Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2017 - Evan Purchell ""

Friday, January 26, 2018

Film Discoveries of 2017 - Evan Purchell

Evan works in public radio and watches too many trash films, much to the dismay and annoyance of his husband. He tweets at @schlockvalue and can be found on Letterboxd at

See his Discoveries from last year here:

2017 was, at least on a personal level, a good year. I got married. I moved to Austin. I watched 40 Jess Franco movies. I’ll spare you from that, so here are some of the other movies that made this year a little bit better:

ALABAMA’S GHOST (1973, dir. Fredric Hobbs)
Somehow the most straightforward of the four features that Fredric Hobbs made, which is saying something for a movie that's about a musician-turned-wizard who finds himself in the middle of a conflict between dirtbiking nazi vampires and a N’awlins voodoo coven. Hobbs was sort of like a more high-minded Ray Dennis Steckler, his movies unspooling with the same sort of gleefully unpredictable zig-zag energy that makes genre-mash oddities like THE THRILL KILLERS and GODMONSTER OF INDIAN FLATS so much fun. Yeah, the media satire of the first act is great, but why not spin it into an ancient nazi world domination plot? Why not throw a racist ghost and an evil Dr. Caligula into the mix? Why not?
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BLACK MAGIC, PART II (1976, dir. Ho Meng-Hua)
Ho’s earlier BLACK MAGIC is the important film, but his follow-up is so much more fun, throwing capitalist sorcerers, zombies, James Bond action, and a stack of jacked funk songs into his regurgitated puke-and-breastmilk black magic formula. I watched this back in March and I’m still having trouble wrapping my head around the fact that this actually got a dubbed theatrical release in America way back in 1982.

BORN IN FLAMES (1983, dir. Lizzie Borden)
Maybe the most resonant movie on this list: a no-wave feminist time-bomb rocketed back to today from tomorrow. Less a scripted film than it is a DIVA TV-like mixtape document of activists and actions, a recruiting tool made to be dubbed to VHS and mailed out to teen punks across the country. Essential.
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ERNEST BORGNINE ON THE BUS (1997, dir. Jeff Krulik)
Did you know that Ernest Borgnine spent the 90s driving across the country in his luxury passenger bus, the Sun Bum? Did you also know that Jeff Krulik (of HEAVY METAL PARKING LOT fame) spent a couple of days on that bus and made a documentary out of it? He did, and the result is just as joyful as it sounds. Let’s face it — 2017 kind of sucked, but watching Ernie try to find a Dairy Queen in Altoona made it just a little bit easier to get through.

I WAS A TEENAGE SERIAL KILLER (1993, dir. Sarah Jacobson)
"The straight white male is the epitome of what's wrong with society. I feel like I'm so much like them that I need to kill them." Can’t argue with that!
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LA PLAYS ITSELF (1972, dir. Fred Halsted)
No, not the documentary. The Kenneth Anger to Wakefield Poole’s Warhol; the Altamont to his Woodstock, literally bulldozing over the idyllic pastoral sex of Poole’s BOYS IN THE SAND in favor of something darker, rougher, and altogether more real. Fred Halsted’s debut is a mostly unheralded landmark of early gay film, helping to set the gritty experimental streak that runs through the works of Roger Earl, Joe Gage, Michael Zen, and so many other West Coast directors. In year where yet another tepid-looking queer drama is being lauded by critics, this is a reminder that we can and should have so much more. The scan on Vinegar Syndrome’s platform marks the first time this already tough-to-find film has been available fully uncut since release. It’s worth the subscription in and of itself.

THE PLASTIC DOME OF NORMA JEAN (1966, dir. Juleen Compton)
Of all of the films in the Austin Film Society’s iteration of this year’s UCLA Festival of Preservation, this is the one that surprised me the most -- a Marilyn-inflected take on the rock-n-roll rise-and-fall story told like a bummer funhouse mirror version of WILD GUITAR. Compton’s first feature, STRANDED, was a New Wave-aping vanity project with some clear talent, but not a whole lot to say. This delivers on that early promise, offering a pointedly feminist fairytale take on the rock film that comfortably fits somewhere between Buñuel and Steckler.

SIMON, KING OF THE WITCHES (1971, dir. Bruce Kessler)
Maybe the best of the wave of satanic panic pictures that flooded the drive-ins in the wake of the Manson murders, Bruce Kessler’s SIMON is a deft blend of countercultural satire, old-fashioned exploitation hucksterism, and enormous amounts of gay metaphor. There’s a female love interest, sure, but Simon sure does seem to care a lot more about the twinky hustler he meets in the slammer! Pair that with one of the best cinematic acid freakouts I’ve ever seen and I couldn’t ask for any more.
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TOP OF THE HEAP (1972, dir. Christopher St. John)
A festering wound of black masculinity and inward-and-outward racial and social identity politics in crisis, made right at the point when black filmmaking was about to veer into self-parody and outright wish fulfillment fantasy. This almost feels like the sort of film that Jamaa Fanaka would've made early in his career, had he ever had an actual studio budget and final cut. Even then, this is more caustic than anything he ever made, bitter and angry to its core and unwilling to give its audience anything more than uncomfortable laughter and psychic disorientation. Messy auteurism in its purest sense -- a singular vision that packs a greater and more relevant wallop than ever.
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A WOMAN’S TORMENT (1977, dir. Roberta Findlay)
My first introduction to the depraved world of Michael and Roberta Findlay was the former’s FLESH trilogy — three films of vaseline-smeared ultraviolent misogyny. A WOMAN’S TORMENT is like Roberta Findlay’s gender-swapped, porno chic update to that formula, replacing the gutter burlesque sleaze with clean, Sarno-stlye pornodrama as Tara Chung loses her mind while slicing up Manhattan jabronis and rich dads in a beach house on Fire Island. I’m sure you could wring some sort of personal feminist message from this, though I doubt Roberta would care.
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Extra picks:
ARREBATO (1979, dir. Ivan Zulueta)

AWAKENING OF THE BEAST (1970, dir. José Mojica Marins)

BAASHA (1995, dir. Suresh Krissna)

BLACK LIZARD (1968, dir. Kinji Fukasaku)

CHURCH OF THE DAMNED (1985, dir. Mark and John Polonia and Todd Michael Smith)

HEATSTROKE (1982, dir. Joe Gage)

RETRIBUTION (1987, dir. Guy Magar)

SADIST EROTICA (1969, dir. Jess Franco)

THE THIRD GENERATION (1979, dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder)

THE WHOLE SHOOTIN’ MATCH (1978, dir. Eagle Pennell)

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