Friday, December 19, 2014

Giorgio Ardisson (1931 - 2014)

It saddens me to report, so soon after the passing of Mary Dawne Arden, the death of another prominent player in the films of Mario Bava. The Facebook fan page Peplum Eternity is reporting that Italian actor Giorgio Ardisson - the handsome young actor best remembered for his roles in Bava's HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD (Ercole al centro della terra, 1961) and ERIK THE CONQUEROR (Gli invasori, 1961) - died on December 11, at the age of 82. Before either of these films, he had been featured in two other films in which Mario Bava played a behind-the-scenes part: Andre de Toth's MORGAN THE PIRATE (Morgan il pirato, 1960) and Giacomo Gentilomo's LAST OF THE VIKINGS (L'ultimo dei vichinghi, 1961).

Among his many other screen credits were roles in KATARSIS with Christopher Lee, Antonio Margheriti's THE LONG HAIR OF DEATH with Barbara Steele (recently released on Blu-ray by Raro Video), Albert Band's HERCULES AND THE PRINCESS OF TROY and Federico Fellini's JULIET OF THE SPIRITS. He also played Sartana in Pasquale Squitieri's DJANGO DEFIES SARTANA, opposite THE WHIP AND THE BODY'S Tony Kendall.

Owing to some unfortunate misinformation passed on to me, MARIO BAVA - ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK mistakenly reported an earlier death date for Ardissson, a detail I have always regretted.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


There they are, the twenty-four issues that redefined what genre film journalism and criticism could and should be. The first eleven issues were digest-sized, printed on pulp paper, and as thick as paperback books; the remaining numbers were full-sized magazines printed on firm, non-glossy stock. It lasted only nine years, but MIDI-MINUIT FANTASTIQUE existed to celebrate the dark beauty of the horror and fantasy genres, to draw attention to experimental and independent cinema, the literature that provoked such images, their fetishism, their eroticism. It was not a monster magazine rife with jokes and clubhouse fun; it was a magazine for adults, for connoisseurs. It celebrated mystery, surrealism, the bizarre, the brazen beauty of the strange. Their eighth issue, in fact, became a cause de scandale - a celebration of "Eroticism and Fear in the British Cinema" that featured a portfolio of never-before-published nude images from the so-called "continental versions" of various British horror films, which led to the issue being banned by many newsstands. They presented the first in-depth print interviews with the likes of Terence Fisher, Jacques Tourneur, Roger Corman and Barbara Steele, enabling their readership to cross the proscenium of the entertained to see the film business as a reality that they too might enter and change - as one of their readers, Jean Rollin, did, in time to see his work on the cover of their penultimate issue.

MIDI-MINUIT FANTASTIQUE - named for the Midi-Minuit cinema in Paris where films of this sort habitually played - inspired many people outside of France, including people who couldn't speak a word of French, because the magazine was, above all, beautiful. Its carefully selected images were enough to propose a different understanding of its subject. I know for a fact that M-MF (along with Tom Reamy's TRUMPET) inspired Frederick S. Clarke to create CINEFANTASTIQUE, and it certainly inspired me to create VIDEO WATCHDOG. The VCR was my Midi-Minuit cinema.

Early this morning, reports began appearing on my Facebook news feed announcing the passing on Monday evening (December 15) of Michel Caen, the creator and editor-in-chief of this life-changing publication. I don't know his age and know nothing of the cause. He and I never met, we never exchanged words, but I hope my work shows his influence. Earlier this year, Rouge Profonde published the first of four projected hardcover volumes that will collect, reprint, update and append the contents of all 24 issues: MIDI-MINUIT FANTASTIQUE: L'INTEGRALE.

My sincere sympathies to M. Caen's wife Geneviève, his family, his friends and collaborators like his M-MF co-editor Jean-Claude Romer, and those who - like me - have shared in his stardust.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Mary Dawne Arden (1933 - 2014)

Best remembered as Peggy, one of the loveliest of the "sei donne" in Mario Bava's BLOOD AND BLACK LACE [Sei donne per l'assassino, 1964], actress, model and entrepreneur Mary Dawne Arden passed away Saturday, December 13, in a Brooklyn, New York hospital at the age of 79. She was one of the many people I interviewed for MARIO BAVA - ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK, and one of those with whom I became and remained friends.  

