By the time
I had the bright idea to start the drive-in
newsletter EXPLOITATION RETROSPECT in
1986, New York City's infamous area known
as The Deuce was experiencing death throes
that would result in dramatic changes
to the Times Square landscape. Tragic
as that development was, more tragic was
the passing of SLEAZOID EXPRESS, Bill
Landis's landmark 'zine/newsletter that
documented the area's cinematic scene
and characters. Begun as a one-page movie
review handout in the summer of 1980,
SE had grown into nothing less than an
indispensible guide to the sleaziest,
creepiest inner-workings of the city that
to 1999... with classic horror, Eurosleaze
and art house obscurities from the past
three decades receiving more attention
than ever thanks to companies like Something
Weird Video and the emergence of the DVD
format, sleaze fans were thrilled when
Landis revived SLEAZOID
EXPRESS with partner (and METASEX
editor) Michelle Clifford. Four hefty
issues of the publication followed (a
fifth is currently posted on their Web
site at www.sleazoidexpress.com), and
Simon & Schuster contacted the couple
about a long overdue SE book.
interview with Landis and Clifford was
conducted via e-mail prior to the publication
of the SLEAZOID
EXPRESS: A Mind-Twisting Tour Through
the Grindhouse Cinema of Times Square
(Fireside, available through amazon.com)
and why did the original SLEAZOID EXPRESS
come into existence?
BILL: I had
a Wall St. day job and between catching
every movie possible on the Deuce I hung
around a performance art space called
Club 57 - 57 St. Marks Place in the basement
of a Polish Church. It also had a bar
sans liquor license; typical of many clubs
in the late 70s/early 80s in NYC. I did
little performance art skits there, including
once playing Jim Jones giving out Kool
Aid to an audience tripping on acid.
in the summer of 1980 as a one-sheet biweekly
on a manual typewriter. It was the only
periodical that covered what played on
Times Square at that moment. It reviewed
what was playing that week, then I'd dash
it right to an offset printer, and it
would be given out as a freebie at bookstores,
record stores, and Club 57 - where me
and my friends really enjoyed this type
of film. People like Keith Haring, Kenny
Scharf, John Sex, Basquait, Scott Covert,
Beth & Scott B (I'm in their movie
VORTEX). These people encouraged me and
my passion for Times Square.
expanded into a four-page monthly (11"
x 17" paper folded over). That gave
more of the opportunity to delve into
the histories of different filmmakers,
distributors and genres. You'd have reviews
and perhaps one long in-depth story.
the years the zine progressed from horror
and Badfilm into the weird world of porn...
what's your cinematic jones these days?
BILL AND MICHELLE:
Horror movies weren't always classics
like LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT. The major
studios started the FRIDAY THE 13TH formula
and made a slew of slasher movies. Major
studios picked up indies for distribution,
exploitation companies followed it as
a trend - and by and large they were LOUSY.
And that's what SLEAZOID reported on -
what to avoid on The Deuce and what was
worthwhile. Or you'd get a horror slanted
campaign for a boring Italian gangster
movie. Incidentally, as expanded on in
the Sleazoid book, FRIDAY THE 13TH took
its whole template from Mario Bava's TWITCH
OF THE DEATH NERVE.
We never considered
a good exploitation movie "Badfilm."
Maybe unintentionally funny, but that
was part of the charm of movies like THE
CORPSE GRINDERS. There were some controversial
looks at the more offbeat porn films in
the latter issues of the first wave of
SLEAZOID. This current wave of SLEAZOID
doesn't go into porn. The current SLEAZOID
covers films that once played Times Square
as well as art film and the odd curiosity
of unknown film from the 1960's or 70's
that deserves merit, like the films that
played the deuce for a couple day run.
It does cover Eurosleaze, which can be
considered softcore. For example, there
was Issue #3, the "Summer of Sadism"
issue, which had a group discussion of
Pasolini's SALO by a variety of diverse
individuals, including Euro-porn director
Lasse Braun, myself, Michelle, video companies
that sold it or rented it in stores...
a look at Jacopetti's (director of MONDO
CANE and UNCLE TOM) unreleased in the
U.S.A. MONDO CANDIDO with full pics of
the torture chamber scenes... and a special
section on adaptations of De Sade. Including
the Keir Dullea velour one DE SADE that
AIP released, the superb Alice Arno star
turn as Justine in JUDTINE DE SADE (best
cinematic version of the book), and Jess
Franco's disappointing JUSTINE (DEADLY
SANCTUARY) with Romina Power playing Justine.
So the new format has not only permitted
more Euro films that didn't get a chance
to play The Deuce, it also honors time-tested
ones that were frequently replays, including
the bluntly S&M oriented SLAVES IN
CAGES and Jess Franco's BARBED WIRE DOLLS.
Jess Franco discovery, frequent star and
Eurosleaze queen Alice Arno is kinda the
SLEAZOID Marilyn Monroe she's the
topless gal holding the gun when you go
to the website at www.sleazoidexpress.com.
Alice is also well remembered in Franco's
LA COMPTESSE PERVERSE where she and husband
Howard Vernon make a practice of hunting
women they lure to their island
including Jesse's wife, Lina Romay. I
have appropriated Alice's photogenic image
SO many times in the magazine and on the
mag METASEX is ALL porn. METASEX features
such curious movies that played the most
severe grindhouses like the Venus, the
Eros, the Rialto.... movies like THE BIG
MAN (a truly psychedelic opus), FANTASTIC
SEX, Johnny Wadd movies... And it has
descriptions of the inner workings of
them. I got to know performers from just
being a kid and calling them up and meeting
them. Getting to know them. Although,
in the case of John Holmes I met him while
he was on the lam in Florida where I lived
and we were in traffic and I made the
mistake of flipping him the bird (not
knowing it was him in the car, I must
have been 16). He stopped his car on a
dime and got out with a face of murder.
I piped up "Sorry Mr Wadd! "
It just came out surly like that! Incredibly
he laughed and walked away. Others, like
Lasse Braun I met later. Jamie Gillis
I met when I was 20. I still know him
16 years later.
METASEX #2 there is a very long description
of how the notorious Avon Productions
came about: cast of characters included
director/auteur Phil Prince, Chelly Wilson,
Chelly's bewigged old queen henchman Phil
Todero (a former crooked DJ who skimmed
off her on the side).
our film tastes run all over from Deuce
to documentary, porno chic era porn, musicals,
old Hollywood offerings, even early vintage
cartoons (with baby sleazoid), so we see
publishing SE in 1985 at a time when there
was an explosion of exploitation movie
zines... what prompted you to stop publishing
at that time?
BILL: The Duece
closed and the "explosion of zines"
were copies of SLEAZOID. My heart was
broken when The Deuce closed and the copycats
repulsed me. To them it was a trend to
follow, to me it was my life and my friends
and I were affected by its closing. I
had long ties to people in Times Square,
and we all didn't know what to do next,
we could hardly believe it was shutting.
When the theaters were open it was a place
you not only worked, you socialized, figured
extra ways to get by with co-worker/co-conspirators
- and then all of a sudden it was just
crumbling. Not just theaters, but a certain
lifestyle, was ending.
publishing/magazines had no interest in
SLEAZOID because of the Deuce being sanitized.
SLEAZOID was a reminder of the decadent
past not wanted during the peak AIDS wipe
out. Mags wanted stories of the clean
up not the history being destroyed. I
was relegated to a man writing about the
past. I wasn't timely. You couldn't see
these films I was writing about. Video
was so new then - even as high as in the
$80-$100 per tape range, financially inaccessible
City in the 80s was a hotbed of movie
zine publishing with the likes of SE,
PSYCHOTRONIC and GORE GAZETTE. What made
SE unique from those publications?
BILL: The others
weren't a part of The Deuce. I worked
there. I was a projectionist and manager
of several theaters. My friends were all
from there. I knew all about the infrastructure
of the theaters. And who ran them, and
catching the elusive one-day run.
you to return to the world of sleaze cinema
forced me to by starting her own mag METASEX,
and Something Weird Video had put these
films on tape making them accessible to
a new generation to go see. I wouldn't
be a man talking about the past. She started
METASEX and got me to write for it, and
then she started up SLEAZOID again.
you do in the period between ending the
old SE and coming back with the new edition?
an IV drug addiction, got married, had
a child, wrote a biography of underground
filmmaker Kenneth Anger (ANGER: THE UNAUTHORIZED
BIOGRAPHY on Harper Collins, available
directly from the author), wrote some
character actor portraits for FILM COMMENT,
contributed several pieces to the VILLAGE
VOICE about the old Times Square, had
an article about the Needle Exchange program
that was in the VOICE and was reproduced
in an ACLU book and a Health-Pak book
called "Beyond Crisis." Because
I didn't put out SLEAZOID didn't mean
I stopped writing. I did start writing
with Michelle exclusively. In all honesty,
Michelle wrote half the Ken Anger book
without taking credit.
the films covered in the old SE had a
certain legendary status because they
were so rarely screened. It seems like
ANY film from this era can get released
on DVD with a "cult classic"
tag... do you think that detracts from
the true classics of the era?
But it does differentiate from the new
stuff which is just a retread of that
there aren't many women covering the worlds
of sleaze cinema, let alone the world
of roughies and underground adult cinema.
What was the appeal for you?
my mother , who I didn't grow up with
was heavily involved with Vice and crime.
She was pretty intense. She was a Madame,
she's killed a person in front of me.
I've visited her in prison once. (Hence
I can write about WIP films easily.) She
brought me to my first film, and made
sure I saw TAXI DRIVER. She'd bring me
to grindhouses in Boston when I was a
kid, as well as explain the inner workings
of the vice world. I met all her criminal
friends who treated me like a princess.
But they would talk in front of me telling
me EVERYTHING! They were very violent
individuals. I'll write about them one
day. They shaped me into wanting to be
a writer. My mother gave me my first 8mm
camera and my first Polaroid. She was
eventually shot in the head by a policeman.
Her crimes could be very RESERVOIR DOGS-esque.
A lot of Mick (Irish) Boston rough stuff
(that feeds into the Roughie writing).
And, as for the X stuff, it's like the
curtain of OZ; the truth behind X filmmaking
is very different from what you see on
credited PINK FLAMINGOS with being the
flick that sent you down the wrong path
in life. Now there's a big budget Broadway
musical based on a John Waters flick...
how does that make you feel?
BILL: I don't
remember crediting that specifically,
I did like him back when he was playing
in 1972 at the Elgin Theater. I actually
enjoyed MULTIPLE MANIACS even more. But
he's different now. Defines the words
"sell out." But, that is understandable.
Personally, I do not care for him. Or
artistically. I don't think he's made
an interesting movie in 30 years.
in SLEAZOID is involved with how movies
become oral legends... you'd hear about
PINK FLAMINGOS from one person, or MARK
OF THE DEVIL from another, and they'd
always sound more severe in the retelling.
In an old
issue of FILM COMMENT Jimmy McDonough
and you listed thefollowing as your "Ten
Worst Best Bets": BENEATH THE VALLEY
OF THE ULTRA-VIXENS, BLOODTHIRSTY BUTCHERS/THE
GHASTLY ONES, DO ME EVIL, MONDO MAGIC,
OLGA'S GIRLS, PINK FLAMINGOS, PINK MOTEL,
SEX WISH, TEEN LUST and THE KING OF COMEDY.
What would be on that list these days?
BILL: McDonough wrote scant
few things for SLEAZOID. That was half his
list. He would be the definition the Rupert
Pupkin character in KING OF COMEDY
a movie and a character he was fixated on.
He dedicated a book to me recently I was
told. We haven't spoken in a decade. He
tries to take credit for SLEAZOID when he
was in less than a handful of pieces at
the very end. Anyway, Michelle and I would
list a dozen: