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Introducing… Joe Dante’s Fleapit Flashbacks!

by Joe Dante Nov 19, 2013

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Just before he began cutting trailers for Roger Corman, Joe Dante was a critic for Film Bulletin. With the help of  Video Watchdog (the essential film journal), we’re going to be reprinting a selection of them right here at TFH every Tuesday. So by way of introduction, here’s Joe himself with the straight skinny on his Fleapit Flashbacks:

These reviews were written during 1969-1974 for the then-nearly 40-year-old trade publication Film Bulletin, which was headquartered in a ratty second-story office on Vine Street, the heart of Philadelphia’s dilapidated “film row.” I was billed as “Managing Editor,” probably because I “managed” to sneak away from my boring copywriting duties to write up as many minor-league movies as possible, preferably limited-release obscurities that escaped notice by the other tradezines. I viewed this mission as nothing less than My Duty To Posterity.

This was my first job out of college, so I was young and opinionated. Since then, I’ve discovered first hand how difficult it is to make any movie, let alone a good one. If I were writing about movies today, I doubt my tone would be quite so flip as it is here. And although, in retrospect, I think I was pretty hard on some of these titles, this is what I thought of them at the time and I make no apologies.

I loved this job, or at least the movie-going part of it, which frequently led to getting to see movies before they were cut for general release, and which once got me a free ticket to the 1969 Warner Bros. press junket in the Bahamas, where I met Veronica Carlson, Busby Berkeley, Francis Coppola and Veronica Carlson! (Did I mention Veronica Carlson? >sigh<) In fact, I was there when a contingent of huffy stars—including Yul Brynner and Danny Kaye—walked out on The Wild Bunch in disgust! (I wonder what they made of Visconti’s The Damned, which had screened the night before?)

Although most of these films were seen at exhibitor screenings (where I would be hectored in the elevator by clueless white-haired theater owners as to whether seemingly incomprehensible effusions like Vanishing Point or Zachariah—”The First Electric Western”—were really going to appeal to The Youth Audience), I often ventured out into the no-man’s land of North Philly to catch the odd Cinemation or Fanfare double bill. When my favorite fleapit—The Palace on Market Street—switched to hardcore porn (Man and Wife played there for nearly a year), I could see the writing on the wall: AIP was going to have to find other places to play their stuff, and I was going to be writing a lot of porno reviews!

There were compensations: these were the last days of the Double Feature, movies in all genres from all over the world were still being distributed, and Roger Corman was still directing! And I got to write about some of it, at least! Like the ’70s, it was fun while it lasted.
By the 1980s, everything had changed. Single features. Less drive-in fare for dwindling drive-ins. No market for dubbed foreign imports. Corman had quit directing to distribute the Bergman and Fellini movies the majors didn’t want.

My subheads were usually rewritten by Mo Wax, the editor of Film Bulletin, and appear here as they appeared in print. But the content, thanks to clandestine trips to the typesetter to reinstate any edited material, is all mine.

So return with me now to those thrilling days of Yesteryear, when you could still go out to the movies and see Italian Westerns, German spy movies, British horrors and AIP blaxploitation pix, all featuring some of the most iconic performers of our time. — Joe Dante



Raw Meat

raw_meat_xlgOffbeat, above-average horror film should perform passably in double-feature ballyhoo markets and drive-ins. Needs aggressive sell to overcome distasteful title. Rating: R.

A marvelously outré plot ides receives intermittently effective treatment in RAW MEAT, a surprise hit in its native England under the less sensational title Death Line. As a horror film, it has pretty fair ballyhoo potential for US markets, but needs an aggressive campaign from distributor AIP. It’s currently being pitched to the company’s usual double-feature horror markets, where it will probably perform routinely, no more. Even so, more discerning chill fans are likely to find it one of the season’s better offerings—if they aren’t put off by the title, which may prove distasteful to a large section of its potential audience. Despite the restrictions of an obviously limited shooting schedule and a tight budget, debuting director Gary Sherman has concocted a weird, occasionally nightmarish diversion whose impact is lessened primarily by its lack of focus (plus, it must be said, some obvious MPAA-ordered excisions made to avoid the X).

The gimmick behind Ceri Jones’ screenplay is a good one: people are disappearing in the London subways and it’s up to seedy inspector Donald Pleasance and aide Norman Rossington to find out why. It turns out that the missing Londoners have been spirited away by the remaining members of a group of workers trapped in the underground tunnels when construction work collapsed in 1892. Now reduced to subhuman level, their descendants feed on the corpses of those they snatch in the subways. That’s about it as far as plot goes, but the premise is almost bizarre enough to carry the film on its own. The verbal byplay between Pleasance and Rossington is highly comic and nearly steals the show from the underground grue, since the balance between the horror angles and the footage devoted to police sleuthing is none too artfully struck (at least in this toned-down version).

Nevertheless, the sequences showing the lone subhuman survivor (Hugh Armstrong) lurching around his dank underground domain littered with decomposing corpses are quite riveting, though his mournful half-remembered wail of “mind the doors” may draw some unwanted titters. David Ladd and Sharon Gurney are the inevitable endangered young lovers and Christopher Lee is in for a funny cameo which must have been shot in less than 20 minutes. Alex Thomson’s fluid camerawork is a distinct asset and the Technicolor processing is far above average AIP standards.

1971. AIP. Technicolor. 88 minutes. Donald Pleasance. Norman Rossington. David Ladd, Sharon Gurney, Christopher Lee. Produced by Paul Maslansky. Directed by Gary Sherman.

Here’s Edgar Wright on Raw Meat!

About Joe Dante

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