Directing By Numbers… QT8: THE FIRST EIGHT, Reviewed.

QT8_ARTWORK.jpg

BD. Signature Entertainment. Region B. Certificate TBC.

“Why are boys so obsessed with numbers?”, Clare Grogan asks the smitten John Gordon Sinclair in Gregory’s Girl (1980). “Why all this overkill about Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood being Quentin Tarantino’s Ninth Film?” I found myself wondering while watching it (and enjoying it rather more than I thought I would). Well, Quentin Tarantino is (kind of) a boy, isn’t he? “Boys” might, one imagines, feature prominently among his marketing people… then again, Tara Wood, the writer / producer / director of QT8: The First Eight is clearly a girl (or she’ll “be a woman… soon”) and numbers have already featured prominently in her C.V. In 2015 she executive produced Julian Beltran’s 3 Days and the year before that, she shared the writing, production and direction of the documentary 21 Years: Richard Linklater.

81-2.jpg

So why the big deal about 8 Tarantino pictures? I mean, Fellini made 8 1/2 (above)… and then some. It was only by watching this documentary, which collates the enthusiastic reminiscences and observations of some of QT’s key collaborators, plus selected sympathetic pundits, that I learned about Tarantino’s declaration that he will only make 10 feature films. Tim Roth seems particularly devastated by this pronouncement but I think you’d be wiser to take it with a sackful of salt, Tim. Why would he stop at 10? Maybe because that’s the amount of toes with which women are generally equipped, though the whole foot thing is, er, soft-pedalled, during this romp through many of Tarantino’s other signature obsessions. Another theme that doesn’t get much of a look in is his ongoing love affair with Eurotrash Cinema, though I’ve always wondered why he never uses any actors from that milieu, especially in view of Robert Foster’s comment herein that Tarantino boasts of being able to cast whoever he wants.

am_69t03922vbegcwm84_830x1107 copy.jpg

While we’re crunching numbers, there’s always been something about Tarantino’s international status that hasn’t quite added up for me. Why, in 1991 (when QT had directed precisely one feature) was it seen as some kind of career boost for the likes of John Woo (who’d already made over 20 films, including A Better Tomorrow, The Killer and Bullet In The Head in Hong Kong) to be endorsed by him? Ditto Ringo Lam, whose City On Fire (1987, above) was relentlessly pillaged for Reservoir Dogs. Samuel L. Jackson and Jamie Foxx absolve the director from the charges of racism that are sometimes levelled at him but cultural imperialism remains a worry… there’s a point in Wood’s doc, during its discussion of Kill Bill, where Hong Kong and Japan are casually conflated. Not a good look.

sub-buzz-22341-1508448707-1.jpg

Speaking of which, throughout this film there’s a lumbering, grumbling presence trying to make itself heard on the sidelines, finally making its unpalatable entrance with all the subtlety of Eli Roth’s character in Inglorious Basterds… Tarantino is credited with making a clean break with Harvey Weinstein after all the #metoo stuff broke (is that another reason for drawing a line under “the first eight”?) but Wood also reminds us of his admission that he always knew but never said anything. Viewers will have to make their own minds up but the intercutting of Weinstein reportage with Kurt Russell’s cartoony murderous exploits in Death Proof (2007) is heavy handed stuff and I don’t know what to make of the apparent attempt to shift responsibility for Uma Thurman’s car crash injuries to Weinstein.

killbill-3-1.jpg

Such are the grouches of a QT sceptic. Devotees will enjoy and possibly (depending on how buffed up on Tarantino’s self-referential universe they already are) learn something from Wood’s hyperactive treatment of her subject, leaning heavily on hip animated recreations of many of the anecdotes delivered herein and charting Tarantino’s meteoric rise from hopeful fan boy sleeping on Scott Spiegel’s sofa and picking up a few dollars from Elvis impersonating on The Golden Girls to the toast of Cannes and (in the words of one contributor) “our Nouvelle Vague”.

p173259_v_v8_al.jpg

We await #10 … and whatever follows… with bated breath.

Categories: Blu-ray / DVD Reviews | Leave a comment

A Squirt Of Grease From The Nether Regions… Paul Verhoeven’s Scandalous SPETTERS Reviewed.

6a00d8341c7e2353ef0162fdff9da6970d-800wi copy.jpg

BD / DVD Dual Format. Regions B / 2. BFI. 18. 

Like many of our antisocial media pals, I imagine, we at The House Of Freudstein held the obligatory November 2019 rewatch of Blade Runner and played the definitive game of “spotting all the onscreen stuff that didn’t actually make it to November 2019″… a list which now includes Rutger Hauer. That was a sad one… I well remember (how could I possibly forget?) the current Mrs Freudstein and I enjoying our very first snog to distract ourselves from a particularly rancid Rutger vehicle, David Peoples’ Salute Of The Jugger (1989). A much better film (albeit one in which Hauer plays a secondary, if not exactly minor, role) is Spetters, directed in 1980  by Paul Verhoeven.

MV5BODJlMmMzMzYtYjM1ZS00MTFmLThkMGUtNWE3M2ZiM2UzNDEyL2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDkzNTM2ODg@._V1_.jpg

Verhoeven is a director whose career has paralleled that of Brian De Palma, both in the way that it has oscillated between auteurhood and the budgetary luxury / artistic compromises of big studio properties and the controversy it has often generated on account of its unabashedly sexual, violent and generally non-PC content (though, as with De Palma, history has tended to vindicate Verhoeven). PV’s previous hit, the Dutch resistance epic Soldier Of Orange (1977) had premiered in the presence of Holland’s Royal family but God only knows what Queen Juliana and co made of Spetters, a film which seemed to unite gays, women, the disabled, the religiously inclined and just about everybody else in a chorus of condemnation on its domestic release (one contemporary review even suggested that you could contract an eye disease from watching it), making the subsequent hoohah over Verhoeven’s Showgirls (1995) look like a comparative storm in a D cup. Maybe Her Majesty was sufficiently steeped in Dutch culture to recognise the parallels between Spetters’ vulgar vitality and the  more picaresque canvases of Pieter Bruegel the elder. Did this cautionary tale of ambition (never mind hubris) punished by nemesis remind her of Breugel’s masterpiece The Fall Of Icarus (below)? Perhaps she reacted favourably to the film’s update of the “three questing princes” theme? Perhaps not…

bruegel5.jpg6a00d8341c7e2353ef0162fdff9da6970d-800wi.jpg

… especially as the behaviour of Rien (Hans van Tongeren), Eef (Toon Agterberg) and (Hans (Maarten Spanjer) is anything but princely in the traditionally accepted meaning of that term (though I gather the concept has been subject to a major recent recalibration). “There are also heroes in blue collars” insists Verhoeven and the (anti)heroic attempts of these guys to escape grinding routine (and in one case, stifling religious fundamentalism) centre on motocross and the desire to emulate their dirt bike hero Gerrit Witkamp (Hauer), with plenty of partying thrown in. It would be fair to say that their sexual antics in this Satyricon by the Zuidersee are, er, frankly presented.

Spetters_4-1024x676.jpg

They literally measure their dicks to establish who gets first crack at greasy spoon Aphrodite / Venus on the taco shell Fientje (Renée Soutendijk) but she has her own ideas. Like it says on the American poster, “Three men with dreams… one woman with a plan”. In other words, behind every great man there’s a great woman (because that’s the best poisition from which to stab him in the back, right?) Fientje works her way through Rien (until his dreams of sports stardom are shattered, along with his spine in a traffic accident) then Eef (until he discovers – under rather extreme circumstances – his true sexual orientation) and finally settles for the plodding but devoted Hans, with whom she calculates she can build a life a few degrees more comfortable than the one to which she has been accustomed. Perhaps her expectations have undergone adjustment (albeit along significantly less drastic lines than those of the male principals)… perhaps, like the true Sadean woman she is, she’ll abandon Hans as soon as somebody more promising comes along.

740full-renée-soutendijk.jpg

Director Verhoeven ends his commentary track reflecting on the final shots of Fientje’s brother Jaap (Peter Tuinman), “the only character who has not changed in any way and disappears in the anonymity of the freeway… and the cars… and the landscape… and nature… life goes on”. Is that the sound of Icarus hitting the water… or somebody discarding a glob of deep fried dog food?

6141614_orig.jpg

In terms of Life imitating Art, Renée Soutendijk made a big impression in Spetters (and was also great in Verhoeven’s The Fourth Man, 1983) but never fulfilled her international potential in quite the same way as Hauer, co-star Jeroen Krabbé (who plays unscrupulous sporting mister fixit Franz Henkhof) or indeed Verhoeven himself. Soutendijk was most recently seen in Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria remake, which says it all, really. Hans van Tongeren was similarly tipped for great things but soon after finishing Spetters emulated his character Rien by taking his own life.

