Posts Tagged With: Monsters

Fade Away And Radiate… THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN Vs THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN

1) “I shrink therefore I am”: The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)

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BD. Region B. Arrow Academy. PG.

“I was still continuing to shrink… to become… what? The infinitesimal? What was I? Still a human being? Or was I the Man of the future? If there were other bursts of radiation, other clouds drifting across seas and continents, would other beings follow me into this vast new world? So close, the infinitesimal and the infinite… but suddenly I knew they were really the two ends of the same concept… the infinitely small and the infinitely vast eventually meet, like the closing of a gigantic circle. I looked up as if I would somehow grasp The Heavens. The Universe… worlds beyond number… God’s silver tapestry spread across the night. And in that moment I knew the answer to the riddle of the infinite. I had thought in terms of Man’s limited dimension. I had presumed upon Nature… that its existence begins and ends is Man’s concept, not Nature’s. And I felt my body dwindling, melting, becoming nothing. My fears melted away and in their place came acceptance… all this vast majesty of Creation. It had to mean something. And then I meant something, too. Yes  smaller than the smallest, I meant something, too. To God there is no Zero. I still exist!”

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This stirring soliloquy (pisses all over Rutger Hauer’s “tears in the rain”, don’t it?) closes the peak achievement in the C.V. of Jack Arnold, that peak achiever in the milieu of ’50s Cold War Sci-Fi cinema (hm, is it too late to consider slipping in a “spoiler alert” there?) By the time he commenced shooting The Incredible Shrinking Man, Arnold already had It Came From Outer Space (1953), The Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954), Revenge Of The Creature (1955) – those first three shot in then-voguish 3-D – and Tarantula (also 1955) under his belt, as well as anonymously heading up the second unit that rendered the climactic destruction of the planet Metaluna in Joseph M. Newman’s This Island Earth (closing out a particularly busy 1955).

Arnold is primarily interesting as one of those directors who, within the confines of the studio system (alongside his SF credits he was also churning out westerns, thrillers, melodramas and even juvie delinquent epics to fulfil the terms of his Universal contract) brought enough of a personal stamp and smuggled in enough of his ongoing personal preoccupations to merit consideration as an auteur. It’s difficult to ignore the suggestion that Arnold’s own background as the scion of Russian immigrant stock predisposed him towards sympathy for the outsider (which translated readily enough, in his science fiction work, into sympathy for the alien) and his pre-Universal involvement in such union-boosting efforts as Our Union (1949) and With These Hands (1950) meant that he was never going to fall in line with the paranoid “Reds under every bed” McCarthyite hysteria that informed so much contemporary American screen Sci-fi.

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In a stroke of good fortune, Universal gifted him, as producer, Bill Alland, a protegé of Orson Welles who had participated in the notorious 1938 Mercury Theatre radio production of H G Wells’ War Of The Worlds, which convinced a significant chunk of the American public that they were actually being invaded by Martians. In another, Alland  enlisted Ray Bradbury, then emerging as a giant of SF literature and somebody else who could be relied upon to imagine alien visitations in a more optimistic light than such near contemporaries as  1951 efforts, Christian Nyby and Howard Hawkes’ The Thing From Another World and Robert Wise’s more sophisticated The Day The Earth Stood Still (in which authoritarian aliens offered the human race peace…. or else!) or William Cameron Menzies’ Invaders From Mars (also 1953). Together they initiated a tradition of sympathetic screen aliens that would reach its tragic apogee in Nic Roeg’s The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976), though they lost the battle with studio suits which resulted in the otherworldly visitors being portrayed as cyclopean jellies, rather than left to the viewer’s imagination. Another fantasy film great, Jacques Tourneur, lost similar battles several times but Arnold was in a strong enough position to resist studio demands to compromise his masterpiece, The Incredible Shrinking Man, with a “happy ending” just four years later.

By then Arnold had a new producer, Albert  Zugsmith, a figure often derided as devoid of taste (worth pointing out though, that he did produce Orson Welles’ Touch Of Evil in 1958). What he did have was the rights to Richard Matheson’s novel The Shrinking Man, so once again Arnold was well served in the writing department… even more so, given that Matheson had contractual dibs on writing any film adaptation of his book. After the protagonist’s affair with a circus dwarf had duly been downgraded to a supportive friendship, Matheson’s story evolved, in the hands of Arnold, beyond its story of male status anxiety in a changing world (reflecting the insecurity of its writer’s own chosen profession… tell me about it!) into the defining screen myth of atom age existential angst. Just how do you live an authentic, meaningful life in the face of the daily threat of nuclear annihilation?

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Scott Carey (Grant Williams) is enjoying a boating holiday with his dutiful wife Louise (Randy Stuart) when she goes below deck to grab him a beer, just as the boat passes through a mysterious mist (of nuclear fall out, we are led to believe) that adheres to his skin. Later, as he tells his doctor (we have to take it on trust), he is accidentally sprayed with insecticide and the cumulative effect of these two unfortunate incidents is his ever accelerating decline in stature, beautifully paced and convincingly rendered via oversized sets and props plus inspired split-screen work and other in-camera effects. In a marvellously impactful scene, Louise reassures Scott that as long as he’s got a wedding on his finger, she’ll be there for him… only for said ring to slip off of his rapidly diminishing digit!

As his condition relentlessly progresses and rubber-necking neighbours and news crews assemble on his lawn, he rants: “So I became famous… I’m a big man!” at his long-suffering wife, who’s struggling to do her best for him under impossible conditions. When she accidentally lets the family cat in before a shopping expedition, Carey finds himself besieged by it in the doll’s house which he’s been reduced to occupying. Extricating himself from that particular peril, he falls into the cellar which is by now an intimidating alien (or possibly post-Apocalyptic) terrain where leaky boilers generate tsunamis and scraps of food must be contested with common house animals. After his climactic victory over a spider that’s now about three times as big as he is, our diminutive Everyman makes it through a grate into the jungle that was formerly his garden and as he fuses with the cosmos, delivers that marvellously moving valediction.

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To accompany this extraordinary cosmic collision of Sci-Fi schlock, philosophy and visual poetry, Arrow have assembled an impressive array of extras including the Arnold doc Auteur On The Campus, a Tim Lucas commentary track, and an interview with Richard Christian Matheson about his father’s creation, plus the Super 8 digest version of Arnold’s film, which is almost as drastically reduced as its hero. As well as the expected trailers and reversible sleeve, first pressings of this release will include a fully-illustrated collectors’ booklet featuring new writing on the film by Kim Newman, on which I’m currently not in a position to comment.

So that was how the sensitive way Hollywood dealt with radiation anxiety in 1957. Fast forward 20 years, and…

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1) “Don’t sit next to a garbage can!” The Incredible Melting Man (1977)

Blu-ray / DVD combi edition. Regions B / 2. Arrow. 18.

“Magnificent… you’ve never seen anything till you’ve seen the Sun through the Rings of Saturn!”

“Oh my God… it’s his ear!”

“Have we got crackers?”

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Steve West (Alex Rebar) is the only survivor of a NASA space probe that orbited Saturn. He found the view of Sun flares through its rings “Magnificent!” but it killed his colleagues and caused blood to gush from his nostrils onto his ’70s porn star moustache. Back on Earth, NASA installs him in a state of the art secure hospital that’s apparently been constructed in somebody’s garage, where he is guarded by a bored-looking doctor and a fat nurse (played by – I kid you not – Bonnie Inch). When he wakes up he’s not best pleased to find his hands and face resembling those of Michael Gambon in The Singing detective. The fat nurse takes this discovery even less philosophically and – apropos of nothing in particular – she runs down a corridor in slow motion then through a glass door, screaming all the way. Possibly miffed that they didn’t assign him somebody who looked more like Joanne Whalley, scabby Steve chases her down and rips half her face off.

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With me so far?

General Mike Perry (Myron Healey) details Steve’s friend Dr Ted Nelson (Burr DeBenning) to locate the rapidly suppurating Steve as a matter of priority before these top-secret developments come to the attention of the press. To this end he is issued with a Geiger counter, with which he wanders around the woods shouting: “Steve, it’s Ted… I want to help you.” You may scoff, but the discovery of Steve’s ear (resembling a bubbling pizza slice) on a bush shows that Ted is on the right track. Steve apparently needs human cells to stay alive and after he’s decapitated an angler played by a certain Sam Gelfman (one of this film’s producers… the other was Amicus legend Max J. Rosenberg) and we’ve suffered endless slow motion footage of the severed noggin bobbing around in a stream and going down a waterfall, the General arrives in town to bring a new level of urgency to the manhunt, i.e. they spend a lot of time planning dinner. Ted is forbidden to tell anyone about the unfolding crisis, but spins the beans to his wife after admonishing her for the absence of crackers from their kitchen cupboard. No doubt this would  have spoiled the evening for his in-laws but luckily they don’t arrive because they’ve been killed by Steve. Miscellaneous other victims include Jonathan Demme, who’s wandering around in the woods for some obscure reason… and TIMM also alarms Rainbeaux Smith during a totally gratuitous topless location shoot.

“The more he melts, the stronger he gets!” we are unreliably informed… and the more he kills, the more Ted and The General eat. There’s an interminable scene in which the latter fixes himself a cold turkey leg salad, only to have his face bitten off by Steve, who subsequently loses his own arm after attempting to attack a girl in her kitchen. Finally, in an epic foreshadowing of the climax to Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Ted and some cops track Steve down to a deserted industrial plant. He kills all of them then suffers his final meltdown. Discovered by a janitor, he is shovelled into a nearby bin as a radio report trailers the next space probe to Saturn…

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Is there any discernible moral that we can draw from The Incredible Melting Man? Most certainly… as stated by director Sachs in an accompanying 20 minute featurette: “The real moral would be… if you’re melting, don’t sit next to a garbage can!” Crackers indeed!

FX legend Rick Baker also appears in the featurette, reflecting on this early outlet for his prodigious talents and taking the piss out of Rebar’s thespian pretensions. He also reflects that with Rob Bottin, Craig Reardon and Greg Cannom on his crew “it’s funny that (TIMM ) wasn’t better than it was!”

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Cannom gets his own say in another featurette. Sachs contributes a very droll commentary track (“It’s a gloop movie, basically!”) in which he laments the attitude of the film’s producers, who didn’t “get” his ironic, kitschy, comic book vision (though Baker contends that this orientation was less a matter of irony and more about making a virtue of necessity).

As with it’s incredible shrinking antecedent, this release also includes the film’s Super 8 digest version and there’s a piece on the whole Super 8 digest phenom by Douglas Weir in the inlay booklet, alongside Mike White’s essay on TIMM. I did get that one and jolly good it is, too.

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Nice Places To Visit But You Wouldn’t Want To Live There… HIGH RISE and KONG: SKULL ISLAND Reviewed

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From the days before The Guardian embraced Neoliberalism, Austerity… and all that cal.

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Hairy palms… the first sign of insanity… or was it wanking?

The House Of Freudstein is a wonderful but sometimes strange and frightening place. There is no rule book. There was one, but it’s currently being used to prop up the short leg on The Doc’s operating table, so you’ll have to have it out with him if you want to read it. In the absence of the rule book, the standard operating procedure that’s evolved around here is to write about low-budget horror, schlock and sleaze. Yet here I find myself, on Good Friday 2017, about to pen reviews of two Tom Hiddleston films… strange and frightening indeed.

1 ) Get Off Of My Cloud… HIGH RISE Reviewed

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DVD. Region 2. STUDIOCANAL. 15

It’s become a cliché of lazy film critique (one on which I’ve frequently fallen back myself) to describe the works of Poe and Lovecraft as “unfilmable.” Plenty of film makers have had a go and some have done rather well, invariably by injecting new plot elements into the tenebrous sketches of EAP and HPL. The ’60s / ’70s countercultural holy trinity of Ballard, Burroughs and Dick have fared demonstrably worse at the hands of screen adaptors… well, PKD’s done OK, with major plot additions making not one but two lucrative Total Recalls (Kate Beckinsale’s in one of them… more on this attractive guitar-sucking actress later) out of We Can Remember It For You Wholesale and a cocktail of additions and surgical extractions transforming Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep into the all-conquering (apart from at the box office) Blade Runner. As for Ballard and Burroughs, two words are sufficient to convey what fucked-up film fodder their fiction can become… and those words are “Cronenberg” and “David”, though not necessarily in that order.

There are friends and peers who roll their eyes and wiggle their fingers around their temples whenever I have the temerity to question anything Cronenbergian, but guys… when DC’s Naked Lunch was released, in 1991, I had already spent the best part of two decades enthralled and repelled by the Burroughs novel and its immediate “sequels.” With their deployment of “cut up” and “fold in” techniques, these incendiary works were designed to advance the novel’s narrative techniques to the level of cinema so arguably the very act of adapting them to the screen was a salutary lesson in defeating the object of the exercise… but if there was any way to translate work of such challenging complexity to the visual medium, the spectacle of Roy Scheider ripping a Mission Impossible mask off to reveal that he is (da da!) Doctor Benway sure wasn’t it.  As for “Sexual ambivalence? I thought you said sexual ambulance”?… give me a fucking break! I concede that Cronenberg had the humility to dub this mess “Naked Lunch” rather than The Naked Lunch but then again, this is a film that has rather a lot to be humble about. Nor was I significantly more impressed by Cronenberg’s adaptation of Crash (1966), despite my innate predisposition to favour anything so despised by the Dailys Mail and Express. Once could even argue that Cronenberg’s feature debut Shivers (1975) was the closest he (or anyone) ever came to the literary spirit of Ballard and, by dint weird of weird synchronicity, High Rise was originally published in the same year. Must have been something in the air, or possibly the air conditioning… whatever, each provided a prescient taste of unpleasant things to come. The very next year Harold Wilson resigned under never-quite-explained circumstances and Callaghan and Healey (not, as is commonly misremembered, Thatcher) signed the UK up to the great neo-liberal experiment that is still sucking most of us dry today.

