BUNNIES WITH A SENSE OF PURPOSE
There’s something joyously naughty about
sitting around with friends and pulling a really bad film to bits – and that’s
exactly what Geoff Wallis and Janet A. McLeod are doing on a Friday night at Melbourne’s atmospheric
Armed with microphones and cutting wits, Wallis, McLeod and a guest celebrity commentator (last Friday was Toby Sullivan) go to town on cheaply made 1970s horror films. First in their sights was Food of the Gods, featuring giant rats, wasps and chickens. They rip it to shreds with hilarious results.
Look out for other classic turkeys in coming weeks – Night of the Lepus (giant rabbits) and The Thing With Two Heads. Enough said.
Tim Hunter | The Age
A world where we get to see Nancy Sinatra
bellowing like a wounded elk, Tommy Kirk twisting by the pool and a ludicrous
gorilla whose ape suit won’t zip up properly at the back is, by my reckoning, a
pretty cherishable world.
Cinema Fiasco screens the first Friday of each month at the Astor Theatre. The whole thing is set up by the forensic commentary/observations of Janet McLeod and Geoff Wallis, two divinely unhinged film buffs who have spent far too many years studying celluloid ‘treasures’ otherwise thought lost behind the sofa cushion of history. Cinema Fiasco is helping to redefine the concept of cinema as a communal ritual. Wallis and McLeod’s wonderfully eccentric dynamic combined with some of the worst films ever made by humans make this a truly unique film-going experience.
And if it’s political incorrectness you’re concerned about, you needn’t worry – there’s heaps! When Wallis references Michael Hutchence at the sight of a hanging corpse, the laughter almost brings down the chandeliers. The night ends up in a whole mess of fun they run a preview for their next attraction, Danish dinosaur shocker Reptilicus (Friday 2 July). The urge to hide behind the Astor’s battery of sofas may prove impossible to resist.
Cameron Grace | Beat Magazine
Geoff Wallis and Janet A. McLeod,
co-hosts of Cinema Fiasco, are film buffs of a rare and unusual kind –
they love bad films. Cinema Fiasco is, you might say, a celebration of
bad cinema, but really understanding what it’s all about requires just a little
bit more of an explanation.
Out of all the movies that are ever made, Janet and Geoff reckon that only one, or at most two percent are really, really good. “There is a huge amount that are alright,” Janet says “somewhere from ‘oh that was OK’ to ‘yeah that was alright’, and then there is the magic bottom one percent!” “We are talking the really special stuff here,” says Geoff, “there is kind of a bit of bleed into the mediocre from both ends, but when you get that special one percent that is so bad that it creates its own mystique, I think that’s when it’s really fascinating.” “You know it’s like the ugly dog competition,” Janet says, “the owners of the dog – they know it’s really ugly, but they love it. We are gonna show you the ugliest dogs there are.”
Cinema Fiasco is a soon-to-begin monthly screening of films hosted and chosen by Geoff and Janet at the Astor. It will start July 3 and continue for the first Friday of every month until the end of the year.
The show had a previous run last year at the Comedy Festival. But being very busy people, especially during comedy festival time, it is only now that Janet and Geoff have been able to devote themselves to a new season of Cinema Fiasco. Something, it seems, that will highly-anticipated in the bad-cinema-loving community of Melbourne.
They both agree that the level of enthusiasm unearthed by Cinema Fiasco in Melbourne has been quite a surprise. “Our fans turned up dressed as giant ants,” says Geoff. “You know you are kind of on to something when things like that happen.”
Geoff, who works at the Astor, originally came up with the idea for Cinema Fiasco at a time when the Astor was on the hunt for new programming ideas. “I said ‘Look I’ve got an idea, I wouldn’t mind doing a bad movie show. And perhaps add commentary to it. Surprisingly Janet sprang to mind! And everything just fell into place really.”
For Janet and Geoff the love for bad movies began long ago when they were kids. Having met each other doing Theatresports, they further cemented their friendship with film nights at Janet’s mum’s place in Ballarat.
“The best thing I remember is we’d sneak into the adult section of the video shop,” says Geoff, “and we rented a copy of Debbie Does Dallas and they’d edited out all the sex scenes. You can imagine how thrilling…”
“And there were these odd pixilated scenes, you could just make out some movement,” continues Janet. “It’s the only time in a porn situation where the cry of ‘Oh for God’s sake fast forward to the dialogue!’ has come through. And my mother was in there knitting at the time, smirking.”
Part of the appeal of bad films is that you can talk all the way through, making it more social than your average movie-going experience. Cinema Fiasco tries to replicate that lounge-room feel in a cinema hall with a hundred or so people and Geoff and Janet providing commentary.
It is clear, listening to the two converse about the films that they have spent a lot of time together doing just that. They finish each other’s sentences, add details to one another’s stories, and fondly relive certain scenes. There is no doubt it is a shared and passionate eccentricity. Not only do they know the films back to back, they know all kinds of bizarre facts about the cast and crew of the film.
Bad cinema it seems is some sort of strange science unto itself and Geoff and Janet are there to make it all clear.
“All that stuff that was supposed to rot our brains has made our careers!” says Janet with feeling, adding that she wishes they’d kept their receipts from the video store, all those years ago, for tax deduction now.
All of the films to be shown at Cinema Fiasco have to pass a strict test. “We have this kind of dossier,” Geoff says, “that is always a sure sign that you are watching a Cinema Fiasco classic, you know, things like big stars on the way down, unknowns on the way up, cat throwing.” “Animals that have been made giant!” says Janet.
Cinema Fiasco’s first three films are Black Mama White Mama – a women-in-prison movie (Cinema Fiasco’s first naked breasts!), Skyjacked, a 1970’s style plane jacking starring Charlton Heston along with what Geoff calls “your standard Love Boat cast” and The Bat People, something you just may never recover from. I can’t wait!
Annabel Boyer | Inpress
Speaking of films, the Astor cinema is screening three late night shows for fans of low budget horror films. Hosted by self-confessed fans of this endearing genre Janet McLeod and Geoff Wallis with a special guest each week, McLeod and Wallis’s comedy is often overshadowed by the sheer comedic awfulness of the films themselves.
The first offering Food
of the Gods was of the ‘giant rodent’ school of horror. Set in the remote
back woods of British Columbia, chickens, wasps and an army of rats turned into
giants by the consumption of a mayonnaise like but naturally forming substance
in the backyard of a couple of religious hermits. Only through the intervention
of a holidaying quarterback from an unnamed British Columbian football team and
an intrepid lady bacteriologist is the world saved from this plague of
atrocious special effects and stock footage. The cast was woeful, and included
a guest (or pension supplementing) appearance by faded B actress Ida Lupino. “I
wish I hadn’t seen the film,” wrote the doyen of American critics John Simon,
“so I could avoid it like the plague.” Arthur Knight considered it “not only
sick but sickening” while the Christian Science Monitor found “more plot
holes that any movie in recent memory, and enough dopey lines to make a
Saturday night howl in all the wrong places.”
The Christian Scientists predicted McLeod and Wallis’s act almost to the letter – they were one day out. Even without the stand-up comedy the film was hilarious. Having two experienced provocateurs just made it better. Wallis is a longtime member of Impro Melbourne and the famous Theatresports and by chance the special guest, Comedy Festival Associate Director Toby Sullivan, had a fear of rats. Bingo!
Providing a ‘DVD extra’ style commentary to film including the high, but mostly low points, in the careers of all involved in the film before guiding the willing audience through it. Often all they had to do was alert us to an upcoming bit of dialogue or not so special effect, the ensuing scene still providing howls thirty two years later. The trip had the audience nicely worked up and cheering the rats, howling at the special affects and gagging at the obligatory sex scene (the lady bacteriologists, having just shot her first giant rat, demands of the holidaying quarterback “I want you to make love to me”). These sorts of ‘so bad they are good’ films rarely make it to the big screens anymore so see one while you can. McLeod and Wallis could be the ‘Margaret and David’ of bad movies and I guarantee you couldn’t find better worst movies.
Michael Magnusson | Onstage Melbourne
Janet A. McLeod, Doyenne of Melbourne
Comedy, and her partner in schlock appreciation, Geoff Wallis were immaculately
dressed and greeted filmgoers at the Astor like friends to a themed party in
their home. They set forth the evening’s concept; we will be watching a
notoriously bad but hilarious film while Janet and Geoff comment or ‘riff’ on
it. Tonight friend and witty comedian Toby Sullivan who provided his own
spontaneous take joined them.
It was like watching a film with a very derogatory but affectionate DVD commentary.
Food of the Gods was unbelievably, jaw-droppingly bad in nearly every respect that I was crying with laughter. Surprisingly though, apart from its fabulous mind-boggling silliness, it actually had some redeeming features. Unlike many modern big monster films like King Kong, you got to see some giant creatures very early on and all the way through. These included some badly superimposed cellophane wasps, a man in a giant rooster outfit (look closely and you can see his legs in the bottom of the shot), some squirming rubber maggots and a lot of really cute rats. When humans were attacked they were doused in tomato sauce and no make-up went into trying to show broken skin so they didn’t look even vaguely gruesome. When the rats were shot, apparently it was achieved with red paints, but you still ended up feeling sorry for them and the whole audience was on the side of the giant rats by the end.
The other thing I loved about the film was the 1970’s feminist take on the feisty leading ladies. Our heroic lady bacteriologist (Pamela Franklin) is not afraid to handle gun, despite never having shot one before and she knows what she wants. In the middle of the main final rat attack, suddenly and with no previous romantic signal, she shouted at our ugly and charmless, stupidly suicidal hero “I want you to make love to me!” It was easily the most hilarious moment in the film. Meanwhile before giving birth in the film (possibly the only gruesome scene) the supporting actress Belinda Balaski refused to marry the father of her child because she’s just too damned independent.
It can take a couple of viewings of a film and reading up about it’s background to get the most laughs out of something like this, but luckily our Cinema Fiasco team have already done the hard work for us, picking out continuity errors and signposting the dreadful script. Fortunately, there were lots of really boring scenes in the film of ferry trips and of driving through gorgeous Canada where the team could fill the void with their patter. The only problem was when they got too excited about commenting and forgot to let us hear some of the diabolically dire dialogue. My tummy was sore from laughing by the end of this and I thoroughly recommend it as a fun Friday night out.
Cinema Fiasco was one of those side shows of the Melbourne Comedy Festival that really enriches the event and added to the community feel: an experience that you may remember long after all those stand ups and crazy sketch shows have all blended together in your brain. I look forward to the killer bunnies attacking Janet Leigh in next week’s Night of the Lepus and in the final week Ray Milland in The Thing With Two Heads.
Lisa Clark | The Groggy Squirrel
ROOM WITH A QUEUE
Cult films that fall into the so-bad-they’re-good basket attract big (and interactive) crowds at Melbourne cinemas.
The Astor Theatre in St Kilda has taken the communal experience to another level, with the monthly appearance of duo Cinema Fiasco – film buffs Geoff Wallis and Janet A. McLeod.
The pair give the audience a précis of the film, then sit in the front row with a microphone and offer insights throughout the session.
“It’s a communal theatre based around films of a… certain lack of quality,” Wallis says diplomatically. “We like to highlight the joy of these films, which were made for an audience that likes seeing cars blown up and watching giant animals eat people.”
The duo’s favourites are 1970s blaxploitation films, which Wallis says are essentially “black action films with lots of guns and boobs and kickin’ whitey in the ass.”
“It’s really just a very fun, campy night,” Wallis says. “It’s not a high-brow show. But I think Margaret and David would get it.”
Natalie Craig | The Age
HOT: NIGHT OF THE LEPUS
This year for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival I decided to do things a little differently.
Rather than going to see a packed timetable of international stand up comics (my usual modus operandi) I watched a film instead. Ever heard of ‘Night of the Lepus'? Me either.
Night of the Lepus is an unintentionally funny sci-fi horror film from the 70s about giant carnivorous killer rabbits (!) and it was presented (on Good Friday – ha ha!) by Cinema Fiasco – a Melbourne comedy duo who show bad movies on the big screen and overlay it with hilarious commentary.
Geoff Wallis and Janet A McLeod do a great job introducing the film, giving us some background about why such a terrible film could be made, telling us about the actors – including Janet Leigh of Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ fame – which scenes to look out for and details to note (stripes stripes stripes everywhere). With judicious use of a laser pointer they highlight thematic incongruencies, bad acting and crappy special effects. In this case they included bad closeups of fluffy bunnies, lots of torn clothing with red paint thrown on them and long boring shots of helicopters flying.
For $20 a ticket and a choc top you’re guaranteed two hours of almost constant laugh-out-loud hilarity – pretty good odds considering some of the dire comedy shows I’ve paid to attend before.
Cinema Fiasco is a unique movie-going and comedy experience and the only time I’ll be happy that there’s someone talking the cinema. They are normally at home at the Astor Theatre but during the Melbourne International Comedy Festival they will be screening at Cinema Nova for a limited season. Don’t miss it!
