sock puppets. No, I’m not kidding. Possibly it is a bit like Gerald’s Game (2017) in that the imagination runs havoc, perhaps it is dreams, or is it something more sinister or supernatural than that? Over time, the frequency of the pop-ins increases and become more intense. Sometimes it is incredibly creepy, especially with Ethan and Michael. Rebecca is sort of a Greek Chorus in that she helps with some self-questioning and pieces of exposition for the viewer. Or perhaps it is Claire’s own brain eating itself because she refuses to eat for days on end. Despite the small, narrow space, the filming work is well staged, almost like a three-camera television shoot, keep the elbow room still tight, but not too claustrophobic. The two female leads prove themselves to be naturalistic actors who makes it look easy, making them both empathetic and unhinged in fearless performances. The lighting is phenomenal, with shades of primary colors, but not to the Creepshow (1982) level, but more of a realistic tone, and with the editing gives some expansion to the space. Speaking of the basement, this could actually be a one-set play, using shadows and dark spots for characters to “pop” in and out quite easily. It almost seems like it was written that way. For a troupe of five (not counting the two puppets), the story stays engaging for the full run time, and even though the space is small, as is the cast, it remains compelling. The final act is full of unexpected moments and answers quite a few questions. A good watch.
Full review and trailer HERE 


A Ghost Waits
Directed by Adam Stovall
Most of us have seen hauntings films, where the spirits are present in the home and they are going to probably scare the inhabitants away. This is the job of a particular ghost, Muriel, and she is a champ at it. No one will stay at the Cincinnati house, which is – in the alive world – possessed by a management company that just wants the problem of constantly rotating lease-breaking tenants solved. To get the house ready for the next renters, handyman employee Jack clean sup and takes care of any issues. It becomes pretty obvious early on that what is there walks alone, and steals his pizza. Jack is a bit of a ne’er-do-well though good at his job, and is just floating through life in a job that doesn’t really mean much to him. It is pretty obvious that Muriel and Jack are going to connect on some level. It takes a while, but these two lost souls are looking for something and someone. Muriel has her own issues with her by-the-book spook supervisor, Ms. Henry and a fellow up-and-coming “spectral agent” Rosie. This film definitely has a comic vibe to it, though it is more of a “dramedy.” It is well written, especially the way it uses the soundtrack as another major character. It is also interesting to see the differences between the two main haunting ghosts. Rosie is newer, and more up-to-date in her language as a teenager, while Muriel talks with no contractions, as in “I do not,” as opposed to the more modern “I don’t”. I thought this was a really smart, deliberate, and subtle choice. Another one of the understated points of the film, though written by men, is that the strongest characters here are the women. Jack is kind of weak and generally unmotivated in life, but Muriel likes what she does and is, to say the least, fierce. And yet she has a lot to learn in the experience which makes her more independent and a leader (such as over Rosie), taking control of her own life – er – death to make choices. This pro-women aspect is one of the finer themes of the film for me. Because, in part, due to the use of sharp shadows, especially on Muriel’s face as she is consistently lit from below (as are all the spectral agents), the film works so much better in Black and White and, again, it was a wise choice. It’s just the right amount of grainy, which gives the look a sense of texture. There are also many very long shots, some static and others following the characters, rather than a jumble of quick edits. It works for the pace of the story. While I thought the ending was predictable, it was really the right way to end this, so I did not let that get in the way of the story. Overall, it was the right length to keep the interest up, and had some really fine moments. The acting is top notch and helps make the film even more enjoyable. This is fun, and may play well as a date night film without being too Hallmarky over-schmaltz. For a director’s first film, this is quite compelling and a positive release.
Full review and trailer HERE 


Lake Michigan Monster
Directed by Ryland Brickson Cole Tews
Almost like a Terry Gilliam fever dream, we are introduced to Capt. Seafield (director Ryland Brickson Cole Tews) who explains that his dear ole dad was killed by the titular creature, and gathers a crew together to find and slay it. There is snarky weapons expert Sean Shaughnessy (Erick West), Sonar “individual” Nedge Pepsi (Beulah Peters), and former Naval Officer Dick Flynn (Daniel Long), or as Seafield calls them, “The Team of the Century.” There is more to the cast, such as the director’s father playing his pirate-clad brother Ashcroft (Wayne Tewsd), and his 87-year-old grandmother playing his wife, Martha (Lucille Tews). The cool-yet-chincey-in-a-good-way looking sea hag monster is played by the director, Ryland, that looks a bit like the titular The She-Creature (1956). Of course, things don’t go as planned, as if there were a real plan, though that not-real plan gets played out more than once, leading to a mutiny of sorts. I will not give away much of the story, such as it is, and will instead revel in its insanity. Through what looks like it may be Paper Mache masks, scenery and monsters, along with the graphics, Tews’ vision is brought to life, in its own twisted world within our world. There are some amazing set pieces, mostly either on or under the water, in Milwaukee (beer plays a key role in this, as should be, as beer could be what made Milwaukee famous), the North Point Light Station (lighthouse), or on the Lake X-press ferry. The whole third act’s setting is ridiculous at best, which is part of what makes its charm. The film is shot in contrasty and grainy black and white with “film scratches” added in to “age” it. Even so, there is a lot of animation work going on; when it was filmed it was with a green screen to add texture and said computer graphics. There are three ways to watch this film. The first is get shitfaced and to just mock it like you’re on “Mystery Science Theater 3000”; have a blast! The second is to see it straight, pay attention to the humor and catch the lines the stoners are bound to miss, and feel righteously smug (my category). Third is to just think it’s a stupid mess and turn it off after five minutes as you would with the likes of Monty Python and complain that “SNL” hasn’t been funny since John Belushi left. For me, I found it quite amusing, knowing I would be watching it again to dig for the jokes I missed, and I’m guessing there are a few. There are some influences here and there, such as Guy Maddin, and there is a bit of the good Capt. playing checkers with a ghost a la Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (1957). It took me three happy days to watch the film and all the extras.
Full review and trailer HERE 


Making Monsters
Directed by Justin Harding and Rob Brunner
The story centers around a couple: Christian runs his prank site, and then there is the focus of his vicious pranking, his fiancé Allison. Merry prankster, indeed, making money off people that he terrorizes. Allison is stressed out and done, and asks him to cut it the fuck out, so they decide to take some time and visit friends out in the country. In genre films, is it ever good to go out to a house – actually, a deconsecrated church – in the middle of nowheresville (a fancier cabin-eth in the woods)? This one is owned by Chris’s long-lost school friend Jesse and his fiancé, the very odd and off David, who is an uber fan of the prank videos. In the words of that other great thinker, Astro, “Ruh-row.” After a night of some sex and drugs, this leads to something unworldly. Up to now, it’s been in our realm, but post-hallucinogenic, the audience is not sure what we are seeing is supernatural or part of a mind-bender, leading to some nice and creepy shit, and some decent jump scares. The question is what happens when a prankster meets the dark Web real deal? A taste of his own medicine? You see some of this coming early on in the second Act, but certain elements keep the tensions taut, I am happy to say. This is definitely a watch between the fingers kind of film, and not just because of the violence, but the expectation of it. That’s what makes this enjoyable. This could have been really corny, but the acting, especially by the two leads, and the way it was shot and stylishly put together by the directors (who have worked extensively in television, such as “Top Chef Canada” and “Canada’s Worst Drivers”), make this a pretty solid scarefest. By the end, the tension really ramps up and becomes quite a frenetic film as our killer, in a mask that I suppose is meant to reflect Chris’s look with long hair and a somewhat beard, makes his way through the small cast with quite gruesome and beautifully done SFX. As I have indicated earlier, there is a supernatural element to the film in the form of a ghost, which was fine for some jump scares, but honestly, there really did not need to be anything like that needed, as the spookie really does not advance the story at all (though it looks cool), and the human part of it is certainly terrifying enough. That being said, this is one of the better slasher films I have seen in a while, being innovative while not going too far off the mark for some effective genre tropes. Yeah, I enjoyed this one a lot.
Full review and trailer HERE  


Winifred Meeks
Directed by Jason Figgis
Asthmatic Anna James (Lara Belmont) is a popular author of youth mysteries on a deadline, who has hit a dry patch. What better way to rekindle a writing block than to rent a stunning house in the middle of nowhere? This particular trope is well; perhaps the underlying connection is that the creative mind is more open to spirituality. Anyway, the Seaview House in Suffolk, England, is beautiful, but imbued with a darkness (filters help) that could have come right out of Shirley Jackson’s iconic opening paragraph of her novel The Haunting of Hill House (1959). At once both modern (such as a flat-screen TV) and rustic (lead pane windows and a dial phone), it is a perfect place for a spookie to be hanging around, doncha think? I really enjoyed how he would situate the camera in a different room, and you would watch the character of focus through the doorway. The first act is mostly atmospheric, as Anna settles in for the night, with a beautiful score and long and luxurious shots at the start, other than a quick jump scare. We get familiar with the sadness of Anna, reflecting these moody views of her temporary life at the house. It definitely starts as a slow burn, with one subtle indication that there is something not right, shown almost as a throwaway line (okay image), and another warning of what’s to come. Ever slowly, but increasingly so, the presence of a previous owner, the titular Winifred makes herself known. She vacillates between sadness and anger, both reflecting the mood of Anna, but bringing her own story with it, which is the mystery behind the film of which Anna seeks to learn in the second act. While this is a contemporary story – albeit with an older ghost from a hundred years ago – I would definitely define this as gothic, with its turn-of-the-century (at least) house and what inhabits within its walls (and beyond). I believed I figured out the ending pretty early on, but I’m happy to say I was wrong, Figgis did not take the easy and obvious route, which is refreshing. With only two living on-screen characters and one un-, the rest of the cast is either on the phone or mostly the radio. Perhaps the disembodied voices are to reflect the spirits of the world, or specifically Winifred. It is a solid choice. The photography and drone work are excellent, over the beautiful West Coast of England. There is no blood, no violence, no nudity (other than an upper back), and no contact, and yet this still manages to be extremely creepy, which is a credit to Figgis. My appreciation of his work just keeps growing.
Full review and trailer HERE 


Witness Infection
Directed by Andy Palmer
We are introduced to two rival mob families from Jersey, who went into the witness protection program, and by an FBI mistake, both get sent to the same small city of Temecula, California. Needless to say, there are a lot of bowling shirts and jumpsuits. Rather than go to war and kill each other, they pull a Dark Ages type deal between them, where Carlo – who runs a pet grooming shop – and rival gang daughter Patricia have one week to get married, and then produce a kid. Neither is happy about this arrangement, especially Carlo’s co-groomer, Gina, who loves him. If you have already figured out where this goes, it will not matter in the long run. Along for the ride is Carlo’s older letch and cinephile cousin and (further) comic relief Vince, who has the best line in the film. Anyways, there’s a popular street meat food truck selling sausage sangwiches that is having a disastrous effect on people, turning them into zombies, but while stumbling around can also be fast, and definitely with a George A. Romero-style hunger. Oh, and their skin starts to boil and melt.While the humor is mostly verbal and pretty consistent, it is worth paying attention because there are a lot of throw-away lines that are easy to miss, and are too good to ignore (even the groaners). Part of the fun is the many other film references, from the verbal mentioning of a few films to the more subtle ones like two hit men who seem to be right out of Pulp Fiction (1994), and then there’s Rose, presenting a fine Pam Grier/Coffy-like (1973) pose; her meta-commentary on blacks in genre films is a hoot.The first two acts, which are totally worth watching, is mostly comedy, but then the bloodbath starts in earnest in the third act. There is a huge body count, and copious amounts of blood, guns, gore, and guts, and looks spectacular.Usually in a film like this, the tendency is to play the characters broadly – usually too much so – but director Andy Palmer manages to squeeze out some really nice performances, even though a bit over the top in stereotypes. This is a good thing. It is not surprising to me, though, because the cast is well-seasons with large amounts of credits on IMDB. This is one of the better zombie films I have seen in a while, especially in the comic vein (pun not intended).
Full review and trailer HERE 

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Bigfoot’s Bride
Directed by Erick Wofford
Bigfoot ain’t the only thing retro going on here. W set foot in the woods with an old-film-into-VHS-style filter that occasionally adds scratches and “rolling” distortion to the images, and an oversaturation of color. There is also an ‘80s-style synth soundtrack (not counting the excellent Americana music over the credits). The film appears to be shot on a single-camera in Georgia, including the beautiful Chattahoochee National Forest, about two hours northeast of Atlanta. And because it’s a throwback, it should come as no surprise that there are Bigfoot POV shots using what I believe is an infra-red, fisheye lens. It definitely is not taking itself too seriously and is a very dry comedy, and I like that. However, it is more humorous than funny, making the occasional bits stand out all the more. The titular bride is Heather. She’s pitched her tent in the woods on her own (who does that?), with you-know-who watching her every move, including some cringy bathroom moments. It’s love at first sight for Biggie, as he follows her around like a schoolboy, trying to get up the courage to approach her (you heard me). Meanwhile there is fish to try and catch, and RVs to rummage, and other campers/body count upon which to chomp. It’s all a matter of survival for our Bigfoot, which seems to not be too easy. The creature’s head and the film’s make-up look pretty good, even at its cheesiest. He does look more like Toxie or a later version of Jason Vorhees than Bigfoot – plus he wears overalls with a nametag and his upper hair is an obvious jacket – but in the words of Liam Lynch, whatever. There is a lot of practical effects, even a touch of cartoonish gore, but the occasional time there is blood spray, it is hysterically cartoonish CGI, reminding me of the “Pow” balloons in the old “Batman” television show from 1965. I have no doubt this was done purposefully, and it made me laugh out loud. One of the interesting aspects of this film is that even when Biggie interacts with others, it’s rare to see him and the other person in the same shot, but rather goes back and forth like they weren’t filmed at the same time. Perhaps this was filmed in the height of Covid, and that was their workaround? From a technical perspective, this intrigued me. I had an issue with the use of the Bigfoot name, as it is incredibly inaccurate. There is no explanation as to why this deformed guy with Bigfoot feet and talons is given that name; that being said, in the middle of the end credits, its origin and nods at a possible sequel are hinted. Those fans of the hairy Sasquatch may be turned off by that association. While the director shows quite a bit of heart and some beginning filmmaking skills, there were definitely some issues with the film. For example, the first two acts are merely set pieces strung together with little connection other than his lust for Heather. It isn’t until the third act that the story begins to find some cohesion into an actual storyline. For me, the biggest problem was in Wofford’s editing, as in not enough. This would have been a more solid hour film: it could use some serious and judicious snipping, especially early on, such as the way-too-long scene at the river where we see someone fishing and Bigfoot finding a clown mask in the water. The film loses momentum in these moments. Also, I could have done without the lingering shots of fish being gutted and cleaned. This is the director, Erick Wofford’s first full feature film, but this is certainly a family affair as a number of the cast and crew is actually members of his clan, and I’m sure many others are friends. That’s a smart financial move and I respect that a lot. I look forward to seeing his skills grow.
Full review and trailer HERE 


Demented (aka The Demented)
Directed by Nigel Hartwell
This Canadian film falls well into the category of torture porn, with a supernatural touch. And in an extremely micro-budget way. Lovebirds Senica and Amanda go up to Senica’s cottage on the lake. After dropping a ring on her, they spend the night. When Senica awakes, Amanda is gone. According to a police detective (the ever-fun Felissa Rose), so are her parents. Meanwhile, somewhere there is a room where women are systematically tortured and snuffed for the Dark Web by a burly guy dressed in black, including a bullet-proof vest, and a leather hood. His voice is digitally manipulated, and honestly, I can only make out about half of what he says. We watch as he’s a-rapin’ (with his pants all the way on and her underwear intact) and a-chokin’ and a-tauntin’ his chained-to-a-bed victims. There is also some playing with time, with numerous flashbacks to various periods and present day, making the narrative timeline a bit confusing for a while. In one of these vignettes (past? present? future?), Amanda is a chainee, abused by the dark and mysterious man. Between the patterns of abuse, Amanda is visited by knowing spirits, who are helpless to aid her, but communicate quite easily. Don’t get me wrong, this supernatural element is actually what made the film for me. The violence compared to most torture porn is relatively mild and mostly threats (and yes, full-dressed rape). But the rules of the film change with Amanda. Her accomplishments are the closest this comes to empowering women. They are generally are seen as torture victims and strippers, not counting that the main authority figure is the police detective. Misogyny? Maybe, but it felt good to have these women get some of their umph back, a lot of good it will do them in the long run. There is nothing real to talk about in the blood department. There are some cheesy CGI effects at a point, but I believe it was meant to be that way. The film is overlong at 96 minutes, but there is easily quite a bit that could be excised and not lose any of the story. For example, the “torment” scenes on for what feels like a really long time of just the killer yakking away. Too many of the scenes and shots – especially the punishment ones – also just seem too “samey.” The acting is okay, though as always, Rose easily holds her own; the two main leads often don’t look like they are trying too hard. There are some really well-done shots, including some drone work, which was refreshing after some obvious green screen parts. The production pattern is a bit different. Many times, especially in the police station scenes with Rose, it is pretty obvious that – despite some similar motifs on the walls that I am pretty sure are green-screened – the detective and two of the people she is interviewing are single shots and not in the same room. It seems like those interviewed, including a porn/snuff provider, Brad (Canadian wrestling champion Bret Hart), doesn’t know which direction to look, often off to the wrong side of where the Detective would be standing. There is an almost amusing moment when we hear a character’s thinking processes, and it was obviously recorded later in a studio by how well it sounds, but also that there is a comment when the actor obviously accidentally falls during the filming, and the narration goes, “Oh, that hurt.” I am so glad they put that in. If I had my druthers, I would like to see them take this film, re-edit it or have someone other than the director do it, and see where it goes. It has some nice potential, and I would like to see that fulfilled.
Full review and trailer HERE