Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Per Gance To Dream

Yvette Mimieux and Rod Taylor in George Pal's now uncomfortably prophetic THE TIME MACHINE (1960).

I was expecting a backlash of negative response after yesterday's internet cri de coeur, but every response I've received thus far has been sympathetic -- not in the sense of being comforting, but in the sense of expressing common accord.

The internet is hurting a lot of people, either by actively infringing on the livelihoods of professional craftspeople, or by making them increasingly passive. Donna and I were talking the other night and we mutually noted that it's rare anymore that anyone ever speaks to us with a genuine sense of curiosity. I can understand this where I'm concerned, since I seem to post my thoughts on this blog almost as soon as I have them, but Donna feels the same way. Even in the best of situations, don't you find that people nowadays tend to talk about themselves and it ends there? Unless, of course, they're people whose lives are so void of personal interest that they have utterly supplanted their sense of self by talking about nothing but the hapless misadventures of Britney Spears, Janet Jackson, Mel Gibson, et al that pass for Hollywood publicity these days. The art of conversation is mutating insidiously; people are bouncing monologues off each other rather than truly exchanging ideas (which requires being open to new ideas and points-of-view). I suspect this attitude is prompted by the degree to which e-mail has taken over so many of the former uses of the telephone and good old over-the-backyard-fence dialogue. I don't like sounding like a sign-waving, it's-the-end-of-the-world-crying fuddy-duddy, but we need to realize the extent of the very subtle damage that's being done to us, that we're doing to ourselves by embracing all this convenience. Remember the Eloi -- even they had curiosity! ("How did they wear their hair in your time?")

In related headlines... Bob Dylan says modern music is worthless..., TONY BENNETT: 'AMERICA IS CULTURALLY VOID'... and, in the words of the late great Brother Theodore, "I'm not feeling so good myself!"

Actually, I'm feeling a bit better. I took a friend's advice and spent some time last night sitting on my patio, on the first cool night Cincinnati has enjoyed in awhile, with a fine Montecristo cigar and an iPod loaded with some old time radio shows. (One of them was an ADVENTURES OF OZZIE & HARRIET show called "Have a Cigar.") For those of you who are automatically turned off by the phrase "old time radio," don't think of it as old: think of it as "classic." Or better yet, think of it as one of those Krell devices from FORBIDDEN PLANET that hook up to your head and boost your intelligence, because radio forces the mind to fill in the blanks. It's not an imposition; it's a pleasure. You create the actors' faces, their wardrobe, their props, their art direction... and, when the show's over, you're left with the pleasant afterglow of having used what today's entertainment typically denies you: your imagination.

But back to me. (I'm laughing, and I hope you are.) When I came back indoors, I rounded out my evening by watching a film I've long been wanting to see: Abel Gance's 1955 film of Alexandre Dumas pere's LA TOUR DE NESLE. Some background: Several months ago, I went to the attic and pulled down an old tape of a movie I hadn't seen in about 20 years, which was released here theatrically as TOWER OF SCREAMING VIRGINS in 1970-71. It's actually a 1968 film called DER TURM DER VERBOTENEN LIEBE ("The Tower of Forbidden Love"). Despite the lurid title, it's a 14th century historical swashbuckler in which the virgins are men who are lured to a tower with promises of sexual ecstasy, where the masked courtesans include the Queen of France, Marguerite de Bourgogne (a real historic personage, 1290-1315) and her two handmaidens, who indulge their nymphomania during the King's absence by having their way with strangers all night and having them slain at dawn.

I reviewed TOWER OF SCREAMING VIRGINS for a future "Things From the Attic," and in the course of researching it, I found out that it was actually based on a play (not a novel, as cited onscreen) by Dumas, which is widely regarded as the finest example of French melodrama ever written. Even more intriguing, it was not the first film adaptation of the play, which had been previously filmed as a silent serial, as a feature in 1937, and a few times in the 1950s -- the most important of which was Gance's version, which marked his return to the screen after a twelve-year absence.

I was fortunate to find a copy of the Rene Chateau French VHS release of Gance's LA TOUR DE NESLE as a "Buy It Now" item on eBay. There is apparently also a more recent DVD release, which is also out-of-print but sometimes turns up there. Old French tapes are usually the bottom-of-the-barrel, quality-wise, due to the inferior SECAM system, but I must say that this was an exception, the equal of some of the best PAL tapes I've seen.

It's to be expected that a movie titled TOWER OF SCREAMING VIRGINS will contain some female nudity, but it comes as a bit of a shock to American sensibilities to discover that the 1937 version did as well; you can see the proof by going here and scrolling down. Somehow, the Gance film is most startling in this department, as the women's bared breasts and the men's bared bottoms -- not to mention the devastatingly unleashed female libido portrayed -- are couched in an opulent production that marries the rustic fantasia of Cocteau's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST to a velvety color cinematography that recalls THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD or, better yet, one of the early Disney animated features.

Watching LA TOUR DE NESLE is not unlike seeing Disney's SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS with all the missing scenes documenting the evil Queen's orgiastic sex life put back in. And because Americans like myself are not accustomed to seeing sex dealt with so graphically in films of this vintage, it consequently carries a stronger erotic charge than 1968 version, which actually offers more skin. One gets the feeling of having stumbled onto a special print manufactured to satifsy a film producer's private predelictions and never meant to be seen by the general public. Silvana Pampanini, whose first close-up (in which she wears a lace mask) is guaranteed to draw gasps, uses a body double... but it doesn't matter. Probably owing to its erotic candor, LA TOUR DE NESLE was never released in America, so it is extremely difficult to see here -- but it's a classic of its kind and an essential addition to any self-respecting film buff's education. Criterion, are you listening?

More in my forthcoming "Things from the Attic" review...

PS: Earlier today, Video WatchBlog counted its 300,000th hit. I thank you all for your continued... curiosity.

Monday, August 21, 2006

I'm So Bored With The Internet

Apologies to Joe Strummer, it's true. Working on the last stages of the Bava book has been mentally exhausting, and when I have felt up to writing something new, creative writing being the only reliable road back to my real self, I've been trying to stockpile reviews for the return of VW in October. Right now, I'm not feeling up to meeting the obligations of this blog, whatever they are, but I feel the need to keep my foot in the door -- if only to keep you somewhat engaged and entertained during this, my period of ambivalence.

It's not entirely due to this blown fuse in my brain; as my subject line suggests, there is also an element of disenchantment involved. When I started this blog last October, I quickly became familiar with the blogs that were happening at that time. It hasn't been a full year quite yet, but a number of the blogs I bookmarked at that time have since disappeared or become stuck in their own inability to progress. I made the decision a few months ago to delete any blog from my Favorite Places that didn't update itself in a two-week period; before jettisoning an old blog, though, I would explore their list of links and bookmark one or two that were to my liking. It occurred to me that I was like a polar bear, struggling to stay afloat on blogdom by stepping off one shrinking ice floe onto another.

There is also this Blog-A-Thon phenomenon, a means of unifying like-spirited blogs into a virtual magazine on a given theme for a day. Today is the 101st anniversary of Friz Freleng's birth and a Blog-A-Thon has been called. I think it's a good idea; Friz, the subtlest of the great Warners animators, is a worthy subject. Part of me has something to say about him and wants to participate, but the greater part of me doesn't, especially now, because I'm feeling overworked and come here to get away from assignments and deadlines.

I posted here some weeks ago about my excitement at discovering music blogs. Since then, most of the best music blogs have succumbed to some RapidShare-related problem, with alledged trouble-makers arranging to have music files blocked or taken down. Some outstanding music blogs are still active, like 7 Black Notes, but there was one week not so long ago when they were dropping like flies. Very sad, and a potent reminder to me of how ephemeral all this internet business really is. Online publication reminds me of Keats' epitaph about lines "writ on water."