72fc4806ba6543b49a303323b758e090.jpg

The main feature has been scanned in 4k for this handsome Hi-def UK debut, on which it’s accompanied by a string of supplementary materials spanning Blu-ray and bonus DVD discs. In his interview Verhoeven talks about his own brief period of religiosity and how it influenced some of the imagery in Robocop (1987). Writer Gerard Soeteman discusses the “slice of life” philosophy under which Spetters was conceived, wondering why people need to fabricate stories when everyday existence is so compelling. He recounts as an example the exploits of his family members in the Dutch resistance (“That’s not a small cup of tea!”) A Dutch TV documentary from 2002 includes interviews with many of the principals and also those who originally opposed the film (one guy still detests it but the lady who fronted up one of the “anti-Spetters” action committees now finds the film “touching”) before concluding with the observation that its mercenary, self interested characters were a timely anticipation of the marketised society to come. There’s also a lengthy interview with DP Jost Vocano. Nederbeat fans already thrilled by Kayak’s main theme will be doubly delighted to glimpse former Focus bassist Bert Ruiter (then a member of Earth And Fire) turning up at Spetters’ Rotterdam premiere.

9ab556cec5e4e7e0bc6796187e5bbe20

Amy Simmons presents a sympathetic audio visual essay but perpetuates the notion that  Eef’s gang rape and his reaction to it are somehow “problematic”, seemingly unable to grasp that without these scenes, the film would degenerate from a critique of the gay-bashing mentality into an endorsement of it. She does point out that among the newer crop of directors, few can hold a candle to Paul Verhoeven’s habitual use of sex and violence to make important social points rather than as an end in itself. Indeed, Gaspar Noé would probably give his right arm to be Verhoeven… not to attain the same level of regard (because in this fucked-up world he’s probably at least as well regarded as the Dutchman in trendier circles) but to have a fraction of his integrity, talent and brains.

6a00d8341c7e2353ef0162fdff9da6970d-800wi copy 3.jpg

Categories: Blu-ray / DVD Reviews | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

“What A Time To Be Alive!” ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE Reviewed…

Anna-and-the-Apocalypse copy.jpg

BD. Second Sight. Region Free. 15

We’re not renowned for our Christmas spirit here at The House Of Freudstein. As a matter of fact, we’re irredeemable hard core Grinches. It would take more than some soppy Xmas flick to put a smile on our faces since that messy business with the Petersons… and as for the Boyles? Don’t even go there (“No Bob… not inside!”) Rom-coms? Musicals? All things uplifting? Fuck ’em… and we reserve a special place in our bloody basement for Johnny come lately zombie movies! Yeah, you can make money out of any old tat now by bunging a few living deadsters into it… but where were you people in 1981?

Packshot_1024x1024@2x.png

The auspices were not remotely favourable, then, but bugger me backwards with a candy cane if John McPhail’s gory zombie rom-com musical Anna And The Apocalypse (2017) didn’t win our hearts when opening Nottingham’s Mayhem Film Festival in October 2018. Mr McPhail even attended to introduce it, slag off Netflix and tell us what stand up people we were for still turning out to watch films on the big screen. Flattery will get you everywhere, mate…

nz-cinema-111219.jpg

Plot is pretty much wot it says on the tin: schoolgirl Anna (the incandescent Ella Hunt, above) and her school friends / adversaries / would be lovers make a song and dance about their relationship issues and express their commonplace hopes, dreams and fears against the back drop of an unfolding zombie virus meltdown. It’s a saga of human persistence against the odds or a statement of futility, depending on whether you’re the kind of person who considers your glass of egg nog half empty or half full. In fact, while you weren’t looking, somebody slipped something bitter sweet into your  Advocaat… consider that a public health Warnink.

anna-and-the-apocalypse.jpg

McPhail does a stand up job taking on a project that was intended for its wrtier, the late Ryan McHenry (to whom AATA is lovingly dedicated), being as it is an expansion of his original 2011 short Zombie Musical. It helped that McPhail got (no disrespect intended to the original participants) a much better OST (some real ear worms here from Roddy Hart and Tommy Reilly) and cast. Special mention for Sarah Swire who plays Steph (the mislocated nerd who ultimately saves the day… or part of it, anyhows) and also choreographed the whole shebang. Paul Kaye essays one of those teachers most of us have suffered (if you never did, lucky you), the kind of guy who takes out the sour frustrations of his own miserable life on the kids he’s supposed to be nurturing and here finds an appropriate canvas on which to fully reveal his true hateful colours.

anna-and-the-apocalypse-3_2.jpg

The axing of Kaye’s duet with Mark Benton, plus the transformation of an an animated title sequence into an animated credits sequence largely account for the two different cuts of AATA, both of which are present and correct on this double disc set. You also get that original short. McPhail, co-writer Alan McDonald and composers Roddy Hart and Tommy Reilly chip in with an audio commentary and there’s assorted “making of” / “behind the scenes” / “at the Edinburgh festival” (lummy, was Ms Hunt aware of just how wispy her outfit was before stepping out in this bit?) which is so “feel good” that it nearly tips over into the sort of wholesome tweeness that the film itself lampoons. Nearly, but not quite.

What a time, indeed, to be alive. Or what passes for it…

Dy3vLcLX4AccJCz.jpg

Categories: Blu-ray / DVD Reviews | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Un-American Activities… Joe Losey’s TIME WITHOUT PITY And SECRET CEREMONY Reviewed

image-w856.jpg

Secret Ceremony. BD. Indicator. Region B. 15.

Indicator have been fair rattling out Joseph Losey titles recently, including The Damned aka These Are The Damned (1962) as part of their fourth Hammer BD box. Losey’s filmography is a notoriously uneven one, inevitably compromised by his Hollywood exile (for standing up to McCarthyite witch hunters) and subsequent search for a more convivial environment in which to make movies, scarcely less by his continuing adherence to Brechtian notions of alienation after he did settle in the UK.

time-without-pity-movie-poster-1957-1020539877.jpg

Like any Lefty worth his salt, Losey was fascinated by the power relations within social groups. In These Are / The Damned his scrutiny ranged from Clockwork Orange before their time biker gangs to deep state bigwigs dictating the fates of nations. Time Without Pity (1957) concerns itself with the plight of the individual in conflict with The State / Society (a pretty extreme / capital case thereof), which is inextricably connected to the state of that individual’s relationship with his father. Secret Ceremony (1968) zones straight in on the treacherous terrain of power and corruption within one family.

51CxLBryTHL.jpg

In TWP David Graham (Michael Redgrave) is a failed writer and an even worse excuse for a father. The only field in which he excels is alcoholism. He ends up attempting to dry out in Canada, in a joint so strict that he’s not allowed any mail whatsoever, even mail informing him that his son Alec (Alec McCowen) has been convicted of murdering his girlfriend Jennie (Christina Lubicz) and condemned to hang. Discharged from Rehab (but still drinking like a fish), Graham arrives back in Blighty on the eve of the execution and embarks on a frantic mission to stay the hangman’s hand, with the aid of his solicitor Jeremy Clayton (Peter Cushing). Alec seems resigned to his fate and is contemptuous of his deadbeat Dad’s sudden concern for his welfare but convinced of junior’s innocence, Graham begins to focus his suspicions on brash industrialist Robert Stanford (Leo McKern), at whose property the murder took place

Violent Bloodbath.jpg

Watching TWP, I was reminded of Jorge Grau’s lesser known 1974 effort Pena De Muerte (= “The Death Penalty” but ludicrously retitled “Violent Bloodbath” in Anglo territories), a film which debates the rationale of capital punishment in any country whose judicial system is seriously skewed along class lines. In Losey’s picture Leo McKern gives a driving (in every sense of the term) portrayal of precisely the kind of swashbuckling, feckless entrepreneurial psychopath we are encouraged to worship these days, yay, even unto bailing them out for their fuck ups and financial car crashes.

hqdefault.jpg

I’ve suggested elsewhere on this blog that some of the awkward characterisations and conspicuous miscasting in other Losey films might be intentionally connected with his fixation on Brechtian alienation but there’s no need for any such get out clauses here, with a great cast doing their stuff impeccably. Jeremy Clayton was Cushing’s last role before Trence Fisher’s The Curse Of Frankenstein (1957) transformed his career and the face of cinematic Horror forever. Redgrave’s Graham finally redeems himself in a barnstorming final twist which has a touch of the Sydney Cartons about it. Tis a far, far better thing he does…

93686ea0866663128769890b184a1824.jpg

This cracking British noir was the first film that Losey made in exile which was released back in The States with his real name on it. From one Joe to another… up yours!

