I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t know much about he Riot Grrrl movement when it was happening. And I knew even less about the Seattle band Bikini Kill at the time, except for the fact that they seemed angry, had hung out with Nirvana and had a great name. As a student of punk rock, this was most likely an oversight, as so-called alternative music was exploding at the time and keeping up with its many strains was more than my windswept young mind could keep up with. Playing catch up some years later, I discovered a band that sounded like no one else; with a catalog that matched its moniker for quality. Now, with the release of The Punk Singer, the band—and its troubled front woman Kathleen Hanna—is finally getting its due on DVD.
Formed during the early ‘90s in Olympia, Washington, Bikini Kill made its name by bucking the macho punk rock trends of the day—touting feminine issues and creating a scene that embraced its values, even down to encouraging female audience members to take part up front (without fear of being clobbered by Neanderthal moshers). While forging a fervent cult following and capturing the imagination of future female musicians across the globe, the band failed to make much of an impact in the mainstream, in spite of the then-current surge of new alternative acts. After a couple more projects throughout the ‘90s and early 2000s, Hanna mysteriously left the music business altogether, leaving fans feeling miffed and confused. The Punk Singer finally puts an end to the speculation.
Chronicling Hanna’s roots as a performance artist to the formation of Bikini Kill and the Riot Grrrl movement, director Sini Anderson tells the story through a series of interviews, photos and musical vignettes. The otherwise elusive Hanna demystifies things early on, with a series of frank, candid interviews that lay the foundation for the story. There’s also loads of concert footage for fans of both Bikini Kill and Hanna’s latter project Le Tigre. Of particular interest is the revelation of just why Hanna abruptly left the business several years back. Stricken with a “mystery illness” that sapped her energy and taxed her mental state, Hanna was in the dark about her condition until finally determining that it was a particularly cruel strain of Lyme disease.
For those unfamiliar with Hanna’s work, the film does a fine job in showcasing the impact the artist has had. Interviews with Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth, Joan Jett, Hanna’s husband Adam Horovitz (Beastie Boys) and others discuss the impact of her work, including her unwitting inspiration on the title choice of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
Anderson is obviously a fan, lavishing her subject with flattering angles and long wispy shots of her looking off into the distance, as well as a flurry of flyers, clippings and photographs. But, this is no fan fiction; one leaves the film with a new appreciation for the subject matter. Per that, I guess it’s time to dust off those old Bikini Kill records. (MPI)
Italian director Dario Argento’s early work is undeniable. Classics such as Deep Red and Suspiria are still as creepy and extreme today, decades after the fact. But, some of his latter work in recent years has been patchy at best. With this latest jaunt—a retake on the classic vampire tale—Dario’s definitely back in action. And that’s a good thing.
This version puts a saucy and surreal spin on the vampire tale, with a lush color palette, some gratuitous skin, giant insects and over-the-top acting. It all equals a strange, but bloody fun ride from start to finish. (IFC)
Monsters: Complete Series
While not quite so prevalent these days, horror anthology shows have come and gone on TV for ages. Ranging from the brilliant (Twilight Zone) to the bad (Flavor Flav’s Nite Tales), the format makes for a mixed bag, especially within the confines of TV censors, weekly ratings, commercials, etc. Monsters falls somewhere in the middle. This late ‘80s show lasted three seasons and generally featured some type of monster (animatronic and otherwise) in most episodes.
As one might imagine, said monsters are typically campy and/or goofy, taking much of the suspense out of the mix. But, there are a few truly dark moments to be had, once you’ve sifted through the lunacy. (E1)
The Complete Series
This obscure and short-lived, early ‘70s Sci-Fi series finally makes it to DVD, much to the thrill of diehards everywhere. Lasting just two seasons, the show centers on a covert organization (World Securities Corporation) that investigates espionage and other high crimes, through its high-tech division…”Probe Control.” (I know. I snickered, too.)
