Resin Heroes

The myth of the forbidden film



I don’t think there are anymore forbidden films like there used to be when I was growing up.

I remember when VHS was king and my family would make weekly vigils to one of the local rental shops and when the new movies were already checked out, as they almost always were, we’d peruse the stacks looking for anything interesting to watch. Sometimes we’d come across weird horror flicks like Troma classics The Toxic Avenger (1984) and Class of Nuke ‘em High (1986) and sometimes strange documentaries about odd subjects.

In the 1980s some friends and myself were into heavy metal. I didn’t look like the stereotypical “metal head” but none-the-less when the other kids were listening to Richard Marx and Kenny Loggins, my group of friends were buying, duping and trading Metallica, Guns N’ Roses, Anthrax and Iron Maiden tapes amongst ourselves.

Back then it wasn’t easy to follow your favorite bands. There were a few heavy metal magazines you could buy at drug stores and supermarkets and Headbangers Ball on MTV. But otherwise you were pretty much on your own. What was the meaning of the cover painting to Guns N’ Roses “Appetite for Destruction?” Did listening to any Judas Priest song automatically place satanic suggestions in one’s brain? Who exactly was this “Walking Dude” that Anthrax was singing about? How many dead in the apocalypse constitutes a Megadeth?

And outside of these magazines and Headbangers Ball and sensationalized TV news programs about the horrors of heavy metal there weren’t many real answers. That was until a fateful day in the video store when we rented the tape The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years (1988).

The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years

The Decline of Western CivilizationThe Decline of Western Civilization Part II is a documentary that follows mostly hair metal bands at the height of their prominence in the late 1980s. It’s a perfect look at all the decadence and brashness and craziness that scared a certain segment of the population who believed their children were out of control and followed that type of music right up to just before it was swept away with the rise of alt-rock in the early 1990s.

It’s a great film that I saw many times growing up and many more times over the years. But the idea that The Decline of Western Civilization Part II was PART II got me thinking; where’s Part I at?

Now I’m not saying that the first The Decline of Western Civilization (1981) was some hidden gem behind lock and key that no one ever saw — it was released on VHS at some point if eBay listings are any indication — but what I am saying is that in my neck of the woods in northeast Indiana it wasn’t an easy tape to find. In fact, while I saw Part II when it was released on VHS in the late ‘80s I didn’t see the first film until just a few years ago.

When I did see The Decline of Western Civilization a few years ago it was a poor dub probably off of one of these VHS tapes from the ‘80s. I’m not sure if it was the music rights that held the movie up or if it was just general lack of interest, but it wasn’t until this year that part I, along with parts II and III, were released on home media.

Then again, The Decline of Western Civilization not being readily available is really nothing new. There are more than a few films over the years that I’ve had to root out to see. The irony now is that most of the films I had to seek out in order to watch years ago are very easy to find today.

For a long while the horror movies Evil Dead (1981), Freaks (1932) and Cannibal Holocaust (1980) were tough, but not totally impossible to find. They were available here in the US on VHS but were the kinds of films that only some rental places would have a copy of. And even then not every store would have every movie so you’d have to hunt around town for the ones you wanted to see.

Evil Dead

Evil Dead was pretty easy to find. Though it was banned overseas, here it was just another over-the-top horror movie. While Evil Dead might be THE BEST over-the-top horror movies of the early 1980s, on the rental shelves it was just another of the mass of gory horror VHS out there.

Cannibal Holocaust

I remember seeing Cannibal Holocaust to rent on VHS but at the time didn’t have enough guts to watch it. Though I’m almost certainly mis-remembering things, in my mind the VHS cover of Cannibal Holocaust features some truly gruesome images straight from the worst parts of the film. And the back cover was worse. It wasn’t until years later that I would learn that Cannibal Holocaust was a controversial film about a group of filmmakers who venture into the Amazon but only their film makes it out after they meet a gruesome end at the hands of a tribe of cannibals.

The controversy stemmed from the notion that the brutality and violence in the film might have been more than movie magic, it might have been real. And this notion of what you see in Cannibal Holocaust might just be the real-deal followed this film for years.

I remember the first time I saw Cannibal Holocaust, also on a bad dub, and preparing myself for what I was about to see. I knew that the film had such a bad reputation for gore — it seemed to be a favorite of the horror t-shirt crowd at comic book conventions — and I wanted to steel myself for the Cannibal Holocaust experience. But after seeing it I was a bit let down.

The movie does have some shocking scenes and does feature some disturbing shots of real animals meeting real demises at the hands of some of the people in the movie. I hate to say it but Cannibal Holocaust isn’t that great of a film. Other than the over-the-top gore and the way the movie was shot in a documentary “you were there” style, I couldn’t see why Cannibal Holocaust was such a taboo film?

Freaks

freaks_ver2I remember reading about the movie Freaks in a book about horror movies and seeing the grainy set photos which somehow made the whole thing even creepier than usual.

Freaks is director Tod Browning’s follow-up film to Dracula (1931). The movie follows a circus as it travels around Europe where one of the performers learns that another is very rich, marries him and then sets out for murder in order to inherit the fortune.

Which store-wise is petty standard stuff. The reason that Freaks was so controversial for its day was that instead of employing special effects makeup for the “freaks,” Browning instead used real people, not made-up actors, in the roles. There are little people, conjoined twins, a man born without arms and legs among others.

Freaks is a movie that couldn’t be made today without the feeling being that it’s trying to capitalize on the disabled so it’s a wonder that it was made in the ‘30s at all. In fact, Freaks was so poorly received that while Browning had directed dozens of films before it he would only direct a handful after.

The first time I saw Freaks was via DVD rental a few years back. Then, Freaks was something new that hadn’t been seen outside of midnight theater showings for decades. Now it’s a film on DVD, it turns up on TCM from time to time and via streaming services too.

Battle Royale

BattleRoyalePosterAnother film that was tough to see for many years was the Japanese classic Battle Royale (2000). I first remember seeing this film playing at booths selling imported films at comic book conventions and found myself wondering just what I was seeing?

Based on the book of the same name, in Battle Royale it’s the near future and a fascist Japan has taken to pitting a class of high school students against one and other to fight to the death every year on a remote island in order to terrorize the population as a whole. There can be only one winner and anyone who refuses to participate is killed.

Which having teens kill one and other in increasingly brutal ways was, and still is, extremely controversial. That was until the book and movies The Hunger Game’s were released. While The Hunger Games is essentially a sort of remake of Battle Royale, it’s a version of that film with much of the gore and intensity removed.

The joke is; “Q: You know what they call The Hunger Games in Paris? A: Battle Royale with cheese.” Which is somewhat true even if both Battle Royale and The Hunger Games owe a great debt to the Stephen King story The Long Walk.

Regardless, while I had to buy a DVD imported from overseas to see Battle Royale the first time, the movie became much easier to see once The Hunger Games went into production. Now, Battle Royale is easy to find on DVD and Blu-ray and turns up on streaming services from time to time too.

Sometimes a film doesn’t have to be “forbidden” to be tough to see.

We live in an age when it seems that viewers can watch any movie at any time from the comfort of their own home. They can still buy DVDs and Blu-rays from stores like Target and Walmart and online merchants like Amazon and Shout Factory. Or they can buy digital copies from places like Apple or Google. And thousands of movies can be legally streamed from places like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu as well.

But even with all this there are still movies out there that simple aren’t easily available to the average consumer.

To be sure there are dozens, if not hundreds of films that were released on VHS but never made it to the “next” platform. Some of that has to do with no one being sure with who owns the rights to certain properties and sometimes it’s because films, like trading cards, are bought and lost in vast collections the movie studios own. And this doesn’t even take into account the hundreds of made-for-TV movies that were produced for decades but for all intents and purposes are lost films today.

So here are a few movies that I spent time and a bit of money searching out and buying. These movies are all great and none of them are that easily viewable here in the US.

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia

First let’s start with the movie Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974). Directed by Sam Peckinpah who directed films like The Wild Bunch and Ride the High Country, Alfredo Garcia is a weird one since it was released on DVD and Blu-ray for a time but has gone out of print BUT the film turns up in high-definition on TV channels like TCM every once in a while.

Warren Oates plays a bar owner who’s offered one million dollars if he brings the head of Alfredo Garcia to a Mexican crime baron for the offense of impregnating his daughter. Oates’ character learns that Garcia’s already dead and buried so getting the head shouldn’t be a problem. Except that there are others out also looking for Garcia and the million and they’re willing to do anything for the money.

Alfredo Garcia is a bleak movie. Not only is the setting of a run-down Mexico bleak, but as Oates’ character starts abandoning his humanity and everything he loves in search of Garcia and the cash the movie delves deeper and deeper into blackness and his insanity is bleak as well. And it’s because of this and how unlike Alfredo Garcia plays out alongside similar movies; Oates’ character never redeems himself and keeps falling and falling towards the depths of depravity/insanity, is what makes Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia so great.

Another Pechinpah film that’s difficult to find is his Cross of Iron.

Cross of Iron

Cross-of-IronI can’t remember how I first heard of this film but Cross of Iron (1977) was one that I looked for years. This film stars James Coburn as a German soldier on the Russian front during WWII. He and his men fight dirty against the Soviets using every trick in the book to harass, hurt and kill as many of the Reds as they can.

As the film progresses we lean that Coburn’s character Steiner has earned the vaunted “Iron Cross” award for bravery and that an officer played by Maximilian Schell has taken duty at the Russian front in order to win one for himself. Steiner doesn’t care about awards and just wants he and his men to make it out alive. Tensions rise when Schell’s character keeps making bad decisions putting Steiner and his men’s lives on the line while the Russian front quickly advances towards them and certain doom.