Secret Ceremony_Mia farrow_Elizabeth Taylor_1968.JPG

Secret Ceremony, on the other hand, does have more than a smidgeon of Bertolt B. polemics about it. Mia Farrow (fresh off of Rosemary’s Baby) is Cenci, a childlike and plainly disturbed young woman who lives alone in an improbably opulent mansion in Holland Park. She encounters Leonora (Liz Taylor) on the top deck of a bus and becomes fixated on her on account of her resemblance to her late mother. As chance (and screenwriter George Tabori, adapting Marco Denevi’s short story) would have it, Taylor is also mourning a dead daughter whom Cenci resembles. Accepting her offer to move in (which sure beats living as a homeless prostitute), Leonora finds herself in a scathing battle of wits with the deranged girl.

a-Joseph-Losey-Secret-Ceremony-Elizabeth-Taylor-PDVD_008.jpg

Suggesting that Losey had been boning up on his R.D. Laing (both men were former philosophy students), Secret Ceremony locates the source of Cenci’s malaise squarely in the family matrix. Leonora soon encounters and has to contend with her covetous Aunts (Peggy Ashcroft and Pamela Brown) then along rolls Albert (Robert Mitchum), the sleazy step father who’s been molesting Cenci since childhood (not too difficult a bombshell to have anticipated, given the naming of Farrow’s character). Rough justice, of a sort, is finally served, though the final scene is open to a variety of interpretations.

MV5BODMyODg1ZGUtODZmMC00Y2NkLWE2ZDUtOWM5YmE5Y2ZjYjM5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTA2ODMzMDU@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,799,1000_AL_.jpg

Taylor takes a lot of stick for many of her performances and this one is often singled out for particular derision, unjustly so in my opinion. Mitchum slides into the role of the cynical nonce with his accustomed louche alacrity and Farrow could have been born to play Cenci (though in fact she only got the part when Julie Christie turned it down). It says a lot for the quality of the cast that actresses of Ashcroft and Brown’s calibre are restricted to such minor roles. Much more fuss is made of Mike Nichols’ Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? (1966) but this neglected oddity is every bit as compelling.

155_SECRET_CEREMONY_BD_2D_packshot_72dpi_1000px_transp_1000x.jpg

If only all films of this vintage looked this good on Blu-ray. Indicator have managed a beautiful rendering of Gerry Fisher’s cinematography. Thankfully this is the unadulterated Secret Ceremony, minus the extra (non-Losey) scenes that Universal tacked on in an act of vandalism that they hoped would make the film more agreeable to American TV networks. You want to know about the special features on these discs? Of course you do and here, by the miracle of cut and paste, they are…

Time Without Pity, HD remaster

  • Original mono audio
  • The John Player Lecture with Joseph Losey (1973, 80 mins): the celebrated filmmaker in conversation with film critic Dilys Powell at London’s National Film Theatre
  • New and exclusive audio commentary with Neil Sinyard, co-author of British Cinema in the 1950s: A Celebration
  • The Sins of the Father (2019, 16 mins): filmmaker Gavrik Losey, son of Joseph Losey, discusses Time Without Pity
  • Horlicks: Steven Turner (1960, 1 min): vintage commercial for the malted milk drink, directed by Joseph Losey
  • New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
  • Limited edition exclusive 40-page booklet with a new essay by Robert Murphy, Joseph Losey on Time Without Pity, Jeff Billington on the MacMahonists and Time Without Pity, an overview of critical responses, and film credits
  • World premiere on Blu-ray
  • Limited edition of 3,000 copies

Secret Ceremony, HD remaster

  • Original mono audio
  • Audio commentary with authors and critics Dean Brandum and Alexandra Heller-Nicholas (2019)
  • Archival Interview with Joseph Losey(1969, 15 mins): extract from the French television programme Cinéma critique, featuring the celebrated director promoting the release of Secret Ceremony and an appreciation by critic Michel Mourlet
  • The Beholder’s Share (2019, 25 mins): interview with Gavrik Losey, son of Joseph Losey
  • TV version: additional scenes (1971, 18 mins): unique epilogue and prologue produced for US television screenings, with Robert Douglas and Michael Strong
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • Larry Karaszewski trailer commentary (2015, 3 mins): short critical appreciation
  • Image gallery: promotional and publicity material
  • New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
  • Limited edition exclusive 40-page booklet with a new essay by Neil Sinyard, an archival location report, Joseph Losey onSecret Ceremony, a look at the source novella, an overview of contemporary reviews, and film credits
  • World premiere on Blu-ray
  • Limited edition of 3,000 copies
Categories: Blu-ray / DVD Reviews | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

It’s Hammer (Horror) Time! Indicator’s HAMMER VOLUME FOUR: FACES OF FEAR Box Reviewed

Two-faces.jpg

BD. Indicator. Region Free. 15.

Indicators limited (to 6,000 numbered units) edition Hammer Volume Four: Faces Of Fear box set trawls through that legendary studio’s repertoire in similarly promiscuous style to its three predecessors, yielding four UK Blu-ray premieres. First up is possibly the most undervalued jewel in Hammer’s Gothic crown, Terence Fisher’s The Revenge Of Frankenstein (1958). Although it’s generally acknowledged that, in the previous Universal cycle, James Whale outdid even the splendours of his Frankenstein (1931) when he made The Bride Of Frankenstein in 1935, Fisher’s second Frankenstein flick tends to get undeservedly short shrift relative to the big break through picture he helmed for Hammer, The Curse Of Frankenstein (1957).

revenge title.jpgTROFSTEIN.jpg

TROF takes up exactly where the original left off in 1860, as the Baron (Peter Cushing) is led out to his assignation with the guillotine. His deformed assistant Carl having greased the executioner’s palm, the attending priest affords the Baron more solace than he could possibly have imagined by going under the blade in his place. Three years later, Dr Stein has relocated to Carlsbrück, where he’s maintaining a very successful medical practice. His lucrative work on the town’s neurotic young ladies and their matchmaking mothers underwrites his free clinic for this burg’s unwashed social marginals who in, their turn keep the Baron in body parts for his sophomore crack at creating a new creature. Carl will be repaid by having his superfine mind relocated to a more salubrious body (that of Michael Gwynne) and everybody will be happy ever after. That’s the idea, anyway…

TROF.jpg

Ambitious young doctor Hans Kleve (Francis “future voice of Captain Scarlet” Mathews) is Klever enough to figure out the doc’s true identity and volunteers to assist him. As the alternative is to be turned in to the police, “Doctor Stein” graciously accepts this kind offer. The big operation turns out successfully but the intervention of well-off do gooder Margaret (Eunice Gayson) sparks off an unfortunate sequence of events resulting in the handsome young creature degenerating physically and turning cannibal (!) The hoity-toity local medical board aren’t best pleased with these developments, but their response pales into insignificance compared to the reaction of the unwashed paupers / unwitting organ donors, leading to a twist ending which sets up the Baron nicely for the rest of the series as a proper self made man.

 

MV5BYzBiMTlmYmYtMzZjOS00YWI0LTgxMDItZmU5OTMwYmQwMWU0L2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTQxNzMzNDI@._V1_ copy.jpgTCOF and TROF could easily be watched together as a three hour saga. The former flows directly into the latter, there’s no let up in the thrills and spills, DP Jack Asher alternates lurid primary colours and muted pastel tones throughout and in Revenge Leonard Salzedo substitutes admirably for James Bernard (who probably had his hands full with the OST for Hammer’s Dracula, the same year). There’s a significant change in emphasis in Jimmy Sangster’s script the second time out, though… The Baron has changed from a misguided idealist who regretfully cracks a few human eggs to advance the frontiers of medical science, into a psychopath who’s determined to be proven right and given his due at any cost. “I swore I’d have my revenge… they’ll never be rid of me” he tells Dr Kleve and indeed, this and Cushing’s subsequent four outings as the Baron (1970’s The Horror Of Frankenstein is another bundle of body parts altogether) can be construed as nothing less than… the revenge of Frankenstein!

TROF.jpg

Did I mention the fab cameos from Michael Ripper and Lionel Jeffries?

Among the expected plethora of extras attending this 4K restoration there’s that cracking trailer with Cushing’s baron ‘fessing up to his escape from Madame Guillotine and his plans for new outrages. In the featurette Back from the Dead Jonathan Rigby, Alan Barnes and Kevin Lyons devote their collective attention to the film. The consensus emerges that Eunice Gayson’s character was a bit of a waste of screen space. Pamela Hutchinson makes the pro-Eunice case in her featurette then Kat Ellinger gets the casting vote in a visual essay directed by Dima Ballin. I don’t know if Kat’s the first critic to discern a connection between Cushing’s Frankenstein and Dennis Price’s character in Kind Hearts And Coronets (1949), but the comparison is very well drawn.

EVCMBDREOFEC045H__85804.1541815072.JPG61rTBiq7USL._SY450_.jpg

There are two audio commentaries from duos of genre pundits, Marcus Hearn / Jonathan Rigby and Kim Newman / Stephen Jones. David Huckvale (author of Hammer Film Scores And The Musical Avant Garde) dissects Salzedo’s score and you get 12 soundless minutes of on-set outtakes plus the 8 minute long Super 8 presentation and image gallery. As with all the other films on this set, there’s a trailer with optional audio commentary (in this case by Joe Dante). There’ll also be a limited edition exclusive 36-page booklet including a new Marcus Hearn essay and Kieran Foster on Hammer’s unrealised Tales of Frankenstein TV series, Jimmy Sangster on The Revenge of Frankenstein, a selection of promotional materials, an overview of contemporary reviews and comprehensive film credits.

TROF-1-1.jpg

At the point in my life where it was beginning to dawn on me that Horror Films might actually be worth writing about rather than just casually consuming, Mario Bava, Roger Corman and Terence Fisher were generally regarded as the holy trinity of auteurs among Horror directors in the critical texts I started reading. Producer Val Lewton was afforded similar status. Subsequent waves of pro and fanzine publications have only boosted Bava’s credentials but these days Corman is more highly regarded for the talent he brought along rather than his own directorial efforts and Lewton has just about disappeared off the radar which Fisher vacated long ago.

two_faces_of_dr_jekyll_poster_03.jpgJekyll's_Inferno.jpg

Wolf Mankowitz seemed to have precious little respect for Fisher even in 1960, when he was called upon to impart an air of “respectability” to the director’s The Two Faces Of Dr Jekyll. His screenplay, freighted with throwaway Freud and Nietzsche, displays similarly scant regard for Robert Louis Stevenson (and to make it unanimous, Hammer deny Stevenson a writing credit for a classic  story that had slipped into the public domain), introducing a new character, Paul Allen (Christoper Lee) who turns an infernal triangle (also involving Dawn Addams as the doc’s flighty wife) into a right raunchy rectangle.

the-two-faces-of-dr-jekyll-aka-house-everett.jpg

Paul Massie takes on the title role(s), tweedy and dull in a joke shop beard (Hammer make up maestro Roy Ashton sparing every expense) as Dr J, clean shaven, wild eyed and overacting furiously as Paul Allen gives Mr H. a guided tour of the most vanilla debauchery London has to offer. Composer Monty Norman (yes, the Bond guy) and DP Jack Asher impart the requisitely lush sound and visuals (beautifully rendered in this HD remaster) to keep a golden era Hammer romp rattling along. By the close of proceedings Dr J is confronted with the real life fall out from his abstract philosophical theories about “authentic” manhood. This one would make an interesting double bill with Walerian Borowczyk’s The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Miss Osbourne (1981), which wrestles with similar ethical concerns and takes similar liberties with the narrative of RLS’s venerable yarn.

tumblr_nvrf2ka4mH1qmemvwo3_500.jpg

Bonus wise you get an audio commentary with film historians Josephine Botting and Jonathan Rigby, the latter also popping up alongside his usual cohorts in the overview featurette Identity Crisis. Academic Laura Mayne profiles Dawn Addams and we get the additional benefit of a fan’s audio interview with Paul Massie (who reassures his interlocutor that the sex films in his films were actually staged) and an archive interview with Wolf Mankowitz. In Mauve Decadence, David Huckvale supplements his discussion of Monty Norman’s score with observations on the film’s colour schemes. Plus all the expected stuff and the booklet will feature a new essay by Kat Ellinger, a selection of promotional materials, an overview of contemporary reviews and full film credits.

T2FODJ.jpg

Not wanting to be typecast as… well, tall, dark and gruesome, Christopher Lee declined the lead role(s) in TTFODJ in favour of one that prefigures several he subsequently took in certain of Jess Franco’s better budgeted De Sade adaptations a decade or so later… and of course in 1971 he took the “Jekyll / Hyde” (actually Marlowe / Blake) roles in Stephen Weeks’ even looser Amicus adaptation I, Monster. So go figure.

scream.jpg

Lee wasn’t the only one worried about flogging the goose that laid the golden egg to death, either. Michael Carreras and the other Hammer bigwigs were more worried about that than I clearly am about mixing metaphors and for Taste Of Fear (1961), Jimmy Sangster was tasked with writing an hommage to a French film that was released in 1955 and whose influence, though apparently rapidly eclipsed by Hammer’s more overtly explosive efforts, subsequently pervaded some of Hitchcock’s finest screen achievements (notably Vertigo and Psycho) and later the gialli with which it has, on numerous occasions, been associated in this blog. I’m talking, of course, about Henri George Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques (below). Underlining this attempted shift in style Taste Of Fear, directed in 1961 by Seth Holt (heading up only his second feature film) was shot in moody monochrome (rather than Fisher’s favoured gaudy colour schemes) by Douglas Slocombe.

vera_clouzot.jpg

Wheelchair bound Penny Appleby (Susan Strasberg) visits her estranged father’s cliff top mansion in the South of France, only to be told that he’s away. So why does what appears to be his corpse (below) keep turning up in the conservatory, swimming pool and elsewhere? Looks like her step mother Jane (Ann Todd) and the family doctor Pierre Gerrard Lee again) are attempting to gaslight Penny out of her inheritance. Luckily Ann’s hunky chauffeur Robert (Ronald Lewis) seems to be rooting for our girl… but there are plenty of twists to come.

TOF.jpg

Nearly 60 years after its initial release, Taste Of Fear remains an effective shocker, from its gloomy opening to the satisfying poetic irony of its conclusion, with twists piling upon twists along the way. You’ve got to give Holt, Sangster and co credit for something fresh because the template of Les Diaboliques had not, at this point, been thrashed into the ground by so many late ’60s and subsequent gialli (most of them written by Ernesto Gastaldi). Don’t get me wrong, I love those pictures but Clouzot’s original remains superior to them and indeed Taste Of Fear, because… well, I think it’s something to do with the fact that its protagonists are struggling to survive in a drab, unforgiving environment, as opposed to the louche playboys and girls who came later. Does that make me sound “classist”? I’m not sure that’s even a real word…

hurler-vf.jpgready_to_hurl_02.jpg

Together with two presentations of the main feature (including the US version Scream Of Fear) we’re treated to a particularly bumper slate of supplementary materials on this disc including a commentary track from Kevin Lyons, who joins Jonathan Rigby and Alan Barnes in the featurette Body Horror. Expect lots of anecdotes about director Holt having to contend with Strasberg’s formidable mother on set. Melanie Williams profiles Ann Todd and there are not one but two (one video, one audio) interviews with Jimmy Sangster. Joining Jimmy in the British Entertainment History Project archive, Douglas Slocombe talks about working for Hammer and Steven Spielberg and camera operator Desmond Davis and assistant sound editor John Crome chip in with their reminiscenses.  You get the Super 8 version of Scream of Fear and the booklet will contain an essay by Marcus Hearn, Jimmy Sangster on the film, an archival on-set report, selection of promotional materials and an overview of contemporary reviews.

MV5BODY3MDY4NWQtZjJlYy00YzdiLWIxNjEtMGVhMjY3MmZkZTkwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTIyNzY1NzM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1274,1000_AL_.jpg

The Damned (1962… “These Are The Damned” in the US) would fit just as comfortably (or uncomfortably) on any other Hammer box. This eclectic effort could have been (and at various points was) hyped as both juvenile delinquency and sci-fi saga, the latter slant enhanced no end by its more than passing resemblance to Wolf Rilla’s Village Of The Damned (1960 and pictured below, mainly because it’s such a groovy graphic!)

The-Village-Of-The-Damned-poster-French-Martin-Stephens-1px-stroke.jpg

Middle-aged yank Simon Wells (Macdonald Carey) sails into Weymouth and begins his holiday by falling foul of a honey trap involving attractive young Joan (Shirley Anne Field) and run by her brother (Oliver Reed, who appears briefly in Two Faces Of Dr. Jekyll and was last seen ripping off seaside tourists on this blog in Michael Winner’s The System). Beaten up by King’s “Teddy Boys” (clearly a gang of actual Rockers, drilled by King in a foreshadowing of Alex’s handling of his droogs in A Clockwork Orange), Wells continues his pursuit of Joan and by various clumsy script contrivances the dramatis personae find themselves in a secret base on an island where irradiated children are being prepared for a post-Apocalyptic future…

"Hallucination" Poster.jpg

A likely story, with awkward characterisations exacerbated by some conspicuous miscasting, The Damned is nevertheless well worth watching due to the profusion of challenging ideas throws out by Joseph Losey (several of whose films have been recently released by Indicator). On the lam from McCarythyite witch hunting (and originally pencilled in to direct Hammer’s X – The Unknown, 1956, until its Commie-phobic star Dean Jagger objected and Leslie Norman replaced him), Losey was always fascinated by the power dynamics between social groupings, be they biker gangs or deep state bigwigs dictating the fates of nations. He’d studied with  Bertolt Brecht so maybe we can give him the benefit of the doubt and conclude that if the characterisations and miscastings in this film have an alienating effect, they were supposed to. Maybe.

MV5BNjM4NGNjYTctM2Y4My00MTZmLWE0OTctOGM3MzAwMjkyOTdhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjIyNjE2NA@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1409,1000_AL_.jpg

This one will also be accompanied by an exclusive 36-page booklet comprising a new essay by Richard Combs, Losey’s reminiscences, the US pressbook, contemporary reviews and all the rest of it. The 2K restoration is presented in two 96-minute versions, as either The Damned or These Are the Damned. Rigby, Barnes, Lyons and in this case Nick Riddle present an overview of the film and there’s a commentary track courtesy of Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan. You get alternative appraisals from Neil Sinyard and I Q HunterFilm plus an interview with filmmaker Gavrik Losey, son of the director and always an acute analyst of his father’s work. Film historian Lindsay Hallam profiles Viveca Lindfors. There are interviews with first time screen writer Evan Jones, brought in by Losey to  improve the screenplay (so God knows what kind of shape it was originally in) and camera operator Anthony Heller. Possibly the most engaging interviews of all are with grown up radioactive munchkins David Palmer, Kit Williams and Christopher Witty, who all seem to have developed juvenile crushes on Shirley Anne Field (and why on Earth wouldn’t they?), who is also interviewed. Here at THOF we’ve never knowingly spurned an opportunity to run a picture of SAF looking lurvely and why should this posting be any different?

SAF.jpg089_VOL4_FACES_OF_FEAR_exploded_packshot_720x.jpg

Categories: Blu-ray / DVD Reviews | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Turkish Delight Of Mrs Wardh… THIRSTY FOR LOVE, SEX AND MURDER Reviewed.

seksvecinayet1.jpg

Thirsty For Love, Sex And Murder (“Aska Susayanlar: Seks Ve Cinayet”) (Turkey, 1972) Directed by Mehmet Aslan.

Kebab shop counterfeits of the likes of Spiderman, The Exorcist and Star Trek (“Mr Spak” indeed!) have earned the Turkish film industry mucho kitsch culture collateral and its interaction with its Italian counterpart (fascinatingly documented in Pete Tombs’ indispensable Mondo Macabro tome) has born delirious fruit. I’d always accepted Antonio Margheriti’s Yor – Hunter From The Future (1983) as the bench mark of this particular craziness until, that is, the recent buzz on antisocial media which alerted me to the existence of … (brace yourselves)… a Turkish remake of Sergio Martino’s The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh (1971). No, really!

71qUVDbGLuL._RI_.jpg

Apparently Martino’s film did get a Turkish release (premiering on 23/11/71 as “Yılan Ruhlu Kadın), obviously doing sufficiently blockbusting business on The Bosphorus to convince somebody that a quickie copycat was in order the following year… and it’s a very close copy, or at least a serious stab at one. Certain scenes play out shot-for-shot in comparison to Martino’s original and the principals have clearly been cast with half an eye on how much they resemble its stars. It has to be said that Ivan Rassimov was singularly ill served in this regard, his Turkish equivalent looking more like Lee Van Cleef in the aftermath of a particularly heavy night on the tiles. Meral Zeran (below) is handed the thankless task of replacing Edwige Fenech and the script of this one dispenses with the endless shower scenes that adorned TSVOMW, along with much expositional material.

Meral Zeren.jpg

Various running times have been claimed for Thirsty For Love, Sex And Murder but each of its two appearances on Youtube clock in just short of forty minutes. I don’t know if any footage has been excised (there’s a Sunset Beach-style voice over at one point which might be there to cover such excisions, but my Turkish is rather rusty so who knows?) or whether Turkish cinema goers in the ’70s were content to consume films of such brevity (maybe as a support to the main feature?) One of the versions on Youtube “boasts” a grab-bag soundtrack of themes from miscellaneous gialli, some of them original and some (notably a weedy attempt at invoking Nora Orlandi’s unforgettable “sacramental masochism” theme from TSVOMW) which could have been concocted by the people who used to put together those “Hot Hits” albums for Woolworths. Perhaps the soundtrack copyrights, at least, were contested because the other version I found substituted intolerable synthesiser farting for all of this.

thirsty-for-love-sex-and-murder-turkish-dvd-cover.jpg

Director Aslan generally makes a creditable job of aping Martino’s shots and copping the giallo’s visual style but does hit the occasional bum note, e.g. the really odd bit in which Zeran is distracted by headlights in a car park, which seems to go on for about four hours. It doesn’t exactly hurt that everybody’s decked out in groovy early ’70s threads and there’s a totally wild party scene in which everybody’s dancing fit to bust a blood vessel and the camera keeps sneaking up the girls’ mini- skirts in the TOTP-patented fashion. The denouement departs somewhat from the original template, incorporating a shoot out / punch up with added acrobatics and Zeran pitching in with a pitchfork. That’s the way to do it, Sergio…

Aşka-Susayanlar1972_1136654978_n.jpg

In conclusion, I’d just like to express my disappointment that Turkish exploitation maven Kunt Tulgar had absolutely nothing to do with this picture. Just think of the humorous mileage I could have extracted from that name. I mean, come on… “Tulgar” rhymes with “Vulgar”!

*******************************************************

NOW… a chance for you to put your film buffery to the test, avids. Can you correctly identify which of the following images comes from The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh and which from Thirsty For Love, Sex And Murder? Send your answers, written on a ten pound note, to That Freudstein House, Oak Mansion, Dunwich, New England, blah, blah, blah to stand a chance of winning absolutely  sweet FA. Are we good to you or what?

the-strange-vice-of-mrs-wardh.jpegturkishhorror.jpgSHAM030-PG01.jpgvlcsnap-2012-05-19-14h08m53s122.jpgSHAM030-PG04.jpgThirstyForLove1-1-520x400.jpg

george-hilton-edwige-fenech-wardh.jpg

(Bit of a Clue in this one…)

aska-susayanlar-seks-ve-cinayet-jawa-typ-354_QLdXr2K-crop-c0-5__0-5-700x394-70.jpg

Categories: Film Reviews | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Lift To The Scaffold… HITCH HIKE TO HELL Reviewed.

MV5BZWEzMGJmYTktY2M2Ny00NTUxLTlmMjgtZTQxMjBiZjJmM2E4XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTQ2MjQyNDc@._V1_UY1200_CR57,0,630,1200_AL_.jpg

BD. Arrow. Region B. 18.

Once again, Arrow take us on a thumb-tripping detour down the dangerous backroads of indie American scuzz Cinema with a cautionary tale torn from contemporary (*) headlines which moralises mealey-mouthedly while wasting no opportunity to cash in on the dishonourable ’70s tradition of serial killing.
(* Nobody seems too confident about pinning a date on this one).

HitchHikeToHell-featured-1080x530.jpg

Howard (Robert Gribbin) is a total schmendrick who lives with his Mom and works as a dry cleaning delivery man. The edgiest thing he ever seems to do is drinking root beer (have any of our readers ever actually tried that stuff? Yeuch!) while working on his hobby, putting together model cars. Nobody knows about his other hobby, though… raping and strangling hitch hiking runaways. It’s strongly suggested in John Buckley’s screenplay that Howie himself is not too aware of this regrettable sideline, going into some kind of spazzed-out fugue state as soon as his victims start expressing dissatisfaction with their home life or dissing their own Moms (contented homebodies just get a free ride to wherever they’re going). Apparently Howie’s domineering mother was upset when his sister Judy hitch hiked out of their lives. “I’m going to do Mama a favour, you tramp” he rails as he rapes the hapless hikers and throttles them with wire coat hangers: “You ran away from Mama… I’m going to do something to you, Judy… punish you for all you did to Mama” he continues, over their limp protests that they’re not bloody Judy! One victim was even amenable (to the sex, if not the strangling) on the time honoured principle of “a ride for a ride” (despite observing, harshly but fairly, that Howie’s “no Burt Reynolds”). The little trollop had it coming, just like Mom says.

l44KzQmzhtITEE_Y-AwlFtKEvU1FXSgjzz8RyBumQTk-1.jpg

Whaddya mean, I put too much starch in it?!?