It's hard for me to imagine that all this blogging is going to endure or amount to anything important, and I also worry about what all this virtual communication is doing to the world of book publishing -- where the real history of our life and times should be written. I've called blogs the fanzines of today, and there is certainly a place for these in our culture, but can we lay claim to a culture if fanzines become our major source of information, or just a pop culture? When Donna and I started publishing VIDEO WATCHDOG in 1990, there was a period of identity crisis at first because the miracle of desktop publishing had the sudden ability to make fanzines look pretty slick. VW was called a "semi-prozine" for awhile, even after it became our full-time job and sole means of support. Now I'm seeing a reversal of that confusion, with numerous professional writers, and the magazines and newspapers employing them, publishing their work on the internet to avail themselves of its instantaneous and potentially boundless audience. I've been writing a monthly column for SIGHT & SOUND for the past few years, which made its online debut last month. Though having "No Zone" online makes it easier for me to share tear sheets with DVD companies, I have mixed feelings about its free availability. It was a more meaningful and satisfying achievement for me as a print exclusive.

Over the weekend, I got into a little online joust with Paula Guran on her DarkEcho blogsite, which I certainly didn't intend. She was insisting that there was no difference in quality between print and internet writing, and invited responses. I responded that there were a great many reasons why print writing was inherently superior to internet writing -- not only the qualitative differences between professional and amateur sources of information, but others owing to the essence of the internet medium and the way readers interact with it. I sincerely believe that while people read books and magazines, they surf the internet. I'm no different; when I read material online, I find that I do so with greater impatience, which leads me to skim, rather than read, other people's online writing. I have a lot of bookmarked sites to visit, after all, and if one doesn't grab me, I'm off to the next; it's akin to channel surfing. But when I feel like reading print, I grab the one book or magazine I want to read; I don't grab an armful and then flip through them until I find something that holds my flighty attention, which I then drop after a minute or two's perusal. I don't remember what I read online; I don't quote articles to my friends, I send them links.

Anyway, I posted my feelings on the subject, which I proceeded to regret, because somehow -- owing to another of the major inequalities between print and net -- there was, in Strother Martin's immortal words, "failure to communicate." I could not get Paula to see that I wasn't belittling her work or her arena personally with my stated beliefs, and I couldn't tell when her responses to me were being sincere or sarcastic. After some public ping-pong, she guided our exchange to private e-mail, where we still didn't solve anything and probably only served to make a happy acquaintence worse. I don't know Paula personally, but she's been a friend to me and my work over the years; I like her and respect her devotion to horror-related fiction and non-fiction, and hate to think that she might now regard me as some kind of high-horse snob because I proposed some considerations she didn't want to hear, and because of the noise-to-sense ratio inherent in internet communications. And perhaps, even probably, I got some garbled signals from her too. So that was another discouragement.

Online, an ordinary exchange of ideas -- the root of the symposium, upon which principle of open and equal discussion the concepts of democracy and civilization were based -- can escalate all too suddenly into battle lines drawn in imaginary sand. We absorb what we read online before we can properly digest it, which means that we absorb it in a coating of our own biases and preconceptions. Nowadays, no one has the time or patience to want to adequately explore or entertain new or different or opposing points of view. The internet has seen to that, with additional indoctrination from the folks at Fox News.

This is my 257th blog posting in less than a year and, as you know, my postings can go for 18 or more paragraphs some days. (Hell, look at today's -- I can do 13 paragraphs even when I have nothing to say!) I've amassed enough material here to fill a book, even if I was selective about what I included; I think most of it would be worthy of preserving between covers, given a tweak here and there. I'm proud of this accomplishment, but it's also an accomplishment that suggests thoughts to me of what else I might have accomplished, had I not been so faithful to this task. Like finishing my current novel-in-progress, something I used to wrestle with, which I have lately been watching wrestle with itself. And that's just not right.

Last week, Gary Svehla of MIDNIGHT MARQUEE (who was presented over the weekend with his Monster Kid Hall of Fame Rondo Award -- congratulations, Gary!) wrote me to say that he reads this blog much more religiously than he ever read VIDEO WATCHDOG. (Ouch! Thanks!) "Your blog reminds me of what fanzines used to be in the 1960s and 1970s," he wrote. I know that Gary meant well, and I do take his words as a sincere compliment, but I published my first fanzine, back in the '70s, when I was 14. I work very hard at this task, and Gary's words (along with my aforementioned exchange with Paula) helped me to see that, no matter how much time I lavish on this blog, it's unlikely to amount to anything more than what it is. The question is, Can I be content with that? And the answer, I feel, is that I am going to be very unhappy with myself, now or later, if I don't apply my energies, while I have them, to something more personally fulfilling and, perhaps, rewarding.

Don't misunderstand; I'm not preambling an end to this blog. Knowing me, as I try to do, I could be back here again tomorrow, suddenly re-energized and re-engaged. I'm just saying that, for the past week and today also, I've been feeling a bit burnt-out (you'll understand better when you see all the detail work that's gone into the book) and need to find something that might recharge my batteries. Everything I see online right now seems to be draining them, hemorrhaging me of time and energy and determination. I know in my heart-of-hearts that Video WatchBlog serves an important purpose, especially during this period when VIDEO WATCHDOG is being temporarily published at half-ration frequency, which is why I'm not yet prepared to retire it.

If you've followed my writing, or my online presence, for any period of time, you know that I go through phases -- phases when I feel the need to stop posting on film boards, when I yearn to get offline altogether, when I miss the camaraderie and come back, when I love movies, when I hate movies. My relationship with the internet has always been like a bad marriage: argumentative, unhappy, but nevertheless committed, always threatening but never quite carrying through with divorce. If I can't give you material, I can at least give you my honesty. At the moment, I'm neither hating or loving this blog -- it might be easier for me to love it if there were more hours in the day -- but, for the moment anyway, I'm not feeling the need to be here. Still, I'm a faithful husband. As Beckett wrote, I can't go on. I'll go on.

So, until tomorrow...

Thursday, August 17, 2006

From FM to VW

The ever-reliable GreenCine Daily brought to my attention today a very good, two-part article at Pop Matters about the evolution of horror and fantasy film magazines and their audience, written by Marco Lanzagorta.

Part 1 (FAMOUS MONSTERS and CINEFANTASTIQUE): http://www.popmatters.com/columns/lanzagorta/060727.shtml

Part 2: (FANGORIA, CINEFEX and VIDEO WATCHDOG) http://www.popmatters.com/columns/lanzagorta/060817.shtml

Some might complain about the omission of certain titles from Marco's coverage, but his purpose was to show how such magazines and their readers have changed over the years, and not to be all-inclusive. That said, I think it's a very good overview, and I'm naturally honored by its discussion of VW.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

SIGHT & SOUND No Zone - September 2006

I feel bad about disappointing you with another no-show today, but I've been proofreading the Bava book for the past twelve days (just finished the main text about 45 minutes ago) and going through a bad bout with insomnia. Even though I took a melatonin tablet and three Sleep Tight capsules during the course of last night, I couldn't sleep a wink, and I slept very little the night before. I close my eyes, I try to sleep, but there's the Bava book, dancing in my head like a 15-pound sugar plum. It won't let me think of anything else long enough for me to fall asleep, so I'm a zombie and blogging is out of the question right now. Thanks for your understanding.