Fortunately there’s no longer any need to make that argument (the one I mentioned towards the end of the previous paragraph, bozo! Pay fucking attention, alright?) as Ben Wheately (A Field In England, Sightseers, Free Fire, et al) has directed High Rise (2015.) If Danny Boyle was the ideal man to stage the London Olympics’ opening ceremony (or was it the closing ceremony? Couldn’t bring myself to watch any of that stuff) then Wheatley’s the guy to orchestrate TV coverage of The Apocalypse. And while we’re all waiting for that…

Tom Hiddleston, who looks a bit like that kid out of Home Alone on steroids, plays Robert Laing (I was waiting in vain for characters named Janov and Szasz.) By day he teaches physiology in a hospital. Slicing into the scalp of some dead dude to peel his face off and reveal the skull beneath is as good as any a precis of the dionysian / dystopian dehumanisation that is to follow… more importantly, the fact that it causes one of Laing’s wise cracking students to faint is a gratifying (as far as I’m concerned, anyway) nod to the greatest TV program of all time…

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… Quincy M.E.

When he gets back to his swishy apartment in the eponymous High Rise, Laing’s just looking to be alone, but gets inexorably drawn into the complexly nuanced social nexus of his ultra-class conscious co-High Rise dwellers. Shit like this happens. I know, I’ve experienced it during the regrettable periods when I’ve been obliged to take day jobs. Thankfully, none of those degenerated into the “eating dogs and throwing people off roofs” scenario depicted here. Nor, rather regrettably, did they evolve into the kind of sordid sex orgies that seem to break out in High Rise at the first suggestion that the lifts aren’t working properly or the supermarket is out of sugar puffs.

As the High Rise goes to hell in a hand cart beneath him, its designer Anthony Lord (Jeremy Irons) squats atop it in the swishest apartment of them all (complete with rooftop recreation of an ancien regime garden), rather like Dr Eldon Tyrell in the Tyrell Corporation pyramid in Blade Runner. Rather like Roy Batty in Blade Runner, Wilder (Luke Evans) wants some face-to-face time with the man at the top… he wants more swimming pool privileges for his kids, fucker! James Purefoy (as Pangbourne) portrays the kind of psychotic smoothie he’s been specialising in since his Mark Anthony in that splattery mini-series Rome… he’s getting very good at it, too. If they ever decide to remake The Professionals, I’m hoping he gets the call for Bodie. I’ve always had problems telling the Siennas Miller and Guillory apart. Wheatley casts both of them here (I think they’re having a lesbian affair or something) to clear up… or possibly intensify any such confusion.

So often in the past I’ve expressed myself bewildered, exasperated and / or infuriated by the decisions of the BBFC but on this occasion I’m coming at it from an unaccustomed angle. I’m genuinely surprised that our pals at Soho Square deem the litany of atrocities trotted out in High Rise worthy of a ’15’ certificate. I remember an earnest young man who wrote a book in which he railed against the hypocrisy of the “video nasties” witch hunt, who would no doubt roll his eyes and wiggle his finger around his temple at my concern over the prospect of my daughter being exposed to Wheatley’s film. It’s a moot point anyway, as High Rise ticks precisely none of the boxes that might have tempted her to watch it… it’s not Japanese, it’s not animated and there are precisely no sensitive gay characters discussing their emotional problems in it.

Cast interviews in the bonus material give you the chance to decide which of the participants are playing ninnies and which of them are actually just ninnies. Hiddlestone sounds quite intelligent and thoughtful until asked what his dream, Anthony Lord designed apartment would look like and specifies that there would have to be a gym in it… bloody ninny! Sienna Miller, who seems to have made a career (at least if the things I’ve seen her in are anything to go by) playing underfed crumpet has never actually appealed to me but in these interviews she not only sounds a lot more intelligent than you’d give her credit for, but also looks absolutely incandescent… better than she does in the actual feature. It’s as though she’s taken the high rise elevator out of pleasant-looking Elizabeth Hurley mid-table mediocrity into the upper echelons where the grateful carpets are trod by the Kate Beckinsales of this world.

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Kate Beckinsale. Treading on a capet. Yesterday.

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Kate Beckinsale. Treading on a carpet. Sucking on a guitar. The day before yesterday.

 

Who shot these bonus interviews? Maybe Miller should put him / her on a permanent retainer. I’d definitely do so, were I not a penniless blogger.

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Just about the only mishap that doesn’t befall the residents of The High Rise (or at least, the only one it would be tasteful to make wise cracks about) is to encounter a giant gorilla climbing to the top of it. Hiddleston dons a vest and cargo pants to cross off this particular entry on his bucket list in…

2) Too Much Monkey Business… KONG: SKULL ISLAND (2017) Reviewed

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Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts.
Produced by Alex Garcia, John Jashni, Mary Parent, Thomas Tull, et al.
Written by John Gatins, Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Connelly

Edited by Richard Parent.

Cinematography by Larry Fong.
Music by Henry Jackman.
Special FX by Chris Brenczewski and shedloads of others…

Starring: Tom Hiddlestone, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John C, Reilly, John Goodman, Houston Brooks.

You wouldn’t want to live in Mansfield and it’s not even a particularly nice place to visit, nevertheless that’s where our Meerkat Movie vouchers have brought the Freudstein family on an expedition to check out Kong: Skull Island. The Odeon has dispensed with its ticket office since we were last here, you’ve got to print out your tickets on some infernal self-service device. Presumably this was intended to cut down the staff wage bill but there still seem to be countless callow youths standing around awkwardly in their cute uniforms, resolutely refusing eye contact in case – heaven forefend – they might be called upon to help you with something.

During the endless trailer reel we suffer Jason Statham running the gamut of emotion from A to B in a trailer for The Fast And The Fatuous Part 38 or whatever it is. “That looks shit!”, opines Freudette to her Mum… Christ on a fucking bike, wherever does she pick up language like that?

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Rather like our previous foray into mainstream cinema, Doctor Strange, which I reviewed elsewhere on this site (not that any of you fuckers bothered to read it!), Kong: Skull Island has had so much money chucked at it, there’s no way it wasn’t going to be entertaining, albeit in a stupid ass, knuckle-headed kind of way. There’s a prologue, during which we witness a Japanese and an American airman, who’ve just shot each other out of the sky in a WWII dogfight, about to conclude their death match when they’re interrupted by you-know-who raising his ugly, hairy head. Cut to the early 70s, where Tricky Dicky has just announced “peace with honour” in Vietnam and Lieutenant Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) feels that he and his grunts have been sold out. They don’t need much convincing to sign up to a geological study on Skull Island, under the direction of Professor Bill Randa (John Goodman), whose motivations aren’t exactly as stated. Nobody seems suspicious about a geological survey on a permanently storm surrounded rock (glorifying in the name of Skull Island) that requires a heavy-duty military attachment… not hunky James Conrad (Hiddleston, who would have done better to stay in the chic opium den where they found him), nor busty war reporter Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), whose along for the ride as Kong candy because Fay Wray is no longer available. Joseph Conrad is no longer available either, but because he penned Heart Of Darkness, from which this film, Apocalypse Now and many others have pinched so much, they thought they’d name a character after him. Kind of. Alongside the uncredited input of original Kong writers Edgar Wallace and Merian C. Cooper, you’ll easily spot elements of Moby Dick, Lord Of The Flies and Treasure Island just for starters. I did and I wasn’t really paying attention.

Anyway, Packard’s chopper squad fearlessly navigate their way through those perpetual storms but before you can whistle Ride Of The Valkyrie, the hundred foot ape turns up and starts swatting them out of the sky like Dinky toys. Conrad, who’s a pretty touchy-feely guy for the kind of black ops specialist he’s vaguely suggested to be, argues that KK was only defending his territory but Packard has conceived a mortal grudge against that monkey, unconvinced by the argument that his removal will lead to the island being overrun by H.R. Giger rejects from the centre of the Earth. In other words, Kong’s a big ugly monster bastard but he’s our big ugly monster bastard. The allegory of recent US foreign policy isn’t too difficult to discern and there are a few throwaway gags at Trump’s expense, but we’re mostly here to gawp at big beasties fighting each other rather than critique current geopolitical trends and it has to be said that the CGI creations are impressive, if lacking the charm of Harryhausen and O’Brien’s stop motion masterworks. I would have preferred to see KK slugging it out with some authentic looking dinosaurs than those Gigeresque jobbies, but what do I know?

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The soundtrack is nicely peppered with 70s rock classics and the Ben Gunn character gets to go home and enjoy the ballgame with a beer and a hotdog, not to mention his miraculously well-preserved wife. Conrad’s viewpoint vindicated, Kong is left lording it over Skull Island and multiple sequels are already in the works.

Sorry to get all prissy about ratings again, but Mrs F felt rather forcefully (and I’m inclined to agree with her) that this was pretty violent stuff for “12A.” Thankfully, Freudette doesn’t seem to have incurred any significant mental scars on account of it. One of my most vivid childhood memories is of my Mum taking me to see One Million Years B.C. when it came out in 1966 and now I’ve taken our kid to see a monster movie, it feels like the circle of life is being completed. Or something. At the time I was more enthused by the dinosaurs than the spectacle of  Raquel Welch in her fur bikini…

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… I dig the dinosaurs in that movie to this day, though my priorities did shift somewhat with the onset of puberty. What about Freudette… did she find the Hiddleston hot? (Dunno if I’ve mentioned this already, but I find him a bit of a ninny) Only, she tells me, in so far as she could imagine him in a passionate clinch with Benedict Cumberbatch. Apparently there’s a whole wing of the internet that’s obsessed with the possibility of such a romantic coupling. Perhaps that makes more sense to you than it does to me. Parenthood, like life at The House Of Freudstein, is a wonderful, sometimes strange and frightening thing.

The main feeling I was left with after consuming Kong: Skull Island was a desire to root out some of those batshit crazy Japanese Kong movies and review them on this site. So I’ll be doing precisely that, shortly.

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

Brain Drain On The Train… HORROR EXPRESS Reviewed

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BD / DVD Combi. Regions A/1. Severin. Unrated.

If you’ll indulge me in a spot of nostalgia (and just try stopping me!), 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 have the benefit of VCRs (never mind digital recording) and, given that the gaps between transmission of individual 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.

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 gaff. 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 (Cinema Club seems to have been acquired at some point as an arm of BBC enterprises.) Trust Severin to do it right, with the best looking release in ages…

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 aks Duel In The Eclipse (1968) and as late as 1971’s 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 mores that conceal psychotic deviance which 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.

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 (actually all the impressive locations in this picture are 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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“Book him, Crocker!”

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 his 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.)

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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This 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 out 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 propose of nothing in particular and horse whippng 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’s quite a shock now to realise that his character doesn’t make his entry until well into its 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…

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 the same year’s Pancho Villa, in which Martin had directed Savalas earlier in 1972. He also describes how Lee coaxed the recently widowed and deeply depressed Cushing back into a working mood. There’s a wide-ranging 1973 audio interview with Cushing that can be played as an accompaniment to the film. 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 a characteristically enthusiastic intro piece from erstwhile Fango editor Chris Alexander and of course you get a trailer.

Mind the gap!

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“Who loves ya, baby?”

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The Naschy Weekender Part 3… El Hombre Invisibilo: PAUL NASCHY interviewed in 1994

Our Paul Naschy Weekender reaches its shattering climax tonight with this eye witness account by one hapless hack of the great man’s guest appearance at London’s Eurofest in 1994…

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“What’s he saying now, Eva?”

I KNOW that he’s played The Wolf Man, Frankenstein’s Monster, Dr Hyde, The Phantom Of The Opera, Hunchback Of The Morgue, Old Nick himself, Grand Inquisitors, sadistic knights, mysterious manservants, cops and robbers, vampires, sailors and low-rent Tarzans, but when I finally achieved my ambition of meeting the great Paul Naschy he proved as elusive as one of the few classic horror characters that he never actually played… The Invisible Man!

As “luck” would have it, we’re thrown together in the bar of his hotel in Victoria a good 90 minutes before our interpreter is due to turn up… did I say “good”? After searching in vain for a lingua franca, we resort to “Give Us A Clue” style dumb show. Awkward or what? I produce some posters and stills for señor Naschy to sign, which kills a few minutes while I take stock of this Spanish megastar of menace…

Conservatively dressed, in a suit and tie (nice waistcoat, too) and sporting a Bobby Charlton hair-do, he’s even shorter and certainly thinner than I expected… still a dead ringer for John Belushi, though. I ask him if he’s taken the opportunity to see some of London while he was over here? “No.” Does he plan to? “No.” Fair enough… On the plus side, he doesn’t speak in the mumbly manner suggested by some of his detractors… at least, he doesn’t seem to, on the rare occasions that he does actually speak. So much for the bellicose bragging I’d been briefed to expect… and which I was hoping would result in some lively copy. Pete Tombs, co-author of the excellent immoral Tales tome, later told me that Naschy was feeling a little nervous about this trip, fearing that the ridicule he’s recently be subjected to in Spain would be repeated over here. But I’m tempted to conclude that this paranoia / ridicule thing is a bit of a chicken-and-egg affair… which came first?

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I certainly didn’t set out with the intention of doing a hatchet job here. I’d undertaken the expense and effort of the disagreeable train trip from Nottingham to London because I thought it would be worth it to meet this Iberian horror icon  and as I once wrote elsewhere: “It’s impossible to come down too hard on Naschy, because his heart is so obviously in the right place.” It still is, thanks to the surgeons who opened up that famous barrel chest to save him after a near fatal coronary infarction in the late ’80s. I wonder if  Naschy’s membership of the zipper club now is a contributory factor to the low-key manner in which he currently seems to be approaching life…

When our interpreter – the lovely Eva Carlo -turns up, the interview begins in earnest… well it begins, anyway. Asked what he’s up to now, Naschy does indeed display a certain sensitivity. He’s “working on a couple of things” but he does not want to talk about them for fear of “jinxing them.” I enquire whether he’s finished anything since 1988’s Howl Of The Devil and he cites a couple of titles that none of the assembled horror hacks seem to have heard of. The name of Salvador Sainz, who has contested authorship of that film’s screenplay with Naschy, brings out the first signs of El Hombre Lobo’s wrath: “That guy is just crazy… you’ve seen it happen before, you know, a film wins the Oscar and suddenly all these opportunists appear, claiming that their screenplay was stolen.”

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Our hero isn’t above making such claims himself, though, when the subject of John Gilling’s The Devil’s Cross (1975) comes up: “It was my idea to bring the work of Gustavo Adolfo Becquer to the screen…” he seethes: “… but the producers and director basically stole the project from me. In the end all that was left was my script…  and they stole that, too. They only put my name in the credits because they were legally obliged to.”

He bristles at the oft-repeated myth that Tulio Demichelli’s astonishing 1969 “monster rally on board a space ship” Dracula Vs Frankenstein, was shot in six days (“Six months… Six months!”) and contradicts the widely expressed belief that it was difficult for genre directors to work under General Franco’s repressive regime: “It wasn’t that big a problem… I feel that other people have exaggerated it. I certainly never experienced any difficulties and in fact Spanish cinema at the moment is in a far worse state. In the Franco era we were making 180-200 films per year, now it’s just 25-30. When Franco was in power, politics don’t have so much to do with it but now politics is what it’s all about…. so it was actually easier to work in the Franco days.”

Perhaps predictably, Naschy comes over all animated on the subject of his love for the old Universal horror films that inspired his own monster movie cycle: “When I was very young, watching the Lon Chaney and Boris Karloff films, I was deeply impressed and conceived the ambition that one day I would be able to make movies in that style. Of course by the time I was making my movies, I couldn’t ignore the way that genre was going – more violence, more sex – so that was another influence on my films, though basically they were still like the Universal pictures… very simple stories, almost like fairy tales.”

Seemingly tiring, Naschy now subsides into minimalistic responses when quizzed about such subjects as his Japanese co-productions (“The Japanese producers had seen my movies and were very impressed, so they called me and asked if I would like to make a horror film with them”); the lack of narrative consistency in his Waldemar Daninsky series (“Even though the Daninsky character was the same, all the films were independent entities”); the mooted match-up between his werewolf and Amando De Ossorio’s Blind Dead Templars (“We discussed it but nothing ever came of it”); the respective merits of his directorial peers (“Klimovsky was the best of the lot”); the mysterious Rene Govar, credited with direction of 1967’s Night Of The Werewolf (“He was a French guy”); The Werewolf And The Yeti’s designation as a “video nasty” in the UK (“It’s absurd!”) and whether A Dragonfly For Each Corpse (1973) was a deliberate attempt on the part of its director, Klimovsky, to make a Spanish giallo (“Not consciously.”)

As Naschy’s utterances threaten to dry up completely, I’m increasingly distracted by certain other things, my description of which when a version of this piece originally appeared in print came back to haunt and embarrass me… twice! Suffice to say, I’m going to draw a discrete veil over such matters here, with apologies to all concerned.

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Just before we break up the glee club, Naschy manages some interesting (albeit unlikely to warm the hearts of The Humane Society) reminiscences of what is undoubtedly his wildest film, Javier Aguirre’s The Hunchback Of The Morgue (1972.) “We collected all these rats from the actual sewers of Madrid because we needed big ones, and they were all disinfected and injected with anti-rabies vaccine. Then my trousers were rubbed down with coarse grease and the rats, which hadn’t been fed for about a week, swarmed all over me, attacking me really viciously.”

This is the kind of stuff we want to hear… and what about these persistent rumours about the use of… (ulp!) … actual dead bodies in some scenes from that movie? “In the morgue where we were actually shooting there was a dead body that was about to be dissected”, reveals Humpy: “and the director asked me if I would be capable of starting it off by making the first cut on the neck. I thought about it, had a whisky, braced myself and made the cut but that’s all we did. That scene caused a lot of comment at the time, though nothing ever actually came of it.”

As a parting shot, the ol’ corpse-dissector rhapsodises over Hollywood’s recent vogue for reviving holy old monster characters, e.g. Coppola’s Dracula, Branagh’s Frankenstein and Mike Nichols’ Wolf,  starring Jack Nicholson… “So far I’ve only seen the Coppola picture and I like it a lot. I think it’s great that big budget American pictures are reviving all the classic monsters. I only wish that the Spanish industry was involved… I’m really envious, actually!”

And off he goes, dreaming no doubt of past and (hope springs eternal) possible future glories. Naschy shouldn’t beat himself up too much though, over the relative prestige of the Hollywood and Spanish film scenes… the memory I’ll always cherish from this day is that of Robert Altman, darling of the chattering Arthouse set, sitting in the hotel bar looking increasingly bemused, perplexed and resentful as assorted genre journalists completely ignored him while flocking all over an ageing Spanish horror maven.

Despite that unforgettable highlight, the meeting with Paul Naschy which I had anticipated so keenly was undeniably an anti-climax… it’s almost as though it never happened. Indeed, as an ironic post script, when the photographs that I’d cajoled David Flint into taking of me with the great man came back from the developers (I realise that I’ve totally lost out younger readers there) they looked as though they’d been taken in an unlit cellar without the benefit of flash… also like Dave had been bouncing up and down on a trampoline when he clicked the button. Maybe something was distracting him that night, too…

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R.I.P. Paul Naschy / Jacinto Molina Alvarez… 1934 – 2009.

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“Th-th-th-that’s all, folks!”

And that’s yer lot. Our Paul Naschy Weekender has concluded and we hope you’ve enjoyed it half as much as we have. Now bugger off and be warned… we counted the silverware before you arrived. We wanna know what you think about the last three days and to what subjects you’d like us to devote future Weekenders here at The House Of Freudstein. Ciao, babies!

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The Paul Naschy Weekender Part 2… THE WEREWOLF AND THE YETI reviewed

TWATY NaschyIt’s the second day of our Paul Naschy Weekender and I trust you all managed to get some sleep after the horrific emotional roller coaster that was our examination of Werewolf’s Shadow / Walpurgis Night (1971.) Hopefully by now you’ve regained your composure and are appropriately attired in brown trousers because tonight we’ll be looking at Naschy’s Nasty, the great man’s only contribution to the DPP’s dreaded (ulp!) “video nasties” list… 1975’s The Werewolf And The Yeti aka Maldicion De La Bestia (“Curse Of The Beast”) / Night Of The Howling Beast.

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“That’ll be me, then…”

Maldicion De La Bestia. 1975, Spain. Starring “Paul Naschy”, Grace Mills, Josep Castillo Escalona, Silvia Solar Gil Vidal, Luis Induni. Special effects: Alfredo Segoviano. Camera: Thomas Pladevall. Written by Jacinto Molina. Produced by Modesto Perez Redondo. Directed by “Miguel Iglesias Bonns” (= Miguel Iglesias).

