A mind twisting tour through the grindhouse cinemas of Times Square!
By Bill Landis and Michelle Clifford
Review by Justin Bomba
There has never been a film book quite like this one. The shelves of your generic, city centre bookstore cum coffee house may groan under the weight of psychotronic film studies but Sleazoid Express is out there in a class of its own. Blazing the trail for trash historians the world over, Bill Landis skilfully brings to life the modern Sodom and Gomorrah that was Times Square.
During the eighties Landis was a denizen of the Square, cutting class to hang out at notorious grind-houses, engaging himself in a perpetual competition to see how many double and triple bills he could take in.
Eventually Landis found himself consumed by the Square, even earning his living there in a variety of twilight roles from projectionist to hirer of couples to appear in live sex shows.
So thanks to Landis’ unique experience and insight, Sleazoid Express is far more than just a study of extreme cinema classics such as Olga’s House of Shame, Farewell Uncle Tom and I Drink Your Blood — all celluloid paths well trodden by previous tomes. It’s a warts and all celebration of Times Square culture, employing a crystal clear, brutally honest narrative to recreate the fleapit cinemas, their morally dubious managers and outrageous audience.
As you turn the pages you can visualise a pop-eyed Landis shrouded in projector-lit gloom, hypnotised by the sensory overload of the giant images on screen, veins pumping with adrenaline as shoals of sexual predators and pill-heads swim around him…
Each of the thirteen chapters focuses on a particular cinema and the type of movie it was known for. Cue "Chopping ’em up at the Rialto", "Orientalia Comes to the Duece" and "Bloodthirsty Butchers at the Lyric". The writing crackles with energy and tension, in particular when dealing with roughies and sixties sexploitation — a genre Landis obviously has much affection for. Even the most extreme material is discussed in an unapologetically direct style and Landis doesn’t hide his love for scum-cinema behind a cloak of disparaging put-downs. Simple yet evocative and laser-sharp, this is a primal scream of a love poem to Times Square and its crazy mixed-up family. From the cranky Z-grade movie auteur Andy Milligan (Landis paints a particularly lurid and disturbing picture of his off-screen activities) to Chelly Wilson, the ipsissimis of Time Square’s pyramid of pornographic film producers, exhibitors and directors.
Not everyone will appreciate such an approach. Indeed, Landis’ original incarnation of Sleazoid, a photocopied newsletter of the same moniker, created as many enemies as fans with its gradual shift of focus away from gore films to documentation of Times Square culture. Rev Rick Sullivan of Gore Gazette launched his legendary NY zine in response to Landis’ shrinking coverage of celluloid and increasing "obsession" with the size of male porn stars' equipment.
After years of reading the same old wise ass comments about the terrible dubbing and cheesy sound-track in films such as Sonny Chiba’s The Street Fighter, I’m now far more interested to discover that drug dealer’s at the Duece named nickel bags of potent weed "Chiba" in his honour.
At some point in the late eighties Landis and Sleazoid Express went MIA. An otherwise fascinating introduction from Landis and beau Michelle Clifford skirts over the issue. Maybe it was a case of staring into the abyss for too long? Either way, Landis has emerged from the pit, and seen fit to share with us his cinematic walk on the wild side.