Chapter 2 – Queers and Dykes in the Dark: Classic, Noir & Horror Cinema’s Coded Gay Characters:

THE LAND OF MORAL AMBIGUITY: HOLLYWOOD & THE HAYS CODE

“Pictures shall not infer that low forms of sex Relationships are the accepted or common thing…”

Prior to the Production Code, LGBT characters were somewhat prevalent, if heavily stereotyped and exploited, in a number of major films. The 1920s especially were a time of shifting societal norms and expanding artistic experimentation. As women rode the first wave of feminism and prohibition was increasingly challenged, filmmakers began to expand their boundaries and feature more controversial plotlines. – Sophie Cleghorn

Pre-Code was a brief period in the American film industry between the dawn of talking pictures in 1929 and the formal enforcement in 1934 of the Motion Picture Production Code (MPPC) familiarly known as the Hays Code. Pre-Code was a glorious time in the history of cinema. It was during the Depression Era, before the cultural politics of Clergy and reformer organizations came in and initiated the need for moral governance over the film industry. Their interference evolved into the Hays Code created to oversee silent and talking pictures.

In the late 1920s before the Hays Code, films began to speak becoming audible and more realistic as Hollywood recognized that many Americans knew all about sex. In the early era of talkies during the gutsy cinema of the Depression era, there was nothing stopping the studios from producing daring films. Hollywood movies weren’t afraid to show gay characters or reference their experiences. Ironically, queers were pretty visible onscreen at this time in American cinema. These characters left an impression on trade papers like Variety that called this phenomenon – “queer flashes.”

Also in the early twenties, there were notorious scandals on and off screen. Hollywood’s moral ambiguity was literally in the clutches of the Hays Code which the MPPDA used to wage a moral battle against Hollywood that they perceived would eventually lead to cultural ruination. The priggish William Hays was a deacon in the Presbyterian church, a former chair of the Republican party, and post master general before he was picked to lead the war on decadence in the movie industry. William Hays was appointed chairman of the Motion Pictures Producers and Distributors Association (MPPDA) from the year it was established in 1922 to 1945, but the Hays Code was not overturned until 1968. Hays and his code regulated film content for nearly forty years. The little worm.

W.C.Fields and Franklin Pangborn- Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941)

The Hays Code became a series of self-imposed, perceived-to-be-moral guidelines that told filmmakers and the major studios what was permissible to do in their movies. The Code was established in 1930, and the MPPC set forth censorship guidelines that weren’t yet strictly enforced. And states had their own censorship boards and so their individual standards varied. Hays tried to contain his guidelines without the intrusion of government censorship, so he created his own Production Code that was for all intents and purposes optional for studios.

They felt that the liberal themes of films in the 1920s were contributing to the supposed debauchery infiltrating society. They championed government censorship as the solution to return society to its traditional moral standards (Mondello).

In June 1927, Hays publicized a list of cautionary rules. A construct of ‘Don’ts and Be Carefuls’. The document and empowering legislation spelled out guidelines for propriety on screen in classic Hollywood that became known as the Production Code. It was co-authored in 1929 by Martin J. Quigley, prominent Catholic layman, editor of the journal Motion Picture Herald and Reverend Daniel A. Lord, a Jesuit Priest. Their collaboration reflected a ‘Victorianism’ that would tint the freedom of Hollywood’s creative license. “The Production Code was a template for a theological takeover of American cinema.” “No picture should lower the moral standards of those who see it.”

“Just Ten of the Thous Shalt Nots”

Homosexuality

While the Code did not explicitly state that depictions of homosexuality were against the Code, the Code barred the depiction of any kind of sexual perversion or deviance, which homosexuality fell under at the time. -Wikipedia

The convict

“The courts of the land should not be presented as unjust…”

Prostitution and fallen women

“Brothels and houses of ill-fame are not proper locations for drama. They suggest to the average person at once sex sin, or they excite an unwholesome and morbid curiosity in the minds of youth…”

Bad girls

“Pictures shall not infer that low forms of sex relationship are the accepted or common thing…”

Musicals

“Dancing costumes cut to permit indecent actions or movements are wrong… Dances suggesting or representing sexual actions or indecent passion are forbidden…”

Adultery and the sanctity of marriage

“Adultery as a subject should be avoided… It is never a fit subject for comedy. Thru comedy of this sort, ridicule is thrown on the essential relationships of home and family and marriage, and illicit relationships are made to seem permissible, and either delightful or daring.”

NOT TO MENTION: GOD COMPLEXES-

Boris Karloff as Dr. Henry Frankenstein’s creation. Make-up by Jack Pierce.

By the time the sequel Bride of Frankenstein was released in 1935, enforcement of the code was in full effect and the Dr. Henry Frankenstein’s overt God complex was forbidden. In the first picture however, when the creature was born, his mad scientist creator was free to proclaim “Now I know what it feels like to be a God.”

‘Don’ts’ included “profanity,” “sex hygiene,” “miscegenation,” and “ridicule of the clergy.” There was a much longer list of ‘Be carefuls’ which indicated it was offensive to “show sympathy for criminals,” “arson,” “surgical operations,” and “excessive or lustful kissing” and of course “HOMOSEXUALITY.”

Hays appointed Colonel Jason S. Joy to be in charge of the supervisory agency, the Studio Relations Committee. Once the first talky The Jazz Singer (1927) starring Al Jolson was released a newly fired up rebel cry was heard from the hoity-toity do-gooders who raised objections against Hollywood’s immorality. What was once suggestive in silent pictures was now committed to sound, with all it’s risque humor and wicked context.

In 1934 censorship was tightening its strangle hold. Under pressure from the Catholic Church and other religious groups the Motion Picture Production Code made it so that any marginal gay characters became masked in innuendo, relying on queer symbolism instead. Several grassroots organizations were founded in order to pressure the film industry, the most influential of all was the Catholic Legion of Decency.

So, between the Code and state censorship boards, one might expect that films produced after 1930 would be exemplars of wholesomeness and purity. In practice, the men who enforced the Code on behalf of the MPPDA (Jason Joy and James Wingate) were wholly ineffectual, primarily due to the very small staffs they were allotted to keep up with the work of reviewing scripts, treatments and finished films while battling studios that weren’t especially thrilled by the bottleneck caused by the whole operation. The combination of bureaucratic sclerosis and the economic, political and cultural crisis brought about by the Great Depression ushered in a vibrant era of filmmaking and the introduction of many stars whose personas would forever be rooted in their pre-Code films.- Mike Mashon

The Code set in place since 1930 was a turning point in the history of self-regulation. With the strict enforcement of the Production Code, they attempted to influence the discourse in American film without coming out and definitively stating which contexts were strictly forbidden. Instead they issued phrases like “should be avoided” and “should not suggest.” Though a variety of controversial topics weren’t vigorously banned by the Production Code, gay characters WERE strictly prohibited. 

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) directed by Alfred Hitchcock- Peter Lorre

When the Hays Code was adopted in 1930, they articulated that, “though regarding motion pictures primarily as entertainment without any explicit purpose of teaching or propaganda, they know that the motion picture within its own field of entertainment may be directly responsible for spiritual or moral progress, for higher types of social life, and for much correct thinking.”

When the MPPDA formally ratified The Code, they demanded that it be followed to the letter but it “lacked an effective enforcement mechanism” – and the studio heads openly defied it’s frame of mind and it’s puritanical spirit.

The movie studios had other pressing issues of concern. It was the Great Depression, and studios were barely making it, on the brink of ruin due to low ticket sales. They were quite ready to fight with states over censorship because sex and violence sells. They wanted to draw in audiences that would be titillated by gangsters, vamps, and racy subject matter. Popular musicals could entertain with disparaging racial clichés and glamorous, intoxicating imagery, with hints of queerness. You could also watch languid prostitutes on screen — everyone seems to long for Shanghai Lil, in the film that has it all, Footlight Parade (1933)

Filmmakers tried to switch around controversial subject matter that would not only push the boundaries but would promote ticket sales, with films that would attract a more sophisticated audience. Breen perceived these films to be less ‘dangerous’ a word he often used. They focused on the ‘gangster’ film with it’s violent content, and when they put their foot on that genre’s neck, Hollywood rolled out the ‘fallen woman‘ films. They tried very hard to get around the scrutiny and so they delved into making horror pictures, and racy comedies. These fare better as they fell under the heading of being ‘unrealistic’ which rendered them as innocuous material to the censors.

During the Great Depression, movies were an escape for audiences in dire need of distraction. The morally-charged stranglehold that was beginning to challenge filmmakers forced them to experiment with movies that were audacious and candid in different ways. Pre-Code actually challenged audiences to watch real life issues on screen. Pre-Code cinema offered some titillating truths coming out of the dream factory. Depression-era cinema exhibited gay characters, but generally in small parts and often used for comic purposes that managed to cue audiences in, with roles that were codified and readable as queer. ‘Queerness’ was railed against because it subverted traditional masculinity which was under attack by the new socioeconomic crisis in the country. Yet somehow, Hollywood found it to be a viable trigger for ideological gossip.

These films illustrated narratives that were thought provoking, worldly, and subversive. Movies dealt frankly or were suggestive of sexual innuendo, sexual relationships between races, mild profanity, drug use, promiscuity, prostitution, infidelity, abortion, intense violence, and of course, homosexuality.

William Wellman’s Safe in Hell (1931) starring Dorothy Mackaill as a call girl in hiding. Prostitution is a no no!

Filmmakers took risks delivering a portrait of America with a punishing realism, and a creative freedom to portray taboo themes like crime (gangs and guns, violence), social dilemma’s (drug abuse, poverty and political unrest). And sexual relationships (adultery, promiscuity, deviance = homosexuality). In the 1930s filmmakers also sought to stir up controversy by screening queer characters, in order to shock audiences and drive up their ticket sales. The result, movies became more lewd, ruthless and vicious between 1930 and 1934. And Hollywood was it’s MOST queer from 1932-1934.

Yet during the silent era to the mid thirties, gay characters were illustrated as stereotypes showcasing the popular tropes established by conventional hetero-normative gender bias. These archetypes were styled to be gender non-conformists. Queer men were fussy, effeminate and flamboyant. With high-pitched voices, the air under their feet and waving hands. Essentially, ‘fairies’ who were deployed as comic relief on the periphery of the drama. Real-life queers of the Depression era and later periods were exposed to cinematic images, the vast majority being caricatures in which gays and lesbians were often presented as targets of ridicule and contempt for their divine decadence. ‘Entertainers play with gender ambiguity in Broadway thru a Keyhole (1933).‘ (Lugowski)

Lesbians were at the other end of the spectrum. They were ‘masculine,’ demonstrating deep voices, cross-dressing in male attire, and were installed in male-dominated professions. They were often invalidated by the straight male characters, and were either played for the uncomfortable humor or shown as baffling to men. The PCA in it’s Hollywood’s Movie Commandments specified that there could be no comic characters “introduced into a screen play pantomiming a pervert.” (Lugowski)

Gender Reversals, Queerness, and a Nation in Crisis.–

In Michael Curtiz’s The Strange Love of Molly Louvain (1932) Suddenly, queer imagery in film, typically in the form of comical representations of gay men, lesbians, and ambiguous sexuality, did not seem so funny any-more, least of all to those charged with applying Hollywood’s Production Code to film content. By “queer” imagery, I am focusing particularly on situations, lines of dialogue, and characters that represent behavior coded, according to widely accepted stereotypes, as cross-gendered in nature. As played by such prominent and well-established supporting comedy character actors as Franklin Pangborn, Edward Everett Horton, Grady Sutton, Erik Rhodes, Eric Blore, and Ernest Truex, queer men tended to appear as one of two types.

The queer in his more subdued form appears as the dithering, asexual “sissy,” sometimes befuddled, incompetent,and, if married, very henpecked (Horton), and sometimes fussy and officious (Pangborn). Pangborn, however, was one of the actors who (along with the unsung likes of Tyrell Davis and Tyler Brooke) also played or suggested the other type, the more outrageous “pansy,” an extremely effeminate boulevardier-type sporting lip-stick, rouge, a trim mustache and hairstyle, and an equally trim suit, incomplete without a boutonniere. Although a number of actors played or were even typecast in such roles, one generally doesn’t find a circle of prominent supporting actresses whose personas seemed designed to connote lesbianism (the closest, perhaps, is Cecil Cunningham) lesbian representation occurs frequently as well, and in perhaps a greater range of gradations. At her most overt, the lesbian was clad in a mannishly tailored suit (often a tuxedo), her hair slicked back or cut in a short bob. She sometimes sported a monocle and cigarette holder (or cigar!) and invariably possessed a deep alto voice and a haughty, aggressive attitude toward men, work, or any business at hand. Objections arose because she seemed to usurp male privilege; perhaps the pansy seemed to give it up. -David M.Lugowski: Queering the (New) Deal-Lesbian and Gay Representation and the Depression-Era Cultural Politics of Hollywood’s Production Code

Filmmakers were encouraged not to promote lifestyles of a ‘morally questionable’ nature, so queers remained as humorous detours away from the central story. It was a subtle defiance that filmmakers were determined to feature queer characters in their films in spite of the ban. Because of the threat of boycotts, this created some maneuvering around the scrutiny. Queer identities were not portrayed with depth or realism, this marginalized group was relegated to one-dimensional stereotypes. They were never shown to be in romantic relationships and filmmakers relied on visual cues to signal the character’s identity.

Censors at the PCA, for example, were very worried about the three female characters in William Dieterle’s Dr. Monica (1934) starring Kay Francis. The film is the story of three women, an alcoholic, a nymphomaniac and a lesbian. In October 1935, Joseph Breen wrote a letter to RKO’s head B.B. Kahane concerned about Follow the Fleet (1936) starring Fred Astaire who gives a dance lesson to all male sailors. “We are assuming of course that you will exercise your usual good taste in this scene of the sailors learning to dance. There will be no attempt to inject any ‘pansy’ humor into the scene.”

Due to a new, stricter Motion Picture Production Code, gays were being swept under the rug in movies. In the late 1930s and 1940s the only way to circumvent the Code was by painting homosexuals as cold-hearted villains (The Celluloid Closet). Now it appeared that gays were committing terrible crimes because of their sexual orientation, implying that homosexuality leads to insanity. In a society where being homosexual was synonymous with being sinful, it is no surprise that Hollywood made the leap to correlating a homosexual orientation with malicious crimes and wicked urges (Weir).