Written by Paul Naschy himself and directed by one Miguel Iglesias Bonns, this is Naschy’s eighth (?) entry in a saga detailing the life, loves and monster mash-ups of the lycanthropically challenged Count Waldemar Daninsky. Writer, actor, competitive weight lifter and occasional director Naschy (given name Jacinto Molina Alvarez) is the irrepressible dynamo of Spanish Horror cinema, whose attempts to create an Iberian equivalent of the great Hammer and Universal cycles (on what seems like a budget of about a couple pesetas per movie) have to be seen to be believed, ranking amongst the most jaw-droppingly out-of-wack and enjoyable celluloid offerings on offer anywhere in the world. It’s impossible to come down too hard on these ultra-low budget efforts, because Naschy’s heart is so obviously in the right place and he sets about this ambitious brief with such undeniable gusto, often suffering extreme physical discomfort to achieve the desired effect (in 1972’s Hunchback Of The Morgue, arguably his finest hour, Naschy assisted at an autopsy and was repeatedly bitten by a pack of rats… it was a particularly unruly autopsy, OK?) in the manner of a latterday Lon Chaney. Actually though, Naschy is more often compared to Lon Chaney Jr. due to that interminable series of Daninsky movies, initiated in 1967’s La Marca Del Hombre Lobo (“The Mark Of The Wolf Man”) aka Hells’ Creatures / Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror.

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The effort under consideration here opens with Yeti-hunting anthropologist Silas Neumann (actor uncredited) discovering his moth-eaten quarry in Katmandu and falling prey to it. Cut to Britain (stock footage of Westminster bridge, accompanied on the soundtrack by bagpipes droning “Scotland the Brave”!) where another Yeti-buff, Professor Lacomb (Josep Castillo Escalona) is enlisting the aid of our Waldemar in an expedition aimed at capturing the beast: “You’re an anthropologist and a psychologist … besides you know Tibet and you can speak Nepalese.” Quite the Renaissance man… he’s also conducting a pretty hot affair with the Prof’s daughter Silvia [Grace Mills). Arriving in Tibet, the expedition is hampered by heavy weather, demon-fearing sherpas going AWOL and outbreaks of ill-matched stock footage depicting native dervish dances. Naschy, looking even more bulky than usual in his snow gear, wanders off to collapse in the wilderness and is rescued by two scantilly-clad cave-dwelling bimbos. “He is very strong,” opines one of the girls: “He will be a good companion “…and a passionate lover!” adds her partner. True to form, as soon as he comes around Naschy whips off his balaclava and roll-neck pullover, baring that legendary barrel-chest to the world, and starts making serious whoopie. There’s a strong suggestion that Naschy’s playmates treat him to certain sexual practices that could get them all arrested in several States of the Union… and that’s not the only thing the girls like tucking into: Naschy later discovers his new girlfriends eating an itinerant sherpa, and is obliged to reduce them to smoking skeletons with a handy-dandy wooden stake.

At this point the full moon rises in the sky and Naschy’s accumulated love-bites work their lycanthropic wonders on him (learning well from his Universal and Hammer mentors, Naschy has never given undue weight to internal logic in his films or continuity and consistency in this series, Daninsky’s werewolf having a different set of origins each time out). His transformation proves to be a blessing in disguise because the rest of the expedition has been captured by a horde of tartar roughnecks whose leader, the dreaded Saga Khan, has certain radical ideas on acne treatment – nubile girls are flayed and flaps of their dripping skin draped over his spotty features. It was presumably this aspect of Werewolf And The Yeti that brought it to the DPP’s attention when Canon Video released it in the UK, though the pertinent scenes look pretty tame now compared to 18-rated stuff like the Saw and Hostel franchises. TW&TY remains in the notional rump of “video nasties” that have never been reconsidered by the BBFC, though one suspects that this is more probably a function of its limited commercial appeal and / or obscure distribution rights rather than any lingering perceptions of its alleged tendency to “deprave and corrupt.”

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To cut a very long story short, Naschy lopes into tartar HQ, trashes the bad guys and liberates Sylvia, then the Yeti (remember him?) turns up for a perfunctory and distinctly anti-climactic wrestling match. Finally Sylvia discovers – just like that – the herb which will transform Naschy from a nasty brutish wolfman back into a regular Nepalese-speaking anthropologist, psychologist, Tibet-expert and John Belushi lookalike. And presumably they all lived happily ever after…WW&TY4.jpg

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Intermission!.jpgPhew… you’d better get your ass to the lobby and score yourself some fortifying treats because The Paul Naschy Weekender here at House Of Freudstein reaches its feverish climax tomorrow night with an eye witness report on the great man’s visit to London in 1994. Be there or be a sad sack yeti…

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The Paul Naschy Weekender Part 1… WEREWOLF’S SHADOW reviewed

Welcome to our Paul Naschy Weekender here at The House Of Freudstein… all Naschy, all trashy and nothing but the Naschy! If you’ve just woken from your siesta and are sitting comfortably with your tapas and glass of rioja, we’re going to kick off with one of Jacinto Molina Alvarez’s most influential efforts.

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DVD. Region 2. Anchor Bay. 18.

Written by Paul Naschy himself and directed by Leon Klimovsky, La Noche De Walpurgis (1971) is the third… or possibly fourth… or perhaps even fifth (depending on which filmography you believe) instalment in the ongoing saga of Naschy’s “tragic wolf man” character, Waldemar Daninsky. Its original title translating as Walpurgis Night (didn’t know I was such brilliant linguist, did you?), this one goes under a bewildering number of aliases, including Werewolf’s Shadow, Shadow Of The Werewolf, Satan Vs The Wolf Man, Fury Of The Vampires, The Black Masses Of Countess Dracula, Blood Moon and – for those among you who like a film to do what it says on the tin – The Werewolf Vs The Vampire Woman. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet and under whatever guise you see it, this one is generally acknowledged as one of the seminal Spanish scream-fests that ignited the Iberian horror boom of the ’70s. Nor did its impact go unfelt in English-language markets (witness the grind house ad mat and American novelisation below.)

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In the pre-titles sequence, sceptical coroner Dr Hartwig is unwise enough to remove the silver bullets with which Waldo was peppered in the previous episode… doubly unwise as he effects said procedure during a full moon! No prizes for guessing what happens next. The mandatory werewolf transformation scene is skilfully rendered here via edits around strategically placed objects, setting the standard for those that follow it… well, for most of those that follow it. Meanwhile in Paris, sexy student Elvira (Gaby Fuchs… yep, the gal who gets her tongue pulled out in Mark Of The Devil) is giving her boyfriend a lurid albeit rather fanciful (e.g. black mass blood drinking) flashback rendering of the life and misdeeds of Countess Bathory figure “Wandesa Darvula De Nadasdy” (sexy Patty Shepard.)

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Elvira and fellow student Genevieve (Barbara Capell) head off into remote French countryside to locate Wandesa’s fabled tomb, in pursuance of their joint doctrinal dissertation (now there’s a bizarre educational initiative that even Michael Gove baulked at.) Having lost their way, they are taken in by kindly Waldemar. His insane sister tries to warn them against various supernatural threats, though they seem to be in greater danger of sexual assault from her. Next day, during a casual stroll in the countryside, Waldemar and the girls stumble upon the location of The Countess’s tomb. “Satan’s favourite mistress…” declares her tombstone: “None must disturb her rest until the day of The Last Judgement” (wonder how that went unnoticed all these centuries.) Although a keen Wandesa student, Elvira squeamishly excuses herself from the disinterment, during which Genevieve cuts herself while pulling a silver chalice dagger (readily available in most good hardware stores) out of the corpse and drips blood into its mouth. When they hook up with Elvira again, she is being threatened by a decomposing monk who seems to have wandered in, apropos of nothing, out of one of Amanda De Ossorio’s Blind Dead epics. Daninsky wastes no time seeing him off with that dagger. Meanwhile, Wandessa is clawing her way out of her grave. Elvira and Genevieve close out their eventful day with a bedtime chat about their love lives… I mean, what else is there for them to talk about?werewolf-versus-vampire-woman-ad.jpgThe revived Wandesa is a sight for blood shot eyes, fulsomely fanged, with a pale green complexion and decked out in the height of Medieval Hungarian fashion. She floats around in slow motion (another pinch from The Blind Dead, along with the services of soundtrack composer Anton Garcia Abril) amid billowing dry ice, seducing every other female character in the cast during the build up to Walpurgis Night, when Satan will give vampires dominion over the Earth… unless Waldemar has anything to do with it. Predictably, he’s bonking Elvira by this point and tries to protect her from his beastly side by getting himself chained up during the next full moon and entrusting her to the “care” of his friend Pierre (Jose Marco) who promptly attempts to rape her! An equally random, though significantly less hilarious way of filling out the running time till Walpurgis Night rolls around is the introduction of Elvira’s boring Parisian boyfriend Marcel (Andres Resino), who gets involved in an interminable discussion with one of the local yokels about superstition vs rationalism.

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Finally, it’s The Big Night and Wandesa is just about to sacrifice Elvira to Satan when rudely interrupted by Waldemar, in full werewolf drag. The ensuing smackdown is pretty lively compared to others in the Daninsky series, indeed executed with such gusto that the only thing conceivably missing from it is a Kent Walton commentary! Wandesa gets stabbed by that ol’ silver chalice digger and her decomposition is niftily rendered via melting wax. Unfortunately for Waldemar’s reverse transformation, after Elvira has turned the knife on him to end his undead torment, it’s back to the unconvincing lap dissolves effect from Naschy’s beloved Lon Chaney Jr Movies. Despite such niggles, it’s easy to see how Klimovsky’s energetic Walpurgis Nacht / Werewolf’s Shadow became such an influential success… it certainly lacks the significant longueurs that disfigure many of those that followed in its wake… werewolf_vs_vampire_woman_poster_04.jpg… notably Carlos Aured’s 1973 return engagement, El Retorno De Walpurgis (“The Return Of Walpurgis”) aka Curse Of The Devil, aka Curse Of The Devil / Return Of The Werewolf / The Black Harvest Of Countess Dracula. Avoid this vaguely Black Sunday flavoured effort under any title (or, if you must watch it, don’t say you were’t warned) because it’s all downhill after an amusing titles sequence in which Daninsky, in full suit of armour, decapitates  Count Bathory for “driving our bishop to suicide…and turning our holiest nuns into daughters of Satan, consumed and maddened with lust!” (a nice trick if you can manage it…) When Waldo brandishes aloft the Count’s severed noggin, Erzsebeth Barthory (Maria Silva) sagely observes: “My husband is dead!” “Yes”, agrees her equally astute sidekick. No prizes for guessing that their revenge consists of turning him into a werewolf and blah, blah, blah…

Naschy directed himself in Night Of The Werewolf, a virtual remake of Werewolf’s Shadow ten years after the event. It’s an ’80s reboot of the familiar werewolf, witchery and sapphic shenanigans (with more explicit plunderings from Bava’s Black Sunday) that suffers from sharply diminishing returns and the fact that Julia Saly as the Countess Bathory figure is a pretty poor substitute for Patty Shepard.

Bonus materials on the Anchor Bay disc of Werewolf’s Shadow constitute a 15-minute interview with the Spanish horror icon, theatrical trailer and TV spot, Naschy biography and photo gallery plus a reproduction of the film’s Spanish press book.

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TOMORROW… our All Naschy Weekender continues with a look at his unredeemed and arguably irredeemable “video nasty”, The Werewolf And The Yeti (1975.)

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Coffee With Scream… MONSTERS IN THE MOVIES reviewed

Landis Monsters Book

Monsters In The Movies: 100 Years of Cinematic Nightmares by John Landis. Dorling Kindersley / Penguin Random House. P/B. ISBN 978-0-2412-4624-5 320

When I interviewed Harvey Fenton for Dark Side recently, we reminisced about coffee table books by the likes of Alan Frank and Dennis Gifford, from which he has derived much of the inspiration for what he’s achieved at FAB Press. Coffee table books surveying Horror film history have dwindled since the 1980s (when I remember WHS and even M&S having a crack at this market), increasingly so since the advent of the internet, so it’s nice to see D&K attempting to revive the format with John Landis’s Monsters In The Movies: 100 Years Of Cinematic Monster (originally published in 2011, this edition dating back to last year.)

Like many of its predecessors, MITM is more of a picture collection than anything else, with over 1,000 stills and posters from the Kobal Collection (many of them in full colour) beautifully reproduced within its 320 glossy pages and organised into such self-explanatory sections as “Vampires”, “Werewolves”, “Mad Scientists”, “Zombies”, “Mummies” and so on. What strikes you immediately is just how many Horror movies have been made (this is the one cinematic genre, after all, that’s never gone out of fashion) since the heyday of Messrs Frank and Gifford. Indeed, you’ve got to give credit to Landis and / or the people who put this volume together for casting their net so wide and unsnobbishly, despite the odd nits that you inevitably find yourself picking (for instance the fact that Suspiria is represented by one small b/w still, indeed for the fact that Italian offerings in general are a little under represented… but I would say that, wouldn’t I?)

Landis makes no, er, bones in his introduction or any of the micro-essays that preface each section, about the fannish rather than academic orientation he brought to the text of this visual treasure trove. Any suggestion of profundity is defiantly absent from his commentary, though his (?) captions to many of the illustrations are equal parts witty and opinionated. His biggest contributions to the book though are the interviews that he conducts with a coterie of genre luminaries, comprising the late Sir Christopher Lee, Joe Dante, David Cronenberg, Sam Raimi, Guillermo Del Toro, Ray Harryhausen, Rick Baker and John Carpenter. Obviously at ease with his peers, Landis gets some fascinating stuff out of these guys, many of whom (notably Dell Toro) have very precise ideas about what constitutes a Monster Movie or indeed a Movie Monster. Harryhausen, whom many would nominate as Mr “Monster Movie” Incarnate, confides that he doesn’t care for the term at all.

MITM is available for 20 quid on Amazon, where you can also get a skinny-assed “Bookazine” digest of it for nearly a tenner. Save that tenner for the full monty version, available for that price (or less if they’ve currently got a voucher thing running) here. Jeez, Martin Lewis has got nothing on me…

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Making The Cyclops Cry… CONTAMINATION reviewed

Blu-ray (A/B) – DVD (1/2) combo. Arrow. 15

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“Who you calling a toaster oven, Earthling?!?”

An abandoned boat drifts down the Hudson river, bearing a fresh consignment of pulsating  green pods from Mars. When they ripen, they burst open and and shower any Earthlings reckless enough to be in their vicinity with acid. As if that weren’t nasty enough, this is nasty Martian acid which reduces the investigating coast guards to exploding showers of offal, lovingly filmed in super-slow motion by director Luigi Cozzi. The human race responds swiftly and before you can say “chest burster” every Italian in New York is on the case. Dr Stella Holmes (Louise Marleau) takes control: “I’m a colonel, directly responsible to the President, Special Division Five”, she barks: “… put Emergency Plan Seven into effect.” Stella enlists the services of Police Lieutenant Arris (Marino Mase), the sole survivor of that Marie Celeste massacre, and also Hubbard (Ian McCulloch), an astronaut who was laughed out of NASA when he returned from the first manned Mars probe claiming that his colleague Hamilton was killed by pulsating Martian pods. Holmes finds this guy residing in alcoholic squalor, but galvanises him into action with some catty reflections on his virility, to wit: “In this state, you couldn’t even get it up with a crane!” (What a ball-breaker!)

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Hubbard repeats his story and this time gets a more sympathetic hearing. The accompanying flashback sequence – depicting his ordeal in a cave at the Martian pole – is gripping stuff, comparing very favourably to the corresponding scene in Alien when you consider the films’ respective budgets. One of Goblin’s most atmospheric, throbbing scores does no harm either. Holmes, Hubbard and Arris trace the pods to a waterfront warehouse, where a cop who knocks on the door is unceremoniously shot through the head. SWAT dudes storm the place, but the warehousemen duck any awkward questions by the simple expedient of exploding in slow motion. Stella theorises, straight off the top of her head, that the pods are to be placed in the Big Apple’s sewer system, where they will incubate and blow up a large section of the city. “National security is at stake” she warns: “… and possibly even more than that!”

Our intrepid threesome fly off to Columbia, to be greeted by the expected outbreak of stock footage. Villainous locals smuggle pods into Stella’s bathroom while she’s taking a shower, but the boys rescue her, setting the scene for the climactic confrontation on a coffee plantation that has been turned over to the cultivation of pods (check out the pod incubation unit and ponder whether you’ve seen that room before… maybe at the climax of Argento’s Inferno? Perhaps also as the setting of the most notorious moment in Andrea Bianchi’s Nights Of Terror?) The operation is run by Hamilton (Siegfried Rauch), the supposedly dead astronaut, his will directed by the dreaded Alien Cyclops (“… it’s slimy, slithering appearance more than made up for by the fact that it has all the mobility of a toaster oven”, to invoke the memorable contemporary description in Fangoria magazine.)

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The Cyclops mesmerises Arris with its throbbing yellow eye then sucks him into its gaping maw. Stella’s next on the menu but Old Mother Hubbard, despite undergoing another Mars flashback (makes a nice change from all those ’Nam flashbacks) shoots the cyclops in the eye, which for some reason causes Hamilton to burst into flames. The army turns up on cue to round up the Martian minions and close down the plantation but unfortunately that’s not the end of the story – back in NYC (right outside The Twin Towers, uncomfortably enough) pods are ripening in sidewalk garbage piles. One of them bursts as the credits roll.

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Although gore wasn’t exactly unknown in Italian horror cinema before the late ’70s, the succession of ever more graphically violent American box office smashes in that period prompted a veritable tsunami of spaghetti splatter… happy days! Contamination is a textbook demonstration of the sheer vitality, seat-of-their-pants inventiveness and shameless dollar chasing exhibited by Italian movie mavens during what was destined to become the final throw of exploitation all’Italiana. As that non-sequitur title suggests, the film was originally conceived as a cash-in on The China Syndrome (1979) but when Alien (1979) burst its way through John Hurt’s chest and into the hearts of movie goers around the world, producers Claudio Mancini and Ugo Valenti enthusiastically jumped the biomorphic bandwagon, their rapidly rehashed property being touted, variously, as Alien Contamination, Alien 2 and Alien Arrives On Earth (good job they weren’t crass enough to pit Alien against Predator, huh?) until Fox’s lawyers had their say. Neither unfazed by this nor discouraged by such recent examples of Italian sci-fi as Lugi Cozzi’s 1978 howler Starcrash, they enlisted Cozzi to throw together an energetically eclectic conflation of Alien, Quatermass, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, Invaders From Mars and, striking a patriotic note, Lucio Fulci’s Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979.)  Having starred in that and Marino Girolami’s Zombie Holocaust (1980), Ian McCulloch was along for the ride modelling a proto-Trump hairdon’t and doing his best bargain basement Bond bit (Mancini, perhaps fancying himself as a stem of Broccoli, being determined to cram a sub-006-and-a- 1/2 element into this cut price concoction.)

Precisely such relentless trend chasing is the subject of bonus featurette The Sincerest Form Of Flattery: A Critical Analysis Of Tne Italian Cash-in, in which Maitland McDonagh and Chris “Temple Of Schlock” Poggiali expound upon the filoni theory of Italian making, whereby generic streams are drained until they run dry… an entertaining examination of its subject, though it mysteriously peters out itself while Poggiali is in mid flight. Other extras include a rabidly enthusiastic commentary track from current Fango editor Chris Alexander, who’s fiercely keen to defend Contamination from its detractors while simultaneously acknowledging the schlocky nature of the whole proceedings (*). There’s the expected trailer. The director’s career is profiled in Luigi Cozzi Vs Lewis Coates and Sound Of The Cyclops showcases Goblin member Maurizio Guarini with emphasis on his score for this film. Both Notes On Science Fiction Cinema (an archive Cozzi interview combined with some valuable behind-the-scenes footage) and a nifty graphic novel appeared in a previous Blue Underground DVD release.

Best of all is the 15.11.14 Q&A session from the Abertoir Horror Festival, Aberystwyth Arts Centre. Moderated by Ewan Cant in front of a receptive audience, Cozzi and McCulloch are on good form and the whole thing is a hoot. Particularly memorable are McCulloch’s electrified reaction to the director’s assertions about how much money Contamination took (might one infer that it was a different story when his royalty cheques were being discussed?) and then the star starts wondering aloud about why, precisely, some of Contamination’s scenes had to be shot in Columbia, of all places. When Cozzi doesn’t exactly go out of his way to dissuade McCulloch from this line of speculation, the latter’s astonishment is palpable… Priceless stuff!

After some early misfires Arrow, have got this Blu-ray mastering malarky well and truly licked… you could quibble that some of the film’s early outdoor shots look a tad grainy but they’ve resisted the temptation to sink the picture in DNR fudging and Contamination will probably never look better than this. And it’s impossible to sign off here without commenting on the fact that this former “video nasty” is now deemed fit for consumption by 15 year olds. “National security at stake”? Pah…

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“Th-th-th-that’s all, folks!”

(*) Alexander beats himself up about his inability to put a name to the cameoing face of Carlo De Mejo, son of Alida Valli and a familiar face from any amount of pasta paura epics… as these things often do, this prompted me to google what De Mejo had been up to recently. Sadly, prominent among this list was dying. He took to his grave the secret of what the f*ck the climax to Fulci’s City Of The Living Dead (1980) actually meant.

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