Bit careless though, to use the coat hangers with which his delivery van is littered…. that’s the bright red “Baldwin Cleaners” van, which must be so inconspicuous when picking up the girls. Careless also of Howie to leave his milk bottle glasses at one of the crime scenes. Then again, he doesn’t even know he’s doing this, does he? And anyway, the investigating officer Captain Shaw (Russell Johnson… yes, “The Professor” from Gilligan’s Island) is completely clueless, so Howie’s reign of terror continues. He extends his murderous attentions to a young guy who’s left home due to his parents’ disapproval of his sexual preferences and a cute little girl (though it’s not made clear whether either of those are sexually assaulted) before finally winding up confined to a booby hatch (looks like the good folks of Crescent City will to find somebody else to clean their baldwins). “Spazzed-out fugue state”, my ass… somebody strap this guy into the nearest electric chair!

HitchHikeToHell-Screenshot-2.jpg

The final shots of Howie wearing a strait jacket in a rubber room, babbling about his Mom, are obviously intended to underscore the purported Norman Bates parallels, as is so often the case in these things, though Robert Gribbin’s Howard reminded me of nobody so much as Dan Grimaldi’s disco-dancing pyromaniac  in Joseph Ellison’s Don’t Go In The House (1979). While we’re admonishing people not to do stuff, Gribbin’s other notable credit (under the highly apposite nom de screen “Crackers Phinn”) was Gar aka Mark, the time travelling cannibal caveman in Lawrence D. Foldes’ truly jaw dropping “video nasty” Don’t Go Near The Park (1979). No doubt if HHTH had been released on VHS back in the day, it would have joined that one on the DPP’s proscribed list. Whatever, it was picked up for US distribution by Harry Novak, so you should know pretty much  what to expect…

af2c54e7c0496a44413e733a6f6c74f9.jpghead-monster-of-piedras-blancas.jpg

The main feature and its trailer are presented in two optional screen ratios (1.33 and 1.78). Extras wise, Stephen Thrower does a characteristically engaging job profiling the prolific, promiscuous career of director Irvin Berwick, whose stint with Sci-fi legend Jack Arnold inspired one of the most memorable Creature From The Black Lagoon knock-offs, his The Monster Of Piedras Blancas in 1959. Alexandra Heller-Nicholas narrates a new visual essay on the darker aspects of hitch-hiking culture on the screen and in real life.

MV5BZmYwNDc5NWItMGFjZi00OWM3LTk1M2MtZjIwMTljYjM0MDBiXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyOTc5MDI5NjE@._V1_.jpg

This never happened to Jack Kerouac…

Country singer Nancy Adams talks about recording the title song for a film which is clearly not her cup of tea (“I don’t want that sort of thing in our house”) and we are treated to an incongruous mash-up of the picture’s opening visuals and the original version of that number, then entitled “Lovin’ On My Mind”. Adams gives one of the name droppiest interviews ever but, to be fair, she has had a long and interesting career.

58379408_2439304582754795_3234093546206134272_n.jpg

If you’ve got a BD capable PC or Mac you’ll be able to access the original press book and the reversible sleeve will feature original and newly commissioned artwork by those Twins of Evil guys. The first pressing only will contain a collector’s booklet featuring Heather Drain’s appraisal of this torrid trash effort. Enjoy.

Categories: Blu-ray / DVD Reviews | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

When Italian FX Aces Turn Director… WAX MASK / KILLER CROCODILE 1 & 2 Reviewed.

11109.jpg

Wax Mask. BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.
Killer Crocodile / Killer Crocodile 2. BD. Severin. Region A. Unrated.

By the early 1980s Italy ruled the ‘B’ movie waves, churning out over three hundred titles per year to fuel an insatiable international appetite for horror, action and exploitation all’Italiana… a Roman empire the extent of which Trajan himself could scarcely have dreamed. By the end of that decade, however, the Italian film landscape was as bleak as any depicted in the post-Apocalyptic epics that constituted its final filone

MV5BMDE1MmM4YmItNDA4MS00MmY2LWIyYTYtMGI4MTcwMTBlMzljXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjM2NTM3ODA@._V1_.jpg

It doesn’t take an Edward Gibbon to trace the causes of this spectacular fall from grace. Tightening censorship in key European markets meant that enevelope-pushing outrages like Lucio Fulci’s New York Ripper (1982) were now out of the question. Along with the consequent blanding out of Italian genre efforts, there was increased leisure buck competition from the deregulation of domestic TV under Silvio Berlusconi and increasing incursions into exploitive subject matter by the US Majors whose budgets Spaghetti exploitation mavens could never hope to match.  Dardano Sacchetti, who wrote more films than anybody else during the industry’s most lucrative years, identifies the short-term thinking and profit-taking priorities of Italian producers as a crucially detrimental factor. If they’d invested instead of constantly cutting budgets, by this account, pasta paura could have become as big a deal as the spaghetti western… and Sacchetti didn’t shy away from identifying the poster boy for this myopic modus operandi as Fabrizio De Angelis, for whom he and Lucio Fulci collaborated on several low budget classics in the late ’70s, early ’80s. “De Angelis was an amiable man but a terrible producer, always ready to sacrifice even the best things about a movie just to save a few bucks”, Sacchetti told me. “He’s a cheap-skate…” chipped in Fred Williamson, alluding to FDA’s later tactic of ditching seasoned pro directors like Fulci and Enzo Castellari to direct his own pictures (as “Larry Ludman”):  “…. it has nothing to do with creativity. He doesn’t want to pay people to do something he thinks he can do, but that doesn’t mean he can do it well“. When I interviewed De Angelis, he defended himself from such charges as follows: “I’ve always given other directors bigger budgets than I give myself. I pay as much as anybody else and many of the people who complained came back to work for me again, so I can’t be that bad”.

killer_crocodile_poster_01.jpg

Sure enough, Sacchetti was back on board (as “David Parker Jr”) to co-write Killer Crocodile (1989)… not that it took much writing, emerging as a transposition of a certain Stephen Spielberg film (and ultimately Ibsen’s An Enemy Of The People, if you want to get pedantic about it) from Amity Island to the swamps of the Dominican Republic. Just in case anybody missed the Jaws allusions (or the fact that this whole film is one big Jaws allusion), Riz Ortolani’s score reverberates with all the obvious John Williams pinches.

9940039fe094aee7e0f90ce2058269ac.jpg

Environmentalist Kevin (Anthony… son of Richard… Crenna) and his crew discover that the Dominican waterways are clogged with something way worse than plastic bags and bottles. Irresponsible radioactive dumping, facilitated by a corrupt local Judge (Hollywood heavyweight Van Johnson in one of his final screen credits) has produced the eponymous super-sized saurian, impressively rendered (when you consider the likely budget) by Italy’s FX supremo Giannetto De Rossi, despite his words to the contrary (“It’s a laughing stock!”) in one of the bonus featurettes on this set. Editor Vincenzo Tomassi completes a quartet of holdovers from the gory, glory days of Lucio Fulci.

maxresdefault-1.jpg

With all that talent on hand and everything De Angelis had osmosed from his proximity to the likes of Fulci and Castellari (whose brother Enio Girolami steals the show as Captain Ahab-like crocodile hunter Joe), it’s no surprise that Killer Crocodile emerges as an efficient, satisfying piece of throwaway entertainment, smoothly shot by Federico Del Zoppo in the American TV movie style that was becoming increasingly prevalent at this time. If all that sounds a bit too blandly slick for your tastes, rest assured (and here comes the SPOILER ALERT!) that De Angelis winds things up (things notably including the title creature’s leathery ol’ head) with a revival of the classic “outboard motor” gag from Marino Girolami’s Zombie Holocaust (1980), another picture he produced back in the golden age… but what kind of egg is that hatching on the banks of the bayou?

zombi-holocaust-11.jpgMV5BYzgzODgzMTAtZmExZi00MzgzLWI4YzEtODI0YWQxZDViNTM4XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjUyNDk2ODc@._V1_.jpg

Laser focussed on the bottom line, FDA arranged the simultaneous shooting of Killer Crocodile 2 (1990) and detailed its direction to Giannetto De Rossi. History doesn’t record whether he was instructed to “make it snappy” but presumably De Rossi got the job on the grounds that he could be paid even less than the producer would pay “Larry Ludman”! Otherwise the crew’s pretty much the same (Giovanni Bergamini replaces Del Zoppo as DP) and so is the story. Corrupt corporate types are still dumping radioactive waste in that river, still with the connivance of scumbag politicians, one of whom is planning to open a leisure complex on a particularly hideously polluted stretch. Investigative journalist Liza (“Debra Karr”, would you believe?) is on the case but it’s not a particularly compelling one. Looks like they didn’t shoot enough footage of the crocodile to fall back on before it was definitively destroyed at the end of Part 1. There’s a great bit where it crashes through the side of a hut to snack on some low level bad dudes but such moments are few and far between. De Rossi is obliged to pad things out with a bunch of flashbacks to the original’s “greatest hits” and mucho over-baked exposition, though admittedly Ms Karr does look distractingly good, wandering around the jungle in a wet sports bra after her guide tried to rape her and was promptly eaten by the croc. Kevin and Joe arrive halfway through the picture to try and rescue her but blink and you’ll miss Joe. Having delivered the brazen line: “We’ve got to get a bigger boat”, Kevin is left to contrive the coup de gras, in the absence of any handy outboard motors, via a fistful of dynamite.

Killer-crocodile-2-Coccodrillo-assassino-2-.jpg

Killer Crocodile 2 doesn’t really live up to its predecessor (how many sequels do?) but I was glad to be reacquainted with this brace, my VHS copies of which (sourced from German satellite channels) disappeared many moons ago down the ravenous collecting maw of leathery old Darrell Buxton. Severin present the films with their customary panache and  a slew of of tasty extras, notably Naomi Holwill’s fine feature length De Rossi doc The Prince Of Plasma, featuring contributions from the man himself, plus collaborators Luigi Cozzi, Massimo Vanni and Zombi 2 poster boy Ottaviano Dell’Acqua, also pundits Allan Bryce, Calum Waddell, Rachael Nisbet and Russ Hunter. In his standalone interview featurette, De Rossi is engagingly self deprecating regarding his work on these films. DP Federico Del Zoppo also has his say. The recollections of Anthony Crenna (now identifying as Richard Anthony Crenna) chime with those of many a non-Italian actor regarding his bemusement at being required to act sans direct sound and the virtually non-existent Health & Safety culture. Pietro Genuardi develops this theme further, claiming that a local drowned when operating the croc maquette underwater before detailing his own colourful experiences on location and attempting to return to Rome from it. You also get trailers and a few deleted sequences from the sequel. Nice.

maxresdefault.jpg

Wax Mask (1997), although it evolved into another (and rather more effective) FX-man-turned-director effort, was originally conceived as an attempt to revive the flagging Italian Horror tradition via another means, i.e. by assembling the dream team of Dario Argento (producing), Lucio Fulci (directing) and that man Sacchetti, writing (the latter has some very interesting things to say about the genesis of this project and the motivations behind it in our interview elsewhere on this blog). Of course Sacchetti was subsequently sacked (and replaced by Daniele Stroppa) when his proposed Mummy vehicle failed to find favour with Argento, whose enthusiasm for all things Gaston Leroux (below, left) at this point (which would attain its abysmal fruition in DA’s Phantom Of The Opera, 1997) re-routed the project in the direction of Leroux’s Waxwork Museum Mystery and its various cinematic offshoots. Tragically, after putting much work into that, Fulci died shortly before shooting was due to commence. Having been turned down by Fulci’s preferred successor, Claudio Fragasso (who collaborated with Lucio on the certifiably insane Zombi 3, 1988), Argento promoted long time FX man Sergio Stivaletti to make his directorial debut, resulting in the artefact under consideration here.

image-w240.jpgkjksEYsXkL.jpg

Reflecting its convoluted origins, Wax Mask incorporates various strands of the Italian Horror / Thriller tradition, notably Gothic and Giallo, emerging as an attempt (no doubt Argento’s) to propel the two geriatric genres over the line into the 21st Century. Its action commences in Paris at the beginning of the 20th (“31st. December 1900” says the caption, but surely that’s a mistake?) where a little girl witnesses her parents being butchered by a masked figure with a robotic hand. Years later, two bravos partying in a Roman brothel strike a bet about whether one of them is brave enough to spend a night in a spooky wax museum (shades of Antonio Margheriti’s Danse Macabra). The designated dude duly dies of fright when confronted with a Medusa tableau. Was he the world’s biggest girl’s blouse or did something altogether more sinister occur? While we’re pondering that one, Sonia Lafont (Romina Mondello) turns up at the wax museum looking for a job and becomes obsessed with the contents of proprietor Boris Volkoff (Robert Hossein)’s gloves. Turns out she was the little girl who survived the film’s brutal prologue… how sensitive of Volkoff, after taking her on, to open a new display which recreates that crime in suspiciously accurate detail. And why do the new wax figures always look so much like people who’ve recently disappeared from the streets?

WaxMask2.jpg

Wax Mask looks quite ravishing due in no small part, one imagines, to the participation of Fulci stalwarts Sergio Salvati (DP) and Massimo Antonello Geleng (production design). Maurizio Abeni’s lush music vindicates the decision to go with an orchestral score rather than Simonetti-style synth rock and the surround sound option on this disc will give your home cinema setup quite a workout. As you’d expect from a Stivaletti film (and with the sterling support of the ill-fated Benoit Lestang) the FX are pretty impressive and the director continues to explore the possibilities of CGI, which he’d first tackled in Argento’s The Stendhal Syndrome (1996), not least with the startling eruption of a Terminator-like animated death’s head figure during the film’s denouement.

0P1390028.jpg

The question inevitably arises (as it previously did with the likes of Lamberto Bava and Michele Soavi) as to how much of the film Stivaletti actually directed, considering that Argento spent so much time on set (and apparently Hossein, a director in his own right, wasn’t exactly backwards in coming forward with advice). It’s a question that’s thoroughly addressed in this edition’s plentiful bonus materials, interviews with several of the creative principals throwing much light on Wax Mask’s protean progress from the drawing board to the screen and providing fascinating insights into the proverbial “personal and professional differences” with which the Italian film scene is freighted. Argento talks of how his attitude towards Fulci developed from mistrust into “love” and opines that if he had lived, Wax Mask secondo Fulci would have been “wild”.  Anyone who was puzzled by Alan Jones’s critical volte face on Fulci after the early ’80s will find Jones’s comments here interesting. We also get some clues as to what a Fulci-directed Wax Mask might have looked like and Stivaletti rues the stick he got from the ol’ Goremeister’s fans (and allegedly his daughter Antonella) for coming up with something different. Not, perhaps, the most reasonable of criticisms. There’s also a trio of “behind the scenes” featurettes that you might have seen on previous DVD editions. If not, all the better.

Robert Hossein.jpg

Two interesting facts about Robert Hossein (above) emerge from the supplementary materials assembled here. Firstly, that he actually appeared in productions of Pigalle’s legendary Theatre Du Grand Guignol and also that he is (at least by Argento’s reckoning) a total fanny magnet! David Gregory moderates a commentary track from Stivaletti and his son Michelangelo, who’s there to help Dad out with his English and point out his own, intra-uterine film debut.

wax_mask_jap_chirashi.jpg

I’d dispute Severin’s billing of Wax Mask as “the last great Italian gore film of the 20th Century” but it’s a consistently watchable and entertaining one and the compelling extras on this disc, constituting a revelatory delight for the cognoscenti of pasta paura, turn it into an indispensible purchase. My copy came with a bonus CD of Abeni’s OST.

WAX-MASK-1997-1.jpg

The two FX men-turned-directors are pictured below during their triumphant recent appearances at Manchester’s ever wonderful Festival Of Fantastic Films.

EHwj96RX4AAlLMF.jpgEHwj96QWsAAY6c4.jpg

 

Categories: Blu-ray / DVD Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Uh Oh, Chongo! It’s THE BANANA SPLITS MOVIE Next…

91OSf-1RwQL._SL1500_.jpg

DVD. Warner. Region 2. 18.

Now there’s a title that will baffle all but the most fossilised of our readers… as for the rest of you, try and imagine, if you can, a time without wall-to-wall children’s TV, when the biggest thing on your mind coming home from school was the new episode of Scooby Doo. Saturday mornings, meanwhile, offered the dubious delights of The Banana Splits…

71PeANxOVNL._SY445_.jpgb6ae3b6ed09d0c04652170198a133bdb.jpg

One day in 1967, Hanna-Barbera executives brainstormed a new kids show to be based loosely around the Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In format. So far so good, but this was 1967 after all… who can guess what psychoactive substances had been slipped into the water cooler and what havoc they wrought on the neural networks of the participants as they fleshed out this promising premise to encompass a pop group comprising guys in furry mutant animal suits, apparently living in a basement that is besieged by little girls playing mariachi music and malevolent pre-teen go-go dancers? All sounds well dodgy now, but perhaps the tripping executives reasoned that such outré ingredients would distract from the utter lameness of the episodic cartoon series buried in the mix, the stiffest stuff ever to emerge under the esteemed H-B banner… I’m talking The Arabian Knights, The Three Musketeers and the justifiably short lived Micro Ventures (honourable mention though for the live action cliff-hanging effort Danger Island, starring a young Jean-Michael Vincent and featuring Kim Kahana as Chongo)… this  whole mess served up to the accompaniment of moronic bubble gum pop, corny sound effects and incessant canned laughter. Like it says in the song… lots of fun for everyone! So how come Scooby Doo remains an institution (regularly repeated / rebooted and now celebrating its first half Century) while The Banana Splits have ridden a Banana Bluggy to oblivion since the final episodes were shot in 1970? Perhaps Danishka Esterhazy’s 2019 feature can throw some light on what happened…

51odtg9NHHL._SX425_.jpg

… perhaps not. The Banana Splits Movie unfolds in a parallel universe where, according to writers Jed Elinoff and Scott Thomas (who quite possibly  imbibed from that same water cooler), The Banana Splits Adventure Hour (to give the show its full original title) continued its run successfully into the present day. Of course this has necessitated a few tweaks along the way. The program is now shot in South Africa (no reason why not, I guess) and the cartoons, Chongo and co, those mariachi moppets and The Sour Grapes Bunch (who at least get a name check) have been expunged from the format in favour of an audience participation game show. Most radically, The Splits themselves (joined here by a human co-presenter named Stevie) are now animatronic creations rather than guys in flea bitten furry costumes, hard wired to fulfil their primary directive “the show must go on”.

Banana-Splits-Movie-Trailer.jpg

When spiteful Stevie breaks it to the ‘Nanas that an obnoxious new executive is cancelling the show, they go totally Westworld on his ass and those of all the other adults in the studio audience. The kids are chained to their seats and obliged to watch a procession of grown ups whom we’ve been egged on to dislike (of whom there are no shortage) being dispatched in inventive, Grand Guignol fashion. One guy has a lollipop rammed down his throat, another’s face is burned off with an improvised flamethrower, yet another is torn limb from limb on a wheel of fortune and the ol’ “saw the dude in half” routine takes a distinctly literal turn… fun for everyone, indeed!

the-banana-splits-movie-660x330.jpg

Needless to say, some partypooping do gooders ultimately put a stop to the Splits’ splatterfest but they’re murderous cyborgs so maybe, you know, they’ll be back. In the bonus featurette The Banana Splits: Behind The Horror various cast and crew members recall what a great laugh they had making the picture. Director Esterhazy does her best to convince us that it only expands on the inherent creepiness of the original characters. Really? Never mind, TBSM helped 90 minutes or so to pass in undemandingly enjoyable style and now that I’ve watched it I’ll put it right there on the shelf next to Zombeavers, so I’ll know where to find it in the extremely unlikely event that I’ll ever want to watch it again.

Whatever next? The Phantom Flan Flinger turns to serial killing? Or maybe…

72522588_10218802427347410_8630948733653090304_n.jpg

Categories: Blu-ray / DVD Reviews | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

No Lon, No Lucio… MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES Reviewed

04406-unmasking copy.gif90f354f3-2875-4c27-9199-f94121828abc_1.f7fb2f77c87d423e1054b183f8509f63.jpeg

“A man only shows his true face when he is on the lavatory or on his deathbed”… Louis-Ferdinand Céline.

1-lon-chaney-in-london-after-midnight-1927--album.jpg

BD. Arrow Academy. Region B. PG.

I know, I know, that title is a gross oversimplification… but there’s a lot of gross stuff on this blog and we’ve never knowingly let factual niceties get in the way of a snappy headline. Suffice to say, although Lucio Fulci had already compiled an impressive CV by 1979, the director would be remembered very differently today had he not been called upon to outdo Tom Savini’s gory handiwork in George Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead (1978), which he did (with the sterling assistance of Giannetto de Rossi) in Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979)… and Savini, by his own admission, would never have embarked upon his illustrious career in make up FX  (the same is allegedly true for Dick Smith and Rick Baker) but for a youthful viewing of the picture under consideration here, directed by Joseph Pevney in 1957.

source.gif

In “Hollywood’s Jubilee Year”, Universal deemed it fitting to make a biopic of one of the silent era’s greatest stars (in one of the bonus featurettes on this disc, Kim Newman reminds us that Lon Chaney was right up there with Charlie Chaplin), casting the scarcely less stellar and virtually as versatile James Cagney to play him. It goes without saying that Cagney gives a characteristically committed and nuanced performance, but much has been made of the difficulties posed for the film’s principal writers, Ralph Wheelwright and R. Wright Campbell, by Chaney’s supposed secretiveness (publicists had dubbed him “the Man of Mystery” before the “Thousand Faces” gag stuck). The received wisdom is that this obliged them to fabricate much of the film’s narrative  but in fact the salient details of Cheney’s biography were well known (and in at least one respect, notorious) and apart from one contentious passage, the film takes only minor liberties for dramatic impact. Nor does it skirt around the notorious bits.

P7wKNGiiqHjfvsWzuFns6MfL4coy7yGQq28U4gMbyYc.png

The invention of movie make up.

Leonidas Frank Chaney was born on April Fool’s Day 1883, to deaf parents. Obliged to converse with them via sign language, he developed pantomime skills that he successfully parlayed into a Vaudeville career that lasted from 1902 to 1913. On April  30th that year, backstage (not on stage, as depicted in Pevney’s picture) at the Majestic Theatre, LA, his estranged wife, the former Francis Cleveland Creighton (aka “Cleva”), drank a bottle of mercuric chloride in an apparent suicide attempt that only succeeded in wrecking her vocal chords and ending her singing career. Lon’s own theatre run was terminated by the scandal over this incident and the subsequent divorce, prompting him to try his luck in Hollywood’s nascent motion picture industry, where his work ethic, versatility and mastery of screen make up (a discipline he effectively invented) rapidly propelled him to stardom, notably for our purposes in such genre milestones as Wallace Worsley’s The Hunchback Of Notre Dame (1923), Rupert Julian’s The Phantom Of The Opera (1925) and such Todd Browning classics as The Unholy Three (1925) and his 1927 brace, The Unknown (the obvious template for Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Santa Sangre, 1989) and the now lost London After Midnight.

London After Midnight Poster.jpg

Pevney, subsequently a prolific TV director, convincingly ascribes Chaney’s driven and seemingly masochistic (in terms of the prosthetic discomforts he was prepared to endure) approach to his career to a desire for financial security that would enable him to take custody of his son Creighton, the future Lon Chaney Jr. of Wolf Man fame. His success in this endeavour was assisted by his subsequent marriage to Hazel Hastings. Chaney completed his first talky, Jack Conway’s remake of The Unholy Three, before succumbing to throat cancer in 1930. Hollywood legend has it that had Lon lived, he rather than Bela Lugosi, would have played The Count  in Tod Browning’s Dracula the following year…

b850c37cfe6e2e47af4d8bdb83edf34f.jpg

… it’s a life story rich in pathos and irony, of which Pevney and his screen writers take full advantage. It seems reasonable to connect Chaney’s sympathetic portrayal of monstrous outsiders with the prejudice he and his parents faced. The film’s one jarring misstep (useful in terms of melodrama but unforgivable in a biopic) is the truly cringe-inducing (and completely fictitious) scene in which Cleva (Dorothy Malone) is presented to her in-laws and disgustedly rejects them. A more accurate account of the breakdown in the Chaneys’ marriage would include her youth, insecurity and incipient alcoholism. Malone’s Cleva fears that her son Creighton will be born a deaf mute but the real life Lon Jr’s most disadvantageous inheritance from his parents turned out to be his mother’s drink problem.

MV5BNTMzOTgyYTctMjYzNy00OGIwLWE4N2MtNTQ4MGI2MWRkZGZjL2ltYWdlL2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMDI2NDg0NQ@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,741,1000_AL_.jpg

The other significant bone I’d pick with this picture is that Chaney’s principal collaborator (and fellow former vaudevillian) Tod Browning remains conspicuous by his absence throughout, while we see rather too much of Universal / MGM nabob Irving Thalberg, as portrayed by former sports wear executive / future movie mogul Robert Evans. If you’re unaware of the bizarre circumstances surrounding Evans’ acting debut, Tim “Man Of A Hundred Commentary Tracks” Lucas will put you wise. Characteristically erudite stuff from Mr Watchdog but hey, Tim… maybe less of the vocal impressions next time, huh?

04406-unmasking.gif

Mary Philbin, Lon Chaney in Phantom Of The Opera, 1925.

89b9fe1beb52ae25a12fb006b0cf03a6_3x3.jpg

Nancy Kilgas, James Cagney in Man Of A Thousand Faces, 1957.

Lon_Chaney,_Sr._The_Miracle_Man.jpg

Lon Chaney, 1883-1930

Categories: Blu-ray / DVD Reviews | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: