Saturday, 28 March 2020

Reflections on ... Queen of Blood (1966)

It’s been suggested that – while Fontaine’s bar is temporarily shuttered due to the coronavirus scourge and the world is socially-isolating itself – the Lobotomy Room film club (specializing in the cult, the kitsch and the queer!) could continue online for the time being. I’ll be occasionally posting fun oddities and obscurities that are viewable on YouTube for your delectation. Remember: Lobotomy Room is the home of Bad Movies We Love (our motto: Bad Movies for Bad People) so don’t “at” me if you wind-up hating the movie and asking yourself, “What the fuck did I just watch?”

Our first film selection is Queen of Blood (aka Planet of Blood), an el cheapo 1966 science fiction movie (the meagre budget was reportedly $50,000) directed by Curtis Harrington. Not to be confused with Queen of Outer Space (1958) starring Zsa Zsa Gabor! Tagline: “Hideous beyond belief … with an inhuman craving!”

As was a common convention for producer Roger Corman’s b-movies of the period, this American flick incorporates (or “recycles”) footage from a 1959 Russian film. (The special effects and relatively impressive “outer space” scenes spliced-into the action are from the bigger-budgeted Soviet source). This ultra-terse synopsis I found online is more succinct than anything I could come up with: “astronauts go to Mars and return with a green vampire woman.” And boy, does she stir up trouble! In fact, in no time the corpses of astronauts begin piling-up, mysteriously drained of blood! (It takes everyone a while to discern the alien woman is a vampire. It’s been noted this aspect of Queen’s plot – the vulnerable space crew being picked-off one by one by a monster - anticipates Ridley Scott’s Alien).

Director Harrington (1926 - 2007) was a genuinely maverick, intriguing and durable talent with an overtly queer / camp sensibility. Queen is very much an example of Harrington being handed lemons and attempting to impose a bit of flair to the material. His wayward career encompassed the occult / underground art film fringe (he was an associate of Kenneth Anger, and appears in Anger’s 1954 film Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome) to wildly entertaining hagsploitation horror movies in the early seventies (What’s the Matter with Helen? and Who Slew Auntie Roo? both starring Shelley Winters, Killer Bees with Gloria Swanson) to mainstream television establishment (he directed episodes of TV series Charlie’s Angels, Wonder Woman and Dynasty!).

The pleasures of this film: 

Some of the cannibalized Russian special effects are genuinely haunting, eerie and dream-like. (In fact, my tip is to drown-out the wooden acting and tedious dialogue, don’t try to make sense of the narrative and just let the movie wash-over you like a dream). 

The soundtrack of spooky “the-future-is-scary!” theremin music. 

Queen has a fun, kitschy sherbet-coloured retro-futurist look (it’s meant to be set in the year 1990 – which must have felt like the distant future in 1966), with lots of starkly minimalist space-age décor in the control centre and spaceships, and the astronauts wearing cling-y quilted athleisure wear outfits.  

Judi Meredith as coolly efficient astronaut Laura James sports truly impressive immobile and gravity-defying bouffant helmet hair that screams “1966”. 

It offers a sweet reminder of just how dreamily cute young heartthrob leading men John Saxon and Dennis Hopper were at this early point in their careers.

/ The look of love: Florence Marly and Dennis Hopper in Queen of Blood

But truthfully, the film is owned by the Queen of Blood herself. Honey, she is fierce! Played entirely mute (like Vampira in Ed Wood Jr’s Plan 9 from Outer Space) and possessing a glistening livid green complexion, sunken Marlene Dietrich cheekbones, glowing blood-shot eyes and a remarkable vertical fright wig hair-do (think troll doll), she is the film’s single greatest special effect. (I’d argue she’s an influence on the Martian vixen Lisa Marie plays in Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks!). Watch for how the alien smilingly (hungrily?) appraises the male astronauts - and then her lip curls disapprovingly when she spots Laura!  Producers pressured Harrington to cast someone younger, but 47-year old Czech actress Florence Marly memorably instills the role with unearthly inscrutability and menace. She alone makes Queen of Blood worth investigating. Spoiler alert: the ending involves repulsive pulsating “alien eggs” served on a tray of lime gelatin - an appetizer from an atomic-era dinner party gone horribly wrong.

