Posts Tagged With: Monsters

Blood & Brown Fur… WEREWOLF IN A GIRLS’ DORMITORY Reviewed.

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BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

The question is not “Who is the murderer?”… but “Who is the werewolf?” (The challenge thrown down to viewers during the legendary “Werewolf break” in Paul Annett’s The Beast Must Die,  1974).

Before it found a particularly convivial setting in the early-mid ’70s thrillers of Sergio Martino, screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi’s obsession with the Whodunnit plotting of Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques (1955) was expressed via some unlikely outlets, none more unlikely than Lycanthropus, directed by Paolo (The Day The Sky Exploded) Heusch (as “Richard Benson”) in 1961.

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Despite a dodgy discharge from his previous employers, Doctor Julian Olcott (Carl Schell) takes up a new position at a reform school for bad girls, supposedly located somewhere in England (though the locations are conspicuously Italian). Fortuitously (for the real culprit) his arrival coincides with a spate of slayings in which various residents and staff members are messily bumped off, for which Dr Jules naturally becomes the prime suspect, ahead even of philandering pedagogue and blackmail victim Sir Alfred Whiteman (Maurice Marsac) and general dogsbody Walter (“Allan Collins” / Luciano Pigozzi, whose resemblance to Peter Lorre always puts him in the frame). Striking up an alliance (not to mention a romantic entanglement) with boot camp babe Priscilla (Barabara Lass, who was nearing the end of her marriage to Roman Polanski during the making of this picture), the doc sets about the task of unearthing the actual killer’s identity (and their shaggy dog back story, into the bargain…)

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While the transformation scenes are handled with simple efficiency, they’re not the main point of interest here. Lycanthropus is clearly cut from the same cloth in which the incipient giallo genre was being fashioned. The milieu of intriguing young minxes and their corrupt custodians in a claustrophobic setting rings a bell or two with Mario Bava’s seminal 1964 effort Blood And Black Lace (and is it just me, or does Barbara Lass bear an incidental resemblance to Leticia Roman from Bava’s earlier The Girl Who Knew Too Much?)

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Antonio Margheriti’s The Miniskirt Murders (1968) also rehashes several elements from Heusch’s films, not least the presence of “Collins” / Pigozzi and Lycanthropus’s giallo legacy stretches far further than that… tracking shots of night time chases through the woods and compositions of female victims reclining in stretches of water had me wondering if this is one of the films screened by Argento before he got cracking on Phenomena (1985).

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Renato Del Frate’s crisp b/w cinematography is well served throughout in this new 2k scan from archival elements. Special features include an interview with the great Gastaldi, a David Del Valle-moderated commentary track from Curt Lowens (who plays Director Swift in the movie), trailers, and the alternative US titles… commercially inspired by any amount of contemporary werewolf flicks, Lycanthropus went out as Werewolf In A Girls’ Dormitory States-side, with a terrible tacked-on opening song (“The Ghoul In School”) that is clearly attempting to invoke the spirit of AIP’s I Was A Teenage Werewolf (1957). My early bird copy contained a mini-repro of the original promotional photo-comic and a bonus CD of Armando Trovajoli’s OST. Nice!

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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 came back to haunt him.

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“Chainsaws In Outer Space… Why Not?” The NORMAN J. WARREN Interview.

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Although I’ve enjoyed his company on several subsequent occasions, my interrogation of Norman J. Warren took place at and around the second Black Sunday film festival in Ashton-under-Lyne in February 1990, when the Freudstein interviewing technique was even less polished than it is now. The complete (ish) transcript appeared in A Major Horror Magazine but another rag commissioned me to adapt our conversation into the following profile, which they never actually used or paid me for… which was nice of them. Nearly (ouch!) 30 years later, their loss is hopefully your gain, dear readers. Beyond Terror and Norman’s Fiend Without A Face reboot remain tantalisingly unrealised projects but maybe one day? Like chainsaws in outer space, why the hell not?

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In the mid-60s, the young Norman J. Warren had begun his career assisting Anatole and Dimitri De Grunewald on the likes of Rod The Mod, a documentary look at the trendy life and times of the equally youthful Mr Stewart. “Like a lot of other people in their late teens / early twenties, I was desperate to direct, and couldn’t understand why the establishment wouldn’t give me the chance to do so”, Norman laughs: “It’s only later on when you realise why they didn’t! So out of sheer frustration I made a short film called Fragment in 1965. I’d already made other amateur efforts, but I decided to do Fragment properly, on 35mm and so on and I managed to talk several independent cinemas into screening it. It was just pure luck that one of those cinema managers, Bachoo Sen and a guy called Richard Shulman had just gone into film production. They’d decided to start with sex films because it was an obvious way to make a quick buck and because it was low budget. They were new to production, they wanted a director who was not too experienced, thus couldn’t give them a hard time, and of course somebody who was enthusiastic enough to do it for very little money. They gave me a call, made me an offer and I said yes immediately, without knowing what it was!” (Laughs)

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What it was, was Her Private Hell… “a black and white film made in 1967, and I dread to think what it would look like now. The whole thing was so naive, but I was grateful for the chance to actually direct a feature film and make all the mistakes that you inevitably do, which is how you learn your trade. The second one, Loving Feeling (1968) – which is about a disc jockey who destroys his marriage because he takes advantage of all these girls who are throwing themselves at him – looks a lot more polished, though I was still making mistakes in that one”.

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One of the biggest mistakes Norman made was not scrutinising the small print closely enough. “Bachoo never spent an awful lot of money on his productions, but he spent a hell of a lot on his contracts! Eventually I tried to challenge him for money, after working seven days a week, virtually 24 hours a day for two years on two films… I did the story for Loving Feeling, edited Her Private Hell, did all the sound… and I hadn’t been paid anything, apart from the odd fiver here or there for something to eat. Whenever I said I needed some money to get a taxi home, he’d would drive me home in his own car – I never seemed to get any cash! When it came to the crunch, a solicitor told me the contracts had been so beautifully written, that I really had no claim on anything! We ended up reaching a settlement, and it worked out that I’d been working for £20 a week, which – depending on what your job was – mightn’t have been bad money for that time, but if you think what I’d been doing, the responsibility and the hours I was working… also, how much money Bachoo made on these pictures! Her Private Hell, for instance, cost something like £18,000 to make and in one cinema alone in the Charring Cross Road, where it played for 14 months, it was taking £5,000 a week! Then of course it went around the entire country, and was sold to foreign territories. I dread to think how much it must have made, the profit must have been absolutely enormous, but I didn’t see any of it. Bachoo later relocated to The States and called me asking if I wanted to direct this terrible picture, Nightmare Weekend, for him. I didn’t take him up on his offer, even though I really wanted to get back into directing, and having seen the finished result, I think I made the right decision! Once again, it was a sex film disguised as a horror movie. Of course in a way I’m terribly grateful to him because he gave me the chance to direct my first feature film, to get through that enormous barrier you have to surmount to be accepted as someone who can actually direct a feature-length film… but I don’t want to go through all that again! I learned my lesson the hard way”.

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Loving Feeling was the debut movie for Euro-sex bomb Francoise Pascal, who claimed in the documentary version of David McGillivray’s book Doing Rude Things that she needed twenty brandies before she could bring herself to take her clothes off… a version of events that Norman disputes: “She was very young, and she wasn’t shy at all. She didn’t have a very big part, but she was a very attractive girl in those days. I wasn’t aware of any brandies or embarrassment…. in fact the problem, as I recall it, was trying to get Francoise to keep her clothes on!”Another of Norman’s leading ladies displayed no such willingness to drop her drawers in the cause of Art: “Georgina Ward was a very grand lady, actually, came from a very wealthy background. I don’t know what happened to her. She was in another sex film made by the producer Hazel Adair, who used to write that soap opera Crossroads. She was very coy, didn’t want to do any nudity, so we brought in a body double for the sex films. David McGillivray mentions something like this in his book, though he might have been referring to Lucia Modugno, the Italian actress in Her Private Hell. We received some very beautiful photos of her aged about 17, but they turned out to be very old photos, because when we met her at the airport, I actually thought she’d brought her mother with her! I was very sorry for Lucia, because once we started filming she realised she was to old for the part, and didn’t really have the figure… of course she was surrounded by all these young girls. It was very sad”.

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“After a while, you run out of things to do with a bed…”

“David was right when he said that sex films weren’t a genre I enjoyed working in, though this wasn’t out of any sense of prudery. I actually found the genre very restricting… the story lines just revolved around people taking their clothes off and going to bed, and after a while you run out of things to do with a bed, you know, camera angles and so on. A lot of people got labelled and never did anything else, and when the British sex films came to an end, they just faded out with them! So after the second one, although I was offered the chance of doing The Wife Swappers, which was eventually done by Derek Ford, I refused, and more or less put myself out of work, as far as directing was concerned, for several years, until the opportunity to direct Satan’s Slave came along. After that one I knew that this was what I really wanted to do, which was nothing to do with money, just because it was a much more satisfying experience all round”.

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“I think some of the younger fans are not only amazed that there was a British industry in those days, but that these sort of films, with such graphic content, were being made here… reflects Norman: “Those who’ve managed to see an un-cut foreign print of Satan’s Slave, for instance, are quite shocked that a movie like that could have been made in this country and that it could have been seen commercially in cinemas… they all were, that’s something I’m very proud of, that they were all shown theatrically”.

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After the disappointment of The Naked Eye (a project on which Norman was to have directed Cushing and Price for AIP) falling through, Satan’s Slave (1976) was conceived in a rush of frustrated enthusiasm and tackled by all concerned in a spirit of D.I.Y. gusto. In it, aristocratic Michael Gough presides over a cult dedicated to the revival of an ancestral witch via human sacrifice, a batty plot culminating in one of those trusty “So, it was all a dream… hang on, no it wasn’t!” moments. Terror (1978) commences in similar fashion before the witch-hunting action is revealed to be a film-within-a-film but (you guessed) the cast and crew are soon being bumped off in gruesome fashion. With Norman and writer David McGillivray (who’d already written several of Pete Walker’s “terror pictures”) both under the recent spell of Argento’s Suspiria, Terror places even less emphasis on narrative cohesion than its predecessor, concentrating instead on a succession of spectacular designer deaths.

terror-1978-film-04553e9b-38be-4b3d-add3-97849bd1d85-resize-750.jpg“David was very good indeed to work with”, remembers Norman: “because he never got offended when I wanted to make changes. A lot of writers feel that their work is set in marble and they don’t want any changes, but David (laughs)… maybe he’s just been very lenient with me, but he’s never had any complaints when I’ve thrown out lines or changed scenes around completely. David appears in Satan’s Slave and he has a smaller role in Terror, he’s the TV reporter in that one. I know those films contain some violent scenes and they get a bit gory at times, but there’s no viciousness about them. My sole intention was to entertain, and to me they’re sort of light-hearted films, in a way…”Something of that playful spirit is captured in the title of All You Need Is Blood, the “making of…” documentary, which David Wyatt shot on the set of Satan’s Slave. “It was shot in the hope that the BBC would broadcast it as a programme about the making of his low budget film, but all they did was take out shots from it’s opening, in which Michael Gough is conducting a black mass, and use it in a religious programme about the growing menace of Satanism – as though it was the real thing!” Ain’t it reassuring to know that your license money gets spent so responsibly?

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Always the first to acknowledge his films’ weaknesses, Norman states that with the plots of these gory little epics “we fell into the trap of making things incredibly complicated, which gave us problems half-way through when we realised it was so complex that it was actually quite difficult to work out what was going on”. This is one reason why Beyond Terror, one of the projects Norman is working hard to develop (along with properties entitled Darkland and Skinner), is an expansion of his 1978 smash-hit.

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I remind him (as if he needed any reminding) that Terror was the top-grossing film in Britain on its release in 1978: “Yes it was! This tiny film, which cost scarcely more than £80,000, was Number One for a week, and when it opened all over America, in towns like Chicago and Oklahoma, it actually broke box office records! In Chicago it packed them in all the cinemas for a week!”

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In between Satan’s Slave and Terror, Norman took a stab at science fiction with Prey 77 (featuring the ever saucy Glory Annen, above), a virtual three-hander in which a lesbian couple’s rural idyll is rudely interrupted by the arrival of an enigmatic stranger who turns out to be the vanguard of an alien invasion force. When I suggested that the film had been influenced by Jose Ramon Larraz’s Vampyres (1974), which shares its country setting, small cast and indeed one of its actresses, Sally Faulkner, Warren demurred: “No, I haven’t seen the Larraz film unfortunately, in fact I don’t think I was influenced by anything for Prey, outside of its tiny budget… plus I had literally three weeks preparation, including writing the script. In some ways the small scale of everything was actually a positive thing, because despite the brief schedule I was able to spend time with all the principle actors, building the characters and so on, and I think you can see that in the finished film. Sally is particularly good, the way you suddenly start realising, she’s the crazy one!”

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Norman’s career continued in a sci-fi vein (featuring additional Glory Annen) with 1979’s Outer Touch: “That one was quite successful in America, where it played as Spaced Out, but it didn’t do very well in Britain. Basically, it’s a science-fiction comedy, and making it taught me just how difficult comedy is – the most difficult, I think, of all the genres. It’s totally about getting the timing right”. Norman’s next picture, Inseminoid (1981), was straight SF with no comic trimmings. 20th Century Fox certainly weren’t laughing when they got the idea that it was an attempt to cash in on Alien. “Nick Maley and his wife Gloria came up with the idea for Inseminoid as a showcase for his special effects expertise, which really is quite amazing. This was before they or anyone else had seen the Ridley Scott film and we were genuinely very surprised, when we saw Alien, that there was this similarity to the script we were about to shoot. Anyway, Fox wrote to us, not quite demanding – but ‘requesting’ – to see Inseminoid when it was finished, so we let them screen it and they themselves decided that it wasn’t a rip-off. They sent us a very nice letter, which the producer Richard Gordon has still got, in which they said they were happy for us to go ahead, wished us luck and said they thought our film was very good, considering its budget. Indeed, in a way it’s rather flattering when these comparisons are made between Alien and Inseminoid, because they had a budget of $20-30 million and we made ours for $2 million. This was possible because we shot it in Chiselhurst Caves in Surrey rather than on a set, which was cold, damp and claustrophobic, but gave us stuff that we could never have afforded to build”.

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Norman also recalls the extent to which this picture benefited from the trojan efforts of his players, particularly two well-known actresses: “Stephanie Beacham was a joy to work with, and Judy Geeson (above) was an absolute dream – she was just so enthusiastic, involved in the whole production. I don’t think she had more than two or three days off in the entire schedule and even on those days she insisted on turning up, simply because she didn’t want to miss anything that was happening. I caught up with Judy recently in Hollywood, and happily she’s now over some of the personal problems she’s been suffering… she told me it’s amazing how many people she meets bring up the subject of Inseminoid, even today”.

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Several contemporary and subsequent reviews of Inseminoid questioned why there was a need for quite so many chainsaws in pursuance of interplanetary exploration, to which Norman smilingly responds: “Why wouldn’t there be?” There’s really no answer to that, so I changed the subject to the film’s VHS re-release by the revived Vipco label, which was hyped along the ridiculous lines of being “The greatest ever bunk-up in outer space” (or some such nonsense) shortly before the company went belly-side up again in the wake of such disastrous releases as The Nostril Picker. “It wasn’t just that they were putting out rubbish, they was putting out too much, too soon”, opines Norman: “You only had to do a few sums to see that it was quite crazy, because putting out a video is not that cheap, and there weren’t enough people buying those things to offset that sort of cost. It’s very disappointing when these things blow up, but when it does happen, it’s usually their own fault. Richard Gordon is now desperately trying to find out where the master has gone…” (we heard that Vipco mastered some of their stuff from VHS!) “… and who is making money on the copies that are still floating around”.

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As for the promised “bunk-up” that never actually transpires… “That’s down to the way some people misunderstood the insemination sequence, where there’s a sort of plastic tube that’s going into Judy, and people got the mistaken impression that it’s the alien’s penis but we never intended that, because if he’s an alien, why would he have a penis that’s compatible with a human being?” “Or made out of plastic?” I add, helpfully. “Yes, that was supposed to be some kind of artificial insemination equipment, and we shot that sequence very impressionistically, to be like a dream, because I know that if we had shot it straight, it would have played like a rape scene and been cut out. So it has this sort of abstract quality to it that the censors didn’t mind”.

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In the mid-80s Norman found himself making a brace of pictures for producer Maxine Julian, whose penny pinching ways made for a couple of dispiriting experiences: “We had to fight to stop Bloody New Year (below) going out as ‘Time Warp Terror’, not that this improved the film very much! It was a terrible disappointment to me – there were just so many problems with the production, and Maxine didn’t even like horror films, she was only interested in saving money and making it in as short a space of time as possible. It was a wasted opportunity, because the script was pretty good”.

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The other fruit of Norman’s Maxine Julian period, that classic of camp espionage cinema Gunpowder, used to turns up regularly on UK TV in the early hours of the morning. “That’s exactly where it belongs!”, he laughs: “Maxine had made some strange arrangement by which we were shooting in Macclesfield, not an easy place to do things, and she was only casting people who lived within driving distance of Macclesfield (because she wouldn’t pay for hotels) and yet didn’t have a Cheshire accent. For some reason she had us shooting in November / December, so doing scenes on the river with a boat and a helicopter, the biggest problem was to stop the actors going completely blue, you know? All the time, the budget was shrinking before our very eyes. She was sending back important props that we hadn’t finished with, then she went and bought stock footage, so there’s a wonderful scene in where you get this giant army helicopter landing and all these men pouring out of it, then cut back to our footage and there five men coming through the trees… if you look carefully at the battle scene, you’ll find that the same people are on both sides! There was one scene, I’m not joking, where she wanted to indicate a submarine by having somebody walk around in this pond, holding a bit of drainpipe above the surface, looking like a periscope! I said we’ll never get away with this, I point-blank refused to shoot it!” (Laughs)

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“Those two knocked my enthusiasm a bit” admits Norman: “I enjoy working in the low budget field, but even I have my limits. The one lesson I did learn is that you’ve got to have a producer who loves what you’re doing as much as you do, who’s not just an accountant. I decided that I’m never going to work like that again – even if it put me out of directing again for a long time, I just couldn’t stand to do another Gunpowder or Bloody New Year”.

fiend_without_face_poster_02.jpgKeeping himself going with commercials, rock videos and educational films for the BBC (precisely none of which concerned the menace of Satanism!), Norman has been preparing his long-mooted remake of / sequel to seminal 50’s alien invasion stop-motion fest Fiend Without A Face: “It’s now in what will hopefully be the final re-write stage, just a matter of tidying up and working on the characters, taking on some comments that Richard Gordon has been making and hopefully when that’s concluded, within the next month or so, we’ll be ready to take it to the next stage. The alarming thing is what a painfully slow process it is. When I sat down and realised how long I’d been tinkering around with Fiend, it scared the life out of me, but then the likes of Shallow Grave, Jacob’s Ladder and even Forest Gump were knocking around for years as scripts before they were finally shot. Funnily enough, Bob Keen’s movie Proteus is now going through, and Bob just reminded me that he was originally contacted about that movie when I was supposed to be directing it. I’d forgotten because it was called Shaper or something in those days. We couldn’t get it off the ground then because the shape-shifting effects proved too alarming, cost-wise, for possible backers”.

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Undeterred, Norman won’t be sparing the special effects in his new version of Fiends: “It’ll employ a combination of stop-motion, animation, some computerised effects and, on top of that, probably some straight forward old-fashioned physical effects, where it’s all done right there in front of the camera. The monster brains will be recognisably like the old ones, but we’re writing them to be much more nasty, they’re really vicious little things this time out. They’ll also be much harder to kill… remember in the first film, they were stopped by blowing up a nuclear power station? That shows you how naive people were, back in the ‘50s!”

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Meanwhile, the quest to secure financing continues: “When I was trying to set up Beyond Terror I encountered a lot of resistance to the idea of making a genre film. The moment you mention horror or science fiction you could almost feel this barrier coming down, they really didn’t want to be associated with it. Undoubtedly, recent increases in censorship have contributed to this attitude, but I find it such a perverse one because horror has always been the most successful genre, it’s just gone on for ever. If you talk to any video distributor or supplier, and people who have film libraries, they say the most profitable things for them are the horror pictures – they never seem to date. People will rent a horror picture when it’s donkey’s years old, whereas they won’t necessarily be doing that with one of the current big releases in ten years, or even a couple of years time. This a genre that I enjoy very much and, although I’m always looking for opportunities in The States, I’d really prefer, if possible, to do it in Britain, because everyone acknowledges that we’re capable of producing very high quality work over here. Despite everything, the horror film hasn’t gone under. It keeps fighting back… I think it’s going to be with us forever!”

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Norman, photo-bombed by fanboy git. Yesterday.

 

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The Shadow Over Doug McClure… HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP Reviewed.

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Monster: Humanoids From The Deep (1980). Directed by Barbara Peeters (and Jimmy T. Murakami, uncredited). Produced by Roger Corman (uncredited), Hunt Lowry and Martin B. Cohen. Written by Martin B. Cohen, Frank Arnold and William Martin. Cinematography by Daniel Lacambre. Edited by Mark Goldblatt. Art direction by Michael Erler. Music by James Horner. Creature FX by Rob Bottin. Special FX by Roger George and (uncredited) Chris Walas. Stunts by Diamond Farnsworth and Jack Tyree. Starring: Doug McClure, Ann Turkel, Vic Morrow, Cindy Weintraub, Anthony Pena, Denise Galik, Lynn Theel.

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“We’re having a great time down here… we’re waving to people… we’re playing records… we’re doing a whole lot of things!” Mad Man Mike Michaels paints an irresistible radio picture of the annual Noyo Salmon Festival.

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Jim Hill (Doug McClure… you might remember him from constant lampooning in The Simpsons) and beautiful scientist Susan Drake (Ann Turkel… you might remember her as the trophy wife of Richard Harris) team up to investigate weird goings on in the fishing town of Noyo. A sinister salmon canning corporation is setting up its new factory upstream, which Hank Slattery (Vic Morrow), his redneck cronies and the townsfolk in general regard as booster for the local economy, though Native American “Johnny Eagle” (Anthony Pena) has eco-conscious-cum-spiritual legal objections to the misappropriation of his people’s ancestral lands. A certain amount of low level racist aggro plays out in this poor man’s Henrik Ibsen scenario before we crack on with what everybody’s actually come to see… i.e. oversexed mutant salmon-men, spawned by sinister corporate attempts to increase fishing yields, chasing large-breasted, bikini-clad lovelies around the cove and impregnating them. “It’s my theory that these creatures are driven to mate with humans, to accelerate their already incredible evolution” speculates Turkel. Who could forget (or indeed forgive?) the scene in which a ventriloquist’s dummy talks a buxotic beach babe out of her bikini, only for a humanoid to invade their tent and violate her?

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All hell breaks loose when the Humanoids run amok at Noyo’s annual Salmon Festival, molesting women (and dismembering people of whatever gender) to the running commentary of the exceptionally irritating Mad Man Mike Michaels, a DJ who’s clearly learned his trade from the guy heard over the climax of Zombie Flesh Eaters). Created by Rob Bottin (he’s actually in there under one of his suits), they look fucking great, with long arms that they wave around like Andrew Marr and (unlike Marr) prominent brains that are bashed in by handy-dandy planks, marlin spikes and what have you when the crowd turns on them and drives them into the bay, which Jim Hill (not, under any circumstances, to be confused with Jimmy Hill) ignites.

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There’s a touchy feely reconciliation between Johnny Eagle and his erstwhile persecutors. “Everything’s alright now, Sheriff… isn’t it?” asks a character who’s clearly never seen a New World release or any kind of monster movie before, cueing the sucker punch coda in which Turkel supervises the rather messy birth of a humanoid / bikini-clad lovely hybrid, incorporating the ten seconds of alien copying that was obviously all Roger Corman was prepared to fund… ooh, that’s gotta hurt!

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Like a dumbed-down Creature From The Black Lagoon / sexed-up Horror Of Party Beach, Monster rattles through its economical 80 minutes ticking all the exploitive boxes to pleasing effect. I first encountered it on a theatrical double bill with Fred Walton’s When A Stranger Calls (1979) and it’s been a firm personal favourite ever since, just crying out for rediscovery by a wider audience (Arrow, are you listening?) Nothing is as powerful as a trash movie whose time has come… not only was M:HFTD parading its eco-consciousness and championing civil / indigenous rights nearly 40 years before David Attenborough started counting all the plastic bags floating around the North Pole, the story behind its production also chimes spookily with today’s feminist movement… but not in a good way. Not if you believe the official account, anyway…

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The widely accepted version is that Roger Corman promised Barbara Peeters that she could direct a right on eco-thriller then undermined her by cutting in gratuitous tit’n’ass shenanigans filmed by Jimmy T. Murakami on obviously inferior film stock. Doncha just hate that kind of patriarchal bullshit? But wait just a cotten-pickin’ minute… the “starry eyed neophyte shafted by chauvinist movie mogul” line must have generated some useful hype for the publicity campaign, but how does it square with the known facts? For an alleged sexist, Corman has relied heavily on the collaboration of his wife Julie over the years and has never shown any reluctance to foster female talent (who’s that “Gale Hurd” lurking among the production assistant credits on Monster?) What’s more Peeters had already directed the exploitive Bury Me An Angel (1971) and the sexploitive Summer School Teachers (1974) for Corman, not to mention co-writing and co-directing the dykesploiation epic The Dark Side Of Tomorrow (1970) for Harry H. Novak (never exactly regarded as among the most woke of producers).

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As for Murakami, he subsequently directed (among many others) the film adaptation of Raymond Briggs’ anti-nuke parable When The Wind Blows (1986) and video promos for Kate Bush and David Bowie, so for all we know, he was responsible for the eco-conscious stuff and Peeters handled the boob’n’bum aspect. Whatever, her career wasn’t exactly sabotaged by the Corman connection, any more than those of Joe Dante or Jonathan Demme (who earned their spurs shooting bits and pieces for insertion into Corman features) or Gale Anne Hurd were. Although she never attained the same heights as some of those guys, Peeters carved out a respectable career for herself directing episodes of such TV shows as Cagney and Lacey, Falcon Crest and Remington Steele.

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Two final thoughts… 1) Jeff Yonis’s 1996 TV movie remake of M:HFTD (despite perpetuating the original’s big boob fixation with the casting of Emma Samms) is a travesty which you can safely avoid. 2) The film under consideration here should also be avoided by anyone who’s about to give birth. In fact anyone who might ever conceivably find themselves in that position should give it a very wide, er, berth indeed…

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Meanwhile, on a Ghanaian poster for a completely different film…

 

 

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My Brain Hurts… Siberian Khatru On Board Eugenio Martin’s HORROR EXPRESS.

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BD. Arrow. Region B. 15.

If you’ll indulge me in a spot of nostalgia (and why wouldn’t you?), Eugenio Martin’s Horror Express (Pánico En El Transiberiano, 1972) was – along with the likes of Witchfinder General, Tales From The Crypt, et al – a regular fixture on the Friday late night horror slot with which Granada TV used to enliven my humdrum adolescence. In those days of course (sit up and pay attention, Junior, this is for your own good!) we didn’t yet have the benefit of VCRs and given that the gaps between transmissions of certain films might be as long as two years, it was a catastrophe of global proportions if you succumbed to sleep half way through this or some or other horror gem, usually waking up during the credits with a stiff neck and another significant wait in prospect.

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Flash forward past the VHS era and into incipient middle age, at the dawn of DVD, where Horror Express became one of the most widely released titles on the nascent format, mostly in scuzzy looking and not necessarily authorised editions on fly-by-night labels, apparently because of a misconception that it had entered the public domain. Indeed, if memory serves me well, this is the first title I ever saw on DVD, round at David Flint’s place. Image Entertainment’s managed a decent R1 version that has been deleted for some time now and was followed  by a R2 incarnation from Cinema Club’s Horror Classics imprint, very welcome despite its absence of extras, full screen presentation and rather tired, solarised-looking print, which seemed identical to the one that subsequently got screened by the BBC. In 2011 Severin managed a predictably pristine BD / DVD combo edition chock full of impressive extras that you’re going to get another chance to catch on the new Arrow release under consideration here.

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Born in 1925 and now (if indeed he’s still alive) long retired, Eugenio Martin was an able journeyman director of adventure yarns until the success of Sergio Leone’s Dollars Trilogy (shot in Spain) initiated a vogue for Paella Westerns in which he enthusiastically participated with the likes of El Precio De Un Hombre (aka Bounty Killer, 1966) , Requiem Para El Gringo aka Duel In The Eclipse (1968) and as late as 1971 with El Hombre De Rio Malo (“Bad Man’s River” aka Hunt The Man down)

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By this point Martin had already started dabbling in the horror genre, his 1969 offering Una Vela Para El Diablo (“A Candle For The Devil”) showing a preoccupation with hidebound social concealing psychotic deviance that would be amplified in later efforts up to and including the early ’80s brace Sobrenatural and Aquella Casa En Las Afueras (“That House On The Outskirts”). The latter turns on a memorable, Sheila Keith type turn from the venerable Alida Valli and features abortion as a plot point in a way that would have been impossible scant years earlier, under Franco’s regime.

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There’s a similar faith vs secularism motif in the Spanish / British co-production Horror Express (1972), easily the best of Martin’s fear flicks… how could it fail to be, combining as it does a truly stellar cast (including Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in their strongest non-Hammer outing) with some totally wacked out plotting. Said action commences with Sir Alexander Saxton (your basic Professor Challenger type, as essayed by Lee) unearthing some kind of deep frozen yeti in scenic Szechuan (in fact all the impressive locations in this picture are actually Spanish) at the turn of the Century. Later he runs into old scientific adversary Dr Wells (Cushing) at Shanghai railway station, as both are about to board the Transiberian Express. The prickly professional rivalry between these two leads to Wells bribing a porter to take a peek at the contents of Saxon’s crate. Oh, mister Porter… what he finds is a thawed out troglodyte whose glowing red medusa stare leads to prolific bleeding from the victims’ own eyes (which rapidly cloud over with cataracts), followed in pretty short order by death. Cushing’s autopsy (pretty graphic stuff for its day) reveals that the victim’s brain is smooth as a baby’s bum, every wrinkle (and piece of information that is potentially useful to a space Yeti) sucked right out of it.

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Having bailed out of his crate, Trog now mooches around the train, disturbing the genteel travellers with further eye-bleeding, brain-sucking antics. His victims’ ordeals, effectively conveyed via dissolves and quick cuts, still pack a horrific punch and really shook me up as a kid. I’m convinced that they also made a big impression on Lucio Fulci who, it became apparent to me after meeting and interviewing him, was a bit of a Spanish horror buff. The mistreatment to which various characters’ eyes are subjected in Fulci’s 1980 schlock opera City Of The Living Dead are unmistakably reminiscent of these scenes, ditto the ping-pong eyeballs which pop up at the conclusion of his masterpiece The Beyond (1981).

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Back on that train, as if all of the above weren’t entertaining enough, Martin chucks in Eurobabe Helga Line as the beautiful Polish Countess Natasha and her Rasputin-like personal chaplain Father Pujardov, played by Alberto de Mendoza in a performance possibly patterned on that of Patrick Troughton as Lee’s sidekick Klove in Roy Ward Baker’s Scars Of Dracula (1970). The Argentinean Mendoza was a busy actor (right up  till his death in 2011) whose notable Eurotrash credits include Bitto Albertini’s Nairobi-based giallo oddity L’Uomo Piu Velenoso Del Cobra (“Human Cobras”, 1971), Sergio Martino’s The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh (1970) and Case Of The Scorpion’s Tale (1971) plus the Fulci brace One On Top Of Another / Perversion Story (1969) and Lizard In A Woman’s Skin (1971.)

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His mad monk maintains that the Troglodyte is Satan incarnate (”There’s the stink of Hell on this train… even [Line’s] dog knows it”) and Saxton’s attempts at rational explanations (“Hypnosis! Yoga!”) are somewhat less than compelling. When the train’s resident detective manages to shoot Trog, Mills performs an autopsy that presents some startling results. This missing link’s retina has retained images of dinosaurs and even a view of The Earth seen from Outer Space (Martino taking his cue here from a pinch of the pseudo-science that informed Dario Argento’s Four Flies On Grey Velvet, made the previous year). The conclusion is that the evil entity comprises pure energy that must inhabit a host body to make its way around terra firma. The train dick’s hairy hand (hope I got that the right way round) indicates that he is the new host, and a fresh cycle of brain sucking and The Thing-type paranoia kicks in when he sets out to absorb the engineering expertise that will allow the construction of a spaceship with which to check off of planet Earth. Ultimately Pujardov volunteers to host the Elemental and, as if the passengers hadn’t already suffered more than their fair share of commuting misery, he now raises the bodies of all the previous hosts and victims as a horde of marauding zombies!

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By this point the express has been boarded by a macho bunch of cossacks, under the command of Captain Kazan, played by Telly Savalas. Ah yes, Telly Savalas… never the subtlest of actors, the future Kojak star raises the bar here for all subsequent outbreaks of scenery-chewing thespianism… but how else was he going to steal the show from the legendary Lee / Cushing axis? Obviously labouring under the delusion that he’s performing in a Spag Western (an impression enhanced by frequent, tuneless whistling on the soundtrack) Savalas swaggers around gargling with vodka, smashing glasses, ranting xenophobic invective and delivering such impenetrable aphorism as: “A horse has four legs, a murderer has two arms and The Devil must be afraid of one honest Cossack.” “What’s he raving about?” demands Mills, reasonably enough, only to be punched out by Kazan of this trouble. “Everybody’s under arrest!” howls the Captain before handing out a few lumps to Saxton, a propos of nothing in particular and horse whipping Pujardov into the bargain… Oh, those Russians! Savalas’ overripe performance had such an impact on my impressionable mind that I long misremembered him as dominating the entire picture, and it came as quite a shock on my first adult rewatching of Horror Express to realise that this character doesn’t make his entry until well into the film’s final third.

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Thankfully, Saxton and Mills manage to de-couple the zombie-infested carriages and send them down the line that sends them careering over a cliff. Great miniature work throughout, but which bright engineering spark decided to lay down a line that would send trains careering over a cliff? Even Southern Rail commuters expect better than this… and speaking of stiff upper lips, Cushing gets to utter the best line in the film –  “Monsters? We’re British, you know!”, one that still resonates loudly in the wake of Brexit…

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Bonus materials include an interview with director Martin in which he reveals that the film’s motivating “high concept” was producer Philip Yordan’s desire to get his money’s worth out of the train that he had purchased for Pancho Villa, in which Martin had already directed Savalas earlier in 1972. He also describes how Lee coaxed the recently widowed and deeply depressed Cushing back into a working mood. In the featurette Notes From The Blacklist producer Bernard Gordon talks about his run-in with everybody’s favourite Commie-baiter, Senator Joe McCarthy. Telly And Me comprises an interview with composer John Cacavas, who acknowledges how his scoring career flourished under the patronage of Savalas. There’s an enthusiastic intro piece from erstwhile Fango editor Chris Alexander and of course you get a trailer.

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All of these were on Severin’s BD, which also included an audio interview with Peter Cushing that you could listen to while watching the film. Arrow replace that with a useful Kim Newman / Stephen Jones commentary track. The main feature here looks marginally grainier but more a tad more nuanced, colour wise, than the now out of print Sev disc, for which this disc constitutes the perfect replacement.

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Creatures From The Cack Lagoon… THE HORROR OF PARTY BEACH Reviewed

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Who ate all the hot dogs?

BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

“…and you’ll never hear surf music again!”  – James Marshall Hendrix.

Somebody… I don’t quite recall who it was… maybe Celine (one of those light-hearted guys, anyway)… once said that “if you want to see people at their most desperate, watch them while they are enjoying themselves”… something along those lines, anyway. Bear these sage words in mind as you watch the bikini babes and gym bunnies busting their best beach party moves to the melodious tones of The Del-Aires in “The First Horror-Monster Musical”, The Horror Of Party Beach.

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“Everybody do The Zombie Stomp… You bring your foot down with an awful bomp!”(Beginning to get the picture?)

This, er, distinctive creature feature, directed by Del Tenney (aka “Connecticut’s own Ed Wood”)  first entered my consciousness as one of The Fifty Worst Movies Of All Time, so designated by Harry Medved in his influential 1978 book of that title. I’m grateful to Severin for the arrival (with an awful bomp) of this fine BD edition and the opportunity to finally see for myself if THOPB lives up / down to Medved’s estimation.

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Hunky Hank Green (John Scott) is certainly having a hard time enjoying himself at The Del-Aires’ beach gig. His wildcat girlfriend Tina (Marilyn Clarke, the Ruby Wax lookalike pictured above) taunts him about his dweebish devotion to Science and when a bunch of bikers turns up she starts flirting outrageously with them, leading to a rumble that’s almost as badly choreographed as the dance routines (incidentally, Tenney appeared as an extra in Laslo Benedek’s seminal The Wild One, 1953). Serves Tina right when she’s the first to get mutilated and murdered by one of the mutant fishmen spawned after the casual dumping of radioactive waste into Stamford’s bay.

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The situation escalates rapidly as two fish men gatecrash a rather tame sorority sleepover party (folk songs, hair combing, pillow fights) and kill twenty girls (the bloody aftermath of this attack, routinely cut from TV broadcasts and many VHS releases, has been restored here in all its gory glory by Severin). It’s readily apparent that the budget only stretched to two fishmen costumes but some nifty split screen work increases their ranks to six at certain salient moments. During the “climactic” confrontation, various extras with sacks over their heads provide unconvincing fishman backup, with Tenney obviously figuring that you won’t notice this if he cuts quickly enough. Suffice to say, he doesn’t cut quickly enough.

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But we’re getting ahead of ourselves… Hanks finds a new love interest in the more deserving, shapely shape of Elaine (Alice Lyon), daughter of Dr Gavin (Allan Laurel). This guy’s got all manner of preposterous theories about how the fishmen were spawned and what to do about them. Personally (call me a stickler), I can’t give much credence to any scientist incapable of pronouncing the word “protein” correctly, but Dr G has definitely hit on something when he speculates that the Party Beach horrors might react adversely to sodium (bit like throwing salt on the slugs in your back garden… one of Mrs F’s favourite activities, by the way). You might well think that the required element would be shipped in, lickety split, by the military but no… Hank has to jump into his sports car, drive over to NYC and jolly well buy some sodium (?!?) After a few bags of that have been chucked around the monsters disintegrate into fizzing piles of goo and the world is saved forever from the perils of irresponsible nuclear technology. If only…

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Extras (aside from the inevitable trailer) include an archival interview with the late Del Tenney, an agreeable bloke who expresses himself satisfied with what he’d achieved in life. His widow Margot Hartman appears in Dan Weaver’s retrospective documentary Return to Party Beach. Surviving Del-Aires Bobby Osborne and Ronnie Linares (who’ve got a great future as teen idols behind them) reminisce, knock out a few numbers and test the water re a possible comeback. In the featurette Shock & Roll, film maker Tim Sullivan agues that “horror movies are to movies what rock’n’roll is to music” and based upon this persuasive proposition, mounts an entertaining survey of Rock & Roll Horror Movies.

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As ever, Severin have come up with an appropriate assortment of marketing knick-knacks and indeed gee-gaws to accompany this release and if you’re planning on hosting your own Beach Party this Christmas, check out their Bundle of Party Beach, which includes an Inflatable Beach Ball and an Enamel Pin with which to burst it. Personally, this dancin’ fool could do with one of those dance step diagrams to work on my Zombie Stomp but hey, you can’t have everything…

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I Really Hate Your Tiger Feet… BLACKENSTEIN Reviewed

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BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

“To Stop This Mutha Takes One Bad Brutha!”

One of the standby narrative tropes of Blacksploitation (see also Fred Williamson‘s Mean Johnny Barrows, 1975) is the black Vietnam Vet who gets welcomed back States-side with a big “fuck you very much!”, invariably fouling foul of gangs and / or The Man while trying to piece his life together. Eddie Turner (Joe De Sue) has it worse than most. Losing all his limbs to one of Charlie’s land mines, he’s now trapped in a crappy Veterans’ hospital where one of the male nurses (John Dennis) taunts and mistreats him. On the plus side, his loyal and foxy fiancée, Doctor Winifred Walker (one shot film actress Ivory Stone) works for Doctor Stein (TV’s former Lone Ranger, John Hart) who’s just won a Nobel Prize for “solving the DNA code” (methinks he’d totally clean up if they ever held a Dick Van Dyke lookalike competition, too) and he agrees to take Eddie on for experimental treatment in his plush LA mansion, which boasts a basement lab fitted out with props from James Whale’s original Frankenstein (1931)… more Van Der Graaf Generator than in Fabio Frizzi’s record collection!

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Before he gets carried away with optimism, though, Eddie might care to consider the, er,  mixed results of the Doc’s treatments so far. There’s a 90-year-old woman who now looks several decades younger than she should but will crumble like Christopher Lee at the first rays of dawn if she doesn’t top up her injections every twelve hours… and what about Bruno, who due to “unresolved RNA issues” seems to have grown a tiger leg? Nevertheless, Eddie’s limb transplants seem to be going well until Dr Stein’s assistant Malcomb (Roosevelt Jackson)… yes, Malcomb (why didn’t they just call him Ygor and get it over with?) makes a move on Dr Winifred and is firmly rebuffed. Figuring that she’ll fall into his arms if Eddie’s don’t take, Malcomb switches his all-important DNA injections with Bruno’s (I particularly cherish the scene where Winifred sniffs the bottles of DNA suspiciously, suggesting that each batch bears its own distinctive bouquet…)

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You’re probably suspecting that Eddie grows a tiger leg like Bruno’s but no, nothing so ridiculous… instead, he develops a bad case of acromegaly and (his head swelling into a reasonable approximation of Jack Pierce’s iconic make up job on Boris Karloff) becomes… Blackenstein! He also sets off out on a bloody kill spree. Now, I can understand the poetic justice of pulling his former nurse’s arm off (above) but after that our boy seems to pick his victims (whom he mostly disembowels) pretty much at random. He does display a certain penchant for “courting couples”, among whom we find the legendary Liz Renay, though my favourite victim is Beverley Haggerty as one half of “couple in car”.

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She abandons said car after a particularly lame make out attempt by her date, to wit:

Him: “You’ve got beautiful hair!”

Her: “I know I’ve got beautiful hair!”

Him: “Are you proud of it?”

(Taking notes there, boys?)

Blackenstein returns to the hospital to find Malcomb forcing himself on Winifred and soon makes him wish he hadn’t. As Dr Stein’s lab goes up in flames, Blackenstein can’t bring himself to kill Winifred and the Dobermanns of the LA County Canine Corps roll up to pull him limb-from-recently acquired-limb for an abrupt and anti-climactic ending, though trash movie fans will surely have enjoyed their fill by this point.

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On this disc Severin serve up both the 78 minute theatrical release and the extended video version which clocks in at 87, with the extra footage scattered throughout it clearly having been sourced from lower grade elements. Narratively, it might well have made more sense for cinema distributors looking to fit this one more comfortably into a double bill to have just excised the padding of the nightclub scene, though admittedly Cardella Di Milo (geddit?) sings pretty well and MC Andy C tells a couple of good jokes. One of the most keenly felt omissions in the theatrical cut is that of John Dennis’s apologia for his rotten behaviour, in which he deplores “the Patriotism scam”.

Although Blackenstein was directed by William “The Happy Hooker Goes To Washington” Levey, the bonus materials concentrate, understandably, on the eccentric life and violent, unsolved death of its flamboyant, polymath writer / producer Frank R. Saletri. His sister, June Kirk, gives a touching interview to David Gregory and we also get the reminiscences of Saletri collaborators Ken Osborne And Robert Dix. An audio interview with creature designer Bill Munns and theatrical trailer round things off nicely.

Another corking release,  Severin dudes… are you proud of it?

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Alienated With Extreme Prejudice… And Can You Put Some Chilli Sauce On That? Shedding Light On SHOCKING DARK.

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BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

“Can’t you smell that stink of shit?” Geretta Giancarlo Field.

The last time we embarked on a Severinian binge here at THOF we were up to our asses in Bruno Mattei / Claudio Fragasso monstrosities but in a rare display of trash film fallibility, we managed to miss this one. It seemed only right, therefore (and even more appropriate in light of the film’s increasingly relevant and no-doubt sincerely heartfelt ecological concerns) to kick-start our Several Days Of Severin with a look at Mattei’s Shocking Dark (1989), billed by the Sevsters themselves (who certainly know a thing or two about this stuff) as “the most infamous mash-up in Eurosleaze history!”

Never known for their reluctance to pad out a film with stock footage, Mattei and writer Fragasso (billed here under their sho’nuff “Vincent Dawn” and “Clyde Anderson” aliases… in fact Fragasso’s identified as “Clayde” Anderson this time out) commence the proceedings with travelogue shots of Venice while some voice over schmuck wonders what the ravages of pollution will have done to it by the turn of the Millennium… and indeed, who could possibly have predicted that it would be an abandoned wasteland, under the ruins of which elite Marine units battle it out with mutant aliens and time travelling cyborgs? Anybody who’s ever watched a Mattei and / or Fragasso flick before, that’s who! Altogether, now: “Just one gorenetto, give it to me…”

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Though Demons’ Geretta Geretta (billed under the altogether more feasible handle of Geretta Giancarlo Field) and her fellow grunts from Operation Delta Venice Megaforce try hard to emulate the ruffty-tuffty troupers in James Cameron’s Aliens (did I mention yet that Shocking Dark owes rather a lot to Aliens? How remiss of me!) in truth they look more like refugees from a gay porn movie… and not a particularly macho one, either, the way they squeal and blurt every time one of those aliens (which resemble nothing so much as ambulatory kebabs and prove disappointingly easy to gun down) hoves into view.

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Ms Geretta is always agreeably sassy in these things (in 1984 she had graced Mattei and Fragasso’s hysterical Rats: Night Of Terror, of course) but unfortunately she gets killed off relatively early in Shocking Dark, before she can celebrate a heart-warming reconciliation over a hand grenade with the Italian guy she’s spent most of her screen time racially abusing. Otherwise, all of your favourite Aliens scenes are recreated in predictably am-dram fashion… Dr Sarah Drumbull (Haven Tyler in her only screen credit) as the Ripley figure even manages to rescue and bond with Newt surrogate Samantha Raphelson (the similarly uni-credited Dominica Coulson).

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Clive Riche, in contrast to both of those ladies, has kept commendably busy since making his debut here… Christ knows how, given his ripe overacting (one of his more subdued moments, below) as “Drake”, a character driven mad by his earlier run in with the kebab creatures.

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Christopher Ahrens is Samuel Fuller (!), an all-purpose kung fu special forces dude who’s along for the ride to represent the interests of the sinister and corrupt Tubular Corporation (!!), whose property speculation scam and clandestine chemical / bacteriological weapon tests (“cybernetics applied on a molecular basis”) devastated Venice in the first place. Fuller is ultimately revealed as part Ash from Alien, part Terminator (as if his increasingly Arnie-esque tones hadn’t already tipped you off) and is even described as a Replicant… so Mattei and Fragasso have managed to stir a pinch of Blade Runner into this indigestible concoction, too.

“I’m immortal… the most perfect (sic) thing ever created by the Tubular Corporation” announces cybernetic Sammy as Drumbull and Raphelson scramble to escape a nuclear reactor (did I forget to mention the nuclear reactor?) facility that will self-destruct (you guessed) in T-10 minutes. Just as their time is about to elapse, the girls happen upon a time machine (what were the odds on that?) which takes them back to the present day (or the tail end of the 20th Century, anyway) where Fuller follows them for a twist ending that will rip a new asshole in your space / time continuum.

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Much as I love those Severin boys, I’d have to take issue with their assessment of Shocking Dark as “the most infamous mash-up in Eurosleaze history!” It’s an admittedly awesome Italo-schlock milestone but throughout it I get the sense of a director building himself up to such mashed masterpieces as 2004’s Land Of Death (“Cannibal Holocaust meets Predator”) and his 2007 swan-song “everything but the kitchen sink… hang on, there’s a kitchen sink in there as well” zombie brace Island Of The Living Dead and Zombies – The Beginning.

Also known (before James Cameron’s lawyers got wind of it) as Aliens 2, Alienators and Contaminator, initial orders of Shocking Dark were dispatched by Severin in “an extremely unofficial limited edition (Terminator 2) slipcover that will be available until a cease and desist arrives”. Punters picking up that edition might well have been in for a nasty surprise, though I guess if you’re reading this blog you would have been hip to the gag…

Extras include another chunk of Severin’s ongoing interview with co-writers Fragasso and his missus Rossella Drudi (remembering their final collaboration with Bruno Mattei) and a characteristically lively audience with Geretta Geretta / whatever her bloody name is. Plus alternative Italian Titles.

Looking for the perfect junk movie to accompany a late night fast food binge? Naan better than Bruno Mattei’s Shocking Dark…

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Do You Like Pina Colada? LADY FRANKENSTEIN Restored on Nucleus BD.

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BD. Nucleus. Region B. 15.

Legend has it that a woman once took out a Lonely Hearts ad, seeking “a man with the brain of Leonard Cohen and the body of Iggy Pop”. An assignation was duly arranged and when she arrived at the predetermined rendezvous, who should be there waiting for her, but… Leonard Cohen and Iggy Pop! And no doubt a fun time was had by all. It’s an apocryphal story which I rather wish was true (Cohen himself attested to its veracity)… it certainly packs a better punch line than Rupert Hine’s Escape (The Pina Colada Song).

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“If you’re not into yoga / If you have half a brain…”

In Mel Welles’ Lady Frankenstein 1971, Rosalba Neri’s title character (who also answers to the name of Tania) has a similar vision of her dream man, radical ideas about how to  transform him into fleshy reality and the family know-how required to pull it off. She transplants the brilliant brain of her father’s homely looking, crippled assistant Charles (Paul Muller, from a million Jess Franco flicks) into the hunky body of the family’s retarded servant Tom (Marino Masé) to make “the kind of man (she) could really love!” Tom’s contribution to the plan is entirely involuntary (Charles smothers him with a pillow while Lady F is astride him… more on this later) but Charles himself is an all-too-willing participant (in my favourite line, he informs Tania, while she’s preparing to transplant his brain into Tom, that she “can’t change (her) mind”!) The operation proves a resounding success and scarcely hours after its completion, Charles-in-Tom is giving her Ladyship a vigorous seeing too.

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Unfortunately, they’re not left to enjoy their erotic idyll for long. Tanya’s illustrious father (Joseph Cotten, inaugurating an Italian run that would also see him starring in Mario Bava’s Baron Blood, 1972 and Umberto Lenzi’s Syndicate Sadists, 1975) has already been killed by one of his less successful creations and now that monster (Peter Whiteman in a crude Carlo Rambaldi make up job that makes his head look like a septic bell end) is on the rampage in the local countryside, offing the grave-diggers (including career Eurocreep Herbert Fux) who resurrected its various bodily parts, interrupting moments of al-fresco coitus and throwing random naked chicks into rivers… he’s kind to children, though. The ineffectual investigations of Police Chief Harris (Mickey Hargitay) leading nowhere, a crowd of firebrand and pitchfork-clutching yokels is soon besieging Castle Frankenstein, none of which stops Lady F and her toy-boy creation from fornicating away happily as the flames gather all around them, until our over sexed anti-heroine gets her just desserts in an unexpected and rather abrupt denouement.

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Ever since James Whale’s Bride Of Frankenstein (1935), various members of that cursed clan have been seeking to mate their monsters. Udo Kier’s Baron (who could also call on the services of Carlo Rambaldi) had something like this in mind for his “zarmbies” in the Morrissey / Margheriti Flesh For Frankenstein (1973) but couldn’t resist molesting them himself (with hil-arious consequences!) Rosalba Neri’s Tania Frankenstein  beat Udo to it by two years and never, er, made any bones about the ultimate amorous aim of her surgical exploits. Billed, as she was in many of her Italian productions as Sara / Sarah Bay (on the grounds that this would allegedly put more bums on domestic cinema seats… but who in their right mind wouldn’t want to watch her, under any name?), Neri proves here, as she did in Joe D’Amato / Luigi’s Full Moon Of The Virgins (1973) that she could, when given a role to get her teeth into, be so much more than “the poor man’s Edwige Fenech”.

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“Behind every great man…”

Nucleus’ Marc Morris and Jake West are themselves Frankenstein figures, in their own kind of way… men on an obsessive mission to bring you beautiful uncut restorations of films that have, since VHS / “video nasty” / fanzine days, only been available in the UK as shortened theatrical prints and crummy looking, similarly incomplete, nth generation video dubs. I recall watching Lady Frankenstein in (I think) 16mm during a memorable Manchester Fantastic Films Society all-niter entitled Terror Among The Tombs in the late ’80s (actually I don’t remember very much at all about that night, throughout which inadvisable quantities of Wild Turkey were quaffed). But here we are in 2018. Sceptics said it couldn’t be done… moralists said it shouldn’t... now here it is, Lady Frankenstein as a gorgeous looking limited edition in Nucleus’ “European Cult Cinema Collection”…

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This lush-looking 2k scan from the original negative shows exactly how much bang Welles and his DP Riccardo Pallottini got for their buck from Castello Piccolomini, Balsorano. When confined to De Paolis studio… well, Masé will have recognised that staircase set when he encountered it again, suitably redressed, in Lugi Cozzi’s Contamination (1980). Sharp-eyed viewers might also remember it from films as diverse in quality as Argento’s Inferno (also 1980) and Andrea Bianchi’s Burial Ground (1981).

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Amid the bonus materials on offer here you get the predictable selection of trailers, TV and radio spots, home video sleeves and image galleries… all well and good, but whereas some distributors would leave it at that, Nucleus pile on the goodies. New World’s theatrical cut, reduced to 84 minutes so that Roger Corman could slot it onto more double bills, has been as lovingly restored as the 99 minute Director’s Cut. There’s an audio commentary from Alan Jones and Kim Newman, a reproduction of the contemporary Photo Novel that appeared in Italy’s Bigfilm magazine and three excellent featurettes. The Truth About Lady Frankenstein is a 2007 German TV Special featuring interviews with director Welles, star Neri and Herbert Fux, who reacts to his first ever viewing of the film. We learn more about the astonishing life and career of Mel Welles from his posthumous contribution to Piecing Together Lady Frankenstein, an all new doc presented by Julian Grainger. The Lady and The Orgy is a short but revelatory investigation of Welles’ activities in Australia, where he (under the guise of “Satan’s Prime Minister”) presented Lady Frankenstein as the centre piece of a multi-media grand guignol “Spook Show” review.

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I particularly enjoyed the breakdown of the BBFC’s demands for cuts to the film’s 1972 theatrical run in the UK. The chopping off of Monster #1’s arm had to go and two scenes juxtaposing death with sexual desire were cut to the bone, namely the film’s frenzied, fiery finale and Tom’s fatal coupling with Lady F. The latter, which the BBFC have now sanctioned in all its gaudy glory, is one of the kinkiest set-ups in exploitation film history, with Tom’s death throes pushing Her Ladyship over the orgasmic edge while Charles, busy suffocating Tom, can scarcely conceal his jealous torment over the unfolding spectacle. (*) Amazing stuff in an astounding release that could have been a shoe-in for our “Top Disc Of 2018” accolade, were it not for the fact that its companion piece in that Cult Cinema Collection, Giulio Questi’s 1968 anti-giallo Death Laid An Egg (review coming to these pages imminently) is, improbably, even better!

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(*) The BBFC, often accused of applying double standards for the industry big boys and small-fry exploitation distributors, have played admirably fair in this regard. Twenty-four years after their exposure to Lady Frankenstein, The Board insisted on diluting Famke Janssen’s comparably mantis-like take on the mating game in the Bond flick Goldeneye.

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Oxytocin Trumps Testosterone… Cocteau’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST on BFI Blu-Ray

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BD. BFI. Region B. PG.

One of the sustaining myths of civilisation building is that of the women dragging their men folk out of the saloon bars and into the church pews… of the latter ceasing to spread their wild oats and getting down to some serious husbandry… of love overcoming lust and oxytocin trumping testosterone. The taming of male libido and aggression has been an ongoing theme of fantasy cinema, from any amount of readings of Dr Jekyll And Mister Hyde to King Kong, Lon Chaney Jr’s Wolf Man and assorted Paul Naschy knock-offs… from films as bland as Disney pablum and the pap of the Twilight franchise to those as seditious as Borowczyk’s La Bete…

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Jean Cocteau’s La Belle Et La Bête (1946) comes as close as any of these to presenting a definitive take on the “Beauty and The Beast” theme by sticking, straight-faced, to the source whereby Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve (in 1740… subsequently abridged by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont in 1756 and Andrew Lang, 1889) distilled this wisp of folklore into formal fairy tale.

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Josette Day is Belle, the beautiful and virtuous daughter of a penurious father (Marcel André), ridiculed and over-worked by her acquisitive sisters (shades of Cinderella). When Papa rides off in hope that his ship has finally come in, the Ugly Sisters place their orders for jewels and finery while Belle (to their haughty amusement) requests but a single rose (shades of King Lear). That ship duly fails to come in and her dad compounds their misfortune by picking the requested rose from the enchanted garden of La Bête (Jean Marais), who demands one of his daughters in recompense, as an alternative to taking the old man’s life.

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The dutiful Belle takes his place and The Beast is duly smitten with her. The balance of the picture is taken up (along with her ghastly family’s mercenary machinations) with the accommodation which the title characters come to and the revelation of Monsieur Bête’s finer features, by dint of which he ultimately wins her heart and transforms, in the process, into Prince Charming, the maskless Marais (the French Brad Pitt of his day).

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Cocteau coaches Marais in the Droopy Nipple World Championships of 1946.

So many factors contribute to making La Belle Et La Bête such an off-kilter classic… the idiosyncratic, fourth wall-breaking title sequence, the atmospheric black-and-white photography by Henri Alekan, Christian Bérard’s other worldly production design (he’s credited as “illustrator”), the costumes courtesy of Antonio Castillo and Marcel Escoffier… not to mention such surreal features as the animated furniture and fittings and oneiric moments like the one in which Belle blossoms through her bedroom wall (after donning a magic glove, obviously).

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Cocteau intended La Belle Et La Bête as a welcome and necessary injection of fantasy after the horrors of World War II (its prologue requests a mindset of “childlike simplicity” from prospective viewers), but the cachet of his Surrealist associates, who had sat out the German occupation in foreign exile, inevitably waned in comparison to that of the Existentialists, who had stayed and resisted. The reputation of Cocteau, who had stayed, fared worse still… he was later accused (though acquitted) of collaboration. Myths prevail, though and sampled at this remove, the dreamlike qualities of his furry fairy tale enchant the palate like a sparkling glass of Crémant de Loire while the contrived intellectual conceits of Godard, Robbe-Grillet, Melville et al are about as appealing as yesterday’s croissants.

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Looking suitably princely and charming in a 5K scan from 2013 (5K? Expect all your favourite titles to be re-offered to you yet again in the near future), the BFI’s La Belle Et La Bête is handsomely appointed with a predictably lavish coachload of extras. Aside from the obvious trailer, a stills gallery and an illustrated booklet of essays (which I haven’t seen), there’s a commentary track from the always compelling Sir Christopher Frayling, film and audio clips of scenes that were deleted from the film (to its benefit, it has to be said) and two short documentaries, the first of which deals with the difficulties the polymath poet / director laboured under during the production of LB&LB and also those faced by its restorers, drawing on the invaluable pages of Cocteau’s film making diary while dodging the question of the extent to which René Clément actually co-directed the proceedings. The second documentary paints an engrossing if not always endearing portrait of Christian Bérard, whose vision drew from the paintings of Vermeer and the engravings of Gustave Doré while in its turn exerting an undeniable influence over the likes of Jim Henson, Terry Gilliam and Ridley Scott (keep La Belle Et La Bête in mind next time you watch Blade Runner, in particular the scenes in J.F. Sebastian’s apartment).

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Best of all is the inclusion of René Bertrand’s 13 minute claymation epic Barbe Bleu, (1938), an appropriately beautiful and brutish rendition of the associated Blue Beard myth that’s virtually worth the price of admission on its own.

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Plastic Bertrand…

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