I can see why Cross of Iron isn’t readily available. Not too many (any?) Western WWII movies depict the German side as having any humanity, regardless of their actions during the war. What we get in Cross of Iron is a look at a pragmatic man who just wants to do a job and go home and doesn’t take into accounts politics as he tries to survive one more day on the front.

Though it was hard to find for a while, recently a widescreen edition of Cross of Iron has been made available — the version I bought years ago was a cropped imported DVD.

84 Charlie MoPic

While we’re on the subject of war films, let’s talk about the great 84 Charlie MoPic (1989) that’s extremely difficult to find.

MoPic, like Cannibal Holocaust, is a “found footage” movie about a recon team during the Vietnam War filmed for training purposes for soldiers stateside. It’s a first person perspective on that war and is one of the best films of its genera period.

Unfortunately, it’s also the hardest one to see.

As far as I’m aware MoPic was only ever shown on a few movie screens, was available on VHS and aired a few times on PBS. But since then it’s been all but out of print. The movie’s not totally impossible to find. An imported DVD is available for purchase and if you’re like me and get to interview MoPic director Patrick S. Duncan for an article he’ll send you your very own copy of the movie like he did for me.

Threads

ThreadsFor me to see the British movie Threads (1984) was a bit of an undertaking. This nuclear war drama is a sort of British version of The Day After (1983). Except where The Day After ends a few weeks after the bombs drop, Threads goes on for years into the future. It then jumps a whole generation ahead to show just what a wreck nuclear war would be on ourselves and future generations to come.

I first heard about Threads a decade ago and started looking for it. This was a time where DVD was king but Threads wasn’t yet available on that format. So I had to settle for buying Threads on VHS and watching it that way.

And boy oh boy is Threads a brutal film. Not only do we get all the nuclear devastation stuff that’s in The Day After, but since Threads heads into the future we get a glimpse of what is the total destruction of a post-nuke Great Britain. From horribly scarred people, to executions for stealing food to a horrible future that’s devolved to almost medieval times where peasants toil on farms while giving birth to horribly mutated children.

Yikes!

While Threads was released here in the US on VHS in the 1980s so far it’s never been made available here on DVD, though one is available from the UK that’s unfortunately not compatible with US players.

Still, even in this day and age when it seems that EVERYTHING is possible to see as long as you’re willing to spend time seeking it out, there are a few films that I’ve so far been unable to see.

Australian films

A few years ago the documentary Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation! (2008) told about the movies that were created in Australia by Australians in the ’70s and ’80s. To be sure I kind’a sort’a knew about these movies already. The most famous of the Ozploitation movies is Mad Max (1979) which is one of the most successful movies of all time and has since spawned three sequels.

Razorback & Road Games

While Mad Max was, and is, a movie that turns up on TV from time to time, there were a whole host of similar Ozploitation movies that weren’t as successful but still were shown here on TV or home video. I remember seeing Razorback (1984) about a giant boar stalking the outback for unsuspecting people ala Jaws and Road Games (1981) both on TV and remember them being available via VHS.

For the record both movies are actually still quite good with Road Games, a horror movie about a killer stalking a semi-driver and his passenger played by Jamie Lee Curtis, being slightly better than Razorback.

BMX Bandits & Dead End Drive In

bmx-bandits-movie-poster-1983-1020234942The movie BMX Bandits (1983), a teens on BMX bikes running from criminals for one reason or another, was one of those movies the execs at HBO must’ve loved since I remember watching it there many times in the ‘80s. For a tim,e BMX Bandits was available via Netflix along with another Ozploitation flick Dead End Drive In (1986) about a future where juvenile delinquents are locked away in an old drive-in as a sort of concentration came with movies all night long.

The Siege of Firebase Gloria

The Siege of Firebase Gloria (1989) was a movie I wanted to see for many years but only ever got to check it out when it turned up on one of the HD movie channels a few years ago. This movie about the Vietnam War is pretty great, even if its extreme low budget shows through in every frame.

Stunt Rock, Deathcheaters & The Man from Hong Kong

And then there are movies like Stunt Rock (1980), Deathcheaters (1976) and The Man from Hong Kong (1975) that I wasn’t aware of until Not Quite Hollywood and was able to find and see. Deathcheaters, sort of a stuntmen turned to secret agents, was the toughest one for me to find. Until TCM of all places aired it in the middle of the night one time and I was finally able to catch it.

The Chain Reaction

In fact, of all the Ozploitation movies I set out to see after Not Quite Hollywood the only one I’ve been so far unable to watch is a movie called The Chain Reaction (1980). Now I’ve got no idea if the movie’s any good or not — Deathcheaters, The Man from Hong Kong and Stunt Rock sure weren’t — but I still want to see this movie about an accident at a nuclear power plant and the inevitable coverup that follows.

And car chases, lots and lots of car chases.