Jetsetting Joyce | Mel: Hot or Not
Just when you thought the Melbourne world of film and theatre couldn’t get any better, Cinema Fiasco came along. For many years now, Geoff Wallis and Janet A. Macleod have been entertaining the masses at the Astor Theatre in St Kilda with their hilarious act, but now as part of the Melbourne International Comedy festival, they are running a season at Cinema Nova in Carlton as well.
Cinema Fiasco is a show like no other. Janet and Geoff are the ultimate duo; both comics and film experts, they choose a film each month that is absolutely appalling and then rip it to shreds for the mirth of the audience. Chock full of inappropriate humour and peppered with trivia tidbits of Hollywood history, the movie of their choice is played on the big screen with Janet and Geoff providing a running commentary during the viewing. “It is unashamedly low brow,” Janet assures those in any doubt of what they’re in for. “We do for bad movies what Speedos do for Tony Abbott – without us, it would be much worse.”
And it’s true. These movies watched in context would leave even the sharpest film buff scratching their heads. The dialogue cheesy, the plots incoherent and the special affects unrealistic to the point of childlike. But with the assistance of Ballarat born and BTV6 educated Janet and actor/writer Geoff, not only does viewing these abominations become enjoyable, it becomes downright addictive.
Among some of the titles screened are some truly horrific cinematic miscarriages like Blacula (1972), He Knows You’re Alone (1980), The Green Slime (1968), The Incredible Melting Man (1977), Night of the Lepus (1972), The Brain Eaters (1958) and even a holiday favourite, Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984). The content of each film is deliciously deplorable, with Janet and Geoff making constant zingers and hilarious one liners throughout the dialogue.
It’s a unique way to go to the movies, and everyone should take part at least once. Plus, the candy bar prices at Cinema Nova are quite reasonable, with the added leisure of sitting comfortably and nursing a glass of wine in the dark theatre. Geoff and Janet will be playing their final show at Nova this Friday, with Vampire Lovers (1970), then back to the Astor for Troll II (1990), then moving on to ACMI (Australian Centre for the Moving Image) with Breakin’ (1984). Check out cinemafiasco.com for session times and coming attractions.
Corina Thorose | The Blurb Magazine
There is nothing I like better on a Friday night than to invite a few good mates over, crack a couple of beers and settle in for a double feature of some seriously garbage cinema. What originally started as a bit of fun at someone else’s expense and a little release from the daily grind quickly became a full blown (and probably terminal) hobby. As a film reviewer and all round cinema buff I have seen a lot of quality movies throughout the years, but it’s the absolute dreck; films like The Room, Birdemic and Sleepaway Camp , that have represented some of the best viewing experiences of my career as a professional cinephile. One of my favourite examples of ‘so bad it’s good’ cinema is the 1990 bomb, Troll 2, a film so bad it has been unofficially awarded the dubious title of ‘Best Worst Movie’, features no trolls whatsoever (despite its title) and stars a cast of actors who had never acted before and, quite justifiably, have never acted since. When I was given the opportunity to review Cinema Fiasco’s deconstruction of Troll 2 as part of their Melbourne International Comedy Festival run at the Nova, I jumped at the opportunity.
Heading in I had no idea what to expect. I had never attended a Cinema Fiasco screening before and having done very little research prior to my arrival, all I really knew was that the show basically comprised of the audience viewing an incredibly bad movie while a couple of comedians made wise cracks over the top. Was I about to witness a live version of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 or an hour long beat by beat breakdown of a cinematic catastrophe just like on How did this get Made? It turns out that Cinema Fiasco follows the Mystery Science Theatre formula, sans robot puppets, and perfectly recreates the experience of my regular Friday night garbage binge, replacing my lounge room with the fantastic Nova Cinema and my awful friends with professional comedians, Janet A. McLeod and Geoff Wallis.
As comedy shows go, Cinema Fiasco could have been tailor made just for me. McLeod and Wallis clearly know their stuff when it comes to bad movies. The duo deftly point out continuity errors, extras that drop the ball and camera men in reflections, all while delivering plenty of movie trivia and hilarious jokes.
All in all, I had a great time with Cinema Fiasco and I got a whole lot of new laughs from a film I thought I had long exhausted. I can’t do anything but recommend Cinema Fiasco. If you’re looking for a solid night out this Friday all you need to do is grab a few mates, grab a few drinks and hit the Nova for Cinema Fiasco. The movie might be terrible, but the comedy is top notch.
Nick von Issell / Aphra Magazine