Saturday, 28 December 2019

Reflections on ... Sue Lyon

Farewell to the notorious Sue Lyon (10 July 1946 – 26 December 2019) – most infamous for playing the nymphette titular character in Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 film adaptation of the troubling Vladimir Nabokov novel Lolita.

The casting of unknown starlet Lyon was considered problematic (the role was offered to Tuesday Weld first), partly because Lolita was meant to be 12-years old and Lyon – a poised and sophisticated 14-year old during filming – was obviously older. (Although to be fair, there was no way the Motion Production Code in place at the time would have permitted an actual 12-year old playing the part).

I for one genuinely love the bouffant-haired, petulant Lyon’s memorable performance in the film: so pert and doll-like, a kitten-ish teenage hybrid of Carroll Baker and Ann-Margret. No one ever looked better in heart-shaped sunglasses! And she holds her own remarkably well among heavyweight, experienced talents like James Mason, Shelley Winters and Peter Sellars.

Lyon continued to act post-Lolita (her final acting credit was in 1980. I know I saw her in the 1964 adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ Night of The Iguana years ago) but never again with comparable impact. (You could argue that was also true of Lyon’s spiritual precursor – Carroll Baker in Babydoll). Eventually she drifted into obscurity. And Lyon’s personal life sounds insane, encompassing near-fatal car crashes, rumoured mental health problems and five stormy marriages (including one to a convicted felon, then in prison for second-degree murder and robbery!).

The enigmatic Lyon withdrew into complete seclusion in later years and was reportedly estranged from her children. In one of the few relatively recent photos of her to surface, she looks totally unrecognizable and almost Morticia Addams-like. (Lyon's contemporary Tuesday Weld, too, has become a recluse and apparently now struggles with mental health issues).

The Lolita persona Lyon created in the early 60s still haunts popular culture: when Lana Del Rey first appeared in 2010, she made stylish references to Lyon’s heart-shaped sunglasses and lollipops in her early publicity shots. Rest in peace, Sue Lyon.

/ All photos of Lyon from a photo session by Bert Stern. Below: Lana Del Rey paying homage in 2010 /

Sunday, 8 December 2019

Lobotomy Room Dance Party DJ Set List 8 November 2019 plus Dirty Shame 9 November 2019

Revel in sleaze, voodoo and rock’n’roll - when incredibly bizarre dance party Lobotomy Room returns to the basement Bamboo Lounge of Fontaine’s (Dalston’s most unique nite spot) on Friday 8 November 2019!

Lobotomy Room! Where sin lives! A punkabilly booze party! Sensual and depraved! A spectacle of decadence! A night of Vintage Sleaze-o-Rama! Beat, Beat Beatsville Beatnik Rock’n’Roll! Bad Music for Bad People! Rockabilly Psychosis! Wailing Rhythm and Blues! Twisted tittyshakers! Punk cretin hops! White Trash Rockers! Kitsch! Exotica! Curiosities and Other Weird Shit! Think John Waters soundtracks, or Songs the Cramps Taught Us, hosted by Graham Russell. Expect desperate stabs from the jukebox jungle! Savage rhythms to make you writhe and rock! Grainy vintage black-and-white erotica projected on the big screen all night for your adult entertainment!

Admission: gratuit - that’s French for FREE!

Lobotomy Room: Faster. Further. Filthier.

It’s sleazy. It’s grubby. It’s trashy - you’ll love it! A tawdry good time guaranteed!

“Hell-o? What’s that? Incredibly bizarre punkabilly dance party LOBOTOMY ROOM returns to Fontaine’s bar (Dalston’s most unique nite spot) on 8 November? And admission is FREE?” /

Good lord! With 2019 careering to an imminent close, I’d better get postin’! Note: there was meant to be one final Lobotomy Room dance party of the year on Friday 13 December – but it got cancelled because someone has reserved the entire venue (both floors of Fontaine’s) for a private party. Friday the thirteenth is genuinely unlucky – who knew? So, by default, the November 2019 Lobotomy Room was the last club night of 2019! Here is my scene report from the night - a jolting, dramatic human document ripped from the pages of life! Told with the intensity of white heat! Read it if you must!

/ Rockabilly royalty: Sparkle Moore with Gene Vincent /

“Rockabilly bombshell Sparkle Moore was born Barbara Morgan in Omaha in 1939. The quintessential bad girl, she dressed in leather (and often in men's clothes), with her short blonde hair greased back in an Elvis Presley-styled pompadour. Dubbed "Sparkle" in honor of a supporting character in the Dick Tracy comic strip, she signed to the Cincinnati-based Fraternity label to issue her debut single, the hiccupping "Rock-a-Bop," in late 1956, and though still just 17 years old she toured the US in support of the record, even opening for Gene Vincent at the peak of his fame. (A planned appearance on radio's Grand Ol' Opry was canceled due to a bout with laryngitis, however.) The sultry yet sinister "Killer" followed in 1957, but soon after Moore learned she was pregnant and abruptly quit performing to focus on raising a family. No subsequent recordings are known to exist, although an unreleased Fraternity ballad called "Flower of My Heart" subsequently appeared on several compilations, most notable among them 2004's Good Girls Gone Bad: Weird, Wild & Wanted, the first to assemble her complete recorded output in one disc (including a handful of alternate takes).”

/ From Allmusic Guide /

Enigmatic platinum blonde rockabilly icon - and perennial Lobotomy Room favourite - Sparkle Moore (born 6 November 1939) turned 80 just before this dance party! Sing along with me: “You should be labelled with a skull and crossbones / You’re a jinx to my soul …” Needless to say, I dropped one of Moore's tracks in tribute to the birthday girl. 

 / “The violence that was normally only a promise (or threat) in rock'n’roll was realized in Esquerita’s sound.” Charles Gillett in his book The Sound of the City: The Rise of Rock‘n’Roll / 

Also born in November: the flamboyant, pompadoured king (or should that be “queen”?) of outsider rhythm and blues Esquerita (born aka Eskew Reeder Jr on 20 November 1935 in Greenville, South Carolina. He died in 1986). Esquerita was such a beauty (and – alongside Jayne Mansfield – is one of the patron saints of my Lobotomy Room dance party club night). Photo via Norton Records’ Instagram page.

I won't lie: the crowd this night was small but ardent (people were dancing until almost 2 am). And the attendees included fabulous burlesque VIPS Mysti Vine and Trixi Tassels. For me, there is no greater compliment than having off-duty striptease ultra-vixens like this duo dancing to my music!

Snooker Final - Low Rocks
I Don't Need You No More - The Rumblers
My Boyfriend from Outer Space - The 5,6,7,8s
Sugar Town - Lara and The Trailers
Mau Mau - The Fabulous Wailers
Kismiaz - The Cramps
Katanga - Ike Turner and His Kings of Rhythm
Monkey Bird - The Revels
Jungle Drums - Earl Bostic
I Would if I Could - Ruth Brown
Sweet Little Pussycat - Andre Williams
Let's Go Sexin' - James Intveld
Uptown to Harlem - Johnny Thunders and Patti Palladin
Jukebox Babe - Alan Vega
Pass the Hatchet - Roger and The Gypsies
Suey - Jayne Mansfield
Hanky Panky - Rita Chao
Blitzkrieg Bop - The Ramonetures
Gunnin' for Peter - The Fabulous Wailers
Touch the Leather - The Fat White Family
I Walk Like Jayne Mansfield - The 5,6,7,8s
Bombie - Johnny Sharp and The Yellow Jackets
Garbageman - The Cramps
Strychnine - The Sonics
You're Driving Me Crazy - Dorothy Berry
Tina's Dilemma - Ike and Tina Turner
Little Queenie - Bill Black Combo
I Don't Care - The Ramones
You're Phone's Off the Hook - X
Riding with a Movie Star - L7
Cha Cha Twist - The Detroit Cobras
96 Tears - Big Maybelle
Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill! - The Bostweeds
Woodpecker Rock - Nat County and The Braves
Fools Rush In - Ricky Nelson
Devil in Disguise - Elvis Presley
Party Lights - Claudine Clark
Rockin' the Joint - Esquerita
I Can't Believe What You Say - Ike and Tina Turner
I'm Blue - The Ikettes
Boss - The Rumblers
C'mon Everybody - The Sex Pistols
Let's Have a Party - Wanda Jackson
Wild, Wild Party - Charlie Feathers
Love Me - The Phantom
Rip It Up - Little Richard
Jailhouse Rock - Masaaki Hirao
Jim Dandy - Ann-Margret

I've knocked-together a Spotify playlist for the songs I played. The usual caveats: disable shuffle for the full grittily authentic "you were there" experience. Let me take you on an aural journey into deep vintage sleaze-o-rama! The Spotify playlist is strictly approximate: much of the stuff I play isn't available on there and the tunes to select from shrinks all the time. Frustratingly, Spotify "purges" tracks on a regular basis, presumably for licensing reasons. But for now, it's the best medium for creating playlists. Listen to it here.

Dirty Shame - Saturday 9 December 2019

/ The sultry bad girl pictured above giving major badittude is Fontaine's boss lady, Emerald Fontaine  /

Bonus material! The following night, I just about scraped-together a few brain cells to drag my tired ass back down the stairs to Fontaine's Polynesian-themed Bamboo Lounge to DJ again! (Honey, I was exhausted! DJ'ing - and boozing - two late nights in a row is brutal at my age). This time I was doing a guest DJ'ing spot as part of Dirty Shame - a  confrontational "bad taste" evening of cabaret inspired by the twisted imagination of The Peoples' Pervert, John Waters! Emceed by Benjamin Louche, the festivities incorporated performance artists, exotic dancers, potent cocktails, free popcorn - and a screening of Waters' most infamous celluloid atrocity, Pink Flamingos (1972)! For the post-film club night, I played a set loosely inspired by the cinema of John Waters. Let's just say I spun music for juvenile delinquents of all ages! Dirty Shame is due to become a regular event in 2020. Be sure to "like" and "follow" the Fontaine's Facebook page to find out when the next one is.

Chicken Grabber - The Nite Hawks
Little Queenie - Bill Black Combo
Salamander - Mamie Van Doren
Here Comes the Bug - The Rumblers
Let's Go Baby - Billy Eldridge and The Fireballs
Be Bop A Lula - Alan Vega
Viva Las Vegas - Nina Hagen
Atomic Bongos - Lydia Lunch
Wiped-Out - The Escorts
What's Inside a Girl? The Cramps
Johnny Are You Queer? Josie Cotton
Teenage Lobotomy - The Ramones
Big Girls Don't Cry - Edith Massey
Pedro Pistolas Twist - Los Twisters
96 Tears - Big Maybelle
Johnny Hit and Run Pauline - X
Media Blitz - Germs
What Do You Think I Am? Ike and Tina Turner
The Swag - Link Wray
Aw Shucks Baby - Tiny Topsy
Comin' Home Baby - The Delmonas
She Said - Frank Scott and His Scottsmen
Drive, Daddy, Drive - Little Sylvia
The Flirt - Shirley and Lee
Intoxica - The Centurions
Revellion - The Revels
Peter Gunn Twist - The Jesters
Twistin' the Night Away - Divine
Ultra Twist - The Cramps
Muleskinner Blues - The Fendermen
Shortnin' Bread - The Readymen
Surfin' Bird - The Trashmen
I Walk Like Jayne Mansfield - The 5,6,7,8s
That Makes It - Jayne Mansfield
Bombora - The Original Surfaris
Juvenile Delinquent - Ronnie Allen
Wailin' - The Fabulous Wailers
Stranger in My Own Home Town - The Earls of Suave
Killer - Sparkle Moore
These Boots Are Made for Walkin' - Mrs Miller
How Does That Grab You Darlin'? - Nancy Sinatra
53rd & 3rd - The Ramones
Contact - Brigitte Bardot
My Way - Sid Vicious
One Night of Sin - Elvis Presley

Here's the Dirty Shame Spotify playlist! Once again - compiling this was a major bummer as so many essential tunes are missing from Spotify, such as "Johnny Are You Queer?" by Josie Cotton, punk granny Edith Massey's version of "Big Girls Don't Cry" and Lydia Lunch's magnum opus Queen of Siam (1980). C'mon, Spotify - raise your game!

Next Lobotomy Room film club: Wednesday 18 December 2019 

“It’s Got the Heat! And The Beat!” Yes! For the last film club of the year, let’s end things on a high with a FREE screening of the irresistible Mercedes Benz of rock’n’roll musicals – The Girl Can’t Help It (1956)! Starring perennial Lobotomy Room favourite, squealing and cooing sex kitten-gone-berserk Jayne Mansfield in one of her most iconic roles! And featuring performances by a star-studded who’s who of 1950s rock’n’roll greats including Little Richard, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran and Fats Domino – all captured in glorious DeLuxe Color and CinemaScope! Wednesday 18 December!

Lobotomy Room Goes to the Movies is the FREE monthly film club downstairs at Fontaine’s bar (Dalston’s most unique nite spot!) devoted to Bad Movies We Love (our motto: Bad Movies for Bad People), specializing in the kitsch, the cult and the queer! Doors to the basement Bamboo Lounge open at 8 pm. Film starts at 8:30 pm prompt! Remember: the film is FREE so you can enjoy more cocktails! Speaking of which: Fontaine’s signature pink “Jayne Mansfield cocktail” will be available on the night for special price of £6.50! Event page.

Further reading:

In August 2018 I spoke my brains to To Do List magazine about the wild, wild world of Lobotomy Room, the monthly cinema club – and my lonely one-man mission to return a bit of raunch, sleaze and “adult situations” to London’s nightlife! Read it - if you must - here. 

Follow me on twitter!

"Like" and follow the official Lobotomy Room page on Facebook if you dare! 

I have serious issues with the frankly homophobic, puritanical, hypocritical and censorious Tumblr these days, but you can follow me on there. 

And I'm now spreading my message of filth on Instagram!

And just in case I don't post again before Christmas - here is your official Lobotomy Room Christmas playlist! A festive "vintage sleaze" Christmas soundtrack featuring all our Lobotomy Room favourites like Mae West, Ike and Tina Turner, Elvis Presley, Eartha Kitt and Ann-Margret! Think surf instrumental, rhythm and blues, punk and rockabilly Christmas tunes! No Mariah Carey, no Wham, no tired old "Fairtyale of New York" by The Pogues - guaranteed!! (Play it on "shuffle" for maximum seasonal pleasure). 

Saturday, 30 November 2019

Reflections on ... Too Hot to Handle (1960)

“Under the naked glare of the spots they do their stuff … the girls who rock the night as tease queens!”

"The Sizzler You Read About in Playboy Magazine!"

"In the fall of 1959 Jayne made a couple of shabby British films in her first independent ventures. She played "Midnight Franklin", a Soho nightclub dancer, more accurately a stripper, in Too Hot to Handle directed by Terence Young. Midnight was in love with Johnny Solo, doomed owner of The Pink Flamingo club. The censors refused to release the movie in this country under its American title, Playgirl After Dark. Jayne suggested that someone get a spray gun and cover her offending areas. But the process cost more than the budget of the film."

/ From Jayne Mansfield and The American Fifties (1975) by Martha Saxton /

Recently watched: lurid British noir crime drama Too Hot to Handle (1960), concerning the inexorably violent rivalry between two competing striptease clubs in the underbelly of Soho, London’s neon-lit glamour jungle! Between the two club owners, we’re seemingly encouraged to sympathise with Johnny Solo, proprietor of striptease emporium The Pink Flamingo Club. (The unappealing actor who plays him - Leo Genn - is a total charisma by-pass). Atomic-era sex kitten-gone-berserk Jayne Mansfield is platinum blonde American showgirl deluxe Midnight Franklin, Solo’s glamorous moll and the star attraction at The Pink Flamingo. Rounding out the cast are Christopher Lee as Solo’s untrustworthy thug henchman Novak (of course he’s untrustworthy – he’s played by Christopher Lee and wears a pencil-line spiv moustache!), Austrian actor Karlheinz Bohm (who in the same year would star in chilling cult classic Peeping Tom) and young starlet Barbara Windsor as naïve, doomed underage stripper Ponytail ("the girl with the rock'n'roll hairstyle"). Lee played an extremely similar role in another trashy exploitation film released the same year, also set in the Soho burlesque milieu: Beat Girl (1960).

Slumming American superstar Mansfield – on loan from her Hollywood studio Twentieth Century Fox - made two fairly undistinguished films in the UK in 1960 (the second one is heist thriller The Challenge. Of the two, Too Hot is considerably more fun). The gangster subplot of Too Hot is pretty unconvincing, but the film sparks to life when it embraces sexploitation and switches to the scantily-clad exotic dancers’ ultra-camp musical numbers and their bitchy dressing room confrontations. Mansfield herself – looking lushly zaftig, her waist cinched to almost Vampira proportions – coos two outrageous songs (“Too Hot to Handle” and  the calypso-style “You Were Made for Me”). Both  are sheer sex kitten bliss (and the film’s highlights by a long shot). When we’re first introduced to Midnight, Mansfield is wearing a tight white leotard and busy auditioning new dancers. The camera fixates on her voluptuous marshmallow thighs and butt (Mansfield is “thicc”, as millennials would put it) and she suggests one of cartoonist Robert Crumb’s big-assed Amazonian dream women come to life. Mansfield was 26 here and – although no one knew it at the time – she’d already “peaked” and the “reputable” legitimate stage of her film career was ending. From here on in, she’d mostly star in low-budget European quickies (or “Nudies!” as Neely O’Hara in Valley of the Dolls would call ‘em).

Pre-Carry On movies Windsor is 22 years old here (her character Ponytail is meant to be 16. One of the male characters actually refers to her as “jailbait”). Later Windsor would claim that Mansfield was threatened by her youth and beauty, refused to make eye contact and demanded that Windsor darken her platinum blonde hair so as not to compete onscreen. To which I argue, the age difference between them was four years and Windsor’s hair (and fake ponytail) in the film is the palest albino shade of white-blonde!

/ Young starlet Barbara Windsor as Ponytail in Too Hot to Handle (1960). Check out those brows! /

Too Hot has a complicated history. In the UK it originally received an X rating. A shorter, censored cut was released in the US with the alternate title Playgirl After Dark. Most weirdly, it was originally filmed in gleaming better-than-life Eastmancolor but the current version in wide circulation is black-and-white! Apparently when Too Hot was made available for television broadcast, most people still had black-and-white TV sets and that’s the print that survives. On YouTube you can view Mansfield’s musical sequences in lush, gorgeous colour and it’s a vastly different, infinitely superior experience. Someone needs to sort out a digitally re-mastered full-colour DVD or Blu-ray of Too Hot to Handle!

Watch Too Hot to Handle online here.

/ German-language for Too Hot to Handle in colour /

/ One of Mansfield's musical numbers in colour. This sensational sheer "nude-look" dress is a somewhat tamer version of the infamous gown Mansfield wore onstage in her Las Vegas cabaret act /

Saturday, 23 November 2019

Reflections On ... Hush ... Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)

Attention, Scream Queens! In honour of Halloween, for the October Lobotomy Room film club presentation we’ve scheduled the apogee of the “hagsploitation” genre Hush ... Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964) starring Bette Davis at her most frenzied! Wednesday 16 October! Come and settle-in for an evening of spine-tingling Southern Gothic horror in the Tiki splendour of Fontaine's Bamboo Lounge!

Lobotomy Room Goes to the Movies is the FREE monthly film club downstairs at Fontaine’s bar (Dalston’s most unique nite spot!) devoted to Bad Movies We Love, specializing in the kitsch, the cult and the camp! (Our motto: Bad Movies for Bad People!). Remember: admission is FREE so that you can buy more cocktails! (One drink minimum).

“Millionaire and southern belle Charlotte Hollis guards a deep, dark secret. When cousin Miriam comes to stay with Charlotte, mystifying events begin to occur, driving the latter closer to insanity.”

/ IMDb’s synopsis for Hush … Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964) /

/ "Suspense that starts with a whisper … and mounts to a shattering unpredictable climax!” /

Here at Lobotomy Room we love hagsploitation. For anyone unfamiliar, it’s the disreputable and campy subgenre (sometimes also referred to as Pyscho-Biddy or Grande Dame Guignol) whereby aging,  hungry-for-work leading ladies of Hollywood’s Golden Age swallowed their pride, lowered their standards and slummed it in gruesome horror movies in the 1960s and 70s. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) – which revived the flagging careers of arch-rivals Bette Davis and Joan Crawford - is universally credited as inaugurating the whole cycle, but you could argue that Gloria Swanson as homicidal silent movie diva Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard (1950) was the original hagsploitation anti-heroine. And surely Norman Bates' toxic mother in Psycho (1960) merits a mention?

/ Bette Davis as Charlotte Hollis /

In any case, these horror flicks offered a temporary fillip to the flatlining careers of actresses as disparate as Tallulah Bankhead (Die, Die My Darling, 1965), Veronica Lake (Flesh Feast, 1970), Miriam Hopkins (Savage Intruder, 1970) and Shelley Winters (in multiple Curtis Harrington-directed thrillers like Who Slew Auntie Roo? and What’s the Matter with Helen? both 1971).

With some justification, the genre has been denounced as both misogynist and ageist. It essentially positions the aged woman as inherently horrific, after all. These are horror films about the ravages of time! But on the plus side, these films also offered juicy, demanding lead roles to veteran actresses who’d been otherwise sidelined by their industry for the crime of growing older. It's complicated!

Hagsploitation movies mostly tapered-off by the late 1970s, but it never entirely vanished from popular culture. Note how sixty-something Oscar winner Jessica Lange (whose film career had long been in the doldrums) triumphantly re-invented herself playing homicidal harridans in Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story on television. I’d argue the campy psychological thriller Greta (2018) starring Isabelle Huppert is a prime example of modern hagsploitation.

/ Crawford and Davis promoting Hush at the beginning of filming, before it all went tits up /

Hush, Hush … Sweet Charlotte is the follow-up to the unexpected box office victory of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? It was meant to jubilantly reunify director Robert Aldrich with his Baby Jane leading ladies Davis and Crawford – but as you probably already know (especially if you watched Ryan Murphy’s wildly entertaining 2017 TV mini-series Feud: Bette and Joan) that went catastrophically wrong. Penny Stalling pithily recaps what happened in her 1978 book Flesh and Fantasy:

“Despite the fact that Bette Davis and Joan Crawford had been bitter rivals for years, Jack Warner managed to get them to agree to co-star in his upcoming thriller What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? The press predicted that all hell would break loose when the girls got together, but director Robert Aldrich, keenly aware that his budget couldn’t afford costly delays, kept the girls apart as much as possible when they weren’t working. When the two screen queens were reunited for Hush, Hush … Sweet Charlotte, however, the predicted fireworks became a reality. Riding high as a result of the earlier film’s success, Bette and Joan apparently felt they could afford to engage in some impromptu histrionics for Charlotte’s cast and crew. The hostilities ceased when Crawford became ill. After doctors told her that she would have to bow out, Crawford cried for three days in her hospital bed. When she read that Olivia de Havilland was to replace her, Crawford announced that she was happy for Olivia since she “needed the work.” A victorious Davis posed for on-the-set candids sipping a Coca-Cola.”  

Interestingly, de Havilland was not the first choice for Crawford’s substitution. The character of Miriam was also reportedly offered to Katharine Hepburn, Loretta Young, Barbara Stanwyck and Vivien Leigh first. (Some accounts claim Stanwyck was proffered the role of Jewel Mayhew – the part played by Mary Astor – rather than Miriam). Leigh – de Havilland’s co-star in Gone with the Wind - rejected the opportunity, bitchily explaining, “I could just about look at Joan Crawford’s face on a Southern plantation at 6:00 in the morning; I couldn’t possibly look at Bette Davis’.”

(In fact, Hush was the second film in a row in which de Havilland stepped into a role originally intended for Crawford. Prior to this she played the lead in ultra-lurid shocker Lady in a Cage (1964) when Crawford bowed-out. (This also means Hush wasn’t de Havilland’s first foray into hagsploitation)).

Understandably, a lot of people are preoccupied with what Hush would have been like with Crawford as Miriam. As a great cinematic “What If?” it ranks up there with Judy Garland as Helen Lawson instead of Susan Hayward in Valley of the Dolls (1967). But hell, I love raspy-voiced bitch goddess Hayward hamming it up and growling her way through Valley, and I love de Havilland in Hush. To fixate on Crawford does de Havilland a grave disservice. Why not appreciate de Havilland’s performance on its own considerable merits? In the 1930s and 40s she specialized in exuding sweetness as exemplars of virtuous femininity, most famously as the demure Maid Marion opposite Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) and as Melanie Wilkes in Gone with the Wind (1939). Cast against type, de Havilland is spellbinding in an evil role (sorry – spoiler!), portraying Miriam with purring subtlety. It’s genuinely unsettling when Miriam suddenly betrays her true nature and turns nasty or violent, her usual honeyed ladylike voice abruptly shuttling to a snarl.

(I’m trying to think of other examples of de Havilland exploring her inner bitch onscreen. She’s mesmerizing in the underrated The Dark Mirror (1946) playing identical twin sisters, one good and one bad. The sociopathic one is inevitably far more compelling). It’s also worth noting that de Havilland - now 103 years old – is the sole cast member of Hush still alive and in fact is now one of the very few surviving Golden Age Hollywood-era stars. At this point her only peer is Kirk Douglas (102).

/ Can you say fierce? Joan Crawford as Miriam / 

All the footage shot with Crawford as Miriam has seemingly vanished and to this day remains unseen.  Presumably it was destroyed at the time: if it still existed, it would surely have cropped-up as a DVD extra or in a documentary by now? But watch for the scene where Miriam’s cab first pulls up to the driveway of Charlotte’s sprawling Southern mansion (approximately 28 minutes and thirty seconds into the film). De Havilland is wearing a hat and no sunglasses. In one fleeting shot we get the briefest, almost subliminal but unmistakable blink-and-you-miss-it glimpse of Crawford (wearing no hat and dark sunglasses) peering out of the cab’s passenger window. Presumably this was left-in in error. In all likelihood, this is the sole surviving fragment of Crawford as Miriam.

/ Olivia de Havilland as Miriam /

The film’s original title was to be What Ever Happened to Cousin Charlotte? (the title of the short story it’s based on). But it was decided this was too like What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and it was re-titled (reportedly at Bette Davis’ own insistence).

The painting of young Charlotte displayed on the wall is recycled from Bette Davis’ role as petulant southern belle Julie in the 1938 film Jezebel.

/ See Bette Davis scream and scream again (and again. And again. And then some more. Seriously, she screams a lot in this film!) / 

Hush doesn’t just reassemble Davis and director Aldrich from Baby Jane: the cast of Hush also includes Victor Buono (1938 - 1982), seen in a flashback as Charlotte’s father. (In reality, Buono was young enough to be Davis’ son). Speaking of age: as someone who certainly ain't getting any younger, it’s very enjoyable watching a film in which all the lead characters are on the wrong side of fifty!

The basic premise of Hush (people are conspiring to make Charlotte have a nervous breakdown and pin a murder on her) is essentially the same plot-line as Strait-Jacket starring Joan Crawford (1964).

Think of Hush as the Mercedes Benz or Rolls Royce of hagsploitation. It was made with a luxe high budget, featured a distinguished all-star cast (not just Davis and de Havilland, but Joseph Cotton, Mary Astor and Agnes Moorehead) and was filmed on location on an actual Southern mansion (the Houmas House Plantation and Gardens in Baton Rouge, Louisiana). The sultry Southern Gothic atmosphere simmering with resentments, family tragedies and secrets almost hints at Tennessee Williams terrain. The black and white cinematography is exceptionally beautiful and velvet-y (watch for a haunting shot of de Havilland peering out of a misty window).

In fact, Hush is almost too plush for its own good: hagsploitation is better when it’s starker, nastier and more hardboiled. Baby Jane, for example, was made on a significantly lower budget. I’d argue William Castle’s primal, trashy low-budget b-movie Strait-Jacket starring Joan Crawford is superior, more urgent hagsploitation than Hush, which feels overextended and bogged-down with flashbacks, art-y dream sequences and way too many cliched shots of characters prowling around darkened hallways.  And Hush shamelessly plagiarizes one climactic moment from the French film Les Diaboliques (1955)!

As Paul Roen argues in volume one of his essential High Camp: A Gay Guide to Camp and Cult Films (1994), Hush is pioneering in one regard, though: “the historical significance of Hush … is that it brought graphic gore into the mainstream. There had of course been other gory films before this one, but they didn’t have stars and weren’t nominated for Oscars. (Contrary to popular perception, Psycho contains no gore). Before we even get to the opening titles, Hush … shows us Bruce Dern’s hand being severed with a meat cleaver, blood splashing on a cupid and Dern waving the gruesome stump of his arm at the camera.”

Hush is also one of the shrillest, loudest films you’ll ever watch, comparable to John Waters’ Desperate Living (1977) where everyone screams their lines at full volume. It certainly captures volatile monstre sacree Davis at full screech and at her most abrasive. Look, of course I love Bette Davis. Everybody loves Bette Davis. But in Hush Davis is borderline insufferable at points! Charlotte Hollis is not nearly as nuanced a characterization as her earlier Baby Jane Hudson. Davis seemingly assumed the success of Baby Jane meant she should crank up the histrionics even more. Was Aldrich too intimidated by the volcanic Davis to reign her in? And she’s matched by character actress par excellence Agnes Moorehead as loyal housekeeper Lydia: both ham it up shamelessly. (Odd to think the usually excellent Moorehead – overacting here as if her life depends on it – was nominated for Best Supporting Actress Oscar for this performance). The acting honours in Hush truly belong to the actors who dial-down the hysteria: de Havilland, Cotton and notably Mary Astor. In her last-ever film, Astor makes a haunting impression in a fleeting guest star appearance as Charlotte’s old rival Jewel Mayhew, lamenting “the ruined finery” of her genteelly impoverished old age. Davis’ eye-bulging, jibbering nervous breakdown towards the end reminded me of Divine’s as Francine Fishpaw in John Waters’ Polyester.

Further reading:

Read my analysis of Feud: Bette and Joan here.

Read Ken Anderson's essay on Hush here.

Monday, 28 October 2019

Lobotomy Room Halloween Dance Party 11 October 2019

From the Facebook event page:

It’s creepy and it’s kooky … mysterious and spooky … it’s all together ooky … it’s the Lobotomy Room Halloween dance party! Revel in sleaze, voodoo and rock’n’roll on Friday 11 October at the punkiest, Cramps-iest, kitschiest low-brow Halloween bash this accursed month! Downstairs at Fontaine’s bar (Dalston’s most unique nite spot!).

Lobotomy Room! Where sin lives! A punkabilly booze party! Sensual and depraved! A spectacle of decadence! A Mondo Trasho evening of Beat, Beat Beatsville Beatnik Rock’n’Roll! Campy 1950s and 60s Halloween novelty songs played LOUD, with added Rockabilly Psychosis! Wailing Rhythm and Blues! Punk cretin hops! White Trash Rockers! Kitsch! Exotica! Curiosities! Think John Waters soundtracks and Songs The Cramps Taught Us! Lurid vintage horror films played on the big screen all night!

Featuring special musical guests:

Hailing from New Zealand, instrumental electric guitar duo SPARKLING DUET (aka Shaun Blackwell and Clare McNamara of Night Shades – think of ‘em as the Lux Interior and Poison Ivy of Stoke Newington!) will be playing a special Halloween preternatural edition of their show, covering classic and obscure 50’s and 60’s surf, psych, exotica and rockabilly tunes with a haunted twist!

Admission: only £3.00 on the door (cash only)! Free candy while it lasts!

Blimey! I am painfully aware that I haven’t posted a Lobotomy Room dance party scene report in months. Mainly it’s because life kept getting in the way, but I won’t lie: 2019 has been a challenging year for the club. I’m a veteran at this and it just never gets easier. Take it from me – unless you’re a masochist, don’t become a club promoter. It will break your heart!

Happily, this year’s Halloween shindig was a success. To loosely paraphrase S Club 7: there ain’t no Halloween party like a Lobotomy Room Halloween party. OK we didn’t exactly replicate the massive crowd from 2018 (where did those people continuously pumping down the stairs all night come from?!) but the attendees we did get were stylish, sexy and enthusiastic. And none of them projectile-vomited up the wall, which was a definite bonus. (Read about the 2018 Lobotomy Room spectacular here). You’ll have to take my word for it – unfortunately, I don’t think any photos were taken all night!

/ Cute band alert! Sparkling Duet, Photo by Andreia Lemos /

Another bonus was the spook-tacular surf sounds of vicious instrumental duo Sparkling Duet. It was great to welcome back Shaun and Clare – our own local equivalent of The Cramps! If Lobotomy Room has a spiritual “house band”, surely, it’s these two.  Hopefully Sparkling Duet will be making return appearances in 2020.

/ Vampira-inspired pin-up art by the great Shubina Sveta /

/ Fawn Silver as The Black Ghoul and Criswell as The Emperor conspiring in Orgy of The Dead /

Oh, and once again I embraced the Halloween spirit by projecting the 1965 horror-exploitation flick Orgy of the Dead on an endless loop on the big screen (usually I show a mélange of 1960s posing pouch vintage homo porn and fetish queen Bettie Page frolicking in lingerie). Filmed in “Shocking Sexicolour” (sic) and boasting a screenplay by Edward D Wood Jr (always a sign of quality!), Orgy of the Dead’s cavalcade of nudie cuties go-go dancing in a mist-enshrouded graveyard (overseen by a mummy, a werewolf and clairvoyant Criswell) never fails to enchant. I’m always guaranteed a steady stream of people approaching the DJ booth to inquire, “What am I watching?!” Orgy of the Dead is a Halloween tradition, damn it! 

/ One of the boob-tastic "mondo topless" segments in Orgy of the Dead /

As you can see from the DJ playlist below, the first half of the night was devoted mostly to aggressively kitschy atomic-era Halloween novelty tunes (one of my favourite musical genres. I could happily play Halloween music all year-round), climaxing – inevitably! – with “Monster Mash”.  Later (after the band’s set when people wanted to get down and dance) things turned punkier, messier and more anything-goes, concluding with a finale of Elvis Presley-meets-Sid Vicious-meets Divine. 

/ Above: Bob Mizer of Athletic Model Guild does Halloween! (Don't fall for the old Ex-Lax trick)  /

Anyway, check out my Halloween Lobotomy Room Spotify playlist here to give you an indication of the general vibe. Trust me: you’ll be joyously doing the Werewolf Watusi to Tarantula Ghoul, The Cramps and Screaming Lord Sutch in no time!

Night of the Vampire - The Moontrekkers
Midnight Stroll - The Revels
Monster in Black Tights - Screaming Lord Sutch and The Savages
Vampira - Bobby Bare
Monster Party - Bill Doggett
Sinner - Freddie and The Hitchhikers
Werewolf - The Frantics
 Drac's Back - Billy De Marco With Count Dracula
Bloodshot - The String Kings
I'd Rather Be Burned as a Witch - Eartha Kitt
Frankenstein's Den - The Hollywood Flames
She's My Witch - The Earls of Suave
Do The Zombie - The Symbols
Spooky - Lydia Lunch
Monster Surfing Time - The Deadly Ones
Creature from The Black Leather Lagoon - The Cramps
The Creature (From Outer Space) - The Jayhawks
Rockin' in the Graveyard - Jackie Morningstar
Ghost Satellite - Bob and Jerry
Voodoo Walk - Sonny Richard's Panics with Cindy And Misty
Dinner with Drac - John Zacherle
Scream - The
Mr Werewolf - The Kac-Ties
Strollin' Spooks - Ken Nordine and His Kinsmen
Nightmare Mash - Billy Lee Riley
The Mummy - Bob McFadden
The Whip - The Frantics
It - The Regal-Aires
The Whip - The Originals
Anastasia - Bill Smith Combo
Bo Diddley Meets the Monster - Bo Diddley
I Put A Spell on You - Screamin' Jay Hawkins
Alligator Wine - Johnny Thunders and Patti Palladin
My Son the Vampire - Allan Sherman
Teenage Werewolf - The Cramps
The Munsters Theme - Milton De Lugg Orch
Graveyard Rock - Tarantula Ghoul
Theme From The Addams Family - The Fiends
The Way I Walk - The Cramps
Monster Mash - Bobby "Boris" Pickett and The Crypt Kickers
Pedro Pistolas Twist - Los Twisters
Vampira - The Misfits
Hidden Charms - The Delmonas
Nothing Means Nothing Anymore - The Alley Cats
Your Phone's Off the Hook - X
I Wanna Be Sedated - The Ramonetures
Sheena is a Punk Rocker - The Ramones
Jukebox Babe - Alan Vega
Atomic Bongos - Lydia Lunch
Wipe-Out - The Surfaris
Viva Las Vegas - Nina Hagen
Bossa Nova Baby - Elvis Presley
Jim Dandy - Ann-Margret
Here Comes the Bug - The Rumblers
Tina's Dilemma - Ike and Tina Turner
Esquerita and The Voola - Esquerita
Deuces Wild - Link Wray
Suey - Jayne Mansfield
96 Tears - Big Maybelle
Cha Cha Twist - The Detroit Cobras
One Night of Sin - Elvis Presley
My Way - Sid Vicious
Walk Like a Man - Divine

Further reading:

In August 2018 I spoke my brains to To Do List magazine about the wild, wild world of Lobotomy Room, the monthly cinema club – and my lonely one-man mission to return a bit of raunch, sleaze and “adult situations” to London’s nightlife! Read it - if you must - here. 

Follow me on twitter!

"Like" and follow the official Lobotomy Room page on Facebook if you dare! 

I have serious issues with the frankly homophobic, puritanical, hypocritical and censorious Tumblr these days, but you can follow me on there.

And I'm now spreading my message of filth on Instagram!

Upcoming Lobotomy Room events for your social calendar:

Revel in sleaze, voodoo and rock’n’roll - when incredibly bizarre dance party Lobotomy Room returns to the basement Bamboo Lounge of Fontaine’s (Dalston’s most unique nite spot) on Friday 8 November 2019!

Lobotomy Room! Where sin lives! A punkabilly booze party! Sensual and depraved! A spectacle of decadence! A night of Vintage Sleaze-o-Rama! Beat, Beat Beatsville Beatnik Rock’n’Roll! Bad Music for Bad People! Rockabilly Psychosis! Wailing Rhythm and Blues! Twisted tittyshakers! Punk cretin hops! White Trash Rockers! Kitsch! Exotica! Curiosities and Other Weird Shit! Think John Waters soundtracks, or Songs the Cramps Taught Us, hosted by Graham Russell. Expect desperate stabs from the jukebox jungle! Savage rhythms to make you writhe and rock! Grainy vintage black-and-white erotica projected on the big screen all night for your adult entertainment!

Admission: gratuit - that’s French for FREE!

Lobotomy Room: Faster. Further. Filthier.

It’s sleazy. It’s grubby. It’s trashy - you’ll love it! A tawdry good time guaranteed!

Event page

“In one terrifying moment she realized what she had done … yet it was too late to turn back … too late for tears!”

Lizabeth Scott (1922 – 2015) was the most haunting and memorable of 1940s and 50s film noir actresses. Because of Scott’s languid mane of ash blonde hair, smoky eyes, sultry demeanor and raspy voice “that sounded as if it had been buried somewhere deep and was trying to claw its way out” she’s been frequently (and unfavourably) compared to the more famous Lauren Bacall. In fact, Scott was a much stranger, more intense and harder-working actress than Bacall, and made more interesting choices. And on Wednesday 20 November the Lobotomy Room film club presents her definitive movie - the tense 1949 film noir Too Late for Tears. It stars Scott at her most enthralling, almost serpentine as a suburban Los Angeles housewife with a treacherous and homicidal dark side.

Lobotomy Room Goes to the Movies is the FREE monthly film club downstairs at Fontaine’s bar (Dalston’s most unique nite spot!) devoted to Bad Movies We Love (our motto: Bad Movies for Bad People), specializing in the kitsch, the cult and the camp! Third Wednesday night of the month. Doors to the basement Bamboo Lounge open at 8 pm. Film starts at 8:30 pm prompt! We can accommodate 30 people maximum on film nights. Remember: the film is FREE so you can buy more cocktails! (One drink minimum).

Event page

/ Pistol-packin' mama: don't mess with Lizabeth Scott - the original desperate housewife! - in Too Late for Tears (1949) /