Tuesday 26 November 2013


By Steve Balshaw

Director: Jamie Shovlin
Cast: Agnes Aspen
Country: Great Britain
Year: 2013
Premiere: 29/11/13, Cornerhouse, Manchester
Full Info available HERE
PDF of Review HERE

By Steve Balshaw, Film Programmer, Grimmfest

No art passes our conscience in the way film does, and goes directly to our feelings, deep down into the dark rooms of our souls.” - Ingmar Bergman

There was a point when I started to wonder if I’d dreamt it. Conjured it up piece by piece from my trash-film-saturated psyche, and assembled it, Frankenstein-style somewhere in my subconscious, while sleeping the sleep of the damned. After all, I’d seen it only once, or so I believed, on a poor-quality VHS, probably a bootleg, from a video rental store in Monton, Salford, of all places; a store that lives on in the grateful memories of all who shopped there due to its… eclectic… collection of titillating titles and questionable-quality dupes. This was back in that golden, bygone age, when the BBFC had no jurisdiction over what was being released onto video for domestic rental. An era of Anything Goes, when fly-by-night companies with the ethics of grave robbers and the publicity instincts of pornographers unleashed whatever the god-damn hell they could get their sweaty hands on before the bleary, bloodshot eyes of an appalled public: American exploiters from the Drive-in and Grindhouse circuits; mean-spirited semi-underground slashers, dripping with angst and misanthropy; blaxploitation; Eurosleaze; gory Italian gialli; zombie and cannibal films galore; mad-eyed martial arts massacres; cynical, catchpenny retitlings of trashy old TV movies and all manner of other dire and dated dreck. The store itself now seems like a fever dream; a pre-Video Recordings Act paradise, filled with tabloid-troubling titles and soon-to-be-banned sleazy shockers. Here they all were, jostling for my adolescent attention; grimy, grainy, garish, and utterly unregulated; every film that would sooner or later find its way onto the DPP’s infamous “video nasties” list.

It was here, one rainy Autumn afternoon, that I first discovered HIKER MEAT.

 I don’t know what I was looking for when I found it, or what I was expecting when I decided to rent it out.  It was 1982; I was sixteen. And the title had a strange, but promising ambiguity. Hitch-hikers were a staple ingredient in horror cinema, particularly in the US, but they were also staples of the seedier kind of sexploitation. The image of the sexualised female hitcher was a recurrent one throughout the late 60s and well into the 70s, in films such as HITCH-HIKE TO HELL, THE HITCH-HIKERS, TEENAGE HITCH-HIKERS, SCHOOLGIRL HITCH-HIKERS, and PICK-UP. As an avid reader of the lurid pulp novels cranked out by New English Library back then, I might even have been thinking of the series of “Sally Deenes” sexploitation novels, written by one “Petra Christian” - allegedly a pseudonym for prolific N.E.L. scribe Peter Cave, working in tandem with Grimmfest’s old friend Christopher Priest, though Priest dismisses this as slanderous rumour. Even so: HIKER… MEAT(?!). Roll that title around in your head a moment, see what images it conjures up. Something visceral and gory in the manner of Gary Sherman’s RAW MEAT, perhaps? Or something a little more… taboo? Some foul and hate-filled abduction porno atrocity, spawned in the foetid imaginings of Shaun Costello or Zebedy Colt? Or even an uncomfortable amalgamation; the kind of hardcore hard-gore horrorshow that occasionally escaped from Italy, usually with Joe D’Amato’s name (or one of his many pseudonyms) attached somewhere. Of course, this is my older self, more cine-literate, better-informed, making suppositions. To my teenage self, such names would have been unfamiliar, and their works almost unthinkable, however dark I then believed my imagination to be.

Anyway, I rented it, took it home, watched it, told everybody about what I’d seen, advised my friends to check it out. But none of them was ever able to find it on the shelves, and not long after, the store went out of business for trading in bootlegged copies of big Hollywood blockbusters. And then the whole “video nasties” scandal broke, and following that, in 1984, the Video Recordings Act was introduced. And the world of home viewing was never the same again.

But HIKER MEAT stayed with me, a defining film of my youth. Paradoxically, though, over time, the precise details of it began to blur, to become jumbled up with other films from that impressionable era of my life. The more I try to retain a coherent sense of it, the more elusive my recollection of it becomes. Only the oneiric opening sequence remains vivid in my mind: woodlands, wild flowers; a young woman in a white cotton Summer dress or possibly a nightgown, drifting though a garden; birdsong, clearly not real. The girl bends to pick some flowers, sees a black butterfly, an eruption of ants from the dry ground. The screech of a hawk overhead, and suddenly the woods loom before her. She wanders in, pulsing synthesizer music low on the soundtrack, sudden jagged bursts of sound, wordless vocal effects - a soft, choral humming, susurrus, sharp female gasps. Cut to a child and mother, picnicking in a clearing, even softer focus, slow-motion movement - a memory within a dream, perhaps? The sun is covered by sudden clouds, and a fall of rain disrupts the picnic. As the mother and child play in the rain, the girl continues deeper into the woods, the ground growing muddy underfoot. Then, suddenly, amid the dry-ice-misted trees a dark, silhouetted figure, watching…

And here the confusion begins. Because, surely, that’s a scene from Sergio Martino’s giallo classic, TORSO, or something very like it? Segue to the woman, running now, the camera chasing her, the score building as she reaches a deserted cabin, pounds on the door. A POV shot, rushing towards her out of the dark - this is THE EVIL DEAD, now, isn’t it? And yet… and yet. There’s still that pulsing, synth-heavy, oppressive Euro-Prog-Rock score, with its eerie choral vocals: Goblin, perhaps, or Fabio Frizzi; a far cry from Joe LoDuca’s score for Raimi’s seminal zombie shocker. The girl struggles with keys in the lock, drops them, scrambles to find them on the ground - and as she does so, a hand reaches out from inside the cabin and grabs her wrist, jerking her awake. Or maybe I’m conflating the scene in my head with the final sequence of Brian De Palma’s CARRIE.

And therein lies the problem. Some films, no matter when I saw them, no matter how young I was at the time, remain whole in my mind. It is possible, years later, for me to recall plot details, character nuances, lines of dialogue, whole sequences almost verbatim. HIKER MEAT, despite the powerful impression it made on my sixteen-year old self, exists only as a series of flashes and fragments. I can piece together the events of the film into some kind of order but I retain no real sense of a consistent, cohesive narrative, only a series of confused, confusing, and entirely contradictory impressions. Some of which I fear I may well have made up, or allowed to be coloured by other, subsequent cinematic experiences.

After the almost operatic opening dream sequence, the film shifts to a flat naturalism, the bombastic Euro prog rock yielding to the kind of drifting folk rock found on the soundtracks of dozens of freewheeling early 70s American Road Movies. Our heroine is, it turns out, a hitch-hiker, a free spirit, fleeing perhaps from the past that haunts her dreams, on the road to wherever she ends up.  And where she ends up, at the suggestion of one of her rides (who just happens to hail from there), is Jamestown, MA. The name derives from the historic, and ill-fated, original English settlement in Virginia, but is also clearly intended to bring to mind Jonestown, home of the infamous People’s Temple Cult commune, whose mass suicide at the behest of their leader the Rev. Jim Jones in November 1978 would have been very much in the news around the time HIKER MEAT was most likely made. I say this because - guess what? - Jamestown is itself home to a commune, presided over by a mysterious and charismatic leader, Octavian, whose intentions are far from life-affirming.

The commune, Camp Pharos, presumably takes its name from the mythical lighthouse, one of the Seven Wonders of The Ancient World, which suggests that the place might have started out with some high-minded aims. But now it seems more like a generic Californian “Summer Camp” than an enclave of revolutionary or spiritually enlightened hippies. No murderous Manson Family members or Jonestown Kool-Aid guzzlers here. Just eager-beaver all-American kids in brightly-coloured skimpy sportswear, their sights set no higher than sex, beer and weed. This influx of generic, disposable teens, of a kind common to every bad 80s slasher movie, from FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH on down, is another jarring shift, not just in mood and tone, but also seemingly in time. It is as if the production stalled for five or more years, then restarted, with no attempt at retaining continuity with earlier scenes. Fashions and hairstyles have changed, the camerawork and film stock are harsher, brasher, the editing cruder, choppier, faster. Even so, our freedom-seeking hitcher heroine settles in quickly (though she often seems to have been edited into scenes from footage shot several years earlier), and soon becomes one of the gang, singing folk songs, playing ball, drinking, drugging, fucking; generally behaving in a manner that, in Reagan-era horror movies gets you killed.

Except… there’s something other than a maniac on the loose here. As harvest approaches, it becomes apparent that Jamestown harbours a terrible secret. There’s no Wicker Man up on the hill, awaiting sacrifice, no Two Thousand Maniacs waiting to inflict bloody Southern hospitality on those damned Yankees. But Camp Pharos does turn out to be a prison camp, presided over by Octavian, not only the cult leader, but the town’s mysterious and wealthy benefactor, determined to restore Jamestown to its glory days by reactivating the
local mine. Complete with slave labour. And here my recollections really get jumbled and confused, just as the film itself does. I don’t think Dyanne Thorne is there, though Ajita Wilson could be. It’s that kind of labour camp. There are Nazis. Or Satanists. Or Cultists. Or maybe just wealthy capitalists. It’s all pretty much the same thing anyway. I have a vague image of Charles Grey dressed in purple robes, but I think that might be from THE DEVIL RIDES OUT. Maybe it’s Adolfo Celi in a white suit, but that could be from Corrado Farina’s anti-fascist, anti-capitalist vampire parable HANNO CAMBIATO FACCIA [THEY HAVE CHANGED THEIR FACE]. I find myself thinking Octavian could have been played by John Philip Law or Eusebio Poncela, but he probably wasn’t. The character has that kind of fine-boned, debauched pretty-boy face, anyway. The film flirts briefly with mild S&M tropes derived from Nazi-sploitation and Women In Prison movies, and then there is a revolution among the miners, sparked by our hitch-hiker heroine. This leads to carnage in a barn, or maybe a cellar. A murderous maniac finally does show up - a black-gloved giallo killer, with glowing red eyes, who dispatches several luckless teens before, in a final, jaw-dropping twist, we discover that, behind it all, controlling Octavian, is an ancient worm creature, that lactates some kind of life-prolonging, narcotic fluid, which the mine has been set up to harvest. I have an image of vats of white fluid, with something writhing in them, but I might be thinking of Larry Cohen’s splatter-satire, THE STUFF. The worm is nothing like the one in Ken Russell’s LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM, however - it more closely resembles a “graboid” from TREMORS, or one of the beasties from THE BOOGENS. In the end, everything is destroyed, and everyone is killed, apart from the hitch-hiker heroine, a jock hero she’s picked up along the way, and, just possibly, the undying worm, howling in the depths of the collapsed and burning mines.

