Christopher Owens 🔖 New York City must have been a hell of a place 40 odd years ago.


Both a warzone and a utopia for misfits, this period gave us punk rock, no wave, hardcore as well as experimental fiction, underground comics and grindhouse cinema that emanated from the ruins of the city.

Several people have documented this period in their own way. Such as Bill Landis.

Noted for his Sleazoid Express zine, as well as biographies of directors Kenneth Anger and Joel M. Reed, the death of Landis in December 2008 marked the end of a chapter in underground movie history. One where movie houses were aplenty and showed everything possible in order to get people in. Films like Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS, Cannibal Holocaust, Shogun Assassin and 9 Lives of a Wet Pussy became part of what is now referred to as grindhouse cinema.

As Landis once said:

Grind houses were opulent, old-style movie palaces with chandeliers, opera seats and huge screens. They seated several hundred people and played all kinds of films, across genres. A shoebox theater catered to the adult audience, seated eighty to 200, usually on one floor, and was shaped like a rectangular shoebox…. It was a very egalitarian form of entertainment that attracted all sorts — kids cutting school, people on dates, inner-city people escaping the cold or heat. The biggest hits cost five dollars. Certain theaters, like The Ankle, which was across from Port Authority, catered to a more criminal element…. People wanted to get the most bang for their buck. If the movie disappointed them, they’d throw things at the screen…. They became unsafe because of the crack epidemic. Crackheads were insane in their criminality, while the junkies would just pass out.

And, in this milieu, Landis thrived.

Young, opinionated and horny, he worked on Wall Street by day and became a recognisable face on 42nd Street at night via performing plays, watching films and working in pornography as well as publishing an influential fanzine that broke boundaries in terms of looking at exploitation cinema with an academic eye and championing films made by genuine outsiders.

But who was Bill Landis?

Preston Fassel, a journalist for Fangoria magazine (openly despised by Landis) has to be commended for taking the time to piece together this biography of a deeply complex man. One whose journey as a sexually abused army brat takes him further and further to the edge before the love of a woman sees him blend into suburbia and back into the spotlight when Hollywood directors begin to homage the grindhouse aesthetic.

Running at 140 pages, Fassel packs an awful lot of action and discussion into this tome, meaning that a beginner to Landis will be able to taste the culture that he thrived in, the various highs and lows of his life, culminating with his sad and needless death. Connoisseurs of Sleazoid Express will be familiar with the main narrative all too well but should still find enough in the quotes from his peers to be amused.

Acting as a testament to Landis, and 42nd Street in general, this book will propel you into areas you’d never had imagined.

Preston Fassel, 2021, Landis: The Story of a Real Man on 42nd Street. Encyclopocalypse Publications. ISBN-13: 978-0578304809

⏩ Christopher Owens was a reviewer for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland. He is currently the TPQ Friday columnist. 

Landis: The Story Of A Real Man On 42nd Street

Christopher Owens 🔖 New York City must have been a hell of a place 40 odd years ago.


Both a warzone and a utopia for misfits, this period gave us punk rock, no wave, hardcore as well as experimental fiction, underground comics and grindhouse cinema that emanated from the ruins of the city.

Several people have documented this period in their own way. Such as Bill Landis.

Noted for his Sleazoid Express zine, as well as biographies of directors Kenneth Anger and Joel M. Reed, the death of Landis in December 2008 marked the end of a chapter in underground movie history. One where movie houses were aplenty and showed everything possible in order to get people in. Films like Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS, Cannibal Holocaust, Shogun Assassin and 9 Lives of a Wet Pussy became part of what is now referred to as grindhouse cinema.

As Landis once said:

Grind houses were opulent, old-style movie palaces with chandeliers, opera seats and huge screens. They seated several hundred people and played all kinds of films, across genres. A shoebox theater catered to the adult audience, seated eighty to 200, usually on one floor, and was shaped like a rectangular shoebox…. It was a very egalitarian form of entertainment that attracted all sorts — kids cutting school, people on dates, inner-city people escaping the cold or heat. The biggest hits cost five dollars. Certain theaters, like The Ankle, which was across from Port Authority, catered to a more criminal element…. People wanted to get the most bang for their buck. If the movie disappointed them, they’d throw things at the screen…. They became unsafe because of the crack epidemic. Crackheads were insane in their criminality, while the junkies would just pass out.

And, in this milieu, Landis thrived.

Young, opinionated and horny, he worked on Wall Street by day and became a recognisable face on 42nd Street at night via performing plays, watching films and working in pornography as well as publishing an influential fanzine that broke boundaries in terms of looking at exploitation cinema with an academic eye and championing films made by genuine outsiders.

But who was Bill Landis?

Preston Fassel, a journalist for Fangoria magazine (openly despised by Landis) has to be commended for taking the time to piece together this biography of a deeply complex man. One whose journey as a sexually abused army brat takes him further and further to the edge before the love of a woman sees him blend into suburbia and back into the spotlight when Hollywood directors begin to homage the grindhouse aesthetic.

Running at 140 pages, Fassel packs an awful lot of action and discussion into this tome, meaning that a beginner to Landis will be able to taste the culture that he thrived in, the various highs and lows of his life, culminating with his sad and needless death. Connoisseurs of Sleazoid Express will be familiar with the main narrative all too well but should still find enough in the quotes from his peers to be amused.

Acting as a testament to Landis, and 42nd Street in general, this book will propel you into areas you’d never had imagined.

Preston Fassel, 2021, Landis: The Story of a Real Man on 42nd Street. Encyclopocalypse Publications. ISBN-13: 978-0578304809

⏩ Christopher Owens was a reviewer for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland. He is currently the TPQ Friday columnist. 

3 comments:

  1. I hadn't heard of "no wave" before and thought the author meant "new wave." According to Wikipedia, "No wave was a transient avant-garde music and art scene of the late 1970s in downtown New York City. Reacting against punk rock's recycling of rock and roll clichés, no wave musicians instead experimented with noise, dissonance and atonality in addition to a variety of non-rock genres while often reflecting an abrasive, confrontational, and nihilistic worldview. The term "no wave" was a pun based on the rejection of commercial new wave music. There are different theories about how the term was coined. Some suggest Lydia Lunch coined the term in an interview with Roy Trakin in New York Rocker. Others suggest it was coined by Chris Nelson (of Mofungo and The Scene Is Now) in New York Rocker. Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth claimed to see the term spray-painted on CBGB Second Avenue Theater before seeing it in the press. The movement was short-lived but influenced independent film, fashion and visual art."

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    1. Yip. And this was one of the best records from the scene:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XYT41w3fa3s

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    2. There is so much that Christopher explores which none of us have ever heard of. He is innovative and pioneering. The blog has improved immeasurably as a result of his contribution. He can make the most obscure interesting.

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