Ko-Fi Update

Meret Oppenheim, X-ray of My Skull (1964; printed 1981).

Some of you may know I have a Ko-Fi page where supportive fans can ‘Buy Me a Coffee’ or Tip Me (there is actually a button to do so on this blog). However, I have recently activated membership mode, therefore launching a tiered payment system that may be of interest to any ardent readers. It’s basically Patreon, but not Patreon (is Patreon preferred?). I have done so to serve as an extension of my newsletter, with the paywalled articles assisting to fund my research and enabling me to keep the Substack free, but it comes with perks. The first piece is on Dora Maar and Lee Miller. Check it out if you wish. Or not. Whatever.

Happy Birthday, Dora Maar

“All Picasso’s portraits of me are lies. They’re all Picassos. Not one is Dora Maar.”

Happy Birthday to the brilliant Dora Maar 🖤🐚

Dora Maar in her Paris apartment, photographed by Lee Miller (c. 1956)
Dora Maar, Untitled (Hand-Shell) (1934)
Dora Maar, Untitled (double-exposed portrait) (1936)
Dora Maar, Père Ubu (1936)

Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween to all. Here’s a rebump of my article on Dennis Stock’s incredible photos of the wonderful Maila Nurmi, aka Vampira, for Magnum photos:

Dennis Stock Maila Nurmi, star of “The Vampira Show.” Hollywood. California. USA. 1954. © Dennis Stock | Magnum Photos.

Scott Weiland: Belated Birthday

Yesterday was the late musician Scott Weiland’s Birthday. I miss him a lot; miss the contribution to music he made and am grateful for the music he gave us.

Scott Weiland

I’m going to be honest, Velvet Revolver made me a bigger fan of Stone Temple Pilots than I previous was. I loved the two albums VR made (nobody will be surprised to learn I play them all the time). Yet I know not everybody shares my same viewpoint.

For six years and two albums, Velvet Revolver divided the rock community. Some fans and critics loved their brand of hard rock fuelled by sobriety and honed musicianship. In contrast, others found them a divided beast, the product of two much-loved bands with disparate styles (heavy rock rhythm section and a glammy grunge frontman) that did not quite mesh. While their combined history worked with them for the most part, it also brought a slew of comparisons to songs written twenty years prior. Whatever your perceptions of Velvet Revolver, there was no denying that the unity of three (then) former members of Guns N’ Roses and the singer of Stone Temple Pilot made an exciting, enticing combination. 

The story of Velvet Revolver is intriguing. Part organic, part orchestration, they were technically a new band, but the histories of its members ensured that it had a past already built-in, and try as they might, some could never escape their ghosts. While some made friends among them, one succumbed to them, leaving a rock n’ roll trail in their wake. Their debut album, Contraband, was a bold, punky attack on the senses. Even the name made it sound illicit like there was something a bit naughty about the music contained within. They ploughed on and made their more profound, more thoughtful Libertad. It became their unintentional swansong, circled in tragedy, yet presented a band who had found their grove since their debut. It did not fare as well critically, but it was by all accounts a honed beast layered with conflict. 

There would be other ventures, and an ultimate solo career. I often wonder what music Scott would still be making now should tragedy have not intervened. It’s one of those losses that I, personally, felt the most: he could not outrun his former ghosts.

Anyway, here’s to you, Scott, one of the best frontmen I have had the pleasure to see live. Thank you.

Take Me Down To The Paradise City

The Sunset Strip, 1.5 miles stretching from Sunset Boulevard through West Hollywood, has a decades long history of excess and debauchery. Originally situated in a geographically unincorporated area of Los Angeles, the area did not become part of Los Angeles until 1984, the independence and loose regulations serving to heighten the excess of the area. Integrating into the wider, more regulated city, did little to quell the outsider, renegade atmosphere for which the area had become known. Stories abound about the Strip, for which it most affectionately dubbed. Fast-living and degeneracy is baked into the streets, and in the bricks of the buildings which line the mile. 

Photo via /IG: laexplained

During the prohibition of the 1920s, alcohol was illegal in Los Angeles as a city, but not in the LA county. Casinos and nightclubs sprung up on The Strip, all serving alcohol out of their back rooms, away from the prying eyes of the law. In the 1930s and 40s, the movie world and organized crime intertwined, with the Bugsy Siegel and Mickey Cohen were rumoured to have owned establishments, while individuals from the motion picture industry frequented restaurants including Ciro’s, and The Mocambo. By the 1960s, it was all about the music, as movies gave way to counterculture. From the 1960s and into the 1970s also saw the swell of music venues on the Strip, which such historic clubs and Gazzari’s (21 February 1967 – 1995), The Whisky A Go-Go (Janauary 1964 — ), The Roxy (23 September 1973), and Pandora’s Box, a well-liked coffee shop that has gained immortality as the centre of the Sunset Strip Curfew Riots in November 1966, as immortalised by Buffalo Springfield in their song ‘For What It’s Worth.’ While the seventies saw glam rock and the short-lived club Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco, the 1980s saw an explosion of fast living, party hard, rock musicians for which the territory became their domain.

Historically, and musically, it is impossible to disconnect The Sunset Strip from the glam metal, hard rock, and ‘hair metal bands’ that came of age during the eighties. LA Guns, Mötley Crüe, Quiet Riot — the Strip came to represent rock n’ roll abandon thanks to the bands who took advantage of the venues ‘pay to play’ policy’, toiling their wears and accumulating their loyal attendees through blood, sweat, tears, and masses of drugs and alcohol. I spent some time earlier this year working on two (rejected) pitches concerning bands with more than a prominent association to The Strip, and how this area factored into their lives and music. This may come as a surprise to most of you, but neither of these two pieces were about Guns N’ Roses. And no other band came close to touching the full-on, all-out hedonism quite like their seminal 1987 debut, Appetite For Destruction.

There has never been another band quite like Guns N’ Roses, especially during the 1980s. While the line-up has gone through various rotations over the years — three of the original members are, after years of upheaval, performing together again — I maintain that you cannot touch the combination the of original five and the perfection of Appetite For Destruction, a record that never, in my opinion, becomes tiresome listening. (If you ask someone if they like Guns N’ Roses, most often they will say, yes.) There remains a magic in that album, something both raw yet harmonious, chaotic, energetic, but musically and lyrically electric. Success did not come easy to those five boys, and every moment of toiling away, every drug use, sexual encounter, domestic disturbance, and disregard for authority is captured within those twelve songs. There’s a reason it shattered all records and continues to be listed as one of the best, and best debuts, of all time.

Lately I have found myself struggling to write about what I usually write about (something compounded by freelance stress) as I tie myself in knots seeking work that will, you know, pay my wage. Music has always been a crutch, but never more so than during the past two years. As I have said on Twitter, and in a newsletter from earlier in the year, hard rock has always been at the forefront of my life, very much like film, and even longer than my interest in art history. I never set out to specialise in what I do, which I love, but I think the pandemic and grief have both rewired my brain into clutching at the non-work things that make me incredible happy. Music makes me happy. The Sunset Strip history makes me happy. ’80s era Guns N’ Roses make me so goddam happy — let me find joy as the world crumbles, ok?

So I may use this space to write about this album, this band, and what makes it the band and album for me. I will likely write about other bands. too, and maybe at some point on the newsletter, but I have this space, and I may as well use it, right? Short pieces, long pieces, whatever — I’m amazed I have not done this before. But it’s never too late. And, let’s face it: Anything Goes.

Photo via /IG: thesunsetstrip

FrightFest Review: Red Snow

Director: Sean Nichols Lynch. 
With: Dennice Cisneros, Nico Bellamy, Laura Kennon, Alan Silva, Vernon Wells. 
USA 2021. 80 mins.

Pardon the pun, but I am a sucker for a vampire film. There is something so eternally interesting about these creatures of the undead, especially how their representation in media has changed over the years. From Bela Lugosi’s Dracula hypnotising his victims with his double-jointed fingers, to Christopher Lee in his long cape, to the decadence of Neil Jordan’s interpretation of Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire; the beautiful love story between two vampires in Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive, to love affairs and vampires and mortals in BuffyTwilight, and True Blood, to the hilarity of What We Do In The Shadow (both the film and the superior television series), the undead are constantly being reinterpreted, reinvented, and revaluated. Public consumption for vampires is hardly on the wane, but where do creators go when so many avenues have been explored so effectively?

Fortunately, Red Snow does this very thing; it offers a new interpretation of the vampire and human dynamic and skews the notion of the brooding vampire skulking away in his Romanian castle. Olivia (Dennice Cisneros) is a vampire obsessed struggling novelist holed up in her isolated Lake Tahoe cabin at Christmas with her fang-adorned. Her long-harboured vampire connection comes true when she takes in an injured back who has happened to fly into her window, but who, as luck would have it, turns out to be a vampire called Luke (Nico Bellamy). Soon Olivia and Luke start not so much a love affair but a mentor-student relationship, as Luke offers her advice on making her novel more authentic and dynamic by offering his vamp perspective. Yet, the sexual tension lingers. In Luke, Olivia has found her mentor and her ticket to a successful career. And all appears to be going well until the carnage that subsequently ensues after Luke’s family unexpectedly arrive on the scene to disrupt their unconventional living arrangements, hot-tailed by an organisation called Severon…

Written and directed by award-winner Sean Nichols Lynch, Red Snow’s most potent elements are its biting script, littered with dark satirical humour. Such gems include, ‘vamps aren’t moping around a dusty castle in Eastern Europe,’ as Luke proffers. ‘They go to cool places.’ Then, in an extension of party-hard fun-loving blonde vampires, including Spike from Buffy and Eric from True Blood, he utters what most of us already know about the undead. ‘Being a vampire isn’t sad. It’s awesome. You live forever, every day’s a party, you don’t have to stand in line at the DNV or worry about your f*cking cholesterol.’

The power dynamic between Olivia and Luke is hugely exciting and enjoyable. Utilised and presented through Luke’s costumes (first, his nakedness, and then the novelty shirts that Olivia harbours in her garage), he is practically defanged while in her home. Sure, he could kill her and drain her blood in a heartbeat, but up to a point, she is the one with the greatest control.

While the vampiric energy is solid, certain aspects of Red Snow, including supernatural assassins the Severon organisation, feel a little lacking and not entirely formed. Whether this is due to the eighty-minute run time or time restraints is hard to determine, but this is one area where the film needed a little more meat.

Despite some flaws, Red Snow is a snappy and surprisingly bloody spin on the vampiric love story. While some elements feel a little rushed, the increased pace certainly heightens the energy of the climactic final act. A film for vampire lovers seeking something a little new, Red Snow slowly sinks its fangs into your neck and does not let go until the very end.

FrightFest August 2021 – A Preview

Due to the pandemic and various other factors, I won’t be attending FrightFright in person this year. However, instead, I am reviewing a few things remotely for Hero Collector (which will be posted subsequently), and a couple of things here. I’ll also be posting a couple of reviews following FF’s Digital Strand in a couple of weeks time. In the meantime, here is a small snapshot of things to watch out for/coverage so far. Hopefully a few titles will pique your interest. I will try to add as I go along and reviews will be posted on a separate page. Have a great FrightFest!


Director: Neill Blomkamp. 
With: Carly Pope, Chris William Martin, Nathalie Boltt, Michael J. Rogers, Andrea Agur. 
Canada 2021.117 mins 

Writer and director Neill Blomkamp returns after six years with a work on possession, personal demons, and simulation. Review forthcoming.

THURSDAY 26TH AUGUST 2021- 6.00 & 6.25 PM

The Brilliant Terror

Directors: Paul Hunt and Julie Kauffman. 
With: ​ Mike Lombardo, Jeremiah Kipp, Ashley Thorpe, Heidi Honeycutt, Julie O’Connor Ufema.
USA 2021. 78 mins. 

An interesting and warts-and-all documentary about grass roots horror filmmakers, their methods and their lives. Very human and without fanfare, it’s nice to have such an intimate, close up look at filmmakers and their craft, and what makes them tick. Interviewees include Heidi Honeycutt of Los Angeles’ Etheria Film Festival. An illuminating watch.


Red Snow

Director: Sean Nichols Lynch. 
With: Dennice Cisneros, Nico Bellamy, Laura Kennon, Alan Silva, Vernon Wells. 
USA 2021. 80 mins.

A Christmas vampire tale with its tongue firmly in cheek. Review forthcoming.

THURSDAY 26 AUGUST 2021 – 11.10 PM [international Premiere]

Bad Candy

Director: Scott B. Hansen, Desiree Connell. 
With: Corey Taylor, Zach Galligan, Derek Russo, Ryan Kiser, Alexandra Lucchesi. 
USA 2020. 100 mins.

I’m a sucker for a horror anthology, and this one really hits the mark. It’s gory, the music bangs, Zach Galligan from Gremlins and Corey Taylor from Slipknot are late night radio DJs Paul and Chilly Billy overseeing local tales where the line between local myth and reality becomes increasingly blurred and increasingly grim. It’s fun, it’s frightening, it looks great. Watch this one, because it rules!

FRIDAY 27TH AUGUST 2021 – 1.20 PM

Laguna Ave

Director: David Buchanan. 
With: Dan Crane, Stephanie Brait, Jeff Hilliard, James Markham Hall Jr., Russell Steinberg, Sheridan Ward. 
USA 2021. 80 mins.

Think of John Waters meets technology in this surreal tale of paranoia and Artificial Intelligence in Los Angeles. It’s strange, it’s funny, it’s filled with WTF moments. One for lovers of the bizarre who want their horror with a side of the darkest humour.

FRIDAY 27TH AUGUST 2021 – 11.10 PM

No Man of God

Director: Amber Sealey. 
With: Elijah Wood, Robert Patrick, Luke Kirby, Aleksa Palladino, Christian Clemenson. 
USA 2021. 100 mins.   

Elijah Wood is the FBI analyst Ted Hagmaier who volunteers interview Ted Bundy (Luke Kirby) in the early days of FBI Profiling. My review of this one is forthcoming but if you like Mindhunter and True Crime, do not miss this one.

SUNDAY 29TH AUGUST 2021 – 8.50 & 9.10 PM [European Premiere]

Mystery Spot

Director: Mel House. 
With: Graham Skipper, Lisa Wilcox, Debbie Rochon, Julie Osterman, Seán Patrick Judge. 
USA 2020. 111 mins.

An interesting take on grief, isolation, and connection. Review forthcoming.

MONDAY 30TH AUGUST 2021 – 6.15 PM

The Retaliators

Directors: Samuel Gonzalez Jr. 
Bridget Smith. With: Michael Lombardi, Marc Menchaca, Joseph Gatt, Katie Kelly, Abbey Hafer.
USA 2021. 97 mins.   

A rock n’ roll horror with appearances and music by and from Tommy Lee from Mötley Crüe and the acting debut of Papa Roach singer Jacob Shaddix, The Retaliators is a revenge thriller that’s big on gore and heavy on music. The OTT gore will ensure this one secures crowd pleaser status, while the peppered humour and throwbacks to classic horror fare will make this fun to watch with a crowd.

MONDAY 30TH AUGUST 2021- 10.45 & 11.10 AM