Fortunately, the SIGHT & SOUND website has posted my latest "No Zone" column, so I'll direct you over there for your daily dose of TL.

Sunday, August 13, 2006


A dark day in our household, and many others, I'm sure. Game Show Network is cancelling its "Black & White Overnight" programming -- an oasis of civility and good gamesmanship on cable television.

You'll find all the relevant information about the stupid decision here. Read it and then COMPLAIN!

You can express your displeasure by writing to programming@GSN.com.

Happy Birthday, Mr. H

There once was a son of a grocer
Who aspired that we lose our composure.
He delighted in battle
With Hollywood cattle
And offed them in ways that weren't kosher.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Dubs Come Unexpectedly!

He took a bite out of Carroll Baker in BABY DOLL.
But could Karl Malden have also been...

I come to you in the breathless state of a reporter with a scoop.

As a lifelong devotee of the somewhat sneaky craft of movie dubbing, I've always paid close attention to the voices I hear on the soundtracks of foreign movies dubbed into English. Over the years, I've been able to put names to some of the more familiar voices heard on the English dubbed tracks of Italian and other imported genre films, and done my part to make actors like Carolyn De Fonseca, Bernard Grant, Brett Morrison, Dan Sturkie, and Tony Russel better known to film fans who, like myself, know their voices and think of them as old friends.

I just finished watching the second film in what might be called the "Nostradamus Quartet," THE MONSTERS DEMOLISHER. (Ridiculous title, I know, but what are you going to do?) According to Phil Hardy's THE OVERLOOK FILM ENCYCLOPEDIA: HORROR, this series of four Mexican films -- THE CURSE OF NOSTRADAMUS, THE MONSTERS DEMOLISHER, THE GENIE OF DARKNESS, and THE BLOOD OF NOSTRADAMUS -- were filmed in 1959 as twelve 25-minute serials, and later re-edited into these four continuous features for export. The English versions were dubbed in Coral Gables, Florida and released under the auspices of kiddie-matinee entrepreneur, K. Gordon Murray.

While watching THE MONSTERS DEMOLISHER, I was especially looking forward to the performance of the actor credited as "Grek Martin," who later relocated to Spain, where he became better known as Jack Taylor, the co-star of many Paul Naschy and Jess Franco films. Taylor turns up in the film's third act, looking very much like himself, but the voice he was given by the Coral Gables dubbers was disorienting. Not only was it completely unlike Jack Taylor's own voice (which graces many a dubbed Spanish horror movie), but it was also familiar... damned familiar. And not because it was one of the voices usually heard on the dub tracks of Murray's matinee fodder, like those of Paul Nagel (interviewed in VW #2) and Manny San Fernando.


Every time Taylor speaks in THE MONSTERS DEMOLISHER, he sounds like the one and only Karl Malden! ON THE WATERFRONT. BABY DOLL. POLLYANNA. HOW THE WEST WAS WON. THE CAT O' NINE TAILS. THE STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO. "Don't leave home without it." It's not just the voice, but the enunciation -- everything.

As soon as the movie was over, I got online and went to the IMDb to see what Karl Malden might have been doing in 1962, when this film was dubbed for American release. As it happens, this was a time when Malden was one of the busiest actors around, getting second leads and even top billing in some cases... but, in his very busy year of 1962, one of the many films he made was John Frankenheimer's ALL FALL DOWN... which happened to be shot on location in Key West, Florida!

He could have spent one of his days off in Coral Gables. And I think he did.

Incidentally, Jack Taylor's character also appears in the third Nostradamus film, THE GENIE OF DARKNESS, and the voice heard there is the same. So that's two highly suspect Karl Malden dubbing credits!

In my past years as a Dubbing Detective (a sideline to my work as a Video Watchdog), I've had a couple of other interesting eurekas along these lines. When I saw Sergio Corbucci's MINNESOTA CLAY (1965) for the first time, a couple of years ago, on a Japanese import DVD, I noticed that whoever dubbed Fernando Sancho's villainous performance sounded a lot like Anthony Quinn. I later found out that Quinn was indeed working in Rome around the same time, starring in a picture called MARCO THE MAGNIFICENT. I'm convinced that it's Quinn's voice, but I have no proof. It makes sense to me that Quinn might have agreed to do the job for many reasons -- for the experience, for the bread, for a friend. And it makes me wonder, as does this Malden ID, how many big stars might be lurking on celluloid unseen but heard.

There's also the case of Roger Corman's THE YOUNG RACERS. The first and only time I saw this 1963 movie, shot without live sound in various European locales, I realized that Mark Damon's entire performance had been dubbed by William Shatner -- from his vocal mannerisms as much as his voice. From the moment I made that realization, the movie became hysterically funny for me... and I wrote about this in VIDEO WATCHDOG. I just checked the IMDb and someone posted the information there under "Trivia." Of course, in 1963 Shatner had just finished starring in Corman's THE INTRUDER -- thus establishing the connection and the timeline.

I always get THE YOUNG RACERS confused with another AIP flick, Daniel Haller's THE WILD RACERS, which stars Fabian and Mimsy Farmer. In that one, Dick Miller dubs one of the lead performances and turns up in a cameo role. Thanks to you-know-who for setting me straight.

And Richard Harland Smith tells me that he's been able to identify Hal Linden (pre-BARNEY MILLER) as the voice of "Baby Lucas" in Radley Metzger's CARMEN BABY, as well as the voices of Pier Paolo Capponi (Police Superintendent Spini) in THE CAT O'NINE TAILS and Romano Puppo (Dino) in COMMANDOS. "Capponi and Puppo have scenes together in COMMANDOS and I keep expecting Linden's voice to come out of both of them!" says RHS.

We all know that the voices of actors like Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford can be heard, anonymous but recognizable, on television commercials. Same thing here... in fact, better thing here, because Malden, Quinn, and Shatner were using their talent to act. It's too late for Anthony Quinn to come forward, but I think it's high time that the great stars of yesteryear stood up and admitted that they dubbed films, and which films they dubbed, while they're still among us.

It's nothing to be ashamed of. It's actually kind of wonderful.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

HOLLYWOOD BLVD Directors Remember Candice Rialson

Various film-related message boards and blogs have been lit up today with the surprising, belated news of the untimely death of 1970s cult actress Candice Rialson. The flaxen-haired Queen of New World Pictures, Rialson evidently passed away of as-yet-undisclosed causes last March, at the age of 54. The news was broken two days ago on the Code Red DVD blog.

Considering that all the available online discussion is coming from fans, rather than from friends and colleagues who knew Candice, I extended an invitation to Joe Dante and Allan Arkush, the directors of her cult classic HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD, to use this space to reminisce about her.

"So sad to hear about Candice, the first movie star I ever worked with. She was really witty & sweet & flirtatious and fun to be around. I will forever love those funny sounds she made when she did that fight scene at the drive-in. She played a great drunk, & the afternoon we spent walking around Hollywood Blvd, looking at the "Stars names written in concrete" & singing along to the just-released LP of Bruce Springsteen's BORN TO RUN (which was blasting out of every stereo from every store) will always stay with me. I think, when that night of the last scene on the rooftop of New World was shot, she looked beautiful and embodied all the glamour a New World Picture could muster. I'm missing you, Candice... but I'm sure Paul Bartel is calling you & all actors 'cattle' in Movie Heaven." -- Allan Arkush

"Candice was also the first movie star I ever worked with, since Allan and I shared directing duties on what was our first picture after a year or so of cutting trailers for pictures starring... Candice Rialson! Though out of the public zeitgeist for over two decades, it should be remembered that Candice was a very hot personality in the drive-in movie world. We were thrilled when she consented to play the lead in HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD -- it was the exploitation movie equivalent of getting Julie Christie! Although she was the pro and we were the amateurs, there was no attitude, no airs, just enthusiasm for getting the job done. She made it fun to get up early! Although her reign was brief, she set many an ozoner heart aflutter and is warmly remembered by not only those of us lucky enough to work with her, but by what Norma Desmond called 'those wonderful people out there in the dark.'" -- Joe Dante

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

BLOOD CASTLE: Gold from the Silver Age

Erna Schürer in the obligatory candelabra scene of BLOOD CASTLE.

Last night I happened to pull down from the attic Wizard Video's BLOOD CASTLE, their surprisingly full-length 1986 release of the Spanish-Italian co-production originally released here in America as SCREAM OF THE DEMON LOVER. The film's original running time of 98 minutes (97m 23s, to be exact) was cut down to a reported 75 minutes by its US distributor, New World Pictures, to facilitate its double-billing with Stephanie Rothman's THE VELVET VAMPIRE in 1971. Given this history, the film's uncut arrival on video was a surprise -- not least of all because it had been retitled, making it impossible to guess what picture it might really be (some buyers/renters were doubtless hoping it was the uncut version of Jorge Grau's LEGEND OF BLOOD CASTLE), and also because the box listed an incorrect running time of only 87 minutes.

Known in Italy as IL CASTELLO DALLE PORTE DI FUOCO ("The Castle with the Door of Fire"), this José Luís Merino film was released in Spain as IVANNA, the name of its heroine, played by the attractive Erna Schürer. In this 19th century tale, Schürer plays Ivanna Rakowsky, a medical school graduate who is contracted to assist the experiments of Baron Janos Dalmar at his castle in the Balkans. When she arrives, she learns that the Baron is hated by the villagers, who hold him responsible for the sex-murders of various local virgins, though they have no proof. The Baron (Carlos Quiney, flanked by menacing hounds that give him a Zaroffian aspect and pay a nod to BLACK SUNDAY) takes one look at Ivanna and orders his housekeeper Christiana (Christiana Galloni) to dismiss her with three months' pay -- women are too curious by nature, and he doesn't want her snooping into his personal secrets. But Ivanna holds the Baron to his contract and soon impresses him with her intellect, her disregard of local gossip, and the way she warms to his monstrous dogs. Ivanna learns that the Baron is preserving the body of his late brother, Igor, who was burned to death in a terrible fire, and looking for a means by which to return him to life. She begins to suffer vivid nightmares of being stretched nude on a rack in a torture chamber by the Baron, which he explains as a side-effect of the fumes in the laboratory... but it turns out there is another explanation. At first, Ivanna suspects that the Baron may be a lycanthrope, a man who assumes bestial form in the light of the full moon to give violent vent to his desires, but the truth has more to do with the wing of the castle no one is permitted to visit. There, in a dungeon chamber presumed to be inescapable, the Baron's disfigured brother still lives -- escaping at the height of each maddening full moon to ravage the women denied him by his disfigurement. Noticeable among the cast members is Antonio Jiménez Escribano, "Dr. Zimmer" in Jess Franco's THE DIABOLICAL DR. Z (1965), as the Baron's butler.

Baron Dalmar (Carlos Quiney, left) confronts his disfigured brother.

The so-called "Golden Age of Italian fantasy" is generally bookended with the years 1957-66, beginning with I VAMPIRI and ending with the never-exported and rarely-seen LA VENDETTA DI LADY MORGAN. BLOOD CASTLE is clearly a film of mixed parentage; though it looks more Spanish than Italian, it was filmed in Italy and tells a period story so closely related to the Gothic romances upon which this "Golden Age" was founded that one may be tempted to extend its date of closure to 1970. Though it technically dates from the beginning of Italian horror's "Silver Age," which probably commenced with Mario Bava's HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON in 1969, BLOOD CASTLE -- with its period setting, hidden subhuman family members, obligatory candelabra scene, and discoveries behind red pleated curtains -- is a throwback to the earlier era, despite instances of female nudity provided by Schürer and co-star Agostina Belli. Its only serious shortcoming is the lack of a full-blooded score; it's the last score the IMDb lists for Luigi Malatesta, and it's extremely spare -- basically violin, keyboard, and percussion.

The film has never been regarded as particularly worthy of note, but it was a great favorite of my late friend Alan Upchurch, and it was his large box Wizard pre-record that I watched last night. It's been years since I've seen the shorter version, but despite its near 100-minute length, I enjoyed BLOOD CASTLE and never felt it was overstaying its welcome. I had completely forgotten the werewolf angle of the story; however misleading it may ultimately be, it's nevertheless pronounced enough that it should be included in werewolf movie references. The story may be a bit hackneyed -- and we never do find out what the Baron was really keeping submerged in those black, bubbling chemicals of his laboratory vat! -- but the characters and their relationships are reasonably convincing, and it's refreshing to find a heroine with such pluck and unconventionality in this otherwise old-fashioned scenario. (Surprisingly, when Ivanna suspects the Baron of drugging her to stage those S&M "nightmares," she seems willing to indulge his kink, if that's what it will take to win him.) The dialogue between Schürer and Quiney is frequently jousting and well-played in the English dub, which features Richard Johnson in a few roles (including the brothers Dalmar) and a couple of other British voices that sounded very familiar, but which I couldn't finally identify.

A Wizard Video promo at the end of the tape dates the release as March 1986 (when the company also released Franco's THE SCREAMING DEAD, THE POSSESSOR, and the made-for-video BREEDERS). Wizard's presentation is cropped, evidently from a 1.85:1 original framing; nevertheless, I was able to zoombox the picture on my widescreen set without hurting the compositions much, or at all. Only one brief "split-diopter"-type shot of Christiana eavesdropping on the Baron and Ivanna evidenced any extreme use of the frame. There is some speckling here and there, but the color is pretty good and so is the audio quality.

As these things usually transpire, I came online today and found out that Retromedia had issued BLOOD CASTLE on DVD in a letterboxed presentation, back in 2003. This release somehow completely got past my radar and is now officially out-of-print, but I was able to order a sealed copy from an Amazon Marketplace dealer. So, if you have any interest in this title, you'd better move on it now. The reviews at Amazon.com aren't particularly kind to the look of the disc, but I'm curious to see how the letterboxing enhances the experience -- and who knows if this film will ever see a better DVD treatment? (Of course, with Paul Naschy's VENGEANCE OF THE ZOMBIES and NIGHT OF THE WEREWOLF coming on HD DVD from Brentwood next month, anything's possible!)

The SCREAM OF THE DEMON LOVER variant, released around the same time as the Wizard release on the Charter Entertainment label, seems to be available on disc too, for those of you with a mind to locate and itemize the cuts New World inflicted. At least one such release double-bills the film with the aforementioned HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON.

Monday, August 07, 2006

FREUD: "A Place As Black As Hell Itself"

Montgomery Clift and Larry Parks pursue the moment
of a patient's trauma in John Huston's FREUD.

A couple of days ago, Donna and I commemorated John Huston's 100th birthday with a day's end screening of FREUD (1962), one of his more difficult films to see. This Universal release has never been available on video and, to the best of my knowledge, it's never appeared on any of the premium cable networks -- but, thanks to a friend with access to hidden reserves, I was able to see it for the first time in many years... for so long, in fact, that seeing it again was, appropriately, like exhuming a buried memory from childhood.

FREUD isn't widely regarded as one of Huston's better films; it didn't last in theaters for very long, and it made few critics' Ten Best lists in 1962. But as its proto-Star Child ending faded to black, I couldn't help but exclaim aloud, "What an astounding movie!" Rather like an Eric Rohmer film, it consists of one conversation after another, occasionally interrupted by an academic lecture, which is probably why it disenchanted mainstream audiences and critics; nevertheless, it had me by the throat from beginning to end, deriving suspense and excitement from its articulation of ideas and tentative probings of inner space. As the film ended, I felt the same elation I feel after seeing a thriller by Clouzot or Hitchcock, something that has put me through the ringer -- and then realized, with amusement, that what I'd seen was something like 140 minutes of talk. Huston himself called FREUD "an intellectual thriller."

I may be missing some other examples, but I believe there were only two major films about psychoanalysis prior to FREUD: Hitchcock's SPELLBOUND (1945) and Nunnally Johnson's THE THREE FACES OF EVE (1957); earlier movies like SHOCK CORRIDOR, THE SNAKE PIT and even THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI, which are set in asylums without seriously broaching the subject of psychoanalysis, should be removed from consideration, as should later but still progressive films like DAVID AND LISA and LILITH. FREUD stands apart from all these films because it is about the excitement of discovery, and the singularly great discovery of unexplored wings of the human mind -- places "as black as Hell itself." Because it is the story of the first steps taken toward psychoanalysis, and because its protagonists are academics, it also offers us the rare opportunity to see people conversing on higher and deeper levels of awareness, and dawning awareness, than other films almost never aspire to attain.

I'm familiar with Huston's reputation as a big-time drinker, but I don't know how much experience he had, if any, with psychedelics. He made this film at a time when LSD therapy was legal and quite au courant, and the high-contrast scenes visualizing Freud's attempts to dredge information up from the subconscious and unconscious of his patients have as potent a lysergic edge as anything I've seen this side of ALTERED STATES. The movie encourages the viewer to look below the surface of everything and everyone involved, and manages to reveal a surprising amount of information without ever expressing it on the surface, or "consciously." For example, one senses that the misplaced love felt by the patient Cecily (Susannah York) for Dr. Breuer (Larry Parks) was in fact reciprocated, though this is never admitted, and that this was the true reason why he places Freud in charge of her care. Likewise, it is left to the viewer to recognize the actress playing Freud's wife Martha (Susan Kohner, the daughter of Lupita Tovar and Paul Kohner) as a "reflection" of the actress playing his mother (THE HAUNTING's Rosalie Krutchley), and to leap to the discovery of the "Freudian slip" before Freud himself. Also worthy of mention are an outstanding, disturbing scene showcasing the talents of a young David McCallum and, to move from the sublime to the ridiculous, a single line by one actor that is somewhat glaringly looped by Paul Frees.

FREUD, like SPELLBOUND before it (and Corman's PIT AND THE PENDULUM, come to think of it), helps to establish a narrative of process and revelation that points the way to a specific kind of Italian gialli -- the kind that build toward a cathartic understanding of the killer's moment of trauma. Mario Bava, I think, was the first to import this into the gialli with HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON, and it resonates throughout much of Dario Argento's work -- DEEP RED, TENEBRAE, and TRAUMA, particularly. In this regard, it's worth noting that Huston's film features a flashback to a trauma in the childhood of Susannah York's character, where she is pictured as a girl with long blonde hair and piercing eyes, in a Victorian dress, holding a ball... Could Bava have seen this film and imported the memory into his KILL, BABY... KILL!?

I found this remarkable essay about Huston's FREUD online, which comes to grips with the film biographically and psychologically far better than I could hope to do, and it also offers some fascinating behind-the-scenes information and gossip. (I didn't know, for example, that Jean-Paul Sartre had been involved in scripting it.) It's worth reading, and a film well worth tracking down. In fact, I'd compare it favorably to some of the acknowledged Huston classics, simply on the grounds that there are many other movies like them, and very few others like this. FREUD belongs on a short shelf with ALTERED STATES, THE ELEPHANT MAN, and... well, you tell me.

If anyone from Universal is listening, please let us have FREUD on DVD -- perhaps as part of a "John Huston Double Feature" with the also-missing-in-action THE LIST OF ADRIAN MESSENGER.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Bummer in the Summer

August is all that I know
It's with me wherever I go
It's with me when I need a friend
It brings me good weather
It keeps me together
It picks me up when I'm down

-- Arthur Lee, "August"

Arthur Lee, the man behind the LA-based psychedelic rock band LOVE (a name always rendered in caps, and in red on their album covers), wrote those lyrics for a 1969 album. Yesterday, he was picked up by the month of August for the last time: he died of leukemia in his hometown of Memphis at the age of 61. You can read the story here.

Guitarist, vocalist and songwriter, Lee's place in musical history is cemented by LOVE's third album, FOREVER CHANGES, released in 1967. A mournful, elegiac but tuneful response to the Summer of Love, the album (which included the song "Bummer in the Summer" -- and the closing "You Set the Scene," which ranks with John Lennon's "God" as one of the most poignant songs in the annals of pop music) is now regarded as one of rock's masterpieces, but it was largely overlooked at the time of its release on Elektra Records. It was too much of an album statement to yield a hit single and, to make its fortunes worse, the musicians that recorded the album had disbanded by the time of its release. Lee later claimed that LOVE's replacement line-up (who recorded the FOUR SAIL album of which "August" was a part) disliked FOREVER CHANGES and refused to play in support of it -- but it also seems likely that Lee was simply too progressive, too mercurial a talent to look back for long, least of all at an unhappy band association. (It always amazes me to learn that the most accomplished works of some groups -- like The Zombies' ODESSEY AND ORACLE, Mott the Hoople's BRAIN CAPERS, or Public Image Ltd's METAL BOX -- were recorded as the bands themselves were falling apart, or not speaking to one another. You'd think the glory of the music alone would pull them back together.)

As time went on, LOVE's recorded work began to fracture and Lee began recording solo albums. This later work was intermittently as inspired as anything he'd ever done, like the song "Five String Serenade" (later covered by Mazzy Star), but even his most dedicated fans lost patience under a barrage of poorly recorded live albums issued on small labels, presumably issued to support him through his lean years. Always an eccentric recluse who refused to kow-tow to the music industry, Lee was commonly branded an "acid casualty." (Indeed, in case you've ever wondered who really lived in that crazy, psychedelic pad up in the Hollywood hills where Roger Corman's THE TRIP was filmed in 1967, it was Arthur Lee -- who had moved there after leaving "The Castle," reputed to be the former home of Bela Lugosi, areas of which are pictured on the covers of their first two albums.) As Lee's fortunes went into steep decline, his productivity ebbed and his public behavior turned more erratic.

Firing a gun into the air in the 1990s got Lee sentenced to a dozen years in prison, six of which he served. Upon regaining his freedom, Lee formed a new LOVE lineup consisting of the members of a band called Baby Lemonade, young fans who -- very much like The Wondermints, who support Brian Wilson on record and on tour -- had studied his music and could recreate his orchestral pop masterpieces live onstage. After spending a year getting his live chops back together, Lee and the new LOVE toured the world in 2003 with a concert that presented the FOREVER CHANGES album in its entirety.

As it happens, the spirit and message of that album were more pertinent than ever in 2003, sounding remarkably at home in the contemporaneous context of bands like The Arcade Fire and The Flaming Lips. Furthermore, Lee's live performances (one is preserved on DVD as the must-have THE FOREVER CHANGES CONCERT) miraculously seemed to bring the heyday of the 1960s almost within reach. His shows always closed with an encore of the group's original hit single, the Burt Bacharach-penned "My Little Red Book." Our recovery of the 1960s through the power of Arthur Lee was not to be, but with his final tour given new meaning by the news of his death, perhaps it's most important that he recovered those years personally by finally celebrating, and bringing back to new and old generations, the one unquestionably great thing he created. It was his act of contrition for misspent years, his redemption, and heartening proof that nothing of enduring quality can be overlooked forever.