The overall impression is one of “what the hell did I just see?” A film that shifts mood and style, defying narrative logic, motivation, character and continuity, as it moves from giallo to grind house, sexploitation to crude socio-political satire. It seems less to have been directed than assembled, cobbled together from disparate sources, some American, some European, and from the looks of it, over a period of several years.  As such, though I did not know it at the time, it is not entirely untypical of a certain type of European exploitation cinema; the kind spawned in the Ids of bandwagon-jumping producers, or maverick madman directors, then cynically re-cut and re-titled several times over, each time hoping to catch the latest trend or ride the coat-tails of the most recent box-office hit. Such cheap-jack, catchpenny creativity chimed perfectly with the ethics and business practices of the early days of home video, and a lot of very sleazy people no doubt made a considerable amount of fairly dirty money. It was a marriage made in hell, and the shelves of those early video stores were filled with the resulting ill-formed, idiot bastard offspring; many of which, over the years, I have grown uncomfortably familiar with, in all of their various truncated and face-lifted incarnations. And most of which are far darker, more disjointed, demented and disturbing, than HIKER MEAT.

Yet it was HIKER MEAT that stayed with me most vividly. Perhaps the very fact that it was my first exposure to such ramshackle movie-making methodology was what caused it to make such a lasting, albeit confused, impression. The film helped shape my aesthetic tastes: forever after, I was drawn invariably to the forbidden, the unacceptable, the “outsider art” of cinema. HIKER MEAT prepared me for the work of Jean Rollin, Jose Ramon Larraz, Ulli Lommel, Jose Benazeraf, Eloy de la Iglesia, Giulio Questi, and in particular for the work of Joe D’Amato and Jesus Franco; prolific, provocative and entirely uncategorisable filmmakers who defy all notions of taste and acceptability, whose work is sleazy, opportunistic, mean-spirited, more than occasionally pornographic, often repulsive; throwing together exploitation tropes in ever weirder, wilder patterns, seemingly without rhyme, reason or even a semblance of logic; recycling everything, stitching together entire films ad hoc from off-cuts and out-takes. They should be an anathema to the serious cineaste, and yet…And yet they are not without talent. They are not without intelligence, or at least low cunning Their very taboo-busting, boundary-crossing anomalousness, unthinkable now in our current era of focus-grouped, intellectual-property-fixated, cookie-cutter cinema, makes them worthy of consideration, at least; maybe even of serious study.

Time was that such a notion was the preserve only of the more eccentric and left-field critics, the genre fans and cult movie cultists; such visionaries as Tim Lucas, Kim Newman, Pete Tombs and Cathal Tohill (whose book IMMORAL TALES did so much to raise awareness of and interest in EuroSploitation). But now there are entire university courses dedicated to horror and cult cinema, with lectures on LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, and seminars on SPERMULA. Distributors such as Shameless and Arrow release everything from cult classics to cinematic car-crashes on BluRay and DVD, each of them lovingly remastered and restored, packaged and promoted with the same kind of love and attention to detail that Criterion and Eureka and the BFI lavish on more reputable cinema - indeed, with its recent “Flipside” label, the BFI has itself been throwing several cult film curveballs in with the more experimental work. All manner of once-forbidden cinema is now widely available, jostling for position on the shelves of Fopp and HMV, alongside established world cinema classics, HBO boxed sets, collections of 1970s BBC sitcoms, and meathead action movies in which Jason Statham hits people a lot - and nobody bats an eyelid. Films I have spent half my life, a great deal of effort, and more money than I care to admit to, trying to track down, can be found in every high street store for under a fiver, so readily available now that I can't even be bothered to pick them up.

 HIKER MEAT, however, has continued to elude me, and as a result it has continued to obsess me. Because, in many ways, for good, or more likely for ill, it defined the trajectory of my life. It was the film that first made me start to think seriously about Cinema. About what it was, what it could do. About aesthetics and politics, about high art and hucksterism. I'd always liked film, but HIKER MEAT made me love it, fixate on it to the exclusion of everything else. Film became my drug; it became my life, and what passes for my career. The fact that I am a film programmer and curator today is down to the impact of that one film. And I cannot find it anywhere.

Believe me, I've tried, over the years. Throughout the 80s and 90s, I haunted the video and film collectors' markets, with their seedy dealers in dubious bootlegged nasties and illegal imports, pored over the classifieds in film and music magazines, and got on uncomfortably close first-name-terms with some decidedly creepy collectors of the questionable and the downright illegal. But nobody could hook me up. It was as if, having given me that first, albeit mild, taste of something forbidden, something wrong, the film just... disappeared.

Of course, the likely explanation, or so I convinced myself, was simply that it had been recut and retitled several times since the version I saw, and in the process had become both untraceable, and a very different film. After all, the likelihood that it was ever actually called HIKER MEAT at all, outside of that shoddy early 80s UK video realise, seems to me pretty damned improbable. But I'm stubborn and bloody-minded and I never admit defeat easily, so I persisted. After all, with the internet, it was just a matter of time before I hit pay dirt. Because everything everything is out there online somewhere, right?

So I scoured the endless film-related sites, the blogs, the users' groups, the forums, the chatrooms, the file-sharing sites, hoping to find a torrent or download of the film, or at least some fragment of information, some slight clue as to its whereabouts, at the very least some tentative confirmation of its existence. And I found nothing.

I discussed it with colleagues in the world of film curation and festival programming, with film critics and filmmakers, and received only blank looks or pitying glances. I used up all of my contacts around the world putting the word out, and I got nothing back.

And then, a couple of years ago, something very odd happened. An entry for the film suddenly appeared, on IMDB of all places. Right there, in plain sight. Confirmation that it existed.

Except that, upon closer examination, the IMDB listing proved to be an elaborate joke. The credits are entirely and very conspicuously fake. But within their very fakeness seem to be some very blatant clues. Of the listed cast, George Hudson, Anna Bergman, David Hills, Una Pierre, Robert Yip, Romano Gastaldi, Donna Aubert, Andrea Massai, and Lynn Clark (There is an actress called Lynn Clark, but this is not her), are all pseudonyms used at one time or another by Aristide Massaccesi, better known as infamous Italian exploitation legend Joe D’Amato, as is one of the supposed producers listed, Fred Sloniscko, jr . Of the remaining actors credited, Cliff Brown, Toni Falt, Raymond Dubois, Joan Vincent, Dennis Farnon, as well as editor Juan G. Cabral, producer David Khune, screenwriter Wolfgang Frank, and executive producer Roland Marceignac are all pseudonyms for Jesus Franco, while Candy Coster, listed as an actress here, is a pseudonym used by both Franco and his muse Lina Romay for some of their more pornographic films. Indeed, the only two names here that are not pseudonyms for D’Amato or Franco, are Enrico Birribicchi, DOP and camera operator on a lot of D‘Amato films, and Sarah Asproon, which is the name of the lead character in D’Amato’s ELEVEN DAYS, ELEVEN NIGHTS films, and also the pseudonym used by screenwriter Rossella Drudi on all of them. And though IMDB currently has separate entries for both Birribicchi and Drudi, this is hardly an infallible source of information, and so it might even be possible that these too are yet more facets of D’Amato himself.

It is worth noting in passing that neither D'Amato nor Franco appears in the film, though they were both prone to onscreen cameos, and while it is just about possible that the film does mark some hitherto unknown and unsuspected behind the camera collaboration between them, this seems unlikely. A more probable explanation is that this is simply a very conscious and explicit nod in their direction. It could just be a prank, of course; a thumbing of the nose at the IMDB generation and all it stands for (take a look at the top 250 films of all time according to IMDB it makes for depressing reading). And as such, it's certainly the kind of prank that Franco at least, with his love of self-referential in-jokes and cinematic nods to friends and idols, would have appreciated. But I doubt he was actually responsible. This smacks more of a film buff with too much time on his hands and a love of mischief and muddied waters.

Or maybe, just maybe, it's a clue; an acknowledgment of debt, perhaps, of influence. A filmmaker who worked with them, maybe, or one who learned from their films, took them as some kind of unwholesome role models. Which brings us to the key name on the credits that isn't a known pseudonym for either Franco or D'Amato HIKER MEAT's director and co-writer, Jesus Rinzoli. Not a KNOWN pseudonym, no. But it doesn't sound like a real name, either. An internet search yielded nothing. Another dead end. But at least I had a name at last, after all these years. Even if I didn’t quite believe it to be real.

But while the cast and crew credits are largely unhelpful, the music credits are a different matter. These at least could be traced - and perhaps through them, the identity of the shadowy Jesus Rinzoli might be determined.

Or so I thought at first. Much easier said than done. The music credits, as it turns out, while legit, presented a few problems of their own. The Sun City Runners, whose 1979 MCA Records release “Losing My Way” appears over the opening titles, were not, as might be imagined, an early incarnation of experimental Phoenix Art-rockers the Sun City Girls (who formed at around the same time), but an obscure side project of author and musician Jim Carroll; seemingly influenced by / a parody of his friend Patti Smith’s sometime lover Sam Shepard’s old band The Holy Modal Rounders. Carroll suffered a fatal heart attack in 2009, and the only other identifiable musician on the record, Brian Bojangles Hook can be numbered among the “People Who Died” listed on Carroll’s most famous recording - he was murdered by the Hell’s Angels over drugs, pretty much as described in the song. Oddly enough, there are rumours that the Sun City Girls’ Charles Gocher played drums on the session, but these remain unfounded, and I suspect derive primarily from the similarity of the band’s names. In any case, Gocher, too, is no longer around to confirm or deny the story - he lost his long-term battle with cancer in 2007. MCA Records was swallowed up by the Geffen Empire in 2003, and attempts to obtain any kind of information from them has thus far proved entirely fruitless.

Which leaves us with Lustfaust. One of the more playful and mischievous of the mid-70s German Krautrock bands, Lustfaust always delighted in confounding expectations, and blurring fact and fiction wherever possible. An improbable nexus of classically trained Belgian born avant garde composer and pianist Guido Van Baelen, Japanese electric guitar and synthesiser wizard Matsushita Kazuki, (black sheep grand-nephew of Matsushita Konosuke, founder of Panasonic), and experienced session bass player Hans Berger and drummer and percussionist Peter Kruger - both of whom claimed to have played with the Beatles during their stint at the Kaiser Keller - the band met during a party at a squat in Hamburg’s historic Gängeviertel district. Their very name was selected to cause confusion: a highly conspicuous acknowledgement of their own musical heroes, Faust, it resulted in all manner of mistaken bookings, misattribution of songs, and at least one court case from an irate Faust fan. Their extensive discography is now known to contain several fakes, created in association with graphic artist, music critic and electronica pioneer Matt Howarth. Some exist as nothing more than a title and a brief description; others were mocked up as elaborate gatefold record sleeves containing cardboard “dummy” records. Discovering the name Lustfaust on the credits of a film, therefore, causes alarm bells to ring. At the very least, it underlines the possibility that the IMDB listing is no more than a prank. Lustfaust themselves are unavailable to confirm or deny anything, having long since retired from public life, to live on a commune somewhere in one of the remoter parts of Iceland (Hopefully one that isn't presided over by an immortal worm monster). Initial attempts to contact them via their one-time road manager Wilhelm “Wild Bill” Kaiser proved entirely unsuccessful, and an email to Matt Howarth via his website met with no response. Finally, it occurred to me that a musician friend of mine had played with Damo Suzuki’s Network in Manchester a few years back, and they had kept in touch. It was an extremely long shot, but I knew that back in his Can days Suzuki had been good friends with his fellow German-based Japanese ex-pat Matsushita Kazuki, and so it was just possible they had kept in touch. I asked my friend to put some feelers out, see what came back. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting anything at all, but within 24 hours, I received an email, to an address I don’t normally give out.  It read, simply:

Give up on this. Do not pursue it any further. The answers you will find are not ones that you will wish to hear.
- MK.

This, I will admit, was a bit of a shock. A total lack of response or a polite expression of disinterest was one thing, but to be warned off with what sounded almost like a threat… well, that just put the bit right between my teeth. What the hell was going on here? Just what had I stumbled into? Was the film - and Matsushita Kazuki’s warning - simply one last elaborate Lustfaust prank, or was there something… darker at play?

Granted, HIKER MEAT is hardly LA FIN ABSOLUE DU MONDE, which, legend has it, sent an entire audience violently insane during its sole public screening at Sitges Film Festival in 1975. Nor is it the incendiary and long-banned fetish porno THROAT SPROCKETS, which the LAPD still blame for an outbreak of vampire-like sex killings in and around the Hollywood Hills in the early 90s, and the cult of which still reputedly persists in some of the more lawless parts of Latin America. But the film could hide some sinister secrets nonetheless. After all, as Jonathan Gates noted in his classic monograph, Max Kastle’s classic B-Pictures for Monogram and Republic are filled with complex occult and gnostic symbolism, with subliminal and overlaid imagery that the mind barely registers, save as a profound feeling of unease and discomfort. Gates’ theory that the films were indicative of the workings of a sinister cult, right in the heart of Hollywood would seem ridiculous had he not himself disappeared in so mysterious a fashion so soon after the monograph was published. Could something equally dark and dangerous lurk in among the scratched and grainy frames of HIKER MEAT?

I had to know more. But, however determined I was to continue, my quest had pretty much stalled. I had no way forward, no avenues left to explore. And then fate took a hand. By this point, I was film programmer here at Grimmfest, which brought me into contact with all manner of interesting folk - not only filmmakers and distributors, but writers, critics, obsessive genre fans. Precisely the kinds of people with whose help I could continue my search for the elusive Jesus Rinzoli and HIKER MEAT. Even so, I found my references to the film invariably greeted with nothing more than blank incomprehension. And then last year we screened a rather wonderful Spanish werewolf movie, LOBOS DE ARGA / GAME OF WEREWOLVES, and the film’s director, Juan Martinez Moreno, came over for the festival. The film was filled with all manner of droll homages to classic European and in particular Spanish horror cinema, and so we got talking in the bar after the screening about Paul Naschy, Jesus Franco, etc. And in the process, inevitably, I brought up the subject of HIKER MEAT and the elusive and probably fictional Jesus Rinzoli. Juan stared at me in amazement.

“You’ve actually SEEN that?” he asked.
“Well, yeah. My God, you’ve actually HEARD of it?!”
“Of course. My DOP shot it.”
“What?! What’s his name?”

And that was how I finally found out the truth. Juan put me in touch with his DOP, veteran cinematographer Joan Jesus Grau, who had indeed been (uncredited) camera on HIKER MEAT, as well as on a whole host of other similarly sleazy and malformed movies during his misspent youth, and we began a lively correspondence about his many extraordinary adventures during the golden era of EuroSploitation, which someday soon we hope to turn into a book. For now, though, and as a taster for the forthcoming memoir, the low-down on Jesus Rinzoli…

It’s not an altogether happy story. Jesus Rinzoli was indeed a pseudonym, one of several, used by one Oscar Artiles Murillo, who had started out as a film critic and lecturer in Literary Theory at the University of Salamanca. Like a number of film critics of that era, he eventually moved into filmmaking, and sought to put his theories of cinema into practice.

A fervent Deconstructivist, Murillo / Rinzoli was drawn from the outset to genre and exploitation movies. Deconstructivism seeks to explore the complex contradictions and internal oppositions upon which any text is founded; to expose the instability of those foundations and thus demonstrate that a text is not a unified whole but contains several irreconcilable and contradictory meanings; it is open to many interpretations, and all of these interpretations are bound irrevocably and inseparably together. In the eccentric works of filmmakers such as Franco and D’Amato, with their inappropriate genre-splicing, bizarre random narrative elisions, and ad hoc logic he saw Deconstructivism in its purest form; films that actively deconstructed themselves, continually threatening to fall apart under the weight of their own internal contradictions. He set out, consciously and deliberately, to create what he called Deconstructivist Exploitation Cinema. He intended his films, as he explained to Grau, to be composites; collages, that would utilise over-familiar visual and narrative tropes, drawn from what he saw as “trash genres” in a manner that would subvert them and call them into question. His plan was to lure in the exploitation audience then surprise and challenge them with something more subversive and radical, something meta-cinematic. He wanted his films to feel neither American nor European, but to suggest some blurred, uncertain amalgamation of both; to have no unified aesthetic vision, but rather a jumble of styles, an incoherent splurge of clashing themes and plot elements, deliberate repetitions and recycled clichés.

HIKER MEAT was conceived to be what Murillo / Rinzoli termed an “aggregator of exploitation cinema”. It was his thesis that such cinema had become so standardised, so formalised, that he could quite literally assemble his own film, piecemeal, out of scenes taken, and directly copied, from other films. To this end, he immersed himself in exploitation movies for over a year, taking copious notes of the recurrent themes, images, character archetypes, patterns of dialogue. In the process, he compiled a collection of visual sequences that he intended to replicate, virtually shot-for-shot, in his own film. He deliberately selected the most striking, most familiar scenes, from the best-known movies; the intention being to continually remind the audience that “it’s only a movie” - and it’s one they’ve seen a thousand versions of before. He used his notes and collection of clips as the template for a generic meta-screenplay in which each action would reflect one of the many sub-genres of exploitation. Hitchhiking scenes derived from Carsploitation movies, prison scenes from Nazisploitation and Women In Prison films, dream sequences from gialli. Somewhat naively, he didn’t concern himself at all with issues of copyright; his belief being that the films he was borrowing from were themselves already second or third hand versions of something else anyway, shameless cash-ins on somebody else’s success. Moreover, this was an academic exercise, a thesis in celluloid. He had A Higher Purpose in what he was doing.

Such hubris invariably comes before a fall. Having secured initial seed money from the University in the form of several ingeniously-juggled research grants, and attracted the interest of a number of potential local investors, ranging from property tycoons to merchant bankers, Murillo / Rinzoli took the nascent project to Cannes, in search of a producer and studio backing. This was the late 70s, the golden era of EuroSploitation, and our academic would-be auteur found himself mixing with some of the very filmmakers whose work had inspired his own. As Grau tells it, Jesus Franco and Lina  Romay were holed up in the very same hotel, shooting random filler footage and sex scenes for however many films they were working on at the time. Murillo / Rinzoli got talking to Franco in the bar one evening, and discovered a far more canny and self-aware filmmaker than he expected. He also found himself roped in as an unpaid AD on Franco’s guerrilla shoots around the hotel. The experience paid off, however, when Franco introduced him to Swiss producer Erwin C. Deitrich of Elite Film, who was willing to match existing finance, produce, and distribute the project that would eventually come to be known as HIKER MEAT.

And here the problems began. Deitrich was as good as his word on the finance, but proved an infuriatingly hands-on producer. Murillo / Rinzoli had wanted his film to star Swedish starlet Christina Lindberg of THRILLER / THEY CALL HER ONE-EYE infamy and sometime Fassbinder associate Ulli Lommel, who had just begun to make a name for himself as a director with an art house approach to exploitation that can only have endeared him to our hero. Deitrich, however knew better, insisting that his current protégé (and girlfriend) Suzann Korda, take the lead role. Lommel had to back out of the film, after a violent row with his then girlfriend Anna Karina put him in hospital just as shooting was about to start, and his role was taken by one Mario Almirall, a Salamanca dental surgeon who had been one of the film’s initial investors. Lacking the requisite exploitation star power was bad enough, but the director was continually hampered in achieving his vision by Deitrich, who was far more interested in dollars than in Derrida, and made constant “suggestions”, that increasingly began to sound like orders as the filmmaking progressed. The finished work, HIKER MEAT (Deitrich’s title), while it retained a lot of Murillo’s footage, was considerably recut and restructured before its release, and thus does not really reflect his original intentions.

Chastened by the entire experience, Murillo was ready to return to Salamanca, tail between his legs, and material for an angry new book about the realities of exploitation cinema seething in his brain. However, the contract he had unwisely signed with the wily Deitrich committed him to making three films, of which HIKER MEAT was only the first.

Trapped by his own lack of film business acumen, he tried to make the best of a bad deal, stubbornly applying his Deconstructivist aesthetics to two more Elite Film releases:

EMANUELLE SULL’ISOLA DI ZOMBIE / EMANUELLE ON ZOMBIE ISLAND, which Murillo directed under the name “Dennis Shand,” was the only one of the infamous series of cash-in sexploiters not to feature the beautiful Dutch-Indonesian actress Laura Gemser, but instead starred the statuesque sex-star, and reputed transsexual, Ajita Wilson, alongside such genre stalwarts as Howard Vernon and Gabriele Tinti. One suspects that the casting of the ambiguously-gendered Wilson was an attempt by Murillo at subversion, which paid off only in so far as this proved the least successful film in the series. The film’s reinvention of the sex-tourist journalist protagonist as a gun-toting, two-fisted action heroine, however, is rather amusing.

CANNIBALI IN UN CARCERE FEMMINILE / CANNIBALS IN A WOMEN’S PRISON, directed as “Jack Le Con” is precisely what one might expect from the title - a queasy and uneasy splicing together of Women In Prison soft core sexploitation with hard gore flesh-eating, that fails both as titillation and as horror, though it does feature an amusing cameo from Jesus Franco as the prison’s degenerate doctor, and, in pitting two such contradictory exploitation tropes so violently against one another, it certainly achieves the director’s Deconstructivist aims.

Alas, Murillo’s career as an auteur was all but over. His films proved financially unsuccessful for the most part, and he and Deitrich parted company, not altogether amicably.

There remains only one final credit on his filmmaking CV, not as a director, but as AD, under the name “Vernon Sullivan”, on Mathieu Jean’s notorious JE CRACHERAI  SUR VOTRES CULS / I SPIT ON YOUR ASSES, a feverishly mean-spirited rape-revenge porno, starring Karine Gambier, Brigitte Lahaie and Paul Le Grand, the less said about which the better. I’d like to think that Murillo found some small amusement in working on a film based (however loosely) on a parody hardboiled novel by the polymath surrealist Boris Vian.

I’d like to think so, but I fear this is not the case. Oscar Artiles Murillo died of an overdose of barbiturates in a Barcelona hotel room in 1983. He was fifty years old. His legacy pretty much died with him. His films were retitled, recut, re-imagined, recycled, just as I suspected. Little of his original vision remains, and what does is scattered across dozens of other films, attributed, rightly, wrongly, or pseudononymously to other directors.

And there is where our story ought to end. But it doesn’t.

Run a Google search for Jesus Rinzoli nowadays and something very strange happens. Suddenly his name appears in a myriad of entries, in association with that of an artist, Jamie Shovlin, who specialises in what I guess might be termed elaborately-constructed hoax artworks. From a cursory glance at the various articles and features thrown up by the search, it would appear that Shovlin’s latest project, ROUGH CUT apparently a co-commission between Cornerhouse Artist Film and Toronto International Film Festival, is a documentary film which “explores the making of the gloriously sleazy Hiker Meat - an imagined 1970s exploitation flick by (fictitious) Italian director Jesus Rinzoli.”

Further research uncovers the following, from a Cornerhouse press release:

“Rough Cut will be followed … by Jamie Shovlin’s biggest visual arts exhibition in the UK to date, Jamie Shovlin: Hiker Meat, at Cornerhouse. It will be curated by Cornerhouse’s Director of Programme and Engagement Sarah Perks, who said:
“The exhibition aims to capture the genesis, and collaborative process of delivering, the Hiker Meat project. It opens with an old-school media museum installation about the Hiker Meat ‘film’, featuring costumes, memorabilia, maquettes of our 2013 set and the remains of the real thing.
“Gallery two will reveal a wealth of Jamie and the team’s background thinking, processes and planning. The ‘re-filmed’ sections of Hiker Meat will take centre stage in the final gallery, alongside parallel footage of different stages of the production process, creating a truly immersive experience.”

What the hell…?

I contacted Cornerhouse, obviously, and persuaded them to send me an online link to the documentary feature, ROUGH CUT. I watched it, scarcely daring to breathe, all the while looking for clues. I watched Jamie Shovlin and his crew trying to replicate scenes from the film I had seen so long ago, while pretending all the while that they had in fact derived those scenes from other films. Clever, very clever. They had clearly done their research, found the films that Murillo / Rinzoli had himself drawn on for his composite creation, and were utilising these for reference. I watched them trying to fake California in the Lake District, and 16mm footage on a DSLR camera. I watched as the young DOP discussed the difficulties of the shoot.

A DOP called John Grey.

And suddenly all of my alarm bells rang at once. “John Grey.” Of course. It’s a fake name, obviously. An Anglicisation of Joan Jesus Grau. Shovlin and his team couldn’t resist the temptation to include one little in-joke, a clue to the hoax they were perpetuating.

Because Joan Jesus Grau wasn’t just the DOP on HIKER MEAT. He was a highly prolific cameraman. And among his credits is Second Unit work for his cousin, Jorge Grau, on the classic Spanish shocker, THE LIVING DEAD AT THE MANCHESTER MORGUE, the bulk of which was filmed, you guessed it, up in the Lake District, where the fake footage for the allegedly fake HIKER MEAT was shot. The film’s opening sequence, however, is of 70s Manchester, and of the junction of Oxford Road and Whitworth Street - which is where the Cornerhouse now stands.

A coincidence? Maybe. A conspiracy? Perhaps. But to what end?

Why would anyone go to so much trouble to try to pretend that a film doesn’t exist? It could, of course, be a simple matter of copyright; an ass-covering exercise, born out of anxiety that using the film in this way will result in a lawsuit from Edwin C. Deitrich, or whoever currently holds the rights. But this seems a rather excessive length to go to. Especially when, for all of their attention to detail, they couldn’t even get Murillo / Rinzoli’s nationality right.

In an interview about the project, conducted by Jamie Carruthers for Zombiehamster.com, Shovlin speaks passionately about his love of genre cinema:

“ I have a very direct relationship with these films. I understand my own relationship to them from being a pre-teenage boy through to someone who is older.” Sharing the sentimental attachment to VHS rental that many other horror fans hold so dear, he fondly recollects having to convince his local shopkeeper that he was permitted to watch these films. “I’m exploring the warm nostalgia for that time, but also the kind of awkward shame that went along with it.”

Shovlin offers a narrative of youthful video store shopping that echoes mine, and that of film fans of my generation generally. For a moment, I found myself won over; almost willing to believe that this entire project was the result of an obsession with film - and with HIKER MEAT in particular - that rivalled my own. But a quick Googling of his name reveals that he was born in 1978. He is thirteen years younger than me. He is simply not old enough to remember the era he talks of with such fondness.

Which suggests that his true motivation in taking on this project must lie elsewhere. Further research into his career reveals that this is not the first time Shovlin has done this kind of thing. And at this point, things just get weird. Because his previous project, Lustfaust: A Folk Anthology 1976-81, was essentially an archive of material relating to what he claimed was an entirely fictitious Krautrock band. Except, of course, Lustfaust actually existed. But they were notorious pranksters. I can see how, having themselves added entirely fake entries to their own discography, they might agree to be part of such an elaborate double-bluff hoax; that, having turned their backs so utterly on the music business, they might wish also to remove all traces of their career, and pretend that they never existed at all.

Take this thought a stage further: Bearing in mind the almost threatening tone of the email I was sent by Matsushita Kazuki, or at least by somebody using his initials, is it possible that Lustfaust have extended this desire for abnegation to their involvement with HIKER MEAT; that Shovlin’s latest project was in reality originated by members of the band?

Only Jamie Shovlin knows for certain. And here’s the thing: I’m starting to suspect he doesn’t exist. Back in 2004, there was an exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery of a collection of drawings by missing 13 year old schoolgirl Naomi V. Jelish, alongside pages from her diary, and newspaper cuttings relating to her disappearance. These were later all revealed to be an elaborate fabrication, the first major work of Jamie Shovlin, and “Naomi V. Jelish” was simply an anagram of  his own name. Interviewed at the time, Shovlin claimed: “I wouldn’t call it a hoax. It’s misdirection” [The Guardian, 16/07/07]. His aim, he said was not simply to fool the audience, but rather to let them gradually realise that they were being tricked, and encourage them to question their preconceptions.
The key word here is “misdirection”, that age-old magician’s trick. Get an audience to believe one thing, to accept one version of reality, and you can slip what you are actually doing right on by them, entirely unnoticed. Shovlin apparently encourages us to question our preconceptions, so I did - and I found myself wondering: what if Naomi V. Jelish wasn’t the anagram at all? What if the anagram, and the fictional identity that went with it, was “Jamie Shovlin”?
A crazy notion? Well, perhaps. But among my correspondence with Joan Jesus Grau there is an email which lists (as best as he can piece it together from his production notebooks of the time), the actual cast and crew of HIKER MEAT. And it would seem that the film’s Art Director is one Naomi V. Jelish.
Grau recalls her as follows:  “Deitrich brought her in. She was German. An art school drop-out from Hamburg. Very political, very radical, as young people were in Germany back then. She was the one who suggested Lustfaust should do the music. They were friends of hers from her squatter days. She and Murillo became very close during the shoot. They may even have been lovers for a while. She was the only one who really understood what he was trying to do with the film, I think. All of that academic, intellectual stuff. The rest of us were just trying to bring it in on time and on budget.”
An exercise in misdirection, then. That’s what this whole wild goose chase has been. That deft sleight of hand which causes us to “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.” What Frank L. Baum, in THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ, termed “smoke and mirrors”. Far from being “truth at 24 frames-per-second”, as Jean-Luc Godard claimed, Cinema is a huge hall filled with thick smoke and distorting fun-house mirrors, refracting and reflecting everything back at you. It’s the stuff that dreams are made of. To search for any absolute truth is to chase a McGuffin.
Now that chase is at an end. And we are none the wiser for the journey.
Somewhere out there, in a bar in Soho, in a squat in the Gängeviertel, stretched out by a hotel swimming pool on the French Riviera, Naomi V. Jelish, or whatever she’s currently calling herself, takes another sip of ice-cold champagne, and salutes us all, with the sneering words of John Lydon at the collapse of the Sex Pistols’ final gig: “Ever get the feeling you’ve been had?”
The curtain falls.

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