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LANDIS: THE STORY OF A REAL MAN ON 42ND STREET ****
Written by Preston Fassel. 81pp RRP £7.04. Published in Paperback and Ebook by Encyclopocalypse Publications on 7th December 2021.

 

Not, as you may think judging by the name, a biography of veteran genre director John Landis but instead a detailed and passionate account of the exciting life and times of Bill Landis, a man whose name may not be immediately familiar but whose influence can be felt throughout the world of genre film fandom and writing.

 

Suffering a childhood of abuse that could easily be blamed for dictating how his life would go, Bill Landis spent many hours in the grindhouse cinemas of New York’s notorious 42nd Street, a cesspit of sleazy sex, drugs and violence but also home to many a fleapit cinema showing whatever grimy, exploitation movie they could get their hands on to get patrons through the door. Whilst trying to hold down a steady job in the ‘real’ world Landis discovered that he had a knack for getting his thoughts about the movies he saw and what they represented in short, stream-of-consciousness paragraphs, and so Sleazoid Express was born, a one-sheet fanzine featuring Landis’s – now going under the moniker Mr. Sleazoid – thoughts and musings.

 

Whilst it never broke any records, Sleazoid Express appealed to a growing audience of underground movie fans looking to consume whatever 42nd Street could throw at them and Mr. Sleazoid was happy to indulge them, resulting in Landis writing a feature for the fledgling Fangoria magazine which featured an interview with underground filmmaker Andy Milligan. However, Landis’s next idea for the magazine didn’t go down too well with then-editor Bob Martin, who banned Landis from writing for Fangoria ever again and proceeded to make things very difficult for Landis to get any mainstream work.

 

But this is all just the beginning of a long and twisted tale as Landis took on other aliases, hustled for money just to get by, became a ‘stunt cock’ in the porn industry (thanks to a unique talent), and ended up a slave to hard drugs before getting clean in the ‘90s. Throughout it all, Preston Fassel never glamorises Bill Landis but lays down the facts with plenty of input from others who were there at the time, and even when Landis’s fortunes changed and he started to become a ‘legitimate’ figure in the film journalism industry it still feels like he never really got his due, that others were riding his coattails and achieving bigger success as his life once again spiralled out of control.

 

LANDIS: THE STORY OF A REAL MAN ON 42ND STREET is not a fluffy reminisce of an era such as you would get from Frank Henelotter or Bill Lustig as a DVD extra on the back of one of their movies. The picture that Preston Fassel paints is one of a desperate drug addict struggling to come to terms with his sexuality and his place in a world that won’t – in his eyes, at least – accept him on his terms, and whilst the story is full of undesirable characters all looking to make a quick buck off the back of exploiting whatever opportunity fell their way, Landis himself is never made out to be the ‘hero’ of the piece. Instead, Fassel’s account is one of a tragic, complicated figure who died far too young but left a legacy that is still inspiring many to put their thoughts down on the page, only now it is with a keyboard and monitor rather than a pen, paper and a photocopier (Landis had a friend who worked at UPS and let him use their copier for nothing).

Also featuring the full Fangoria interview with Andy Milligan, LANDIS: THE STORY OF A REAL MAN ON 42ND STREET is a depiction of a man, a time and a place as gritty and real as the New York streets that are as much a character as Landis himself, and whilst it isn’t always comfortable and features a few gaps from key people not willing to comment, which does make some anecdotes feel a little one-sided (which Fassel does acknowledge whenever it is relevant), this is essential reading for anybody who calls themselves a fan of cult cinema.

 

Chris Ward

 

 

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 © 2000 - 2018