Archive for the Books About Movies Category


Posted in 2013, Book Review, Books About Movies, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Epics, Underappreciated Films with tags , , , , on April 20, 2013 by knifefighter


Book Review by L.L. Soares

Last year, one of the movies that made my “Best of 2012” list was Andrew Stanton’s JOHN CARTER (it was Number 3), a rousing adventure movie based on the classic novel “A Princess of Mars” by Edgar Rice Burroughs. And yet, the movie was considered the biggest flop of 2012, and one of the biggest box office bombs of all time. I certainly wasn’t the only critic who praised the movie; so what happened to make it such a historical failure? One thing I (and friends of mine) noticed early on was that the advertising campaign for the movie was pretty dismal, failing to mention at all that it was based on a book by “The Creator of Tarzan.” That seemed pretty silly to me, since Burroughs’ Tarzan is one of the most famous fictional characters ever created (and his John Carter deserves equal renown). Also disheartening was the fact that Burroughs’ book, which came out in 1912, influenced some of the biggest science-fiction epics in the history of movies, and yet, because John Carter’s story itself had never been filmed before, many people would assume that JOHN CARTER was derivative, rather than being the true “original” that everyone else had stolen from for decades.

Another big blunder was that the word “Mars” was nowhere in the movie’s title. The whole point of the story is that John Carter, an Earth man, goes to Mars and becomes a masterful warrior. If you just call the movie JOHN CARTER, no one is going to have a clue what it’s about!

For fans of Burroughs and the John Carter books, the handling of Stanton’s film, or rather the mishandling, has been a huge source of frustration.

Obviously, I wasn’t alone in noticing these things. Writer and filmmaker Michael D. Sellers, who also created The John Carter Files website, was watching all of this unfold very closely, and even interacting with some of the key players, and he has written a terrific book explaining, in great detail, what went wrong, and why a well-made, entertaining film got such an undeserved bad rap. Sellers’ book about this debacle, JOHN CARTER AND THE GODS OF HOLLYWOOD, follows the project from its inception (how directors had been trying to get a John Carter movie made for decades, and how Andrew Stanton, fresh off the success of FINDING NEMO, was finally the one man with the clout to make it a reality) to its dismal treatment at the hands of Disney executives, to its embarrassingly bad advertising campaign featuring trailers that left viewers confused and scratching their heads, to its final release and financial failure (and Disney’s washing its hands of a film they failed to adequately support from Day 1).

Despite the fact that the movie earned back at least 2/3 of its budget (and we’re talking a $200 million price tag, not including marketing costs) over time, it is considered a huge monetary failure, and pretty much had to pull off an impossible miracle to be considered a success (which obviously didn’t happen). The constant media harping on the price of the film and the studio’s neglect of it before its release certainly gave a negative impression before the movie even hit theaters, which doomed it before it got a fair chance. All of this doesn’t bode well for the character appearing in another movie anytime soon (although Sellers does describe ways that sequels could be done, and could make money).

One of the saddest film-related stories of 2012, I found this book to be a riveting account of the many hows and whys of what went wrong. Sellers doesn’t leave a stone unturned, and gives a thorough explanation of everything that went awrythroughout the process, revealing that the movie really had no chance of being a box-office hit, despite its quality production and high entertainment value.

If you’re a fan of the movie, you’ll especially enjoy this accounting of all the missteps and pitfalls along the way that could have been avoided. Well-researched and well-written, Sellers’ book is a real-life tragedy about a film that doesn’t deserve its bad reputation, and which already seems destined to become a cult favorite, even if it wasn’t a box-office giant.

Highly recommended for fans of JOHN CARTER, and for anyone curious about the behind-the-scenes machinations of the film business. JOHN CARTER AND THE GODS OF HOLLYWOOD is a fascinating read.

 © Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

(Check out the original Cinema Knife Fight review of JOHN CARTER when it was first released here)



Film Book Review: HOUSE OF PSYCHOTIC WOMEN by Kier-La Janisse

Posted in 2013, Book Review, Books About Movies, Cult Movies, Film History, Horror, Nick Cato Reviews, Women in Horror with tags , , , , , , , on February 24, 2013 by knifefighter

Book Review by Nick Cato


I usually devour film books quickly. There’s just something about them that makes me want to read, to learn, to study films I’ve both seen and have on my viewing agenda. But when I cracked open this beautiful trade edition of HOUSE OF PSYCHOTIC WOMEN, I was a bit annoyed at how small the font was, and figured I’d have to take things slow as not to develop migraines. But by the time I finished the second chapter, the author had me completely captivated and I ended up getting through this lengthy volume in a only a few neurotic sittings.

The first section of the book is part autobiography, part intense film study, focusing on features with female characters who are either losing their minds or going through some form of psychological struggle. Author Kier-La Janisse relates a certain film to events in her own life, much of which happened during her teen and pre-teen years. Janisse’s look at director Andrezj Zulawski’s 1981 POSSESSION is the highlight here as she sheds some much-needed light on this often dismissed and overlooked film. She tackles each film from a seriously unique angle, and despite the dark nature of most of them (1977’s MAN, WOMAN, AND BEAST is one I had never heard of but am now on a hunt for), we’re left with a respect for some films we may not have thought too much about upon our initial viewing; I now have a whole new view on Abel Ferrara’s rape/revenge film MS. 45, which I originally saw as part of a double feature and wrote off as just another cheap thrill. It truly is much more.

We’re then treated to over 30 pages of gore-geous rare film ads and posters. Fab Press should take a bow for how attractive this tome is (but again, I’d gladly have paid another ten or twenty bucks for some more pages and a larger font).

HOUSE concludes with almost 150 pages of Janisse’s scholarly film reviews, with capsule reviews of films covered in the first section and extended ones here. Of note are great looks at 2010’s WOUND, 2001’s TROUBLE EVERY DAY, 1971’s SLAUGHTER HOTEL (finally someone who agrees with me on this stinker), and a wonderful mini-expose of Mario Bava’s SHOCK (1977). I was particularly happy with the wide-range of films covered, from mainstream and underground horror to rape/revenge, to arthouse, and even TV movies. The author has collected a vast array of genres and never once falls away from the book’s theme (no small feat considering it took her ten years to complete this).

Regardless that it’s part memoir, HOUSE OF PSYCHOTIC WOMEN deserves a place on the shelf of any serious film fan. It’s a volume anyone can learn from, and it also works well as a reference guide. I’ll surely be going back to it many times, and already have a list of almost a dozen films I need to see … PRONTO. This is fantastic, well written material from a fresh voice.

© Copyright 2013 by Nick Cato

TRIBESMEN by Adam Cesare

Posted in 1980s Horror, 2013, Books About Movies, Cannibals, Evil Spirits, Italian Horror, LL Soares Reviews with tags , , , , on January 19, 2013 by knifefighter

A Book Review by L.L. Soares

tribesmen-coverWe don’t often review books here at Cinema Knife Fight, unless they have something to do with horror movies, so I thought I’d shine a spotlight on a novella that gives us a pretty interesting take on the Italian cannibal movies of the 1980s. You know the kind, the ones that played in grindhouses in Times Square at the time, with titles like CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980, directed by Ruggero Deodato) and CANNIBAL FEROX (aka MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY, 1981, directed by Umberto Lenzi). Precursors to the “found footage” horror movies that are so popular today, these flicks usually involved journalists or filmmakers going into jungles or rainforests to find primitive tribes long hidden from civilization, with gruesome results.

Adam Cesare’s TRIBESMEN is about a film crew traveling to a Caribbean island to make one of these movies, and the characters include archetypes like the sleazy Italian director (who churns these things out in a week), the hulking Italian movie star who can’t speak English, the American starlet who thinks this will advance her acting career, the heroin-addict cameraman and the hero, an African-American writer who is working on the script even as production is about to start. When they get to the island, things don’t go according to plan (or schedule), as spirits that haunt the island start possessing them and make them do awful things. A movie shoot turns into a fight for survival for everyone involved.

Cesare does a good job fleshing out the characters and making them sympathetic (for the most part; some of these characters are purposely unsympathetic), and knows how to ratchet up the scares. For fans of the original exploitation films, this book will take you back to those days of grindhouse goodies. Recommended.

TRIBESMEN was published by Ravenous Shadows and is available on Amazon, and the usual places.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

Books About Movies: CONSPIRACY CINEMA by David Ray Carter

Posted in 2012, Books About Movies, Conspiracy Theories, Controverisal Films, Nick Cato Reviews with tags , , , on May 12, 2012 by knifefighter

CONSPIRACY CINEMA by David Ray Carter (2012 Headpress / 272 pp / trade paperback)
Review by Nick Cato

The first time I was exposed to a conspiracy theory was in 1977 when I saw the film CAPRICORN ONE.  The story concerned a staged NASA spaceship landing on Mars.  While I was never too concerned over the whole idea that the American moon landing was a sham, I did find it a great idea for a story.  But I never knew just how many documentaries about it existed, as well as many other theories, until reading CONSPIRACY CINEMA, the latest title from the UK’s Headpress Books.

Author David Ray Carter defines Conspiracy Cinema as “…films by amateur filmmakers that are used to promote a specific viewpoint on a popular conspiracy theory.”  These “films” are usually shot-on-video projects, made to be watched on popular websites like YouTube, although many of them are originally released on DVD (and before that, VHS).  Carter has sat through countless hours of conspiracy films, and here provides a neatly-organized look at the best, worst, and most unusual titles dedicated to each theory.

The opening section on 9/11 films is nothing short of incredible: while many have seen the popular documentary LOOSE CHANGE (one of several films to claim the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks were the work of the U.S. government and/or the New World Order), some of the other titles caused me to flat out laugh (2001: THE YEAR WE MADE CONTACT (2010) is really off its rocker) while others seem to bring up some solid, arguable points (such as 2005’s EVERYBODY’S GOT TO LEARN SOMETIME).  Carter admits that many of these 9/11 films borrow footage from each other and can become tedious; thankfully he has sifted through them all and gives you URLs to the websites of the better offerings, where readers can watch and make up their own minds.

I never realized how much stuff was available about the July 7, 2005 London Bombings, so much that conspiracy fans call it “7/7,” as regularly as the average Joe uses the term “9/11.”  And like the 9/11 films, the London Bombing films offer everything from government to supernatural conspiracies.  Carter then takes a look at the Kennedy assassination films (including Oliver Stone’s 1991 fictional account), Martin Luther King Jr., Princess Diana, the Oklahoma City Bombing, Waco, and much more.  Each section gives The Facts, then The Official Version, and finally, The Conspiracy Theories of each subject, before delivering non-biased, encyclopedia-type reviews of the films.

CONSPIRACY CINEMA’s second section, dealing with the Illuminati and the New World Order, is quite informative for anyone who has ever wondered what the differences (or similarities) of these groups are.  The amount of documentaries available on both topics is staggering, and like the first section, Carter has done a fine job in narrowing down the more interesting titles.

The book finishes with Lesser Conspiracies, with everything from HIV/AIDS, airplane chemtrails and health issues all covered in documentaries, many of which run for as long as 4 hours.

After watching many paranoid religious end-times and “mark of the beast” documentaries in the 1990s, I was happy to see someone take a look at those—as well as the aforementioned titles—from an unbiased viewpoint, even when describing some of the colorful characters responsible for creating these films.

Make sure to keep a pen on hand: you’ll be wanting to see some of these films as soon as you finish the book. For a book that’s under 300 pages, it’s safe to say CONSPIRACY CINEMA will be the definitive tome on this bizarre subgenre for a long time to come.  Highly engrossing stuff.

© Copyright 2012 by Nick Cato

(Author’s note: a word of warning:  some of the films covered in this book are blatantly racist)

Cinema Book Review: DARK STARS RISING

Posted in 2011, Book Review, Books About Movies, Interviews, Nick Cato Reviews with tags , , , , , on October 2, 2011 by knifefighter

DARK STARS RISING by Shade Rupe (2011 headpress Books / 560 pages / trade paperback)
Book Review by Nick Cato

When you can get through a 560-paged book in two sittings (as I did with this semi-door stop-sized volume), that’s saying something.

International film festival producer Shade Rupe delivers this collection of interviews with 27 film makers, artists, writers, actors and performance artists. Each interview is as unique as the person being questioned, from cult movie icon Udo Kier to artist Andre Lassen, from everyone’s favorite drag queen Divine to legendary director Alejandro Jodorowsky, there’s something here for anyone who loves unusual entertainment (especially cinema).

A couple of chapters even hit me on a personal level. The late Chas. Balun (who not only gave my old fanzine, STINK, a nod in an issue of his DEEP RED magazine, but was an inspiration to me as a DIY guy) has a very informative interview here, conducted in 1994. Chas. was a fan’s fan, a true horror fan who did more to get seldom-seen films into the hands of horror geeks around the globe than anyone else I can think of. In the wake of his passing, some of his statements here actually made me all misty…

Rupe’s interview with COMBAT SHOCK director Buddy Giovinazzo (conducted in 1995) is chock-full of info I was unaware of, and I was thrilled to see him get such long-overdue coverage in a book of this nature (Buddy was also a film teacher at my local college, the College of Staten Island). Great stuff.

Rupe has introduced me to a few people here, and I found myself equally interested in every chapter, regardless of how familiar I was with the person’s work. As a bonus, this Headpress Book is simply GORE-geous: there’s countless photos, ad mats, and rare stills, something you’ll never be able to fully appreciate on an e-reader (and MAN does this ink smell GOOD!).

Horror and cult film fans take note as there are interviews with William ‘MANIAC‘ Lustig, Gaspar ‘ENTER THE VOID‘ Noe, Jim ‘DEADBEAT AT DAWN‘ Van Bebber, and Tura ‘FASTER PUSSYCAT, KILL! KILL!’ Satana. There’s also a rare “talking” interview with the usually silent Teller (of Penn & Teller fame) that turned out to be one of the more enjoyable sections of the book. Comic geeks will also be thrilled over the Arnold Drake interview, as well as Rupe’s yak-session with MEAT CAKE creator Dame Darcy.

If you’re a die-hard cinephile or art nut, there’s no reason not to have this on your shelf ASAP. I’m quite impressed…

© Copyright 2011 by Nick Cato

Cinema Book Review: IMPOSSIBLY FUNKY

Posted in 2011, Blaxploitation, Book Review, Books About Movies, Nick Cato Reviews, Nicolas Cage Movies with tags , , , , on October 1, 2011 by knifefighter

(2010 Bear Manor Media / 377 pages / trade paperback)

Book Review by Nick Cato

From 1994-2008, CASHIERS DU CINEMART was a fanzine featuring wildly opinionated movie reviews and retrospects, as well as interviews, with everyone from Crispin Glover to cast members of seldom-seen 70s blaxploitation films.  IMPOSSIBLY FUNKY collects some of the fanzine’s finest moments, and features introductions from exploitation film guru Herschell Gordon Lewis to the founder of Film Threat, Chris Gore.

Author Mike White is perhaps best known for calling Quentin Tarantino out for certain “similarities” between the 1989 Hong Kong movie, CITY ON FIRE, and his own film, RESERVOIR DOGS.  White even made a short feature titled WHO DO YOU THINK YOU’RE FOOLING?, which shows (side-by-side) shots from both films, calling Tarantino’s motives into question.  The opening chapters of the book deal with this whole saga, and while I had seen White’s film online, there’s plenty more here for those interested in this on-going celluloid grapple.

Among my favorite sections were Mike Thompson’s look at the original script for the Nicolas Cage film 8MM,  Mike White’s section on ALIEN 3, White’s interview with Canadian cult film director Guy Maddin, and of course, the huge section dedicated to the 1975 blaxploitation classic BLACK SHAMPOO, which features an overview of the cast, interviews with the director and a few stars, and an interesting story on how Mike and his friends became addicted to it (and still hold annual viewings).

While I haven’t mentioned even half of what’s on display here (STAR WARS fans will get a kick out of the small section dedicated to it), IMPOSSIBLY FUNKY looks at films through the eyes of super-geek film fans, and while (at times) things get a bit obsessive (I mean, what film geek DOESN’T get obsessive when talking films?), film fans will not be bored, even if a topic being discussed isn’t of particular interest.

A fun. informative, and smart book to garnish any film freaks’ book shelf.

© Copyright 2011 by Nick Cato

For more about Mike White, check out his website at: