Posts Tagged With: Arrow

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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Welcome To The Jungles… Jules Dassin’s BRUTE FORCE & THE NAKED CITY Reviewed

TALES FROM THE URBAN JUNGLE: BRUTE FORCE (1947) & THE NAKED CITY (1948)
BD. Arrow Academy. Region B. 12.

“High heels on wet pavements…” Cons yearn for the women outside in Brute Force.

“Sometimes I think this whole world is made up of nothing but dirty feet!” A weary scrub woman in The Naked City.

Overcrowded Westgate Penitentiary is nominally run by Warden Barnes (Roman Bohnen), a weakling who has, in reality, ceded authority to Captain Munsey, a power hungry sadist (played, believe it or not, by Hume Cronyn) delighting in the physical and psychological abuse of its inmates.

The men squeezed into Cell R17, typically enough, divide their daydreams between the women who are (possibly) waiting for them on the outside (or whose conniving put them there in the first place), fantasies of parole… and getting even with Munsey. Dreaming won’t cut it, though, for tough Joe Collins (Burt Lancaster in a truly galvanising performance). “Nothing’s OK… he tells his roomies: “… it never was and it never will be until we’re out! Got that?”

Burt’s determined to see his ailing girl (Ann Blyth) before she dies and pieces together an audacious escape plan that hinges on him and his cell mates being conscripted to the dreaded drainpipe detail. As Munsey minces around in a singlet, attempting to beat the poop on what’s brewing out of a Collins confidant (while Wagner’s Tannhäuser Overture blares from his record player!) the jailbreak erupts in an Apocalyptic climax…

It’s instructive to compare and contrast Jules Dassin’s Brute Force with Howard Hawks’ 1930 prison melodrama The Criminal Code, recently reviewed in these pages. In the latter, for example, Boris Karloff’s dispatch of a snitch, in compliance with one interpretation of the phrase “criminal code”, is effectively but suggestively rendered. Dassin’s film, although ostensibly hampered by another code (the one named after Will Hays) depicts one of Munsey’s abandoned pigeons being summarily executed in altogether more, well, brutal fashion (pulverised in workshop machinery), showcases all manner of other incidental nastiness and concludes in riotous scenes of charnel house intensity… how did he get away with it?

You suspect that Dassin’s searing critique of The American Way was too artfully cloaked in allegory for the assorted Watch Committees and Legions of Decency to grasp. Plus (SPOILER ALERT) the aspiring escapees and their supporting cast of rioting cons are violently suppressed. Sure, the big authority figure also gets his well deserved and spectacular comeuppance but (and I’m being ironic here, just in case anybody needs that spelling out) he’s such an obvious fag, he probably had it coming, right? Perhaps the calypso commentary of Sir Lancelot (a familiar figure from those wonderful Val Lewton films) convinced the censorious that what they were watching was a “mere” piece of entertainment. The one thing Dassin couldn’t get away with indefinitely was his brief (terminated by the Hitler / Stalin pact of 1939) membership of the American Communist Party. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves…

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… before those little red chickens came home to roost, Dassin reassembled his principal Brute Force crew collaborators (Art director John DeCuir, DP William H. Daniels, Miklós Rózsa scoring) for a bravura 180 degree stylistic shift with The Naked City. This one kicks off in classic Noir style, as we view (through the tilted venetian blind slats of her apartment) a blonde being strangled then drowned in her bath tub. Thereafter Dassin eschews elaborate sound stages, within the likes of which the pressure cooker plotting of Brute Force was brought to the boil, in favour of the cityscape of New York itself. I’m not totally convinced by the claim that this film contains no studio set ups at all, but the lion’s share of its (fairly routine) forensic crime storyline unfolds over a hundred Big Apple locations as gently ironic Irish cop Barry Fitzgerald and his Jimmy Stewart-alike rookie sidekick (Don Taylor) pursue their principal person of interest (a harmonica playing wrestler) through its streets, markets, offices, fire escapes, gyms, hairdressers, jewellery stores, lunch counters, building sites, bridges, construction sites, subways, tram cars, offices, wharfs, police precincts, tenement blocks and all the rest of it. NYC is both the film’s story and its main, hyperforceful character (perhaps nothing else could have have followed Lancaster!)

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If Brute Force can be said to have strongly influenced individual films (most obviously Sidney Lumet’s 1965 effort The Hill, with which it would make a splendid double bill), The Naked City’s stylistic innovations exerted enormous influence over the whole crime film genre. Hitchcock, who recognised Dassin’s promise when the latter assisted him on Mr. And Mrs. Smith (1941), clearly owed something to him for Vertigo (1958) and the debt is also apparent in another film from the same year, Don Siegel’s The Lineup, though both of those are (at least in part) hymns to San Francisco rather than NYC.

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Whether the voice over by “colourful” producer / sometime journalist Mark Hellinger enhances or works against Dassin’s design remains debatable. It would be interesting to watch The Naked City with his narration deleted, as Harrison Ford’s eventually was from Blade Runner (1982)

This is Noir shot under the influence of Italian Neorealism rather than German Expressionism and Neorealism, of course, is but a wisp of capellini away from social realism… not to mention (ulp!) Socialist realism. Refusing to rat his friends out before Joe McCarthy’s Senate sub committee, Dassin was blacklisted, becoming persona non grata in Hollywood… which, gratifyingly, didn’t cramp his style one jot. Relocating to Europe, he plied his trade successfully in France (effectively inventing the heist genre with Riffifi, 1955) and Greece (where he married Melina Mercouri).

Melina, I think you're losing your Marbles...
Melina, baby, I think you’re losing your Marbles…

As an added “fuck you” to McCarthy, Dassin returned to Hollywood when red-baiting had abated somewhat and resumed making successful movies (notably Topkapi, another heist effort, in 1964). Like Rocky Graziano, somebody up there must have liked him…

For this limited edition set, both films have been painstakingly (it took two years!) restored in 4k (from miserably conserved elements) by TLE, also recently responsible for that much misunderstood and maligned Suspiria restoration. Both films look and sound marvellous though, in each, visuals and soundtracks aren’t always in perfect synch… not on the discs I watched, anyway.

Brute Force extras include Josh Nelson’s commentary track and a visual essay (“Nothing’s Okay”), courtesy of David Cairns & Fiona Watson. Josh Olson, Oscar winning winning screenwriter on Cronenberg’s A History of Violence (2005) talks about the life-changing impact on him of a youthful exposure to this movie. Kate Buford, author of Burt Lancaster: An American Life, takes a look at the star’s Noir-heavy early career. Plus theatrical trailers and image gallery.

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For The Naked City, David Cairns has collaborated on an audio commentary with actors Steven McNicoll and Francesca Dymond, while Eloise Ross kicks in with an original visual essay. New York and The Naked City is an analysis of the film’s influence on subsequent cinematic portrayals of New York, in efforts ranging from the mainstream to indie / underground / avant garde, delivered by Amy Taubin (somebody who “was there”). The Hollywood Ten is a 1950 documentary short arguing the case for free speech and against the blacklisting and imprisonment of 10 filmmakers who refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee, including The Naked City’s screenwriter Albert Maltz. In a 2004 personal appearance at LA’s County Museum of Art, Dassin (pictured above) proves himself a winning and waspish raconteur, taking time out to compare America post-9/11 with the McCarthy era. Plus trailer and a gallery of production stills by renowned photojournalist Weegee, whose work was so influential on the look of The Naked City.

An illustrated collector’s booklet includes writing on the films by Alastair Philips, Barry Salt, Sergio Angelini, Andrew Graves, Richard Brooks and Frank Krutnik. The reversible sleeve offers the options of featuring original and newly commissioned artwork.

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Draconian Daze… SHOGUN’S JOY OF TORTURE Reviewed.

BD. Arrow. Region B. 18.

From Toei studios and director Teruo Ishii, the guys who brought you (among countless others) the 1969 brace Horrors Of Malformed Men and Orgies Of Edo, comes this portmanteau survey of draconian judicial misogyny during Japan’s Edo / Tokugawa period (1603-1868). After a random pre-titles sampling of decapitation, evisceration, immolation and the ol’ “torn apart by rampaging bulls” chestnut, we’re into the first of three stories, that of lovely Mitsu (Masumi Tachibana). When her brother Shinzo (Teruo Yoshida) is seriously injured at work, she faces the prospect of destitution and accepts an offer from his big shot boss Minosuke (Kurosawa regular Kichijirõ Ueda) to finance the required medical treatment. Mean Mister Mino’s motivation is not at all altruistic, however and the only way for Mitsu to keep the funds flowing is to succumb to his sexual advances. When Shinzo learns what is happening, he’s so incensed by the blot on Mitsu’s honour that he initiates an incestuous relationship with her… I’m not entirely convinced of the logic behind this, but at least it suggests that Shinzo is recovering his strength. Ultimately Shinzo calls Minosuke out on his sexual blackmail, Mino exposes the incest and Mitsu injures him with a knife. Suspended and beaten until she confesses, Mitsu is brought to trial before an enlightened magistrate (also played by Yoshida) who tries to exercise clemency but she won’t renounce her forbidden love, hoping to be reunited with her dead brother / lover in Heaven. Unrepentant, she is crucified upside down over an incoming tide. The incest taboo is a basic tenet of any civilised society but Mitsu’s punishment is surely excessive, especially as Minosuke (who, it’s revealed, arranged Shinzo’s incapacitating injury) seems to get off scot free!

