In the past couple months, two of the whiskey world’s heaviest hitters — Jack Daniels and Jim Beam — have released “white whiskey” products in an attempt to (somewhat belatedly) jump on a perceived white whiskey trend. Most spirits writers have reacted to these releases with a resigned sigh and a rolling of the eyes. I’m hard pressed to come up with a more appropriate reaction. I don’t fault a company crass marketing ploys — Steampunk Cider is a pretty crass attempt to appeal to steampunk nerds like me, and I bought two bottles without having ever tasted it because, you know, <em>steampunk</em>. Luckily, it was fantastic, but the point is companies do marketing, and that’s A-OK with me. Sometimes though the marketing crosses a personally drawn line and really gets on my nerves (stop telling me you’re a distillery when you are just buying barrels from other distilleries and bottling them). Beam and Daniels have managed to poke a spot on me that was already sore as I am not the biggest fan of white whiskey, be it unaged white dog or simply filtered to be colorless. I also think this bandwagon onto which Jack and Jim are adding their weight is pretty rickety already, if it exists at all.
“We make fine bourbon. At a profit if we can, at a loss if we must, but always fine bourbon.” – Julian “Pappy” Van Winkle
The intersection of Dixie Highway and Ralph Avenue (Ralph Street on some maps) marks more or less the southern boundary of Shively’s former bourbon district, and so it makes as proper a place as any to begin your tour. Assuming you are heading north toward downtown Louisville, when you approach the intersection, on the corner to your right you will see what remains of the old Four Roses distillery: a group of brick warehouses, now sitting on the property of Louisville Cartage Trucking. Note it for later in this series, but for this part of the tour we’re taking a left onto Ralph Avenue and heading just a little ways down to then make a right onto Fitzgerald Road. Be careful, because it’s easy to miss. The street intersects some train tracks at an odd diagonal that can make it look like you are actually turning onto the railway. It all becomes clear once you commit though, and immediately on your left you will see the imposing warehouses of the legendary Stitzel-Weller distillery.
Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail is one of the most enjoyable and best developed touring trails one could hope for, unless of course one happens to be the designated driver. The Trail winds through picturesque country roads, mostly centered around the historic town of Bardstown where many of the major bourbon distillers cluster (more or less, anyway), but it also meanders out to Lexington and the state capitol of Frankfort, home of Buffalo Trace. Wel, sort of. We’ll cover that in a second. All told, the official Trail hits seven distilleries: Heaven Hill, Jim Beam, Makers Mark, Four Roses, Wild Turkey, Woodford Reserve, and the newly added Town Branch (also known by it’s much more cumbersome name, Alltech Lexington Brewing and Distilling Company). The addition of Town Branch fills the space left by the departure of Frankfort’s Buffalo Trace and their associated Tom Moore distillery from the Trail program. Buffalo Trace and parent company Sazerac felt they were doing pretty well on their own with attracting tourism and so opted not to chip in for the officially blessed Bourbon Trail. However, most anyone who has done the tour doesn’t realize Buffalo Trace is no longer part of it, so they sort of get lumped in regardless.
The fact that this movie is set in eternally balmy Texas and is about Dolph Lundgren trying to kill a hulking Edgar Winter from outer space who shoots razor-sharp CDs at people should in no way distract you from the fact that in at least one scene we see a Christmas tree and some garland, and I think someone mentions Christmas at some point. In my book, that qualifies I Come In Peace as a holiday movie, to be cherished during Christmas time alongside other heart-warming, Teleport City approved Christmas movies, like Gremlins, Die Hard, and at least some of the Silent Night, Deadly Night movies. Although little regarded upon its initial release, back when we were making such films, I Come In Peace has enjoyed a steady growth in its reputation, so much so that if it isn’t a much beloved classic for all time, it’s at least attained the status of appreciated cult gem.