Alfred Hitchcock is a visual magician who rolls out the answers gradually while deconstructing what is explicit to the narrative. He is one of the most measured auteurs, whose eye for detail links each scene together like a skillful puzzle. He has been studied, tributed, and –in my opinion–unsuccessfully imitated. Rigid to conform, he danced around the Hays Code like a cunning acrobat indulging his vision while deflecting the lax regulations. There are arguments that Hitchcock insinuated homophobic messages in some of his films. The queer characters were all deviants and psychopathic predators, who were the ones responsible for some of the most heinous murders on screen. For example, in his film Rope (1948) the two Nietzschian murderers are intellectual companions who get off on trying to perpetrate the perfect murder. They exhibit a romantic friendship with no sexual contact on screen. Yet there are cues that they are sexually aroused by each other’s mutual pleasure at killing a young boy. The Hays Code inhibited the depiction of a queer couple so Hitchcock had to subtly suggest their sexual relationship by dropping metaphors and visual clues. Though, it might be interpreted through a homophobic lens, and their homosexuality might be at the core of their cruel and immoral nature.

According to David Greven, Hitchcock’s homophelia ‘was through a larger conflict that Hitchcock’s cinema that filmmakers conducted their investigation of American masculinity, one that focused on fissures and failures. Homosexuality emerged as representative of these and also as potential new direction for American masculinity to take, not without serious risk but also treated with surprising, fascinated interest… Hitchcock’s radical de-centering of heterosexual male dominance, devising contemporary narratives of heterosexual male ambivalence that allowed for, at times depended on, an investment in same-sex desire as well as an awareness of its dangerous, pernicious seductions. Homophobia in both Hitchcock and the New Hollywood’s informed by an attendant fascination with the homoerotic that emerges from scenes of gender crisis and disorganization that are rife in both the Cold War and New Hollywood eras. 

Any illicit sexual behavior on screen considered as perverse would be demonized and exploited as immoral. Queers were shown as villainous, dangerous deviants who were fated for ruination and/or death.

There were several broad categories the Code was not vague about. Any movies depicting criminality had to essentially illustrate that there would be consequences. The message was clear, any flagrant criminal behavior is abhorrent and audiences should NOT feel sympathy, primarily through the implicit edict of “compensating moral values.”

Authority figures had to be treated with respect, and the clergy could not be portrayed as comic characters or villains. Under some circumstances, politicians, police officers, and judges could be villains, as long as it was clear that those individuals portrayed as villains were the exceptions to the rule.

Clearly there were some productive strategies of circumventing the Motion Picture Production Code. They enabled characters that performed behind the veil, under the radar of social acceptability, while dancing a step closer to the fringe. It allowed for ‘queering the screen’. I find it feasible to consider how Alexander Doty points out that ‘queering’ something implies that you are taking a thing that is straight and doing something to it. Rather it should be considered that it’s less about co-opting or subverting films – making things queer, and more about how something might be understood as queer.

It might be easy to read Zasu Pitt’s and Thelma Todd’s relationship, the brilliantly paired comedy twosome, as lovers. While they perform humorous heterosexual man hunting, they sure seem to be mostly interested in each other and sure look adorable in their pajamas! I wonder, as Big Daddy says, if there’s ‘something missing here’. Below, they are in the film short directed by Hal Roach – On The Loose 1931, with bobbed hair, leaning into each other in bed together, looking awfully intimate.

To be ‘queer’ is also to deconstruct existing norms and ‘destabilize’ them, making it harder to define, so that it is a clear picture of non-normative straight masculinity/femininity.

What was perceptible to those ‘in the life’ were expressions, gestures, of the term often used by the Hays Code, ‘deviancy.’ One of the things that the Code banned was in Clause 6 Section 2 on “Sex” was that “sex perversion or any inference to it is forbidden.”

Not that films during the reign of the Code were ripe with queer love stories, of course. There were none to be found beyond the foreign offerings of Oswald’s Different From the Others and Mädchen in Uniform. The most prevalent allusion to being gay was the flamboyant man who was the ambiguous bachelor or fussy asexual husband. If there was anything close to a butch woman, she could be an earthy farmer’s wife, a Marjorie Main or Patsy Kelly type (Both lesbians in real life). A tough as nails prison matron, a tyrannical madame or a risque night club owner. Perhaps shes an embittered heavy drinker or just one of the guys who is a faithful friend to the female lead. Maybe she never gets the guy or hasn’t met the right man. Perhaps she was married to a no good bum and is off men for good!.. And just sometimes, sometimes it’s because… well some of us would know why!

Thelma Todd joined up with Patsy Kelly in comedy series. Here’s a lobby card for their Babes in the Goods. The two became very good friends during their collaboration.

Patsy Kelly had started in Vaudeville and appeared in Wonder Bar 1931 centered around a Parisian club. Kelly played Elektra Pivonaka and sang two lively songs.

She is known for her ballsy, straight-forward, no nonsense persona, be it her tough as nails nurse Mac in Sam Fuller’s The Naked Kiss (1964) or as Laura-Louise, attending to Rosemary (Mia Farrow) in Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968). Kelly played very non-feminine roles, injecting a bit of her ‘in the life’ energy into the characters in every one of her roles. More often that not she had an unglamorous reputation as a funny spunky, brassy, wise cracking gal who played a lot of maids. She was outspoken about being an uncloseted lesbian, which hurt her movie career in the 1940s. But she had been a very successful actress on Broadway, returning to the stage in 1971 winning a Tony Award for No, No Nanette and Irene.

In director/screenwriter Sam Fuller’s sensationalist The Naked Kiss (1964), Patsy Kelly plays Mac the nurse, a hard-edged pussy cat. A no nonsense nurse who lives for helping children with disabilities, but there is no visible sign that she has the slightest interest in men, aside from a smart alecky comment about Grant bringing her back a man from Europe. Kelly might have wanted her role as an independent woman with a more offbeat way of stating that she is a tough dyke and expected Fuller to write her into the script that way. Knowing Kelly that’s a good assumption. The film is audacious in it’s scope for dealing with more than one theme, as taboo as prostitution, abortion and pedophilia.

The Catholic Legion of Decency used their influence to label gays as ‘sexual deviants’, not be depicted on screen. ‘Deviancy’ was used to refer to any behavior deviating from what was perceived to be normal in terms of romance, sex, and gender. Hays even ordered all ‘nance’ characters to be removed from screenplays.

The Federation of Women’s Clubs and the Hays Code tried to make symbolic gestures to maintain decency in films. The Legion of Decency were getting pressure from the Catholic Church. So in 1934 came up with A-acceptable B-Morally Objectionable and C-Condemned. Hollywood promised to observe the rules. Of the various subject matter that was restricted on screen-open mouth kissing, lustful embraces, sex-perversion, seduction, rape, abortion, prostitution, white slavery, nudity, obscenity, profanity.

But all this unsolicited attention caused the studios to be watchful of their off-screen personnel, and they also had to be certain that the Los Angeles Police Department received payoffs to keep their mouths shut. Though lurid and shocking subject matter was no longer tolerated on screen, the studios tried to continue to release their films without the intrusion of the Hays Office, even though from a commercial standpoint, sex sells.

Warner Bros.’ lack of cooperation with the Code until the bitter end and how Paramount, which was cooperative under B. P. Schulberg, decided to be “as daring as possible” under Emmanuel Cohen in 1932 and 1933. At MGM, Irving Thalberg’s resistance only really ended with his heart attack and journey abroad to recover in 1933. As James Wingate, Breen’s SRC predecessor, put things that same year: (Lugowski)

In 1934 Jack Warner ignored Breen’s letter and phone calls about a scene in Wonder Bar (1934) that explicitly demonstrates homoerotic desire. In it, one man cuts in to dance with another man, interrupting a woman who is dancing with her male partner. “May I cut in?”  she responds, “Why certainly,” as the man suitor grabs her chaperone to dance instead. The films stars Al Jolson who exclaims, “Boys will be boys!” Breen would later write, “It is quite evident that the gentleman [Warner] is giving me the runaround. He evidently thinks that this is the smart thing to do.” Wonder Bar  may have added a flash of queer diversion as part of the entertainment, but it is an incredibly offensive and racist film using a cast who are in Black face.

During the ongoing Depression era, sissy and lesbian characters of the period continued to be screened as effeminate and mannish with one change. They became progressively sexualized between 1933-34. As the Depression moved forward, the Code needed to establish a “suitable” masculinity in film that would satisfy the morality police. They wanted this accepted masculinity to mirror the public art imagery that was now being federally funded by the New Deal in the mid-and late 1930s.

Before 1934 the studios were able to ignore the Code’s denouncement and endeavor to censor the movie industry but Hollywood filmmakers could no longer disregard the regulations issued by the Hays Code. The Legion of Decency forced the MPPDA to assert itself with the Production Code and formed a new agency , the Production Code Administration (PCA). The Hays Code was formed in 1930 but it only began to have a profound impact on Hollywood when the Production Code Administration (PCA) began strictly enforcing it in 1934. The crusade to save America’s purity and squash the filth mongers began a cultural war.

It was a system of moral oversight, conservatives lobbied to enforce, using the PCA to compel the industry to drastically adhere to it. PCA is strongest in explaining how the Code tried to at once repress and enable discourse to appeal to the broadest possible spectrum of viewers and to offend the fewest. (Lugowski)

And in 1937, the Production Code Administration (PCA), handed down Hollywood’s Movie Commandments that decried “No hint of sex perversion may be introduced into a screen story. The characterization of a man as effeminate, or a woman as grossly masculine would be absolutely forbidden for screen portrayal.”

The Code was detailed in two parts that reflected the foundation of Catholic principles. The moral vision and “particular applications a precise listing of forbidden material.”

The code was divided into two parts. The first was a set of “general principles” which prohibited a picture from “lowering the moral standards of those who see it”, so as not to wrongly influence a specific audience of views including, women, children, lower-class, and those of “susceptible” minds, called for depictions of the “correct standards of life”, and lastly forbade a picture to show any sort of ridicule towards a law or “creating sympathy for its violation.

The second part of the Code was a set of “particular applications”, which was an exacting list of items that could not be depicted. Some restrictions, such as the ban on homosexuality or on the use of specific curse words, were never directly mentioned, but were assumed to be understood without clear demarcation. Homosexuals were de facto included under the proscription of sex perversion.” — Wikipedia

The second part of the Code was a ban on homosexuality. Though it was not specifically spelled out, queers were the subject under review of ‘sex perversion.’ Though the Hays office would not stand for “more than a dash of lavender” as long as the representation (especially a non desirable depiction of homosexuality) was fleeting and incidental. Thus, “Pansy comedy” was tolerable in Pre-Code Hollywood. “Despite the watchful eyes of the Hays Office, the trade paper Variety remarked that Hollywood continued what were called “queer flashes” and “mauve characters” who sashayed through Cavalcade 1933, Our Betters 1932 and Sailor’s Luck 1932.

The industry moguls and business offices finally had to follow the rules, clean up the ‘sinful’ screen and adopt a symbol of moral righteousness, that came along with a seal. The Code would be certified by a Code Seal printed on the lobby cards of each Hollywood film. And the seal would be an emblem that would appear on the motion pictures themselves. Any film without a Code Seal would be fined $25,000.

After some revisions, they agreed to the stipulations of the Code. … negotiated cuts from films and there were definite—albeit loose—constraints, a significant … against homosexuals, all in clear violation of the Hollywood Production Code.

Any sexual act considered perverted, including any suggestion of same sex relationships, sex, or romance, was ruled out.

Thus, during the Golden Age of Hollywood, the PCA scrutinized and censored, everything coming out of Hollywood and put it’s seal on each movie released. The Hollywood executives preferred to call it “self-regulation” and feared that censorship by the PCA would be even worse if they tampered with the creative ‘source’ of their product. Because of the studios’ defiance, Roman Catholics formed the National Legion of Decency, which became an influential group who would put Hollywood’s transgressions through the ordeal, of boycotts, picketing theaters, urging Catholics not to patronize these immoral movies or fall “under the pain of sin”, being met by hoards of angry protestors at the gates of the studio. Now religious groups and other moral traditionalists began a warlike campaign for the government to regulate what was shown on the screen.

Mae West: She Done Him Wrong 1933

Also government officials were bent on making gay people invisible from cinematic narratives and the United States Supreme Court handed down the ruling that filmmakers were not protected by the First Amendment in the matter of free speech. They considered Hollywood to be a powerful mechanism that to exploit ‘sinful’ behavior on the screen and influence American audiences. This laid the ground work for local governments that could weigh in and ban films from their theaters, if they considered them immoral. Hollywood could not afford to lose money at the box office from governmental authorities, by negative publicity, or from the threatening boycotts by rabid church groups.

Motion pictures could be regulated and run out of town by cities, states, and by ominous extension, the federal government.

“After all, censorship had been a fact of creative and commercial life for motion picture producers from the very birth of the medium, when even the modest osculations of the middle-aged lovebirds in Thomas Edison’s The Kiss (1896) scandalized cadres of (literally) Victorian ministers, matrons, and other variants of a sour-faced species known as the “bluenose.” By common consent, the artistically vital and culturally disruptive spectacle of the motion picture – an entertainment accessible to all levels of society and degrees of moral temperament, including unassimilated immigrants,impressionable juveniles, and other menacing types – required editorial supervision from more mature, pious, and usually Protestant sensibilities” -from Archives Unbound

Hollywood was in the grip of the Code that saw the ‘dream factory’ movie machine as a Hollywood Babylon. While the powers that be were busy policing the murmuration of taboos, Pre-Code was a brief moment in history, a fruitful period between 1929 to 1934. Hays then appointed someone who could intercede between studio moguls and anti-Hollywood groups, Joseph I. Breen. “The vulgar, the cheap, and the tawdry is out!”

The PCA had been known as the Hays Office but to those in Hollywood, once the oversight became an operation with teeth, it became known as the Breen Office. Breen came in to take over the weak Studio Relations Committee (SRC). The Code had consisted of thirty-six rules that informed Hollywood filmmakers to limit representation of, or normalization of subject matter considered by religious groups to be “unsavory or morally corrupt.” The SRC and the PCA were the inner mechanism within the film industry, shaping the content of the film and heading off any ethical problems the film might encounter before they reached the local censors.

Dorothy Mackaill Safe in Hell (1931)

Many scenarios disappeared from the movies by mid 1934: for example, audiences would no longer see women’s navels, couples laying in bed together, murderers going unpunished, any illustration of a bedroom that isn’t merely recognized as a bed chamber. The normalization of drug use, the glamourization of criminal behavior, or not following the law, and of course any overtly revealed gay or lesbian character. After 1934, women would not be sporting short haircuts and tailored suits, confidently smoking cigars. Men toned down the gushy gestures that would be interpreted as flamboyant. Gay men and women were transformed into dowdy spinsters and high-strung bachelors.

What we started to see was an ambiguity, a narrative uncertainty that took the burden of responsibility off of the filmmakers and dropped the perception of the content into the laps of the audience. Since the Code asserted that no picture should lower the moral standards of those who saw it, it was a law that bound Hollywood’s accountability for their plots. Ruth Vasey calls the antithesis of this “the principle of deniability” which refers to the ambiguity of the textual vaguery that shifted the message to the individual spectator. Lugowski cites Lea Jacobs, “under the Code ‘offensive ideas could survive at the price of an instability of meaning… There was constant negotiation about how explicit films could be and by what means (through the image, sound, language) offensive ideas could find representation.” The studios would have to come up with a structure of ‘representational conventions’, that could be understood by a more sophisticated audience yet would fly over the heads of more inexperienced spectatorship. Though producers felt the sharp sting of the Code as a mechanism of restraint, in terms of ‘queerness’ on screen, film studios could use the leverage of deniability to argue about the interpretation of certain scenes.

Once the limits of explicit “sophistication” had been established, the production industry had to find ways of appealing to both “innocent” and “sophisticated” sensibilities in the same object without transgressing the boundaries of public acceptability. This involved devising systems and codes of representation in which “innocence” was inscribed into the text while “sophisticated” viewers were able to “read into” movies whatever meanings they were pleased to find, so long as producers could use the Production Code to deny that they had put them there. Much of the work of self-regulation lay in the maintenance of this system of conventions, and as such, it operated, however perversely, as an enabling mechanism at the same time that it was a repressive one.-(Documents from the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, Inc., 1922 – 1939)

… by assuming that the social crisis over cinematic representation in the early 1930s was caused by the content of motion pictures. The institution of censorship in Hollywood was not primarily about controlling the content of movies at the level of forbidden words or actions or inhibiting the freedom of expression of individual producers. Rather, it was about the cultural function of entertainment and the possession of cultural power. (Tino Balio: Grand Design Hollywood as a Modern Business Enterprise 1930-1939)

Geoff Shurlock was appointed as acting director of the Production Code in the 1940s and as permanent director in 1954. Over the years, Shurlock would straddle the conflict, appeasing both movie producers, and morality mongers trying to persuade the Association Board that introducing more liberal thinking could protect the PCA from fading away. There were attempts to ease up on the Code, in 1954 he introduced an amendment that would eliminate various taboos, for instance, miscegenation, liquor, and some profane words, but producers felt that there weren’t enough considerations to the amendment and the Catholic Legion of Decency felt that even that much went too far. Shurlock had a tough time making everyone happy.

The 1950s witnessed a weakening of the Production Code to restrict specific representations such as adultery, prostitution, and miscegenation. By the beginning of the 1960s, the only specific restriction left was homosexuality = “sex perversion.”

In the 1960s, filmmakers pressured the Production Code Administration. In the fall of 1961, two films went into production that would deal with homosexual subject matter. William Wyler, who had initially directed Miriam Hopkins and Merle Oberon in These Three (1936), revealed that he was working on a more faithful treatment of Lillian Hellman’s play The Children’s Hour; that dealt overtly with the love that dare not speak it’s name. Around the same time director Otto Preminger began to adapt Allen Drury’s political novel Advise and Consent 1962, which delves into the lives of Senatorial candidates that uncovers controversial secret, including Don Murray’s homosexual encounter.

Throughout Preminger’s career he challenged the restrictions of the Code, and eventually influenced their decision to allow homosexuality to be shown on screen. Also fighting to change the stifling rules was Arthur Krim, president of United Artists, who threatened to ignore the Code and release the film without the mandatory “seal of approval” forcing them to amended its ideological strangle hold.

On October 3, 1961, the Production Code Administration backed off: “In keeping with the culture, the mores and values of our time, homosexuality and other sexual aberrations may now be treated with care, discretion and restraint.”

In order to maintain control of the Administration’s power at least in terms of how homosexual’s were portrayed on film, they insisted that the subject be infused with medical overtones, to show it as an ‘illness’. Sympathy or illness in psychological terms, were two key factors. The Code’s changed the use of the word “sex perversion” and replaced it with “homosexuality.”

Don Murray –gay bar scene in Advise and Consent 1962

Another interesting shift was that they owned up to the fact that “mores and values of our time” were changing whether they liked it or not, people were become more in touch with the freedom to express their sexuality, society was becoming more permissive, the love generation was upon them and sexual representation was a fearless exploration reflected by a new generation of film goers.

Otto Preminger was the only major producer able to successfully release films without the Production Code’s Seal of Approval. He defied the Code (Hadleigh) with movies like Advise and Consent (1961) The Man with Golden Arm (1955) Anatomy of a Murder (1959) Wendell Mayes said “Look at the record–you’ll discover that many of the changes in the Code were a result of Otto Preminger breaking the rules”

Though the Code had been revised in 1961 to open up the door for portrayals of gays on screen, the sissy effete and predatory dyke took on a more sinister role. Because they had been hidden in plain sight using symbology that hinted at either failed masculinity or women performing masculinity. When the MPPA ratings system was established in 1968 gays on screen were starting to kick the doors open but what was awaiting them was an even crueler denouement than during the reign of the Code. Queers were now portrayed as suicidal, predatory or homicidal maniacs. And much like the coded gay characters under the Production Code, things moved very slowly in terms of progress for positive representations of being ‘queer.’

DIrk Bogarde and Dennis Price in Basil Dearden’s brave film Victim (1961)

Between January and June 1962, five films were released that dealt with homosexuality, almost as many as in the previous three decades. One did not receive a seal of approval from the Production Code Administration, but was released nonetheless. Even without the seal of approval, British director, Basil Dearden’s Victim (1961) was reviewed in all the publications being considered. The liberal Catholic magazine Commonweal even disagreed with the Production Code Administration’s claim that the film made pleas ‘for social acceptance of the homosexual.’ “63 Still, the consensus among reviewers was that of the Production Code Administration and society at large: films should not and, for the most part, did not condone homosexuality. (Noriega)

This ban applied to all characters attracted to the same gender or characters who differed in their gender presentation or identity. While nudity and violence were quickly reintegrated into film canon following the abandonment of the Production Code, LGBT characters remained taboo. For decades after LGBT characters were allowed to appear in films, their sexuality and gender was shrouded in thinly-veiled innuendos and visual cues. If a character was to be openly same-gender attracted or transgender, they would be gruesomely killed or presented as morally corrupted. (Cleghorn)

Like the Code’s authors, film critics tend to examine the film itself, and not the discursive acts that surround a film and play a sometimes central role shaping its meaning(s). Contemporary gay and lesbian film criticism of Production Code era films operates on the same principle, with the added limitations that historical evidence and homosexual “images” censored. Thus, in order to ensure “the survival of subcultural identity within an oppressive society,” gay and lesbian film critics have employed a wide range of interpretive strategies to recuperate a history of homosexual images from the censored screen. The emphasis, therefore, has been on “subtexting” censored films from a singular presentist perspective. (Sophie Cleghorn)

Sources:

*Mike Mashon & James Bell for Pre-Code Hollywood Before the Censors-BFI  Sight & Sound Magazine (April 2019)

*Archives Unbound (1http://gdc.gale.com/archivesunbound/)

*Sophie Cleghorn: The Hollywood Production Code of 1930 and LGBT Characters.

*Wikipedia-Pre-Code

*David Lugowski-Queering the (New) Deal)

*Chon Noriega

During the period of Pre-Code, queer humor appeared in films such as Just Imagine (1930) and the The Warrior’s Husband (1933). The male characters were feminized because of their affinity for writing poetry. This asserted that they must be queer.

The Warrior’s Husband directed by Walter Lang, is a film primarily cast with women. Yet the air of queerness permeates throughout because the women, featuring a butch Queen, are Amazons. Gender is inverted and several other female rulers cross-dress and exude a lesbian vibe. It is inhabited by independent women and swishy men who camped it up as ‘queens’ amusing themselves by flirting with all the good-looking men.

The Warrior’s Husband image courtesy Peplums Blogspot.com

Like so much self deemed culturally aberrant, the homosexual appears with greater frequency and readier acceptance in Pre-Code Hollywood cinema “The thirties was surprisingly full of fruity character comedians and gravel-voice bulldyke character comediennes” film critic Andrew Sarris observed in his touchstone study The American Cinema “but it was always played so straight that when ((character actors) Franklin Pangborn or Cecil Cunningham went into their routines, it was possible to laugh without being too sophisticated.” Maybe in the later thirties the homosexual was played straight but in the Pre-Code era, he and she was playing queer. No sophistication was needed to read the same sex orientations as gender disorientations.- Pre-Code Hollywood; Sex, Immorality and Insurrection in American Cinema 1930-1934 by Thomas Doherty.

Miriam Hopkins got the part of free-spirited Gilda in Ernst Lubitsch’s Design for Living 1933. This original Noël Coward play actually featured a Ménage à Trois between the three Bohemian lovebirds in Paris of the decadent thirties. The film also starred Gary Cooper as artist George Cooper, and Fredric March as playwright Tom Chambers. The liberated Gilda becomes the girl both men fall in love with. They three make a pact to keep their mutual attractions platonic, but that doesn’t last too long, and they each begin a sexual relationship. When George comes back from a trip to Nice, he finds that Tom has taken up with Gilda. “I can’t believe I loved you both.”

Ben Hecht’s screenplay didn’t have a trace of any Coward’s romantic relationship between George and Tom. Ernst Lubitsch, known for his sophisticated style, directed memorable witty interactions between all four players. Edward Everett Horton as Max Plunkett plays Miriam’s bland suitor. Horton is, as usual, a whimsical idiosyncratic delight to watch. And Franklin Pangborn Mr. Douglas, Theatrical Producer is a perfect theatrical queen who is thoroughly annoyed when Gilda approaches him in the restaurant about Tom’s (Fredric March) play “Good Night Bassington”, as she leaves him with this thought, “There, read it, I’m sure you’ll adore it, it’s a woman’s play…”

Al Jolson “Boys will be boys” Wonder Bar (1934)

Any portrayal of on-screen “sex perversion” or homosexuality, even those connected with various tropes of ‘deviant’ sexual behavior were restricted after the enforcement of the Production Code in 1934.

Lending the Code moral authority even within the limits of pure love, asserted the Code delicately certain facts have been universally regarded by lawmakers as outside the limits of safe presentation Father Lord and Mr. Quigley saw no need to defile the document by typesetting long lists of “pointed profanity” or “vulgar expressions” Likewise, the prohibition against homosexuality dared not speak the name, but it didn’t need to spell it out. “Impure Love” the love which society has always regarded as wrong and which has been named by divine law… must not be presented as attractive or beautiful.”-Pre-Code Hollywood; Sex, Immorality and Insurrection in American Cinema 1930-1934 by Thomas Doherty.

Different From the Others (1919) Conrad Veidt and Fritz Schulz two musicians in love — during the period of Pre-Code.

But, outside of the United States, films were a little more adventurous. Austrian director Richard Oswald’s film bravely shows two men in love. The “third sex” was eventually mocked. One of the earliest films to feature two men in love was the 1919 silent film from Germany,  Different From the Others. Director Richard Oswald’s story of two male musicians in love had a typical unhappy ending, but it depicted gay people in a positive light. The film condemned the German law known as Paragraph 175, which outlawed gay behavior. Different Than the Others was censored soon after it was released. Starring Conrad Veidt it is considered the first pro-gay film.

Joseph Breen viewed any meaningful treatment of queer cinema as perverted. Conrad Veidt also gave an emotionally evocative role in The Man Who Laughs 1928, playing a violinist who falls for his student and is then blackmailed for it. The risking Nazi party in Germany attempted to erase these films from the screen, and this made Oswald to flee to the America.

But, the Hays Code made certain that no films of this type would be seen in the United States. Even books and plays with gay, lesbian or bisexual narratives were reworked and any content related to the subject was erased in order to meet the social code of the time.

Other non-American films included Dreyer’s Michael (1924) and Mädchen in Uniform (1931) directed by Leontine Sagan and again in (1958) with Lilli Palmer as Fräulein Elisabeth von Bernburg and Romy Schneider as Manuela von Meinhardis. And Viktor Und Viktoria (1933) directed by Reinhold Schünzel.

Mädchen in Uniform (1931) was directed by Leotine Sagan, and starred Dorothea Wieck and Hertha Thiele.

William Dieterle’s Pre-Code German film Sex in Chains (1928) stars the director as Franz Sommer a man sent to prison for manslaughter who, though longing for his wife, develops a close relationship with his cell mate. A fellow inmate informs Franz that he’s “lived to see someone unman himself, just so he could finally sleep.”

In 1927, during the Pre-Code period, director William Wellman’s Wings won an Academy Award for Best Picture, and it also depicted the first gay kiss between two men in American cinema.

Wings follows two Air Force pilots in World War I, Jack (Charles ‘Buddy’ Rogers and Dave (Richard Arlen) who at first rivals for the affections of the beautiful Mary (Clara Bow) before they discover the underlying love they begin to feel for each other. During a boxing match at training camp gets to rough and Jack knocks Dave bloody and silly. Dave gazes up at Jack with an epiphany and the two walk off arm and arm as close ‘buddies’. The relationship is referred to as friendship, but the film paints a picture of two men falling in love.

Dave is mortally wounded in combat at the end of the picture, Jack embraces his dying ‘friend’ with a tender yet impassioned kiss while Mary looks on, framed with her on the outside looking in. Wellman humanizes the men’s close relationship in this scene when Jack leans into Dave to embrace him as he dies. He lets him know that nothing has meant more to him than their relationship. The moment feels sympathetic instead of exploitative, yet as he mourns Dave’s death. And though it is tinged with homoerotic elements, the case can always be made that it is a story about war, which brought two men closer together.

The Knocking Knees dance. Horton’s homosexuality – comedic, subtle and acceptable in The Gay Divorcee (1934)

In The Gay Divorcee (1934) crossing the threshold is the archetypal ‘Sissy’, Edward Everett Horton. Marginalized audiences were looking to the movies for any indication of the familiar, any little crumbs left as a trail to be picked up. For instance there is a moment in Johnny Guitar, the fiercely burning with sensual brawn, Joan Crawford. Bigger than life up on that screen, androgynous in her black cowboy shirt, strides down the stairs, gun in her holster waiting to confront coded dyke, Mercedes McCambridge. Many women’s chests, mine included, heaved a little with delight. That flutter of excitement hit us again when Doris Day sings the sentimental “Secret Love” in Calamity Jane (1953).

In Myrt and Marge (1934) Ray Hedges plays the flaming stage hand Clarence Tiffingtuffer he’s told “Here put this in the trunk and don’t wear it” speaking about one of the show girls costumes. In his boldly effete manner “If we got the runs on the show, the way the girls got in their stockings, I could put the 2nd down payment on my Kimono.”

Clara Bow, Willard Robertson and Estelle Taylor in Call Her Savage (1932)

From Call Her Savage 1932 purportedly the first on screen gay bar.

In director William Wyler’s These Three (1936) the relationship between Miriam Hopkin’s Martha and Merle Oberon’s Karen was delicately subtle and though to mainstream audiences might be seemingly obvious to interpret as two women attracted to the male lead, Joel McCrea. It revised Hellman’s play that centered around Martha’s love that dare not speak it’s name, for Karen. Sam Goldwyn bought the rights to Lillian Hellman’s play The Children’s Hour, a story depicting the supposed ‘carryings-on’ of two female teachers at a private school for girls. Though, These Three on it’s face is the story of a love triangle between two women and a man, it could read as Martha being more uncomfortable with the presence of Dr. Cardin (McCrea) because he is intruding on her closed relationship with Karen. The later screenplay adapted to film, The Children’s Hour (1961) directed by William Wyler, was boldly more explicit and revealed the true nature of Martha’s predicament and her struggling with her love for Karen.

These Three (1936) Merle Oberon and Miriam Hopkins

The Children’s Hour (1961) Shirley MacLaine and Audrey Hepburn

Coded characters in film were on the screen relaying messages and signaling to those of us who understand and who are “in the life: that movies can reflect the existence of a queer reality. These representations were not necessarily a positive, but films showed evidence that we exist. You would see it in a revealing gesture, or an air of difference about them, though it would be inconspicuous to audiences that were unaware of the cues.

Continue reading “Chapter 2 – Queers and Dykes in the Dark: Classic, Noir & Horror Cinema’s Coded Gay Characters:”

70s Cinema: Runaway Trains, Racing toward oblivion, Psycho-sexual machinations, and ‘the self loathing whore’ Part 2

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)

 

1:23pm. Grand Central Station, New York. A packed commuter train is hijacked. A ransom is set – at one million dollars. The subway is a closed system. For the four hijackers, surely there is no way out. But they have a deadly plan.

Directed by Joseph Sargent  (Colossus: The Forbin Project 1970, White Lightning 1973, predominantly a director for television series and made for TV movies- Gunsmoke, The Fugitive, The Man from U.N.C.L.E, The Invaders) with a screenplay by Peter Stone (known writer Charade 1963, Father Goose 1963, Sweet Charity 1969) The iconic sneeze which leads to one of the most memorable endings in 70s films was actually conceptualized by Stone. And based on the best selling American crime novel by John Godey.

Stunning visual auteur and cinematographer  Owen Roizman (The French Connection 1971, The Exorcist 1973, The Stepford Wives 1975, Three Days of the Condor 1975, Network 1976, True Confessions 1981) and driving score by David Shire (The Conversation 1974, All the President’s Men 1976, Saturday Night Fever 1977, Norma Rae 1979). Like the score the film itself begins with the sense of a dialogue and characterizations just as accelerated as a runaway train. The initial part of the film is completely immersed underground with it’s murky greens, grays and shadows lit only by the subway lamps.

Director Joseph Sargent instructed Owen Roizman to shoot the picture in Wide Screen, which would create the effect of not having a high ceiling, the over head and bottom of the screen being cut off giving the film a more of the closeness and claustrophobia of being in a subway car. They filmed the picture at The Spike in Brooklyn which was totally closed off at the time. Director Sargent referred to it as “hell on earth” and actor Robert Shaw dubbed it “Dante’s Inferno.” Like The French Connection and 3 Days of the Condor also filmed by Roizman, these were films that were at a defining time in history portraying a gritty New York lensed with a perspective toward realism. The camera’s were lightweight, moved quickly through the streets and utilized natural lighting. The colors are muted browns, faded greens and grays. The film demonstrates alienation of the city and the urban nightmare.

One of the films from the seventies that utilizes the subway as a symbol of the ‘changing nature of the city partly from the perspective of it’s citizens primarily it’s commuters.

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974) is one of the most definitive films of the seventies that features an all star cast of great character actors with standout performances by Walter Matthau as Lt. Zachary Garber, Tom Pedi as Caz Dolowicz who only gives a damn about his trains running on time.

“Oh, come on. If I’ve got to watch my language just because they let a few broads in, I’m going to quit. How the hell can you run a goddamn railroad without swearing?”

James Broderick as Denny Doyle head motorman, Dick O’Neill as the foul mouthed Correll, Jerry Stiller as Lt. Rico Patrone, Rudy Bond as Police Commissioner, Kenneth McMillan as the Borough Commander, Doris Roberts as the Mayor’s wife.

And of course our four colorful criminals, Mr. Blue (Robert Shaw) Mr. Green (Martin Balsam) Hector Elizondo (Mr. Gray) and Mr. Brown (Earl Hindman ) match the primary tones of the film. Their faces obscured by disguises that are caricatures.  An interesting note the color of the men’s hats correspond with their pseudonyms. In contrast to the earthy tones of the film Garber’s wears a banana yellow tie. Quentin Tarantino paid homage to the titular nicknames in his ultra violent Reservoir Dogs 1992.

There is no real set-up, or background relationship between the four hijackers. After seeing Martin Balsam exit a yellow cab, and Shire’s dynamic score comes into play, the film has an immediate tempo of being out of control. The film opens with one of the most popular scores of the seventies, David Shires, driving aural waves of dissonant jazz. With military type snare drum rolls and resounding trombones and electronica. The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974) is perhaps one of the most iconic action thriller of the seventies era. Opening with the dynamic life force of a pulsing New York City. Cabs, bodies in motion, unique to the city with it’s dialect “Fifty Foist Street” And the mania of people rushing down below in the subways, hot, grimy and anonymous.

When subway line Pelham One Two Three which is a subway car that begins from the Lexington Avenue station is hijacked by four seemingly random criminals Mr. Green, Mr. Blue, Mr. Gray and Mr. Brown all dressed in hats to match the colors of their pseudonyms, overcoats, black rimmed glasses and phony mustaches it throws the New York City transit into chaos. The Transit Authority personnel as well as the subway’s passengers are portrayed as stereotypically New Yorkers, rough around the edges of various ethnicities.

The train’s passengers are represented as a row of assorted stereotypes including the wise-but-kvetchy Jew, the “fairy,” the Black pimp, the hysterical Hispanic woman, the disarrayed mother who has no control over her children, the long haired hippie, the tough as nails whore and the clueless drunk who sleeps through the whole nightmare. What comes off with this device is that the ordeal of the story is just an everyday occurrence on the New York City subway.

And these passengers are actually listed in the credits as The Maid, The Mother, The Homosexual, The Secretary, The Delivery Boy, The Salesman, The Hooker, The Old Jewish Man, The Older Son, The Spanish Woman, The Alcoholic (who sleeps through the entire seizure), The Pimp, Coed #1, Coed #2, The Hippie and The W.A.S.P. One of my complaints of seventies cinema — though it is one of my favorite sub-genres of cinema– is the inherent misogyny and easily permissive racism and homophobia.

Mr. Blue calmly informs them that they want one million dollars or they will execute one hostage for every minute they don’t receive the ransom.

Dick O’Neill’s gruffness is delivered fluently as he grunts over the microphone at Mr. Blue “Keep dreamin’ maniac!”

Walter Matthau, who is the master of owning any picture he’s in, throws out more hilarious one liners which brings the much needed levity to the nervous tension. That is not to say that Tom Pedi and Dick O’Neill veteran stage and character actors don’t supply their share of snarky New York witticisms.

While the commuting passengers are concentrating on getting to where they need to go, one at a time the four hijackers board the train. Mr. Blue (Robert Shaw who plays a very composed and menacing British Mercenary). Accompanying Mr. Blue is Mr. Green, the continually sneezing Martin Balsam (who was fired from the transit department as a motormen suspected of trafficking drugs in the train cars) Later Garber figures out that one of the hijackers must have knowledge of handling a train, “Somebody down there knows how to drive a train. You don’t pick that up watching Sesame Street.”

Mr. Green (Shaw) enters the conductors car and hold a gun on head motorman James Broderick. “I’m taking your train.”

They begin to set up their scheme. Hector Elizondo who plays Mr. Gray is a unstable psychopath whose  infantile outbursts and uncontrollable belligerence show him capable of violence at any given moment. “I’ll shoot your pee pee off.” Later on Mr. Green tells Mr. Blue that he doesn’t trust Mr. Grey (Hector Elizondo who is playing to type) and to keep an eye on Mr. Gray “I also think that he is mad. Why do you think they threw him out of the Mafia.”

Lastly Mr. Brown enters with a box for long stem roses. When the time comes, they pull out high powered automatic weapons and announce their plans to the horrified New Yorkers.

George Lee Miles as the pimp and Mr. Green (Robert Shaw) exchanging cutting remarks as commentary on the post Vietnam weariness and racism. “What’s wrong dude? Ain’t you never seen a sunset before?”

While the take over of Pelham One Two Three is underway, we are privy to the pressurized control room where the core of operations happens. Lt. Garber is showing a group of Japanese men who run the subway system in Tokyo, the works while throwing out wisecracks, “In the course of a normal work week, the average TA policemen deals with such crimes as robbery, assault, murder, drunkenness illness, vandalism, mishegas, abusiveness, sexual molestation, exhibitionism… “ means of mocking the four visiting Japanese executive’s assumed that they do not speak perfect English. Garber tells Rico- “Take these monkeys up to 13” Garber is enlightened after these very quietly polite men tell him that it was a most interesting tour.

The film boasts it’s built-in racism and visits it’s bias through a series of faux pas. Garber (Walter Matthau) has the privilege of his comedic traits can get away with lines as when he meets the Inspector Daniels who is black played by Julius Harris. Garber uncomfortable tells him, “I hadn’t realized you were… so tall.”

Kenneth McMillan veteran character actor adds his bellicose bluster to the film!

Of course there is also the prevalent acceptable and misguided jokes in 70s films wielding homophobia. As seen in 70s films for example, the psychopathic drag queen in Freebie and the Bean (1974) and the flaming hitchhikers in Vanishing Point (1971) Garber assures the undercover long haired hippie cop who’s been wounded and lying face down on the tracks, “We’ll have an ambulance here in not time, Miss.”

Along with his colleagues who assume they don’t speak English. Lt Rico ( Jerry Stiller ) adds his comedic genius for instance when he tells the executives, “we had a bomb scare in the Bronx yesterday, it turned out to be a cantaloupe!” 

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is not only a tight moving tribute to the implicit action films that emerged during the seventies, it is dominated by some of the best dialogue of that decade’s action/thriller genre.

Once the hijackers have taken control over the subway train the command center tries to raise them on the radio.

“How come that gate isn’t locked?” “Who’s gonna steal a subway car?”

Once the control center realizes that something is wrong, they watch on the computerized board that tracks all the trains. The four men have disconnected the last set of cars and released a group of passengers with the head motorman leaving the front car, the conductor and 18 passengers.

“For Jesus Christ’s Sake the dumb bastard is moving backwards.”

Meanwhile at the control center they see that the train has stopped between stations. “Well stopped is better than backwards.”

They inform the passengers, “what’s happening is you’re all being held by four very dangerous men with machine guns.”

What the control center sees is that Pelham has powered off their radio and jumped its load. Mr. Green’s nose begins it’s trail of sneezes and eventual Gesundheits which will become part of the plot’s shtick.

Mr. Blue (Robert Shaw) in his usual chillingly sober manner tells Garber “Your train has been taken.” He informs Garber of three essential points. 1) Pelham is in our control 2) We have automatic weapons and 3) We have no scruples about killing. One of the most central forces of the suspense is how Robert Shaw’s unwavering voice sounds so wickedly, deliciously deadpan when he takes up that microphone to talk to Walter Matthau.

They want $1,000,000 for the release of the passengers. Garber asks “Who am I speaking to?”

Blue stiffly tells him, “I’m the man who stole your train.”

The old Jewish passenger asks Mr. Blue “Excuse me sir what’s gonna happen if you don’t get what you want?” “Excuse me sir, we will get what we want.”

Earl Hindman as the more subdued Mr. Brown

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is a pragmatic depiction of inured and balsy New Yorkers at that time in the city. One of the passengers, the prostitute tells the hijackers, “What do you mean you’re hijacking the train! I have an important appointment.” 

Mr. Blue doing the crossword puzzle while making his deadly serious demands…

Mr. Gray “Hold it right there, cowboy!”

Caz Dolowicz “Who the fuck are you?”

Mr. Gray “Well you’ll find out if you take one more step!”

Caz Dolowicz “I’m warnin’ you, mister, that’s city property you’re fooling around with!

Mr. Gray “Well that’s too fucking bad!”

Caz Dolowicz Why didn’t you go grab a goddamn airplane like everybody else?”

Mr. Gray “Cause we’re afraid of flyin’! Now get back or I’ll shoot your goddam ass off!”

Caz Dolowicz “The hell with you, I’m comin’ on board!”

Mr. Gray “I warned ya, stupid!”

It is immediately after Mr. Green warns Mr. Blue that Mr. Gray is mad, that he opens fire on Caz Dolowicz. When Fat Caz (Tom Pedi) goes underground and tramples the tracks insisting to get aboard his train, crazy Mr. Gray opens up on him with his machine gun.

Nathan George (One Flew Over the Cukoo’s Nest (1975) as Ptl. James who is monitoring the siege down in the tunnel. Rico asks if Caz Dolowicz is dead. “Wouldn’t you be Lt.?”

Dick O’Neill as Frank Correll bellyaches throughout the entire film. He does not care that the subway is under siege. He is the epitome of the perceived typical attitudes of an older generation of New Yorkers who only see the hijacking as an inconvenience to him for keeping his trains scheduled on time. “Screw the goddamned passengers.”  “What do they expect for their lousy 35c – to live forever?!”

Garber hears Mr. Green sneeze and there begins the first Gesundheit” “Thank you” replies Mr. Green casually.

The mayor (Lee Wallace) laughably resembles Mayor Koch who wouldn’t become Mayor until 1978-1989, is portrayed as an incompetent bureaucrat surrounded by his nurse, tissues and a trudge of indecision, who needs advice from the real brains in Gracie Mansion his wife Doris Roberts.

Frank Correll (Dick O’Neill) tells Garber “You’re playing grab ass with a bunch of goddam pirates.”

Garber follows his hunch and has them start to go through the files for any motormen discharged for cause. In the meantime, they are told to restore power, turn all signals green and remove all police from the tunnel. With all the details worked out and going their way, Garber figures they also have a plan to make their escape out of the subway tunnels.

Everyone is baffled when Pelham starts to move too soon before Command Central has everything set up, and everyone in the control room keeps asking — who’s moving? Garber responds, “What’s the matter with everybody? How many hijacked trains we got around here, anyway?”

With the green lights on the train will be able to continue on without being stopped, and this doesn’t trouble Garber at first because he knows there is a safety catch involved referred to as “Dead Man’s Feature” which is a handle the train is equipped with in the event the motorman dies while driving the train and they need to come to a stop. Pelham stops below 18th street. They haven’t cleared the tracks yet. Garber orders cops at every point of the tunnel and exits. They figure that the four won’t be able to get off the train without being stopped. What they don’t know is that Mr. Green has constructed a make shift metal bar that acts as an arm to hold down the Dead Man’s Feature and while they sneak off by an exit in the Village the train and it’s passengers are now speeding out of control with all the green lights go and no way to stop it from heading toward a crash.

“No one’s on the breaks!” “There’s nobody driving the fucking train!”

My favorite, Martin Balsam as Mr. Green aka Harold Longman rolling in the cash…

This is your EverLovin’ Joey saying hang on to your seats and stay tuned for Part 3 !

Postcards from Shadowland Halloween 2019

Quote of the Day! The Accused (1949)

Loretta Young plays Wilma Tuttle, a charming yet slightly repressed psychology professor, who after allowing one of her aggressively sleazy students Bill Perry (Douglas Dick) to drive her home, kills him in self-defense after he attempts to rape her. Wilma in a panic tries to cover up her sympathetic crime. Director William Dieterle creates a taut little psychological coil that unwinds as homicide detective Lt. Ted Dorgan (Wendell Corey) tries to solve the murder while tossing out the sharp edged lines. The investigation causes great angst for Wilma with Young’s inner monologues regaling us of her guilty conscience, amidst her budding romance with Warren Ford (Robert Cummins). The film co-stars Sam Jaffe as Dr. Romley.

Wendell Corey as Lt. Ted Dorgan-“You know sometimes I wish there were two of me. We generally do work in pairs. The idea being that one could be mean, the other one nice.

In my next life I’m gonna be a minister. Never have to pick on anybody but the devil.”

This is your EverLovin’ Joey saying sometimes I wish there were two of me, so I could get more done!

 

Quote of the Day! Shadow of a Doubt (1943) “I brought you nightmares!”

SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943)

 

Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten)-to Teresa Wright (Charlie Newton)

“You think you know something, don’t you? You think you’re the clever little girl who knows something. There’s so much you don’t know… so much. What do you know really? You’re just an ordinary little girl living in an ordinary little town. You wake up every morning of your life and you know perfectly well that there’s nothing in the world to trouble you. You go though your ordinary little day and at night you sleep your untroubled, ordinary little sleep filled with peaceful, stupid dreams… and I brought you nightmares.”

Your EverLovin Joey saying there’s not a shadow of a doubt that I’ll be back with a more indepth look at Hitchcock’s masterpiece of psychological terror!

Playground of Dark Dreams: The Nightmare World of Dante Tomaselli

“All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.”

― Edgar Allan Poe

“Among contemporary filmmakers, Dante Tomaselli stands out as Roger Corman’s most direct heir, as his cheaply made cinematic tales of terror rely on stylized set pieces to produce creepy atmosphere.” 

André Loiselle, Theatricality in the Horror Film (Anthem Press) 

“I’m on fire to transcribe my nightmares through cinema and music. After creating four films and four instrumental albums, I’m pregnant with The Doll, my next horror picture and it’s clawing at my insides. The upcoming horror shocker concerns a haunting at a family owned wax museum in Salem. Co-writer Michael Gingold and I recently completed the screenplay and had a couple of false start-ups, like all my films have had – but I’m very close now to securing the proper funding. As a cult filmmaker, I don’t go to Hollywood for my financing. I live in a world where independent films are funded through private investors. It’s an unstable realm for sure and I plan to get to the point where I can fund my own films as well as other independent filmmaker’s works. As with all my projects, I’m purchasing and acquiring some of the special fx and props before actual official pre-production. Right now I’m working with a sculptor, Jason Bakutis, on the the doll itself…An antique porcelain doll. Jason created the eerie ancient tribal mask that Jimmy, the lead character wore in my last film, Torture Chamber. My projects may take years to mount but I’ve learned that if my intentions are pure and I visualize the film and soundtrack enough the universe has no choice but to open the gate. It’s just a matter of alignment. Every one of my films has been a struggle to create and if I would have given up then there would be no DESECRATION, no HORROR, no SATAN’S PLAYGROUND or TORTURE CHAMBER. I see THE DOLL looming when my eyes are open…or shut. The film is always projected like slides in my inner eye. Not to mention, the sounds…I tend to plan my actual soundtracks before filming. I did it on every one of my films. The sound…first. Which I guess makes sense since I have sound-color synesthesia. When I was younger and the very loud school alarm would go off – I’d see little grey spirals, like mini tornadoes, every time. The sound induced the patterns, the visuals. One time I saw what looked like three giant dragonflies hovering over the side of my house. There was bombing going on in the neighborhood and the explosive sound produced these strange blobs of color. I thought they were real flying giant-sized insects and I remembering running in terror. The sound of rain…I don’t need to see rain, just hear it…and it’s involuntary…I see little fiber optic dots, floating specks of light.” —Dante Tomaselli

I first stumbled onto Dante Tomaselli’s work when I purchased a VHS copy of Desecration from one of the oldest video rental houses in Madison Wisconsin, known for their extensive collection in Indie, obscure and art house films. I was struck by the artwork on the cover and the story seemed fascinating to me since I’m a classic horror film nut who will always remain faithful to the sacred classical horror genre style from Mid 80’s all the way back to the Silent Era.

One of the many things that strikes me about Dante Tomaselli’s work– is the Nightmarish Beauty that feels vintage. The Hallucinatory, Religio/Horror style is how he manages to create a perfect sense of place in his film’s surroundings, that is not only otherworldly in ordinary spaces but also possess a throw back to earliest horror films without being derivative.

There is a reminiscent atmosphere of older films as if he’s found a conduit to the good old days and his own appreciation for the classical style of horror film-making in his own work and succeeds in adapting it with an original flare on screen. The effective and evocative sound design is also something that creates another layer to Tomaselli’s films. Even the sets are meticulous, Tomaselli has a grasp of how to set the scene that hints at another time period. This is also what makes Tomaselli’s films more frightening than most contemporary horrors. Satan’s Playground truly has the authentic feel of a late 70s early 80s classic horror film, I mean he used a wood paneled station-wagon in Satan’s Playground, it doesn’t get better than that! not to mention his eye for casting special actors that fit his characters perfectly. The same goes for all of his other three feature films, Desecration, Horror and Torture Chamber.

In particular I have come to adore Irma St. Paule who sadly passed away in 2007. Irma has presence. She added something special to Desecration 1999 as Grandma Matilda and as the wicked Mrs. Leeds she was superbly macabre in Satan’s Playground 2006.

Dante Tomaselli has tapped into his primal dark spot, his id and found a way to connect the dots to the outer world. Upon re-watching all four of his feature films, I became reacquainted with some of the elements that drew me to his work in the first place. Tomaselli within all four works has created one continuous nightmare realm. A Möbius Trip of time and space. A string of interconnected events, interchangeable, with their own symbology and iconography. One connected journey with thematic threads that weave a familiar tapestry– painting the entire picture as a unified message, and an alternate realm that is woven together with pieces from the same puzzle. Hallucinatory, non-linear, surrealist, nihilistic, visceral, east coast Americana Gothic, a 70s vibe with raw simplicity, transcendental & primal horrors. There is a definitive pattern, a cyclical nihilist fate where none of the characters manage to survive their journey, their ordeal. There are no real protagonists, just puppets in a modern Greek tragedy.

Sound in Dante Tomaselli’s masterful works are extremely key to the aura of his work. He painstakingly sculpts each soundscapes that breathe, lo-fi undertows, waves and tones that shade the atmosphere along with his dynamic color palate. The use of color and lighting is also reminiscent of great horror films of the 1970s & 80s, I might add.

Tomaselli also prolongs his character’s sense of ‘outsider-ship’ The Outsider theme is also continuous throughout his work, in particular the gangs of children, forgotten and disaffected children, angry, having suffered at the hands of abuse and torture, they band together with their collective angst, as in Horror and Torture Chamber. While society is trying to cure them, or figure them out, or repress their identities, or force salvation on them –they are caught up in their private hell again and again.

And there is a perfect sense of place that Dante Tomaselli establishes in all his films…

As in the old abandoned house filmed in the Pine Barrens featured in Satan’s Playground, the simple woods, a place of the natural world becomes an almost unreal hellish domain. A rustic limbo-land. And what I’ve come to realize, but I must give first credit to my partner Wendy who watched this chilling film with me together once again, this haunted Halloween month is that Mrs. Leeds (Irma St. Paule) and her demented kinfolk don’t even really live in that broken down abandoned place.

She gets the sense that the house really is empty, it’s uninhabited for real. She figured that they only appear when someone comes knocking at the door. Then the hellish realm opens up and they materialize, like phantoms, like demons. And you know what! –I believe she’s right.

Because getting to know Dante Tomaselli’s work, means realizing that there are dimensions, levels of hell here on Earth. The creepy Leeds clan are just like the elusive Jersey Devil himself, swooping in and out of the picture to take people out of this life! Even as poor Sean Bruno falls into the hole in the ground (much like Bobby in Desecration-again revisiting common themes) it’s like he is being sucked out of life and down into the bowels of hell, or falling into ‘nowhere’. And one of the most striking observations for me was Tomaselli’s use of Trees… trees representing the ‘natural world’. which Dante and I will discuss further into this post. There are trees uses as figures, as the embodiment of an elemental force in each of his four films.

From Matthew Edwards essay The New Throwback: The FIlms of Dante Tomaselli “…watching Poltergeist, how many people would feel comfortable keeping a doll of a clown in their room? In both Desecration and Horror, Tomaselli likewise uses familiar objects, or childhood toys, as a means of driving conflicting emotions.”

There are many moments of recurring iconography throughout Dante Tomaselli’s four timorous mind-blowing works of art. ‘The Devouring Mother Archetype”-Christie Sanford who is fantastic continued her demon mother entity in Desecration’s respective sequel Torture Chamber. In all four films, Sanford’s incarnation displays this rabid motherhood, not only with the symbol of a little boy trapped in a cage and the religio-horror aspect but her character Judy’s maniacal abduction of Paula’s (Ellen Sandweiss) baby, Anthony in Satan’s Playground, and then her violent Folie à deux relationship with the vicious Reverend Salo Jr. (Vincent Lamberti) and their treatment of Grace in Horror.

There is the re-appearances of the goat (a symbol of arcane Gods & supernatural significance), boils (damnation from hell) boy size cages, used in Desecration as the badly abused Bobby is imprisoned in one in his dreams, as is Jimmy in Torture Chamber. The torture rack used in Horror is brought back in Torture Chamber once again, illustrative of the themes of agony and punishment. There is a dark swirling, gaping black vortex, a circular menacing field that not only appears in Satan’s Playground out in the dark sky in the night time woods and we see it once again in Torture Chamber inside the castle structure. There are invisible bogs, holes to nowhere that Danny Lopes continues to get sucked down into, in Desecration and then again in Satan’s Playground. And of course there is Atmo Royce’s incredible artwork that Tomaselli commissioned specifically for his films, that are significant to each story. Even the puzzle that Grandma Matilda (Irma St. Paule) works on at the dining room table in Desecration has a story to tell, it also contains the grassy oubliette that Danny Lopes falls into.

Dante makes the lower-budget work to his advantage. Films with vast amounts of surplus funds wind up having no soul, yet Dante Tomaselli manages to convey what’s in his head by staying close to the art of intuitive style and not by using big money shocks. He is not restricted at all, but stays true to his vision.

I see Dante Tomaselli’s work as uniquely his own imaginary / hallucinatory vision. Dante’s collective works are like little filmic exorcisms, for childhood fears. Where the danger surrounds anyone who is young, and the adults become the monsters. Where religion becomes the monster, and where fanaticism, repression and abuse, drives people toward possession, damnation, and inevitably to Hell, or a hellish nightmare world where there is no escape nor salvation.

Yet on a very Americana landscape, with a truly east coast American Gothic narrative due to the fixation on suburban Catholicism, with Medieval emblems, Italian east coast Catholicism and the ordinary American family, the fixture of the church as in Desecration , Catholic idols and statuettes of the virgin Mary, all surrounding childhood fears, perversion of religion, fanaticism and madness. This all seems to manifested into these surreal nightmarish paroxysms on screen.

I also see amidst the imagery…agony, fixation, rage, desire, craving, cruelty, revenge, frenzy, hysteria and desolation, and outsider-ship as the proponents of the narratives, in Desecration (1999) Horror (2003), Satan’s Playground (2006) and ultimately Torture Chamber (2013).

There’s an authentic American angst about ours sins swallowing us up and spitting us out into Hell. In Dante Tomaselli’s dream world, there exhibits a charismatic starkness, which exposes us down to a raw nerve and makes us feel closer to what might be a more straightforward Hell, than the depictions from classical paintings and literature.

it will continue to brand Tomaselli a hallucinatory auteur and broaden his landscape a bit more, but does not scale back on the schadenfreude emotional shivers and psychic acrobatics that his earlier works cause the viewer to go through, definitely me for sure.

Dante Tomaselli was born October 29, 1969, in Paterson, New Jersey- is an Italian-American horror screenwriter, director, and electronic score composer. He studied filmmaking at Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute and then transferred to the New York School of Visual Arts, receiving a B.F.A. degree in Advertising there. His first film was a 23 minute short, called Desecration which was screened at a variety of horror and mainstream film festivals.

Later on, Dante Tomaselli expanded his screenplay Desecration into a feature length film and in 1999, the film premiered to a SRO audience at the prestigious Fantafestival in Rome, Italy.

The release of Desecration (1999) on DVD by Image Entertainment was praised by reviewers for its unique vision for a independent horror production.

“I’m just this guy from New Jersey who has odd visions. I do have an obsession with replicating childhood nightmares, fears, anxieties. With my films, I’m trying to construct some kind of nightmare where we experience the protagonist’s damnation.”

It’s no wonder that he’s “just this guy from New Jersey with odd visions” and a life long supernatural / horror aficionado considering himself as a ‘supernaturalist, NOT a ‘satanist’, who also happens to be the cousin of film director Alfred Sole the director who brought us the edgy , cult Catholic themed horror favorite , Alice Sweet Alice (1976) which I loved the atmosphere of dread and that iconic clear mask of the killer, the yellow raincoat… The entire vibe is memorable.

Dante’s 2nd feature film, is Horror (2003) began it’s initial filming in January 2001 in Warwick upstate New York, which was Tomaselli’s first commercial success, and has maintained a wide release on DVD.  Tomaselli also has a keen eye for casting the right people for her work. In an interesting & quite nostalgic maneuver the film cast celebrity mentalist/magician, Kreskin who maintained notoriety as ‘Amazing’ in the 1970s! Dante Tomaselli’s Horror was released on DVD in the United States and Canada by Elite Entertainment.

Tomaselli then made Satan’s Playground (2005), It stars 70’s and early-80’s cult-horror icons Felissa Rose (Sleepaway Camp), Ellen Sandweiss (The Evil Dead), and Edwin Neal (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre). The film is set, and was filmed in, New Jersey’s infamous Pine Barrens Forest that truly has its own eerie mythology in real life.

In his fourth installment Dante Tomaselli released  Torture Chamber (2013) yet another of his nightmarish journeys exploring the imaginations of Hell and damnation. Torture Chamber had its World Premier at Sitges 2012 Festival in Spain.

Dante Tomaselli’s work is being featured in an excellent edited volume released by the outstanding publishing company McFarland — FILM OUT OF BOUNDS. There’s a chapter (pg. 112-125) titled: The New Throwback: The Films of Dante Tomaselli.

Twisted Visions: Interviews with Cult Horror Filmmakers by Matthew Edwards

From IMDb – About Dante Tomaselli’s musical compositions link below to his music company.

Dante’s Halloween Haunted Attraction

The director/composer’s first audio CD of electronic horror music, ”Scream in the Dark” (2014) was released by Elite Entertainment & MVD Audio January 14, 2014. Its follow-up, ”The Doll” (2014) described as “a ghoulish experiment in fear,” was released on CD and Digital download by Elite Entertainment & MVD Audio April 15, 2014. Tomaselli’s third dark ambient album, “Nightmare” was distributed by the same label January 13, 2015. TuneCore released his fourth and most successful dark electronic album, “Witches” March 24, 2017. Rue Morgue Magazine awarded Witches five skulls, “A meticulously crafted work…Tomaselli takes us on his most lurid sonic journey to date.” Rock! Shock! Pop! added, “Pulsing John Carpenter-esque keyboard work…Dante Tomaselli releases his fourth album of spooky soundtrack inspired instrumental music.” Videoscope Magazine’s music critic, Tim Ferrante stated, “All of Witches’ 13 tracks are praiseworthy…Each cut ignites theater-of-the-mind wonderment, fear and the spiritual world by deeply boring into the psyche…Tomaselli has produced a fiendish and furtive album for fans of ‘mood music’ of a different kind.” Dante Tomaselli’s Witches was nominated for Rue Morgue magazine 2017 album of the year.

Desecration (1999)

“You Will Burn in Hell!”

Written and directed by Dante Tomaselli. With cinematography by Brendan Flynt, film editing by Marcus Bonilla, Art direction by Michelle Lang, Production design by Michele La Rocca.

Stars Irma St. Paule ( 12 Monkeys 1995, Trees Lounge 1996, Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her 2000) as Grandma Matilda, Christie Sanford (Horror 2003, Satan’s Playground 2006, Winter of Frozen Dreams 2009, Torture Chamber 2013) as Sister Madeline / Mary Rullo, Danny Lopes as Bobby Rullo, Salvatore Paul Piro (Joe’s Apartment 1996, Sleepers 1996, Night Falls on Manhattan 1996, The Sopranos (199), Find Me Guilty 2006, Satan’s Playground 2006) as Mr. Rullo, Vincent Lamberti as Brother Nicolas, Maureen Tomaselli as Sister Rosemary, Gene Burke as Father O’Leary, Ruth Ray as Reverend Mother, Helen Palladino as Mrs. Cannizzaro the psychic, Nora Maher as Sister Rita, Mary Fassino as Sister Veronica.

Desecration is an eerie psychological chiller about a young 16 year old boy named Bobby Rullo played by Danny Lopes. It also stars Tomaselli regular Christie Sandford as Sister Madeline/ Mary Rullo (Bobby’s mother) Sandford brings a certain ‘arresting presence’ to both characters.

The setting for Desecration is appropriately placed at St. Anthony’s Catholic Boarding School-St. Anthony is the Patron Saint of the Lost. And Desecration is the story of one lost boy’s journey through Hell! The film winds around a non-linear movement and flashbacks with soundscapes that are striking.

Bobby Rullo (Danny Lopes) is an outsider, a loner. He is emotionally scarred by his mother’s sudden death. Christie Sanford, simultaneously plays Sister Madeline and Bobby’s mother Mary. The two women it could be said are one in the same, both are Bobby’s tormentors.

16 year old Bobby Rullo suffers from a repressive and outright abusive Catholic childhood. He seems lost within the emotional turbulence since the unexpected death of his mother when he was five. 11 years later, at his Catholic boarding  school, while playing with a radio controlled plane, it collides with Sister Madeline causing blunt force trauma to her head and killing her instantly on the grounds of the school. It is deemed an accident, but Bobby is failing school and he is told to pack his bags and go home. Bobby quietly utters- “Some people are blessed and others are just cursed.”

It is only after he inadvertently causes the death of the nun, that it unleashes a series of brutal and supernatural chain of events. As a premonition, at the opening of Desecration, during mass, sister Madeline can not get her candle to light, she runs out of the room seemingly afraid and ashamed, as the other nuns stare at her. There is an expression of shock and of dread on her face as she is not meant to be blessed, but as Bobby says, some people ‘are just cursed.’

Bobby begins his journey through Hell, where he sees visions of the dead nun and his dead mother. Bobby’s descent summons demons, and evokes powerful childhood nightmares and primal fears.

Desecration acts as a set piece for our childhood fears, and the overpowering influence of abuse, fanaticism and repression, which wreak havoc on our innocence. Desecration is in effect a film you experience from the inside out. You’re not supposed to make sense of it. There is no sense to one’s madness or one’s descent into a nether regions of Hell while the gates open wider. The dead sister Madeline who becomes more grotesque with time as she is book-ended by demon clowns who stand at the ‘gates’. She taunts Bobby with visions of her lurking about the grounds.

Bobby is also mistreated by Brother Nicolas (Vincent Lamberti who is quite intimidatingly sinister in this role and as Reverend Salo Jr. in Horror 2003 with his well chiseled fiendish grin) who manhandles him and slips him a Valium to relax, a queer thing to do as an elder figure of the church. Bobby asks him, “Can priests take Valium?” With a menacing tone he tells Bobby, “priests can do many things…” 

Bobby becomes groggy, he begins to hallucinate, as he looks at the painting of a nun, it morphs into a blurry face like sister Madeline who appears to the Reverend Mother out on the grounds, faceless, then the painting of the nun becomes an unearthly skull. The use of Atmo Royce’s paintings is perfection, as a pinion to the surrealism of the film.

Bobby begins to hear the voice of a priest, “No description can be adequately revealed to the gravity of God’s vengeance against the wicked…” The sins of the mother, not the father  are exacted on the children. The transformation of the nun painting becomes a skull as its final transformation, turns itself into a clown’s face.

Bobby wanders the halls in a daze, he gazes through the window of the classroom door and sees brother Nicolas’ eyes burn demonic as he turns to look at Bobby. Finally as he makes his way back to his room, lights a candle and says his prayers, he falls asleep and vines and dirt begin to envelop the room. The earth and the natural world are trying to swallow him up. He dreams of sister Madeline in her most frightening incarnation standing at the entrance of a gate, in between a set of demon clowns. Sister Madeline is now trapped in Hell and Hell is coming for Bobby. He is marked for damnation by the evils of the world.

Bobby has only one person he can trust and that is his dauntlessly pious Grandma Matilda who is wonderful in the role. Matilda’s devotion to her Catholic faith drives her forward to try and protect Bobby from his mother, her own daughter Mary who is haunting and terrorizing him from the grave. Grandma Matilda is part of the supernatural events that were triggered by his killing sister Madeline. Madeline is grotesque in death, but Bobby’s mother was an abusive monster in life, and how he processes the abuse he endured as a little boy is dreaming of her having locked him in a cage. Bobby’s father mentions how he’d come home and find his hands and feet tied to the playpen.

One of my favorite scenes in the film is where Grandma Matilda is putting together a strange puzzle that is an odd painting of trees in the woods, almost a primitive style artwork. There’s is one piece left to fill in and suddenly it becomes Bobby’s face as he is about to sink into a hole, another premonition of things to come. Grandma Matilda also discovers her daughters spirit in the house, “She’s a here (with an Italian accent, though Irma St. Paule is from the Ukraine, she does a wonderful job as an old world Italian Catholic) She’s a here!!!”

There is also a great sequence where Matilda wants to consult the psychic she plays Bingo with to help try and find Bobby who is missing. Mrs. Cannizzaro tells Matilda “I see a very deep hole” Matilda-“the hole in the puzzle” “Yes it is a puzzle” Matilda also asks if his mother Mary has him, Mrs. Cannizzaro is fearful of the energy she is picking up on, the psychic is afraid to proceed. Mrs. Cannizzaro tells Matilda “Your daughter is using him to escape” “Escape from what?” “From Hell!”

Bobby is run through a maze of physical persecutions and emotions. During biology class he sees the dead nun, drive up in a hearse and beckon to him to get in. Bobby hates confinement, he complains that there are no locks on his bedroom door at the school. We see a flashback or dream/nightmare sequences that he was kept in a large cage in his bedroom as a little boy. The room is filled out with creepy toys, clowns and an even creepier giant Humpty Dumpty doll and balloons and a hovering mother who reeks of inherent sadism and evil, as she is holding balloons and a bottle of formula while he is trapped in the cage crying.

It is a disturbing image as we see Bobby at 16 years old, lying in the fetal position in the cage, his mother splashing the baby formula all over him and cackling. When Bobby tells his Grandma that he had the worst dream about his mother again, and wants to know why there aren’t any photographs of her around the house. It is Bobby’s father who doesn’t want any pictures of his wife in the house! We hear Bobby’s father (Salvatore Paul Piro, who is fantastic as Bobby’s ill-tempered father) talk about his wife having had a breakdown after he was born and that “She was sick!”

While running in the woods, surrounded by trees, (trees which I’ve come to learn are very significant as a trope in all of Tomaselli’s films) he meets up with his friend Sean who suddenly falls into a hole. Bobby can hear unholy growling coming from the abyss. Or is it Bobby himself who has fallen in the hole?

There are moments of the right amount of gore, when sister Rita is looking through sister Madeline’s art portfolio, she sees the dead eyed nun outside the window, then the statue of the Virgin Mary falls off the shelf. Suddenly, sister Rita is attacked by a pair of shears, and she is literally stabbed to death, by these ordinary scissors that are animated by an unseen force, her wrists and limbs slashed and her throat stabbed. Perhaps this horrifying moment is as evocative as a moment from Lucio Fulci, yet Dante Tomaselli never cannibalizes other directors work, the mood is quite original and very much his vision. An abject sequence of fright that is startling, with each frame of Desecration a photo-play in classical horror. There is such a raw absence of adornment with Brendan Flynt’s cinematography which is alternatively balanced with the surrealism of the nightmarish sequences.

Desecration is not only Bobby’s journey through Hell, it encompasses everyone in his orbit. His grandma Matilda told him, “you were an angel Bobby” but is this enough to save him from being damned?

Horror (2003)

Written and directed by Dante Tomaselli, with music by Dante Tomaselli. Cinematography by Timothy Naylor, film editing Marcus Bonilla, Art direction by Maze Georges, production design by Jill Alexander, costume design by Nives Spaleta. And some amazing special effects, make up and evil pumpkin head puppetry by Monsters, Madmen and Mayhem Make-up Creations.

Horror stars Kreskin as Reverend Salo, Lizzy Mahon as Grace Salo, Danny Lopes (Desecration 1999, Satan’s Playground 2006, Torture Chamber 2013) as Luck, Vincent Lamberti (Desecration 1999) as Reverend Salo Jr., Christie Sanford (Desecration 1999, Satan’s Playground 2006, Torture Chamber 2013) as Mrs. Salo, Jessica Pagan as Marisa, Raine Brown as Amanda, Kevin Kenny as Kevin, Chris Farabaugh as Fred, and Felissa Rose (Sleepaway Camp 1983) as the Art Therapist.

Horror (2003), utilizes some of the same imagery as Desecration, in fact Danny Lopes plays one of the characters, a troubled delinquent teenage drug user named Luck.

Horror, is a visually striking masterpiece of well–horror, about a group of runaway teens who escape from a drug rehab facility. Luck (Danny Lopes) shoots and kills the guard and takes his gun and a huge bag of candy and magic mushrooms which the van of teenagers proceed to partake in on their way to the Salo farm. In another nightmarish odyssey the teens encounter demonic forces at the rural family farmhouse owned by two sadists who imprison their daughter Grace, inject her with drugs to keep her compliant. Reverend Salo Jr is a phony preacher and faith healer and possibly the pair are murderers who run an odd religious cult.

Like so many of the scenes in Horror, there is another powerful sequence where Grace is looking out her bedroom window at her father holding one of his fire and brimstone sermons in the snow, during the cold white light of day, while people with crutches and boils are gathered round in a circle. Her father looks up and points at her, and that singular moment sends shivers up my spine. Lamberti is absolutely menacing as Revernd Salo Jr. And while the scene takes place in broad daylight, there is a feeling of claustrophobic terror and dread because Grace is truly trapped.

There is a hint that they might have even abducted Grace (she finds a strange scrapbook of pictures, one with a little girls legs sticking out of a bag, I think that’s the impression I got), who are these people, are they the Salo’s victims and are these photos trophies?)

And are they keeping Grace drugged so that she will not remember her past before she was abducted. The opening scene illustrates a form of abduction, as she is knocked out and brought back into the house. I also consider the fact that her Grandfather who was a mentalist and could hypnotize people, bending their will to his might have played a part in her captivity. Did Reverend Salo Sr. brainwash her into believing that they were family? Grace seems to have a psychic connection to her Grandfather, but is that because he has imposed his will on her consciousness.

There are flashback sequences of the Amazing Kreskin performing his mentalist act, the presence of this nostalgic celebrity adds another vintage sensation that we’re watching an authentic older horror film from the 1970s decade.

From the starling opening of Horror, Grace is stringing Christmas lights up on the front of the quaint little house, when she is accidentally shocked by a live wire and burns her hand, and as she comes down the ladder, she is struck by a dark figure who puts her in a body bag, throws her over his shoulder and dumps her on a bed like a rag doll, while her mother (Christie Sanford) laughs with a streak of cruelty. Her abductor we come to learn is the Reverend Salo Jr. her own father. The scene is chilling and brutal in it’s old fashioned simplicity. Again, Dante Tomaselli manages to bring me back to that eerie & uncanny sensation you get when watching a good 70s horror flick.

My first impression of this sadistic couple and Salo Sr (Kreskin) was the name that instantly made me think of the nightmarish fascist torture film Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975) directed by Pasolini. I asked Dante if my association was correct and this is what Dante told me-I was looking for a name that conjured depravity and Salo matched the vibration of the characters” (Reverend Salo – (Kreskin) and Reverend Salo Jr. – Vincent Lamberti)

After the opening where the pale and melancholy Grace (Lizzy Mahon) is attacked by her father and back inside the house and injected with a hypodermic to keep her submissive because she is acting up again (meaning –being independent of their will only by leaving the house and decorating for Christmas), eventually the teenagers who have escaped cross paths with Grace and the terrifying circumstances at the farmhouse intersect.

There is the presence of a black goat who is fixated on Grace, coming into the house and gazing at her. There is also a goat headed hooded figure in the woods that attacks one of the teenagers, yet another chilling scene.

The two disturbing narratives begin to integrate into one converging nightmare. The teens had escaped with the promise that Reverend Salo Jr would lead them and its the beginning of a new life, while handing out magic mushrooms in their shopping bag of goodies and a pamphlet from the Reverend with words that say- the End is near, Famine and the Anti-Christ.

While the teens are tripping out on hallucinatory drugs, we are getting images of the abuse Grace has been subjected to, and the collection of cult followers who are ravaged by boils and become almost zombie like. In fact, the teens, Luck Amanda, Marissa, Fred and Chris succumb to their own nightmare out in the woods, surrounded by violent visions, drug induced or supernatural forces at work both are simultaneously true.

Once in the farmhouse the violence continues, and Grace has a vision of the painting of her Grandfather Reverend Salo Sr (the amazing Kreskin) morphing into a frightening visage, as she discovers a hidden room in the attic with church candles and an Iron Maiden! Is she hallucinating from the drugs or was this where she was subjected to a medieval style torture –we see her being stretched on a rack, screaming in pain until she passes out. The rack will be seen once again in Torture Chamber (2013). The duplicity of religious fanaticism and hidden sadism and child abuse is ever present in Horror.

Again Atmo’s artwork plays a stunning visual role in the film. The painting in Grace’s room morphs into a savage visage of Grandfather Salo The Reverend Sr. The use of paintings that metamorphose into horrible versions of their former image puts me in mind of the Pilot episode of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, in the first installment the wicked and murderously greedy Roddy McDowall kills his wealthy uncle (George Macready) and is then plagued by the painting that keeps changing to show his uncle climbing out of his grave and pounding at the front door of the estate, coming back in death to claim his revenge on his murderous bastard nephew. It’s one of my favorite episodes of the series.

Horror is an atmospheric & disorienting chiller, another hallucinatory journey that coils around you like a snake head devouring it’s own tail–where it begins and where it ends is like any nightmare, where reality melts into horror and is as visually frightening as nightmare one can have.

Satan’s Playground (2006)

Written and directed by Dante Tomaselli. Cinematography by Tim Naylor, Music by Dante Tomaselli, Bill Lacey and Kenneth Lampl. Film editing by Marcus Bonilla and Egon Kirincic, Art direction by Pete Zumba, Costume Design by Erika Goyzueta.

on the set of Satan’s Playground

Stars Felissa Rose as Donna Bruno, Salvatore Paul Piro as Frank Bruno, Danny Lopes as Sean Bruno, Ellen Sandweiss (The Evil Dead 1981) as Paula, Irma St. Paule as Mrs. Leeds, Edwin Neal (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 1974) as Leeds boy, Christie Sanford as Judy Leeds, Ron Milkie as Officer Peters, Robert T. Zappalorti as cop/camper, Chris Farabaugh as stoner, Raine Brown as prostitute, Garth Johnson as Red Hooded man, Jesse Hodges as Lost Teen, Maureen Tomaselli as reporter, Emily Spectre as nurse, Paul LeRoy as truck drive/worshiper, Michael Ryan as the whipping boy and a slew of worshipers.

“SATAN’S PLAYGROUND is a supernatural shocker chronicling a family’s spine-tingling odyssey in New Jersey’s legendary Pine Barrens region. En route to a wilderness camping retreat, their car inexplicably breaks down. As darkness falls, panic sets in. Then the marooned family stumbles upon an ancient and seemingly abandoned house. And it is here that they meet the bizarre Mrs. Leeds who lives there with her equally unhinged children. Offering no assistance, she warns of a violent, unseen force lurking in the forbidding countryside. Soon, the family will encounter a supernatural evil older than the woods themselves. SATAN’S PLAYGROUND…a place where deadly myth becomes gruesome reality.”– review by LDMediaCorp

Satan’s Playground has the true feel of the late 70s early 80s, exuding an Americana Gothic atmosphere with the backwoods, the netherworld of the Pine Barrens that cinematographer Tim Naylor creates with Dante Tomaselli at the helm. The sense of isolation and dread taps into all those primal fears of strange and unmerciful families that are outliers in society who kill people as part of their family routine, as ordinary as doing the chores.

This theme as always worked in films like Tobe Hooper’s dark adult fairy tale about a cannibalistic family in  The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), John Hough’s repressed, isolated murderous religious fanatics portrayed to the hilt by Rod Steiger and Yvonne De Carlo in American Gothic (1987), or even a cult favorite of mine, about a psychotic family of outliers in Spider Baby (1967)

Satan’s Playground is as dark as a Grimm’s Fairy Tale… and perhaps my favorite of Dante Tomaselli’s films.

What is so frightening is that families like The Leeds seem to be able to circumvent the law and social morays for long periods of time, as primitive as rabid animals who kill with a blood lust and not merely for survival. Added to this is the mythology of the Jersey Devil who has haunted our nightmares from the Pine Barrens for decades. He lurks and preys on random characters in the film, who are unlucky enough to be out in the woods, swooping down and slashing them to death or carrying them off to some hidden lair. The flapping of it’s wings are present in Satan’s Playground, while the hooded Satanists who are seen whipping their human sacrifice seem to be the least of the dangers in the story.

The story, chronicles another nightmare journey of a dysfunctional family who are headed through the Pine Barrens to enjoy a family camping trip. En route to the wilderness of the wooded nether regions Donna Bruno (Felissa Rose) her husband Frank who keeps falling asleep at the wheel (Salvatore Paul Piro) their autistic son Sean (Danny Lopes) Paula (Ellen Sandweiss) and her new born baby Anthony, break down when their wood paneled station wagon gets stuck in the mud.

Paula hears the flapping of wings, but it’s Sean who seems to have the hyper awareness that something isn’t quite right, he has a keener senses about his surroundings, trying to point toward the danger, with no one paying attention to him, because the other members of the family are too busy airing their frustrations. As darkness falls, panic sets in and the need to seek help sends each one out into the night.

As each one goes looking for help, they stumble upon an abandoned house, boarded up and in obvious decrepitude yet each family member knocks on the door looking to use a phone. Satan’s Playground has the feel of a macabre fairy tale of hapless victims wandering into dangerous spaces, at the mercy of an evil in its most pure form.

Mrs. Leeds (Irma St. Paule not the kindly Grandma she once played but in the role as a most wicked witch) opens the door.

Right from the moment we enter the strange house, the layout tells us there is something off kilter. The atmosphere is claustrophobic, the set design works incredibly well. It is here that each Bruno family member, one by one meets the otherworldly crone and the bizarre Leeds family. Mrs. Leeds boasts of her 13 children some who have died young, the rest worthless or developmentally disabled. She lives with her two unhinged children, the twisted Judy (Christie Sanford) who is mute and her son (Edwin Neal) who is also a violent psychopath.

Mrs. Leeds does fortunes to make money, or so she says. She offers no assistance and stalls while each Bruno keeps asking to use her phone. Mrs. Leeds warns of the violent unseen forces lurking in the forbidding countryside, not to mention the Satan worshipers. As she offers tea that is laced with some kind of drug, each one is knocked off by Judy who uses a large mallet or meat tenderizer. to brain her victims. Judy steals little Anthony, another childhood fear –of fiends coming in the night to steal children from their safe place. In Satan’s Playground there is no safe place.

The Bruno family comes face to face with inherent evil perhaps older than the woods, where they each face their own gruesome end. Does Mrs. Leeds even really exist in this world and is her 13th child, the Jersey Devil?

Torture Chamber (2013)

Written and directed by Dante Tomaselli. Music by Dante Tomaselli, Kenneth Lampl and Allison Piccioni. Cinematography by Tim Naylor, Art design by Ian Salter, Costume design by Lisa Faibish

Torture Chamber stars Vincent Pastore (‘Big Pussy’ Bonpensiero in The Sopranos 1999-2007) as Dr. Fiore, Christie Sanford as Mrs. Morgan, Lynn Lowry (The Crazies 1973, They Came from Within 1975) as Lisa Moreno, Ron Millkie as Dr. Thompson, Carmen LoPorto as Jimmy Morgan, Richard D. Busser as Father Mark Morgan, Ellie Pettit as Heather, Raine Brown as Hope, and Danny Lopes as Ralph.

from Out of Bounds: “… a restrictive moral, a kind of reactionary “medieval’ Christian vision du monde sneaks in. And is truly frightening.”

In Torture Chamber the story is revealed through a series of dreams, flashbacks and hallucinations. Its about a metaphysical bond between a mother and her two sons.

There are Medieval emblems like Christian statues, the Iron Maiden in Horror and the Rack in both Horror and Torture Chamber.

From Horror Movies.ca Torture Chamber is about a 13-year-old boy possessed by unspeakable evil. It’s probably the first serious independent horror film in a long time that’s in the vein of The Exorcist. The demon is called Baalberith, which, if you believe in demonology, tempts its host to blasphemy and murder,” he told the site. “Jimmy Morgan is a pyromaniac, horribly disfigured from experimentation with drugs. This Catholic boy’s family is crawling with religious fanatics. His mother believes he was sent from the Devil to set the world on fire. His older brother is a priest who tries to exorcise him. When Jimmy murders his own father, he burns him to death. Because of this, the troubled boy is sent to an Institution for disturbed youths. While there, Jimmy has a Charles Manson-like hold on the other kids from the burn unit. Together, they escape and Jimmy finds an old abandoned castle for shelter. That’s where the burned kids find a secret passage way that leads to a medieval, cobwebbed torture chamber.

Jimmy is a young boy who is a burn victim, badly abused by his fanatical religion mother (Christie Sanford) who in order to drive out his evil, subjects him to exorcism by his older brother who is a priest. When Jimmy escapes from the institution with other children who are burn victims, he wreaks revenge on his persecutors who then become the persecuted. Jimmy and his companions are a band of outliers to are hell bent on torturing their victims. Lynn Lowry as Lisa Marino who experiences her nightmares in flashback is a treat to watch, I’ve been a fan of hers since I saw her performances in Romero’s The Crazies (1973), the outre bizarre Sugar Cookies (1973) co-starring cult favorite Mary Woronov and Cronenberg’s They Came From Within (1975).

Again, Dante Tomaselli’s film is non-linear, surrealist, nihilistic , hallucinatory, the soundscapes are footprints that lead you to the torture chamber. It’s a visceral and disturbing journey of a young boys retribution. A Gothic, transcendental horror as is Dante Tomaselli’s  Desecration. Dante Tomaselli collection of films create a frightening world as he purges his scorn for religious fanaticism and hypocrisy.

Atmo Royce’s brilliant paintings from Torture Chamber (2013)

My conversation with Dante Tomaselli!

Joey – “I’ve seen TREES in all your films. They are a fabric of each film throughout each piece, trees seem to be very significant to you. Do they represent “a natural force”? and ‘elemental’ forces that go with the supernatural overtones…”

Dante Tomaselli-  “Yes, I purposely place trees…woods in every single one of my films. I think trees are beautiful beings and I can stare at them endlessly. I do see these entities as sacred and elemental forces…rooted in the earth itself. Whenever I’m scouting woods locations for my films, I walk around in a trance and try to find the trees that seem to be calling out to me. The different personalities…textures…energies…Landscapes are real important to me…I like for the atmosphere to dominate. The Tree of Life twists…what gave life now takes it away. When I was growing up I would go deep into the woods and get myself lost. Where I lived in New Jersey there were endless woods in my backyard and I’d spend many hours out there alone with time just dissolving. I’d let my imagination run free and fantasize all kinds of sadistic and surreal landscapes and horror scenes. Sometimes on these excursions I feared I would disappear and never return.  The trees were my refuge and represented safety and protection but at times, mainly in the dark, the same exact trees could be supremely frightening…their faces, energy…It’s chilling…a forest transformed into a place of evil…It goes against nature. That’s why that scene of evil woods in Wizard of Oz is so effective. You know, when I saw the trees come alive in The Evil Dead in theaters in 1983 when I was 13, it really pushed a button.  And to have Ellen Sandweiss, who endured the ultimate scary trees… starring in one of my films – well…I’ve come full circle.  For sure, in my independent movies I try to portray the woods as teeming with supernatural menace. In HORROR the woods were harboring the living dead or hypnotized souls…There are Satanists lurking in the Pine Barrens of Satan’s Playground, not to mention an invisible flying demon and…deadly quicksand. Torture Chamber’s abandoned castle was surrounded by whispering woods and there’s a burning gift leading to a glowing red hole to hell in the woods of Desecration.”  

Joey- “Sound is one THE most significant enticements in your films. I’m wondering about the use of ARTWORK, not just Atmo’s incredible paintings but artwork as Symbolism. Desecration and Horror used his paintings. But there was also Irma’s puzzle in Desecration, in Torture Chamber there was the tribal MASK and even in Satan’s Playground there was the painting of the goat. I’m sure there are more hints of this, but these stand out. What is the greater gist of why these elements were so substantial in your work?”

Dante Tomaselli- “I like to paint with sound. I like glacial, pristine sounds mixed with low throbbing tones. The music is 50% of the film’s equation and even when I’m sculpting a song on an album like Scream in the Dark, where I was going for an amusement park Funhouse, dark ride vibe, I aways wanted the soundscapes to depict the vision that I experienced in my mind.  I have to see something in order to score it. If I’m dry then there’s nothing at all but if the images are flowing then I’m fanatical about facilitating or scoring the vision. You can hear me cackling like a witch, that’s my own voice with no effects…in the first section of Dark Night of the Soul. To me, that track conjures the image of a violent storm cloud looming.  It’s all about regret…guilt. Someone did something deeply wrong…and now there’s the fear of what’s coming next. 

The paintings by artist Atmo Royce were commissioned by me. The images were straight from my screenplay, my imagination. I wanted a stern nun, a blurred nun, a skull nun and a clown nun. I wanted the images to have a Tarot card-like feel. They were to represent the desecration of religion…the hypocrisy, the flip side of faith where evil is cloaked in religion. Atmo Royce, who now lives in Germany also painted the changing preacher portraits for Horror which had a similar idea. I had an entirely different artist illustrate the changing pope portraits for Torture Chamber where Vincent Pastore is hallucinating while staring at a portrait of the pope in a homeless shelter. The painting by Mark Jones, commissioned by me, actually it’s pastel…it morphs into a grinning blood soaked character while we detect profane words on the crumbling walls. In all these cases, it’s about the Devil poking through. Evil winning.”

Joey- “Did you realize before hand or was it a natural progression to interweave identical symbols throughout each film. There are threads that connect all 4 films. There are sequences that re-haunt the next installment like one continuous dream. I will mention those in my piece, but I was curious if it evolved as each film opened up to you, or if this was something that was very purposeful before you even sat down to sketch out the framework of the films after Desecration?”

Dante Tomaselli- “I consciously set out to create an encompassing world of doom that is interchangeable from film to film; I see it as all one tapestry. I draw swirling mazes and I’m trying to construct a nightmare in which we experience the protagonist’s damnation. My films are never a celebration of violence. They’re really more about the sensitivity to violence. The confusion of being alive.”

SELECT REVIEWS OF DANTE TOMASELLI’S WORK

BLOODY DISGUSTING REVIEW OF TORTURE CHAMBER: DANTE TOMASELLI’S ‘TORTURE CHAMBER’ TAPS INTO ANCIENT FEARS

BLOODY DISGUSTING:DANTE TOMASELLI’S TORTURE CHAMBER REACHES THE SHORE LINE by Evan Dickson

FANGORIA REVIEW OF TORTURE CHAMBER BY CHRIS ALEXANDER

HORRORFUEL REVIEW of DESECRATION-BLU-RAY

Review of Torture Chamber by Troy Howarth, author of The Haunted World of Mario Bava

Review of Torture Chamber -Justin R. Lafleur, Icons of Fright and

Desecration by Dvdverdict.co, plus Chris Alexander of Fangoria

Review of Satan’s Playground -Variety Magazine & Horror by John

Fallon of JoBlo.com

Review of Horror by Scott Wienberg, eFilmCritic.com and

Review of Desecration by Sean Abley at Chiller

Reviews of Desecration by Steve Puchalski, Sci-Fi Magazine &

Chas Balun, Deep Red Magazine

Review of Horror by Dennis Harvey, Variety Magazine &

Rob Galluzzo, Blumhouse.com

Review of Satan’s Playground by Jeremiah Kipp of Slant Mag

Review of Satan’s Playground by BeyondHollywood.com

from KINO LORBER REVIEW DESECRATION (SPECIAL EDITION ) RELEASE ON BLU-RAY

“A Code Red Release – One of the most original horror films in recent years, Desecration is an eerily dazzling and genuinely frightening psychological chiller about a beyond the grave relationship between a teenage boy and his long dead mother. Bobby, a 16-year-old loner, has been emotionally damaged by his mother’s early death and a repressive Catholic upbringing. The boy accidentally causes a nun’s death, triggering a chain of supernatural events and violent mayhem that leads Bobby into Hell to confront his mother. Powerful childhood demons are exorcised and unleashed as the gates of Hell open in this gripping, hallucinatory film. First-time feature film writer/director Dante Tomaselli has created an incredibly atmospheric and terrorizing film that he has described as “being in the psychedelic fun house.” With its mist-shrouded ambience, photography and trance-like soundtrack, the film, almost subliminally, creates an unsettling mood that crawls beneath the skin. A sensational young talent, Tomaselli has taken the horror genre in a new and exciting direction.”

IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT-DESECRATION

ANCHOR BAY ENTERTAINMENT FOR SATAN’S PLAYGROUND

The remake of cousin Alfred Sole’s beloved 70s horror masterpiece ALICE SWEET ALICE remains in development for now Dante is more focused on his upcoming feature  THE DOLL which is about a violent haunting at a family owned wax museum.

“I am planning an Alice, Sweet Alice re-imagining with my cousin (Alfred Sole). I am so completely focused on my next film, THE DOLL – which has a low budget ($500, 000)”

Hae Ree Choi is the illustrator on each of Dante Tomaselli’s albums!

SCREAM IN THE DARK (2014) Elite Entertainment

THE DOLL (2014) Elite Entertainment

NIGHTMARE (2015) Elite Entertainment

FANGORIA “NIGHTMARE SOUNDS” article by Tyler Doupé

WITCHES (2017) TuneCore

PERSONAL QUOTES

I am not a Satanist. I am a Supernaturalist!
I know my films reflect the fear of the end of the world or the end of my world.
I’d see multicolored streaks in the atmosphere. And I didn’t do drugs. Sometimes I could see sounds. They were different colors. I could taste color and touch sound.
I love performers from horror classics; I can’t help myself. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve been given the opportunity to work with actors from landmark horror films. The trend needs to continue with me…and the possibilities are endless. Jamie Lee Curtis, can you hear me?
It’s ambient filmmaking…told through a series of dreams, flashbacks and hallucinations. I was going for something completely out-there…not censoring myself…allowing my imagination to run wild.
I think I pulled the images from the dark pit of my childhood, my nightmares. Growing up, I had so many nightmares and was always wondering if what was happening was actually true. Or was it a dream? I didn’t use drugs. I know…that’s a shock. If anything, I was repressed and probably needed drugs to open me up. Everything I kept bottled up in the day would explode out of me at night. All of the negative debris of the day…it would all come popping up, so strongly in my nightmares.
I guess it has something to do with how I grew up, my background being Italian American and having two very religious grandmothers. But, really…I just think organized religion is a very scary thing. It gives me a feeling of paranoia. One group against another, thinking the other one is wrong and they are better, holier. Religion causes wars. It has a dark force that can’t be denied. Also, as you know, my cousin, Alfred Sole, directed “Alice, Sweet Alice,” the infamous Catholic slasher. I saw it at a very early age and it is forever embedded in my psyche.
In 1975, I was 5. In 83, I was 13. So, I got to see all these great horror movies, the golden age of true horror, while I was a little kid growing up. It was an incredible time to be a horror fanatic. I was like the boy in Romero’s Creepshow. My mother actually took me to see these 70’s, early 80’s movies because she knew how much I loved them. She enjoyed horror films too, actually. I’d cut out Ads from the newspaper, for movies like…It Lives Again, Prophecy, Phantasm, Invasion of The Body Snatchers and just…stare at them. I was in love with all of this stuff from early on.
I starting writing it right around the end of 1999, when there was all that end-of-the-world talk going on. I wanted to harness that feeling…that we all could be predestined for a horrible, violent death. The idea that the threat of violence can strike at any moment.

FURTHER LINKS

Film Out of Bounds

http://www.fangoria.com/new/torture-chamber-movie-review/

http://www.beyondhollywood.com/torture-chamber-2013-movie-review/

http://www.mondo-digital.com/torturechamber.html

http://www.avmaniacs.com/blog/2014/new-reviews/troy-howarth/torture-chamber-dvd-review/

http://www.rockshockpop.com/forums/content.php?3583-Torture-Chamber

Torture Chamber (review): Available on Region 1 import

http://www.examiner.com/review/crawl-into-the-torture-chamber

http://aisleseat.com/torturechamber.htm

http://www.shocktillyoudrop.com/news/347435-movie-review-torture-chamber/

A link to Dante’s Music & Sound Design on Youtube

 

OGDENSBURG, NJ 06/04/2010 Dante Tomaselli on the set of “Torture Chamber,” a movie he is directing, at Sterling Hill Mining Museum. MICHAEL KARAS / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Thank You for sharing your thoughts with me, Happy Birthday Dante Tomaselli, I anxiously await your next wave of hallucinatory chills & your brilliant machinations come to life in vivid color!-May we find peace and transcendence through art, Love Joey

 

Saturday Nite Sublime -Tourist Trap (1979) “You’re so pretty, it’s a shame you have to die!”

TOURIST TRAP (1979)

“You’re so pretty it’s a shame you have to die, it will be quick, but it won’t be easy. You’ll die of fright”

Tourist Trap (1979) A Charles Band Production. Written and directed by David Schmoeller, (Puppetmaster series) co-written by J. Larry Carroll, director of photography Nicholas von Sternberg, music by Pino Donaggio (Don’t Look Now 1973, Carrie 1976, Dressed to Kill 1980, The Howling 1981, Body Double 1984) Art direction by Robert A. Burns (who worked on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 1974, which like Tourist Trap also had minimal gore and no nudity), special effects by Richard O. Helmer and make-up by David Ayers, Robert A. Burns, Ken Horn, Ve Neill and and Karen Stern.

Stars Chuck Connors (The Rifleman, Soylent Green 1973, The Horror at 37, 000 ft. 1973, Nightmare in Badham County 1976 tv movie) as the creepy Mr. Slausen. Chuck Connors had actually sought out the part of Mr. Slausen stating that he wanted to be the Boris Karloff of the 1980s! It is a very good role for him indeed, as he is perfectly peculiarly menacing and off-beat.

Jocelyn Jones plays Molly-the virginal final girl who just happens to be the daughter of amazing character actor Henry Jones!

Jon Van Ness (The Hitcher 1986) as Jerry, Robins Sherwood (Death Wish II, Blow Out 1981) as Eileen, Tanya Roberts (Charlie’s Angels, Sheena:Queen of the Jungle 1984) as Becky, Dawn Jeffory as Tina, Keith McDermott as Woody, Shailar Coby as Davey and Albert Band and Linnea Quigley as Mannequins.

The reason I hold onto my VHS tapes (as sad and worn as they are), instead of buying the Blu-ray version with better quality and vivid colors, is unfortunately that the newer version is cut down making it a shorter version of the movie. I’ll wind up with the new release but I’ll never let go of my VHS unless it disintegrates into analogue dust and goo in the Rubbermaid container!

Tourist Trap with its sublime moments of terror will forever stay burned into my memory for its original brand of creepiness, partly due to the animated mannequins, the sense of isolation and dread and Pino Dinaggio’s enigmatic melodically robotic score incorporating ghost town saloon tinny piano sounds, and wind up toys, that drives the story perfectly! This to me is undoubtedly one of THE scariest films of the 1970s decade of horror. Not just the mannequins that play a factor in the level of freakiness, it’s the fact that the victims themselves get transformed somehow into mannequins themselves. Yes, they do, indeedy they do!

A group of young people driving in one of those jeeps called ‘the thing’ of the late 70s go for a trip out in the desert but of course as it is with all these pictures in order to set up the chilling story line, they must become stranded! Fortunately they break down by Slausen’s Lost Oasis, a tourist-trap museum run by the deranged Mr. Slausen, which is filled with a collection of remarkable automatons and life like-mannequins and some who are even gun slingers (you’ll find out)

These unusually menacing figures can not only move, they also possess the powers of telekinesis. Slausen (Connors who is effectively creepy in this macabre dark fairy tale about getting lost and winding up at the wrong house) might be the one who has the power to move objects at will, but either way, the film becomes a manic fun-house ride that is incredibly frightening as well as suffocating because they are trapped at the Lost Oasis. One by one, Slausen dispenses with the group except for Molly who has caught his eye, and animated his you know what, if you catch my drift. Actually, we get a little back story as Slausen tells Molly “you remind me of my wife.” whose likeness or life itself has been dedicated to wax in the museum.

The beauty of Tourist Trap is in it’s restraint to use violence or gore, it is intense, lurid, tacky and wonderfully 70s style horror.  It’s the moodiness of the surroundings and the idea that wax dummies are dangerous, not to mention the paraffin masks that Slausen & Davey wear that is wholly imaginative and injects something incredibly spine-tingling into the non-human atmosphere. With screaming mannequins, their grotesque mouths gaping open in a choir of falsetto!

Don’t expect to learn the deep dark secrets of the mannequins powers or whether Slausen and Davey are the same man as you’ll never see them together at the same time, and Shailar Cobey is credited as playing Davey. There just are no sign posts in this film, no clear explanation for any of the goings on, it is as ephemeral as a twisted dream. It is as I said, a Fun-house ride through creepy-ville. And Connors is spectacular as a hyper-sexual, lonely man-child who has too many toys to play with or I should say not enough living dolls. There are hints of House of Wax (1953) starring Vincent Price, though the narrative is different, the essence of what makes the story terrifying is the mania of the antagonist’s medium of sculpting wax over living bodies. Tourist Trap, is nightmarish, deliciously campy, disorienting, frightening and wickedly fun to watch as the mannequins invade the space, where there is no where else to run.

Eileen: “Mr. Slausen, can I use your phone?”

Mr. Slausen: “Oh sure, help yourself… but it doesn’t work. I got nobody to call.”

 

Davey: [deep, raspy voice] “We’re going to have a party!”

 

Davey: “My brother always makes me wear this stupid mask. Do you know why? Because I’m prettier than him.”

IMDb Trivia:

The script originally called for nudity, but Schmoeller said he was too bashful and embarrassed to bring it up with Tanya Roberts and the other actresses during casting. When they got to the lake scene, he finally asked them if they’d be willing. The collective answer was no.

Stephen King praised the film in his book Danse Macabre, especially its frightful opening scene.

Director David Schmoeller was startled when the film received a PG rating despite its disturbing subject matter. Schmoeller stated in an interview with TerrorTrap.com that he felt the film would have been more commercially successful had it received an R rating.

The mannequin who gives the female lead something to drink is actually Schmoeller’s then-wife. The mannequin originally had 2 lines, but Schmoeller had them edited out during post-production. She then never forgave him for that.

Tanya Roberts insisted on running through the woods barefoot in one scene. She thought it would help her better project a sense of pain and fear. The result was also that her feet were bloodied.

Pino Donaggio’s fee for composing the score was one sixth of the movie’s budget.

The plaster used in the death scene was actually dough.

Though the masked killer was called Davey, the production crew have since dubbed him “Plasterface”.

Tourist Trap was actually based on David Schmoeller’s senior film project at film school. (According to Schmoeller’s commentary on the 20th anniversary DVD)

Jon Van Ness did his own stunt when he jumps through the window.

Jocelyn Jones was a classically-trained actress, whereas Chuck Connors was self-taught. During filming, Connors would often ask Schmoeller why Jones would have to go through various routines before filming scenes (such as breathing exercises.) (According to Schmoeller’s commentary on the 20th anniversary DVD.) Shot in twenty-four days.

Irwin Yablans reportedly hated Pino Donaggio’s score for the film, as Yablans wanted another synthesized score in the same tradition as John Carpenter’s Halloween.

This is your EverLovin’ MonsterGirl saying If you happen to break down near a tourist trap anywhere USA, just wait for AAA!