Arthur Lee spoke of FOREVER CHANGES as his "Mona Lisa," but it would be a mistake to limit his achievements to a single album. He and LOVE started out as a jangly Byrds-like combo with a harder edge, but they were also responsible for introducing outside musical influences to pop and rock, like flamenco, jazz and samba; they are said to have been Jim Morrison's favorite group. They were also influential: their song "She Comes in Colors" prompted The Rolling Stones' "She's Like a Rainbow," the derelict in "Live and Let Live" (whose snot has caked upon his pants and turned to crystal) presages Jethro Tull's "Aqualung," and "Signed D.C." sounds uncannily like The Moody Blues' later "Nights in White Satin" with different lyrics. LOVE were also the first group to cut a track that lasted an entire B-side of an album; "Revelation" (produced by an uncredited Neil Young) wasn't quite what its title promised musically, but its true revelation lay in the fact of showing what could be done. It took that giant stride from the edge of the vinyl to the inner groove first.

For Arthur Lee's death to occur so soon after Syd Barrett's passing gives his loss a doubled resonance, because those of us who loved their music will miss them both for very similar reasons. They were not only musicians, but painters, interpreters, surrealists, and adventurers. We didn't know them as well as they seemed to know us, and there was something a bit scary and forbidding about their kind of genius. Unlike Syd, Arthur gave us (and more importantly, himself) the happy ending of coming back one last time -- as a humbled and ennobled ambassador of the incense-scented music which had been given him to express and share.

Needless to say, it will live on.

This is the time and life that I am living
And I'll face each day with a smile
For the time that I've been given's such a little while
And the things that I do must consist of more than style

This is the only thing that I am sure of
And that's all that lives is gonna die
And there'll always be some people here to wonder why
And for every happy hello, there will be good-bye

-- Arthur Lee, "You Set the Scene"

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Posting a Post-Poster Post Posting

Yesterday's quickie blog about movie poster art, in which I said that APOCALYPSE NOW (the work of artist Bob Peak) was the last great painting I could remember on a movie poster, prompted correspondent William D'Annucci to get in touch. He showed me some recent poster art samples indicating that the painted movie poster is not necessarily a thing of the past. Some of my correspondent's favorite examples:


Of the three, I like the PAN'S LABYRINTH poster best, because it is scene- rather than personality-driven, and also because it is clearly a painting -- and a rather Freudian one, at that. The SUPERMAN RETURNS art, whose overhead art seems to deliberately echo Dalí's Crucifixion, is handsome but not the kind of poster I would choose to frame and hang. Bill shares my doubts that THE LADY IN THE WATER is a painting at all, as it seems more like a Photoshopped photo, but we agree it's an arresting image. (Though, to my eyes, it looks less like a lady in the water than Elijah Wood bundled up for a winter walk.) In fact, this LADY IN THE WATER poster reminds me of one of the last photographic one-sheets I liked enough to buy: Wes Craven's DEADLY BLESSING.

In the Craven film itself, the scene depicted by the poster involves Sharon Stone (then a relative newcomer) being held in place as she dreams of an overhead spider falling into her mouth. I liked the movie better than most of Craven's stuff, but still not enough to have acquired the poster as a memento. I was sold on the poster because it was a rare example of a standout horror moment being restaged as a promotional image; Stone does not appear on the poster itself, and when I saw the film again, years later, I was disappointed to find that the scene didn't play as well onscreen as it did on the poster.

I grew up in the era of Reynold Brown and Albert Kallis, the kings of AIP poster design, and I miss the interpretative angle of their work in today's movie posters. Of course, part of Brown and Kallis' work was to take a cheap film and give its premise as much production value as they could possibly envision. I'll never forget the afternoon I went to the movies as a kid and found myself face to face with Kallis' poster for THE ASTOUNDING SHE-MONSTER; I was maybe five or six years old and it was the first direct hit of eroticism I can remember experiencing. It was on a sandwich board to the right of the red carpet where the ticket buyers entered; it was clearly there to be looked at, but I can remember being torn between my desire to indulge my curiosity and my awareness that I probably shouldn't let anyone catch me looking at it for too long. I hung around the lobby, stealing glimpses from the corner of my eye. When I came back to see the movie, it didn't bear much resemblance to the poster, but the poster had given me the key to daydream about the movie for weeks and years afterward.

Today's movies have all the production value the screen can stand, so today's posters need do little more than nod in their direction. Today's posters show us stars -- not action, not drama, not horror, and sex appeal maybe, but not sex itself. Perhaps there are collectors of today's movie posters, but I can't imagine that they regard them as anything more than paper souvenirs of an experience. Today's posters don't have that larger-than-life, artistic punch that made classic movie posters collectible in the first place.

Given the examples I've shown above, it probably seems as though I collect posters exclusively on the basis of their erotic value, but that's not true. What I look for in a poster, first and foremost, is its ability to astonish me -- either with image, brush strokes, or the artist's ability to summon the entire flavor of a film with an independent work of art. A favorite example of mine is the German poster for the Italian film ATOM AGE VAMPIRE. Regrettably, I don't know the artist's name, but he/she somehow arrived at exactly the right combination of color and caricature to enlarge upon the memory of that black-and-white film experience:

Earlier today I wrote a VW review of the new Shriek Show release of Pete Walker's THE FLESH AND BLOOD SHOW. Its lively, nouveau-like cover art reminded me that David Friedman's Entertainment Ventures Inc. once had in their employ a very unique and talented poster artist. I can remember seeing the same hand at work in the promotional art for THAR SHE BLOWS! and THE ADULT VERSION OF JEKYLL & HIDE, as well. Can anyone out there tell me this artist's name?

PS: Thanks to Christopher Hasler for identifying Bob Peak for me.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Papa's Got a Brand New Bhag

A correspondent e-mailed me a link to this fantastic Italian poster for Alfred Vohrer's DER GORILLA VON SOHO, which is being auctioned on eBay. I have my eye on another piece, so it's a bit rich for my blood at the moment, but it's a beauty... and a beast. I wish I'd had this poster on hand to help illustrate my article "Edgar Wallace and the Paternity of KING KONG" in the current issue of Video Watchdog. It's got everything, doesn't it? -- the big ape, the blonde, the tower in the background. An excellent demonstration of why the Italian posters for the Edgar Wallace krimis tend to be more beautiful than the German originals, which employed a coarser style of design and were often heavily crowded with text.

I pine for the days when a new movie was an opportunity for some of the world's leading commercial artists to interpret the experience of that film on a highly collectable poster. What was the last major American release to feature an authentic painting on its poster, anyway? The last one that comes to mind was APOCALYPSE NOW, and it was a great one.

Monday, July 31, 2006

A Look at the Criterion Rohmer Transfers

Last Thursday, I had no idea what I'd be writing about for my next SIGHT & SOUND column (due tomorrow). On Friday, I received an advance copy of Criterion's forthcoming ERIC ROHMER'S SIX MORAL TALES box set and, suddenly, I knew that my course was set. In my house, Rohmer waits for no one.

In two days, I devoured the entire box -- features, interviews, books and extras; I had to, because of my deadline and other pressing duties. I suppose this was a bit like gulping down a particularly fine bottle of wine, over the tongue and into the belly, but the retrospective was no less intoxicating for it. These films were previously issued on DVD by Fox Lorber in scratchy, stale-looking presentations, so I'm happy to report that Criterion's new high-definition transfers of his establishing works (supervised by Rohmer himself) are exquisite. Have a look for yourself:

THE BAKERY GIRL OF MONCEAU (1962) was shot in 16mm, and looks surprisingly crisp and sensual in this presentation.

SUZANNE'S CAREER (1963): Also shot in 16mm, this film has the grainiest-looking transfer, but much of the film was shot in low-light interiors and it actually looks quite good, so all is forgiven.

MY NIGHT AT MAUD'S (1969): How many black-and-white DVD transfers have you viewed that can compare to savoring a rich dessert? This may be the most ravishing black-and-white DVD transfer I've ever experienced. In shots like these, of Françoise Fabian, you can actually sense how warm her skin is and can almost read her thoughts.

LA COLLECTIONEUSE (1967): This film was shot third but always intended as the series' fourth segment, as Rohmer wanted the stories split between three black-and-white and three color. Fox Lorber's DVD of this title was ugly trash. Criterion makes the colors and textures of leap off the screen with remarkable sharpness and clarity. Of all the films in the Rohmer set, this is the most surprising transfer and the most gorgeous of the color films. The young lady seen here, Haydée Politoff, later co-starred in Paul Naschy's COUNT DRACULA'S GREAT LOVE and can be seen reading a paperback of DRACULA in this movie.

CLAIRE'S KNEE (1970): This probably isn't the best frame for showing off the transfer's vibrant colors and amazing sense of depth, but I love this shot of Laurence de Monaghan, so that's what you get. A wonderful presentation of a delightful film.

LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON (aka CHLOE IN THE AFTERNOON, 1972): The colors and textures in this film really pop, and when Zouzou strips down to her black chemise, for the first time on video, you can actually see through the sheer fabric. Based on my viewings of this film in 16mm and on Fox Lorber DVD, it was never a favorite of mine, but now I find it the second best of the Moral Tales, after MY NIGHT AT MAUD'S.

As you may have noticed, all six of the films are presented in the standard 1.33:1 ratio. In an accompanying interview, Rohmer explains why this is his favored ratio and the films included amount to a veritable celebration of the format. The last two films in the set, CLAIRE'S KNEE and LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON, were composed so they could also be projected at 1.66:1, if necessary. I zoomed both of them up on my widescreen set and, while the images became more enveloping as a result, they also felt incomplete. I quickly returned to the 1.33:1, and I think you will, too.

That's as much as I'm going to say for now. Criterion will be releasing ERIC ROHMER'S SIX MORAL TALES on August 15, and I'll be writing at greater length about the set in next month's issue of SIGHT & SOUND.

But, in closing, let me be the first to tell you this much: If you get the set, be sure to empty the box of all the discs and books, at least once, to look inside. You'll be glad you did.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Bava Book Milestone

As I've reported on the Bava Book Update Blog, last night Donna completed her work on the main section of the book -- everything but the front and back matter, which we start laying-out today. Minus those prefaces, appendices, and the index, the page count already stands at 1,012 pages. This is an important milestone, which we celebrated last night with a bottle of Bolla Valpolicella -- and now it's back to work. All that remains to be done are the layouts of the front and back sections, which we hope to finish by early next week, and my proofreading of the final layout and Donna's implementing of my final corrections, which should take an additional week.

Also, tune into the Bava blog tomorrow for an important surprise.

Friday, July 28, 2006

The War with Stuff

We're now reaching a point with the Bava book that Donna and I have long awaited. Donna plans to finish her work on the bulk of the interior by this weekend, and we're going to spend Saturday and Sunday finally laying out the front and back matter. Next week, I have a few deadlines and am also scheduled to be proofreading the last 700 or so pages of the Bava book one last time, so for the immediate future, I'm barred from doing what my heart yearns for me to be doing: finishing my novel-in-progress, on which I made substantial progress last week. While my unborn book weeps inside me from the latest in a series of shows of neglect, I've had to decide how I'm going to spend this waiting period, knowing that, whatever I do, I may be pulled away for Bava consultation at any time. The answer was unavoidable, especially with a wife who always has such suggestions at the ready: My office has been a hell-hole for too long. I really should use this time to get my environment in order.

I know in my heart-of-hearts that I respond well to orderliness; a neat and attractive environment is more welcoming and uplifting. However, my mind is usually juggling a number of things at once: the book, my novel, our current issue, the next couple of issues, my extracurricular deadlines, this blog, etc. I have a habit of writing notes to myself, as well as epigrams, DVD info for reviews, on little index cards are leaving them all over the house. (I just noticed the other night that the "Winsor Concerto" from THE WHIP AND THE BODY is briefly heard in Paul Naschy's THE MUMMY'S REVENGE, a film evidently scored with CAM library tracks, so I made a note of that.) I leave these cards wherever I happen to write them, with the idea of taking them with me on my next trip upstairs, where I intend to log them into my computer, where they can add to whatever I'm working on. Somehow, this seldom happens and each card ends up joining many others in a stack that I tuck just north of my keyboard until the fabled day when they'll get processed. Some might say this is procrastination, but it's more like "I need a secretary." But, as Donna says, if we had a secretary, I couldn't work in my bathrobe.

Organizing my office has been my ongoing project for the last three days, and it still looks like a cross between a train wreck and a yard sale. In a stack of papers and magazines, I actually found a homemade birthday card which Donna had printed for me on a dot-matrix printer, welcoming me to "the elite group of people who are now 35," an incriminating illustration of how lax I've been about filing things away. (I'm a bit older now.) An important preliminary task was cataloguing all my uncatalogued CD-R and DVD-R binders, which is a task I can only stand to perform five hours at a time, so it took a couple of days. With those binders finally off my floor, and placed on shelves (recently cleared of laserdiscs) in our living room, the next major task was weeding out my office bookshelves, which cover two walls from floor to ceiling. Though toiling in an air-conditioned room and dressed for comfort, I worked up quite a sweat deciding which of the books could be boxed up and which could be dispensed with. At this stage of my life, I figure that if I'm putting books into boxes, I might as well lower them into the ground as well. There are always going to be so many books in front of me that I'll almost certainly never have need to seek my old file-aways out. The process of removing books from these shelves, adding books finally taken off the floor, and reorganizing everything alphabetically took a good five to six hours. At the end of the work, I had two shortish stacks of books to be taken to the attic and three stacks of discarded books that rose as high as my thigh.

My bookshelves looked infinitely tidier to me, so I called Donna in to admire my progress. I showed her where to stand to get the best vantage point (as if my cluttered floor offered her many options). She looked at the shelves and said, "You know, the sad thing about this is that, already, you have no room to grow -- so, if one more book comes into this room, it's going on to the floor and the whole nightmare starts over again."

That's the last thing I wanted to hear, partly because I knew at once she had a point. As they now are, the books are pretty tightly packed and there are a few books resting on top of other books. A section of one shelf is filled with smaller paperbacks that should be somewhere else, and another section of another shelf is stacked with books incoming for review. These need to be shipped out to reviewers. One entire shelf is occupied by music-related books, which Donna thinks should be moved somewhere else (preferably boxed away), but these are what I reach for most commonly, when I need a break from movie-related writing. Actually, when I'm editing VW full-time, I read so much movie-related writing that I sometimes wonder why I keep any of these books at all. After a full day of reading/editing film reviews and features, I'm going to kick back and relax with more film reviews and analysis? I have days when I'd like to box all these movie books away and bring my novel collection down from the attic, where they've been gathering dust for more than a decade. Dipping into other writers' fiction might be just the tonic I need; I shouldn't have to worry about reading them from cover to cover, if I haven't the time for it. After all this time, I've sincerely forgotten which novels I own, as they've mostly flowed together down the rivers of forgetfulness with the ones I've sold or merely borrowed from the library.

"How many of these are you really going to refer to?" Donna asks, nodding at the formidable barriers of bound print I have amassed between myself and Death. Probably not many. I now use www.dictionary.com for my dictionary and thesaurus needs, but having an actual three-dimensional Webster's gives one the power to browse and actually add words to one's vocabulary. "How often do you do that?" Well, I once had a life of relative leisure in which I could do things like that, and though I don't do it much (okay, at all) nowadays, I am not prepared to admit that those days are gone and will not be returning. Yes, I admit that the need I feel to hold on to some of these books is rooted in the self-delusion that, someday, time might decide to move backwards.

Some of the books on my walls are important reference tools; some are classic references past their prime (emphasis on "classic," so they stay within reach); some were written by friends and are warmly inscribed; some I wrote myself or contributed to; some I am unlikely to read but are just cool to have and admire; and others I've read and loved, so I feel the need to keep them visible in my daily life, both as memento and source of invigorating inspiration. If I sincerely had to make a hard and realistic decision based on how often I might actually open and use these books, surely many more could be taken down... but they'd have to go somewhere else in our Incredible Shrinking House, and there simply isn't anywhere else for them to go. Certainly not downstairs, and upstairs (the attic) is crowded enough. And, as an author of books, I have to insist on the right to display what I've done in my own house, though there is little need for me to read them again after publication.

Books are hard things to throw away and, trouble is, they are even harder to sell. You can't get even half of what they're worth in second-hand stores; the last time I tried, I ended up leaving two entire boxes of turned-down books at the store rather than lug them back home to my attic. (I think the book dealer was banking on me doing this, and I felt so cheated by this ordeal, I've never returned to that once-favorite book store.) Until I can decide what to do with them, it looks like they'll continue to take up residence on my office floor, but perhaps I can clear a corner where they can gather dust until new homes can be found for them.

Increasingly, my life can be described as a war with stuff: the old stuff, the incoming stuff, the stuff that needs to be processed, the stuff that needs to be shipped out to contributors, the stuff I love, the stuff I've outgrown, the cool but otherwise unfunctional stuff, the sentimental stuff, the stuff that's cute, the heirloom stuff, the broken stuff that needs to get fixed or replaced -- all of it demanding a place in my life and regular dustings and refusing to be thrown away. With each new thing I acquire, I have the feeling of adding soldiers and rations and ammunition to the enemy, but my refusal to stop is as steadfast as my refusal to surrender.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

CYCLOPS Addenda from Joe Dante

"Actually THE CYCLOPS, filmed in 1955, was, like X THE UNKNOWN and RUN OF THE ARROW and several others, originally to be released by the then-struggling RKO. Many stills exist from these with RKO trademarks. But by 1957 RKO was on the ropes and many of the pics went to other distributors. Obviously some had already made RKO release negatives, if not prints. So the credits of the Monsters HD CYCLOPS are original. Whether that cut of the already quite short picture is too, is anybody's guess."

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Cut Scenes from THE CYCLOPS

Today, I have some additional notes to offer on the subject of Bert I. Gordon's THE CYCLOPS. Those of you who are under the age of 40 may not realize this, but when many B-horror pictures originally distributed by Allied Artists Pictures Corporation were first shown on television, they were newly padded with opening narrative scrolls to fill 90-minute timeslots. Among the titles featuring such scrolls were ATTACK OF THE FIFTY FOOT WOMAN, THE DISEMBODIED, DAUGHTER OF DR. JEKYLL, BEAST FROM HAUNTED CAVE (which was further padded with additional footage), and -- unless I'm mistaken (and I might be) -- THE ATOMIC SUBMARINE.

Not all Allied Artists titles were so altered; neither FRANKENSTEIN 1970, THE HYPNOTIC EYE, nor CALTIKI THE IMMORTAL MONSTER were so retailored for TV. But for anyone who saw these films between their theatrical playdates and, roughly, 1984 -- when these TV syndication prints abruptly disappeared as local stations sought to compete with cable television, this is the only way they could be seen... and those of us who loved these films expected they would remain changed in this way forever.

However, since the arrival of the home video age, film companies have been going back to original camera negatives and 35mm positive elements to obtain the best-looking masters possible for DVD and cable television release -- and this has left those "narrative scroll" versions forgotten on old 16mm reels. Naturally, I'm a purist and I prefer to have these films as they looked in theaters... but I'm also a nostalgist and miss these absurdly ponderous scrolls, which were incidentally the work of HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER director Herbert L. Strock. They are hard-wired into my memory of these pictures, because they were part of them the first time (in some cases, the first several times) I saw them.

To illustrate this little history lesson, here is the opening scroll originally seen in TV prints of THE CYCLOPS, probably never to be seen again except on the old Beta and VHS tapes of those of us who recorded them off the air, twenty-some years ago. You can click on any of the images in this posting to enlarge them:

Pretty cool, eh? There was no narrator's voice, just some very hoary library music playing underneath the ssssssllllllllooooooowwwwwwwwlllllllllyyyyyy scrolling text -- all of which helped to set the mood on those Saturday and Late Night spook shows of yesteryear.

All of this is prologue to some unfortunate and more timely news about Monsters HD's print of THE CYCLOPS, about which I posted with enthusiasm the other day. It was a long time since I'd seen the picture, however, and it took the alerting of Dennis Rood and Steve Pickard to make me aware that the climactic moment in the picture -- the blinding of the Cyclops -- is actually cut in its high-definition version.

As this scene appears on Monsters HD, James Craig fashions a flaming javelin out of a stick and some vegetation, climbs up a hillside to gain height, and hurls it at the Cyclops -- CUT to a shot of the giant's superimposed hand trembling with pain over a shot of Craig on the hillside. The Cyclops falls prone on the ground and Craig makes his escape. The Cyclops then rises with the javelin still in his covered eye, protruding between his fingers... CUT to the spinning propellers of our heroes' getaway plane, followed by a process shot of the giant staggering toward it.

Here is the sequence as it appears uncut (which is not only the way it appeared in theatrical prints, but in the Allied TV prints, as well):

The flaming javelin approaches the eye of actor Duncan (Dean) Parkin...

OW! THAT'S GOTTA HURT! Then he covers the wound with his hand, and collapses.

After Craig escapes, the Cyclops revives from his swoon and sets about extracting the javelin. This shot is in the Monsters HD print, but it cuts away just short of this...

The Cyclops extracting the bloody (and evidently deeply penetrating!) weapon and...

... exposing a grisly view of the bleeding, punctured orb! (Ironically, it was the censored version of this scene that Monsters HD used in their on-air promotions for the picture, promising viewers that they would "See All the Good Parts.")

Another curious point of variation about the Monsters HD print is that it lacks the opening "Allied Artists Pictures Corporation Presents" card which opened the theatrical prints, and replaces the plain "The End" card of that print and the "Distributed by Allied Artists Pictures Corporation" end card of the TV prints with a new closing card that reads "The End - Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures." As far as I (and the IMDb) know, THE CYCLOPS was never released by RKO Radio Pictures, at least not in this country. Perhaps this is the clue that will help to identify the source and cause of this missing footage.

Here's hoping that David Sehring and Team Monsters HD can do something to recover this missing footage (which was in the previous Thriller Video VHS release) and remaster THE CYCLOPS for future broadcast, as they've already done with FROM BEYOND, THE FLESH EATERS, and other important films.