While pretty basic by today’s standards, the show’s ample use of mainframe computers, scanners, concealed cameras, tricked-out cars and such was pretty edgy for its time. But, before you start picturing a revved-up TV version of James Bond, the corny one-liners, macho antics and over-the-top fashion pieces are in reality, more along the lines of Austin Powers. Either way, fans of cult TV should be pleased. (Warner Archive Collection)
This low-budget sleeper puts a unique twist on the zombie genre. After engaging in a confusing one-night stand at a party with a mysterious guy, Samantha (who has been in a lesbian relationship for several months), starts having extreme reactions. Thinking it’s some kind of STD, she attempts to go on as normal but finds that she’s rapidly decomposing!
Director Eric England plays things slow and creepy, and while there is not a lot of overt gore, the atmosphere is truly unnerving—especially the imagery of the mystery guy having relations with a contaminated corpse before meeting Samantha! (IFC)
95ers: Time Runners
This strange little Sci-Fi flick deals with the concept of time and space. As FBI agent Sally explores clues behind her husband’s disappearance, she discovers a conspiracy from the future, where the Earth lies in a devastated, post-apocalyptic state. If Sally doesn’t figure it all out soon in real-time, the world is destined for a bad things.
If it sounds confusing, it most certainly is. But something about this clever, low-budget film draws you in. In an almost clinical fashion, the film weaves in concepts around paradoxes, slips in time and quirks of the subconscious. It’s definitely a bit of a head-f*ck, but well worth it, if you’ve got the time to spare. (Inception)
After what seemed like an eternity, The Boondocks returned this year with its fourth and final season on Adult Swim. What made the show interesting was its darkly comic take on social and racial themes, always offering up a dose of hard realities within its acidic animated characters, courtesy of creator Aaron McGruder. And because of its uniqueness, it has amassed a loyal cult following over the years. Now, as McGruder is no longer a part of the proceedings, the tone of the show has changed a bit.
Season 4 is geared more towards instant gratification and easy fixes. It does do an amusing job of riffing off Breaking Bad, which is good for a few laughs, but for those expecting the wit and wisdom of seasons past, this may not be the final sendoff you were hoping for. (Sony)
Abby leads a fairly mundane existence. Stuck in an all-too comfortable lesbian relationship, her life is like clockwork, and it’s getting old. But everything changes once she receives a bump on the head. The resulting concussion unleashes something within her, and she now has wanton sex for money with other lonely ladies on a regular basis. Sound far-fetched? I would tend to agree.
But, director Stacie Passon handles things in such a measured and restrained way that it makes it all seem fairly commonplace, which is kind of strange when you think about it after the fact. And while the slow pace, unrealistic circumstances and upper-crust confines may be a bit hard to swallow for a couple hours, it’s a film you want to keep watching, if at the very least, in the hopes that there will be some kind of climax at the end. (Anchor Bay)
As each season passes, True Blood is never short of surprises. This time out, there are strong religious and political overtones. First, the vamps of Bon Temps are now being persecuted by a fascistic governor who’s found ways around their powers. Now, they must find a way out of the concentration camps or face extinction.
On top of that, series favorite Bill Compton has been transformed into a vampire god, with a whole new set of powers and problems. When you add in new revelations about Sookie’s origins, it all becomes a kooky, supernatural mess, But, in spite of all the absurdities, it’s an entertaining view, especially in this plush, hi-def Blu-ray package. (HBO)
With its ominous cover art and inclusion of Hellraiser’s Doug Bradley, I had high hopes for this low-end horror jaunt. The results? While it’s far from a masterwork, it’s not at all unentertaining, especially when viewed as a proper homage to ‘80s slashers.
The Fright Land amusement park is on its last legs when its owner (Bradley) decides that a murderous publicity stunt may save the day. The chaos that ensues is both bloody and funny, with a few good scares thrown into the mix. It’s also notable that the film features industrial-rock icon Nivek Ogre of Skinny Puppy. (MVD)
The notion of putting Frankenstein into modern times is an interesting one. By and large, the concept worked well with Underworld and its contemporary urban spin on vampire lore. The creators of I, Frankenstein seem to have studied that blueprint a little much, saturating the film with a similarly dank environment, comparable weapons and gadgets, and even an eerily parallel centuries-old war that must now be dealt with by Frankenstein himself.
