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PRESS PLAY Extreme emotional response is never quite as simple as stroking an erogenous zone or pressing a few buttons keyed to childhood memory, but like select performances in The Last Waltz, Marvin GayeThe Real Thing in Performance reduced — or rather, elevated — me to tears.

This "first official" Motown-approved DVD anthology of TV performances comes freighted with expectations as large and moss-lined as a certain label head’s ego — and as baroque and biblical as the Gaye story itself (the very stuff of Shakespearean tragedies/Hollywood biopics, with the singer finding musical succor in his father’s church and later death at Marvin Sr.’s hands). Nonetheless, the execution is — mercifully — graceful, with performances drawn from biggies like American Bandstand and lesser-known programs such as Hollywood A Go-Go, intercut with mostly Dinah Shore interviews. Extras include a cappella studio vocal tracks of Gaye hits.

Invaluable is concert footage of Gaye on piano playing off a conga player on "What’s Going On" in 1972 (pulled from Save the Children) and a groovily camp "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" from a 1969 Hollywood show. These excerpts remind you that — yes, you heard right — Gaye was the genuine article (ever the son of a preacher man, he reveals in a talk with the doting Shore that he doesn’t remember writing What’s Going On and thus regards it as "divine"). Radiating an easy sexuality and often distractingly surrounded by wildly frugging go-go girls and later Solid Gold–style strutters, Gaye finds his true, sublime fit with Tammi Terrell, dueting on "Ain’t No Mountain High Enough" in mod street togs at Montreal’s Expo ’67, in one of only two known TV appearances by the pair. The duo manages to project a sheer joy that encapsulates the heartbreaking promise of an era on the precipice. Even the obvious lip-synching — emphasized by the fact that Motown stereo masters replace the mono TV audio — can’t hide Gaye’s heaven-sent powers as a performer, with a riptide of feeling and grace pulling close to the surface of his always handsome, often sleek image. (Kimberly Chun)

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Nightmare city

PREVIEW Trench coat alert: The World Horror Convention is oozing all over Van Ness Avenue, unleashing four days of panel discussions (on everything from horror art to horror-themed television shows), readings (outstanding local true-stories zine Morbid Curiosity hosts an open mic), and special guests, including Ring author Koji Suzuki and cult-movie actor Bill Moseley, best known as sadistic Otis Driftwood in The Devil’s Rejects and — yee haw! — Iron Butterfly–loving grandma’s boy Chop Top in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.

The event also features a dusk-till-dawn film festival curated by Shannon Lark, host of the Chainsaw Mafia movie nights at the Parkway Theater. (Side note: As part of that series, on May 25 she presents Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond, starring all the eyeball-crunching tarantulas your nightmares care to entertain.) For the convention Lark gathers more than two dozen shorts (Confederate Zombie Massacre sounds like a winner) and nine features, including the gloriously titled Frankenstein vs. the Creature from Blood Cove.

My weakness for anything starring P.J. Soles (Carrie, Halloween, Rock ’n’ Roll High School) drew me to Death by Engagement, writer-director Philip Creager’s slick slasher flick. A woman dumps her fiancé at the altar after realizing she’s about to marry the world’s biggest rageaholic (he’s addicted to rageahol!). He promptly tracks her down and beats her to a pulp — but is soon brought to the edge of death himself by a pair of trigger-happy cops, one of whom discreetly slides the honkin’ diamond ring off the bride’s bloody hand. The cursed bauble then snakes its way though the lives of several young and fabulous LA types, leaving a trail of corpses in its wake.

More of a raunchy comedy than a straight-up horror film (i.e., you’re more likely to be surprised by the sudden appearance of boobs than by any of the plot twists), Death by Engagement is notable for a few reasons: the appearance of the pawn shop from Pulp Fiction (but, alas, not the Gimp); the snarky dialogue, as when a cop refers to two brain-dead victims thusly: "So, we have a whole salad bar here, eh?"; and Soles, who is predictably great in a classic creepy-mom role. (Cheryl Eddy)



Holiday Inn Golden Gateway

1500 Van Ness, SF




King “B”


King "B"

ICON John Saxon is many things to many people: 1950s teen idol (during his Universal contract player days he won a 1958 Golden Globe for "Most Promising Newcomer"); ubiquitous TV guest star (scratching the surface, the list includes Dynasty, Melrose Place, The A-Team, Fantasy Island, Wonder Woman, and Gunsmoke); and, most prominently, B-movie superstar. Throughout his still-active career, Saxon (real name: Carmine Orrico) has proved a charismatic presence no matter the setting. Program your own Saxon invasion with just a few of his best (and most widely available) performances.

Enter the Dragon (1973): Saxon showcases his black belt in this Bruce Lee classic.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and A Nightmare on Elm Street III: Dream Warriors (1987): Lt. Thompson doesn’t believe his daughter’s crazy Freddy Krueger dreams are real … until it’s too late.
Black Christmas (1974): Lt. Fuller doesn’t believe the crazy phone calls that are freaking out the sorority house are cause for concern … until it’s too late.

Tenebre (1982): Saxon’s supporting role in this Dario Argento giallo features a memorable hat dance and plenty of vigorous bloodshed.

The Evil Eye (1963): Two decades earlier, Saxon acted in this serial killa thrilla for Italian horror king Mario Bava.

Cannibal Apocalypse (1980): Another Italian horror entry, but this one’s infinitely trashier. Saxon stars as a Vietnam vet who discovers several of his men have returned from the war with, uh, peculiar eating habits.

The Cynic, the Rat, and the Fist (1977): Saxon was often the only American cast member in his films, including this criminally hard-to-find cops ’n’ robbers tale from ambassador of ultraviolence Umberto Lenzi, best known for 1981’s Cannibal Ferox, a.k.a. Make Them Die Slowly. (Cheryl Eddy)

Bronson’s Loose! The Making of the Death Wish Films


Bronson’s Loose! The Making of the Death Wish Films

by Paul Talbot 


BOOK REVIEW This slim, yet essential tome is jammed with information about the greatest quintology in cinema history, inspired by Brian Garfield’s 1972 novel about vigilante justice. Interviews with director Michael Winner (Death Wish I through III) and others fill in juicy details, including the casting of thugs (among them Jeff Goldblum, Laurence Fishburne, and Alex Winter, plus my personal favorite, Kirk Taylor as Death Wish III‘s "The Giggler") and the all-important hero ("The Death Wish vigilante role was called ‘uncastable,’ but Winner solved the problem by casting the world’s most popular movie star"). Talbot — clearly a fan himself — also covers the series’ frequent screenplay revisions, as well as audience and critical reactions to the brutally violent films. Plus, there’s plenty on the late, fiercely private Bronson — who’s unfortunately not directly interviewed here, though copious anecdotes offer fascinating insights. (Cheryl Eddy)

King of Shadows


TRIBUTE Days of Our Lives had Patch and Kayla; Passions had Precious, Timmy, and Zombie Charity (don’t ask). But Dark Shadows had werewolves, time travel, ghosts, a vampire protagonist (Jonathan Frid), and plots that revolved around such curious objects as the severed hand of one Count Petofi (much sought after for its mystical powers). Dark Shadows — the original version of which ran from 1966 to 1971; it also spawned multiple films and revivals — was clearly a singular sensation, and much of the credit goes to its beloved creator-producer, Dan Curtis.

Curtis, who passed away March 27 at the age of 78, was also noted for his many 1970s TV films. Most contained gothic elements, includingThe Night Stalker and the Karen Black tastic Trilogy of Terror, plus versions of Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Dracula (the latter two starring Jack Palance). On the big screen he directed Black in the haunted-house tale Burnt Offerings; he also helmed the anthology tale Dead of Night, written by frequent collaborator Richard Matheson.

These days, The Montel Williams Show tapes in Dark Shadows’ old New York City studio (not among Dark Shadows’ horrors, as far as I can tell, are unexpected paternity test results). But the soap’s cult lives on, much like lovelorn vamp Barnabas Collins, with multiple DVD collections from MPI Home Video (www.mpihomevideo.com) — endearing flubs from the show’s live tapings intact. For more information on Curtis, visit the frighteningly complete www.collinwood.net, operated by European fanzine Dark Shadows Journal. (Cheryl Eddy)

Kill-er dude

Kill the Moonlight


PRESS PLAY It coulda been Slacker, and instead, true to "Loser" form, it got lost. That was the fate of Steve Hanft’s 1994 "underground classic" feature Kill the Moonlight.

Kill has a rep for being rarely seen but, weirdly, widely disseminated — due to the fact that its title character, would-be race car driver, fish hatchery feeder, and toxic waste cleaner Chance, provided the direct inspiration for Beck’s first Gen X–Rosetta stone single, "Loser." Samples from the movie ("I’m a driver/ I’m a winner/ Things are gonna change/ I can feel it," drones the never-say-die, ultimately unkillable Chance) popped up in the sleeper pop hit itself, and clips of the movie surfaced in the song’s video, directed by Hanft (who also played with Beck in a band called Liquor Cabinet).

Alterna-strippers, Kiss revivalism, and bitchin’ Camaros — how much more ’90s can you get? With the release of this DVD — which includes a bonus soundtrack CD of music by Beck, the Raunch Hands, and Go to Blazes — you can finally bask in the low-budget, occasionally funny, often stiff, yet extremely atmospheric lo-fi glory of this 76-minute feature, which Hanft seems to have spun off with his bigger-budget 2001 feature,Southlander, starring a goofy musician named Chance and, well, Beck. (Kimberly Chun)

The L word: Lesley


I hear car horns behind the voice of Lesley Gore on the phone, which makes sense, since the woman who sang "It’s My Party" and "You Don’t Own Me" is in New York. The Big Apple is also where Gore first learned how to hit the charts, with no less a tutor than producer and arranger Quincy Jones. "It’s extraordinary that a man of his distinction could put himself in the shoes of a 16-year-old kid," Gore says. "That was his art, in a way. There may have been a 14-year difference between us, but he never talked down to me."

Anecdotes about Q figure in Gore’s current live performances, which also makes sense, since the girl who sang "Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows" and "Judy’s Turn to Cry" in the key of A "If Quincy didn’t see the veins popping in my neck, he wouldn’t be happy" is now a smoky-voiced woman working in jazzier, Jones-ier realms on the new CD Ever Since (Engine Company). "Quincy would often call me on a Friday and say, "Lil Bits, meet me at Basin Street at 8"," Gore remembers. "We’d go see Peggy [Lee] or Ella [Fitzgerald] or Dinah Washington. He’d say, "Listen to this opening number this is what an opening number should do." He took mentoring seriously. He wanted me to understand."

To understand Lesley Gore, you could check out Susan J. Douglas’s excellent Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media, a rumination on pop culture that makes it easy to place 60s girl pop records by Gore and others on a continuum that led to the feminist revolution. Or you could just check out the music. Far from a crybaby, Gore paved the way for the rebellious likes of Joan Jett. "I rather liked Joan’s interpretation [of "You Don’t Own Me"]," ‘]," Gore says. "Dusty [Springfield] also covered that record almost minutes after it came out."

Ah, Dusty. Gore and Springfield had things besides talent in common, even if it’s taken decades for the news to come out in print. "I did actually come to know Dusty when I was living in LA during the 70s," Gore recalls. "They are doing a musical [Dusty] of Dusty’s life. Dusty’s manager, Vicki Wickham, is a dear friend of mine, and they consulted her."

One musical has already drawn material from Gore’s life for material, though her thoughts about Allison Anders’s 1996 movie Grace of My Heart aren’t fond ones.  "Actually, nothing rang absolutely true in that movie," she says. "The actual history is that I didn’t know I was gay until after college," she says.. "So whatever they put in [the movie] was more of a projected scenario than a reality. They asked me to write a song [for the movie], and it wasn’t a completely pleasant experience. I realized they asked so they could exploit my name. Then they had the lack of decency to pretty much not invite me to the [movie’s] opening." Needless to say, Gore’s memories of working with what she calls "the Fame family" and copenning Irene Cara’s "Out Here oOn My Own" are happier.

As for today, the woman who has recently helped soundtrack The L Word and host In the Life is ready to hit the road for San Francisco with her band. ""Judy’s Turn to Cry" has completely erupted for me as new song, after taking out those horn and strings and boppy things," she says, discussing the "stripped-down" approach she takes to new tunes and classic hits. "You’re gonna get a show we’ve been doing steadily for 4 or 5 months for months it’s grown in dimension, width, and height, and everyone is going to have a great time. Some people may have to turn their hearing aids up, but that’s what friends are for." (Johnny Ray Huston)


Sat/22Sun/23, 8 p.m.

Brava Theater Center

2781 24th St., SF

$35$40 ($60 with includes Gala afterparty)

(415) 647-2822


For a Q&A with Lesley Gore, go to Noise, the sfbg.com music blog. 

Use that Star Power wisely


GAMER Rhythm games are a mixed bag, but the good ones are great. Games like Karaoke Revolution, Dance Dance Revolution, and now Guitar Hero (PS2) set the standard. This game is so much fun it makes jerks explode.

The controller is shaped like a guitar a Gibson SG to be exact and it features five colored buttons on the fret board, a whammy bar, and a little flicker lever where the strings would be. The SG, for those who don’t know, is the guitar Angus Young from AC/DC and Mick Barr from Orthrelm play it is attractive. Guitar Hero features 30 famous guitar-heavy rock songs, most of which were originally recorded by longhairs.

The game has several difficulty levels, and the hard setting is too difficult to begin with, even for guitar lords. A well-designed tutorial will get you started and show you the ropes. You watch colored notes float down the screen, then have to hit the corresponding buttons on the fret board and strum the flicker button on beat to get points and hit all the notes. Star Points can be earned by playing the star-shaped notes when they appear. When you’ve filled your Star meter, you can engage Star Power and get double points! To engage Star Power, point the guitar toward the sky and continue shredding.

A career mode moves you through the game nicely and eases players from easy to medium to difficult songs. The easy setting only asks you to hit three fret buttons songs get progressively more intricate and even demand that you use real guitar techniques like hammer-ons and pull-offs. If you miss a note, you’ll hear a realistic muted pluck just like when you miss a note on a real guitar. A quick-play mode allows you to jump in and play any of the 30 songs (more songs can be unlocked), and a two-player mode enables you and a friend to trade solos. You’ll need a second guitar controller for the two-player mode to be mega, but the game can be played with a standard controller. Devo would probably have liked a controller-shaped guitar.

While most rhythm games focus on game play and ignore graphics, Guitar Hero comes correctly with solid game play and impressive graphics. The backing band is legit, environments like the stadium and the basement look great, and the game includes a giant Viking as well as songs by Ozzy Osbourne, Iron Maiden, Megadeth, Franz Ferdinand, Sum 41, David Bowie, Queen, and Pantera. Guitar Hero is terrific and worth buying. (Nate Denver)

No one steps to Kitchen Stadium!



Taking over Project Runway’s time slot, Top Chef has some big shoes to fill. No, I don’t mean Santino’s (or his friend Tony Ward’s) or creepy Heidi Klum’s. How in the hell does this show even think it can approximate the greatness of Iron Chef? (Not the US version — I’d sooner flay Bobby Flay than pledge allegiance to any culinary competitor other than the huggable Hiroyuki Sakai.)

Needless to say, there is no one as funny or smart as culinary critic Asako Kishi (or master filmmaker and onetime Iron Chef judge Nagisa Oshima) among Top Chef’s decision makers. "Where is Chairman Kaga?!" I demand, as I bite into a vegetable and grin maniacally à la Kaga.

What Bravo’s latest prize battle does have so far, unsurprisingly, is a villain: Stephen, the flush-faced blond so snotty he’d serve wine to children and expect them to react like connoisseurs. Since aged Marianne Faithfull type Cynthia has already left in a blizzard of Kleenex, it’s hard to say how much character is left. Mostly, I see brownnosers and grumps — and blink-and-miss shots of San Francisco. Last week’s episode hyped Aqua. (Johnny Ray Huston)

Not that Carrington woman


Just typing the name Pumkin fills me with a kind of flesh-crawling dread that even a thousand soapy baths couldn’t wash clean. Yes, the fact that the Flavor of Love finale was VH1’s highest-rated show of all time does register as the one million and third piece of evidence that this country is headed toward a pit somewhere just a little below the fire-flurries of hell. Thank somebody, anybody, that Alexis Arquette has arrived. Yes, she’s trapped on the beyond-wack Surreal Life, but in a wonderful turnabout from her Last Exit to Brooklyn screen debut, Rosanna and Patricia’s sister is more than ready to kick frat- and straight-boy ass on behalf of trannies everywhere. She’ll probably prove she’s the second funniest queen (after Vaginal Davis) in LA as well. (Huston)

Whither Slither?


What, you don’t already have plans to see Slither? A glistening new horror comedy is certainly reason to break out the Sno-Caps and take the missus to the picture show. Slither heralds the feature directing debut of James Gunn, a screenwriter with Sgt. Kabukiman on his résumé (Troma overlord Lloyd Kaufman cameos in Slither as "Sad Drunk"), as well as both Scooby-Doo movies (boo!) and the recent Dawn of the Dead remake (yeah!). The cast includes Elizabeth Banks (Wet Hot American Summer), Nathan Fillion (Serenity), and Michael Rooker (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer); the R-rated plot involves sluglike alien critters who infiltrate a small town — guess they’re waiting for the sequel before they take Manhattan.

If Slither gets you hooked on slime-encrusted giggles and shivers, kill time until Snakes on a Plane (Aug. 18: enough is enough!) with gold standards of the genre. Of course, there’s The Blob; consider a double feature to incorporate both Steve McQueen (original 1958 version) and Kevin "Drama" Dillon (1988 remake) into a single evening. And in 1976 writer-director Jeff Lieberman (the auteur behind that same year’s Blue Sunshine) unleashed the magnificent Squirm, which pits rednecks against flesh-chomping earthworms.

The mid-1970s also spawned They Came from Within, a.k.a. Shivers and Orgy of the Blood Parasites. Creepy critters! Sex maniacs! The most disturbing bathing scene since Psycho! Calm your anger over writer-director David Cronenberg’s not getting an Oscar nom for A History of Violence — seriously, WTF? — by revisiting this early, deliciously depraved effort.

Then, of course, there’s 1986’s Night of the Creeps, a grade-A B-movie that proves once and for all that oops-I-accidentally-unthawed-a-corpse-infected-by-aliens is the ultimate party foul. Spanish import Slugs: The Movie (1988) and 1957’s Salton Sea snail-terror flick The Monster That Challenged the World are also worth a mention, as well as 1959’s Attack of the Giant Leeches (directed by Bernard L. Kowalski, who also did 1973’s SSSSSSS — for all of you who wish Anaconda were a trilogy).

Maybe the best postirony critter-horror film is Tremors. Giant underground "graboids" terrorize an armpit Nevada town filled with such characters as a cowboy named Valentine (Kevin Bacon, never better) and a pair of survivalists (the dad from Family Ties and, uh, Reba McEntire) wielding cannons and elephant guns. This 1990 miniclassic spawned a TV series and no less than three straight-to-video sequels. OK, technically, one was a prequel (Tremors 4: The Legend Begins), but you were kinda curious about that origin story, right? (Cheryl Eddy)


Opens Fri/31 in Bay Area theaters

Go to www.sfbg.com for showtimes.


Press Play


The pressure of a Review


"Queen: perhaps the most unique band in the history of rock music," goes the narration at the beginning of the recently released DVD Queen under Review: 1973–1980 (Chrome Dreams). Whether or not it’s possible to be more unique than other "unique" bands, there’s something to this statement. Maybe "Queen: the biggest anomaly in the history of rock" would be more accurate.

In any case, Queen was a multifaceted band, with more depth than its gaudy popular image suggests. (I say "was" out of a refusal to acknowledge the current Paul Rodgers–fronted touring version.) Everybody knows Queen, but generally in just a superficial, greatest-hits-only way. We’ve all been subjected to "We Will Rock You" and "Another One Bites the Dust" more times than we’ve cared for, but how many people can name even one song on, say, Queen II (Elektra, 1974)?

I listened to "Bohemian Rhapsody" in high school just like everyone else did — Wayne’s World came out during my sophomore year — but didn’t become an official convert until I finally sat down with Queen II a few years ago. It helps that this album of dark, majestic (and, yes, occasionally pompous) hard rock has no big hits and can therefore be listened to without the pop-cultural baggage that weighs down everything from 1975’s A Night at the Opera (Elektra) through 1980’s The Game (Hollywood). Once you get past the megahits, though, it turns out that every Queen album from this era has several excellent lesser-known songs — as well as at least one atrocious, unlistenable one (e.g., almost anything sung by drummer Roger Taylor). Sorting through, scrutinizing, and compiling these songs has been a minor obsession of mine for a while.

It was in this mind-set that I welcomed the arrival of Queen under Review, released by a UK imprint that’s been raining down "unauthorized," cheap-looking DVDs like blood from a lacerated sky. Perusing Chrome Dreams’ Geocities-esque Web site reveals a couple other Queen titles as well as a few more installments in the Under Review series, including ones on the Who, the Small Faces, and Syd Barrett. It’s a worthwhile concept: Gather a group of critics and other insiders to dissect and discuss the work of a band in blow-by-blow fashion and intersperse it with documentary footage (albeit within the somewhat restrictive bounds of "fair use").

Cheap appearances aside, Queen under Review makes for an enjoyable and educational viewing experience. For a band with such a sprawling — and often frustratingly uneven — catalog, the critics’ analysis provides some valuable and varied perspective. Given its broad fan base, Queen was many things to many people — seminal heavy-metal masters, stadium-rock hitmakers, and subversive genre-hopping chameleons — a diversity that’s reflected by the range of commentators. There’s Kerrang!‘s Malcolm Dome, a pudgy bloke from Guitarist magazine who demonstrates Brian May’s guitar setup, and a scholarly BBC DJ who casually uses words such as fortissimo and stadia. They’re a surprisingly likable bunch; fans won’t agree with everything they say, but won’t want to strangle them, either.

My only criticism here relates to an emphasis on singles over album tracks. We get in-depth analyses of nearly every single, from Queen‘s overlooked "Keep Yourself Alive" through The Game‘s anomalous "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" and "Another One Bites the Dust," but there’s scarcely a mention of complex, theatrical rock epics like "Death on Two Legs," "Flick of the Wrist," and "March of the Black Queen" — which, to me, have more to do with the real Queen than with their one-off, late-’70s megahits. Brian May’s giddy, symphonic guitar leads; Freddie Mercury’s octave-spanning vocals; and the entire band’s feel for epic, borderline-preposterous song structures and arrangements — that’s what made Queen great. Monster hits like "We Will Rock You" and "Crazy Little Thing," however, had nothing to do with that sound — just one anomaly that makes analyzing Queen based on their singles inherently limiting.

Quibbles aside, it will be interesting to see how far the folks at Chrome Dreams take the Under Review idea. The only other DVD of this sort that I’ve seen is Inside Thin Lizzy: A Critical Review, 1971–1983, which is on a different label (Castle Rock) but is similar in concept. Which ’70s hard-rockers, I wonder, will be next to get the treatment? Blue Öyster Cult? Budgie? Uriah Heep? The possibilities are promising — and also a bit frightening. (Will York)