Cut to the linking device, in which a scholar peruses the annals of Edo period jurisprudence. All the events in this 1968 film (original title Tokugawa Onna Keibatsu-Shi / Tokugawa History Of Women Punishment) are allegedly based on authenticated historical occurrences, with the second story specifically concerning the notorious goings on at Juko Temple in 1666. Abbess Reihō (Yukie Kagawa) presides sternly over her Buddhist nuns but is secretly bedding her attendant Rintoku (Naomi Shiraishi). When they stumble upon one of their charges romping in the woods with Syunkai (Shin’ichirô Hayashi), an inhabitant of the neighbouring monastery, the Abbess is simultaneously outraged and aroused. The guilty nun is suspended and beaten, then bitten by leeches, followed by the application of chillis and ultimately a red hot poker to places where the sun don’t shine! Predictably these drastic measures, intended to transfer Syunkai’s affections to Reihō, have precisely the opposite effect. When the Shogun’s men turn up to investigate the reports they’ve been getting, they find the abbess carrying his severed head around with her. Reihō and her principal collaborators are crucified and stabbed with spears. That compassionate magistrate asks presiding magistrate Lord Nanbara if they aren’t going too far by executing the dead and the insane…

… to no avail. Nanbara (Fumio Watanabe) is a connoisseur of cruelty and in the concluding episode (whose thematic concerns anticipate those of Pupi Avati’s 1976 masterpiece The House With Laughing Windows) we find him sneering at the alleged masterpiece of famous tattoo artist Horichi (Asao Koike) when he sees it adorning the back of a top Geisha girl. He scoffs at its depiction of tormented souls in Hell for its lack of authenticity. Obsessed with perfecting his Art, Horichi scours the bath houses until he finds a woman with perfect skin and kidnaps her to provide the canvas for his next attempt. “After I’d tattooed her private parts, she became compliant and obedient” he muses (advising the new canvas to “think of it as though you were bitten by a mad dog”). He bugs Nanbara to allow him to attend the torture of captured Christian missionaries while he works and his request is granted.

“I would even go to Hell for the work I want to achieve…” rants Horichi: “… it will be the pinnacle of my life’s work!” Deciding that only Nanbara’s face is appropriate for the ogre in his new tableau, Horichi sets about giving his Lordship a sufficiently agonised expression, so at least the film ends on a note of poetic justice (recalling that in the contemporary Amicus portmanteaus efforts). This and stern voice over reminders that the only reason we’re seeing all these horrors is to illustrate man’s inhumanity to woman and as a warning against the consequences of draconian legal codes didn’t cut any ice with the Japanese critical establishment, which roundly condemned Tokugawa Onna Keibatsu-Shi. In its undeclared aim of dragging potential Japanese cinema ticket buyers away from their beloved TV sets, however, it proved wildly successful, spawning a series of official and bootleg sequels plus any amount of increasingly icky “eco-guru” efforts claiming inspiration from it. Unlike most of those, Ishii’s film is skilfully made (drawing its look from medieval Buddhist Hell Scrolls and the S/M visions of Oniroku Dan) and particularly beautifully shot by Motoya Washio…. and all the more disturbing for it. To help keep you glued to your own beloved TV set, the folks at Arrow have appended the following…

Extras: Audio commentary by Japanese cinema expert Tom Mes, an appreciation from author Patrick Macias of Teruo Ishii’s career and Jasper Sharp on the wider depiction of torture for titillation in Japanese exploitation cinema, an informative featurette that will prevent you from ever suffering the social faux pas of confusing Pinky Violence with Roman Porno. Also trailer, image gallery and reversible sleeve options (original / Jacob Phillips’s newly commissioned artwork). The first pressing only comes with a collectors’ booklet, featuring new writing on the film by Mark Schilling.

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The Holy Mountebank? Alejandro Jodorowsky’s PSYCHOMAGIC, A HEALING ART Reviewed.

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“Tell me about your mother…”

As contained in Arrow’s limited edition BD Box Set The Alejandro Jodorowsky Collection. Region B. 18.

Whenever the manifold personal qualities of the extraordinary Alejandro Jodorowsky are discussed, modesty and humility are conspicuous by their absence. True to form, El Jodo opens this documentary presentation of Psychomagic (the therapeutic method he has evolved through his life and films) by comparing / contrasting himself to / with Sigmund Freud. Whereas Psychoanalysis is a talking cure that bans touching, he tell us, Psychomagic is an active cure to which physical contact is fundamental. No doubt Jodorowsky is a sufficiently cultured man to realise that he is here revisiting the schism that eventually sundered Freud from one of his longest serving, ablest and most fondly regarded lieutenants, Sandor Ferenczi (1873-1933).

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“Cheer up, Sigi and gimme a cuddle…” Ferenczi and Freud in 1917.

Reasoning that at some level, all of his patients were (or perceived themselves to be) insufficiently loved, Ferenczi began to believe that their analyses could be more readily expedited with the judicious application of kisses, hugs and caresses. Horrified by the implications of this for Transference (the process by which the client reveals important clues about their relationships with significant others by visiting them upon the blank canvas of the emotionally remote analyst), not to mention the potential ethical pitfalls (nobody was worrying about Coronavirus in those days), Freud cried foul. No doubt his prosthetic jaw would have dropped and his ubiquitous cigar fallen to the floor if he had lived to see where Jodorowsky has taken Ferenczi’s heresy.

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The Holy Mountain, 1973

As well as one-on-one and group massage sessions (in such case studies as those entitled “Brothers Competing For Mother’s Love” and “A Man Abused By His Father, On The Verge Of Suicide”), AJ’s prescriptions include theatrical (and often public) ritual. The abused guy on the verge of suicide, for example, is buried alive (with provision made for him to breathe) while vultures pull apart carcasses laid on his grave. Dug up and “reborn”, he attaches a picture of the abusing parent to a balloon and lets it float away.

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“An Australian In Paris, Angry Against His Family” is seen smashing pumpkins (hey, that would be a good name for a band, right?) on the streets of France’s capital while screaming: “Why won’t you listen to me?”, then mails the pieces to his unsupportive family in Oz. “A Mexican Woman Whose Fiancé Committed Suicide On The Eve Of Their Wedding” (by jumping out of their window in her presence) goes through a funeral ceremony for her wedding dress then jumps out of a plane (El Jodo generously allows her the use of a parachute). “A 47 Year Old Man Who Wants To Stop Stuttering” feels like a child so AJ lets him loose in a Disney-style kids’ park wearing a sailor suit and silly hat (a concerned mother hustles her daughter away from him). Then Jod takes him to a church and squeezes his bollocks, telling him:  “In this Holy place I will pass Manly energy on to you… because I am The Father Archetype!”

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As if all this wasn’t enough,  the guy is then painted gold and sent to walk down the street in his skivvies… and yes, he finally stops stuttering. “An 88 Year Old Woman In Deep Depression” probably isn’t up to some of the energetic and bold stuff described above but does seem to benefit from pouring water on the roots of a massive tree every day. In “Coming Out Of The Closet” an actual closet is burned during a gay wedding ceremony and during “The Walk Of The Dead In Mexico City, 2011”, participants chant “Psychomagic against violence!” to protest casualties of the country’s drug wars. In the section “Birth Massage”, a young woman frightened of bearing children is given therapeutic massages by a pair of Psychomagic practitioners and is later shown proudly displaying a beautiful baby bump. “A Couple In Crisis” decide to separate, but on amicable rather than antagonistic terms.

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All of the episodes are illustrated with apposite clips from Jodorowsky’s films and intercut with his sage pronouncements, delivered in front of a corny “psychedelic” background. Their titles are presumably intended to evoke such classic Freud case studies as “The Wolf Man” and “The Rat Man”, though “Is Menstruation A Problem?” (in which El Jodo advises a cellist to daub her instrument with period blood) is more reminiscent, at least to this viewer, of the cod Krafft-Ebing in Woody Allen’s Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex * But Were Afraid To Ask (1972).

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Jodorowsky claims that the shortcomings of classical psychoanalysis “obliged” him to create Psychomagic, a name that (given his cooky reputation) offers hostages to wise cracking fortune. He cites the Tarot, rather than any conventional therapeutic discipline, as the foundation of his method, which blends a frisson of Ferencszi, a jolt of Janov and perhaps a soupcon of snake oil. El Jodo is a charismatic individual and although we see apprenticed Psychomagic practitioners applying his ideas at various points in this film, one wonder how the discipline will fare when he’s gone. Innumerable studies have proven that those in therapy benefit from human company and attention, also (yes, Sandor) from tactile comfort. Jodorowsky has always been an expert manipulator of emotion (a manifestly cool and together lady who accompanied me to The Scala to watch Santa Sangre was reduced to tears during the scene of the elephant’s death) and some of the case studies here are genuinely moving, though I can’t entirely dismiss the suspicion that some of the patients just might be shills. Then I think I’m just being an insensitive heel…

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The thing that troubled me most about Psychomagic, A Healing Art, was the section in which AJ’s helping a cancer sufferer come to terms with her illness and prognosis… fair enough, but entitling this episode “Can Cancer Be Cured?”, in an age of rising quackery (tied in with conspiracy theories, the “post truth” media landscape, Gwyneth Paltrow’s vaginal candles, et al ) seems, to me anyway, to be a seriously questionable move.

Health warning. Embrace Psychomagic. With caution.

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Robert Ginty On The Rocks… WHITE FIRE Reviewed.

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Don’t get Ginty’s goat!

BD. Region Free. Arrow. 18.

“C” grade Action Star seeks 2,000 carat diamond…

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Hold on to your hats, ’cause this is a wild one… White Fire kicks off with a man (played by director Jean-Marie Pallardy) and woman being killed in a forest (we never find out exactly why) by paramilitary types, their two children rescued and adopted by a guy (Jess Hahn) in a dodgy pullover. Fast forward 20 years and the kids have grown into Ingrid (Belinda Mayne) and Boris ‘Bo’ Donnelly (Robert Ginty). She works at a diamond mine outside of Istanbul which is run like a prison camp by an oaf named Olaf (Gordon Mitchell), who summarily executes any sticky-fingered employees. Ingrid still manages to smuggle out plenty of gems for Bo to fence to interested parties. A criminal trollop named Sophia (Mirella Banti) and her gang are trying to muscle in on the Donnelly’s action (cue some rather lively fight scenes) and things are further complicated by the discovery of the legendary White Ice, a beautiful but radioactive diamond. In the ensuing kerfuffle, Ingrid is killed (with a blow pipe dart) during a bungled kidnap attempt. Bo picks up Olga (Diana Goodman) during a bar room punch-up. She bares a vague resemblance to Ingrid, so Bo persuades her to undergo plastic surgery to complete the illusion, in order that she may enter the diamond mine and help him half-inch that hot ice. About an hour into the proceedings, Pallardy wheels on Noah Barclay (Fred Williamson) and his own gang of desperadoes as further contenders for that diamond… why deny Fred his chance to beat the kitchen sink into this already overcrowded narrative?

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Admirers of well-proportioned narrative and thespian finesse are probably best advised to steer clear of White Fire but you should be sprinting rather than running to pick up a copy if your tastes run to brainless action, ludicrous dialogue, inept dubbing, gratuitous tit’n’ ass, ’80s fashion crimes (Gordon Mitchell is probably in his bloody eighties and should never been allowed anywhere near that red jump suit, below) and random outbreaks of violence involving aikido, flame throwers, bandsaw castrations, dynamite tossing and chainsaw duelling (the sound you’re currently hearing is that of James Ferman rotating in his grave at high velocity). Action fans certainly won’t consider themselves short changed by White Fire, though I reckon its running time could comfortably have been reduced by about 20 minutes.

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If the aforementioned weren’t sufficiently outrageous for you, it’s worth pointing out that all of this sound and fury is arguably intended to divert your attention from the spectre of incest (I know, White Fire is the second Arrow release in succession where I’ve had cause to raise this taboo subject!) Bo seems very fond of his sister, punching out anybody who talks disrespectfully of her and shamelessly ogling her after ripping her towel off when she gets out of the shower. “Don’t look at me like that” she protests (a little half-heartedly), to which Bo responds: “You know, it’s a pity you’re my sister!” (?!?) You get the impression that he would soon have consummated his illicit lust, had the bad guys not bumped off Ingrid. At least he drew the line at necrophilia but subsequent scenes in which he grapples amorously with a character who’s been surgically transformed into his sister’s double (and is now played by the same actress) are pretty stomach churning.

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If this is one of his mainstream efforts, Christ only knows what stuff went on in Pallardy’s earlier skin-flicks (I’m told that he made one called Erotic Confessions Of A Lumberjack, though that sounds just too good to be true). The director, a former male model, comes across in his bonus interview as a kind of low(er) rent Jess Franco and certainly share’s Franco’s eye for free, more bang for your buck locations. He talks about how the diverse cast was assembled to attract financing from various territories and it’s interesting to learn that his “human torch” stunt in the film’s prologue was every bit as misfiring and life threatening as it looks. Other bonus materials include interviews with Williamson (expounding the familiar Gospel about Fred according to Fred) and editor Bruno Zincone. The first pressing only comes with an illustrated collectors’ booklet featuring new writing on the film by Julian Grainger.

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In Kat Ellinger’s commentary she takes issue with the whole concept of “so bad it’s good” Cinema, putting herself on a collision course with Williamson, who describes White Fire as “a bad film that’s good”. Careful Kat, you might be the fastest wordslinger in the West but in a no holds barred, dynamite tossing “jeet kune do with explosive arrow heads” showdown between you and The Hammer, there could be only one winner…

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Credited as this film’s music supervisor we find no less eminent a personage than Deep Purple’s Jon Lord (ask your grandad), though the late Hammond-meister’s supervision seems to have extended no further than mounting the eponymous theme song on a loop… and White Fire is (cough, cough) no Burn (could have gone for Smoke On The Water but hey, way too easy!)

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Virgin On The Ridiculous… BLOOD TIDE Reviewed

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BD. Region Free. Arrow. 15.

Arrow’s ongoing quest to bring you every possible Nico (Island Of Death) Mastorakis-related movie they can lay their hands on gathers pace with this 1982 effort, which Nico co-wrote (with its director Richard Jefferies) and produced.

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A doomed virgin models seaweed earrings. Yesterday.

Neil Grice (Martin Kove, just before he became a fixture in the Karate Kid franchise) and his new bride Sherry (Mary Louise Weller) sail to a remote Greek island in search of Neil’s sister Madeline, who’s been mysteriously incommunicado. They experience little trouble finding her (in the luscious shape of Deborah Shelton) but can’t persuade her to leave with them because she’s become obsessed with local mythology about the sacrificing of virgins to placate a fearsome sea monster. Neil and Sherry investigate various mysterious goings on, in the process incurring the wrath of the town elders, principally José Ferrer, who takes great exception to outsiders meddling in the Islanders’ ancient customs. There’s also a chapter of creepy nuns (presided over by Lila Kedrova) which made me wonder if Blood Tide had been an influence on the conception of Mariano Baino’s  Dark Waters (1993) though that film’s co-writer / associate producer Andy Bark assures me that this was not the case.

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Is Shelton being prepared as a human sacrifice? More pointedly, are we honestly expected to accept that a woman who’s so alluring that Craig Wasson felt compelled to fish her discarded panties out of a bin (in Brian De Palma’s Body Double just two years later) is a virgin? Yes, I know it’s theoretically possible but she’s hardly the most obvious casting choice. Such considerations are soon rendered academic anyway, as James Earl Jones’s Frye (a bang on portrayal of somebody who thinks he’s “a bit of a character” but whom everybody else regards as a total dick) dynamites the island’s undersea caverns in search of some obscure treasure and ends up releasing that sea monster. To say it doesn’t quite measure up to the Kraken from Clash Of The Titles would be a significant understatement, nevertheless it starts noshing its way through the local population, virgo intacto or otherwise.

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Ooh, scary!

Jefferies keeps this preposterous “Wicker Man with a side order of moussaka” concoction bubbling along engagingly enough (until the appearance of that risible monster) and it’s beautifully shot by Aris Stavrou (though the undersea cavern scenes, inevitably, look a bit grainy in this 4K restoration from the original camera negative). There’s a bonus interview with the indomnitable Mastorakis, conducted by one Ari Gerontakis. Although the latter is billed as an “actor / voice over genius”, this feaurette is directed by Mastorakis himself so you just know this isn’t going to be some kind of Paxman-style grilling. Instead, our man talks up his friendship with John Carpenter and his clashes with the late Don Simpson at Paramount. Just when you think he’s going to skirt around the subject of his notorious “video nasty” Island Of Death, he remembers it as his attempt to “out-Texas Chain Saw Massacre the Texas Chain Saw Massacre”. You also get a new audio commentary from director Jefferies, a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys and (in the first pressing only) a collector’s booklet featuring a new appraisal of the film by Mike Gingold.

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OK, I accept that Shelton’s character could be a virgin. But I’m still troubled by the er, over enthusiastic kissing between her and her brother after he’s rescued her from that monster. What the fuck was that all about? Shelton also sings (pleasantly enough) over the closing credits. Cor, what a gal!

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Such a pretty present for a Christmas cracker Kraken…

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A Warning To The Pure Of Heart… AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON On Arrow BD.

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BD. Arrow. Region B. 18.

Just a couple of weeks or so into 2020 and I’m happy as a pig in shit (Mrs F just suggested that I also look and smell rather like one… thanks, I love you too Darling!) Following hot on the heels of the beautiful new Shameless edition of Fulci’s The Beyond, Arrow’s 4K restoration of An American Werewolf In London (1981) revives further vivid memories of a time, something like 40 years ago, when life wasn’t running too smoothly for Yours Truly but, guided by Starburst magazine (the fantasy film fanatic’s bible in those days) I was able to take regular solace down at our local fleapit, catching the original theatrical runs of such classics as The Evil Dead, The Thing, Tenebrae, Phantasm, Blade Runner and Paul Schrader’s Cat People remake, not to mention any amount of seminal slasher flicks, an unstoppable flood of ferocious Fulci fare and… last but by no means least… the item under consideration here.

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John Landis was on a proper roll at this point (for a while there, my interest in his work rivalled my obsession with Dario Argento’s), AAWIL coming after Kentucky Fried Movie (1977), Animal House (1978) and The Blues Brothers (1980). Having attained pre-eminence as a director of Comedies, Landis now leavened the mix by indulging his fondness for the Horror genre, with such impressive results that countless subsequent British films (American Werewolf is sort of a British film… the final beneficiary of the Eady Levy, no less) have mixed the two genres… to generally woeful effect (though every so often there’s a welcome exception to the rule). Despite Horror and Comedy being proverbially two sides of the same coin, spinning them into a coherent movie is no mean feat. Landis not only managed the right blend of scary and funny, he also balanced elements of eroticism and yep, romance plus high octane action set pieces to supremely satisfying effect. Brilliant stuff…

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… and yet, in the absence of a review copy, I’ve been studiously avoiding Arrow’s recent Blu-ray edition, following my adverse reactions to previous Universal DVD and Blu-ray releases of this film. For all the past promotional puff of Universal’s contemporary featurettes (included among the plentiful extras here), how could they possibly think they were doing justice to one of my cherished movie memories with those grainy travesties? And was there any realistic hope of the Arrow job looking any better? Doesn’t 4K just automatically exacerbate any such pixillated imperfections? (City Of The Living Dead, I’m looking at you!) Well, Santa having slipped a copy into my stocking while I wasn’t looking (what, you think I’ve got nothing better to do all day than sit around looking at stockings? Depends who’s wearing them…) its gratifying to be able to report that this new restoration from the original camera negative, supervised by Landis himself, finally looks and sounds (in blood-curdling 5.1) every bit as splendid as it always should have. To think I hesitated… (what a schmuck!)

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Here’s why Griffin Dunne didn’t get the red puffa jacket…

2fed2fa912e1355ab1ccf4b7be5802cc.jpgMuch of the cocky genius of Rick Baker’s masterful FX work (so good they invented an Oscar for him to win and never bettered… many have tried, but only Baker’s protege Rob Bottin came remotely close) was that it stood up to brightly lit scrutiny and now you can watch it unfold under optimal conditions in the comfort of your own lair… ditto the sublime spectacle of Jenny Agutter, at her career loveliest, as the nurse (Alex Price) for whom doomed protagonist David Kessler (David Naughton) takes an understandable turn.

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From a sexy nurse in American Werewolf to a nun in Call The Midwife… pah!

… and of course there’s a woodshedload of extras for you to wallow in, some of them familiar from previous editions. David Naughton and Griffin Dunne’s audio commentary is a treasure trove of amusing anecdotes and reminiscences while Paul Davis, who authored the comprehensive guide Beware The Moon takes an appropriately “soup to nuts” approach. Davis beats Naughton and Dunne hands down for Landis impersonations and also contributes the feature length doc version of his book. Further documentaries, cast and crew interviews and featurettes (several of them dating back to the film’s release) reinforce each other in a compelling narrative of AAWIL’s Universal antecedents, its genesis in Landis’s encounter of supernatural beliefs while working as a runner on Kelly’s Heroes (1970) in Yugoslavia, his struggle to get it green lit, the simultaneous, synergetic emergence of The Howling by Joe Dante (one of the many luminaries interviewed here), its brilliant realisation, cult kudos / critical mauling and subsequent rehabilitation.

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It would have been nice to see wider acknowledgment of cinematic lycanthropy outside of the mainstream tradition (e.g. the Iberian exploits of Mr Naschy, above) though of course the werewolf is the only member of  the classic Monster pantheon whose rulebook is copped neither from some literary source (like Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy et al) nor, contrary to popular belief, from ethnic folklore, rather from an earlier (Universal) film, George Waggner’s The Wolf Man (1941), whose Jewish writer Curt Siodmak fled Nazi Germany and had harrowing personal experience of reasonable looking people transforming into wild beasts overnight.

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In the video essay I Think He’s a Jew: The Werewolf’s Secret, Jon Spira labours a point that even the dimmest viewer must surely have got after the “nightmare within a nightmare” home invasion sequence, if not long before, i.e. that this film is an allegory of precarious Jewish consciousness in the second half of the 20th Century. Indeed it is, but Spira lays it on a bit too thick when he interprets Anne-Marie Davies’s line “I think he’s a Jew” as signifying her character’s barely concealed anti-semitism. By Spiro’s contention, Agutter’s Alex should have responded: “Why does it matter?”, but in the context of the nurses’ attempts to establish the origins of the mysterious patient, it’s by no means an inadmissible observation. And if Nurse Gallagher does have an ulterior motivation, is it really beyond the realms of possibility, in a film directed by the man previously responsible for Animal House, that it was the lascivious one to sneak a peek at a fit young guy’s dick? I would also suggest that if somebody as obviously smart as Landis wanted to personify privileged WASP bigotry, he’d have chosen a more appropriate avatar for it than a red haired nurse named Gallagher! Familiar with the expression “No Dogs, No Blacks, No Irish”, Jon?

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There’s  much discussion of the pre-CGI miracles wrought by Baker, of course (with fascinating “making of” and unused footage, plus SFX artist Dan Martin and Tim Lawes of The Prop Store drooling over precious props and costumes from the film. Out takes include the amusing (unfortunately soundless) encounter between Landis and the See You Next Wednesday cast (Linzi Drew and co). You get the original (and now somewhat cack handed looking) theatrical trailer plus teaser and TV spots, also a gallery of over 200 images and the option to display this one on your shelf sporting either original or new Graham Humphreys art work.

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It was great to see our old mucker Pete Atkins waxing eloquent about werewolf lore in one of the docs (I quoted one of his best lines earlier, for those of you paying attention), whereas David Naughton seems to have undergone an even scarier transformation that the one suffered by his character in the film, now bearing an uncomfortable resemblance to David Cameron! In a sadly ironic sidebar, during one of the contemporary promotional featurettes, while talking about running the three ring Piccadilly Circus climax to the film, Landis comments that “no movie is worth hurting somebody for”. Now there’s a line that would come back to haunt him.

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Lift To The Scaffold… HITCH HIKE TO HELL Reviewed.

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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).

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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.

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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!

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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… 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.

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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?

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

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

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Lon Chaney, 1883-1930

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It’s Electrafying… TOYS ARE NOT FOR CHILDREN Reviewed.

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BD. Arrow. Region B. 15.

“Every so often comes a Major Motion Picture that dares to deal with the taboo subject of… (whatever)” . Hollywood has never exactly been shy about patting itself on its corporate back when it feels it’s getting edgy, tackling taboos and generally pushing envelopes. For the American independents immortalised in Stephen Thrower’s Nightmare USA tome (and indeed exploitation film makers anywhere) doing that was just their bread and butter. One such director was Stanley H. Brasloff, who after a career wearing many showbiz hats, wrote and produced Charles Romine’s 1968 “roughy” Behind Locked Doors, wrote and directed the similarly rough Two Girls For a Madman the same year and wrote / directed / produced the title under consideration here, which after a long incubation / pre-production emerged to mixed indifference and indignation in 1972, prompting Stan to return to a life of treading the boards as a stand up comedian.

MV5BZDFkYWJkODYtMTVkZC00MDMzLThjMTQtNGE3ZGZiZTFlMDFiL2ltYWdlL2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTI5NjY3MDU@._V1_.jpgStandup’s gain was exploitation cinema’s loss on the evidence of Toys Are Not For Children, whose protagonist Jamie Godard (Marcia Forbes) is a superficially normal young woman but profoundly emotionally stunted as a result of paternal abandonment in childhood. Her only contact with Daddy, growing up, was the dolls and cuddly toys he sent her and as an adult she’s got a roomful of them, lovingly conserved. A bit too lovingly… when her mother Edna (Fran Warren) discovers Jamie, er, pleasuring herself with one such, it’s just about the final straw in their troubled relationship. Luckily Charlie (Harlan Cary Poe), her co-worker in a toy store (horses for courses, I guess) wants to marry her and soon they’re setting up home together. The marriage remains unconsummated though due to Jamie’s fixation on her toy collection and frustrated Charlie starts looking elsewhere for female affection. Superannuated tart with a heart Pearl (Evelyn Kingsley) shops at the store and strikes up a friendship with Jamie, who’s nursed the ambition to become a prostitute ever since hearing from her mother that the only women her father ever cared for were hookers. Pearl’s slimy pimp Eddie (Luis Arroyo) susses out that Jamie’s thing is to be taken by force and once he’s unlocked the key to her libido, sets her to work with clients who go for daddy / daughter role-plays. Jealous Pearl (who’d been harbouring her own designs on Jamie) drunkenly sets her up for a “date” with her unwitting father Phillip (Peter Lightstone) with predictably catastrophic results…

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TANFC could have been a supremely sick and sleazy cinematic experience but Brassloff handles things (and strong performances from his largely unheralded cast don’t exactly hurt) with exemplary subtlety and sensitivity. So much so that the publicity blurb about “a haunting and devastating climax that lingers long after the credits roll” is, for once, more than mere hyperbole. One might well think that Mario Bava himself took note of this film’s closing shots before shooting his own Lisa And The Devil the following year. It’s a pay off of truly Sophoclean impact, in the build up to which Stanley H. brilliantly intercuts different time frames to convey the extent of  Jamie’s projections and acting out… if he was similarly adept at delivering his stand up act, I imagine he rarely left a dry seat in the house.

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Arrow’s good looking 2K restoration of this title is complimented by some predictably nifty extras including Thrower’s introduction to the film and its director and an audio commentary from Kat Ellinger and Heather Drain. There’s a video essay from Alexandra Heller-Nicholas (directed by Marc Morris) which starts off on an interesting tack by comparing and contrasting TANFC with Todd Haynes’ Carol (2015) and the novel that inspired the latter, Patricia Highsmith’s The Price Of Salt,  before touching on such kindred fare as Carroll Baker in Elia Kazan’s Baby Doll (1956), the Nabokov and Kubrick Lolitas, the 1963 Twilight Zone episode Living Doll, William A. Fraker’s A Reflection Of Fear from the same year as Brasloff’s film, the whole Barbie phenomenon and the truly creepy Baby Burlesque series of shorts showcasing the precocious talents of Shirley Temple, plus an isolated audio track of T.L. Davis belting out TANFC’s OTT theme song, Lonely Am I. You get a trailer, of course and bonus ones for Behind Locked Doors and Two Girls For A Madman.

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This is a real find and very welcome addition to Arrow’s ever expanding catalogue.

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