Wednesday, March 08, 2017

A Franco Eureka

I'm working on a review for SCREEM Magazine of Jess Franco's NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND DESIRES (Mondo Macabro) and, while watching it, I had a brainstorm that I've never seen noted elsewhere.

The movie is a kind of reworking of a story previously told, in different ways, in other Franco movies like SUCCUBUS (1967), NIGHTMARES COME AT NIGHT (1970), LORNA THE EXORCIST (1974), DORIANA GRAY (1976) and SHINING SEX (1977)... but as soon as I saw the opening with Lina Romay participating in a nightclub mentalist act, something clicked in me. It was then that I realized the seed of all these stories (one of the main arteries of Franco's filmography) was Cornell Woolrich's novel NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES - or the 1948 John Farrow film made of it. (My personal bet would be the novel, as Franco drew inspiration from Woolrich's THE BRIDE WORE BLACK for his THE DIABOLICAL DR. Z some years before François Truffaut got around to filming it. I don't know how I missed this, it was so bold to see; the Spanish title of the Woolrich novel and Farrow film is MIL OJOS TIENE LA NOCHE, and the Franco film's Spanish title is MIL SEXOS TIENE LA NOCHE.)

Update: Since originally posting, I have been apprised by Facebook friends that this connection was previously cited in a Franco interview by Robert Monnell and Carlos Aguilar's book on Franco. I was unaware of this. But I'm not finished...

Then, as the story continued to unfold into the realm of mind control, the other shoe fell. It was then that I realized what Franco had actually done to create this central storyline, which was to playfully conflate NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES with another film of similar title, Fritz Lang's THE THOUSAND EYES OF DR. MABUSE! 

I've never seen this connection noted by anyone - and it was right there in the film's title all along.

My SCREEM review will go into more detail.

(c) 2017 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved by the author.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Rigby's EURO GOTHIC Reviewed

I have long harbored a secret concern that those of us who are particularly drawn to the European strain of horror cinema probably have a screw loose somewhere. These are the sorts of movies, after all, in which narrative is secondary to atmosphere and logic is sometimes utterly disposable;  where characters can be found wearing 19th century clothing in 20th century storylines or driving cars in 18th century Bavaria; where heroes are often villains; where beauty is in abundance yet so often desecrated; and they maraud under titles like SPASMO, METEMPSYCO and YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY. How do any of these traits speak to a balanced mind?

For this reason, I was excited to hear that Jonathan Rigby - the author of the admirably insightful and well-balanced ENGLISH GOTHIC and AMERICAN GOTHIC, among other fine books - was working on a new series addition to be called EURO GOTHIC, a selective overview of horror in European cinema. So much that has been written about European horror films has come from writers that, like myself, are a little crazy about it all - hopelessly obsessive, impossibly completist and/or elitist, sometimes willfully provocative. As I saw it, the strong card of Rigby's eventual take on this uneven landscape of macabre twins, bland masks, robust werewolves, crumbling villas, webby catafalques, lesbian vampires, bouncing balls and affable mental cases was bound to be his remarkable even-handedness, his balance and perspective. In short, the sheer sanity he would likely bring to bear on such an hallucinatory task.

And indeed, EURO GOTHIC: CLASSICS OF CONTINENTAL HORROR CINEMA (Signum Books, 416 pages, $34.95) is very likely the most balanced piece of writing such films have ever received. At the outset, Rigby explains the basic impossibility of fully addressing the scope of his title, which he has made manageable by focusing on "113 representative titles" which receive the fullest attention, each of which radiate out into micro-managed discussions of other, more minor works which relate to that title through theme or shared participants, all the while observing a chronology that feels remarkably consistent considering the sheer chaos under the microscope. He also wisely, I think, concludes his history in 1983, with Pupi Avati's alphabetically appropriate ZEDER (aka REVENGE OF THE DEAD), at the time when so much of the respective cult cinemas of Italy, Spain, France and Germany began to suffer financial crises and became geared, whenever films overcame the odds to get made, toward direct-to-video release.

Just as, for many viewers, "Euro Gothic" may signal one specific thing rather than the hopping mad variety of its reality, it is rare to find Eurocult cinema discussed in the same breath with its actual antecedents in the silent era, where in fact we find these often rebellious, revolutionary, outlaw films related to a large number of the great classics of world cinema - films like THE CABINET OF DR CALIGARI, NOSFERATU and DR MABUSE - THE GAMBLER, but this book rightly encompasses those titles and many others and establishes firm connections between their experimentalism, Expressionism, and use of natural (often war-torn) scenery and all that came later.

