Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Another Man Done Gone

In yesterday's mail, I received the 75th issue of WRAPPED IN PLASTIC, the magazine devoted to TWIN PEAKS and related cult television. Though I am very fond of this magazine and have read some marvelous articles in it, I must admit to occasionally shaking my head over new issues as they continued to filter in... in the best possible way, of course. It has been a wonderment to me that Craig Miller and John Thorne of Win-Mill Productions and their contributors could continue, for so long, to find so much worth exploring, discussing, and debating about the two-season David Lynch series. The show has had more than a decade to cool off, but Miller and Thorne have never allowed their torch to go out. In their latest, deluxe, 64-page issue, the fan phenomenon of WRAPPED IN PLASTIC (WIP) finally hits a wall of sorts, with its editors announcing that WIP #75 is their "last regular issue," marking "the end of a rewarding and memorable chapter in our lives."

This makes me feel great regret, especially coming so soon after the discontinuation of another obsessive fan favorite, FILM SCORE MONTHLY, as a print publication. (It continues as an online, subscription-basis cyberzine.)

I can't help wondering: Is this the end of Rico? As a fellow publisher and editor, I know all too well that the reasons not to publish a print magazine far outweigh the reasons to do so. Magazine distribution has changed greatly in the last decade; it used to be a dozen different companies who didn't pay their bills, and now it's basically one huge monolithic company that sends back returns so pristine it's obvious they've never spent an hour on a magazine stand. Then there are the big bookstore chains, who encourage their customers to sit in big comfy chairs and sip lattes all day while they read your product for free. Publishers are also expected to pay for "shrinkage," the brainchild of some brilliant lawyer who couldn't see why his bookstore clients should be financially responsible for copies of magazines stolen from their premises. (Why, then, do these stores have so many security cameras? Are they real?) And there is also the here-take-it phenomenon of the Internet working against the concept of readers paying for the privilege of access to well-written articles, essays, reviews and editorials. Add to all this what hard work it is, and it's really no wonder that some publishers get tired and hang up their hats.

I was very pleased to discover that WIP has decided to go out with a bang: WIP #75 is one of the best issues they've ever done. In addition to interviews with David Lynch, co-creator Mark Frost, chief writer Bob Engels, Lynch collaborator Mary Sweeney, and log lady Catherine Coulson, there is a complete WIP index and an assortment of fresh articles, including one consisting of further thoughts on aspects of TWIN PEAKS FIRE WALK WITH ME that Miller and Thorne never managed to accomodate in earlier efforts. The principal topics of these thoughts are: Garmonbozia, the song standards referenced by Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) during his appearance in the movie, and that enticing topic nobody wants to talk about, Judy. Great stuff.

On the Win-Mill website, the question of WIP's future is handled less definitely than in the magazine itself. Online, Craig and John are calling #75 a "hiatus edition" -- so the door is being left open for a possible return, but as the old song goes, "who knows where or when?" Like TWIN PEAKS itself, we hope that WRAPPED IN PLASTIC will return in some form, someday -- perhaps when the deleted scenes from FIRE WALK WITH ME finally turn up on DVD. In the meantime... Vale, Craig and John, and heartfelt thanks for a job well done.

Given that print magazines seem to be dropping like flies, it's all the more admirable to see a new one preparing for take-off. Jessie Lilley, the former publisher of SCARLET STREET and WORLDLY REMAINS, is now taking wing as the editor-in-chief of a new magazine, MONDO CULT. As the title suggests, the focus is on the world of cult entertainment. The first issue contains departments addressed to new movies on disc, new music (including an especially solid collection of soundtrack reviews), new books, and more. The roster of contributors includes some familiar names, like Ray Bradbury and Forrest J Ackerman, but also excellent work from publisher Brad Linaweaver, Terry Pace (who offers Fay Wray's final interview) , Jerry L. Jewett, Michael Draine, Paul Gaita, and others. #1 has a KING KONG focus that's not exactly unique at this point in time, but I suspect future issues will be more inclined to go their own way. More power to them; I'm interested to see what MONDO CULT becomes. The indicia page says it will be published twice yearly, so let's see what we can do to encourage Jessie and Brad to publish more frequently. Do your part by picking up a copy at your favorite newsstand today.


Monday, February 06, 2006

The Passing of a Eurocult Master

Walerian Borowczyk, the renowned Polish animator and director of live-action erotic films steeped in the bizarre, has died of heart failure at the age of 82.

Borowczyk made his directorial debut in 1946 with the animated short Mois d'août ("Months of August") and continued to work as a high profile animator through the 1960s, receiving a BAFTA nomination for his 1958 short Dom. It was in 1968 that Boro made his first live action film, Goto, l'île d'amour, starring Pierre Brasseur of Eyes Without a Face fame. As he continued to direct live action, his work naturally gravitated toward erotic fantasy. In more general circles, he is undoubtedly most famous for THE STORY OF SIN (a Palme d'Or nominee at the 1975 Cannes Film Festival) or BLANCHE, which won the Grand Prix at the 1972 Berlin International Film Festival. But among devotées of the fantastique, of which Boro himself was certainly one, his best-known works are IMMORAL TALES (1974, featuring Paloma Picasso as Countess Elizabeth Bathory), THE BEAST (1975, an explicitly adult rumination on "Beauty and the Beast" featuring Sirpa Lane), LULU (1980, a loose remake of Pabst's PANDORA'S BOX, with a cameo by Udo Kier as Jack the Ripper), and BLOODLUST aka DR. JEKYLL AND MISS OSBOURNE (1981).

The latter film is particularly memorable, with Udo Kier's Dr. Jekyll periodically excusing himself from his dinner guests (including Patrick Magee) to thrash about in a chemically-treated bath, emerging as the vicious rapist Mr Hyde (Gérard Zalcberg), whose knife-like phallus is digitally opaqued in the only uncut version of the film I've seen (from Japan). Shocking, sexy, and also devastatingly funny as Jekyll's increasingly transgressive behavior brings about the collapse of his dining room's microcosm of polite Victorian society.

A frequent but delightful fixture of Borowczyk's work was actress Marina Pierro, who had previously worked with Sergio Bergonzelli and Luchino Visconti before devoting herself almost exclusively to "Boro's" vision from 1977 onwards. (She also appeared in Jean Rollin's THE LIVING DEAD GIRL.) Though she did not appear at all in some of Boro's major works, such was her impact that is it impossible to consider his work without considering her frequent and affectionate recurrence within it.

I found some of Boro's work a bit dry for my liking, but there is no denying that his was one of the most distinctive personalities to emerge from the world of Eurocult in its "Silver Age" (say, 1967-84). One of my favorite descriptions of the special flavor of his work can be found in Phil Hardy's AURUM/OVERLOOK FILM ENCYCLOPEDIA: HORROR. In an entry about the Jekyll picture (as Docteur Jekyll et les Femmes), the author writes: "Borowczyk's imagery, here fed by his fetishistic fascination with all things antiquarian, is often stunning and the film becomes a sort of still life in which familiar yet alien objects -- an ancient dictaphone, a treadle sewing-machine, a book of remembrance -- seem imbued with a secret significance all their own, and in which a glimpse of a whalebone corset or ruffled petticoat carries a heady whiff of eroticism." [Kim Newman has written to inform me that these words are the work of former MONTHLY FILM BULLETIN critic Tom Milne.]

If you find yourself in a mood to celebrate Borowczyk's life and work, it's hard to find domestically... but several examples are available on import DVD from our friends at Xploited Cinema, Diabolik DVD, and Sazuma Trading. We recommend their service.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Verne, Verne, Verne

Now here's something interesting: an advertisement from an old Charlton comic, REPTISAURUS #3, published in January 1962. (The first two issues of REPTISAURUS were called REPTILICUS and "Based on the American International Pictures Film," but I'm guessing all that changed when the folks at Charlton saw a preview of the film and decided it might be wise to withdraw from that affiliation. In the first REPTISAURUS issue, the creature is unmistakably still Reptilicus and hurriedly recolored red, but the creature's look changed completely for its next comic book appearance.) But do you know what's so interesting about this ad? It promotes a movie that was never produced.

As someone who was a kid in those days, I can remember that Jules Verne was pretty hot stuff. It had all started (or re-started) with Disney's 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (1954), which was somewhat before my time, but Verne Fever was still in progress in the early years of my time, even the early years of my time as a moviegoer. AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS (1956), FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON (1958), JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (1959), MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (1961), FIVE WEEKS IN A BALLOON (1962)... and let us not forget Karel Zeman's wonderful live action/animation combo Vynález zkázy (1958), which turned up here in America in 1961 as THE FABULOUS WORLD OF JULES VERNE.

In May of 1961, AIP had hopped aboard this public domain money wagon with MASTER OF THE WORLD, starring Vincent Price. It had done well for them, and they were deternined to maintain a foothold in the Jules Verne saddle. Evidently after taking out this ad, it was brought to the attention of the folks at AIP and Charlton that Jules Verne's OFF ON A COMET had already been made -- as the recently released VALLEY OF THE DRAGONS (1961), distributed by Columbia. Suddenly, there were no more Jules Verne titles forthcoming from AIP.

Seeing this ad, I can't help wondering if anyone entered the contest and how they were notified that there was no longer any movie, no longer any contest. Was the winner invited instead to attend the filming of the Woolner Brothers' FLIGHT OF THE LOST BALLOON (1962), which AIP distributed, written and directed by that well-known Verne wannabe, Nathan Juran? (This was the movie that infamously passed out "motion sickness pills" with every ticket sold. How AIP cleared the dispensation of drugs from movie theater boxoffices with the Food and Drug Administration, I'll never know.)

Consequently, the Charlton Comic of OFF ON A COMET promised in the ad also never happened, but some of us kids had this nifty Classics Illustrated adaptation.

PS: It seems that Blogger has been suffering from some kind of network problem the last couple of days... maybe it was only one day, but it felt like a couple. Anyway, I couldn't access my blog and couldn't post anything new during that period. Most of you couldn't either, because yesterday we had the lowest attendance since we started -- less than half our daily average. I discovered that the system was on the blink after trying to post a blog I'd spent two hours writing; it vaporized in the process. Losing that much work isn't exactly gladdening, even if it usually is improved by its reconstruction from memory. So, from now on, I'll be writing/saving this blog in Word before I post it here. Never fear about the lost article; I patiently reconstructed it in Word. This allowed me to see a manuscript page count and I realized that the blog I was writing was too long, too detailed, and too much hard work. It wasn't a blog after all, but an article... so it'll be turning up in a future issue of VW instead.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Domo Arigato, Sensei

Last night I had a dream about Mark Irwin, one of North America's finer cinematographers, whom I got to know in the days when he worked frequently with David Cronenberg in Toronto. The dream was probably precipitated by me mentioning to Donna, the night before I had the dream, that I should add a word of thanks to Mark in the Bava book acknowledgements; the reason being that Mark had taught me more about cinematography, as a job and as a craft, than anyone I've ever known.

That's Mark up there, in a photo by Douglas Kirkland. As Paul McCartney would say, it's just like him.

When I visited the set of THE FLY in 1986, it was in part because I had been assigned to cover Mark's camera unit for AMERICAN CINEMATOGRAPHER. (The infamous issue that featured two FLY-related articles but made the not-too-bright decision to feature HOWARD THE DUCK on the cover.) When I got up to Ontario, I confessed to Mark -- whom I'd already seen at work on VIDEODROME and THE DEAD ZONE and knew to be a very nice guy -- that I really didn't know all that much about cinematography. With the responsibility of photographing a major motion picture already resting on his shoulders, Mark could have easily said "Well, it's not my job to teach you"... but that's not what he did. Instead, on his day off, he drove me to an office building and screened for me, on Beta cassette, two films he had recently photographed -- THE PROTECTOR (1985) and YOUNGBLOOD (1986). As the movies ran, he gave me a live, running commentary about both films, from a purely cinematographic point-of-view.

Watching a movie like YOUNGBLOOD, which is about ice hockey, my natural tendency at that time would be to get so involved in the action that I wouldn't give any thought to the picture's technical challenges -- which, of course, is the desired response on the part of all the filmmakers -- so listening to Mark was like being handed an extra set of senses. It was a great little four-hour education, and to say that it has been useful to me would be an understatement. More DVDs should offer cinematographer audio commentaries -- Mark shares a track with David Cronenberg on Criterion's VIDEODROME, a release to which I contributed as well.

I haven't been in Mark's happy company since he took me to lunch during one of my return visits to Toronto, when I went up to visit friends and pass around copies of the CINEFEX issue featuring my FLY coverage. (My god, has it actually been twenty years?) Some time later, around the time VIDEO WATCHDOG was getting started, I contacted Mark with a question about screen ratios and he sent me an illustrated chart of different screen ratios -- again, of great help to me in my work. I'm reminded of that jolly line from HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD: "I didn't use to know what an f-stop was, and now I am one."

Anyway, last night -- after a brief interruption of twenty years -- I dreamed that Mark Irwin and I were in the same building once again; we kept trying to sit down and talk but were consistently interrupted. That's as much as I can remember about it, except our mutual amusement at the interruptions, which escalated to Buñuelian proportions.

One of the first things I did today after waking was to get online and Google Mark, to bring myself up-to-date on his recent activities. I found a very good Kodak.com interview with Mark that told me things I either didn't know or had forgotten about him. Then... I noticed that the site also had a Tonino Delli Colli interview on file, in which he talked (among other things) about filming the first Italian color film, Totò in colori ("Totò in Color"). I've often wondered why Mario Bava wasn't invited to shoot the film; he was better established than Delli Colli at the time, and I imagined he would have jumped at such an opportunity. Delli Colli's Kodak interview explained why -- he didn't want the job either! And he wasn't the first to be offered the job. This interview turned out to be very useful, offering a few paragraphs of background about the difficulties involved in Italy's transition to color features... so whaddya know?! In the most mysterious of ways, in a way that perhaps only Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Dale Cooper would be quick to appreciate, Mark turned out to be helpful to my Bava book mission once again!

So, wherever you are, Mark -- domo arigato, sensei. I hope our paths will someday cross again. After all, what's twenty years?

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Beware of the Blog: The New Wave of Fanzines

Maybe I'm just the last guy on the block to realize that 2 + 2 = 4, but I had a eureka the other day while writing my "Watchdog Barks" editorial for VIDEO WATCHDOG #124. That eureka being that Video WatchBlog is the fanzine I work on between issues of VW, my magazine.

I thought this blog would be one thing when I started, but it's morphed into something else that I like a lot better -- something looser that plays by only one rule, that rule being the ebb and flow of whatever interests me at the moment. This blog feels to me like a return to the original spirit of VW, before the magazine column matured into the magazine it is today. It's also fun for me in ways that the hard work of VW isn't, always. I suspect this blog and the work I'm putting into it will influence VW in some ways, I hope all for the better, but we're not publishing regularly enough at the moment for me to determine what shape this influence will take.

Since I joined the alternate universe of bloggers, various people have drawn my attention to other blogs, some of which I really like, and a few of which I could grow to love. The blogs that really reach for my heart are not the review sites or the personality sites, but what I'll call (for lack of a better or more concise term) the obsession sites. These focus on a single facet of pop culture and go at it with all the intensity of a diamond drill. These blogs feel to me like the real fanzines of today.

The most glamorous of all the movie blogs I've discovered is undoubtedly John McElwee's Greenbriar Picture Shows, "a site dedicated to the great days of movie exhibition." John, who is a cousin of the brilliant documentary filmmaker Ross McElwee (SHERMAN'S MARCH, TIME INDEFINITE) and figures pivotally in his recent must-see BRIGHT LEAVES, lives up to his appearance in that family drama on his blog with a treasure trove of reminiscence, insight and photographic memorabilia. John generously posts the most amazing, obscure photographs in superb "click to enlarge" resolution. I admire this site because it's so anchored in affection for all facets of movies; I always learn something new by going there.

Then there's Flickhead, which I mentioned a couple of weeks ago when it coralled a number of fellow bloggers into celebrating "International SHOWGIRLS Day" or somesuch. Flickhead is the brainchild of Ray Young, whose MAGICK THEATRE was one of the greatest fanzines, or semi-prozines, ever devoted to fantastic cinema. Ever. Scout for copies on eBay -- you won't be disappointed. I assume that Ray stopped publishing because he found his interests expanding beyond those perimeters of his formative years, and Flickhead illustrates that growth by covering a broader range of obsessions, albeit in the same detail and with the same personality. More than just a blog, Flickhead has characteristics of an online magazine. (A curious footnote: I don't usually surf the net with my computer speakers activated, but I happened to visit Flickhead's index page recently with my speakers on. I was astonished to be greeted by a John Barry cue from A VIEW TO A KILL which had been haunting me for weeks, since I'd last seen the picture. Further proof, if I needed any, of a kindred spirit.)

Another blog I like to frequent is Curt Purcell's The Groovy Age of Horror, which is devoted to "'60s/'70s horror in paperbacks, Groschenromane, fumetti, comics, and movies." Curt is constantly turning up shelfloads of obscure, forgotten horroriana -- a lot of it trash at a glance, the sort of thing people only collect for the covers -- and actually reading it (my hero!), posting full reports on each title's plot and literary quality. He is on a Peter Saxon kick at the moment -- Saxon being the author of the novel on which the AIP cult favorite SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN (1970) was based. Recent postings not only reveal that "Saxon" was one of many pseudonyms employed by this specific writer, but also a "house" pseudonym used by a number of different writers -- and the same fellow who wrote THE DISORIENTATED MAN (the basis of SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN) also wrote the novel that became the basis of the notorious Peter Cushing film CORRUPTION (1967)! I've also gotten a big kick out of past blogs addressing the topic of obscure novels written about the Frankenstein Monster (more extensive than you'd ever imagine), horror-based erotica, and Italian fumetti. Poring through the backlog of amazing book cover scans and poring over the accompanying text will shave hours off your day, but you need to check this place out. The only down side is that The Groovy Age of Horror creates a terrible appetite to read or at least sample all the neat junk uncovered by its archaeology dig.

A couple of days ago, Charlie Largent introduced me to Bubblegumfink! -- damn him, damn him! This is one of a growing number of music blogs that either include or lead one to locations where vintage music can be downloaded in mp3 or flac format. What's interesting about Bubblegumfink! in particular is that it encompasses very-hard-to-find children's LPs from yesteryear, like SQUIDDLY DIDDLY'S SURFIN' SAFARI and SNOOPER & BLABBER'S MONSTER SHINDIG, in addition to its primary diet of '70s bubblegum pop. One of this site's most daunting features is its list of other recommended blogs, all of which are sure to tempt a click. New worlds await. Yeep.

By clicking on Bubblegumfink!'s link to a Jack Kirby-themed blog, I was led to something even more commanding of my interest -- a Steve Ditko weblog (not by Ditko himself, naturally) and it led me to this wonderful page of "alternate universe" STRANGE TALES covers. For those of us who were sad whenever Doctor Strange wasn't featured on the cover.

And then there's Record Brother, another download blog, which leans toward blaxploitation and action soundtracks, psychedelia, and other sonic oddities. MAGOO IN HI FI, anyone?

Like exotica music? Then you'll like all the goodies on offer at Planet Xtabay. I can't tell you more about them; I just discovered them... but I'm headed back there now as soon as I can bring myself to stop typing this blog of my own.

With all this in mind, a reader e-mailed me yesterday with the following questions:

Dear Tim -- Does the world need yet another website about genre movies? If so, what would it be about? What would it have that all the others do not? What would YOU want to see and read about?

To which I replied: Dear [Reader] -- I'm afraid the world doesn't need another website about genre movies. If a better one came along, it would simply edge one of the few I visit now off my radar. What the world really needs is a website that could teach us how to micromanage our free time to allow us to do everything we want to do, and don't have time for. If I had more time in my day, I'd read more books and get out of the house once in awhile -- not visit more websites. Sorry, but that's the truth as I see it!

Which is soitenly the truth as I see it, but I also have to admit that the aforementioned (and many other) blogs, of all configurations, are becoming more interesting to me and harder and harder to resist. Like I said at the beginning, I don't know if this is a fresh observation or not, but it does seem to me that these blogs are the new fanzines.

May they never go semi-pro.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Fifty Years Young

... today is that Flower of Romance, the great John Lydon, a.k.a. Johnny Rotten. You can celebrate his golden jubilee by going to your favorite CD shop and picking up his new 2-disc career overview set, THE BEST OF BRITISH ONE POUND NOTES. It's got almost all the essential tracks from Sex Pistols and Public Image Ltd., as well as the fabulous "Time Zone" recording he made with Afrika Bambaata back in the '80s, which was later used to open Season Three of THE SOPRANOS. (Why not the track he did with The Golden Palaminos? Oh, well.)

John has long been a hero of mine. In addition to being one of the truly singular and irreplaceable characters on our world stage, he's made history (while spitting on history), he's lorded over concerts that were sociological epicenters, he's turned AMERICAN BANDSTAND on its head, he's even acted with Harvey Keitel in a movie made by Italians. Look at that face: he should be doing Beckett plays. And making up new words if he can't memorize the scripted ones. The great music he spawned ("Poptones"!), the potent lyrics he's written ("Bodies"!), that one-of-a-kind voice of his... these are colossal contributions (and I haven't even invoked "Anarchy in the UK"), yet they're almost incidental to the greater gift of who he is.

I recently sold off nearly all of my old vinyl. I kept my Captain Beefheart albums, my Can stuff, my Velvet Underground -- and all of my Public Image Ltd. I hope John would take that as a compliment. It's not just that he sang me out of my 20s and into my 30s, but that nearly everything he ever recorded still sounds plugged directly into the raging current that gave it life in the first place. He called it the end of rock, but based on how valid the new Sex Pistols box set sounds, it's an apocalypse we can thrill to for the rest of our lives.

Thank you, John. And if anyone reading these words should see him today, buy that AntiChrist a lager.

Remember These?

Recently, needing some physical respite from the act of writing, I decided to reorganize a couple of shelves in my living room that hold CD box sets and laserdiscs. The object was to go through my laserdiscs and weed out the non-essentials, at least enough of them to make some room for future CD sets I may wish to acquire. A pretty mundane procedure, but it became surprisingly engrossing as I began to slide these laserdiscs off the shelf for the first time in years, and remember what they were all about.

I know that a large percentage of what I own on laserdisc has since been reissued on DVD. I should not need the larger, bulkier, less perfect-looking, older cousin, correct? That's all well and good in theory. But beyond what laserdiscs were and are in terms of pictorial quality, the laserdisc collector must acknowledge what they were and are in terms of packaging. Laserdiscs were the movie version of album covers -- something you could hold in your lap and admire, something that could psych you up for the experience of watching a movie. When was the last time you spent any quality time with a DVD keepcase, other than to curse it for being genetically unable to anchor its disc in place? I know a few people who don't even keep their keepcases; they pop the discs out, slip them into an envelope and keep them in shoeboxes. Why not?

I found that I had not one, but two different deluxe editions of TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY. One was in a nice, thick, multi-platter silver box emblazoned "T2" and the other was in a luxurious, cushiony black vinyl box with a silvery emblem on the front, also emblazoned "T2." I decided to look into the dark one and slipped out a gorgeous inner drawer that pictured Arnold Schwarzenegger on one side and his skinless Stan Winston form on the other, housing three discs and two mini laserdiscs of trailers. A stunning, stunning package. So why did I keep the other version? To find out, I slipped the box set out of its plastic sleeve and took the lid off. Inside the box, atop four platters and a menu brochure, was a letter from James Cameron on Lightstorm Entertainment stationery -- facsimile signed (of course) in blue ink -- that explained in charming detail why this laserdisc was letterboxed, why it was in CAV, and why these factors added up to the ultimate home experience of the movie.

That's why I kept the set. I'll probably never actually load it up and watch it again, but owning it is like owning a piece of history. A piece of history that, once upon a time, posited me in a private club with James Cameron, fellow laserdisc connoisseur. (Incidentally, the silver box houses the theatrical edtition and the darker box houses the "special edition" -- its world premiere, in fact. Cool. Still cool.)

Some laserdiscs need to be kept, or at least burned to DVD-R, because they have audio commentaries you can't find anywhere else. Some have wonderful liner notes and pictures -- Tom Weaver wrote most of the fabulous unsigned notes you find in old MCA Universal laserdiscs, and they compile a fair number of quotes and whatnot that probably don't figure in any other commentary he's done or book he's written. Another interesting case I found was the first letterboxed issue of TOMB OF LIGEIA, whose handsome gatefold offers an article by my friend David Del Valle, copiously illustrated with stills from his archive -- including a shot of Roger Corman directing that is inscribed, strangely, "Better to be on the set than in the office." I guess he'd been having a bad day when he signed that. I've written some liner notes for laserdiscs myself, and I can remember the unique sense of pride I felt in seeing my words printed on the equivalent of an album cover. I like seeing the words of my friends printed on them, too. With that in mind, I couldn't help holding back some titles because I felt that, if I didn't preserve these things, perhaps they wouldn't be preserved. True, I can't hang onto them forever... I may live in a big house, but I'm still running out of room... but perhaps I can hang onto these things until other collectors experience a renewal of interest in them.

Everything from Criterion is numbered; allow a single disc to go and you've broken up a set. The BEATLES ANTHOLOGY laserdisc set (a mere $100 when brand new) is a beautiful thing -- it's like the Beatles album that never existed, and the individual album covers inside the box can be assembled to recreate the Klaus Voormann collage on the cover... almost as much fun as trying to guess the names of all the people in the collage of famous faces on the SGT. PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND album cover.

I find it difficult to part with any musical laserdisc because, as I remember discovering while comparing the LD and DVD versions of WOODSTOCK, the audio on a DVD is compressed. Having decompressed audio, my WOODSTOCK laserdisc set roars during The Who's set the way it did in the theater where I first saw it. Townshend's guitar sounds dirty and Entwistle's bass sounds dirtier, growling and crackling. The same performance on the DVD, on the other hand, roars... clinically. I never did get around to playing my laserdisc of YELLOW SUBMARINE -- it's still shrinkwrapped, I see -- but I imagine it's the best option I have of hearing the movie, the next time I feel like seeing it.

When all was said and done, I did clear some space -- enough to make room for the CD box sets I have, with a little room left over for inevitable expansion -- but not as much as I'd hoped to clear. Laserdiscs may be passé as tools for home viewing, but as artifacts, they remain just too damned intoxicating. To handle a laserdisc, especially a deluxe laserdisc box set, is like being reminded of a time when the home video phenomenon was more civilized, more aesthetic, and geared more to the specific concerns of the hardcore cinema enthusiast.

Nowadays, the picture quality is better, the discs themselves are more compact, and everybody's into DVD. But what is everybody buying and watching? That's right: TV shows. TV shows and CGI movies.

I still have another entire upstairs closet full of laserdiscs to process, which represents a few hundred decisions I'll have to make someday. I don't even like deciding what I'm going to have for breakfast, so I think that particular pleasure is one I'll be postponing for as long as time and space will bear.

Don't Forget to Vote!

A friendly reminder to one and all to remember to vote for the Fourth Annual Rondo Awards. Yes, the deadline's still a few weeks away -- Saturday, February 18, to be exact -- but important tasks shouldn't be postponed till the last minute. If you've got time to read this blog, you've got time to vote, right?

You don't have to vote in every category. You don't have to vote for what or whom you THINK will win. You don't even have to vote for this blog. (Not that I'd object if you did!) All I'm asking is that you get involved, to whatever extent you wish, by taking a stand for your own personal preferences on the ballot. These are adorable little puppies and it's important that they all find their way to good homes.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

What Do You Want On YOUR Tombstone?

How about a naked actress, grinding away?

This weekend, MASTERS OF HORROR concluded its First Season with "Haeckel's Tale," a Mick Garris adaptation of a Clive Barker short story, directed by John McNaughton. Roger Corman was scheduled to direct this episode until he had to withdraw for health reasons; then it was turned over to George Romero to direct, but he had to beg off for personal reasons. In the long run, I think they both rather lucked out.

Not that "Haeckel's Tale" is all bad. It's set in 1832, which makes it at least distinct from its predecessors this season. It's also fairly well acted, and offers a jolt or two. (I especially liked the bit with the hanging man.) Best of all, it plays like a story rather than a script; it has the unmistakable feel of a literary backbone running through it, which counts as a mark of distinction in a series which has primarly felt screen-written. But regrettably, "Haeckel's Tale" is one of those dramatic pieces that pulls you along by the nose, promising you that you will see things you'll never forget, unimaginable sights that will sear your eyes and stain your very soul... and then delivers silly horror clichés that are actually so feeble, they're laughable.

Derek Cecil stars as the young medical student Ernest Haeckel, whose Frankensteinian ambitions to restore life to the dead are curbed after a disastrous, failed demonstration. When his provider of cadavers alerts him to the presence of a necromancer (Joe Polito) in the vicinity, he attends his sideshow and witnesses the reanimation of a dead dog. But the necromancer reveals that to resurrect a more ambitious subject, like a human being, would rob him of an entire year of life, so such requests must be well compensated. Informed by letter of his father's failing health, the penniless Haeckel sets out on the open road and is met by bad weather. A passing elderly stranger (Tom McBeath) offers him shelter and a meal cooked by his beautiful young wife (Leela Savasta) but, as the evening passes, Haeckel observes that the May-November couple has a baby... and that the wife has a lover beckoning to her from outside. Left alone with his host, Haeckel discovers that the wife was impregnated by her lover, with whom she has assignations in the neighboring cemetery.

The episode opens with the title card "In Association with George A. Romero," placed there to dot some legal I's, because the series had Romero's name attached when it was proposed to its financers. It has a nice Cormanesque atmosphere in the cemetery scenes, but when it introduces its living dead characters, they all come across as pathetically comic -- like the reanimated dog, who's in pretty bad shape but, as the old joke goes, at least he's "in show business." As I've suggested, the episode involves necrophilia, but it's not NEKROMANTIK-style necrophilia or even KISSED-style necrophilia; it's more like Sara Bay-movie-poster necrophilia. Silly as it is, at least it allows the season to end with a bang as well as a whimper. The whimpering, incidentally, comes from Baby, whose true nature is another low-level shock you can see coming from a mile away. The final surprise of the framing story did catch me unawares, but not in a good way; it merely served to add another layer onto an underbaked cake, causing the whole thing to collapse.

The good news, as you've probably read elsewhere by now, is that this episode was put into production at the last minute to replace the original, intended, final episode of MOH, which Showtime refused to air. The only episode filmed outside of Vancouver, Takashi Miike's "Imprint" apparently succeeded in its aims to unsettle and frighten only too well, becoming the series' unexpected sole foray into toxic cinema -- kind of a "Cigarette Burns" for real. This reportedly very-hard-to-take episode will be released on DVD by Anchor Bay Entertainment in the fall, for those of you prepared to surpass the spectacle of a naked girl ecstatically humping a KNB EFX Group zombie and break on through to something really serious and adult and confrontational.

How do I rate the Season 1 episodes of MASTERS OF HORROR? Since you're bound to ask, here's my Top 12, presented in reverse order for maximum suspense:

12. Deer Woman (Landis)
11. Haeckel's Tale (McNaughton)
10. Incident On and Off a Mountain Road (Coscarelli)
09. Dance of the Dead (Hooper)
08. Chocolate (Garris)
07. Sick Girl (McKee)
06. The Fair-Haired Child (Malone)
05. Jenifer (Argento)
04. John Carpenter's Cigarette Burns (guess who?)
03. Pick Me Up (Cohen)
02. H. P. Lovecraft's Dreams in the Witch's House (Gordon)
01. Homecoming (Dante)

I think the top four finalists add something significant to the filmographies of their respective directors, and this in itself is a vindication of the series. The three top finalists converge for me in something very close to a photo finish. I think Gordon's episode is the strongest traditional short horror film of the bunch, but Dante's and Cohen's are ultimately more disturbing and innovative and reflective of our times. I'm not even sure that either of them really qualify as horror, or if they are just reflecting as unflinchingly as possible the horror of what we've become as a society. As a fan, I am delighted by that sort of uncertainty.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Closed On Account of Molasses

Some days I'm here to tell you what
Was cut from this or cut from that,
And some days I'm here bright and brisk
To recommend a DV disc,

An Argento remaster, a case of the punks,
The best of the grand and the not-so-grand funks,
A TV show that's worth a look,
A Dobie Gillis comic book.

Some blogs are long and some are small
And some blogs are not here at all.
As the little voice inside you knows,
To-day's blog is one of those.

Some days they roll right off my cuff
But other days they can be tough;
And some days when this blog is good
I'm too tired to write what else I should.

I'll be back in a little while.
First, I must go and find my smile.
(You know: Billy Crystal-style.)
I won't be long. I'll be back soon.
Maybe later on this afternoon.

Pictured: The Boston Molasses Disaster of 1919.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Strange Case of Dr. Jerry and Mr. Gillis (expanded)

As luck would have it, yesterday I happened to get my mitts on a copy of an old DC comic book from the early 1960s, THE MANY LOVES OF DOBIE GILLIS #18. I've been a fan of DC's BOB HOPE and JERRY LEWIS comics for as long as I can remember, but I only recently discovered that their DOBIE GILLIS title (an adaptation of the TV series starring Dwayne Hickman, Bob Denver, Tuesday Weld and Warren Beatty) was written and drawn by the same people. The chief writer of all these comics was Arnold Drake (whom you may remember as the screenwriter of THE FLESH EATERS) and the artist was Bob Oksner, whose style reminds me a lot of MAD's master caricaturist, Mort Drucker. The BOB HOPE and JERRY LEWIS comics were always dependably hilarious, so I thought I'd give DOBIE GILLIS a spin.

I was amazed by what I discovered.

The untitled story in DOBIE's 18th issue begins with Dobie and Maynard in their chemistry class at college, where Dobie is trying very hard to get his gorgeous classmate Lucinda to go out with him on a date. Lucinda feels no chemistry; she says she wouldn't go out with Dobie if he was the last man on earth -- and vines herself around the arm of handsome college letterman Steven. Maynard jokes that maybe Dobie can cook up something in class that will take the starch out of Steven's collar, and Dobie declares his beatnik friend a genius. His eureka: Perhaps he can concoct something like the potion in Robert Louis Stevenson's DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE... Since he's already repulsive to Lucinda, maybe he can invent a potion that will make him irresistable to her instead! (You see where this is going?)

The next day in class, Dobie's fevered ingredient mixing causes an explosion in the classroom. When the dust clears, he has indeed become more attractive. He dubs himself "Mr. Handsome" and everyone in class is awestricken by him. Lucinda is ready to fall all over him, but Dobie hasn't just become Mr. Handsome; he's also become something of a... conceited, abrasive jerk! (It's also suddenly the 25th century, because Dobie's explosion actually knocked him out cold and he's only dreaming, but that's beside the point.)

Dobie... er, Mr. Handsome struts away from Lucinda and sets his romantic sites on Delora Delora, who has won the title of Miss Beautiful everywhere in the galaxy. He drops in on her without bothering to call first, reasoning that the two of them just "go together." Delora agrees to receive him because he's "so breathtakingly fabulous" and Mr. Handsome shoots back, in a very Jerry way, "That's a wise decision... it's not every day you receive a visitor like me. I mean, so good-looking and gentlemanly and all!" Press photographers descend on their meeting but are so preoccupied with snapping shots of Mr. Handsome that Delora mopes about being ignored. "I'm too much of a good thing," Mr. Handsome reasons, and he reassures her by promising to send a special 8x10 that she can admire when no one else is around.

In addition to all this, Dobie and Maynard call each other "Buddy" throughout this wacky MANY LOVES story, which ends with a visit to Venus where all the Venusian women are attracted to Maynard instead -- the shock of which causes Dobie to regain consciousness in the wreckage of his 20th century chemistry class.

Reading this comic, I quickly took note of its many parallels to Jerry Lewis' classic movie THE NUTTY PROFESSOR, which the IMDb tells me was first released on June 4, 1963. I assumed that the hit movie had inspired the plotline but was surprised upon checking Page 1 of the comic that it was dated March-April 1963 -- which means that it actually streeted a few months earlier than the film and was scripted and drawn a good deal earlier than that!

Adding further confusion (and interest) to the timeline is a news item that tops the "Inside Hollywood" text feature appearing on Page 19 of the comic. Get this: "Stella Stevens to Star with Jerry Lewis in 'The Nutty Professor.'" The third paragraph of the item reads, "'The Nutty Professor,' a Jerry Lewis production in which Lewis will play a Jekyll and Hyde type of character, is scheduled to go before cameras late in September with Ernest D. Glucksman producing and Lewis directing."

Given its phrasing, this item suggests that Lewis was still casting principal roles at the time the GILLIS comic was in production, so THE NUTTY PROFESSOR was either still in pre-production as the comic was being assembled, or on the earliest stages of shooting. The screenplay that Lewis co-authored with Bill Richmond already existed, of course. Don't misunderstand me; I'm not suggesting that either party ripped the other off, nor am I theorizing that Jerry Lewis got the idea of Buddy Love from a DC comic. What's interesting about this discovery is that Lewis's most notorious plot twist (which was greeted as something of a shocker at the time) -- and other little touches like his film's college milieu and the use of the endearment "Buddy" -- were somehow anticipated in the pages of DC's THE MANY LOVES OF DOBIE GILLIS months before THE NUTTY PROFESSOR reached theater screens... and by whom? By the same people who worked on Lewis's own comic! Did DC have access to an advance script of the film? Was it just a matter of kindred comic spirits pulling the same concept out of the ether at roughly the same time? You just have to wonder if the similarities between the two projects were coincidental... or accidental... or osmosis... or what?

Of course, Jerry Lewis wasn't the first filmmaker to get the idea to reverse the traditional roles of Jekyll and Hyde. In the underrated Hammer Films production THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL (1961), which was released in American theaters as JEKYLL'S INFERNO and HOUSE OF FRIGHT, Canadian actor Paul Massie played a bearded, bookish, bespectacled Jekyll who became a clean-shaven, handsome, pleasure-loving and ultimately sadistic Hyde. The film was scripted by Wolf Mankowitz and directed by the great Terence Fisher, and I personally forgive its few rough edges and place it with Fisher's most important work. That said, if the world's last print of THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL was in a burning building with the last print of Lewis's THE NUTTY PROFESSOR and there was time to save only one of them, the Paul Massie Fan Club would probably cast a stern eye on the choice I'd be forced to make.

A strange footnote to all this is that DC never issued a NUTTY PROFESSOR tie-in issue of their popular ADVENTURES OF JERRY LEWIS comic. It's a peculiar omission considering that DC had used the title to present earlier tie-in editions of DON'T GIVE UP THE SHIP, THE BELLBOY and THE LADIES' MAN (see below), also illustrated by Oksner.

I don't know what to make of this strange coincidence, but it just goes to show you: If you read comics, you might learn something. Or wonder something. Or something.

Speaking of JERRY LEWIS comics, I was pleased to be reminded, while examining some back issues of that beloved title, that he was among the very first "Monster Kids." Or maybe it was his nephew. I'm wary of probing too deeply into such questions, for fear I might end up writing THE BOOK OF RENFREW...

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Horrible THING -- Revealed!!!

Courtesy of Mr. David J. Schow, here's the original production art for "The Horrible THING!," the mysterious billboard that adds an intriguingly eerie layer to his MASTERS OF HORROR episode "Pick Me Up," airing this week on Showtime. The art -- which I received uncredited, but which probably fell within the creative province of production designer David Fischer or art directors Don McCauley and Teresa Weston -- is segmented because the billboard is rickety and a bit broken down. It may add to the effect to imagine Michael Moriarty peeking through one of those openings at you.

In the night. In the dark.

Aware of my ungainly infatuation with "The Horrible THING," David kindly indulged me by rounding up this image (and another, seen below) for me to share with others who might feel similarly affected. He also sends along this doggy-bag of additional insight: "The Horrible Thing was originally my homage to that venerable roadside attraction encountered by virtually anybody driving cross-country through the Southwest..."

"... It wasn't The THING itself," DJS explains as everything starts to go all squiggy, "but the fact that at one time (perhaps not now) these billboards were EVERYWHERE, more prolific than Stuckey's encampments. They had an odd cumulative effect on the imagination as you were pounding those long hard stretches of desolate road, particularly in the high desert, or anywhere in Texas (once you begin driving through Texas it just ... never ... seems ... to end). You could literally mark your progress by waiting to spot the next billboard for The THING in inevitable succession.

"It got even weirder at night. These bright yellow billboards would loom up out of total desert darkness, some of them quite dilapidated, and one could imagine all sorts of unlikely, er, things.

"But the mystery promised by the THING (and indeed by The Horrible Thing) are rooted deep in that mystic primordial brain-jelly that really, truly beckons the imagination," he summarizes. "We should never actually see such THINGS and have the rug pulled by some rude physical artifact."

To which I can add only, "Bingo."

P.S. Be sure to check out David's reunion "Raving and Drooling" column in the current 250th issue of FANGORIA.

Now get out of here with that bump-bump-bump.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Dig It -- Six Digits!

Last night, around 11:19 pm, someone from San Antonio, Texas visited Video WatchBlog and rang up its 100,000th hit, or page visit. I promise to give the bragging about attendance a rest for awhile, but Donna and I are astounded by the blog's popularity and this is the kind of milestone that needs to be acknowledged. If you weren't coming here to visit every day, or nearly every day, this blog couldn't be what it is (or what it's becoming), so it's natural to want to share this news with you. We launched VWb less than four months ago, and our daily averages have been steadily on the rise -- especially lately, thanks to friendly mentions and links on other sites and blogs. I'm enjoying my participation here and your friendly attention, response, and correspondence makes me want to continue being here for you. It may be a little difficult this week because Bava book work is piled high and I'm back to a tight schedule, but I'll do the best I'm able.

In the meantime... Thanks, everybody!

Sunday, January 22, 2006

I Saw The Horrible THING... and Survived!

Just a short time before settling down to watch "Pick Me Up" -- the latest installment of MASTERS OF HORROR (this one directed by Larry Cohen and written by my buddy and Rondo Award-nominated VW contributor David J. Schow, based on his own story) -- I received a foreboding e-mail. My friendly correspondent didn't enjoy the episode, it seems, and was asking me how it could have possibly been written by the same discerning DJS who writes those great articles for VW.

This e-mail put me on pins and needles because I've written about all the MOH episodes in detail on this blog; if I didn't like "Pick Me Up," I'd have to find some way of expressing that without being hurtful to David. Mind you, I knew, going in, that it probably wasn't going to be one of my favorite episodes, simply because of its orientation. DJS is Mr. Splatterpunk -- he likes the smell of bacon in the morning, mixed with a little burning hair, and as much gunpowder as you can pack into the skillet. Whereas I tend to gravitate to the genre for its qualities of poetry and stylization, irony and subtlety, its propensities toward surprise and the bizarre.

To my great and unexpected pleasure, the two very different roads we walk find a meeting place in "Pick Me Up," which I found to be one of the most devilish and delicious MOH episodes to date. It's cut from the same general cloth as Don Coscarelli's "Incident On and Off a Mountain Road" -- i.e., "There's a killer on the road / his brain is squirmin' like a toad" -- but what it makes out of that cloth is closer to an Armani suit than a deer-skin coat. It had me laughing the way a Tarantino movie makes me laugh: because a) I get the references, b) the smoothness of the ride makes me giddy, and c) I know I'm in the hands of a maniac who has shocked me before, with great glee, and will most assuredly do it again. Here, the maniacs are two... in more ways than one.

When a bus driver spots a rattlesnake in the road ahead, he maliciously swerves to run it over and damages his vehicle in the process, stranding it out in the middle of nowhere. One lone passenger, a bitchy young divorcée (Fairuza Balk), decides to walk to the nearest sign of civilization while the few other passengers, equally bitchy, decide to stay with the bus. A helpful but eccentric trucker (Cohen regular Michael Moriarty) happens along and offers a lift to two passengers, the most he can accomodate. Not long after the truck rumbles away, a lone drifter (Warren Kole) appears from the woods carrying a dead rattlesnake. After exchanging a few pleasantries with the driver, his dark side emerges and two of the three people still with the bus are left dead, the third fleeing the scene screaming. When the story cuts back to the trucker and the passengers he's taken to the nearest restaurant, we learn that he too is a psychopath -- he's hung one of his pick-ups on one of the many meathooks in the refrigerated compartment of his truck. In the first of many deft cat-and-mouse maneuvers on his part, the wily Mr. Schow returns to his bitchy divorcée heroine (if she can be called that) as she reaches a remote motel, where she unwittingly takes a room that sandwiches her between Mr. Trucker and Mr. Rattlesnake. The muffled, carnal sounds she hears emanating from the room next door are not sexual, but the taped-up squeals of a young woman whom Mr. Rattlesnake is skinning alive.

I don't want to spoil the experience by going into too much detail about what follows. Suffice to say, "Pick Me Up" ultimately succeeds in introducing to the splatter genre its most interesting ironic dimension since Mario Bava's TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE [ECOLOGIA DEL DELITTO, 1971] -- a film so steeped in misanthropy that, basically, everybody killed everybody else. Here, again, there's not a single likeable character -- they're all pissy and bridge every other word with the f-one; the two monsters are the most civil, philosophic, and polite of the bunch, at least until you're alone with them. But what is most ingenious about it is that the story becomes a cat-and-mouse game not between killer and prey, but a mutually amused, tongue-in-cheek contest between two "civilized" killers over their "right" to claim the last survivor of a roadside smorgasbord. The penultimate scene of the episode finds the Balk character handcuffed and strapped into the trucker's rig, and Mr. Trucker stopping to pick up a hitchhiker who happens to be Mr. Rattlesnake. After driving back to the motel they've all escaped from for a final showdown, they stop the truck to allow a rattlesnake to pass... and, not long after they are moving again, both killers are pointing their guns at Balk's screaming head. But it's the payoff of the final scene that puts everything that comes before into perspective -- it belongs to the same family of completely unexpected, riotous twist as Bava's TWITCH, which Joe Dante (as a young reviewer for CASTLE OF FRANKENSTEIN) called "the greatest ending since CITIZEN KANE!" The fates that Mr. Schow has reserved for his characters bring his story to an equally ironic and misanthropic full stop, but one possibly more clever and unexpected.

Nasty and unpleasant, you're damned tootin'. Especially in the skinning scene, the episode crosses a line where even ironic laughter isn't possible. But the performances of the three principals are outstanding, with a strangely bloated, slurry and limping Moriarty giving the sort of performance that will have you thinking of Kinski or Palance or Walken or any other tall glass of I'm-playing-this-however-I-please. He was probably a handful to work with, but I can't imagine any other actor playing the role with his quality and unpredictability quotient. (I love the way he runs his lighter along the length of his cigarettes, warming his tobacco before he smokes it -- Mr. Trucker is a true connoisseur of his vices.) Fairuza Balk, whose work I've enjoyed since RETURN TO OZ, is often hilarious as the eternally put-out damsel-in-effing-distress. ("I think every one of Fairuza's 'asides' is priceless," DJS tells me.) Newcomer Warren Kole is a talent to watch; he plays his wicked "Western gentleman" with such a poker face that took me offguard more than twice. One of the joys of watching this episode is not only not knowing what's going to happen next, but how these two guys are going to play whatever happens. I'm assured that everyone's ad libs were brilliant, but I can't tell where the writing ends and the ad libs begin. The end result is beautifully layered, and that's what counts.

The auteuristes among you are doubtless grumbling that I haven't mentioned director Larry Cohen's contribution to this episode, and rightly so. I've been a fan of Cohen's work since his early days as a teleplaywright (CORONET BLUE, THE INVADERS, THE FUGITIVE) and I've always found his specific talents as a writer intrinsic to his appeal as a director. DJS tells me that he approached the job of directing this episode with the writing and its most accurate representation as his greatest concerns. That he kept everybody reined in and focused is to his credit, and the episode has a number of brilliantly timed and executed moments -- like the hypnotic POV shot of the curving sameness of the road, as one hitcher notes that the scenery around every next bend is so unchanging that it feels like you're not going anywhere. "Maybe you're not," Moriarty offers with a smile. The overhead camera shot that reveals the rooming arrangements of Kole, Balk and Moriarty is also pretty sweet. I actually liked Cohen's direction of this piece -- like I said, "the smoothness of the ride" -- better than much of what he's directed of his own work.

The title of this blog refers to a compelling side-ingredient that floats into view a couple of times in the episode: a broken-down billboard for something called "The Horrible THING," which Moriarty explains is some kind of exhibit in a travelling carnival, the skeleton of a two-headed baby or something like that. The sight of this billboard struck a chord with me, reminding me of all the non-existant horror movies that have invaded my dreams, usually in the form of similar advertising. In an exceedingly clever bit of writing, or directing, or set dressing, we are shown included among the many souvenirs of Mr. Trucker's kills a giveaway button that boasts, "I Saw The Horrible THING... and Survived!" Unfortunately for that person, there was something even more horrible they hadn't seen yet: the next guy to offer them a ride.

I'm not a button collector, but I'd love to have that one.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Gordon Scott's Top 10 Self Defense Tips

1. Watch your diet, keeping sweets to a minimum and avoiding over-eating.

2. Make sure that you sleep at least 7 hours per night to have proper rest.

3. Regular exercise is the key to strength and fitness and a tough, supple body.

4. A quick, alert mind is the key to a quick and alert body.

5. Learn the basic elements of self-defense so that you can take care of yourself in tight situations.

6. Always keep your opponent in front of you, alert to any sign of attack.

7. Don't tip off your defensive actions by word or motion. If you are attacked, defend yourself by actions, not threats or bluster.

8. Self defense is for protection only, not to prove how good a fighter you are.

9. Remember to be ready to defend only. There is always someone a little bigger, a little better than you.

10. The best defense always was, and still is, to walk away from trouble.

-- Reprinted from the "Seat Selling Angles" section of the Warner-Pathé British pressbook for SAMSON AND THE 7 MIRACLES (1961).

Pictured: Gordon Scott defends himself against himself -- his own doppelgänger -- in MACISTE CONTRO IL VAMPIRO [US: GOLIATH AND THE VAMPIRES, 1961].

Thursday, January 19, 2006

14 Or Shop

Does anyone else out there find it ironic that, the week Shelley Winters dies, Target unveils the new theme song for their stores and it's "The Shape of Things to Come" from WILD IN THE STREETS?

The baleful song was attributed to "Max Frost and the Troopers" when it was issued on the movie's soundtrack album back in 1968. In fact, it was performed by vocalist Paul Wybier and a pretty cool backing band that's rumored to be either Davie Allan and the Arrows or the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band. Wybier's vocal was recorded so carelessly that the issued take has a king-sized faux pas in it: during the line "revolution coming in like a fresh new breeze," he stumbles over the first word and it comes out "resrolution." The kids bought it anyway, like it was a Kool-Aid flavor about to be pulled from the market, and it peaked at #22 on the US BILLBOARD charts. I bought the single myself, as an enterprising 12 year-old.

Written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill, who were also cranking out hits for The Monkees around this time, "The Shape of Things to Come" was originally heard in and written for WILD IN THE STREETS, a 1968 shocker starring Christopher Jones, Richard Pryor, and Diane Varsi -- one of American International's more frightening and outspoken movies. It was the brainchild of Robert Thom, who subsequently retreated into milder material -- like THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA (1976), which starred his wife Millie Perkins as a demented barmaid who goes around castrating football players.

Jones played Max Frost, a pony-tailed (like our forefathers -- dig?) rock star who uses his considerable pull with the Baby Boomer generation to lower the voting age to 18... and then to 14... while sending all the untrustworthy old fogies over 30 being sent to concentration camps where they are strung out on LSD. One of the first people President Max sends to camp is his mother, played by... you guessed it... Shelley Winters, in a performance whose Oedipal overtones surely paved the way for her star turn in Roger Corman's BLOODY MAMA (1970).

It never ceases to amaze me how Madison Avenue has managed to convert most of the great revolutionary songs of the Sixties into sell-out anthems: The Beatles' "Revolution", Jefferson Airplane's "Volunteers", and now this -- Target stores resurrecting (resrurrecting?) Max Frost as their corporate spokesperson. (I can almost hear him saying, "Give me the sales... give me the stuff... GIVE ME... THE POWER!!!!") Yessiree, it's only a matter of time before we hear David Peel's "Have a Marijuana" used to sell Chevrolets or The Fugs for McDonalds. Say what you will about Yoko Ono: I don't think "Working Class Hero" is going to be heard anytime soon in a Mutual of Omaha spot, or during a feel-good basketball montage in the next Billy Crystal movie.

Since the world has gone this much crazier, I should seize this opportunity to remind people that the frigging essential WILD IN THE STREETS is out on DVD, as half of an MGM "Midnite Movies" double feature with Roger Corman's GAS-S-S-S-S! (1970), a revolutionary picture in its own way.

Hey, they may even sell it at Target.

Pick up a copy today -- especially if you happen to be on Target's Board of Directors. Get to know your spokesperson. It may make you think twice about what's in your water cooler.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


The third volume of Digitmovies' "Mario Bava Original Soundtracks Anthology" is now in stock here at VIDEO WATCHDOG: it's a two-disc offering of the original Stelvio Cipriani soundtracks for the films known here in America as TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE (or BAY OF BLOOD), BARON BLOOD, and RABID DOGS (or KIDNAPPED). With the exception of a TWITCH cue called "Evelyn Theme," which was released in Italy as the A-side of an extremely rare 45rpm single, none of this music has ever been commercially available before. While the two previous Bava soundtrack anthologies included some material in mono, every track on both CDs in this set are presented in brilliant stereo.

I had the pleasure of listening to the discs yesterday while working on the Bava book. There are cues here from all three movies that will cause that soundtrack lover's idiot smile to spread across your face, as it did mine. At the risk of being redundant, this is the first time a complete album's worth of music from TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE -- arguably the greatest drive-in movie of the 1970s -- has ever been released, and the first time Cipriani's score has ever been heard in stereo... and that includes the la-la-la-la song heard at the end of the movie as the kids run down to the bay after shotgunning their treacherous parents. (It turns out it's called "Teenagers Cha-Cha-Cha" and this disc gives you two different performances of it.) Another case is the opening airliner footage of BARON BLOOD; it sounds kind of inappropriate in the movie, at least as far as setting an ominous mood is concerned, but presented in stereo and finally heard on its own terms, it's a terrific lounge track. With harpsichord in the foreground, the ostinato score of RABID DOGS reminds me of Edwin Astley's music for Patrick McGoohan's DANGER MAN series, only darker and more urgent.

TWITCH (or ECOLOGIA DEL DELITTO) is one of the most suspenseful and tension-inducing scores ever composed for Bava, and it covers a wide range of musical ground, from new classical and samba to sprightly pop and a heavier, tribal rock instrumental that sounds very much like it was written around a temp track of Iron Butterfly's "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida." The presence of a track called "Evelyn Theme" on this soundtrack is mystifying because there is no character named Evelyn in the movie, and the track in question was used by Bava to underscore the last moments of the wheelchair-bound Countess's life. It makes one wonder if Cipriani may have composed and copyrighted this track in the expectation it would be used instead in Emilio Miraglia's THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE, which was made around the same time? (EVELYN was eventually released with a library music score by Bruno Nicolai, recycling his cues from EUGENIE THE STORY OF HER JOURNEY INTO PERVERSION and other pictures, so it's possible the film ran out of money and couldn't afford original music.) This peripheral mystery aside, the TWITCH disc is every bit as wonderful as I hoped it would be -- melodious, savage, sensuous. An instant classic -- be sure to look for a shot from the film's unforgettable "coitus interruptus" moment hidden in the casing under Disc 2.

The real surprise is Cipriani's music for BARON BLOOD, which, taken separately from Bava's images, is something of a revelation. In the case of all three scores, being able to hear them in stereo for the first time decompresses them greatly, giving one a better appreciation for their instrumentation and their qualities as stand-alone music. This is especially true of BARON BLOOD, which is very densely orchestrated and full of subtle effect that can only be appreciated when spread across a proper stereophonic field.

I know what you're going to say, and I agree with you: the Les Baxter rescoring of the film, for its AIP release, is the superior accompaniment. But if you compare the two scores as stand-alone listening experiences, I think you'll agree that the Cipriani score wins out. Cipriani's score is too unfocused to support the film's bold imagery -- but it's nevertheless a sensuously textured, atmospheric piece of work, full of slithering smoke and incantation and charred bone; it's lounge music in funereal garb. In a sense, it's exactly what the film called for in terms of color, but it was perhaps too refined for its own good. Some tracks, like "Inseguita" (which accompanies Elke Sommer's first sighting of Otto Von Kleist and the ensuing HOUSE OF WAX-type chase through the night streets), could easily fit into TWITCH with its percussive piano and tribal percussion, and others could almost pass for outtakes from Pink Floyd's MEDDLE album. Large chunks of the score have a surprising progressive rock flavor that occasionally edges into the outer frontiers of Krautrock and space rock, although never completely leaving the orchestral milieu. It's the sort of album that works well as a background to work, but even better as a focus point, with all the lights turned off -- the better to fall under its weird and hazy spell.

The discs are packaged with a nifty 12-page color booklet containing liner notes by Digitmovies producer Claudio Fuiano and also by me, along with lots of rare photos from all three films. You can find more details by clicking here; the link will take you to the CD/DVD page on our website. Copies of the first two volumes are also in stock, but all three are in limited quantity.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Scott the Magnificent

To keep myself "in the zone" during this final phase of working on the Bava book, I've found it helpful to watch movies that aren't by Mario Bava but that reflect the era and industry within which he worked. Therefore, I've been spending a little time each day watching some peplum, or "sword and sandal" movies I haven't seen in awhile. One fact that has particularly been driven home by my little retrospective: while Steve Reeves is certainly the once-and-still-reigning icon of the Italian pepla, almost supernaturally handsome and proportioned and with a wooden style of acting that could almost reflect the otherness of a Greek demigod, the finest actor of all the musclebound myth-makers was Gordon Scott.

Somehow, during a magical period spanning from 1959 to 1963, Scott had the good fortune to always be featured in films that were a cut above the norm -- and he made them better than they would have been without him. A former Las Vegas lifeguard named Gordon Werschkul, he made his screen debut in 1955, replacing Lex Barker in producer Sol Lesser's Tarzan series, bridging the character's swing from black-and-white to color with TARZAN'S HIDDEN JUNGLE (Scott married his co-star Vera Miles, whose loveliness here is sufficient reward to watch the picture) and 1957's TARZAN AND THE LOST SAFARI. 1958's TARZAN AND THE TRAPPERS was Scott's only backward step, a return to black-and-white that cut together episodes of a unsold television series. The series was quick to rebound with TARZAN'S FIGHT FOR LIFE, an all-color feature made the same year, but it was the next two films that stood apart from every Tarzan feature that came before -- new series producer Sy Weintraub realizing that this Tarzan was being held back from true greatness by old series trappings like Jane and Boy (who was called Tartu in TARZAN'S FIGHT FOR LIFE) and especially the comedy relief of Cheta.

"You stay here," Scott tells Cheta early on in TARZAN'S GREATEST ADVENTURE (1959) and the chimpanzee shenanigans were also wisely left out of TARZAN THE MAGNIFICENT (1960). Both of these films starred Gordon Scott as a solitary, "noble savage" Tarzan in raised-stakes adventures that many Edgar Rice Burroughs devotees regard as the finest films ever made about the character. Under the solid, respective direction of John Guillermin and Robert Day, with strong scripts (Berne Giler is the common name between the two) and handsome photography by the likes of Ted Skaife and Nicolas Roeg, these are the rare Tarzan films that transcend series standards to meet the highest demands of non-series action/adventure entertainment. Scott's robust physique may well look overly trained, the product of weight-resistance reps rather than the result of natural exercise, but he is the only Tarzan who looks at home while more than half-naked on location in the jungle -- and he performs most of his own stunts, as well. Both films also illustrate the credo that a film is only as good as its villain, with GREATEST ADVENTURE opposing Scott with Anthony Quayle and a young Sean Connery (in his second or third picture) and THE MAGNIFICENT with John Carradine and Jock Mahoney. For vague reasons, Scott was subsequently replaced by Mahoney in the Tarzan role; Mahoney was a better-than-able stuntman and a good actor, physically fit without being "pumped-up," but he was ill-suited for the role. Nevertheless, Mahoney's Tarzan films -- TARZAN'S THREE CHALLENGES and TARZAN GOES TO INDIA -- are even more epic in scope and worth seeing.

Legend has it that Steve Reeves recommended Scott to play his headstrong, ambitious brother in ROMULUS AND REMUS, which became DUEL OF THE TITANS when it was released here in America by Paramount (to whom Scott was still under contract). I was just a kid at the time, but I can vividly remember what a big deal DUEL OF THE TITANS was when it opened: lots of TV advertising, big titan-sized posters and standees, and people were genuinely curious about which of these men's men would triumph. And the movie didn't disappoint the expectations aroused by the ballyhoo; it was directed by Sergio Corbucci, one of the finest Italian action directors, and the many-authored script featured input from none other than Sergio Leone. Even in its somewhat reduced US length, the film had the scope and feel of a genuine historical epic, one of Reeves' better performances, and was made particularly fascinating by Scott's hellbound determination to prove himself as an actor and as Reeves' equal (or better yet, superior) in the genre he launched, and also perhaps to vindicate himself after losing the Tarzan role. The jealousy between two brothers is at the heart of the story, and you can feel Scott's personal investment in the material. It's probably his finest performance and one of the best films of its kind.

Next came MACISTE CONTRO I VAMPIRI, became GOLIATH AND THE VAMPIRES in the States, where the name Maciste carried no mythic resonance. (Maciste was first introduced on the silent screen in 1914's CABIRIA, as an heroic Nubian slave played by a Caucasian dockworker, Bartolomeo Pagano, who was such a hit that he subsequently continued as an actor, always playing Maciste and always billed as "Maciste," even in modern day adventures that found him fighting for right in a suit and tie.) Co-directed by Corbucci and Giacomo Gentilomo, this is more of a finely styled matinee potboiler than an epic adventure, but Scott is well supported by its supernatural villain Kobruk (a horrible apparition fed by the blood of women abducted by pirates!), villainess Gianna Maria Canale, and its SUSPIRIA-like lighting techniques. Scott is excellent as always and the climax gives him opportunity to actually clash with himself, as Kobruck assumes the human form of Maciste.

Scott returned as Maciste in Riccardo Freda's MACISTE ALLA CORTE DEL GRAN KHAN (1961), which became SAMSON AND THE 7 MIRACLES OF THE WORLD when released by American International. (In the French version, Maciste/Samson became Hercules!) I was so impressed by my reacquaintence with this movie that I've watched it three times in the past two days. Freda recognized the opportunity to make this film while directing the action scenes for the epic film MARCO POLO, and made hand-me-down use of its lavish period Asian sets and costumes, as well as the shared duties of enchanting lead actress Yoko Tani, who gives arguably the finest female lead performance in any of the pepla. Though he's best remembered for his work in horror films, Freda was most truly in his element in the realm of historic adventure, and this film allowed him to blend this nobler art with the pulpier, commercial interests of the pepla. Scott is absolutely tremendous here, actually picking up one adversary and swinging him around by the ankles to knock over other comers -- something I've never seen done for real, or so effectively, in any other movie. But his best scene takes place in the arena, where (without the benefit of stunt doubles) he commandeers a chariot with bladed wheels before it can reach a row of prisoners buried up to their necks in the ground, waiting to be decapitated. The film lost a couple of reels in its American release, and I imagine the whole "seven miracles" angle was an invention of the people who dubbed the movie, as the fifth miracle is the first to be mentioned... unless the first four were somehow covered in the reels that the movie forfeited under the banner of AIP. SAMSON AND THE 7 MIRACLES OF THE WORLD is presently available on DVD from Alpha Video and as a DVD-R from other sources like Sinister Cinema, but the movie is ill-served by this 20-minutes-shorter cut and its pan&scanned presentation. (For once, AIP's "Colorscope" fronted a legitimate anamorphic process -- Dyaliscope.)

Scott's work in Italian films remained solid for at least until Giorgio Ferroni's THE CONQUEST OF MYCENAE aka HERCULES VS. MOLOCH (1963), and he also did well in the made-for-TV film HERCULES AND THE PRINCESS OF TROY (1965). He disappeared from films around 1967, but he has made a number of convention appearances in recent years, including one convention show with Steve Reeves before Reeves' untimely death in 2000. People tell me that Scott isn't easily recognizable as himself anymore, wearing a baseball cap and having succumbed to middle-age spread, but that would describe many a man in his 40s or 50s -- and Gordon Scott, born in 1927, is a year or two shy of 80.

I can think of few things I would welcome to DVD more enthusiastically than properly presented versions of TARZAN'S GREATEST ADVENTURE, TARZAN THE MAGNIFICENT, DUEL OF THE TITANS, GOLIATH AND THE VAMPIRES and SAMSON AND THE 7 MIRACLES OF THE WORLD. Gordon Scott was a great screen hero and deserves to be remembered. More than half of this job could be put into motion at Paramount; as for the two Maciste pictures, the prospects are dimmer. GOLIATH AND THE VAMPIRES was a Dino De Laurentiis production, so there's a degree of hope there; but the SAMSON picture was produced by a long-defunct company called Panda and is now pretty much a public domain title. If these ever surface given the respect they deserve, uncut and in widescreen, they will probably have to happen as import discs. My fingers are already crossed for an English subtitles option.

Monday, January 16, 2006

The Rondos Are Coming! The Nominations Are Here!

The much-anticipated ballot for the Fourth Annual Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards -- recognizing outstanding achievement in genre film, video, and journalism during 2005 -- is now posted on the Rondo website. I'm proud to announce that VIDEO WATCHDOG is the recipient of 9 NOMINATIONS this year... including a Best Website nomination for Video Watchblog!

VW's other nominations:

Best Magazine

Best Magazine Cover (2 nominations):

VIDEO WATCHDOG #115 (Harryhausen's Cyclops) and VIDEO WATCHDOG #120 (Larry Blamire as Dr. Paul Armstrong), both by Charlie Largent.

Best Magazine Article (5 nominations):

"They Did Science! Dr. Paul Armstrong's Handy Guide to '50s Sci Fi Heroes,'' by Larry Blamire, VIDEO WATCHDOG #120.

"Universal's Other Monsters: A Legacy Written in Gauze, Claws and Tana Leaves,'' by Bill Cooke, VIDEO WATCHDOG #118.

"24 Monsters Per Second: The DVD Voyage of Ray Harryhausen,'' by Charlie Largent, VIDEO WATCHDOG #115.

"Shades of Renfield: Ten Buzzing Performances,'' by Tim Lucas, VIDEO WATCHDOG #121.

"Triffids on the March: from John Wyndham to the BBC,'' by David J. Schow, VIDEO WATCHDOG #120.

Incidentally, if you haven't read these articles and would like to consider them for your vote, you can get samples of each of them by clicking on the issue numbers above, which will take you to a choice of spreads from inside each issue. Just click on the one you want to read to enlarge the text and you'll get a generous inside peek.

I was additionally nominated (with John Phillip Law) for Best DVD Commentary and VW's own Stephen R. Bissette was recognized in the Best DVD Extra category for his "From Fumetti to Film" featurette -- both on Paramount's DANGER: DIABOLIK DVD.

Set some time aside today to visit www.rondoaward.com and check out the other fine folks and things on the Rondo ballot -- and cast your vote for your favorites! You can also discuss the nominations and suggest possible write-in candidates in the Rondo folder of the Classic Horror Film Boards!

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Mist for the Grill

Lucky McKee's "Sick Girl," based on a story by Sean Wood, is one of the easier MASTERS OF HORROR episodes to criticize -- yet one of the more difficult ones to appraise.

Angela Bettis, who starred in McKee's earlier feature MAY (2002), plays Ida Teeter, a gay insectologist who can't hold onto girlfriends because of all the bugs she keeps as pets. She receives an anonymously sent package from Brazil containing an aggressive, undocumented specimen that manages to escape its container and secrete itself somewhere in her domicile -- around the time she summons the courage to arrange a date with an alluring, long-haired stranger named Misty Hills (Erin Brown -- aka "Misty Mundae"). The date turns hot and Ida reluctantly asks Misty back to her apartment, where her date proceeds to outdrink her and pass out. Ida brings a blanket and pillow to the sofa, not realizing that the missing insect is hiding inside the pillowcase. During the night, it enjoys a sticky close encounter with Misty's ear... provoking strange changes in her pixieish behavior which, in turn, anger the landlady and propel a weird situation toward even worse weirdness.

The story is flimsy, shored up with oddball retro touches, some raunchy dialogue, and a certain amount of entomological textbookery. McKee keeps this unstable cocktail watchable by giving us something we don't often see on television: a believably awkward account of two gay women nervously reaching toward one another in hopes of a relationship. Believable, but also exaggerated, overtly stylized. Speaking of style, half of the MOH episodes to date have been photographed by Hungarian cinematographer Attila Szalay, who has shown extraordinary adaptability and resourcefulness in responding to his directors' wildly different needs and tonalities. This episode showcases what may be his most striking work thus far, opening with a fluid and bubbly one-take tour of Ida's apartment (giving us details of her life and circumstances, à la the opening shot of REAR WINDOW albeit with De Palmian effervescence) and settling down to a Bava-like lighting scheme with lots of color gels and scrim-work that underscore the paranoia experienced by the variously cartoonish cast of characters. The episode's choice of music adds to its stimulative quality, all of it off-center and appealing -- much like the characters themselves.

The problem with this episode is that the interest of the characters and their relationship far outweighs the horror angle, and the horror angle is approached in a comic spirit much too long to successfully navigate the sharp turn into more serious territory. One sees where things are going early on, and we hope for a payoff akin to that of NIGHT GALLERY's "The Caterpillar," but what we get is closer to the payoff in New Concorde's remake of THE WASP WOMAN -- a big, clunky transformation effect that not even flashy editing can put across the field goal of belief. An attempt to connect the revulsion one character feels for lesbians with the more universal revulsion of insects isn't successfully achieved either. Had it worked, it might might explain why McKee and Wood chose to make their protagonist a lesbian in the first place, as it's a prominent detail not otherwise supported thematically by their script.

I haven't seen any of Lucky McKee's features, so I can't discuss how well the episode furthers or reinforces (or not) the work he's done for the big screen. Because I didn't know this "Master of Horror" from Joe Blow, I wasn't attuned to an idea of what to expect before watching the show. Consequently, I found its particular way of looking at its world a surprise and a refreshment, perhaps most of all when it underscored a dream related by Misty with a brief animated sequence that's equal parts Ladislas Starevich and YELLOW SUBMARINE.

In categorizing this episode -- pinning and mounting it, so to speak -- I have to take where it goes into account as much as how it gets there. Therefore, as a complete work, I'd have to reluctantly call "Sick Girl" a disappointment. Most people, I imagine, would weigh in on the negative side without too many second thoughts; Donna, who watched it with me, felt it was a complete waste of time, but I can't dismiss it so easily. There is something about the quirky character of this buggy ride that I found, at times, strangely invigorating.

Friday, January 13, 2006

AIP in the Lions Den

For many habitués of this blog, Lions Gate Home Entertainment's impending release of the first DVD double features in their "Samuel Z. Arkoff Collection - Cult Classics" series has been a source of great suspense and speculation. The films paired in the first two sets -- the Herman Cohen productions HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER/BLOOD OF DRACULA, and the Bert I. Gordon productions EARTH VS. THE SPIDER/WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST -- have all been released on DVD previously in England (by Direct Video Distribution Ltd.) as single feature discs (see example). These have all been disappointments, as they stemmed not from 35mm positive or negative elements but from aged one- or half-inch videotape TV syndication masters from a company called Teleworld.

Most of the news about the Lions Gate releases is, alas, bad news. There is no question that they are also sourced from the same old, stale-looking Teleworld masters. Lions Gate had the class (or sneakiness) to omit the Teleworld logo from the end of the films, but you can hear the first note or two of the Teleworld fanfare at the end of HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER, before it crash-fades to black. Furthermore, perhaps owing to the cheap source materials, Lions Gate has not flagged these discs for progressive scan viewing, resulting in blurry still-framing and occasional serrated edges on straight lines during camera pans. Yes, these discs offer two features for a price tag of less than $10 in some outlets, but most fans would have paid more for a job more adequately done.

Since Lions Gate has announced three early Roger Corman widescreen epics among their next offerings -- MACHINE GUN KELLY, DAY THE WORLD ENDED, and VIKING WOMEN AND THE SEA SERPENT -- these first two releases effectively dash all our hopes for proper anamorphic issues of these important titles, as they are almost assuredly bound to be the same pan&scanned Teleworld copies released on DVD in the UK. This is a tragedy because better source materials were certainly available, had Lions Gate taken the trouble to look beyond what was handed to them. All of the films in this initial batch are shown regularly in widescreen high definition on Dish Network's Monsters HD, which has also shown absolutely beautiful, properly scoped versions of DAY THE WORLD ENDED and VIKING WOMEN AND THE SEA SERPENT.

I've recorded all the Monsters HD broadcasts for my own use, and I decided to do some side-by-side comparisons with the Lions Gate transfers. The results were interesting and surprising enough that I felt I should share them here.

Let's start with BLOOD OF DRACULA, starring Sandra Harrison (pictured above). Below is a frame grab featuring Jerry Blaine and friends during his spontaneous performance of "Puppy Love." The top standard ratio grab is from the Lions Gate disc, and the squeezed grab below it is from my Monsters HD copy (recorded when I had VOOM and the signal was received by by DVD Recorder as anamorphically squeezed):

Mind you, I can't present the Monsters HD grab here in high definition, but I think you can see that the squeezed image is smoother, even though the HD resolution is still considerably sharper than it appears here. I think it's also obvious that the two presentations were imported from different elements; the Lions Gate disc is unmatted and exposes more top-and-bottom information, while the Monsters HD version reveals more information on the sides. One could argue that the lamp in the background distracts the eye from the action in the foreground, making the HD framing preferable if less all-encompassing.

The really startling differences come with a comparison of the Lions Gate and Monsters HD versions of HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER, particularly its color ending. Check out these two versions of the climactic moment when "Old Pete" (Robert H. Harris) prepares to dispose of the body of his faithless assistant (Paul Brinegar) -- this time Monsters HD first, followed by the Lions Gate version:

You've probably heard about digital recoloring -- now you've seen it in action! What was once billiard table green is now baby blue! Yes, the Monsters HD version looks cheesier, more yellowy, but that's the way the color in this sequence always was... until now. Brightening the picture is one thing, but tampering with actual colors is something else again. There's another instance of this elsewhere in the sequence, as the color of Gary Conway's shirt completely changes color! Check this out (Gary's the guy in the middle):

As this comparison illustrates, the framing of the two HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER differs as well, with approximately the same amount of information at the bottom of the screen and on the sides, but far less at the top.

You're probably muttering to yourself, "I dunno what Tim's talking about, those Lions Gate grabs are actually prettier..." -- and I'd have to agree, based on these grabs. But you need to take into account that the colors have been changed, and these scenes are supposed to take place in dimly lit rooms, adding to their atmosphere of menace. What you also can't judge properly here is that, of these two presentations, the Lions Gate transfer loses more of its definition on a large, calibrated monitor, while it's in this more demanding arena that the Monsters HD picture really begins to sing.

I haven't yet received my review copy of Retromedia's new ROGER CORMAN PUERTO RICO TRILOGY, but DVD Savant Glenn Erickson had some similar points to make in his review about dodgy preservation/presentation. The legacy of AIP is very important, not only for what it was but for what it lead to... a fact underscored by Roger Corman's THE HOUSE OF USHER being added this year to the Library of Congress's National Film Registry, not to mention the exploitation bent of practically every big movie coming out of Hollywood today. It's saddening to see the works of Roger Corman, Samuel Z. Arkoff and James H. Nicholson suffering signs of neglect in a medium designed to make the movies we love look better than ever.

If Lions Gate plans to release more titles in this Arkoff Collection series, they really need to get in touch with David Sehring of Monsters HD and work out a deal. He's got the gold, and Lions Gate's customers shouldn't be paying... even $10... for anything less.