Mary Dawne (she insisted on never being addressed as simply Mary) was the daughter of a single mother, born in St. Louis during the the years of the Great Depression, and had to face adult responsibility early on in life. This forged her character as a hard worker, entrepreneur and self promoter. Though I liked - and, more to the point, respected - her immensely, she was one of those people who didn't seem able to ever fully relax or have a good laugh, though she was always friendly and good natured. She told me that she had never acted for money ( a good thing too, she philosophized, because she sometimes got stiffed on those Italian films come pay day), but to promote herself - quite an unusual and avant garde attitude for an actress, but Mary Dawne was, above all, a businesswoman. 

She likewise saw her successful career as a fashion model as a means of "branding herself," to use today's parlance - and she did seem proud of her accomplishments in that realm, which were indeed stunning, as she was of the fact that Federico Fellini had cast her in a role as a television hostess meant to be recurring in his JULIET OF THE SPIRITS, but which was cut from the final assembly. She asked me to keep on the lookout for other films in which she appeared and, over the years, I was able to get copies of the B&W giallo A... come Assassino (1966) and the fumetti adaptation KRIMINAL (1966) into her hands. When I asked what she thought of the films, she would dodge that uncomfortable issue by saying "Kind of a cute kid, wasn't I?" Indeed she was, a classic Grace Kelly type, and her modelling portfolio was truly stunning. But looking at those photos, at those VOGUE covers, I can always see the practical side of Mary Dawne, the good soldier and the good egg. I imagine that, as a young woman in the full bloom of her beauty, she must have been very like Peggy, who, finding herself the object of a co-worker's infatuation with her, sits him down, assures him of her friendship, and patiently copes with the problem till she can make the nutter see plain sense. 

It was during the period when we were most closely in touch that VCI announced their plan to release BLOOD AND BLACK LACE on DVD. I was hired to record an audio commentary and arranged for Mary Dawne to film a video introduction for the movie, which she was very happy to do. When I later told her that I had enjoyed the zany energy of her introduction, it seemed to confuse her, to make her worry and feel self-conscious, which was not at all my intention. She exuded such confidence that I was surprised to find a sensitivity there, not often tapped but still very present; it was one of the things about her that I found touching, which got to me. In short, I liked her tremendously - she was strong and loyal and, above all, dependable - which I remember telling her were characteristics I prized especially, since I see and value them in my wife.

When the Bava book finally came out, Mary Dawne was quite effusive about it and the lovely pictures I found of her, some of which she had never seen. As a thank-you, Donna and I presented her with a print of the color shot that opens the BLOOD AND BLACK LACE chapter, which she told me she planned to frame and hang near the entryway of her apartment. As this news reached me via a Facebook friend sharing her NEW YORK TIMES obituary this morning, Mary Dawne and I fallen out of touch for some time. I'm both sorry to know that she's gone and grateful to know that this dear and driven woman is finally at rest.

Here is a link to her NEW YORK TIMES obituary.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

DR. KILDARE, Season One - My Diagnosis

I recently finished watching the first season of DR. KILDARE (1961-62) on Warner Archive Instant, the first time I'd been able to view the show since my vague memories from childhood - therefore, for the first time with real adult understanding. This show is very much the medical counterpart to its fellow NBC series MR. NOVAK, which was about teaching; both shows are supremely humanistic and address themselves, in a similarly down-to-earth but aspiring way, to the nobility of their respective professions - something sorely lacking from programming today.

Of course, neither show would work if the lessons learned by their protagonists were limited to their respective professions, and so serve as Trojan horses to learned instruction about how people might better interact with others in a variety of emotionally fraught, everyday circumstances. This being very much what German novelists liked to call a bildrungsroman - a story of education, a character's journey from callow youth to experienced adulthood - the central character of Dr. James Kildare (Richard Chamberlain) learns a bit more in each episode of what he needs to know to become not only a complete doctor (as exemplified by Blair Hospital's chief of staff Dr. Leonard Gillespie, played with eloquence and authority by Raymond Massey) but a more fully rounded human being. I remember a time when Chamberlain was taken less than seriously by the critical establishment owing to his good looks and his side career as a teen idol crooner; he spent years distancing himself from the memory of this show, doing fine work in Ken Russell's THE MUSIC LOVERS and Richard Lester's MUSKETEERS films, among many other productions, but DR. KILDARE is really nothing to be ashamed of. It would not work so well as it does unless he was on his toes as an actor every step of the way. This is his journey and Chamberlain's evolving, deepening character makes us want to accompany him on it.

What stands out to me from this first season are two episodes directed by the season's MVP, Boris Sagal (THE OMEGA MAN): "Immunity", in which a female doctor (Gail Kobe) who fled to her profession to escape her impoverished Polish roots is forced back to them to prevent an epidemic threatening her old neighborhood (this epic colorfully inserts a Polish wedding into the midst of an emergency immunization procedure), and "My Brother, the Doctor" in which far-down-the-totem-pole supporting player Eddie Ryder (as Dr. Simon Agurski) gives an outstanding performance in a story examining his strained relationship with an older brother who is supporting his residency at the cost of his own dreams. (Like "Immunity" with its Polish community background, "My Brother, the Doctor" uses its story to familiarize a broader viewing audience with Jewish holiday traditions.) But the season's highlight is a performance by Dean Jagger in the Paul Wendkos-directed "A Distant Thunder" as a retired Lt. General suffering a nervous breakdown caused by unresolved guilt over leading hundreds of thousands of young men to their doom. I think it might very well be the finest work I've ever seen from this brittle, eccentric but sometimes moving actor.

My earlier awareness of this show was frankly occluded by all the noise made back in the day about Chamberlain wanting in the end to distance himself from the Kildare image, and the fact that the series was spun off into a lot of tacky merchandise, ranging from comic books for girls to toy stethoscopes. Fortunately I was drawn back to DR. KILDARE by its availability through Warner Archive, and also by the rich range of talent who made guest appearances. The first season alone encompasses the likes of William Shatner, Anne Francis, Charles Bickford, Suzanne Pleshette, Dan O'Herlihy (in two episodes!), Edward Andrews, Beverly Garland, Cathleen Nesbitt, Charles Bickford, Dina Merrill, Dick Foran, Edward Platt, Gloria Talbott, Hershel Bernardi, future BEWITCHED husbands Dick York and Dick Sargent, and the ubiquitous Billy Mumy.

In short, classic television well worth revisiting.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

With The Lub: Michael Lennick (1952-2014)

One of my dearest friends, Michael Lennick - writer, director, producer, cameraman, editor, visual effects designer and mensch (a word he taught me) - has sadly left us away at the age of 61.

Donna and I first met him on the set of VIDEODROME (for which he was the video effects supervisor) in December 1981. Of all the people I met there, Mikey was the one I bonded with most closely and lastingly. When I returned to Toronto the following March, we celebrated the end of the shoot with an all-night summit in his living room, at which time he introduced me to the pleasures of home video, obviously a major eureka in my life. 

He also presided over others. It was Michael who introduced me to sushi, which has been my favorite thing to eat since that fateful day in 1983. In the first year of the new century, he produced my first two DVD audio commentaries - and he was astounded when I told him that I'd now done more than thirty. He was also a favorite VIDEO WATCHDOG contributor, whose ten pieces for us include feature articles on STAR WARS, STARSHIP TROOPERS and his hero Stanley Kubrick, as well as a recent review of John C. Fredericksen's 1950s series MEN INTO SPACE that presently awaits publication. He gave me a place to crash whenever I was in town, and took me to shop at Sam the Record Man's and Memory Lane Books, both of which are now history. We read and critiqued each others' unpublished and unproduced work. I introduced Michael, a milk drinker, to the pleasures of Chivas Regal scotch and cigars, and we braved one early morning set call on THE DEAD ZONE after only three hours' sleep; it was the day they filmed Christopher Walken in the burning room - it's a miracle that we, in our dark glasses, didn't spontaneously combust. He would show me scenes of films we both loved - including Mario Bava films - and help me to deconstruct the special effects shots, some of the most important lessons in filmmaking I ever had. During my last visit north of the border, we shared the experience of synching up the Stargate sequence of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY to Pink Floyd's "Echoes." It worked remarkably well. Michael also filmed a wonderful testimonial for our Indiegogo campaign for VIDEO WATCHDOG's Digital Archive; he was delighted by the demonstration he saw and was looking forward to seeing the technology applied to his own articles.

Michael as I first knew him, with his VIDEODROME team, Lee Wilson and Rob Meckler.

As you can imagine, I loved Mikey as much as I've ever loved any man. He called me Timmy, and I let him. He signed most of his letters to me with the warm salutation "with the lub," so I know it was mutual. Thus the news came hard when we found out, a few weeks ago, that he had suffered a collapse and been hospitalized, where he was being kept comatose as tests were being made. Over the weekend, the news finally came that he had succumbed to a virulent form of brain cancer last Friday, November 7th. Michael, my brother from another mother, whom I met on the set of a now-classic movie about a video signal that causes brain tumors.

I know what he accomplished, and though he would argue it was not enough, his career was a triumph that he largely managed on his own terms. He produced work that was loved: his early cult hit THE ALL-NIGHT SHOW; his special effects work for the teleseries WAR OF THE WORLDS (where he got to recreate the Martian war cruisers of George Pal's classic film); the documentary DR. TELLER'S VERY LARGE BOMB, which featured the last interview granted by Edward Teller; the acclaimed documentary series ROCKET SCIENCE and THE SCIENCE IN FICTION, with their access to pretty much anybody who was anybody in the space program; the top-shelf film documentaries THE NEW MAGICIANS and 2001 AND BEYOND; and so many other projects that enabled Michael to meet and befriend his heroes in the space program and the annals of classic science fiction. Children of the 1980s also loved him as the voice of Boneapart, the skeletal sage of OWL TV.

Michael's classic character performance: OWL TV's Boneapart.
Michael spent much of this past year reconnecting with and interviewing people he had known from the Cronenberg days (including the recently departed Gary Zeller) for "The SCANNERS Way,"  the documentary he contributed to Criterion's recent SCANNERS Blu-Ray release, and conducting preparatory interviews and research for a projected documentary called THE CHILDREN OF PEARL HARBOR, which brought him back into the orbit of his old friend, artist Shary Flenniken - so his last year was ultimately one of closure. In our last telephone conversation, a couple of months ago, he told me that things were looking good for a projected series based on the short stories of Harlan Ellison, another of his idols who became a good personal friend.

My heart goes out to Michael's siblings David and Julie and to everyone who loved him - especially his beloved partner Shirley, the love of his life. I was staying with him when they had their first date and I remember how excited he was as he was getting dressed to go out. Our last communications were on Facebook and about grief, concerning the untimely passings of Michael's friends and colleagues Reiner Schwarz and Linda Griffiths. Linda also died at 61 years of age. Too young, we agreed.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

This Week's Film Notes - From My Facebook Page

Wow. DARK SHADOWS episode 1198. The last episode for so many characters, including - or so the DS Wiki tells me - Barnabas, Julia, Angelique, Elizabeth and so many others, though the repertory players will remain to carry on into a new, dissociated storyline. But, unexpectedly, this is really where the show ends as we always knew it. A somewhat sloppy execution, as always, a bit too hurried, but it works - except I wasn't expecting to say goodbye to so many old friends today. Excuse me, I seem to have something in my eye.

In an effort to feel more Halloweenish, I decided to watch THE RETURN OF COUNT YORGA (1971) after dinner. I think I've only seen it once or twice since its theatrical release, once on television and again as a bootleg VHS. It's odd how time can change some things; I don't remember so much of the film being lamely funny - on the contrary, I remember it being fairly tense and scary, on the first pass anyway. Now I can see that the film was heavily influenced by NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, DARK SHADOWS (it's an early case of the vampire in love, not at all credible here) and, strangely enough, KILL, BABY... KILL! with a ball-carrying, homicidal little boy in the thrall of the undead and a few shock zooms into the faces of antique dolls. A few effective, suspenseful scenes, with an especially well-handled first act with lore concerning the Santa Ana winds, and a bevy of rotten-faced, lumbering vampire brides who are much closer to the zombies of DAWN OF THE DEAD than anything traditionally blood-sucking, but then it begins to shoot itself repeatedly in the foot with too much self-conscious, jokey dialogue. So I'm afraid it hasn't aged for me as well as I'd hoped. One strange thing, though, concerning a tongue-in-cheek moment that shows Yorga (Robert Quarry) absorbed in a late night TV showing of THE VAMPIRE LOVERS. I remember the televised clip being shown in B&W (I even seem to remember one critic pointing out this anachronism), but it's in color in the HD version being shown on Netflix - and looking far sharper than it should on Yorga's dinky portable 1970s set.

Watched Herzog's NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE (1979), which I appreciated more in this viewing than ever before, though I still find the ending the work of a genre amateur. Kinski and particularly Adjani are magnificent. Then I finished off the evening by enjoying my PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES commentary - the first time I've actually seen the film in 1080p. I can endorse this disc whole-heartedly.

Enjoyed BEWARE OF MR. BAKER (2013) and think it's probably as fine a documentary on the subject as it could possibly be, so I'm a trifle infuriated that the filmmaker Jay Bulger opens by laying his ignorance of Ginger Baker on the table and 'fessing up to the fact that he misrepresented himself to his subject initially as a writer for ROLLING STONE - and then did sell his interview to ROLLING STONE. I'm a man of peace but I want to punch the little $#@!#% too.

Today I felt it was time to revisit Vincent Price's swan song at AIP, MADHOUSE (1974), which is on Netflix. With Jim Nicholson gone, Sam Arkoff returned to partnership with Amicus to complete Vincent's contract. I suspect that the recently late Michel Parry, who was then working for AIP's London office, must have had something to do with nominating Angus Hall's novel DEVILDAY for filming; Hall was one of Mike's Hammer novelizing colleagues, having written the paperback SCARS OF DRACULA. The movie has a stale look about it and it would have benefited from a tighter edit (get rid of the blackmailing parents of the first victim), but it is well-written with some believably catty movie biz dialogue and the film as a whole does serve as a gracious thank-you to Vincent for his rewarding years of service to AIP. The performances have their ups and downs, but on the whole, I'm starting to like it. If this film were better-known, I think Adrienne Corri's Faye, the spider-loving madwoman, might be a popular Halloween dress-up option today. All this, plus Peter Cushing and Robert Quarry (who attends a costume party as Count Yorga!), and Vincent sings! It was obvious that some gore opportunities were trimmed to appease the MPAA - the sword-stabbing of the blackmailers, for example. Also, I suspect the discovery of the blonde assistant's body was refilmed, because there's very little blood on her when she's found, then her blouse is drenched in it as Price is carrying her downstairs! But what I can't understand for the life of me is why - after actress gave a remarkably steady performance as her own corpse - director Jim Clark would insert shots of a blatantly waxen stand-in literally melting during the ensuing inferno! It completely destroys the verisimilitude of the climax!

Saturday, November 01, 2014

RIP Michel Parry (1947-2014)

A sad and much too early farewell to Michel Parry, the devoted Belgian celebrant of le fantastique who has now succumbed to cancer at the age of 67.

Mike was an irreplaceable source of knowledge and talent, perhaps undervalued because he was such a brilliant jack of all trades. I first knew of him as a journalist for CASTLE OF FRANKENSTEIN magazine; when he first wrote to me about a VIDEO WATCHDOG matter, I seized the opportunity to thank him for his short article about Fantômas and Judex in CoF #9, which introduced me to what has become one of my life's great obsessions. He also conducted CoF's multi-issue interview with Christopher Lee, the first in-depth interview I can recall a horror star every granting. Over the course of the following decade, Mike helped Christopher to collect stories befitting a trio of wonderful anthologies, CHRISTOPHER LEE'S "X" CERTIFICATE and two volumes of CHRISTOPHER LEE'S ARCHIVES OF EVIL. 

Although he wrote and published at least a couple of novels (one a novelization of Hammer's COUNTESS DRACULA), it was as one of the genre's leading story anthologists that Mike ultimately found his career niche. Among his collections: five volumes of REIGN OF TERROR (Corgi's Victorian horror story anthologies), THE DEVIL'S CHILDREN, BEWARE OF THE CAT, STRANGE ECSTASIES, SPACED OUT, WAVES OF TERROR: WEIRD STORIES ABOUT THE SEA, THE SUPERNATURAL SOLUTION, THE RIVALS OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE RIVALS OF DRACULA: A CENTURY OF VAMPIRE FICTION, THE RIVALS OF KING KONG, JACK THE KNIFE: TALES OF JACK THE RIPPER and, last but not least, six volumes in the MAYFLOWER BOOK OF BLACK MAGIC STORIES series. 

He also took an occasional active part in horror cinema, writing and directing his only short film "Hex" in 1969 and writing the screenplay for THE UNCANNY (1977) starring Peter Cushing, Ray Milland and Donald Pleasence (an anthology of scary cat stories that likely drew upon his 1972 anthology BEWARE OF THE CAT), the original treatment for the sf-horror film XTRO (1983) and a teleplay for MONSTERS called "Rouse Him Not," based on a story by Manly Wade Wellman, starring Alex Cord and Laraine Newman.