Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Sandy Whitelaw, RIP

We were very sorry to hear of the death on Friday of Sandy Whitelaw, who directed the Mondo release Lifespan.

I was first introduced to Sandy via a mutual friend, the documentary film maker David Thompson. I phoned Sandy in Paris, where he lived, and he immediately insisted I give him my number and he would call me back. “People tell me I talk a lot,” he said, in his dry, American voice. “So probably best if I pay.”

Indeed. I think we were on the phone that first time for well over an hour. And I soon became used to these marathon calls. I both dreaded and adored them. Dreaded, because if you had anything else to do, you might as well forget about it, and adored, because I always learned so much and was so enormously entertained by talking to Sandy. After the call was over I felt like I’d had a thorough course of mental calisthenics. Sandy was always bubbling over with ideas, theories, scabrous tales about the great and the not so good – names that had figured in his life in some way, like Mick Jagger, Jane Fonda, Polanski, Grace Kelly. There didn’t seem to be any important event or iconic figure of the last 50 years that Sandy didn’t have some personal link with or insight into. He was the original “six degrees of separation” man. Although with him it was more like one or two degrees. I remember after we first discussed Lifespan he had obviously checked out our website and said to me later: “Oh, I see you released a film produced by Luciano Ercoli” - it was Death Walks at Midnight. “Yes,” I said. “Do you know him?” “Oh, not really, Sandy replied. “We sang together in a blues band in London in the late 50s.” That was the kind of intriguing nugget he was prone to casually toss one’s way.

Although we talked a lot over the years, I actually learned very little about his life. He would drip feed you information and there were things he didn’t talk about but only alluded to. I always felt that details would follow and there would always be time to ask him again. But now time has run out. And we’re left with what we have and must join the dots to create some kind of a portrait.

He was born in 1930 (or was in 1925?? – another mystery) and I know his father
was a Scottish career soldier. Sandy attended Harvard and later worked for David O Selznick, the famous Hollywood producer of Gone With the Wind. Sandy’s command of five languages and his wide ranging cultural and artistic connections made him an ideal assistant for someone like Selznick who had a definite Euro-centric and old world leaning. Sandy became a producer and later Head of United Artists in Europe, living in Paris. He worked on a number of big budget productions, including Taras Bulba, Reflections in a Golden Eye and Night of the Iguana.

His restless mind and devilish sense of fun made him an unlikely Studio Executive. I remember him telling me a story about Gucci loafers – slip-on shoes favoured by wannabe hip US execs back in the day. When a group of them visited him in Italy, their main concern was finding out where they could buy the much coveted loafers at a bargain price, as they were expensive in Los Angeles. Sandy took them to a seedy location in the commercial district of Rome and waited as they greedily fingered the display of white leather shoes. It was the time of the Brigado Rosso, murderous freedom fighters, and as he watched the execs at play, Sandy had a fantasy of the armed urban guerrillas cordoning off the street and weeding out anyone wearing the thoroughly bourgeois Gucci footwear before taking them off for summary execution.

The loafers made a dramatic re-appearance at a crucial moment in Lifespan, his first film.

Sandy’s second film as a director came a mere twenty two years after Lifespan. Vicious Circles was not widely seen, and is a an eccentric work. But it’s packed full of fascinating details and original ideas. Perhaps he was just too individualistic and too little fond of compromise to make it as a commercial film maker, but the two titles that bear his name reward repeat viewings. I’ve not seen Venus, the film that he directed pseudonymously, but I assume he had a reason for keeping his name off it.

Since 1975 he had “fallen accidentally” (his words) into a second career as a script translator and subtitler of many prestigious films from French into English. He worked on more than a thousand scripts. This had led to his third career, as actor in films such as The American Friend, Lady Oscar and The Beat that My Heart Skipped, where he has a small but key role as Mr Fox, the agent who auditions the piano playing protagonist.

In recent years, Sandy was still talking about making another film. He sent me a long treatment for it, on strict promise of keeping it to myself. “Loose lips sink ships,” he reminded me. I loved it of course and pleaded with him to write it as a novel, just in case the film didn’t happen. Well, he didn’t and it didn’t. The film was to be called Time to Go and told the story of a young American who comes to Europe in search of his “biodad”, Sam Whitman . Who turns out to be a former film producer and director of “not cult movies, collectors’ movies”. Sam is quizzed over his various celebrity love afairs. “Three month mercy fucks” he calls them. And he’s been hounded by biographers in search of anecdotes on Jane Fonda, Natalie Wood, Ava Gardner, Warren Beatty…

“You had an affair with Warren Beatty?! Was he bi ?” the excited visitor asks him.

“If he was, it’s news to me…,” replies Sam. “We’ll tackle that later…”

The “we’ll tackle that later…” dropped in at the end is typical Sandy. Now there is no later, and we’ll have to make do with what we’ve got. Let’s be thankful for that, at least. For a man fascinated by immortality (it was the subject of Lifespan) Sandy put in a pretty good effort, but I suspect his lasting legacy will be the influence he had on the many people who knew and loved him and who will find him a hard, if not impossible, act to follow.

Pete Tombs

Monday, 26 January 2015

THE FAN: Red Case Limited Edition Pre-Sale!




Pre-sale runs through Feb. 8th. Copies will be mailed out around the week of the 16th.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Everything You Need To Know About Our Release of Eckhart Schmidt's THE FAN on BD and DVD

We will be issuing this incredible 80s arthouse thriller soon, so here's everything you need to know right now about the two different versions we'll have available.

In February we'll put out a BD-only version in a red case, limited to only 500 copies, numbered, and sold exclusively through the MM website, $25.

The following month will see a widely distributed BD/DVD combo, which will itself be limited to either 1500 or 2000 copies, SRP $29.99.
The content of the two editions will be exactly the same, the only difference being the packaging.

If you are interested in this release and want to see more MM blu rays, I urge you to buy the direct-sale limited version. We will be doing this for all our BD releases, trying to offset the huge costs involved. Thanks!

The pre-order date for the LE will be Jan. 26th. Keep an eye out here or at our Facebook page for more details in the coming weeks.

Oh, and yes, we will ship international.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

MONDO 2015

Just a few things to look forward to in the new year.


First off, we are setting up a new online store that will supply backlist but also lots of new, exclusive offers. Watch this space for more info as it becomes available.

The first of the new lines will be red box releases of Blu Rays, starting with The Fan in February. This will be limited to 500 numbered copies. We’ll be giving more details later when we have them. The Fan will also be available as a retail Blu Ray/DVD combo on March 10th, a few weeks after the red box version goes on the website.

 Later in the year there’ll be a red box exclusive of Girl Slaves of Morgana le Fay. This will be limited to 666 numbered copies and will have a totally different sleeve design from the DVD release. More info when we have it.


Other new titles for 2015 include The Spider (Zirneklis), an amazing sex/horror film from Latvia. Yup, you read that right – LATVIA! It’s a really great film that we think will surprise a lot of people.

We’re also going Greek with a new line of Hellenic exploitation goodies. The first two releases will be Tango of Perversion and The Wife Killer.

Tango is a really great exploitation gem from 1973. It’s got everything that you would expect from that vintage: masses of politically incorrect behaviour, dollops of sleaze, naked scenes galore, drugs, voyeurism, necrophilia, even a little bit of Greek psych-rock. In fact… is there anything this film hasn’t got?

The Wife Killer – the Greek title was the much less queasy Crime in Kavouri – was originally released in the US in 1976 as Rape Killer. We’ll probably avoid that title for obvious reasons…

 The film is very close in style to the Italian giallo thrillers of the 70s and is another Hellenic exploitation gem. It has the same male lead as Tango – the wonderful Larry Daniels, known to his mother as Lakis Komninos and still active in Greek film and theatre to this day.

All three of the above will be brand new telecines and in the case of the Greek films, in English and Greek language dubs.

Burn, Baby Burn!

Finally, we’ll be putting out a very limited number of backlist titles as burns. This is just to satisfy the small trickle of orders we get for titles that are about to run out of license. More info on actual titles when they are available. But these will be very small numbers, less than 100. Once they’re gone, they’re gone. That’s it, folks!

Have happy hols and see you in 2015. Thanks for all your interest and support and please let us know your thoughts or comments on any of the above. We’re here to listen.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

WENG’S CHOP, MONSTER!, and the Rebirth of the Fanzine.

A retrospective is often a sign that its subject is en route to the dusty top shelf of history. With the recent publication of John Spuznar’s essential Xerox Ferox: the wild wild world of the horror fanzine, it might reasonably have been assumed that the epitaph of the print based film ’zine was being recorded. And quite right too; surely its present day heir is the blogosphere and the Tumblr page. But no, against all the odds, we seem to be entering a second golden age of print-delivered, film based goodies.

It’s sometimes hard to believe, but there once was a time “before the internet”. Back then, if you wanted to check a fact or research an arcane area of cinematic activity, you had to either know somebody who knew something or search out a rare written record. And very often, with obscure movies, the fanzine was the place to look. Then along came the worldwideweb and Wikipedia. With such an easy-to-access resource, people seemed to stop researching and begin repeating. The internet made it too easy. Received wisdom became the order of the day. It’s as though there was a quality about having to put your thoughts in print that had made the whole enterprise more serious, more rigorous back in the days of ‘zines. Maybe a bit like the difference between films shot on “film” and those originated on video.

There were fanzines in the 50s and 60s, but the boom years were from the late 1970’s and into the 1990s. This was the time of Gore Gazette, Deep Red, Sleazoid Express, Ungawa!, Slime Time, Psychotronic and many, many more. The video explosion of the early 1980s had made numerous exploitation goodies available for the first time outside their original theatrical exposure and this was doubtless one of the factors that influenced the rise of the ‘zine. Here were a host of artefacts ignored by the mainstream, by-passed by academic critics, forgotten and unloved by the many, and therefore ripe for rediscovery by a new generation of zealous crate diggers. No film and no film-maker was deemed too lowly or too marginal to be the subject of a fact packed 10 page article or a career length interview.

Gradually, as happens with all living things, the energy leaked away. The pressure of other activities, earning a crust, having a family, or just plain old burnout, took their toll on the ‘zine world. And then came the worldwideweb… and we all found a new place to dwell.

The web’s a wonderful thing, no mistake, but one of the problems of the digital domain is that it’s a great leveller. Everything tends to assume the same degree of importance (or lack of). Easy availability makes things somehow less interesting. And before you know it, you’ve ended up watching a marathon of Big Bang Theory catch ups rather than staying awake all night to review the entire Shaw Brothers Black Magic series. 

Many things (vinyl records, VHS cassettes, folk music), once they seem on the verge of vanishing, tend to acquire almost mystically a second lease on life. So it has been with the humble film ‘zine. Perhaps it was the very intangibility of the digital world that made people nostalgic for a product you could actually hold in your hands (and read in the crapper). Gradually, over the last few years, the print ‘zine has started to make a comeback.

Tim Paxton was one of the pioneers when it came to promoting weird world cinema. His zines Video Voice, Highball, Naked! Screaming! Terror!, Monster (and then later Monster! International) had a broader scope than many, delving into the arcane and the overlooked no matter where it originated from. And now he’s back (if he ever went away…) with Weng's Chop. In collaboration with Brian Harris and Tony Strauss he’s created one of the truly great contemporary zines. Which isn’t really a zine at all: it’s a book. The current issue (number 6 – although the series began with Number 0) which comes with three different cover designs, is a massive, heavily illustrated, 240 numbered pages in an outsized format.

Weng’s Chop raises the bar. This is film writing as it ought to be. The editors have assembled a fine gang of both novices and seasoned old hands from the ‘zine and publishing world, including Steve Fenton, Jared Auner, Kris Gilpin, Jeff Goodhartz, Greg Goodsell, Louis Paul, Doug Waltz, Dave Zuzelo, Krys Caroleo, Vicki Love. A recent issue (#5) includes the first of a three part series about Jungle films; articles about the Horrorthon, Pollygrind and Knoxville film festivals; the Mr Vampire series; the restoration of the much reviled Manos the Hands of Fate; Filipino vigilante films; articles about regional horror; an overview of the Johnny Wadd series; a valuable interview with Leon Isaac Kennedy; book and film reviews and much, much more. 

As noted earlier, one of the strong features of WC is its coverage of non English language films. In this issue, Part 7 of Tim Paxton’s continuing investigation of Indian cinema’s outer edges focuses on Kanti Shah, producer/director of more than two decades worth of horror and exploitation films from the real underbelly of the Bollywood industry. Paxton’s energy and enthusiasm here is heroic. He doesn’t just talk in general terms, screen a few films and then bang out his opinion piece. No, he actually watches them all. Or as many as time and brain cells will allow, which in the case of the prolific Kanti Shah is a hell of a lot of films. That’s the essential nature of the true ‘zine creator: going multiple extra miles in search of that last ounce of buried treasure long after earlier investigators have wearied of the task.

Fanzines and their creators and contributors seem to march to the beat of a different drum. Fuelled by their enthusiasm and their indefatigable curiosity, with no grants from public bodies or rich patrons, they feel themselves compelled in some mysterious way to scout the back roads and byways of popular culture and to preserve their discoveries for future generations to wonder at. They are the archivists of the arcane and long may they thrive and prosper.

 Anyone who has even the vaguest interest in the kind of things that Mondo Macabro are doing is going to find much to relish in Weng's Chop and its spin off Monster! Get them all now, while you still can. They’re going to become collectors’ items soon enough and then you’ll kick yourself for having missed out.

- Pete Tombs

You can buy issues of both Weng's Chop and Monster! on Amazon and Creatspace.com.