Blu-ray / DVD Reviews

Rug Rat Rampage… THE MONSTER (aka I DON’T WANT TO BE BORN, et al) Reviewed.

BD. Network. Region B. 15.

The Carlesis seem to have it made. Gino (Ralph Bates) is a high powered businessman. His wife Lucy (Joan Collins) is an exotic dancer in a seedy nightclub, her act also involving a vertically-challenged sidekick named Hercules (George Claydon)… seems to work for them, but Gino and Lucy’s unconventional domestic idyll is shattered by the arrival of their son Nicholas, who weighs in at an eye-watering 12lb. The delivery proves so difficult that obstetrician Dr Finch (Donald Pleasance) comments (to nurse Floella Benjamin) on the kid’s apparent reluctance to be born. Nor does Lucy get much chance to recover from her ordeal in the maternity suite, as the baby commences to wreck his new nursery, gouge chunks out of any adult unwise enough to attempt a cuddle and make two attempts (the second one successful) at drowning his nanny. Lucy seeks solace from her exotic dancing colleague Mandy (Caroline Munro, whose act, unfortunately, we never get to see… nor do we hear her voice, as she’s been dubbed by Liz Frazer) and Gino’s sister Albana (Eileen Atkins), a nun who does some kind of unspecified work with lab animals (reminding me of that priest in Joe D’Amato’s Absurd who “serves God with bio-chemistry instead of ritual”… and remember how that turned out!) After witnessing young Nick’s christening degenerate into a near riot, she becomes convinced that the baby is demonically possessed. Dr Finch (when he’s not trying to chat Albana up) insists on a more rational explanation, though Lucy remembers how Hercules cursed her after she rejected his short-arsed advances.

Further complicating the issue, she had a one night stand with slimy strip club proprietor Tommy Morris (John Steiner) nine months before the birth. Out in the Carlesis’ back garden, the Doc is decapitated then Gino’s hanged and stuffed under the patio. Housekeeper Mrs Hyde (!), played by Hilary Mason from Don’t Look Now, shakes her head disapprovingly and tut tuts a lot (never more so than when a dead mouse turns up in her cup of tea). After Lucy’s been stabbed to death, Sister Albana gets her exorcism kit together and goes toe to toe with the maleficent munchkin…

If The Dark Eyes Of London (another current Network release) represents Universal Horror’s gothic chickens coming home to roost in the land of Bram Stoker and Edgar Wallace, then Peter Sasdy’s I Don’t Want To Be Born (released here as The Monster but also known as Sharon’s Baby among innumerable other aliases) is the Satanic gospel according to William Peter Blatty, transplanted from downtown Georgetown to 1975 London. It’s probably most useful to bracket it with the Spaghetti Exorcism cycle kicked off by Ovidio Assonitis’s Chi Sei? (1974), both multi-titled films having been released as “The Devil Within Her” at some point. The vague Italianate aroma of Sasdy’s overheated concoction is enhanced by the conspicuous miscasting of Bates and Atkins as Latins (complete with dodgy accents) and the presence of pasta exploitation stalwarts such as Pleasence, Steiner and Munro in its cast, also a writing credit for the mysterious Nato De Angeles.

Sasdy had previously been responsible for such solid efforts as Taste The Blood Of Dracula (1970), Countess Dracula and Hands Of The Ripper (both 171) plus the 1972 brace Doomwatch and The Stone Tape so it’s difficult to figure out if he was actually going for serious results here (and failing badly) or archly attempting some kind of camp / kitsch / cult item. A few of the kill scenes are imaginatively staged but all are compromised by the problem of involving an obviously inoffensive babe-in-arms, necessitating such spectacles as a grown up hand protruding from the sleeve of an outsized romper suit) and there are further giggles to be had at the intervening, interminable footage of characters walking around London, shopping (at certain points, bewildered bystanders are clearly nudging and muttering to each other about the presence of Joan Collins and a camera crew). Only the most committed poker face will fail to crack during the climactic exorcism and the discouraging effect it has on Hercules, in the middle of doing whatever it is he does during one of those sexy dance routines… priceless stuff!

Despite their impeccable academic credentials, Second Features podcast team Laura Mayne and Adrian Smith quickly abandon any attempt at extracting some shred of “significance” from the farrago unfolding before their startled eyes and just surrender to the silliness. Smith also contributes the contents of a limited edition booklet. Network’s BD transfer is as nifty as ever. Along with the expected trailer and image galleries, you get the alternative I Don’t Want To Be Born title sequence and new interviews with director Peter Sasdy, editor Keith Palmer, wardrobe supervisor Brenda Dabbs and decidedly bohemian continuity girl Renée Glynne, who reveals that while working as a runner on this production, her son developed a serious crush on Caroline Munro. Well, why wouldn’t he?

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Dial “H” For Ham… THE DARK EYES OF LONDON (1939) Reviewed

BD. Indicator. Region B. PG

In stark contrast to today’s thinning supermarket shelves and fractured fuel and food supply chains, there was a time when UK producers had no difficulty whatsoever importing ripe old ham. Case in point, Bela Lugosi, who had already appeared in Hammer’s The Mystery Of The Marie Celeste (1935) and whom we find here, several years removed from his career pinnacle as Dracula (1931) but still a staple of the great Universal Horror cycle (during 1939 he also starred alongside Karloff in Son Of Frankenstein), with the indignities of Monogram, Ed Wood and Old Mother Riley yet to come.

Directed by Walter Summers, Dark Eyes Of London is a solid adaptation (by Summers and co-writer Patrick Kirwan) of the Edgar Wallace novel of that title (quite possibly better known to readers of this blog from Alfred Vohrer’s 1961 “krimi” rendition, as Dead Eyes Of London, starring Klaus Kinski, above). Bela stars as Dr Feodor Orloff (Jesus, there’s a good name) an insurance broker and seeming philanthropist who’s actually using his connections with a home for blind derelicts to bump off various gentlemen, having wangled himself into the position of benefiting from their demises. These guys are turning up floating in The Thames at such a prolific rate that Scotland Yard call in American cop O’Reilly (Edmon Ryan) to assist Detective Inspector Holt (Hugh Williams) in his investigation of this rum state of affairs.

Much is made of their contrasting styles (respectively two guns blazing and dogged detection) and presumably this helped sell tickets in both US and UK cinemas, though in truth they spend a collective eternity closing the net around Dr O, the obvious culprit… in fact he seals his own fate when he crosses his murderous blind henchman Jake (Wilfred Walter, whose make up and diction are clearly intended to suggest a Karloffian presence). More importantly, it’s Holt who ultimately wins the heart of Diana Stuart (Greta Gynt, the plucky daughter of one of Orloff’s most recent victims). Lugosi’s performance turns on extremes rather than nuances, though he does manage to pull off the surprise of playing both Orloff and (it is revealed at the death)… well, that would fall into the category of serious Spoiler. Though it look a bit hokey through contemporary eyes, Dark Eyes Of London was the first film to be landed with the BBFC’s “H” (for Horrific) certificate.

Much is heard (and justifiably so) about the quality of the restorations undertaken by certain other labels, but Network are rarely given sufficient credit in this regard (see their beautiful restoration of Sidney Hayers’ Assault). The pricing of their releases is also refreshingly competitive. Dark Eyes Of London looks particularly spanky for a film of its vintage and comes with the following extras. Kim Newman and Stephen Jones contribute a new audio commentary and also a featurette where they discuss the film and
Lugosi’s other UK credits from (where better?) London’s Edgar Wallace pub. There’s the US titles sequence and trailer, an image gallery and limited edition booklet with new writing by Adrian Smith. Purchases of the limited edition also get a slip case and postcards.

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Watching The Detectives (& The Goddam Commies)… Indicator’s Fourth COLUMBIA NOIR Box Reviewed.

BD. Powerhouse. Region B. 12.

WALK A CROOKED MILE (Gordon Douglas, 1948)
WALK EAST ON BEACON! (Alfred Werker, 1952)
PUSHOVER (Richard Quine, 1954)
A BULLET IS WAITING (John Farrow, 1954)
CHICAGO SYNDICATE (Fred F Sears, 1955)
THE BROTHERS RICO (Phil Karlson, 1957)

And still they keep on coming… Indicator’s fourth sampling of Film Noir according to Harry Cohen’s Columbia kicks in at the point where the genre (though as previously discussed, there those who would dispute that “Noir” is a genre) became contaminated with Cold War paranoia (scant years after Hollywood was lionising Uncle Joe and our Russian allies in the War against Fascism). Shoring up an older alliance, as if in compensation, Walk A Crooked Mile prioritises America’s allegedly special relationship with the Brits, importing Scotland Yard man Philip “Scotty” Greyson (Louis Hayward) to help Federal Bureau Investigator Daniel F. O’Hara (Dennis O’Keefe) nail the source of atomic secrets leaking from the Lakeview Research Centre. Danny Boy (pictured above with Scotty and screaming broad) probably needs all the help he can get, given that one of his agents discounts one suspect as a possible spy / murderer because he was wearing a dog collar when bumping off one of their leads. Surely they can’t miss perpetual hovering heavy Raymond Burr in his cute little Lenin beard, though…

Released the same year as Jules Dassin’s The Naked City, Walk A Crooked Mile makes similarly telling use of its (San Francisco rather than New York) locations and also deploys a voice over narrator (in this case Reed Hadley) and “cast study”approach , devices that feature again in Walk East On Beacon! (and what better trajectory to take after you’ve walked that crooked mile?) The Commie sleeper cell in this one (who’ve kidnapped the son of missile scientist Finlay Currie) is located in Boston and Jim Belden (George Murphy) is the Fed charged with busting their nefarious activities wide open. The performances here are a little more pedestrian and veteran Alfred Werker’s direction is, er, workmanlike throughout (which is to say that his picture is a significantly less compelling proposition than Gordon Douglas’s) and over reliant on endless voice over / caption reminders that J. Edgar Hoover is the only thing standing between law abiding American patriots and the Reds under their beds. We even get stock footage of Hoover thrown in at apposite moments. Maybe it’s not Werker’s fault… I mean, who wrote this thing? (* checks IMDB *)… Jeez, Hoover even gets a co-writing credit. Maybe the filmmakers figured that, like LBJ, they’d be happier with ol’ J. Edgar “inside the tent pissing out rather than outside, pissing in”.

We’re back on more familiar, indeed textbook Noir turf with Pushover… nary a Bolshevik in sight but Kim Novak (in her first credited screen role, as Lona McLane) provides more than adequate recompense. Fred MacMurray has been here before, of course (in Billy Wilder’s classic Double Indemnity, 1944) but obviously didn’t learn his lesson… a pushover indeed, once again embarking upon the primrose path to perdition at the behest of a femme fatale. Oh what a tangled web Fred’s Detective Paul Sheridan weaves as he tries to make off with both Lona and the proceeds of a bungled bank heist. Philip Carey plays Rick McAllister, the cop colleague on his case. Moral ambiguity has always fuelled the finest Noir and Pushover provides it in spades. Roy Huggins’ screenplay was fashioned from two separate novels (Thomas Walsh’s The Night Watch and Bill S. Ballinger’s Rafferty) so hey, they didn’t even require any script input from J Edgar Hoover on this one.

The boundaries of Noir are again being tested in A Bullet Is Waiting, a film that deviates from the classic template in terms of its plotting, rural setting and most disoreintatingly, Franz Planer’s colour cinematography. We’re thrown straight into the action, the aftermath of a plane crash which strands Sheriff Munson (Stephen McNally) and Ed Stone (Rory Calhoun), the alleged murderer he was transporting to custody, in a remote wilderness. There they encounter sassy, androgynous Cally Canham (Jean Simmons), whose father David (absent for much of the picture but played, when he does turn up, by Brian Aherne) has brought her out here on some kind of Walden Pond kick. As the plot thickens, Cally’s struggle to work out whose side she should be on coincides with her blossoming from tom boy into beautiful young woman… you really couldn’t get away with stuff like that these days!

Things are firmly back in the Noir groove with Chicago Syndicate, with its hectoring voice over and city locations transplanted from The Naked City to the Windy City. Dennis O’Keefe is back (but this time with no plucky Limey sidekick) as mild mannered account Barry Amsterdam (!), whom the Feds want to help them bring down crime kingpin Arnie Valent in the same way they got Al Capone. Though initially reluctant, Bazza takes to his dangerous mission like a duck to water… I guess you can’t help being dynamic, growing up with a name like Barry Amsterdam! Allison (Fifty Foot Woman) Hayes and exotic nightclub chanteuse Abbe Lane (fronting Xavier Cugat’s hot mambo combo) keep things simmering nicely and Joseph Hoffman’s dialogue frequently crackles. If you think Jimmy Cagney’s Cody Jarrett in White Heat (1949) is the final cinematic word on mother-fixated gangsters, watch the climax of this one and think again. All it’s missing is Al Jolson singing Mammy…

Just two years later, director Fred Sears would be making The Giant Claw!

Richard Conte’s Eddie Rico (above, left) is another mob accountant (or formerly was), now living the straight life, only to be drawn back in by the exploits of his brothers Gino and Johnny (Paul Picerni and James Darren, above) in The Brothers Rico. It’s easy to see how the moral shadings of this one (its story courtesy of Georges “Maigret” Simenon) appealed so much to Martin Scorsese (who provides a brief introduction to the picture), also fascinating to observe how Karlson’s direction pushes at the limits of the Hays Code with its depictions of both violence and Eddie’s passion for his wife Alice (Dianne Foster)… conducted across separate beds! The film’s “happy”, righteous ending seems to indicate that Hays had the upper hand for the time being, though Otto Preminger was already in the process of demolishing it. Ace Noir cinematographer Burnett Guffey shot The Brothers Rico.

All the films look and sound just spanky in their remastered World BD premieres. With the exception of Walk A Crooked Mile, they come with commentary tracks (from Frank Krutnik, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas / Josh Nelson, Barry Forshaw / Kim Newman, Toby Roan and Jason Ney respectively). Douglas’s film is complimented with the 1946 short Routine Job: A Story Of Scotland Yard (1946) and March of Time episodes have also been selected for their thematic links with the main features. Likewise the Three Stooges shorts that we have now come to expect in this series. If you’ve ever struggled to get your head around the concept of Fake Shempery, check out here how 1949s Dunked in the Deep mutated into Commotion On The Ocean, seven years later (makes those “Bela Lugosi” scenes in Plan Nine From Outer Space look like a smooth piece of work!) All of the films are complimented by image galleries and half of them (Pushover, A Bullet Is Waiting and The Brothers Rico) with their original theatrical trailers. In further featurettes, Glenn Kenny examines the collaborations of director Richard Quine and Kim Novak,
Josephine Botting discusses Jean Simmons’ transition from British actress to Hollywood Star and Nick Pinkerton appraises the two-fisted directorial style of Phil Karlson. The limited (to 6,000 numbered units) edition of this box packs an exclusive 120-page collector’s book comprising new essays by Beth Ann Gallagher, Bob Herzberg, Sophie Monks Kaufman, Omar Ahmed, Jen Johans, Monica Castillo and Jeff Billington, archival articles and interviews plus full film credits.

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The Family Politics Of Ecstasy… THE PEOPLE NEXT DOOR Reviewed.

BD. Indicator. Region B. 15.

To their neighbours, the Masons seem like a comfortably well off, smoothly functioning suburban New York family. OK, so Arthur (Eli Wallach) is a bit of a lush and Gerrie (Julia Harris) smokes like a chimney. Gershwin loving Arthur doesn’t really “get” the music and fashions embraced by his kids Artie (Stephen McHattie) and Maxie (Deborah Winters), but what parent ever did? The generational gap runs deeper than that, though, becoming a fully fledged chasm when Maxie is abruptly revealed as an acid gobbling sexual libertine. Artie unjustly cops the blame and is kicked out. What will the Hoffmans next door think of these ructions and the spectacle of Maxie running around the street, naked, literally hugging trees? How, moreover, will David (Hal Holbrook) and Tina (Cloris Leachman) Hoffman react when they discover that it’s their studious, apparently strait-laced yuppie son Sandy (Don Scardino) who’s been supplying gear to Maxie and the other neighbourhood kids?

Having completed the wonderful I Start Counting (1969), David Greene was back Stateside the following year for a feature film reworking of his 1968 CBS TV drama The People Next Door, which had ruffled sensibilities with its depiction of a nice, middle class family struggling to accommodate a disaffected, drug-dabbling (and seemingly doomed) daughter. Greene was clear that the serial killer subplot in I Start was nowhere near as interesting to him as the dynamics of the protagonist’s dysfunctional family and that’s pretty much what he focuses on here, with an established property and an even more crackerjack cast than the TV original, which boasted Lloyd Bridges, Robert Duvall, Fritz Weaver, Kim Hunter, et al. Don Scardino and Deborah Winters return in their respective roles as Sandy Hoffman and Maxie Mason. Wild eyed Winters is memorably intense even before she comes out as a card carrying dope fiend, a revelation that’s dropped, rather clanging, into JP Miller’s script (adapted from his own stage play). Similarly, some of the “down with the kids stuff” is a bit wince inducing but as always, Greene manages a memorable ensemble performance from the impressive thespian resources at his disposal.

My biggest reservations about The People Next Door concern the flimsiness of Maxie’s grounds for hating her parents and the death trip she subsequently embarks upon. I mean, Dad prefers I’ve Got Rhythm to Frank Zappa… so fucking what? He’s a little insensitive and opinionated but maybe she could find time out from energetically pursuing her angst to sympathise with him as he attempts to adjust to the societal paradigm shift from “I like Ike” to “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out”… it’s all a bit “Go Ask Alice meets Death Of A Salesman” for poor old Arthur. Even more deplorable is Maxie’s cold, casual hatred of her mother (above), who ultimately digs deep to try and turn things around by the films open ended conclusion. Maybe it’s just because I’ve become an irredeemable old fart myself but Maxie’s kindly, misunderstood brother Artie (Stephen McHattie) is the only character under 30 I had any time for in this film, whose sympathies reside, er, squarely on the side of the parents. Is this why Greene protested the edit and tried to get his name taken off The People Next Door?

Editor Brian Smedley-Aston, who cut that other psychedelic cautionary tale, Jeff Lieberman’s Blue Sunshine (and also produced Exposé and a couple of José Larraz movies) talks of his working relationship with Greene on TPND and various other pictures in one of this set’s bonus featurettes. In another, The Bead Game’s John Sheldon recalls his band’s musical contributions to the film, throwing up some fascinating classic rock family connections in the process. Deborah Winters, now working in real estate, reminisces engagingly, e.g. about the problems of shooting the loony bin scenes amid the inmates of a genuine psychiatric institution. Vic Pratt kicks in a useful overview of David Greene’s career and there’s an audio commentary with actor Rutanya Alda and film historian Lee Gambin, plus trailer and image gallery of promotional and publicity material. Restored in 4k from the original negative, the limited (to 3,000 copies) edition of this UK BD premiere boasts a 36-page booklet with new essay by Peter Tonguette, an account of the controversy generated by the TV version of The People Next Door, archival interview with actor Eli Wallach, a look at the film’s soundtrack album, a collection of contemporary critical responses and full film credits.

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Taking The Rough With The Smooth… JAGGED EDGE Reviewed.

BD. Indicator. Region B. 18.

Screen writer Joe Eszterhas has made a highly successful career for himself out of sexing up long established Hollywood formulae. Paul Verhoeven’s Basic Instinct (1992) and Showgirls (1995) respectively pimp out the femme fatale-driven Noir and Busby Berkeley chorus line extravaganza with contemporary slick production values and enough schlocky smut and violence to set Will H. Hays rotating in his casket. Richard Marquand’s Jagged Edge (1985) takes the Courtroom Drama to places where Jimmy Stewart and Hank Fonda might have feared to tread, all prefaced with a scene of sexualised murder that, if not actually delivering the “blood and hair on the wall” promised / threatened by Eszterhas, would certainly look more at home in a giallo (or one of the many stalk’n’slash pictures delivered by Bava and Argento’s American indie disciples) than it does here in mainstream Tinseltown product.

Jack Forrester (Jeff Bridges) is a whizz kid newspaper executive but his wife Page (Maria Mayenzet) owns all the shares, so when she’s tied to her luxury bed and carved up by a balaclava wearing nutzoid, Golden Boy Jack becomes prime suspect. Effectively retired, for reasons that become apparent as the narrative progresses, ace Attorney Teddy Barnes (Glenn Close, who improbably became the Queen of ’80s Erotic Thrillers after her appearances in the likes of this and Adrian Lyne’s Fatal Attraction, two years later) is persuaded, against her better judgement, to take on Forrester’s defence. It’s not long before she’s also sharing his bed. After all, nobody that blandly cute could perpetrate such a vicious murder, right? Right?

That’s the $64,000 question which Teddy and Prosecutor / former colleague Thomas Krasny (Peter Coyote) kick around in court for the balance of the picture, as a series of revelations (about the private and professional lives of not just Forrester, also Teddy and Krasny) and the introduction of another violently misogynistic candidate for the commission of the crime skilfully skew the viewer’s suspicions this way and that. A verdict is duly arrived at, but is it correct? Suffice to say that the individual who’s been sending out “helpful” typed clues had never watched Prick Up Your Ears. I know, I know, that film was only released after this one. They could / should have read the book, though…

And so to the climactic unveiling of the actual culprit, the face behind the balaclava revealed as… Forrester? The other, misogynist suspect I just mentioned? Some viewers have even suggested it’s Krasny… hey, maybe it’s that guy from the Go Compare ads? Now, Richard Marquand was an accomplished director… George Lucas entrusted him (below) with the megabucks invested in Return Of The Jedi (1983), no less. So how could it be that he fluffed the big reveal so clumsily? Or maybe he knew exactly what he was doing. Panned by critics, Jagged Edge became a substantial hit via word-of-mouth. Maybe Marquand actually intended people to keep talking up all this balaclava palaver and indeed here we are, 36 years after the event, still talking about Jagged Edge…

Eszterhas and editor Sean Barton also talk about it (and other aspects of their respective careers) among the fearutettes on this disc. There’s an hour of audio from Geoff Andrew’s interview with Bridges at the NFT in 1990 and David Huckvale digs deep into John Barry’s score. For this, its UK BD premiere, Marquand’s film has been remastered in HD with a choice of original stereo or 5.1 surround audio. The expected trailer, radio and image galley are present and correct. The limited (to 3,000 units) edition comes with an exclusive 36-page booklet comprising a new essay by Maitland McDonagh, extracts from archival interviews with director Richard Marquand, a look at the making of the film, an overview of contemporary critical responses and full film credits.

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Randall (Deceased) & Schlock Work … INVADERS OF THE LOST GOLD Reviewed

BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

Although he worked on the sound of Werner Herzog’s Arthouse milestone Aguirre, Wrath Of God (1972) and produced (also appearing in) the great Mario Bava’s Four Times That Night (1971), Dick Randall (known to his Mom as Irving Reuben) is best remembered for putting together a succession of schlock classics like Around The World With Nothing On (1963), The Wild, Wild World Of Jayne Mansfield (1968), The Bogeyman And The French Murders (1972), Frankenstein’s Castle Of Freaks (1974), Queen Of Sex (1977), Joseph Velasaco’s chop socky-meets-mad science epic The Clones Of Bruce Lee (1980) and Juan Piquer Simon’s jaw-dropping Spanish giallo Pieces (1982) until a stroke felled him in London during 1996. When the box office impact of Raiders Of The Lost Ark became apparent (like a Spielberg / Lucas collaboration was going to flop!) Randall and former Happy Days writer Bill James rattled off a treatment based on the ongoing urban (jungle?) legend of Yamashita’s gold (i.e. purloined bullion stashed in some remote cave by a Japanese general during WWII). Nor did it take much longer than that for Randall to assemble a cast of fading stars / young hopefuls… and to direct them, how about Alan Birkinshaw (Confessions Of A Sex Maniac, 1974… Killer’s Moon, 1978)? Yeah, he’d do. Fly ’em all out to the Filipino sets and locations of Apocalypse Now, leave them to goof around with a camera for a few weeks, eh voila… Invaders Of The Lost Gold, aka Greed (on account of the film’s familiar, Treasure Of The Sierra Madre-styled plot mechanics) and Horror / Cannibal Safari (presumably in an attempt to consolidate its appeal to die hard Laura Gemser fans).

Gemser, looking rather fine in (and of course out of) army fatigues and a pith helmet, spends most of her brief jungle sojourn competing with Glynis Barber (fresh from the Blake’s 7 quarry as a last minute replacement for Britt Ekland, who bailed when the budget dipped and her fee with it) for the attentions of Stuart Whitman, looking well past his sell-by date (Christ knows what a fanny magnet he must have been in his prime!) When not working out imaginative new product placement wheezes on behalf of J&B Whisky, Whitman’s pursuing some kind of ongoing feud with Edmund Purdom. Action men Woody Strode and Harold “Odd Job” Sakata are along for the ride (such as it is). When Purdom told Sakata and his old army buddy that their commanding officer had died, the latter committed hard kiri (Purdom sat reading a magazine while he did it). Sakata signed up for the gold hunt, which on the surface seems like a smarter response but ultimately proves just as fatal, as the expedition members are variously whittled down via snake bites, crocodile attacks, clumsy falls, spiky booby traps and (in Laura’s case)… your guess is as good as mine. At least Gemser gets in a good skinny dip before succumbing to whatever the fuck it is that kills her, but this time there’s no voyeuristic, cigarette smoking chimp (a la Emanuelle And The Last Cannibals) to testify to what happened. One thing is clear… somebody’s aiming to keep all that loot for themselves.

With head hunting tribesmen, grisly eviscerations, shoot outs, bar room brawls and endless scenes of exotic Filipino dancers strutting their collective stuff, this one’s a shew in for the shelf of any self-respecting trash collector. If you move fast enough, you’ll get a slip case which reveals what the principal sleeve art doesn’t, i.e. an artist’s impression of Gemser’s boobs. Put your hand on your heart and tell me that this prospect doesn’t stir your loins. Kindly keep your hand offa your loins, though, while I’m talking to you…

Bonus material comprise two featurettes. The first is an interview with director and Mel Collins lookalike Birkinshaw (above), a self-deprecating and rather endearing fellow with plenty of tales to tell about his cast, the extraordinary Dick Randall and the production of Invaders. His main beef seems to be about its poverty stricken post production, which afforded him no opportunities to fix the poorly filmed croc attack, the mystifying demise of Gemser’s character or, for example, the weedy fight scene in which Strode and Sakata become embroiled… handbags at ten paces doesn’t begin to cover it! That’s followed by out takes from Mark Hartley’s Tagalogsploitation documentary Machete Maidens Unleashed! (2010), featuring further Birkinshaw revelations and an astonishing audience with his producer’s widow, Corliss Randall… wow, what a woman! No wonder her husband featured her in so few films, I can see how he was keen to keep her to himself!

In an age where we’ve learned to live with lavish Al Adamson and Andy Milligan anthologies, what price a Dick Randall box set? Dave… Carl… we’re looking at you!

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A Dish Best Served With Spaghetti Sauce… Arrow’s VENGEANCE TRAILS Box Reviewed

BD. Arrow. Region B. 15.

MASSACRE TIME (Lucio Fulci, 1966)
MY NAME IS PECOS (Maurizio Lucidi, 1966)
BANDIDOS (Massimo Dallamano, 1967)
AND GOD SAID TO CAIN (Antonio Margheriti, 1970)

Vengeance Trails, Arrow’s new Spaghetti Western roundup (hopefully the start of a series) kicks off in grand style with Lucio Fulci’s Massacre Time (aka Colt Concert / The Brute And The Beast)… time, then, to bin that ropey, grey market DVD that’s been place holding on my shelf for so many years. This film was a significant release for its principal participants. For Franco Nero it followed hot on the heels of Django (1966) and consolidated his success in that Sergio Corbucci landmark, both of those constituting baby steps in his ascension to Hollywood Stardom. It was also future giallo icon George Hilton’s first substantial role in Italy, after serving as stooge to the comedy stylings of Franco & Ciccio in Giorgio Simonelli’s Two Mafia Guys Against Goldginger, the previous year. For Fulci, this tough Spagwest represented his own ticket out of Franco & Ciccioville (though there remains ill-judged knockabout stuff in the on screen relationship between Nero and Hilton’s characters) and an opportunity to start exploring the dark personal preoccupations that would ignite (after some well documented personal tragedies) in his later gialli and horror opera. The seeds are all here… Massacre Time opens with a fugitive being hunted down by dogs (“Attack, Dicky, attack!)… elsewhere there’s a horsewhipping scene that prefigures massacre times in the likes of Don’t Torture A Duckling (1972) and The Beyond (1981)…. and is it going too far to identify the Scott brand that disfigures every landmark in Laramie Town as a precursor to the mark of Eibon? Probably is, yeah…

Prodigal prospector Tom Corbett (Nero), summoned back to his hometown by a cryptic note, finds the old family homestead occupied by the Scotts, a ranching dynasty nominally headed by Giuseppe Addobbati’s weak-willed Patriarch but effectively answerable to his deranged, sadistic son Jason aka Junior (a supremely twitchy Nino Castelnuovo). Tom’s brother Jeff aka Slim (Hilton), together with their childhood nurse Mercedes (Rina Franchetti), has been evicted into an adobe hovel where, despite his former sharp shooting prowess, he now spends his time getting drunk and hypnotising chickens (no, really!) Despite Slim’s active discouragement, Tom pops over to Mr S’s hacienda to query the current arrangements, arrives during a posh social do and is horsewhipped by Jr for his trouble. But it takes the murder of Mercedes to finally sober up Slim, setting up some fairly guessable family revelations before the climactic showdown…

Massacre Time’s screenplay (adapted by Fulci and Fernando Di Leo from the latter’s original story) is freighted with plot holes that wouldn’t hinder the passage of a speeding stagecoach (if, for one thing, Slim’s such an ace gunman, how did he allow the Scotts to spirit away his patrimony?), ostentatious and improbable displays of marksmanship and the aforementioned comedy hangovers (also involving a stereotypical Chinese undertaker / saloon pianist played by Tchang Yu) but Fulci handles everything with his accustomed technical proficiency and it’s becoming clear by this point that he’s a director with something to say. What he’s saying here is something about sibling rivalries, Oedipal angst and how corporations hijacked the American dream of rugged individualism. Another harbinger of Fulci things to come… if people are being whipped in the face (as here) or having sharp objects forced into their eyes (stay tuned), none of them ever seem to raise their hands in the most elementary and reflexive attempt at self-protection! 

Pecos… remember his name.

Massacre Time’s overwrought main theme and incidental music comes courtesy of Lallo Gori, who also scored Maurizio Lucidi’s My Name Is Pecos, the same year (and in doing so, flattered The Animals’ rendition of House Of The Rising Sun most sincerely). Lucidi, himself a director more than capable of psychological insights and social comment (witness his extraordinary giallo / Strangers On A Train knock off The Designated Victim, 1971) eschews any such approach here, outside of a perfunctory depiction of the casual racism which confronts protagonist Pecos Martinez (Robert Woods, his eyes contorted into pantomime ethnicity in a way that makes Lee Van Cleef look like Alexandra Daddario) as he sets out to hold the murderers of his family to account. The bad guys in his way dismiss him as a “greaser” (among other endearments) but he makes sure to tell them his name (hence the film’s title) just before or after gunning them down. This one’s a fair-to-middling Spagwest that did well enough in its day to spawn a sequel (Pecos Cleans Up, 1967, again with Lucidi directing and Woods in the title role). Watch out for versatile Umberto Raho’s great turn in the original as slimy preacher / gravedigger Morton.

Massimo Dallamano brought some serious Spaghetti Western pedigree to his fiction feature directing debut Bandidos (1967), having served as DP on the first two instalments of Sergio Leone’s legendary “Dollars Trilogy”. Expectations are inevitably high, which inevitably (and sadly) works against this film. There are innumerable beautiful widescreen shots in it, as you’d expect from a DP-turned-director collaborating closely with another classy cinematographer, Emilio Foriscot. Operator Fernando Guillot, likewise, renders sterling service in the realisation of Dallamano’s more imaginative camera moves. The screenplay (worked up by Romano Migliorini, Giambattista Mussetto and Juan Cobos, from Cobos and Luis Laso’s original story) picks up a plot point from Django and runs with it, but Dallamano wastes little time developing its broad brush themes, characterisations are thinly drawn and some of the performances distinctly run-of-the-mill. Enrico Maria Salerno is a stand out, honourable exception as protagonist Richard Martin, a renowned sharp shooter whose hands were shattered by his star pupil-turned-bad guy Billy Kane (Venantino Venantini). Reduced to MC-ing a travelling trick shot show, he thinks he’s hit upon the instrument of his vengeance when he discovers Ricky Shot (Terry Jenkins) but the obviously pseudonymous Mr Shot has motivations of his own. English actor Jenkins (debuting here) looks the part (and like everybody else on this box, has surprisingly good teeth for a denizen of the Wild West), though this never translates into actual screen presence. After some TV work and an appearance in Paint Your Wagon (1969), Terry’s screen career had run it course.

The box concludes in strong style with Antonio Margheriti’s And God Said To Cain (1970), in which the Wild West gets appreciably wilder. The film opens with Mr Acombar (Peter Carsten) and his clan lording it over a small town… but a storm’s coming. In fact two storms are coming, a literal tornado and the return of Gary Hamilton (Klaus Kinski), whom Acombar framed for the heist that made his fortune and who wants to pay his former partner back for ten years breaking rocks. He’ll probably want to have to have a quiet word with his former girlfriend Maria (Marcella Michelangeli)  too, concerning the role she played in fitting him up…

Acting on hints from Giulio Questi’s Django Kill, 1967 and Sergio Garrone’s Django The Bastard, 1969 (hints so heavy that they would still be resonating in Clint Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter, 1973), producers Giovanni Addessi (who co-wrote AGSTC with its director) and Peter Carsten thought that it might be a good idea to press Margheriti’s impeccable Gothic Horror sensibility into the service of a Spaghetti Western… and hot dignity dang if they weren’t absolutely right! Reconciling the requirements of the two genres might seem like a tall order but trust Antonio Margheriti to deliver the goods. Casting Klaus Kinski as a sympathetic (ish), improbably named and even more improbably dubbed lead is a good start (he’s so supernaturally elusive, it makes you wonder how they managed to confine him in that quarry for a decade). Then obliterate all that Southern sunshine with stormy skylines, moodily shot by Margheriti’s go-to DP, the ill-fated Riccardo Pallottini (who also lit Massacre Time to beautiful effect). Throw in a Carlo Savina score that’s quite bonkers, even by the general standards of these things (and an anguished main theme emotively rendered by one Don Powell… not the former Slade drummer, I imagine)… all of this plus sinister organ music and bells that strike up of their own accord, a tunnel to an underground Indian burial place, and a climactic Cormanesque conflagration, into which Margheriti also manages to insert a “hall of mirrors” quote from Orson Welles’s The Lady From Shanghai (1947). Whatever your favourite genre, nobody’s going to come away from And God Said To Cain feeling they’ve been short-changed. 

This limited edition set is characteristically well packaged by Arrow and each film has been restored in 2K from the original 35mm camera negatives. Bandidos has sustained brief cuts for horse falls. Commentary tracks come courtesy of Howard Hughes, Kat Ellinger and C. Courtney Joyner (with Henry Parke on Massacre Time, Robert Woods on My Name Is Pecos). Italian film historian Fabio Melelli contextualises each film in a collection of featurettes. Interviewees include Franco Nero and George Hilton (interesting to hear their contrasting takes on each other), Pecos cinematographer Franco Villa, Bandidos assistant director Luigi Perelli and (audio only) Marcella Michelangeli (who seems to have been the Italian answer to Jane Fonda). The interview time allotted to “George Eastman” (Luigi Montefiori) seems more in proportion to his physical presence than the minimal screen time he gets in My Name Is Pecos, but this guy always gives value for money and here (when not being upstaged by his dog’s dick) he reminisces amusingly about that film in particular and his amazing career generally. Fellow cast member Lucia Modugno shares her own memories of the production and (among other things) being tricked into getting her norks out for a Norman J.Warren film. Gino Barbacane (Bandidos) adds to the our growing inventory of Lucio Fulci anecdotes and serenades us on accordion, while Antonio Cantafora  (And God Said To Cain) hints at the darkness in Klaus Kinski’s private life. Also included, an illustrated collector’s booklet including new writing from Howard Hughes, a fold out double sided poster and original / newly commissioned (from Gilles Vranckx) sleeve art options. 

Go get it, Floyd…

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Let’s Talk About Six, Baby… Indicator’s NIGHT SHADOWS Hammer BD Box Set Reviewed.

BD. INDICATOR. Region B. 12.

THE SHADOW OF THE CAT (John Gilling, 1961)
CAPTAIN CLEGG (Peter Graham Scott, 1962)
THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (Terence Fisher, 1962)
NIGHTMARE (Freddie Francis, 1964)

As Indicator continue to tidy up the disparate strands of Hammer’s eclectic filmography for another of their impressive blu-ray box sets, I imagine it will get increasingly difficult for them to dream up appropriate catch-all titles. Volume 6 (limited to 6,000 units) goes out under the handle “Night Shadows”, not bad for a collection comprising b/w efforts Shadow Of The Cat and Nightmare, plus the lushly colourful brace Captain Clegg (which you get the option of playing as “Night Creatures”, its US release title) and Phantom Of The Opera (the title character of which, I guess, spends a lot of time lurking in the shadows before whipping off that mask to reveal his problem complexion).

John Gilling’s Shadow Of The Cat is yet another twist on Edgar Allan Poe’s much adapted The Black Cat, albeit a more traditional one than a title recently reviewed in these pages, David Lowell Rich’s Eye Of The Cat (1969). In contrast to that one’s “Les Diaboliques goes swinging ‘60s” approach, Gilling’s film proceeds along more traditional “Old Dark House” gothique lines, with the eponymous feline witnessing its rich mistress, Ella Venable (Catherine Lacey) being bumped off by her acquisitive and irascible husband Walter (Andre Morell), in cahoots with a couple of their servants. Those guys are immediately installed on Tabitha’s death list and soon joined there by various other grasping relatives that Walter calls in to kill it off and locate any embarrassing wills that Ella might have secreted around the property. Also arriving is Ella’s blameless and beloved niece Beth (Barbara Shelley), true beneficiary of the old lady’s estate. Beth gets on just fine with Tabitha, and wonders what grudge it could possibly hold against the house’s other occupants…

One of the points I pondered in that Eye Of The Cat review was the impossibility of making cats look scary onscreen. Special visual FX ace Les Bowie contributes some effective feline POVs here but Tabitha mostly spares us the “menacing prowl” schtick and just cracks on with killing people, generally luring them into pursuits that conclude with heart attacks, immersion in swamps, tumbles down the stairs, falls from battlements, etc… suffice to say that everybody in this picture, including Beth, gets everything that’s coming to them. When all that’s been resolved, stay tuned for a blackly comic coda. The film is as compellingly directed as you’d expect from the veteran Gilling, with a screenplay by George Baxt, who had written additional (uncredited) dialogue for Hammer’s Revenge Of Frankenstein (1958) and also scripted Circus Of Horrors and City Of The Dead (both 1960). He subsequently wrote the 1962 brace Night Of The Eagle and Tower Of Evil. Ten years later he was also contributing (though once again uncredited by Hammer) to the screenplay of Vampire Circus. Hammer didn’t even see fit to credit themselves on Shadow Of The Cat, which went out as a BHP Production. There’s much discussion among the bonus materials here as to why this might be.

1961 proved to be something of a watershed year for Hammer with the release of two Jimmy Sangster scripted productions, Seth Holt’s Taste Of Fear following Anthony Bushell’s Terror Of The Tongs and signalling Sangster’s desire to move away from graphic physical horror and into psychological thriller territory, an approach that yielded the subsequent likes of Freddie Francis’s Paranoiac, Michael Carreras’s Maniac (both 1963) and by 1964, Francis’s Nightmare. Killer cats are out for this one but the spectre of Les Diaboliques is back and looming pretty large. Jennie Linden (who substituted for a Billy Liar-bound Julie Christie at the last minute, filling her shoes admirably) plays disturbed schoolgirl Janet, haunted by the legacy of her insane mother and tormented by nightmares of joining her at the funny farm. Things go from bad to worse when she’s returned to the bosom of her loving (?) family and starts to hallucinate terrifying apparitions involving a mysterious scar faced woman (Clytie Jessop). Already half out of her mind, when Janet is introduced by kindly guardian Henry Baxter (David Knight) to his wife, who turns out to be a dead ringer for the scar faced phantom, she totally loses it and stabs the unfortunate woman to death. Two major twists follow. Think Mission Impossible. Think gaslighters gaslit. It’s engaging stuff for thriller fans, though 25 year old Linden playing a schoolgirl is among the easier things to swallow in one of the most credulity-stretching plots ever derived from Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques (1955). Thankfully, Hammer would go on to make much more feasibly plotted, kitchen sink dramas involving alien insect invasions, pitting cavemen and women against dinosaurs and portraying Reg Varney and Bob Grant as irresistible babe magnets.

Perhaps you enjoy having your credulity stretched (they can’t touch you for it, Missus)… but how do you feel about a protagonist who goes round slitting people’s ears and cutting out their tongues? How far can an anti-hero go before he becomes and out-and-out villain? Peter Cushing’s unassuming country parson Reverend Blyss was, in an earlier life, the eponymous Captain Clegg, another of Hammer’s patented, budget-cutting shipless pirates. Yeah, I know the script plays this as a surprise reveal but really, you’d have to be irredeemably dense not to spot it coming a nautical mile off. Having seen the light, the Rev has renounced his wicked ways (a tad too late for the benefit of the guy whose face he mutilated) and now mostly concerns himself with the souls of his parishioners, though as a sideline he does run a nice little earner smuggling spirits, his gang discouraging nosey intruders by dressing themselves and their horses in luminous skeleton suits… and they would have gotten away with it, if it wasn’t for meddling Revenue Man Captain Collier (Patrick Allen, backing up that official End Of The World voice with real beefy presence)! Meanwhile Michael Ripper chews the scenery as a rum running funeral director and Oliver Reed woos Yvonne Romain (who played his Mum in Terence Fisher’s Curse Of The Werewolf, 1961). Director Peter Graham Scott never made it onto the upper perch of the Hammer Pantheon alongside Fisher, Francis and Gilling (his subsequent successes were mostly in TV Land) but buckles some serious swash here with the gleeful assistance of Cushing, memorably dropping his hymnal, when required, to swing from a chandelier.

Peter Lom’s Professor Petrie also gets in a spot of chandelier swinging (which he combines with the mandatory and iconic mask dropping scene) during his titular turn in Fisher’s Phantom Of The Opera. This character emerges from Tony Hinds’ screenplay as a much more ambiguous figure than in previous screen adaptations of Gaston Leroux’s 1910 novel, if not exactly a milquetoast kind of guy. Hinds adds a vertically challenged sidekick (played by Ian Wilson) to bump off the Phantom’s enemies for him and although the latter doesn’t seem overly concerned with stopping this kill spree, he’s significantly more focussed on coaching deputy diva Christine Charles (Heather Sears) into perfecting her performance in the opera that larcenous Lord Ambrose D’Arcy (a supremely slimy Michael Gough) has stolen from him. Legend has it (a legend examined and assessed in various extras on this disc) that Cary Grant himself was keen to appear as The Phantom (prompting some of the liberties Hinds took with Leroux’s text, the better to suit Grant’s Star persona), only for his agent to talk him out of it and the role to devolve to Lom. Director Fisher had little control over this kind of stuff (and had far more disagreeable studio demands to contend with in e.g. Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, 1969), making it difficult to sustain the once popular argument for him being some kind of auteur. What he is, is a supreme craftsman, guiding his crew (notably DP Arthur Grant, makeup master Roy Ashton, production designer Bernard Robinson and composer Edwin Astley) through a rattling gothic romp, highlights of which include the aforementioned chandelier swinging mask drop and a hanged stage hand bursting through the scenery to alarm Liane Aukin in mid recitative.

These spanky restorations are ably supported by a stirring chorus line of extras, as follows…


Kim Newman’s introduction to the film. Audio commentary by Bruce G Hallenbeck. In-depth interview with Barbara Shelley, filmed shortly before the legendary and charming genre icon’s death. Assistant costume designer Yvonne Blake and Peter Allchorne from the property department reminisce. Short audio interview with assistant special effects artist Ian Scoones. Lucy Bolton profiles actress Freda Jackson. David Huckvale appraises Mikis Theodorakis’ score. An overview of the film by Hammer buffs lan Barnes, Marcus Hearn, Denis Meikle, Jason Morell and Jonathan Rigby. Double-bill TV spot (with Curse Of The Werewolf). Image galleries of promotional and publicity material. Limited edition exclusive 36-page booklet with a new essay by Craig Ian Mann, excerpts from original press material, an archival interview with Shelley, overview of contemporary critical responses and complete film credits.


Kim Newman introduction. Audio commentary from Constantine Nasr. The BEHP Interview with Peter Graham Scott. Josephine Botting profiles prolific Hammer wardrobe mistresses Molly Arbuthnot and Rosemary Burrows. In the featurette Peter Cushing: Perspectives, Derek Fowlds, Judy Matheson and Madeline Smith look back on their experiences acting alongside the great man. David Huckvale on Don Banks’ score and the influence of Hammer’s music honcho, Philip Martell. Actor John Carson and film historian Wayne Kinsey look back on the making of Captain Clegg. Kinsey discusses the contributions of transport historian and collector George Mossman to Hammer productions. Trailer and image galleries. Limited edition exclusive 36-page booklet with new essays by Frank Collins and Kieran Foster, extracts from original press materials, an overview of contemporary critical responses and full film credits.


Optional 1.66:1 and 1.85:1 presentations of the original theatrical version (85 mins). Alternative TV cut (99 mins)… extended version with unique scenes, presented open matte in Standard Definition. Kim Newman introduction. Audio commentaries by Steve Haberman / Constantine Nasr and Troy Howarth / Nathaniel Thompson. Special effects artist Brian Johnson’s memories of the production. Rachel Knightley profiles Liane Aukin. Richard Klemensen, editor and publisher of Little Shoppe of Horrors, revisits the career of Hammer giant Tony Hinds. David Huckvale on Edwin Astley’s score. C Courtney Joyner shares personal memories of time spent with Herbert Lom. Romantic lead Edward de Souza presents a featurette on the making of POTO, including interviews with film historian Richard Golen and sound recordist Alan Lavender. Original theatrical trailer with optional commentary by Brian Trenchard-Smith. Image galleries. Limited edition exclusive 40-page booklet with a new essay by Adam Scovell, Terence Fisher on The Phantom Of The Opera, extracts from original press materials, an overview of contemporary critical responses and full film credits.


Kim Newman introduction. Audio commentary by Jonathan Rigby and Kevin Lyons. The BEHP (audio) Interview with Freddie Francis. Jennie Linden interview. Pamela Hutchinson on Moira Redmond. David Huckvale on Don Banks’ score. Alan Barnes, John J Johnston, Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby revisit the production. Wayne Kinsey’s “Making Of” featurette includes interviews with Jennie Linden, Jimmy Sangster and art director Don Mingaye. Trailer and image galleries. Limited edition exclusive 40-page booklet with a new essay by Emma Westwood, extracts from original press materials, an overview of contemporary critical responses and complete film credits.

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BD. Severin. Unrated. Region free (apart from Crypt Of The Vampire… Region A)

Long before his death in 2015, Christopher Lee had become a leading contender for the mantle of “Greatest Living Englishman”. In the early ’60s though, even after his dynamic impact in Hammer’s Curse Of Frankenstein (1957), Dracula (58) and The Mummy (59), the British film industry didn’t know quiet what to do with him, if not cover him in scars and stitches or wrap him up in bandages. Even exposed as his handsome self in Dracula, the half-Italian (and intimidatingly tall) Lee was considered too “exotic” to be a British leading man, He didn’t even make it to second billing in a series of subsequent productions which often starred his pal Peter Cushing but whose credits privileged the names of e.g. André Morell, Anton Diffring, Paul Massie and Hazel Court (Lee’s Curse co-star) over his own. In response, like some young 18th Century gentleman embarking on a European Grand Tour to complete his English Aristo credentials, he undertook a series of EuroHorror assignments, many of them now collected and celebrated in yet another epic Severin box set (just when you thought your groaning shelves could take no more), The Eurocrypt Of Christopher Lee Collection. I’m currently penning a larger piece on Lee’s Euro credits that you’ll soon be able to read (should you wish to) in a certain esteemed Horror organ, but couldn’t let this splendid release go unmarked in these pages.

While Lee’s Bava brace, his turns as non PC krimi orientals and his bemused dalliances with Jess Franco have been extensively covered elsewhere, over these 9 discs the Sevsters focus on some of the less heralded but no less significant outings on Lee’s Satanic rite of Europassage. Things kick off entertainingly enough with Warren Keifer’s Castle Of The Living Dead (Italy / France, 1964) in which the great man plays the emaciated Count Drago… the Gunther Von Hagens of his day. Never satisfied with the amount of plastinated people and animals adorning his gothic pile, the Count welcomes an itinerant troupe of comedy performers (including sexy Gaia Germani and a young Philippe Leroy) to Castle Drago, engineers the “accidental” death of one of them and sets about petrifying the rest with the aid of sinister side-kick Mirko Valentin. The shades of Riccardo Freda, Mario Bava and Antonio Margheriti hang heavily over the proceedings but equally obvious is the debt owed to Roger Corman’s Poe cycle (even though Keifer had to do without the candy coloured cinematography to which Rog – and by this point Bava – had access). Indeed, Corman’s Masque Of The Red Death was released earlier the same year. Watch out for Donald Sutherland in the dual roles of the buffoonish Sergeant Paul and a gnarly old witch…. and yes, Warren Keifer did exist (why would Sutherland name his son after an imaginary person?) and did direct this picture, Italian film scholar Roberto Curti authoritatively quashing the claims made for other film makers (including Michael Reeves, who was still learning the ropes on this one) during an informative featurette.

Giuseppe Vegezzi’s Challenge The Devil aka Katarsis is a whole other bubbling kettle of ketamine, with the most laughable collection of hipster kids (notably Giorgio Ardisson) outside of Godzilla Vs. The Smog Monster seeking a night of thrills in a dilapidated castle (where else?) and discovering Lee in gnarly old dude make up, claiming to have sold his soul to The Devil (though there are plentiful hints that he might actually be Old Nick himself). As the plastic beatniks navigate a succession of heav-y symbolic scenes in the castle’s cellars, it becomes apparent that the collective influence of Freda, Bava and Margheriti has been displaced here by the presiding spirit of Ed Wood Jr and the biggest challenge to The Devil might well be unravelling Vegezzi’s original vision from the series of re-edits and added footage with which panicking producers sought to save their investment. Presumably they kept all of Lee’s footage… all ten minutes of it. If Vegezzi had made a bunch of these things, all existing in multiple alternative versions, he might well have one day merited a box as sumptuous as Severin’s recent Al Adamson Masterpiece Collection, but instead he jumped out of a high window after the film’s star Lilli Parker rejected his romantic overtures, survived that and retired to Piacenza and a life of eccentric left wing activism (as related in another Curti featurette, which includes interview footage with the elusive Vegezzi himself).

Things take an upturn in quality with Crypt Of The Vampire (aka Crypt Of Horror, 1964), originally intended for Antonio Margheriti but ultimately handled (and very capably, too) by Camillo Mastrocinque (who also directed Barbara Steele in An Angel for Satan, 1966). Lee racks up significantly more screen time too as Count Ludwig Karnstein, who spends most of it fretting (in his own voice, for once) over daughter Laura (Adriana Ambesi), whom he fears is the threatened reincarnation of witchy ancestor Ciro (wot, no “Carmilla”?), seeking vengeance for her execution (conveyed via a nifty, Black Sunday-esque flashback). The Count calls in bibliographer Friedrich Klauss (José Campos) to scour the Karnstein archives and find a likeness of the witch, but what they eventually turn up takes everybody by surprise… It’s obvious that this Italo-Spanish production is trying to keep up with Hammer (the Iberian side of the enterprise is represented by “Hispamer films”!) but it ends up actually anticipating the turn that Carreras and co subsequently took for Sheridan Le Fanu, though the sapphic relationship between Laura and her pal Ljuba (Ursula Davis) crackles along in understated style, as opposed to all the heaving bosoms that bedeck Hammer’s Karnstein trilogy. Ah well, can’t have everything…

Lee gets a yet meatier role in West German-French-Italian co-production Sherlock Holmes And The Deadly Necklace (1962), which reunites him with Hammer legend Terence Fisher, who had directed him (as Sir Henry B) in Hammer’s Hound Of The Baskervilles three years earlier. Here Lee’s promoted to the titula Tec (which must have come as some consolation for the conspicuous false nose he’s required to wear) in an adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle’s Valley Of Fear, whose screenplay came courtesy of Universal veteran Curt Siodmak. The film’s an interesting amalgam of Fisher’s style and contemporary West German production / post production values. Its titles sequence, for example, must be one of the most boring ever committed to celluloid. No worries, though, things pick up as Lee’s Holmes (played like the prickly git that Doyle actually wrote… not much of a stretch for CL, by some accounts) dedicates himself (with the assistance of the ever dependable Thorley Walters’ Doctor Watson) to keeping Cleopatra’s necklace out of the clutches of Professor Moriarty (whose name seems to have grown an extra syllable here). Hans Shönker’s “Napoleon of Crime” might seem a tad underplayed for those brought up on the histrionics of Andrew Scott but works just fine here. The production’s apparently troubled circumstances thankfully don’t read on screen but to Lee’s ongoing chagrin, the rub (as it so often did) lies in the dub.

While he was still trying to establish himself back in Blighty, Lee was already sufficiently highly regarded in Europe for producers to shell out for one or two days of his box office-boosting presence. This series of nice little earners reached its cushy conclusion in the milieu of TV drama. For the 1971-2 Polish series Theatre Macabre (Film Polski’s adaptations of various dark literary classics, with episodes directed by the likes of Andrzejs Wajda and Zulawski) all that was required of him was to turn up at Columbia’s Wardour Street studio for a couple of days and film wraparound sequences (with director Ben Kadish) in the gallows humour style of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Boris Karloff’s Thriller. I vividly recall seeing a handful of these, randomly scattered through Granada TV’s graveyard slot at various points in the ‘70s and am looking forward to checking out all 24 surviving episodes (of 26) over discs 5 and 6 of the Severin set.

Aside from that Polish series, the only colour production among the main features is Krimi kingpin Harald Reinl’s The Torture Chamber Of Dr. Sadism (1967). Also known as Die Schlangengrube Und Das Pendel and (for its UK theatrical release) Blood Demon, this West German production gets off to a lively start with the execution of “Count Regula” (guess who) for the blood sacrifices of twelve village maidens, by which he had hoped to secure eternal life. First, a spiked metal mask is hammered onto his face (Bava’s Black Sunday continuing to cast its long shadow over Eurohorror) then he’s torn limb-from-limb by galloping horses. 35 years later, Roger Mont Elise (Lex “Tarzan” Barker) turns up in town, seeking clues to his obscure family history. He soon wishes he hadn’t bothered, as he and his new love interest Baroness Lilian von Brabant (Natalie Wood look alike and Mrs Reinl, Karin Dor) are drawn into a plot to revive the Count, for whom the Baroness will make an ideal 13th victim in pursuit of his undying quest, conducted in an underground lair whose interior design owes much to Hieronymus Bosch. Meanwhile reckless Roger gets the full on “Pit and the Pendulum” treatment. All of this no doubt sounds distinctly sepulchral, but the overall tone is that of an enjoyably upbeat adventure romp, enhanced by the James Last-like score of Peter Thomas, possibly the most inappropriate musical accompaniment to a horror film since the closing moments of Erle C. Kenton’s Island Of Lost Souls (1932).

Disc 8, dubbed Relics From The Crypt, is a glorious grab bag of Lee-themed odds and sods, including a first release of any description for Horror!!!, the recently unearthed 20 minute Swiss TV documentary from 1964 which includes interviews with CL, his erstwhile co-star and next door neighbour Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, Roy Ashton and Roger Corman, also boasting behind-the-scenes footage from The Gorgon and Masque Of The Red Death. Lee Remembers Karloff in Behind The Mask, a new edit of the Ian Rough documentary left unfinished in 1991. In another featurette, writer Ernesto Gastaldi, assistant director Tonino Valerii and film historian Fabio Melelli discuss the making of Crypt Of The Vampire. Colin Grimshaw interviews Lee in 1975 and from 10 years later there’s an audio interview by David Del Valle, accompanied by DDV’s video introduction and stills from his archive. Lee’s baritone vocal stylings are aired in video clips for his duets with Gary Curtis and we are also privy to his rapturously received appearance and Q/A session at University College, Dublin in 2011. The venerable Horror star discusses To The Devil A Daughter and Theatre Of Blood, among others, in outtakes from David Gregory’s 2001 interview sessions with him to promote the Blue Underground releases of those films. As if all this weren’t enough, we accompany Gregory’s co-honcho Carl Daft on a visit to the renowned critic Alan Frank, who I’d like to think of as Carl’s second favourite grizzled genre pundit.

The discs are scattered with the expected profusion of trailers, galleries and interviews, e.g. with legendary producer Paul Maslansky, Karin Dor (audio only) and Giorgio Ardisson. Grilled in 2009 and just before his death in 2014, the engaging Giorgio comes across as quite a character and has plenty of amusing anecdotes to relate. There are audio commentaries from the ubiquitous Kat Ellinger and the dynamic duos of Nathaniel Thompson / Troy Howarth and Kim Newman / Barry Forshaw. The films look more gorgeous than you had any right to expect B movies of this vintage to look, in 2K scans from their negatives (or a fine-grain 35mm master print in the case of Crypt Of The Vampire)… apart from Castle Of The Living Dead and Torture Chamber Of Dr. Sadism, which were scanned in 4K! TTCODS also comes with a restoration slideshow, not to mention not one but two Super 8 digest versions. The whole package is beautifully boxed and comes with Jonathan Rigby’s extensively researched and handsomely illustrated booklet, which you might well enjoy while listening to disc 9 (Angelo Lavagnino’s OST for Castle Of The Living Dead) and enjoying a glass of virgin’s blood… hm, probably better make that a full blooded red wine, eh?

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Pussy Riot… EYE OF THE CAT Reviewed.

BD. Indicator. Region B. 15.

It often occurs to me, while I’m removing the disease ridden excrement with which other people’s cats have kindly adorned the tomb-strewn garden of Oak Mansions, that there are two kinds of folk in this world. Those who adore these furry little psychopaths… and the sane ones among us who positively loathe them. Beats me why somebody feels comfortable sharing their living space with creatures that, they freely admit, would regard their owners as food if they were big enough to do do something about it. Luckily for our misguided feline admiring friends, they aren’t… and there lies the rub for film makers intent on scaring us with them. Jacques Tourneur came closest in his sublime Cat People (1942) by suggesting (with a miaow miaow here, a shadow there) the presence of some malevolent moggy but nobody in their right mind is going to be scared just by the appearance of some cat or cats.

Of course potential viewers who might be cat phobic aren’t exactly in their right minds, hence the allure of Ailurophobia for screenwriter Joseph Stefano, who penned Eye Of The Cat (1969) for director David Lowell Rich. Most of Rich’s 113 directing credits were racked up in TV, but here he deploys an admirable array of Cinematic techniques in attempting to render cats frightening, kicking off with the title sequence’s split screen shenanigans (this at a time when Brian de Palma, notably, was performing wonders with that particular gimmick), slow motion, extreme close ups, fish eye lenses (I guess if you were a fish you would find close ups of cats pretty frightening)… all to no avail. Scares the bejesus out of ailurophobic antihero drifter Wylie (Michael Sarrazin), though, when he’s recruited by conniving femme fatale Kassia Lancaster (Gayle Hunnicutt at the very apogee of her physical magnificence) to persuade his doting, ailing Aunt Danny (Eleanor Parker) to change her will in his favour (really pushing on an open door, here, as Aunty is already and quite inappropriately fond of the prodigal nephew) with the intention that they’ll both clean up after they’ve arranged her demise. A simple plan but needless to say, the complications soon start multiplying. What were the odds on the increasingly eccentric Danny having given over large sections of her mansion to a tribe of feral cats? Just what is Wylie’s brother Luke (Tim Henry) up to? And does Aunty have some warped agenda (over and above the blatantly incestuous one) of her own? Rich skilfully keeps you guessing throughout and although you’ll see some of the twists coming, the final one may well elude you… particularly as it doesn’t make a (cat’s) lick of sense.

Yep, we’re talking Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques (1955), relocated to scenic San Francisco, with added cats. There’s obviously a touch of the Hitchcocks going on (Stefano had famously adapted Robert Bloch’s Psycho for Hitch almost a decade earlier) and the plot point of a preening, allegedly sexually provocative male being (re)introduced into a dysfunctional family set-up recalls Pasolini’s Theorem, released the previous year… even more so when you learn that Sarrazin was a late substitute for Terence Stamp in the lead role. Do we buy Michael Sarrazin as a substitute for Terence Stamp? Well, there are two kinds of folk in this world…

Extras: You won’t be surprised to learn that in this characteristically lavish limited edition (the film’s first UK outing on Blu), Indicator present both cuts of Rich’s film (the TV version compiled from understandably unpristine elements) and a featurette explicating the differences. The TV edit gains two new scenes which add little to the mix (aside from continuity errors) but which keep the running time close to the original 102 minutes after the excision of various sexual / druggy scenes and references. It also cuts the pack of cats down from their initial appearance to one measly moggy by the time the denouement rolls round. All of this plays up a supernatural element that gets almost entirely lost amid the screwing and scheming of the theatrical release and is, I suppose, actually more in keeping with the film’s title, so nothing like the swindle you’ll feel has been perpetrated after the paucity of pussies in e.g. René Cardona Jr’s Night Of A Thousand Cats (1972). You also get Kim Newman’s typically erudite take on this film and the whole feline fright flick fur ball, an audio commentary plus radio spot, trailer and image gallery of promotional and publicity material. Exclusive to the limited edition, there’s an exclusive 36-page booklet with a new essay by Kasandra O’Connell, extracts from the original press book, an archival interview with Gayle Hunnicutt, overview of contemporary critical responses and full film credits.

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