Stephan Romano | Shock Festival (idwpublishing.com)

book_shock-festival.jpgI felt like I’d finally seen everything this golden age of exploitation had to offer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I love exploitation films from the 1970s and ’80s. There’s a kind of gritty and grainy quality inherent in them that will never be captured again, despite the best efforts of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino (Grindhouse). But, I’ve read just about every book available on this era (both volumes of Psychotronic Films, all three volumes of Cult Movies, Midnight Movies, Slimetime, along with just about every biography you can imagine, including those of: Russ Meyer, Alejandro Jodorowsky, John Waters, Al Adamson, Roger Corman, Tony Tenser, etc.), and the only places (India, Pakistan, Japan, etc.) that have shown any hope for new discoveries are being mined for material right now by companies like Mondo Macabro (a big thank you to Pete Toombs). I felt like I’d finally seen everything this golden age of exploitation had to offer.

Imagine my surprise upon reading Stephen Romano’s new book, Shock Festival, which chronicles the stories behind "One hundred and one of the strangest, sleaziest, most outrageous movies you’ve never seen." And see, that’s the catch: You’ve never seen these films before, because they don’t exist. But, it’s such a clever and well-constructed conceit that you won’t care. In fact, you’ll curse the fact that these films aren’t available for viewing.

Romano creates an alternate universe inhabited by creatures like Roc Benson, Jayne Juanita Chance, Chuck Music, T. Lynn Darcie, Joe Marcus, Natalya Ustinov, Darby Silver and many, many others. Some are thinly veiled riffs on filmmakers and producers like Roger Corman, Sam Arkoff and the like. But most are crazy quilt composites that draw from the lives of lesser-known figures such as Al Adamson, William Girdler, Jack Hill, etc.

The stories behind each of these films are given fair treatment, and they’re filled with cocaine-fueled memories of violent eruptions and misguided intentions. If any of them have one thing in common, it’s that someone, somewhere along the line, got screwed.

Romano covers a wide range of territory here, even poking fun at Ralph Bakshi with animator David Gonnak’s forgotten classic, Here’s Blood in Your Eye!, and the equally memorable Kid Dead. Purveyors of historical disinformation like Sunn Classics get jabbed as well with titles like Evolver – The Missing Link to Terror, and Outer Space Creatures evoking their tired pseudo-documentary formula. Star Wars rip-offs, redneck moonshiners, oversized insects, under-sexed psychopaths, Italian giallo films, cannibals, blaxploitation and sexploitation are all given some form of representation.

But what really sells this book is the artwork, and Romano has enlisted the aid of a number of poster artists such as Tim Bradstreet, David Hartman, Michael Broom, and others. Their tattered recreations of one sheets (both foreign and domestic), lobby cards, newspaper clippings, press photos, book jackets and album covers are carefully and lovingly constructed in a way that’s perfectly in tune with the era they’re meant to represent. Every crease is in place, and the titles and fonts have a genuinely authentic flavor. If I have any quibble, it’s the inclusion of actual composers for some of the films. Having Tangerine Dream and the late Jerry Goldsmith’s names slapped onto these phony posters is all in good fun, but it might not be received in the spirit it’s intended.

After you’ve finished this book, you might actually feel like you’ve really experienced these films. There’s enough detail and visual data packed into each chapter to at least give you that impression. I know that I still can’t wait to see: The Amazing Mutating Freak, Starfire Beyond the Galaxy, Wolfmutant, Nunslinger, Stonefoot and Paradise and, of course, Lone Star Living Dead Axe Maniac Showdown (it almost goes without saying, right? I mean, who wouldn’t?). And I’d love to hear the soundtracks by Jimmy Cooper Jones for Sassy Gets Back and Bloody Rosie; it’s a shame they don’t exist.

This is a thorough and exhaustive work that’s written well enough to make the reader wish he could actually see these fictional films and meet these insane actors and directors who created them. Shock Festival is a hilarious and gory tour through an imaginary cinematic wasteland, where cash is king, and morals and values wind up on the cutting room floor. Actually, that doesn’t sound so fictional after all, does it? | Chris Gibson

For more information, go to http://www.shockfestival.net/.

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