Friday, 27 March 2020

Lobotomy Room DJ Set List 28 February 2020

/ Make new friends - at Lobotomy Room! Pictured: Bay Area chapter of the Hells Angels, 1964 via /

From the Facebook event page:

For your dancing pleasure, the strange’n’sleazy sounds of Lobotomy Room return to the basement Bamboo Lounge of Fontaine’s bar on Friday 28 February!

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! Rockabilly Psychosis! Twisted Tittyshakers! Wailing Rhythm and Blues!! 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!

Admission: gratuit - that’s French for FREE!

Wow - we are living through scary and gruesome times. This was the first Lobotomy Room club of 2020 and it's hard to gauge when there will be another one. (The next Lobotomy Room is meant to be last Friday of May 2020, but in this uncertain current COVID-19-ravaged hellscape, who knows?). Like all of London's bars and clubs, Fontaine's has shuttered for the time being. When life does return to some semblance of normality, please come back and show us some love.

/ Rat your hair up like a teenage Jezebel and come to incredibly bizarre rock’n’roll dance party Lobotomy Room! Photo by the great Swiss photographer Karlheinz Weinberger (1921 - 2006) /

What’s extra-bittersweet: this was one of the best Lobotomy Room clubs in ages! As you can see from the playlist, I DJ’d for hours because the krazy kittens on the dance floor were shakin’ their asses until about 2 am. And they were impressively hip and broadminded: no matter what freaky shit I threw at them (No Wave noise, greasy Ike and Tina Turner b-sides, surf obscurities, amphetamine-induced hillbilly rock’n’roll), they just kept dancing!

Anyway, here's what I was laying-down.

Twenty Thousand Leagues - The Champs
Katanga - Ike Turner and His Kings of Rhythm
Kismiaz - The Cramps
Intoxica - The Revels
Ocean's Devil - Hawaii's Samurai
Adult Books - X
Thunder Cloud - Al Casey
Surf City - The Ramones
Love Potion # 9 - Nancy Sit
Gostaria De Saber (River Deep, Mountain High) - Wanderlea
Jailhouse Rock - Masaaki Hirao
Three Cool Chicks - The 5,6,7,8s
Dangerous Charms - The Delmonas
Magneto - Messer Chups
Jukebox Babe - Alan Vega
Atomic Bongos - Lydia Lunch
Riding with a Movie Star - L7
Apache 95 - Satan's Cheerleaders
Strychnine - The Cramps
Black is Black - Big Maybelle
Here Comes the Bug - The Rumblers
Nothing Means Nothing Anymore - The Alley Cats
I Don't Need You No More - The 5,6,7,8s
Let's Go, Baby - Billy Eldridge and The Fireballs
Killer - Sparkle Moore
Wiped-Out - The Escorts
Be Bop A Lula - Alan Vega
I Can't Believe What You Say - Ike and Tina Turner
You're Driving Me Crazy - Dorothy Berry
Egyptian Shumba - The Tammys
Party Lights - Claudine Clark
The Swag - Link Wray and The Wraymen
Miserlou's Dream - Satan's Cheerleaders
Nausea - X
Your Phone's Off the Hook - The Ramonetures
Viva Las Vegas - Nina Hagen
Forming - Germs
C'mon Everybody - The Sex Pistols
Funnel of Love - Wanda Jackson
Cha Cha Twist - The Detroit Cobras
Ultra Twist - The Cramps
Bird Dance Beat - The Trashmen
They Call Me Zombie - Messer Chups
Chicken Grabber - The Nite Hawks
Shortnin' Bread - The Readymen
Muleskinner Blues - The Fendermen
Surfin' Bird - The Trashmen
Batman Theme - Link Wray and His Wraymen
That Makes It - Jayne Mansfield
I Walk Like Jayne Mansfield - The 5,6,7,8s
Train to Nowhere - The Champs
Woo-Hoo - The Rock-A-Teens
Little Queenie - The Bill Black Combo
You Give Me Worms - Turbonegro
Club Delight - Jack Jolly
Garbageman - The Cramps
Esquerita and The Voola - Esquerita
Boss - The Rumblers
Tina's Dilemma - Ike and Tina Turner
Jim Dandy - Ann-Margret
Juvenile Delinquent - Ronnie Allen
Wailin' - The Fabulous Wailers
Year 1 - X
Jim Dandy - Sara Lee and The Spades
Whistle Bait - The Collins Kids
Action Packed - Ronnie Dee
Rock Around the Clock - The Sex Pistols
Breathless - X
Wild, Wild Party - Charlie Feathers
I Wanna Be Sedated - The Ramonetures
Surf Rat - The Rumblers
Pedro Pistolas Twist - Los Twisters
Suey - Jayne Mansfield
Peter Gunn Twist - The Jesters
Gunnin' for Peter - The Fabulous Wailers
Bop Pills - Bill "Skip" Macy
Shucks Baby - Tiny Topsy

/ The mighty Ike and Tina Turner Revue freaking TEARING IT UP at The Skyliner Ballroom in Fort Worth, Texas in 1964. Check out the Ikettes' electric green cocktail sheaths, with shoes dyed to match. So fierce! /

I've knocked-together a Spotify playlist based on what I played, but the usual caveats apply: 1) the Spotify playlist isn't 100% representative, because not everything I DJ'd is on there. It pains me that Lydia Lunch's magnum opus Queen of Siam has been deleted from Spotify. How can the oeuvre of Masaaki Hirao (the Japanese Elvis) not be represented on there? Or atomic-era Brazilian pop siren Wanderlea's Portuguese language version of "River Deep, Mountain High"? For shame, Spotify - for shame! And 2) disable "shuffle" option and listen to it in sequence for the "you were there" experience. Anyway, you can listen to it here.

/ In the meantime, before signing off ... an urgent public service announcement from Francine Fishpaw. Via /

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!

Sunday, 22 March 2020

Reflections on ... The Damned Don't Cry (1950)

For the first Lobotomy Room film club of 2020, let’s bask in some old-school pagan diva worship! As is tradition, the first film club of the New Year stars eternal Lobotomy Room favourite - Golden Age Hollywood’s bitch goddess extraordinaire Joan Crawford! (In January 2018 we screened Strait-Jacket. In January 2019, Sudden Fear).

If you enjoy watching the reliably intense Crawford suffering in mink, irresistibly tawdry noir melodrama The Damned Don’t Cry (1950) is the movie for you! Thursday 16 January! Hear her snarl hard-boiled dialogue like “Don’t talk to me about self-respect! That’s something you tell yourself you’ve got when you’ve got nothing else!” No spoilers, but it begins with Crawford as downtrodden housewife from the wrong side of the tracks Edith Whitehead, who climbs to the top of high society … one man at a time! (Edith’s mantra: “I want something more than what I’ve had out of life. And I’m going to get it!”). Unfortunately – she soon finds herself embroiled in the murky realm of organized crime (and sexy gangster Steve Cochran!).

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 Thursday 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).

/ "She’s as tempting as a cupcake - and as tough as a 75-cent steak!” / 

It was never intentional, but in recent years it’s become a Lobotomy Room film club ritual to screen a Joan Crawford film to usher in the new year. Maybe it’s a subconscious act of pagan goddess worship? Anyway, we showed Strait-Jacket in January 2018, Sudden Fear in January 2019 and now The Damned Don’t Cry in January 2020. When I introduced Damned onstage, I quoted Crawford’s line of dialogue from the film, “I want something more than what I’ve had out of life - and I’m going to get it!” and urged the audience to embrace this mission statement as their new year’s resolution for 2020.

/ “Call me CHEAP?” Nothing’s cheap when you pay the price she's paying! /

After Crawford’s Oscar-winning, career-reviving comeback victory with Mildred Pierce (1945), her studio Warner Bros clearly decided: don’t mess with the formula. Subsequent films like Flamingo Road (1949), The Damned Don’t Cry (1950) and This Woman is Dangerous (1952) are all increasingly threadbare and repetitive variations of the Mildred Pierce template, cleaving to the same essential noir crime melodrama style and theme. As The Chiseler concisely summarizes, the narratives of these Crawford pictures all “follow a woman as she claws her way out of dreary poverty, attains a pinnacle of penthouse luxury, and plunges from there into the abyss”. So yes, it’s a formula - but hell, it’s a juicy, lurid and insanely enjoyable formula, and these films are understandably embraced today as both exemplars of mid-century “women’s pictures” and camp classics.  Think of it this way: imagine there was an all-night Joan Crawford film marathon on TV. If you started watching The Damned Don’t Cry, fell asleep mid-way through, woke up in middle of This Woman is Dangerous and continued watching, you probably wouldn’t notice any discrepancy. (It helps that Crawford co-stars with silver fox David Brian Flamingo Road, Damned and This Woman is Dangerous!).

/ Joan Crawford with David Brian in The Damned Don't Cry /

As a Joan Crawford star vehicle par excellence, Damned certainly delivers on showcasing the diva’s considerable mid-period strengths. It ticks all the boxes: Crawford gets beautifully lit and flattering close-ups, copious costume changes (charting her trajectory from drab housewife to upper-crust socialite), gets to have big emotional confrontations, snarl hard-boiled dialogue and slap men’s faces. (Just to shake things up, in Damned, Crawford herself also gets slapped around and roughed-up a lot). Characteristically of this period, Crawford’s leading men are mostly secondary considerations, with minimal threat of challenging her dominance. (The exception: smoldering noir tough guy Steve Cochran. More of him later).

/ Suffering in mink: Joan Crawford in The Damned Don't Cry /

/ Check out those gams! Yes! Scary diva Joan Crawford at full voltage in torrid melodrama The Damned Don’t Cry (1950) /

Vincent Sherman directs Damned with verve and economy, ensuring the story unfolds in broad strokes and dramatic flourishes. Boiling with ambition and hunger, Crawford swaps identities with remarkable ease, swiftly re-inventing herself from frumpy small town hausfrau Edith Whitehead to elegant heiress Lorna Hansen Forbes (“the darling of café society”) under the tutelage of her new friend, shifty posh-voiced grifter Patricia Longworth (exquisitely performed with the perfect amount of patrician anxiety by scene-stealing Selena Royle). Sherman neatly contrasts the visual signifiers of Crawford’s new realm (cocktails (vermouth and cassis!), gold cigarette cases, mink coats, orchids, swimming pools) and her discarded working-class origins (derricks pumping in the Texas oil fields belching sooty plumes of pollution, blue collar men in hardhats and overalls, a wardrobe of cloth coats and aprons, no make-up, scraped-back hair).

Initially Damned positions Crawford in a conventional romantic triangle. Edith / Lorna must choose between impoverished, honest (and dull) accountant Marty Blackford (Kent Smith) or sociopathic but rich and suave organized crime kingpin George Castleman (David Brian). But then mid-way through the film Castleman’s dangerously volatile mobster associate Nick Prenta (Steve Cochran) arrives and explodes the movie apart. If you’re unfamiliar with hirsute and broodingly handsome Cochran (1917 - 1965), he’ll be a revelation. Probably best-remembered for the film White Heat (1949), Cochran is worthy of comparison to peer Robert Mitchum: both invested unexpected complexity and humanity to their portrayals of sexy noir thugs. 

/ “A woman who crossed the paths of many men … and double-crossed every one of them!” Steve Cochran and Joan Crawford in The Damned Don't Cry /

Great as Crawford is – she is never less than majestic and mesmerizing to watch here – she is also sticking with what she already knows in Damned. (By 1950 Crawford could play a role like Edith / Lorna with her eyes closed). I’d argue Damned really belongs to Cochran, whose performance feels modern, nuanced and surprising. For a macho gangster, Nick (as Cochran plays him) reveals intriguing fissures of sensitivity and insecurity seething below the surface. At times, Cochran almost suggests Nick is a little boy playing at being a mobster. For example, even while Nick strives to maintain his taciturn demeanor, it’s also clear he’s astounded a classy high falutin' dame like Lorna could be romantically interested in him (watch the way Nick proudly escorts her through his swanky Palm Springs nightclub, hoping to impress her), and he’s quick to bristle with offense when he suspects she’s belittling him. Cochran does nothing to solicit the audience’s sympathy – and yet Nick is easily Damned’s most compelling character. He’s also sex on legs: watch for the poolside scenes of Cochran in clingy swimming trunks or a terry cloth robe, with his impressive chest pelt on full display. The cruel and sensual face, lush dark brows and mane of oiled, combed-back black hair also anticipates Elvis Presley. Read more about essential noir icon Cochran in this lyrical, perceptive essay.

Speaking of male pulchritude, Cochran is rivaled here by Richard Egan (1921 – 1987) as Roy Whitehead, the laborer husband who Edith abandons. Egan's appearance is fleeting but – phew! – memorable. With his brawny physique, stubbled face, leather jacket, pomaded hair and visible chest hair, Egan suggests a hunky escapee from a Bob Mizer / Athletic Model Guild beefcake photo shoot. Interestingly, there is reason to believe that various points, the cougar-ish Crawford was romantically involved with virtually every man involved in The Damned Don’t Cry. She’s been "linked" to director Vincent Sherman and leading men David Brian, Steve Cochran and Egan.

/ Above: Egan with Crawford in The Damned Don't Cry (1950) and below in a candid social shot from what appears to be the early sixties /

 / Above: as a bonus for reading this far, some beefcake pin-ups of the wondrous Richard Egan. You're welcome! Read more about him here /

/ Two things: apparently at some point Crawford had off-screen "intimate knowledge" of each of her leading men in this shot (and director Sherman). And I love how this smiling publicity photo wildly misrepresents The Damned Don't Cry as a romantic comedy / 

/ Portrait of a bitch goddess extraordinaire: Joan Crawford in The Damned Don't Cry /

To the surprise of no one, now that London is on lock-down with the dreaded Coronavirus, the monthly film club is on indefinite hiatus. (We were meant to screen Desert Fury in March). But as god as my witness, Lobotomy Room (and Fontaine's bar) will be back! Watch this space.

Further Reading

Read my analysis of the Joan Crawford films Sudden Fear (1952) and Autumn Leaves (1956). 

Friday, 13 March 2020

Reflections on ... Day of the Locust (1975)

Recently re-visited: Day of the Locust (1975) directed by John Midnight Cowboy Schlesinger. I vividly recall seeing this disturbing movie on Canadian TV as a kid and it made a haunting impression, but it’s not the easiest film to see these days (possibly because it was an expensive mega-flop at the time). The characters are frankly unsympathetic, the tone is cynically downbeat, critics judged the film harshly in comparison to the 1939 source novel by Nathanael West and - clocking in at about 140-minutes - Schlesinger could be accused of self-indulgence. In other words – my idea of bliss!

Locust is set amidst the grubby desperate fringes of Hollywood, and suggests that even as early as the thirties, the show business dream factory was already toxic, corrupt and decaying. Visually, Schlesinger creates an astonishing evocation of Depression-era golden age Hollywood. Every single actor onscreen – including every extra who only fleetingly appears in a crowd scene – looks vividly, memorably distinctive and odd (like escapees from photos by Weegee or Diane Arbus. The casting director clearly had a great eye for the grotesque). Schlesinger assembles a truly great cast, even in small cameo parts (like Geraldine Page as an Aimee Semple McPherson-style Christian evangelist and Natalie Schafer – Mrs Howell from Gilligan’s Island – as a brothel madam). 

/ Karen Black and William Atherton in The Day of the Locust /

Locust's protagonist is ambitious but naive art director Tod Hackett (William Atherton), although he’s truthfully more of an anti-hero. Eager to break into the movie industry and new in town, Tod moves into the seedy pink stucco San Bernardino Arms apartment complex – where the fellow residents number a foul-mouthed, hard-drinking dwarf and a truly hideous and hateful child star of indeterminate gender. The patrician-looking Atherton was a ubiquitous actor of the period, cropping up in other memorable films like Sugarland Express (1974) and Looking for Mr Good Bar (1977). Good as he is, Atherton is upstaged by career-best performances from two exemplars of seventies "New Hollywood", Donald Sutherland and Karen Black. Sutherland is meek, sexually-repressed and self-loathing accountant Homer Simpson (yes, that’s where the name originates), ensnared in a dysfunctional, manipulative and asexual relationship with grasping wannabe starlet Faye Greener (Black). 

Note: considering the character of Faye is meant to be 17, the 36-year old Black is theoretically at least almost two decades too old for the role. And yet her fearless, frequently borderline-grotesque performance is so compelling it scarcely matters. (And Black looks spectacular in her thirties wardrobe and marcelled platinum blonde hairstyle).

/ Karen Black promoting The Day of the Locust on the cover of After Dark magazine /

My highlights: Homer and the infantile, petulant Faye argue in the kitchen. They attempt to reconcile by dancing to “Jeepers Creepers” by Louis Armstrong - but as they dance, both of their faces are twisted into rictus masks of agony. Fantastically uncomfortable! (In fact, Schlesinger deliberately recycles the song "Jeepers Creepers" throughout the film until it becomes a kind of anxiety-inducing torture). When the characters visit the most gorgeous white-and-silver Art Deco nightclub where a drag queen (Paul Jabara) is singing Marlene Dietrich’s “Hot Voodoo” number from Blonde Venus. Speaking of Dietrich, two moments are as cruel and emasculating as anything out of Josef von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel: Homer painstakingly making breakfast in bed for Faye by recreating an illustration in a woman’s magazine – sliced strawberries arranged on cornflakes. He carries it on a pristine tray into her bedroom. Faye glances at it, grimaces and tells the crestfallen Homer, “Cornflakes? I’ll just eat the strawberries.” Then: Faye has been splashing-out on a whole new deluxe wardrobe for herself on Homer’s credit. We see her modelling and dancing around in her new finery – and then discarding them on the floor in her childlike excitement. Each time she does this, Homer bends down to retrieve the dropped item. Once she notices, Faye starts doing it deliberately just to watch him stooping-down in servile mode.

/ Donald Sutherland in the harrowing conclusion of The Day of the Locust /

Locust builds to a nightmarish finale where the crowded premiere of the 1938 Cecil B DeMille film The Buccaneer at Grauman's Chinese Theatre erupts into a violent riot, ending in a fiery vision of hell straight out of a painting by Hieronymus Bosch or Francis Bacon. The film’s depiction of  the motion pictures industry as a horror movie anticipates David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire. It may have bombed in '75, but seen today, Locust looks like an impressive achievement. In fact, as the ever-provocative queer auteur Bruce LaBruce persuasively argues, Day of the Locust "could arguably now be regarded as one of the best films of the seventies." Added bonus: you get to see Latino actor Pepe Serna naked.