While the Underworld comparisons are many, and the monster a little too brainy and insightful to really be Frankenstein, there are still loads of well-executed action scenes, some interesting special effects and more than a few clever twists. But is it classic horror material in the vein of the original Frankenstein franchise? Nope. Think Underworld meets The Matrix and you have this one nailed. (Lionsgate)
Pillaging the Hammer Studios catalog for gothic goodies to re-release, Synapse Films has done a bang-up job on this new Blu-ray edition of Countess Dracula (1971).
Starring horror legend Ingrid Pitt, the name of the film is a bit misleading, as the story actually references Hungarian serial killer Countess Elizabeth Báthory. Replicating Hungary of the 1600s on a moderate budget was no small feat, and Pitt’s expert take on the subject matter salvages the somewhat dicey and rushed story.
While it is definitely not Hammer’s finest hour, the film is still worthwhile for its superior set pieces, costumes and Pitt’s dual role as the young and old Countess. And there are a few solidly creepy moments, all of which come across well in this excellent new hi-def transfer. (Synapse)
Game of Thrones
The beauty of Game of Thrones is that it has so many twists and turns that it’s rarely ever predictable, unless of course you’ve read the books first. Even so, I don’t think anyone was prepared for this season’s “Red Wedding” scenes, where a few key series favorites met their imminent doom.
Season 3 did an amazing job of moving the series forward and furthering the continuity of its many subplots—all in the dark and bloody fashion we’ve become accustomed to. This Blu-ray release features a clutch of cool extras including featurettes, commentaries and an ever-so-valuable mythology feature. (HBO)
For the uninitiated, Ripper Street chronicles the fallout of Jack the Ripper’s dastardly deeds during the late 1880s. As the people of Whitechapel struggle to put their lives back together, the cops are frustrated with their lack of progress in apprehending the brute. Series 2 deals with a lot of psychological issues experienced by all involved, along with a fair amount of violence—all resulting from the tension created by Mr. Ripper in the first place. With chilly atmospherics and a solid ensemble cast, this one’s a worthy view. (BBC)
Return To Nukem High
Anyone familiar with the Nukem films or anything cranked out by Troma Studios already knows that this is pure, unadulterated exploitation, designed to shock at any cost. And while the stories and special effects may be afterthoughts, the films are far from forgettable.
This latest installment sees the good folks of “Tromaville” lose their nuclear power plant in favor of an organic foods company that happens to provide “food” for the local high school’s lunch program. That’s pretty much where the story aspect ends. It’s all chaos from that point on, with a series of bargain basement deaths, nudity and any other easy shock tactic that creator Lloyd Kaufman can toss in. For those expecting the director’s cut of World War Z, this is definitely not it. But there are a few funny, ironic moments to be had, if you look hard enough for them. (Anchor Bay)
When he wasn’t stewing over the declining state of the Beatles, George Harrison was busy composing the soundtrack to this psych-flavored, pop-art film. Relying upon colorful visuals and implied symbolism rather than a prominent narrative, the film centers on a lonely professor who discovers a peephole into the neighboring apartment. He soon becomes overtaken by the beauty of his neighbor, the aptly named “Penny Lane” and begins a surreal, voyeuristic journey that not only transforms his apartment, but his psyche.
Definitely a product of its era, Wonderwall is interesting for its striking visuals—its vivid color palette, luminous imagery and actress Jane Birkin being standouts. This Blu-ray edition does a fine job of presenting the visual aspects, as well as Harrison’s soundtrack. (Shout! Factory)
For questions, comments or something you’d like to see, drop me a line at Retrohead77@yahoo.com. Cheers, JK.
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