Conrad Veidt in THE STUDENT OF PRAGUE (1926).
The opening chapter, "Warning Shadows 1896-1954", covers a remarkable chunk of history and encompasses some of its most exemplary research. I wish I had known, while preparing my audio commentary for Kino Lorber's DESTINY (1920), that its trilogy of stories about death traversing three different epochs had been anticipated by UNHEIMLICHE GESCHICHTE (a 1919 horror anthology) and SATANAS (1920, which cast Conrad Veidt as the Devil, wearily traversing three different historical epochs). Rigby also comes up with a NOSFERATU variant heretofore unknown to me: DIE SWOFFTE STUNDE EINE NACHT DESGRAUENS, a sound-era redressing which added dialogue and sound effects, new footage including outtakes directed by F.W. Murnau himself, and reidentified Max Shreck's Graf Orlok as Furst Wolkoff. While this lengthy chapter covers such highlights as THE HANDS OF ORLAC, THE STUDENT OF PRAGUE, FAHRMANN MARIA, ORPHEUS and different versions of ALRAUNE and THE GOLEM, it is most memorable in its discussions of a few uncommon titles: Maurice Tourneur's delightfully impish LE MAIN DU DIABLE ("The Devil's Hand," 1942), Edgar Neville's Spanish thriller LA TORRE DE LOS SIETE JOROBADOS ("Tower of the Seven Hunchbacks," 1944) and Guillaume Radot's torrid sorcery fantasia LA DESTINE EXECRABLE DE GUILLEMETTE BABIN ("The Filthy Destiny of Guillemette Babin," 1947).

Simone Signoret in LES DIABOLIQUES.
The second part, "Experiments in Evil, 1954-1963", makes a speedy impression with its detailed examination of Clouzot's LES DIABOLIQUES (1954), one of the book's absolute highlights. Rigby goes on to detail how dark suspense vehicles such as this led to more aggressive horror material, in symbiotic response to a return to horror that was world-wide now that a decade had passed since the end of the war. Throughout the book, Rigby maintains a through-line showing how gothic cinema was becoming popular and developing in England and America, helping the general and more advanced readers to remember where in time we are. He is attentive to when and how Riccardo Freda and Mario Bava's I VAMPIRI (1957) happened in relation to Terence Fisher's ground-breaking THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (also 1957), which was shot - Rigby shows - at approximately the same time as the Italian film, though it beat the English one into theaters by four months. However, his attention to the Hammer film causes him to overlook the real inspiration behind the former, which was Andre de Toth's colossal hit HOUSE OF WAX (1953). Mad scientists are the thrust of this period, whether it's Baron Frankenstein, THE HEAD'S Dr Ood (it's good to see this film properly appreciated, with art director Hermann Warm's roots going back to NOSFERATU and DESTINY),  EYES WITHOUT A FACE's Dr Genessier, or the title characters of THE TESTAMENT OF DR CORDELIER and THE AWFUL DR ORLOFF. It is in this chapter that Rigby initiates his commendable habit of naming the locations where many of these films were shot, which is especially helpful in terms of identifying the various villas and castelli where the first generation Italian horrors were made. (It must be noted, however, that such information has its limits as many of these locations have been renamed over time - the Villa Parisi, where Bava's KILL, BABY... KILL! was shot in 1966, is now known as the Villa Grazioli and is not to be confused with another Villa Parisi where other horror films, like 1980's BURIAL GROUND, were shot.) The chapter rightly culminates with Bava's masterpiece BLACK SABBATH.

Daliah Lavi in IL DEMONIO (1963).
"Angels for Satan, 1963-1966" addresses the remarkable consistency of a trend in European horror across the board during this period of demonizing women, frequently in the person of Barbara Steele but also extending to BLOOD AND ROSES' Annette Vadim, Daliah Lavi in IL DEMONIO and LA FRUSTA E IL CORPO (THE WHIP AND THE BODY, 1963), and Estella Blain in Jess Franco's MISS MUERTE (THE DIABOLICAL DR Z, 1965), and reaching its fever pitch in the female killing spree of Bava's SEI DONNE PER L'ASSASSINO (BLOOD AND BLACK LACE, 1964). "Nights of the Devil, 1967-1971" encompasses the psychedelicizing and sexualizing of European horror as well as the rise of the giallo and personalities like Jean Rollin, Dario Argento, and Paul Naschy. In this chapter, Rigby's appreciative eye notes that the same picturesque German snowfall nestles the images of THE HORRIBLE SEXY VAMPIRE, BITE ME DARLING and EUGENIE DE SADE, while his ear catches some reprised music cues from THE WHIP AND THE BODY in LA VENGANZA DE LA MOMIA (THE MUMMY'S REVENGE, 1973), but he also begins here to draw certain lines. We can begin to feel his patience sorely tested by some of the genre's mounting excess, but most of all by the technical sloppiness found most particularly in the French and Spanish product. We can sense his relief when something genuinely and completely laudable like DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS (1971) comes along, and may feel relief of our own when he has the largess to showcase a neglected title like Jose Luis Merino's BLOOD CASTLE (aka SCREAM OF THE DEMON LOVER, 1970).

Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in HORROR EXPRESS.
At the end of this chapter, when Rigby gets his opportunity to address Eugenio Martin's HORROR EXPRESS (1972), the book's appreciation warms up considerably as Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing enter the history as a duo for the only time, reminding us where the author feels most at home. As a reader who naturally favors European horror, I find his assessment of this title ("a bona-fide classic of the form") a bit overdone, and it serves in context as a harbinger of disagreements that seem to intensify as we draw closer to the 1980s - notably his dislike of Paul Morrissey's FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN (which nevertheless is one of the highlighted 113) Andrzej Zulawski's POSSESSION and Walerian Borowczyk's DR JEKYLL AND MISS OSBORNE, not to mention the bulk of Paul Naschy and Jess Franco's work, which many fans naturally gravitating to this book would consider major treats. The disconnection would seem to be a lack of humor in the face of outrage, but this is not a charge one can easily address to the author of the best book about Roxy Music. On the other hand, Rigby is not above expressing warm regard for some actors who frequently labor in such films, including Helga Line, Julia Saly and particularly Narciso Ibanez Menta, whose Count Dracula in Leon Klimovsky's "entirely lacking in suspense or even rhythm" LA SAGA DE LOS DRACULA (1973) "ranks not far behind Christopher Lee as the best on film."

Jessica Harper in SUSPIRIA.
By the time we get to "Rites of Blood, 1973-1975" and "New Worlds of Fear, 1975-1983," the reader feels the book's energy beginning to flag as the story begins to wildly diversify into international co-productions and endless retreads and attempts to recapture a glory that was never much more than a subgenre sideshow. In other words, here Rigby very capably illustrates the death throes of a genre that had by now done and shown about all that one could do and show to shock. In this context, the appearance of something like Argento's SUSPIRIA (1977) towers above everything else exactly as it ought, and few writers have dealt with its uncanny magnificence as excitingly or capably. When I read these pages, I had to revisit the film at once.

Are there faults? Of course there are. At the outset, Rigby apologizes for the need to be selective in his coverage, to the detriment of films made in, say, the Scandinavian countries or Eastern Europe. (1953's DRAKULA ISTANBUL'DA from Turkey is a serious omission in this respect, as it contains scenes that appear to have influenced, say, I VAMPIRI while also anticipating both HORROR OF DRACULA and Franco's supposedly unprecedentedly literal COUNT DRACULA of 1970.) Also, while music has long been central to the character of European horror films, the scores of the films under discussion generally receives short shrift, with "funky" being the most commonly deployed adjective when it's mentioned at all. Likewise, whenever Rigby attends to uses of color, he almost always defaults to blue, very nearly the only color he mentions with specificity. There is also a tendency to take films at face value as the director's own work in cases where post-production tampering was done - Franco's SUCCUBUS (1967) and VENUS IN FURS (1969) being good cases in point. This book marks probably the only occasion when FRANKENSTEIN'S CASTLE OF FREAKS (1971) has been discussed without invoking the name of cast member "Boris Lugosi," and it also mistakenly identifies director Robert H. Oliver as a pseudonym for its producer Dick Randall. But this book didn't require a fan's hornet-like attention to detail as much as it needed responsible distance, and this is what we get: a sober yet loving history of the subject at hand, respectful and affectionate yet soundly critical, in which the writing boasts literacy, geniality, and careful attention not only to matters of chronology and geography, but to the furtive ways in which films sometimes speak to one another (as when Rigby notes that Julien Duvivier's LA CHAMBRE ARDENTE [THE BURNING COURT, 1961] misses an opportunity to invert BLACK SUNDAY with a witch's curse uttered by the blonde and luminous Edith Scob).

As with ENGLISH GOTHIC and AMERICAN GOTHIC before it, Jonathan Rigby's EURO GOTHIC represents a major addition to the literature of fantastic cinema, a valuable addition to any collection so devoted. The layout follows the same template as those earlier releases, and the plentiful photos are attractive and reflect both care and cleverness in their choosing. Taken as a set, these books amount to the finest history of the horror and fantasy cinema genre presently available.

(c) 2017 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Latest Rondo Award Nominations Announced

This year's Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Award nominations were announced today, and I'm very pleased to report that VIDEO WATCHDOG - in its last turn at the prize - was nominated in the following categories:

  • Best Magazine
  • Best Cover - Mark Maddox's CARMILLA, VIDEO WATCHDOG #183 (pictured)
  • Best Columnist - Larry Blamire's "Star Turn"
  • Best Article - "BALDPATE: The Long Road to the HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS" by Kim Newman, VIDEO WATCHDOG #181
  • Best Article - "NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE: Variations and Version Blood" by Tim Lucas, VIDEO WATCHDOG #182
And the good news in the Best Article category is, you can vote for two!

In addition to my Best Article nomination, I received 4 additional nominations myself: 
  • Best Blog - Video WatchBlog (you're looking at it!)
  • Best Audio Commentary - Fritz Lang's DESTINY (Kino Lorber)
  • Best DVD Extra - BLOOD BATH's "The Trouble With Titian Revisited" video essay (Arrow Video)
and - last but certainly not least - a nomination that doesn't actually bear my or anyone's name:

Photos: Entertainment Weekly/Mitchell Haddad

  • Best Live Event - Cinefamily/SpectreVision's live table reading of THE MAN WITH KALEIDOSCOPE EYES - an original script by Tim Lucas & Charlie Largent, with Michael Almereyda and James Robison - last October 12 at L.A.'s Vista Theater, hosted and narrated by  Joe Dante and featuring a cast including Bill Hader, Jason Ritter and special guest Roger Corman, who left his handprints in cement outside the theater!  
Please be aware that the ballot also includes various write-in categories where VW and its contributors are eligible, including Best Writer, Best Artist, and Monster Kid of the Year. To refresh your memory, VIDEO WATCHDOG's contributors for the past year included Michael Barrett, Larry Blamire, Ramsey Campbell, John Charles, John-Paul Checkett, Bill Cooke, Shane M. Dallmann, Lloyd Haynes, Chris Herzog, Charlie Largent, Tim Lucas, Mark Maddox (artist), Kim Newman, Eric Somer, Brad Stevens, Brett Taylor, Budd Wilkins and Douglas E. Winter.

I would personally love to see Donna Lucas' 27 years of publishing VIDEO WATCHDOG honored with a Monster Kid of the Year Award, too. This year is VW's last grab for Rondo's golden ring and it would be wonderful to see her mammoth contribution to horror and fantasy publishing recognized with a tribute that is all hers.

Donna and I are so very pleased and proud of these nominations, and for the high quality of the overall ballot itself. The state of film and film-related publishing may be ailing, magazines may be dropping like flies, but you would never know it from the robust health of the high quality work being done in these areas.

I hope you'll all FOLLOW THIS LINK, look over the large cast of worthy nominees, and cast your email votes for your favorites!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Those Who Deserve to Make Films

One of my greatest regrets about not being able to print the last issue of VIDEO WATCHDOG (184), which remains in-progress, is that it contained the concluding half of John-Paul Checkett's two-part essay on CARMILLA in the cinema. After John-Paul turned in his article, already quite lengthy, I happened to see Bret Wood's latest film THE UNWANTED on Netflix - and I immediately wrote to JP (as I call him) to tell him his article wasn't finished; there was something he needed to add, because Bret's film had turned out to be a contemporary treatment of J. Sheridan Le Fanu's classic 19th century novella. And when I read the extra pages JP turned in, I was gratified to read his assessment because THE UNWANTED became the capstone of the entire assignment.

In the eloquent words of Mr Checkett:

"It is a shame that Wood’s film has not been embraced by a larger audience, especially given that it is, without exaggeration, the best-acted adaptation of the novella ever committed to film. Although the three principal leads are all outstanding, Hannah Fierman’s performance as Laura merits special consideration, and should have served as the springboard for a bigger career. The film is entirely unique as the sole adaptation to present Carmilla in an unambiguously positive light, and the only one that is (quite arguably) completely devoid of supernatural content. Although the film depicts both bloodletting and blood drinking, neither are necessarily indicative of supernatural vampirism, reflecting instead the sexual dynamics explored in Theodore Sturgeon’s SOME OF YOUR BLOOD. Perhaps even more remarkably, the two female leads never acquiesce to the demands of male fantasy, and their love story is as beautiful as it is tragic."

Simply put, Bret Wood (PSYCHOPATHIA SEXUALIS, THE LITTLE DEATH) is one of the most important independent filmmakers specializing in dark subjects working today. He's trying to complete his current work-in-progress, THOSE WHO DESERVE TO DIE and is trying to raise essential completion funds at Kickstarter. If you've read this far, please read the following promotional text, visit the links, and consider making a contribution to what has every hope of becoming another outstanding film.

* * *

The director of the 2014 alterna-vampire film THE UNWANTED is midway through production of a new feature, a brutal revenge film entitled THOSE WHO DESERVE TO DIE.

Joe Sykes (V/H/S) stars as a veteran who returns to his hometown and, guided by the malevolent spirit of his dead sister (newcomer Alice Lewis) carries out a cruel vengeance upon those who destroyed his family. Flavored with a dark and distinctive visual style reminiscent of 1960s gialli, THOSE WHO DESERVE TO DIE continues the exploration of violence and perverse eroticism for which Wood has become known. The film is being produced by Adam K. Thompson, with special makeup effects by Shane Morton (TV’s YOUR PRETTY FACE IS GOING TO HELL and the biker shocker DEAR GOD NO!).

Teaser Trailer A:

The Atlanta-based crew expects to complete production in late Spring 2017, and is in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds to complete principal photography (ends February 25). While visiting their campaign page, be sure to explore the behind-the-scenes videos, photos, and giveaway items.

Kickstarter Link:

Alice Lewis in custody, in TWDTD.

One of the most fascinating stories within the production is that of 12-year-old horror-obsessed actress Alice Lewis, who has used photography and cosplay to redefine herself after being adopted at age seven. To celebrate Alice’s inspirational story, the filmmakers crafted this brief profile piece:

Main text (c) 2017 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Corman's TOWER OF LONDON Coming to Region B

1962, Arrow Video (UK only), 79m 49s, BD-A/DVD-2 (2 discs)

At one of the busiest junctures of his career - right after making TALES OF TERROR (1962) for AIP, and just before embarking on the European shoot that led to his directing THE YOUNG RACERS (1963), producing DEMENTIA 13, setting up OPERATION TITIAN in Yugoslavia (which led to the making of three or four other pictures), and making his first-ever trip to the Soviet Union - Roger Corman found time to direct this historical thriller about a murderous, ghost-haunted Richard III. It's a remake of sorts of the Universal film of the same title, starring Basil Rathbone (as Richard), Boris Karloff, and a young Vincent Price, made in 1939. This time, Vincent Price has ascended to the misshapen lead.
Vincent Price as Richard III.
As you can tell by his schedule of this period, Corman was entering an experimental phase and open to trying different things, owing to a lingering dissatisfaction over American International Pictures' reported profits on his enormously successful PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1961). TOWER OF LONDON (no definitive article) was made for executive producer Edward Small (JACK THE GIANT KILLER), who had a distribution deal with United Artists, and was set up by Roger's own brother, Gene Corman, who had solicited the script from actor-screenwriter Leo Gordon (ATTACK OF THE GIANT LEECHES, THE WASP WOMAN) and would act as line producer. Roger approached the job as a work-for-hire but intended to bring to it the high level of independent quality he had established with his Edgar Allan Poe series for AIP. He assembled his usual crew, headed by cameraman Floyd Crosby and art director Daniel Haller, and was able to obtain Price because the film was ostensibly an historial costume melodrama - not a horror picture, which AIP's contract with the actor forbade him to make with other companies.

Here actor Charles McCauley plays opposite Price in the role Price played in 1939.
Things were looking promising until a few short days before filming was to commence. It was then that Edward Small summoned the brothers Corman to his office to let them know he'd had second thoughts about their original plan; to save money, the film was now going to be shot in black-and-white. It is impossible to watch TOWER OF LONDON now without regretting this decision, which may have seemed logical at a time when so many movies at this time played for two weeks then went to their eternal reward on black-and-white television, but it shows Small's ignorance of how important color was to Roger Corman. When a film is going to be shot in black-and-white, it requires a different kind of planning; it needs something extra built into its visuals, a more stylized interplay between light and shadow - and this one simply doesn't have it. It tends to look like a black-and-white print of a color film. It has some elegant touches - even places where we can see some anticipatory sparks of THE RAVEN and THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH coming into play - but despite a prevalence of deep focus photography and Daniel Haller's beautifully detailed sets, there is the unfortunate feel of a feature-length pulled punch. Price presides over a familiar cast of B-movie talents (Morris Ankrum as... the Archbishop???) in a film that never gets scarier than a few transparent, double-exposed ghosts, and which never quite overcomes the feel of a college play rather lavishly produced for classic television.

A raven-toting sorcerer (Richard Hale) and various ghosts lead the murderous monach to court the Supernatural.
Streeting on February 13, Arrow's Blu-ray presentation was "transferred from original film elements by MGM" and has noticeably more lustre, depth and detail than previous standard definition DVD releases. While most of the film looks comparable to camera negative quality, there are brief individual shots that appear to have been culled from a modestly lesser source. The audio is the original 1.0 mono (uncompressed on the BD) and there are optional English subtitles. A new interview with Roger Corman gives the film valuable context and it's paired with an interview with Gene Corman from a previous release that complements it very nicely.

Michael Pate (CURSE OF THE UNDEAD) and Sandra Knight (THE TERROR) co-star.
The audio commentary is by Price authority David Del Valle and Tara Gordon, the daughter of screenwriter Leo Gordon. Del Valle focuses on Price and his performance's banquet of ham and relish to the exclusion of much else, but his commentary scores on some worthwhile points. First of all, he mentions having had access to Price's own hand-annotated copy of the script and mentions scenes in which he had hoped to do more than he was finally able to do; secondly, he helpfully points out lines of dialogue and soliloquy where Leo Gordon was basing these on lines from Shakespeare's plays (not only RICHARD III but also HAMLET and MACBETH); and thirdly, he makes the marvelously meta observation that having TOWER OF LONDON is like having a vintage performance by Edward Lionheart (Price's character in THEATRE OF BLOOD) preserved on film - which just might be the "way into" the film that it has always lacked. I was hoping to hear more from Tara Gordon, who after all has actual childhood memories of the principal players in this story, as well as a lifetime of stories about her father, but Del Valle does most of the talking. (Tara has told me since I first posted this review that she was nervous about doing the recording and encouraged David to take charge, which has caused me to reconsider my original response to the track.) Ms. Gordon's warm-voiced input encompasses Leo's working relationship with Gene Corman, his sense of humor, the terrible and mysterious fate of credited co-writer Amos Powell, and also includes the charming story of how her parents met - and why her father sometimes reflected on the possibility that, had things gone a different way, he might have ended up as the Prince of Monaco.

The discs are packaged in a reversible sleeve with original, newly commissioned artwork by Dan Mumford, which cleverly makes Richard III look like a distant, demented relative of the Usher family. Exclusive to the first pressing (but not provided to this reviewer) is a fully illustrated collector's booklet containing new writing on the film by Julian Upton.

(c) 2017 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.  


Friday, January 27, 2017

Be Gentle, 2017: Some Recent Passings

Sir John Hurt, CBE, aged 77. Long familiar as one of Great Britain's finest stage and screen actors: A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS, 10 RILLINGTON PLACE, a terrifying Caligula in I CLAUDIUS, MIDNIGHT EXPRESS, ALIEN, THE ELEPHANT MAN (wish I could BOLD that), 1984, TV's THE STORYTELLER, Roger Corman's FRANKENSTEIN UNBOUND, HEAVEN'S GATE, the quietly uproarious LOVE AND DEATH ON LONG ISLAND, the HELLBOY films, three Harry Potter pictures, one Indiana Jones, V FOR VENDETTA, and most recently, he reteamed with V's Natalie Portman in JACKIE. When I saw him recently in JACKIE, I silently marveled to myself that this venerable player - who looked a pack of cigarettes and half a bottle of gin away from death when he was in his thirties - was still around, showing the youngsters how it is done at age 77. I didn't know he was fighting cancer. One of the greats.

Emmy Award-winning actress Barbara Hale - PERRY MASON's Della Street in more than 270 (!) episodes and 30 (!!) made-for-TV movies, and also featured in such films as THE FALCON OUT WEST, THE WINDOW, THE BOY WITH GREEN HAIR, A LION IN THE STREETS, THE GIANT SPIDER INVASION (!!!) and BIG WEDNESDAY - has passed away at age 94. As a lifelong PERRY MASON addict, I've long considered her the most compelling "listening" actress around; she had the uncanny ability to insinuate her Della Street character into scenes where she had no dialogue, allowing the viewer to read her thoughts as she silently reacted to the information being discussed. She was the widow of actor Bill Williams (d. 1992) and the mother of actor William Katt. As Paul Drake might say, "Sweet dreams, Beautiful."

Mary Tyler Moore, 80, made the earliest of her many marks on television as commercial spokesperson "Happy Hotpoint" in ads shown on THE ADVENTURES OF OZZIE & HARRIET. She could be glimpsed on album covers, as a dance hall girl in the first Rowan & Martin comedy ONCE UPON A HORSE, and she - or, rather, her shapely legs - were all that were seen of her secretary Sam on David Janssen's early series RICHARD DIAMOND, PRIVATE DETECTIVE - a definite forerunner of Diane, FBI special agent Dale Cooper's unseen Girl Friday on TWIN PEAKS. Appearances on many other crime series followed - 77 SUNSET STRIP, BOURBON STREET BEAT, HAWAIIAN EYE and JOHNNY STACCATO, to name several, but she also had two guest appearances on Boris Karloff's THRILLER ("The Fatal Impulse" and "Man of Mystery") before making her debut as Laura Petrie on TV's perennial hit THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW.  Her seven-year run on MARY TYLER MOORE was a comedic milestone, as were the spin-off series she produced, but dramatic performances in ORDINARY PEOPLE (Oscar-nominated, Golden Globe-winning), FIRST YOU CRY and the TV miniseries LINCOLN proved that she had a great deal more to offer than being one of the best second bananas in TV comedy. 

Mike Connors, aged 91. He was known the world over as the star of TV's MANNIX, but some of us remember him as Touch Connors, an early discovery of Roger Corman, who starred him in FIVE GUNS WEST, DAY THE WORLD ENDED, SWAMP WOMEN and OKLAHOMA WOMAN. Under that name he also starred in Edward L. Cahn's THE FLESH AND THE SPUR and VOODOO WOMAN and (as Michael Connors) Paul Henried's LIVE FAST, DIE YOUNG, also for AIP. , 

Actress Mary Webster, 81. She was the ingenue in such films as THE DELICATE DELINQUENT, THE TIN STAR and EIGHTEEN AND ANXIOUS, but she is best remembered as the female lead of the AIP Jules Verne adventure MASTER OF THE WORLD and two classic TWILIGHT ZONE episodes, "A Passage For Trumpet" and "Death Ship," both of which also featured Jack Klugman.

CAN drummer Jaki Liebezeit, 78. Jaki was arguably the greatest drummer in the world - he was such a complete player that the bass guitar almost seemed unnecessary on his watch; it needed to find some other way to contribute to the overall sound. He was sometimes called the "mensch-machine," his neat, precise rhythms and polyrhythmic playing were essential to the "motorik" sound that distinguished so much of the new German rock movement of the 1970s. He also played in later years with The Phantom Band, Jah Wobble, David Sylvian, and made essential 12" EPs with Wobble, U2 guitarist The Edge and CAN's Holger Czukay. He's the kind of musician you can only deeply thank, like a soldier, for his lifetime of service.

Mott the Hoople bassist Peter "Overend" Watts, age 69. His muscular, driving bass lines locked into Verden Allen's growling organ parts to produce a formidable rock motor on the classic albums BRAIN CAPERS and ALL THE YOUNG DUDES. His thigh-high platform boots and long prematurely grey locks also made him a key focus of the band's live presentation. I got to meet the band on their Mott tour, but interacted least with Overend and drummer Buffin, both of whom were quiet and retiring; even so, everyone who caught that show remembers how a certain young lady in the front row reached up to Overend's looming swagger and, shall we say, managed to get "past security." It seems in later years he became a dedicated hiker and published a book of his adventures, THE MAN WHO HATED WALKING, a few years ago.

And last, but not least, musician and personal friend Gil Ray, age 60. We never met, we never spoke, but it seems to me that we spent almost every day together on Facebook since that friendship began in August 2009 - and he was a longtime Classic Horror Film Boards contact and a VIDEO WATCHDOG subscriber since our early days. In fact, in VW 33 we reproduced a picture that Gil sent us of his new tattoo - based on a sketch that Federico Fellini had done of the ball-bouncing Devil in his SPIRITS OF THE DEAD short, "Toby Dammit." It was only after knowing him on Facebook for a few years that I learned Gil was a cult celebrity in his own right; he had been a critically acclaimed drummer with the bands Game Theory and The Loud Family. But we never really talked about that, only about the many enthusiasms we shared. I would like his posts, sometimes send him words of support when he was having a bad day (he shared his ongoing struggle with cancer on his page), or words of approval when he shared music we both loved. He was a frequent respondent on my wall, always so enthusiastic, generous and supportive. He liked the pictures I posted of my cats, and sent his sympathies when we lost them. He could see that I can be moody and cynical, but he was always effusive about my work, what I brought to Facebook, and he was particularly very encouraging about my writing there about music. He commiserated with me when I twice failed to pass the test to get book proposals accepted for the 33 1/3 series. In my inbox I found words of encouragement that he sent, urging me to write that Francoise Hardy book I've been flirting with, on and off, for a few years. One day, out of the blue, he sent me a couple of brand new albums from the record store where he'd been working - MC5's BACK IN THE USA and FLOATING IN THE NIGHT by Julie Cruise - "because you've given me so much," he said. That was Gil. I'm going to miss his online presence and the spirited warmth I always felt coming from his corner. Just two weeks ago, he posted a picture of his cat resting on his ankle, preventing him from getting out of bed and offered words of support to everyone who was going to participate in the marches. His last words on FB: "Fight the power." My deepest sympathies to his wife Stacy and family, and to the many, many people who surely loved him. Here's to his well-earned rest and flight from pain. RIP, my friend.

(c) 2017 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

ONE NAKED NIGHT, or They're Tearing Down Al Viola's Bar

The other night, not being quite ready to go to bed and undecided about what to watch, I drew Albert T. Viola's ONE NAKED NIGHT (1965) at random to see what it was about. As the title sort of foretells, it's a mid-Sixties nudie, but what does that really tell you? You never quite know what you might be getting into with those, which is part of their appeal - it could turn out to be a wayward avant-garde film like Michael Findlay's TAKE ME NAKED, a psychological drama like Joe Sarno's RED ROSES OF PASSION, an appalling roughie like Curt Ledger's SHE CAME ON THE BUS, or an out-and-out piece of trash. Eighty minutes later, I was glad I watched it because ONE NAKED NIGHT - above and beyond what it set out to be - belongs to a special category of film whose character only becomes pronounced with time. It tells a fictional story but its real value is that story's documentary context. Like old episodes of NAKED CITY, it inadvertently preserves a New York City of sparkle and swagger and, above all, character that no longer exists.

We should set-up a sub-genre for films with this unique form of appeal. It's not a conscious thing with ONE NAKED NIGHT, obviously, but this preservation of a time and place destined to disappear was something that Jean Rollin deliberately set out to capture with his movies. He was drawn to buildings, castles, even towns that were edging into decay and demolition. He delighted in photographing places that, despite being built to endure centuries, somehow had death somehow built into them nevertheless. As an American alternative, I could cite Willard Huyck's MESSIAH OF EVIL (1975), with its haunting scenes set in Edward Hopper-like streetscapes riddled with the names of antiquated, possibly extinct businesses like W.T. Grant and Florsheim Shoes. What ONE NAKED NIGHT inadvertently captures is what used to be New York City's Fifth Avenue, before there was a Prada or Barnes and Noble in sight. 

Slow news day in New York.
ONE NAKED NIGHT is the story of a young woman, Candy Stevens (Barbara Morris), who leaves her small and small-minded hometown after the suicide of her mother, a woman who was driven to prostitution to ensure that her daughter attend only the best schools. Wanting to put all that behind her, Candy goes to New York City (like David Bowie moving to Berlin to kick his drug habit), where she has been invited to share an apartment with her old friend Laura (Sally Lane). Laura has been making a good living as a fashion model and knows a lot of "exciting people," which turns out to mean that she poses naked for photographers and has a lot of "dates." She brings Candy along to meet her photographer friend Bill (Allen Merson), who agrees to spare a few minutes to take some sample modelling shots of Candy - clothed, of course! In time, they start going out together and hitting all the great night spots, and she gradually relaxes in terms of what she's willing to do in front of the camera and behind closed doors. Bill inevitably breaks her heart, which opens the door for a predatory lesbian neighbor, Barbara (OLGA series star Audrey Campbell), to position herself as her new best friend. She tells Candy stories of how all men are rotten, relating the story of how she lost her own virginity, and beckons her to follow her to a window where she watches Laura engaging in a three-way with two beaux. Barbara never quite gets her wish, as Candy ends up hooking-up with a sculptor named Joe (Joseph Suthrin), which looks like a good thing until her clinging nature gets in the way of his attention to his work. Finally kicked out of his studio apartment, Candy returns to Laura's place and ends up "entertaining" with her until SPOILER she ends up - as one might expect - going the way of her own mother.

Candy and Bill enjoy a night on the town.

Candy's defenses begin to soften under the influence of strong drink.
The simple storyline is meager and dates back to silent movie morality plays, but when Bill introduces Candy to NYC night life, ONE NAKED NIGHT suddenly explodes with vitality and fascination. After a montage of Fifth Avenue storefronts and façades, there is an extended sequence of people dancing in a Harlem jazz club that is truly remarkable. It's not just the places or even the faces, though both have surprising depths of character; the sequence presents us with a way of life that doesn't seem to exist anymore - not because the places are gone, but because people now interact very differently, even in crowded clubs. In this footage, everyone seems to be outwardly sharing and expressing more of themselves. Even moreso than in the film's would-be erotic scenes, here Viola captures a feeling of real human intercourse, real joyous abandon. And then Viola's camera (which he self-operated) returns back outside to linger on the flashing signs, the faces of different businesses receding into the distance on city blocks, the beckoning neon heralding refreshment and adventure - it almost seems to know that none of it but the sidewalks would survive. Editor Fred von Bernewitz infuses it with adroit rhythms, juggling this dreaminess with a sense of a real bustling city, overpowering in its sheer size and character, turned languid and furtive after dark, and the movie finds its real importance here, in these unintended evocations of long walks home after nights in packed clubs. He seems to invite the viewer to wander through it all, like Little Nemo in an unimaginably vast metropolitan dreamscape. This is what Petula Clark was singing about.

Audrey takes a shower.

The morning aftermath of Laura's hospitality.
The acting, I must say, is not bad for this sort of thing. Audrey Campbell actually gets a chance to act here and she's so good one wishes she had worked more often with Joe Sarno, who could have given her characters and situations worthy of her. She even has a brief nude scene, something she never did in the OLGA films. Surprisingly, there was even an official soundtrack release of the jazz soundtrack by Chet McIntyre, which suggests to me that this film was undertaken with somewhat more than the usual ambition - and it is an appealing score.

Whatever its intentions, ONE NAKED NIGHT is a bit more than the immoral morality tale it set out to be. It's a little time capsule of a thrilling place we never had the pleasure of being free and 21 in.

ONE NAKED NIGHT is available on DVD-R or as a download from Something Weird Video.