If you can roll with the first five minutes of Scorpions and Miniskirts, a movie that shows utter contempt for bothering to explain anything at all or connecting one series of actions to the next, then you are probably going to be able to walk away from the viewing experience with a mild sense of having been entertained while, at the same time, feeling like you didn’t quite get everything for which you’d hoped from a movie with a title as wonderful as Scorpions and Miniskirts. After all, Scorpions and Mini Skirts is a title that demands the benefit of the doubt, like Werewolf in a Girl’s Dormitory. Anyway, Scorpions and Miniskirts begins with an initial minute that seems like the movie might earn its more giallo sounding alternate title, Death on a Rainy Day. We open with a funeral, complete with all the bell-tolling gravitas of a continental Gothic horror film. If Peter Cushing stepped out wearing a pilgrimy black Puritan minister’s outfit, it would not have seemed out of place. Surrounded by weeping mourners, accompanied by glum James Bernard sounding music, a coffin is lowered into the ground. The eulogy begins, and as dirt is being shoveled onto the coffin, the lid suddenly creaks open…
Some great directors die in the midst of their career and leave behind an inadvertent final film that does not reflect the quality of their larger career. Few would argue, for example, that Family Plot is a fitting capstone for the career of Alfred Hitchcock, or that Stanley Kubrick’s career was well served by having Eyes Wide Shut as his swan song or that Sam Peckinpah’s career ended well with The Osterman Weekend. On the other hand, some director’s die while working and leave behind a final film so stunningly perfect as their final statement that it seems hard to believe the whole thing wasn’t planned by some benevolent supreme being. Had the legendary Bruno Mattei’s life and career ended on any note other than Zombies: The Beginning, then truly this would have been a cruel and uncaring universe. But end with Zombies: The Beginning it did, and so Mattei departed this mortal coil via a film that is the perfect summation of everything he ever contributed to the world of cinema.
World, you spoil us. No matter how much we’ve seen — and we have seen a lot — you always have something else waiting in the wings to delight and make jaws hang slack. Martial arts films are especially fecund soil for stories that operate in the far margins of loony concepts, made all the stranger by the fact that the most surreal and outrageous scenarios are usually handled with the utmost banality of attitude, as if Chinese skinheads kidnapping Abraham Lincoln during World War II is the sort of mundane shit that happens every day. What’s more, there’s something so astoundingly crackpot in the sorts of weirdness with which these films confront the viewer that it’s difficult to fully grasp the sort of thinking that led to such ideas in the first place. This is an honest, sincere wierdness, not the same as, say, the sort of predictable, labored, and juvenile weirdness of a Troma film or one of the endless stream of Japanese splatter-comedies that plague the exploitation film market of that once proud industry. The sort of mind that dreams up, “how about she’s a naked schoolgirl, and then a chainsaw shoots out her butt?” I know people rank that high on the “what the hell?” meter, but to me it’s a very rote sort of goofiness, the kind of thing that any decently perverse or stoned teenager would dream up.
There are three Roger Cormans. The first Corman is the director Corman. Working primarily at American International Pictures, young Corman was famous for being able to crank out competent, successful films on time and under budget with a surprising consistency. Although Corman’s name is often associated with drive-in schlock, in my opinion most of what he made was, at the worst, adequate for the intended purpose of entertaining the teenagers. And on occasion, Corman directed some genuine classics of genre cinema. His Poe films with Vincent Price, for example, are some of the best Gothic horror films you’ll find.
You know how some people say if they go back in time and do it all over again, they wouldn’t change a thing? Well, I’m not one of those people. I would do a ridiculous number of things differently and space-time paradoxes be damned. Among the things I’d do differently, especially if I quantum leapt back to around 1986 or so, would be to tell myself not to be such a smug, condescending dickweed my then newly discovered punk rock lifestyle. But what can you do? I was fourteen and high on self-righteous non-conformist fury, certain beyond any sense of doubt that I had it right and everyone else was a poseur or mindless drone. And nothing set me off with a more fiery passion than when some dreg of mainstream entertainment dared play at having some sort of punk rock street cred. They thing they understand my world? Let me take you down to my world, baby, and show you what life on the wicked streets of Buckner, Kentucky is really like.
In 1960, American International Picture’s “house” director Roger Corman convinced the notoriously cheap movie studio to pony up a little extra time and money (and color film) to produce Corman’s attempt to capture the lush Gothic atmosphere of a Hammer horror film. Against their thrifty nature, the studio relented, allowing the ambitious and inventive director a staggering fourteen days to make Fall of the House of Usher. The resulting film, a landmark in American horror, is a necessarily narrowly focused affair — there are only four characters — but it’s a fantastic accomplishment. The quick turn-around time and low budget is hardly evident. Every frame is stuffed with decaying Gothic opulence and vibrant color, and the talky nature and slow pace of the film never causes the narrative to drag, thanks almost entirely to the brilliant and tortured performance by Vincent Price. AIP’s risky (for them) investment paid off. The film was a hit, and audiences used to seeing cheap black and white horror were dazzled by this sudden explosion of color and quality. When the dollars started pouring in, AIP gave the go-ahead to Corman for another film in the same vein. And another. And thus was born what’s known as AIP’s Poe Cycle, a series of consistently high-quality horror films based (extremely loosely at times) on the writing of Edgar Allan Poe (and, in one case, H.P. Lovecraft, but they sold it as Poe).