I’ve been asked to report on what I’ve been watching during quarantine. Mostly, it’s the news – who can top that these days – but when I want to savour that ancient art form called the motion picture, I go to the best joint in town, which happens to be my own website, byNWR.com. Allow me to list a few favourites for your viewing pleasure …
There are many, many great film noir movies, obviously. However, I believe Joseph Lerner’s 1950 Guilty Bystander is a true hidden gem, one lost in obscurity for many years due to the one unwatchable taped-from-TV copy floating around. There was no negative in existence, nor could we find any prints – until my restoration team located what may be the one remaining copy in the world at the British Film Institute, which graciously allowed us to restore this film and turn what had been blurry VHS rust into pure cinematic gold. This is one lowdown and raw film, featuring a very distinctive lead performance by Zachary Scott as an alcoholic, pill-popping ex-cop searching for his son in New York City.
Ned Hockman’s 1962 film Stark Fear is another noir, yes, but it really stands alone. Like regional music, regional film inhabits its own kind of niche in the US, and Stark Fear utilises the desolate landscape of Oklahoma to paint its bleak picture. Beverly Garland, in a very intense performance, stars as Ellen Winslow, a lonely woman on a ghost-like odyssey to unearth the truth behind her sadistic husband’s disappearance. A very uncompromising picture.
There comes a time in any film-maker’s life when you ask yourself, “What is a movie?” House on Bare Mountain (directed by Lee Frost and Wes Bishop, 1962) answers that question like a pop-art firecracker thrown into a packed church. Frankenstein, Wolfman and Dracula invade a girls’ school and utter mayhem ensues. House on Bare Mountain sports the cotton-candy look of a frothy French comedy, yet beneath its cheap Tinseltown gloss lurks a funky underground film that has crashed head-on into old-school Hollywood aesthetics. It’s a hybrid of so many things: old comic strips, monster movies, the dawn of the sexual revolution … I find it beautiful.
Sometimes you realise that the past predicts the future, and there is no better example of that than the three outrageous Christian propaganda films made by Mississippi Baptist preacher Estus Pirkle and drive-in expatriate Ron Ormond. byNWR.com has restored all of them: Believer’s Heaven, The Burning Hell and the first, most potent one: 1971’s If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? This thrilling, blunt, scare-nightmare portrays an America locked in a bloody battle against communist invasion – sound familiar, anyone? If Donald Trump was to disappear and Mike Pence suddenly became president, this might be what the US might look like, face masks not included. When Estus stares into the camera for an end altar-call, you might feel compelled to confess your sins.