Tuesday, January 16, 2007

You Asked for It! More Dexter Riley!

Dexter Riley (Kurt Russell) has a scientific eureka after dropping his glasses into his new formula. He wears glasses at no other time in the picture.

NOW YOU SEE HIM, NOW YOU DON'T
1972, Walt Disney Video, DD-2.0/16:9/LB/CC/ST, 88m 15s, $19.99, DVD-1

Perhaps the most one can say on behalf of Walt Disney's second "Dexter Riley" movie, NOW YOU SEE HIM, NOW YOU DON'T, is that it's an improvement on the first (THE COMPUTER WORE TENNIS SHOES, reviewed here last September 23). Otherwise, returning screenwriter Joseph L. McEveety recycles the same template: ace Medfield College science student Riley (Kurt Russell) is working on a new and absurd-sounding project; a random storm facilitates his unexpected success; his invention attracts the attention of local crooked businessman A.J. Arno (Cesar Romero), to whom the college dean E.J. Higgins (Joe Flynn) is financially indebted; the smug Dean Higgins is still in competition with Dean Collingswood (Alan Hewitt), the smugger head of a larger college, this time for a $50,000 grant from local businessman Timothy Forsythe (Jim Backus); a scientifically augmented student (this time Richard Schuyler, played by Michael McGreevey) snoops into Arno's affairs to expose him, prompting him to take steps to embarrass Riley and Medfield College publicly; and it all builds to a finale with a wild-and-woolly road chase sequence and scholastic competition.

In this case, Riley's science project turns out to be an invisibility formula, which he's copped from the disregarded 200 year-old writings of a Russian scientist who died in an insane asylum. The invisibility agent is a water-soluble liquid, which allows for some humorous moments when Schuyler's invisibility is rendered partial (when he walks his invisible sneakers through a puddle, for instance) or altogether negated without his knowledge. Among the supporting players are Edward Andrews, Richard Bakalyan, Burt Mustin, Mike Evans (Lionel of TV's ALL IN THE FAMILY and THE JEFFERSONS, who recently died of throat cancer at age 57), and a very young, tousle-haired Ed Begley, Jr., who would do his own amusing invisible-but-not-really routine in "Son of the Invisible Man," a Carl Gottlieb-directed segment of the later AMAZON WOMEN ON THE MOON (1987).

Joyce Menges looks agog as a horrified Michael McGreevey realizes that Dexter's latest formula actually works.

As with the earlier film, NOW YOU SEE HIM... suffers from low energy editing by Cotton Walburton, showing none of the comedy-enhancing snap, crackle and pop he had brought to his cutting of THE ABSENT-MINDED PROFESSOR or MOON PILOT, and a vague yet action-intensive script that leaves us none the wiser about who Dexter Riley and his friends really are, or why we should care about them. The cover art suggests, if not a romantic relationship (à la Annette Funicello and Tommy Kirk in the Merlin Jones movies), at least a sense of equality between Kurt Russell and cute co-star Joyce Menges; but -- like Debbie Paine in THE COMPUTER WORE TENNIS SHOES -- Menges is merely the token female character. She called her screen career quits after this.

If possible, this sequel is even cheaper-looking than its predecessor, the invisibility effects fraught with dirty-looking bluescreen traces of stepped-up grain and all-too-visible wires ambulating an invisible teen's all-too-visible gym shoes. A much-promoted photo depicting a student with eyeglasses and familiar facial wrappings turns out to have nothing to do with invisibility, but with an allergy to bee stings! Much as the previous film was remarkable for the array of facial flaws and blemishes on display, this one is a nearly non-stop parade of bad hair (aside from the ever-suave Cesar Romero) -- not because the hairstyles look unfashionable, but because the actors (William Windom as Prof. Lufkin particularly) were allowed to go before the camera looking poorly groomed, not to mention wearing clashing wardrobe that looks imported from home. The film's saving grace is an extended golfing sequence that finds gaudily-dressed golf amateur Dean Higgins effortlessly winning a game on the green with invisible help; it's here that Flynn's comic performance and the comedic timing of COMPUTER director Robert Butler momentarily spring to life. Someone in the casting department was also showing a sense of humor when they hired an actor named Jack Griffin (uncredited) to play one of the traffic cops.

Ed Begley, Jr. explains to William Windom and Joe Flynn why he won't be able to participate in Medfield College's science competition.

Whereas Disney's DVD of THE COMPUTER WORE TENNIS SHOES was standard ratio, NOW YOU SEE HIM, NOW YOU DON'T (released in May 2004) is soft-matted from its standard camera ratio to its intended projection ratio of 1.85:1. I would imagine that a full frame rendering would only serve to expose some of the invisibility mattes and rigs moreso than they are exposed here. The picture quality is okay, and the only curiosity about the audio track is that the frankly miserable score has been so buried in the sound mix that it often sounds like it's emanating from another, semi-soundproofed room. The closed-captioned disc features subtitles in French and Spanish but no secondary audio tracks.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

My First Artist

The Baby Boomers among you will surely share a common memory of sitting in front of an old black-and-white television set and watching in thrall as a goateed man in a plaid shirt -- who signed his name boldly and with great authority -- brought random lines together into coherent images on LEARN TO DRAW, the first-ever art instructional program on TV.

Before most of us knew the names of Van Gogh, Manet, Rembrandt, or Da Vinci, we knew the name of Jon Gnagy.

Checking the IMDb, I was astonished to learn that today, January 13, would have been the 100th birthday of "America's Original Television Art Teacher." Surely I'm too young to have had a teacher celebrating a centenary! Yet these are the facts... What I find almost more incredible is the revelation, according to his biography, that on the day television was first transmitted to the public at large from the antennae atop the Empire State Building -- May 13, 1946 -- Jon Gnagy was the very first performer on the very first show ever broadcast.

Happily for those of us who have long craved to see one of his lessons again, the artist's daughter, Polly Gnagy Seymour, has launched a website to perpetuate the memory of her father, who died in 1981. There you can find ten different video clips, glorious samples of his painting, three complete lessons from Gnagy's printed art instruction, and even a link to a company that continues to sell the original Jon Gnagy art kits! Maybe you had one! (Donna did.) Today of all days, if you remember the thrill of seeing his hand poised over those blank sheets of paper, ready to create something out of nothing, you should visit Polly's site and sign her guest book with your remembrances.

Why not follow the link and... learn to draw!

Friday, January 12, 2007

LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN previewed

Anita Strindberg as the dissolute Julia Durer.
LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN
Una lucertola con la pelle di donna
1971, Shriek Show, DD-5.1/2.0/MA/SUB/+, 103m 19s, $19.95, DVD-0

One of the earliest Italian gialli produced in the wake of Dario Argento's hugely successful THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, Lucio Fulci's LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN was a far steeper plunge into surrealism and strangeness and, as such, proved just as influential as -- if not moreso than -- Argento's Antonioniesque shocker.

Florinda Bolkan stars as Carol Hammond, the bourgeois daughter of respected lawyer-politician Edmund Brighton (Leo Genn), introduced as a careworn figure pushing through people crowded into the passageway of a train, who turn naked as her dream segues into an erotic, wind-tossed encounter with Julia Durer (Anita Strindberg). Once Carol regains consciousness, we realize that Julia is her nextdoor neighbor in a London apartment complex, socially snubbed by most residents for her psychedelic orgies -- a woman to whom Carol has never actually spoken, as she confesses to her psychiatrist (George Rigaud). One night, a particularly loud party inspires Carol to dream of murdering Julia. The morning after, Julia is found dead in exactly the manner dreamed, with Carol's fur coat and letter opener left at the scene of the crime. In Carol's dream, she realized after stabbing Julia that there were two witnesses to her deed, two white-eyed hippies gazing at her from a mezzanine within the apartment. This aspect of the dream also proves real when Carol's stepdaughter Joan (Ely Galleani, billed as Edy Gall) makes the acquaintence of these hippies, whose behavior subsequently turns calculatedly predatory. No description of the film's plot can really do it justice, as it was made to be experienced -- almost in the Jimi Hendrix sense of that phrase. Though conceived and executed by a director who reportedly hated hippies and despised the drug culture, LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN is a decidedly psychedelic entertainment, graced by one of Ennio Morricone's most volatile yet sensual giallo scores.

Co-scripted by Fulci and frequent collaborator Roberto Gianviti, with additional credit extended to José Luís Martínez Mollà and André Tranché to mollify Spanish and French co-production quotas, LIZARD is overly contrived on an explicatory level but dazzles as a cinematic construction. In this way, it deceptively appears to be as indebted to Brian De Palma as to Argento or Hitchcock, though it braves into areas of sensuality and technique (split screen, split diopter shots, etc) two full years before SISTERS and almost a decade before DRESSED TO KILL, the De Palma film LIZARD most sleekly resembles. If the film's resolution seems needlessly obscure and distended, one reaches it through a procession of marvelously disorienting suspense sequences in which one can see the pictorial influences of Francis Bacon and Salvador Dalí, among others. In the extended sequence in which Bolkan is pursued through the now derelict Alexandra Palace by Mike Kennedy, the vast emptiness of the place suggests not only the spectral landscapes of some Dalí paintings but also sequences in Hitchcock in which characters are dwarfed by the passive countenances of national landmarks, as in the British Museum sequence of BLACKMAIL. The frequently impressive cinematography was the work of Luigi Kuveiller (DEEP RED, A QUIET PLACE IN THE COUNTRY, FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN), assisted by Mario Bava's former operator Ubaldo Terzano.

Carol (Florinda Bolkan) could kill that noisy neighbor of hers... but does she?

When Shriek Show first released LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN in February 2005, it provoked a storm of controversy within Internet discussion groups. While preparing this earlier release, Shriek Show's disc producers were aware that the English language print they had acquired -- titled SCHIZOID (95m 33s) and originally released by American International -- was far from complete, even after two separate English source elements had been cobbled together. They sought to smooth over its shortcomings by adding a second disc featuring a cropped, softish, standard framed transfer of the Italian version (97m 48s PAL, 101m 58s real time), subtitled in English, which contained additional material exclusive to the Italian version.

In the wake of its release, Italy's Federal Video issued a Region 2 disc of the film that included the far handsomer, anamorphic presentation of a unique edition -- essentially the Italian cut, with some footage exclusive to the AIP version seemingly ported back into the continuity via the Shriek Show presentation. It ran 98m 8s in PAL, or 102m 19s in real time. This version's reliance on the SCHIZOID edition was most obvious during the scene of Julia's murder, which AIP had treated to a distorting ripple-like optical to obscure the nudity of Bolkan and Strindberg and details of the film's pivotal stabbing; the Federal DVD presented the scene in a combination of rippled and unrippled footage, evidently because the aptly-named SCHIZOID included individual shots not found in the Italian cut. The R2 disc also offered a "deleted scene" not edited back into the picture. Despite this oversight and the fact that the Federal DVD offered nothing in the way of English subtitles, Media Blasters/Shriek Show was raked over the coals in Cyberspace because a superior-looking element had been found to exist, which the company was berated for not importing and subtitling.

Shriek Show is hoping to make good for their earlier release by issuing a new and improved single-disc remaster of Fulci's classic psycho-thriller that, they hope, will provide the best of all possible Lucertoli for the film's admirers. Having been given a first look at the new disc, I can attest that this new version is -- like the Federal presentation -- a unique cut of the film that was likely never shown in any theater anywhere in the world. It runs a full minute longer than Federal's earlier composite and is certainly the most complete version of the film likely to surface on DVD. I've heard that Studio Canal are the current custodians of the film's original negative, but while a negative would ensure the best possible picture quality, it would carry no guarantee of being more complete. Only the scenes included in the SCHIZOID cut were actually dubbed into English, under the direction of AIP line producer Salvatore Billetteri. Also, mind you, it is unlikely that Studio Canal would allow any negative out of their hands, so anyone licensing the film from them would be required to accept the transfer they were given. The only way to arrive at a complete version of this film would appear to be by cobbling together the English and Italian versions, as Shriek Show has done here with the help of a new Italian print element.

Mike Kennedy and Penny Brown as the tripping witnesses to murder.

So how does Shriek Show's second go at LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN differ from, or improve upon, their first? The following is a breakdown of some points of comparison between the new version and its predecessors, which has been assembled with the help of Shriek Show's Richard York:

2:08-2:30 The scene of Carol walking through the masses of naked people in the train's passageway has been lengthened by 22 seconds.

4:00-4:30 During the first lesbian encounter between Carol and Julia, there is an additional shot exposing Florinda Bolkan's backside as Anita Strindberg pulls the fur coat off her shoulders. This shot appeared in neither version of the film included in Shriek Show's previous release, though an abbreviated version of the shot appeared in SCHIZOID. It should be mentioned that Federal's R2 version was lacking some moments of Bolkan writhing and moaning in her bed before she wakes up, which were included in SCHIZOID.

9:08-9:18 and 9:48-10:16 During these time codes, some shots not seen in SCHIZOID -- most of which involved nudity of some sort -- were reinserted into the quick-cut montage.

10:38-11:04 The scene of Strindberg removing her top, walking toward a man and kissing him was not in Federal's R2 version but was included on their DVD as a "deleted scene." The scene was already present in SCHIZOID.

17:09-17:30 The Francis Bacon-inspired nightmare sequence in SCHIZOID omitted the shot in which a blue-faced Ely Galleani was shown to be cradling a tumult of gooey intestines spilling from her midsection, as well as much of Carlo Rambaldi's gigantic swan-thing. This material was reinserted.

17:32-19:26 As mentioned earlier, in SCHIZOID, the murder of Julia by Carol was treated to a rippling optical effect, presumably to obscure nudity and violence -- and possibly to heighten the ambiguity of whether or not it's a dream. On the Federal R2 disc, this scene cuts back and forth between rippled and non-rippled material in an effort to reincorporate footage found only in the SCHIZOID cut. The Italian master provided to Shriek Show contained the entire scene unrippled, which is what they have opted to include in their new release -- providing a wholly unobstructed view of the proceedings.

26:10-26:21 The scene of Jean Sorel, Ely Galleani and Silvia Monti walking and talking, expressing concern for Florinda Bolkan's character was not previously included in SCHIZOID or the Italian version included on Shriek Show's original release. The dialogue scene exists only in Italian and thus had to be inserted into the otherwise English-language film in Italian with English subtitles.

26:22-30:06 Immediately following the above scene is the paranoid dinner sequence during which Carol receives the phone call from her neighbor, then frantically looks for her notes. This scene was in Shriek Show's earlier standard-framed Italian version, but not in SCHIZOID.

30:24-31:19 A tense-looking Florinda is smoking cigarettes on a sofa while Silvia sits at a table. Ely brings Silvia a drink and some brief dialogue is exchanged. This nearly minute-long scene was likewise not on any previous version and had to be subtitled. This scene leads up to Florinda barging in on the crime scene.

32:17-32:24 Inserted back into the scene of Carol's visit to the crime scene were 7 seconds of her being conforted by her husband (Sorel) and a disquieting close-up of Julia's dead body.

53:53-54:06 This scene of Sorel and Monti's extramarital lovemaking was extended by 13 seconds of additional kissing and rolling around.

58:26-59:12 Finally, the infamous scene of Carol's accidental discovery of the clinic's room of conscious, vivisected dogs -- not included in SCHIZOID -- has been reinserted.


Inspector Corvin (Stanley Baker) brings cold comfort to Carol as she mourns a relative.

Shriek Show's forthcoming release thus improves upon earlier attempts in meaningful ways and warrants recognition as a significant upgrade -- indeed, it's the most integral version we're likely to see. Nevertheless, the disc has some modest faults that must also be noted.

When compared to the Federal DVD, there is no question that the Italian disc is cleaner, sharper-looking, with more realistically modulated color. (Mind you, it's also incomplete and in Italian only, with some faux compositing -- like the on/off rippling -- that favor AIP's preferences over those of Fulci. Though LIZARD is of Italian origin, it was set and shot in London and acted almost entirely in English, with some principals like Baker and Genn doing the actual dubbing, so the English track takes precedence above any other.) For some reason, Shriek Show opted to brighten the feature's overall color, as I suppose was in keeping with their predominant source, the SCHIZOID element; I felt it necessary to turn the color settings of my monitor down a notch or two, to a more realistic, less distracting register, after which the film-like quality of the anamorphic image was very pleasing. That the new master made use of more than one source element is not particularly evident, showing that great pains were taken to achieve a consistent look throughout. I noticed brief instances of glare and grain, possibly inherent in the source elements rather than the transfer, but no cause for common complaints like overdone edge enhancement. Certain scenes are mildly marred by fine bluish scratches, which I didn't find objectionable, as it's better to have such reminders of 35mm film stock than too much digital cleanup. In comparing footage shared by this new transfer and Shriek Show's earlier SCHIZOID transfer, I found the new transfer more vivid. The audio options are English 5.1 and 2.0 mono, and Italian 2.0 mono (viewable with English subtitles). My sampling of the 5.1 option found that it didn't do much but send the mono signal equally from all five channels, which I found spatially disorienting and quickly did without. Perhaps I gave up too early, as I'm told the track does include some directional effects, particularly during the film's celebrated bat attack sequence.

With the exception of the several Fulci trailers carried over from the previous release (including the one featuring a ponderous epigraph by author "M. Hawthorne"), the new disc's extras have all been imported from the R2 disc and given English subtitles. These consist of a generous 31m discussion of Fulci and this particular film by Prof. Paolo Albiero, co-author of the book IL TERRORISTA DEI GENERI: TUTTO IL CINEMA DE LUCIO FULCI (something I need to acquire). Albiero's talk, at once intellectual yet entertaining and approachable, I found quite engrossing; it deals with LIZARD on conceptual and generic levels, places the film intelligently in context with Fulci's other work (Albiero feels that Fulci's horror films were "his ruin," in the overall story of his career, though he discusses them with obvious appreciation), and Albiero speaks with warmth and confidence. The talk is followed by Albiero's concise history of the film's censorship problems abroad (5m 51s). The feature's original Italian title sequence is also included.

Having compiled such a nearly definitive package, it's all the more regrettable that Shriek Show chose not to go all the way by carrying over from their original release Kit Gavin & Mike Baronas' "Shedding the Skin" (33m 44s) -- a terrifically thorough and entertaining featurette including interviews with the surviving cast and effects men, as well as visits to original shooting locations. The absence of this most valuable labor of love from the new release makes it essential that fans of the film either hold onto, or belatedly acquire, the original Shriek Show two-disc set.

Bear in mind that this article is a preview; Shriek Show's LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN will not street until March 17. Minor quibbles aside, it's an impressive disc with absorbing extras -- and likely to stand out as one of the most important genre film restorations of the year. Where this title is concerned, we're never going to get completeness and perfection, but this presentation comes remarkably close to achieving just that.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

I 3 VOLTI DEL TERRORE reviewed

John Phillip Law as hypnotist Dr. Peter Price, offering three fellow train passengers glimpses into their fates in 1 TRE VOLTI DEL TERRORE.

I 3 VOLTI DEL TERRORE
"The Three Faces of Terror"
2004, Pulp Video/Xploited Cinema, DD-5.1/2.0/MA/16:9/LB/SUB/+, 84m 35s, $21.95, DVD-0

The spirit of Mario Bava may live on in today's Italian horror cinema but -- judging by this anthology from special makeup effects artist-turned-director Sergio Stivaletti -- in name only. The title and format of this digitally-shot feature are plainly indebted to Bava's 1963 I TRE VOLTI DELLA PAURA ("The Three Faces of Fear"), also known as BLACK SABBATH; it toplines John Phillip Law, the star of Bava's DANGER: DIABOLIK, who is featured in the wraparound story and plays different characters in all three principal stories; and there is also an amusing cameo by Lamberto Bava, who appears in the second story as the director of "DEMONI 7." Stivaletti's heart may be in the right place, but he could have paid greater tribute to Bava by aspiring to the standards of craftsmanship he established, rather than with tongue-in-cheek name-and-trivia-dropping and a troika of lame stories.

Scripted by Stivaletti and Antonio Tentori, I 3 VOLTI DEL TERRORE is most obviously indebted to the 1965 Amicus production DR. TERROR'S HOUSE OF HORRORS, and also the 1985 low-rent anthology NIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR, which also featured Law. Three strangers (Riccardo Serventi, Ambre Even, Emiliano Reggente) travelling in an otherwise unoccupied traincar are joined by Dr. Peter Price (Law), who introduces himself as a hypnotist. He carries with him a silver ball that is the agent of his hypnosis, popping open in the palms of the passengers to reveal spinning mirrors that offer frightening glimpses of their futures, which turn out to be reminders of their immediate pasts. In "L'Anello della Luna" ("The Ring of the Moon"), Law plays a wealthy relics collector who pays a small fortune to two men to loot an ancient tomb, but one (Serventi) decides to keep the dead man's ring, which cuts into his finger and infects him with lycanthropy. (Popular keyboardist/composer Claudio Simonetti makes a cameo in this segment, as a victim of the werewolf.) In "Un Viso Perfetto (Dr. Lifting)," an actress (Even) escorts her best friend (Elizabetta Rocchetti) to a plastic surgeon (Law, actually named Dr. Fisher -- whose office and waiting rooms are stocked with film reference books and video guides!) and is taken aback when her friend expresses a wish to look more like her. In "Il Guardiano del Lago" ("Guardian of the Lake"), Law plays a half-masked boatman who warns three lakeside visitors to abandon their campsite because the surrounding waters harbor danger.
The stories are not only flimsy, but made to seem weaker than they are by the film's ill-considered structure, which cuts them off before they are properly finished -- giving the impression of weak endings all around; the proper story endings are withheld till a procession near the end of the movie, after certain facts about the wraparound story (already glaringly apparent to anyone halfway familiar with the horror genre) have been made sledgehammer clear.

Riccardo Serventi wishes he hadn't stolen "L'Anello della Luna."

Though inspirationally rooted in the 1960s, everything else about this picture -- Stivaletti's gooey Change-O-Head transformation effects, the prog rock-oriented soundtrack, the blue-and-black-colored atmospherics, the stumblingly phonetic supporting performances, the dated-looking CGI effects, an unnecessary sex scene (to call it "gratuitous" would indicate that it actually delivered some cheap thrills) -- all this seems a hapless hommage to 1980s Italian horror, the kind that always went straight to videocassette, courtesy of labels like Media Home Entertainment and Lightning Video back in the day.

If the film is worth seeing for any reason at all, it's to enjoy the sweet and somewhat sentimental scenery-chewing of John Phillip Law, who gets to play a range of characters in a range of dramatic modes. As Dr. Peter Price, he seems to be reprising the "old man" disguise he wore as Diabolik while reclaiming the emerald pendants from the crematorium; elsewhere, he can be found effectively underplaying in "L'Anello della Luna" and chortling his way wildly over the top in classic Grade Z mad scientist tradition in the final moments of "Un Viso Perfetto" (which recalls his work in Sergio Bergonzelli's insane BLOOD SACRIFICE. Even more to the picture's credit is a well-done stop-motion animation sequence (supervised by Fabrizio Lazzeretti and Gaetano Polizzi) involving a sea monster that briefly harkens back to the Harryhausen and Danforth fantasies of the early 1960s, a spirit which should have infected this enterprise a bit more.

As previously noted, I 3 VOLTI DEL TERRORE was shot on digital video and it looks here about the same as many 1980s Italian efforts shot in 16mm or Super 16mm; the lighting is a trifle glaring at times, the color is adequate, and the picture quality is a bit soft with occasional haloing. It's viewable in Italian with optional English subtitles or in English, which plays more awkwardly but at least preserves the vocal performances given onset by Law and his co-stars. The Italian track is playable in Dolby Digital 5.1 (an impressive mix) and 2.0 surround, while the English track is presented only in Dolby Stereo. The English subtitles are an oddity, punctuated with several instances of transcribed Italian muttered (ad libbed?) onscreen. The copy under review also evinced quite a few audio glitches on the English track.

Elizabetta Rocchetti gets what she asked for in"Un Viso Perfetta."

No fewer than three different editions of the film are available on import DVD, including a single-disc no-frills edition, a single-disc edition loaded with extras, and a three-disc edition containing a second disc of even more bonus materials and a CD of the musical score; all three are available from Xploited Cinema. The disc under review here is the single disc with extras, which already seems like much ado about fairly little. The bonus materials include deleted scenes, an unsubtitled 13m behind-the-scenes featurette, two trailers (the English one is a charmer, including original footage of Law in character), various photo galleries, an audio commentary by Stivaletti and Tentori (in Italian, without subtitles), and more.

I thought Stivaletti's earlier WAX MASK showed promise, but it was a real movie; I 3 VOLTI DEL TERRORE seems less an actual feature than a Digicam lark made on weekends by fans who happen to be professionals. I wish I liked this concoction better, but I can only recommend it -- with reservations -- to Italian horror buffs interested in checking in with John Phillip Law's career. And if an Italian horror booster like myself can find so little joy in it, I can't commend it to the attention of anyone whose genre interests may be more tempered.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Collecting THE RIFLEMAN

A disarming promo shot of THE RIFLEMAN's Johnny Crawford
and Chuck Connors.


With THE RIFLEMAN starting anew on Encore Westerns this evening (at 7:00 pm eastern), I know I'm not the only collector who's wondering which episodes I still need. With this idea in mind --instilled in me by fellow McCain rancher Larry Blamire -- I decided to sit down with the six extant MPI Home Video box sets (now officially out-of-print, though still available), find the correct season and episode numbers for each program therein, and use that information to determine which shows were still missing.

The listings below present of the volume number for each MPI box set, followed by the episode titles in that set, each show followed by its correct season and episode number in parentheses. (The episode numbers are sequential; in other words, Season 2 begins with Episode 41, not Episode 1.) These are followed by a final, season-by-season accounting of the 48 episodes not issued on DVD by MPI. I have also color-coded the seasons, to make their episodes easier to identify at a glance: Season 1, Season 2, Season 3, Season 4 and Season 5.

The good news: If you bought the MPI sets, you won't have to start recording for awhile.

VOLUME 1
Sharpshooter (S1 E1)
Home Ranch (S1 E2)
End of a Young Gun (S1 E3)
The Marshall (S1 E4)
Duel of Honor (S1 E7)
The Angry Gun (S1 E13)
The Sheridan Story (S1 E16)
The Money Gun (S1 E33)
The Mind Reader (S1 E40)

Bloodlines (S2 E42)
Day of the Hunter (S2 E55)

The Vaqueros (S4 E111)
Knight Errant (S4 E117)
The Long Goodbye (S4 E119)
High Country (S4 E122)
Man From Salinas (S4 E130)
Two Ounces of Tin (S4 E131)

Waste: Part I (S5 E143)
Waste: Part II (S5 E144)

The Deadly Image (S4 E132)

VOLUME 2
The Boarding House (S1 E22)
The Brother-in-Law (S1 E5)

The Bullet (S5 E163)
Dead Cold Cash (S3 E85)
The Hero (S2 E59)
The Indian (S1 E21)
Lariat (S2 E67)
Mail Order Groom (S2 E56)
The Martinet (S3 E83)
Miss Bertie (S3 E90)
The Most Amazing Man (S5 E151)
New Orleans Menace (S1 E10)
One Went To Denver (S1 E25)

The Prodigal (S2 E71)
The Safe Guard (S1 E8)
The Schoolmaster (S3 E86)
Three-Legged Terror (S1 E30)
The Wyoming Story 1 (S3 E96)
The Wyoming Story 2 (S3 E97)

The Young Englishman (S1 E12)

VOLUME 3
The Patsy (S2 E41)
The Blowout (S2 E43)
Obituary (S2 E44)
Tension (S2 E45)
Eddie's Daughter (S2 E46)
Panic (S2 E47)
Ordeal (S2 E48)
The Spiked Rifle (S2 E49)
The Letter of the Law (S2 E50)
Legacy (S2 E51)
The Babysitter (S2 E52)
The Coward (S2 E53)
The Surveyors (S2 E54)
A Case of Identity (S2 E57)
The Visitor (S2 E58)
The Spoiler (S2 E61)
Heller (S2 E62)
Meeting at Midnight (S2 E74)
Nora (S2 E75)
The Hangman (S2 E76)

VOLUME 4
Trail of Hate (S3 E77)
Eight Hours to Die (S1 E6)
The Sister (S1 E9)
The Apprentice Sheriff (S1 E11)
The Gaucho (S1 E14)
The Pet (S1 E15)
The Retired Gun (S1 E17)
The Photographer (S1 E18)
Shivaree (S1 E19)
The Dead-Eye Kid (S1 E20)
The Deadly Wait (S1 E26)
The Wrong Man (S1 E27)
The Challenge (S1 E28)
The Woman (S1 E32)
The Angry Man (S1 E31)
A Matter of Faith (S1 E34)
Blood Brothers (S1 E35)
Stranger at Night (S1 E36)
The Raid (S1 E37)
Outlaw's Inheritance (S1 E38)


VOLUME 5
The Trade (S1 E24)
Boomerang (S1 E39)
The Hawk (S1 E29)

The Horsetraders (S2 E60)
Jailbird (S2 E73)
The Grasshopper (S2 E63)
The Fourflushers (s2 E72)
The Deserter (S2 E65)
Smoke Screen (S2 E68)
Shotgun Man (S2 E69)
Old Man Running (S5 E166)
Old Tony (S5 168 - final episode)
Quiet Night, Deadly Night (S5 E146)
Suspicion (S5 E157)
Which Way’d They Go? (S5 E167)
Gun Shy (S5 E153)
I Take This Woman (S 5 E148)
Incident at Line Shack 6 (S5 E156)
Lou Mallory (S5 E145)
Mark’s Rifle (S5 E150)


VOLUME 6
The Vision (S2 E66)
Woman From Hog Ridge (S3 E78)
Sins of the Father (S2 E70)
The Illustrator (S3 E88)
Baranca (S3 E82)
The Actress (S3 E94)
A Time For Singing (S2 E64)
Seven (S3 E79)
The Long Trek (S3 E93)
Flowers By the Door (S3 E92)
Face of Yesterday (S3 E95)
Miss Millie (S3 E84)
The Pitchman (S3 E80)
The Promoter (S3 E87)
Silent Knife (S3 E89)
Six Years and a Day (S3 E91)
Strange Town (S3 E81)

The Second Witness (S1 E23)
And Devil Makes Five (S5 E161)
Anvil Chorus (S5 E154)


SEASON 1 - Complete.

SEASON 2 - Complete.

Still Needed:

SEASON 3 - Closer Than A Brother (98), Lost Treasure of Canyon Town (99), Dark Day at North Fork (100), The Prisoner (101), The Assault (102), Short Rope for a Tall Man (103), The Clarence Bibs Story (104), The Score Is Even (105), The Mescalero Curse (106), Stopover (107), Lonesome Bride (108), Death Trap (109), The Queue (110).

SEASON 4 - First Wages (112), Sheer Terror (113), The Stand-In (114), The Journey Back (115), The Decision (116), Honest Abe (118), The Shattered Idol (120), Long Gun from Tucson (121), A Friend in Need (123), Skull (124), The Princess (125), Gunfire (126), The Quiet Fear (127), Sporting Chance (128), A Young Man's Fancy (129), The Debt (133), Tin Horn (134), None So Blind (135), The Jealous Man (136), Guilty Conscience (137), Day of Reckoning (138), The Day a Town Slept (139), Millie's Brother (140), Outlaw's Shoes (141), The Executioner (142).

SEASON 5 - Death Never Rides Alone (147), The Assailants (149), Squeeze Play (152), Conflict (155), The Sidewinder (158), The Sixteenth Cousin (159), Hostages to Fortune (160), End of the Hunt (162), Requiem at Mission Springs (164), The Guest (165).

Sunday, January 07, 2007

What's Old West is New Again

This past weekend, Encore Westerns hosted 24-hour marathons of the popular 1950s teleseries THE RIFLEMAN (Saturday) and BAT MASTERSON (Sunday). Happily, these round-the-clock broadcasts were preamble to the announcement that both shows are joining the channel's regular broadcast schedule this week.

Effective Monday, January 8, BAT MASTERSON will be airing in hour-long, two-episode blocks from 5:00-6:00 pm weekdays, with THE RIFLEMAN airing in hour-long, two-episode blocks from 7:00-8:00 pm weekdays (eastern time). I understand there will also be Saturday showtimes; for these, consult Encore Westerns schedule here. Both programs will be shown complete and uninterrupted, and (importantly for perfectionists like us) in their original broadcast order.

Encore Westerns' acquisition of THE RIFLEMAN is welcome news, as it signals the show's rescue from the Hallmark Channel, its home for the past several years, where episodes were hacked to pieces to accommodate commercials and often interrupted at dramatically inopportune moments. Arguably the greatest of all television Westerns, THE RIFLEMAN is also the warmest and frequently the most profound. At heart, it's about the father-and-son relationship of widowed rancher and expert marksman Lucas McCain (Chuck Connors in the role he was born to play) and his son Mark (Johnny Crawford, who's an able young horseman as well as one of the most gifted child actors ever), but the show also tackled difficult subjects like prejudice and mob violence and equally rigorous situations, including more than one episode in which Lucas was required to survive strandings in the desert without food or water. A number of outstanding first season episodes were helmed by Sam Peckinpah, who shocked audiences from the get-go by allowing the show's hero Lucas McCain (Chuck Connors) to be felled by a bullet at the end of the first episode he directed -- none of the show's characters, including Paul Fix as stoic Marshall Micah Torrance, was bullet-proof. THE RIFLEMAN was also the site of the earliest collaborations between Peckinpah and Warren Oates, who guests in several episodes. GUN CRAZY auteur Joseph H. Lewis also directed many episodes.

The right to a second chance was another of the show's recurring themes, and the quality of its writing is exemplified by a moment in the episode "The Sheridan Story," in which Lucas takes on the help of a wretched homeless man (Royal Dano) whose state literally repulses the McCains. When the boy asks his father if he hired the vagrant because he was so far gone, Lucas replies, "No, son... because we were so far gone" -- in other words, so far gone that their instincts were to turn away from a fellow human being in need. The show's writing is sometimes startlingly resonant in its simplicity and humanity, and the second act of this episode features dialogue that is positively Shakespearean in its crafting. Other episodes can be just as surprising and pleasing in the degree of their tongue-in-cheek playfulness. Akim Tamiroff, Sammy Davis Jr., John Carradine, Lon Chaney Jr., and Dennis Hopper are among the show's most memorable guest stars.

THE RIFLEMAN (which ran for five seasons) is one of the classic television series worth owning in its entirety. Six 20-episode box sets have been released on DVD by MPI Home Video; the intact episodes look fine, but unfortunately, this collection got off on the wrong foot by initially collecting the "best of" compilations MPI originally issued as single discs -- so the MPI box sets do not represent entire seasons, nor are the episodes presented in original broadcast order; the final episode was included in VOL. 5, and some first season shows continue to turn up as late as VOL. 6. This is a problem because the program did observe a certain continuity, sometimes referencing earlier episodes in the dialogue, and the sequencing of the discs can become distracting as Johnny Crawford grows or shrinks an inch or two in height between episodes. Furthermore, the half-dozen MPI sets in release are a substantial 48 episodes shy of the complete run, and MPI's press rep has sadly informed me that the company's rights to THE RIFLEMAN expired with the coming of the New Year. Therefore, there won't be any additional MPI sets, and even if you've been collecting them in the hopes of acquiring them all, your only hope now of securing the complete series -- and in its original broadcast order -- is to record the Encore Westerns broadcasts.

BAT MASTERSON (which ran for three seasons, beginning in 1958) is one of those programs I've heard about all my life, but didn't actually see until yesterday. To the best of my knowledge, it's been off the air for many years and not commonly found in syndication. Gene Barry stars as real historical figure William Barclay "Bat" Masterson, a dapper gunfighter so nicknamed because of his self-defensive abilities with a gold-capped walking stick. The first episode, "Double Showdown," I didn't find very interesting until a premature finale led to an out-of-character appearance by Barry, who explained that history recalls this particular adventure of Masterson ending two different ways... at which point, the episode gives us the other version, as well. Subsequent episodes not only held my interest; they held me in thrall until 5:00 in the morning. I left the balance of the marathon's offerings in the capable hands of my DVD burner's hard drive.

I don't recall ever reading about Barry's portrayal being any kind of precursor to the screen version of James Bond, but I find the comparison (and debt) glaringly obvious. Barry's Bat is debonair and worldly, a professional gambler, a connoisseur of fine wines and fine living, a ladies man (he not only gets around, but seems to have previously known every woman of visible experience to appear in each episode... and gets around to knowing some of the innocent ones too), and armed with a ready quip at the most daunting moments. Strapped to a tree with rawhide bonds and left behind as bear bait, Masterson tells his farewell-bidding adversary, "I'd shake hands, but I'm all tied up." (One of the episodes is even called "License To Cheat.") Make no mistake: Sean Connery wasn't the first hero to punctuate his prowess with smug remarks like "Shocking" -- Gene Barry was doing it years earlier, in high style, and the memory of this show probably helped to inspire the later cult series THE WILD WILD WEST.

As with THE RIFLEMAN, the guest stars alone provide good reason for watching. The episodes of BAT MASTERSON I watched last night featured Allison Hayes, Yvette Vickers, Gloria Talbott, Marie Windsor, and Louise Fletcher (they all got kissed) -- as well as Elisha Cook Jr., William Conrad, Ross Martin, Walter Barnes (who appears uncredited in "Bear Bait"), Joe Turkel, Barry Atwater, and Hank "Fred Ziffel" Patterson.

Tune in or set your timers: the adventures of these Western heroes are habits you'll find well worth acquiring.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

CAULDRON OF BLOOD reviewed

A nightmare vision from the Spanish-made Boris Karloff film,
CAULDRON OF BLOOD.

CAULDRON OF BLOOD
Las Coleccionista de Cadáveres ("The Corpse Collectors")
1967/70, NTA/Republic Home Video, HF/OOP, 99m, VHS


This curious Spanish-American co-production starring Boris Karloff was filmed in 1967, contemporaneously with his I SPY episode "Mainly On the Plains," but not released anywhere in the world until February 1970, a full year after the actor's death. At this time, it was one of several films falsely advertised as showcasing his final performance. Uncommonly in the context of a horror film, Karloff is not top-billed; though his bearded and begoggled visage looms large in the psychedelic opening credits (with the film's title spelled out in animated bones, à la ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN), that distinction falls to dashing Jean-Pierre Aumont, who stars as photojournalist Claude Marchand.

Assigned by HOLIDAY Magazine to travel to Torremolinos and charm his way past the barred doors of reclusive artist Charles Badalescu (Karloff), Marchand achieves his goal with the help of Valerie (Rosenda Montéros), an attractive local artist on friendly terms with Badalescu's protective wife and former model Tania (Viveca Lindfors). Badalescu, blinded and crippled in an automobile accident years earlier, is working on a series of commissions involving the sculptural recreations of the figures in various classic paintings. He achieves this -- in a manner requiring only slightly more ability than fellow sculptor Walter Paisley (in Roger Corman's A BUCKET OF BLOOD, 1959) -- by using actual human and animal skeletons acquired by Tania as armatures. What Badalescu doesn't know is that Tania isn't robbing graves but working with a handsome cohort (Milo Quesada, the murderous Frank in BLACK SABBATH's "The Telephone") to "arrange" the deaths of various turistas who have the misfortune to resemble figures in the paintings being recreated in three dimensions; she then dips them in a basement acid bath to provide the artist with his raw materials. Prominent among the supporting cast are Dianik Zurakowska -- one of the female figureheads of Seventies Spanish horror, whose short screen career encompassed THE SWEET SOUND OF DEATH (1965), FRANKENSTEIN'S BLOODY TERROR (1968), THE VAMPIRE'S NIGHT ORGY (1973) and SEXY CAT (1973) -- and Manuel de Blas, who subsequently played an interesting Count Dracula in the many-titled ASSIGNMENT TERROR aka DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN (1969).

Boris Karloff as the blind sculptor Charles Badalescu.

At the time of its initial release, CAULDRON OF BLOOD was generally dismissed by horror fans; Karloff's role wasn't prominent enough, his expressive eyes were covered throughout (either by heavy black goggles or a grotesque makeup showing his eyes welded closed), and the modernist style of the film was jarring, its jazzy score (credited to Ray Ellis, though it sounds very much like a Spanish film score of its era) and its garish lighting not in keeping with the traditional qualities found in Karloff's best pictures. Revisited today, with more familiarity with Spanish horror cinema and its own traditions under our belt, it's easier to appreciate for what it is -- not a good film by any means, but more interesting than previously thought.

The English version is self-described as "A Film By Edward Mann," but this provenance is troublesome as Mann (who previously scripted ISLAND OF TERROR) was known to make arrangements with friends and acquaintences to add his name to scripts he had nothing to do with, as in the case of Oliver Stone's SEIZURE. The screenplay is credited to John Melson and Edward Mann, while Spanish references credit José Luís Bayonas. It's possible that Mann wrote some English dialogue for the film, but he at most co-directed it with Santos Alcocer (THE ORGIES OF DR. ORLOFF), whose role is obscured in the otherwise English credits with the job description "realizador." There is no director credit, per se.
Viveca Lindfors as Tania -- wife, caregiver, sado-masochist, and worse -- in a shot displaying the film's inventive color lighting.
Aumont (the father of Tina Aumont) looks throughout like an actor who knows he is slumming, but he fires off some crude lines early in the picture that are amusingly at odds with his debonair persona. (Looking around while checking into an empty hotel, he sighs, "Boy! The zhoint is zhumping!" And when he's assured that the hotel bar is much cleaner than the other bar in town, he responds that he's glad because he wouldn't want to be taking home "any portable pets.") Karloff, who dubs his own performance, gives a fine workmanlike portrayal of the sort he gave earlier in the year in THE VENETIAN AFFAIR; if he's not particularly memorable, it's because the role has been given illusory substance by being cast with a better actor than it required. The film truly belongs to Viveca Lindfors, who -- in her late 40s at the time of filming -- gives a sexy performance as Karloff's imperiously chic, implicitly bisexual caregiver, who wears a chauffeur's uniform, leather pants, and whip regalia to a masquerade party and suffers nightmares of being mercilessly flogged as a child, dreams which also contain an eerie presentiment of her eventual fate. This nightmare sequence also features crude special effects of Karloff's head melting; these, attributed to the company Thierry Pathé, are very much like those seen in MALENKA and the Blind Dead films and suggest the uncredited involvement of Amando de Ossorio. Fans of Spanish film locations may recognize Karloff's Byzantine abode from its appearances in other pictures, notably Jess Franco's DORIANA GRAY (1976).

NTA/Republic Home Video's long-out-of-print videocassette naturally presents the film dubbed into English, but the job is incompletely done, with one scene of Spanish actors talking to one another in their native language subtitled in English (the words are not only horizontally cropped in this pan&scan transfer, but may also be vertically so, depending on your monitor's calibration). Also, scenes involving Aumont, Quesada and a young Spanish actor find the boy speaking in untranslated Spanish in response to their English dialogue; amusingly, they all seem to understand each other. As with many Republic tapes dating back to their earlier NTA incarnation, the film is presented in what appears to be its TV version; there is a brief through-the-suds glimpse of Zurokowska's nipple in a bubble bath scene, but more prolonged views of her nude body are splicily excised from a later sequence. (Nudity would also have been forbidden in any Spanish film of this vintage.) Some sources list this film as having been photographed in a scope ratio, but it was actually shot in a "Panoramico" (1.85:1) ratio, and cropped here to standard framing, with only a couple of instances of lateral scanning. The color quality of the tape looks surprisingly fresh and undated.

CAULDRON OF BLOOD is also available here as a low-frills UK import Region 2 DVD from Orbit Media. This release is also said to feature a cropped standard ratio presentation, and Kim Newman informs me that it is also lacking the nudity absent from the NTA/Republic tape. It also includes an episode of Karloff's COLONEL MARCH OF SCOTLAND YARD series ("The Silver Curtain," featuring Anton Diffring) and bonus trailers as incentive. One of the trailers, appropriately, is for the aforementioned A BUCKET OF BLOOD.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Monday, January 01, 2007

VWb's New Year's Day Parade

HAPPY NEW YEAR! It's New Year's Day and my health is feeling (dare I say it?) on an upward swing, so I thought I would celebrate both facts by recommending a few items which have come to my attention over one transom or another. In case you're wondering, sending something over my transom (Tim Lucas, Video WatchBlog, PO Box 5283, Cincinnati OH 45205-0283) is no guarantee that I will like it or mention it here -- I'm a busy fellow, can't do all I'd like to do, and tend to gravitate toward known quantities that already interest me. These entrepreneurs lucked out, however, and I commend them and their projects to your support.

Mirek Lipinski, whose LATARNIA INTERNATIONAL forums are an essential meeting ground for the serious discussion of all things fantastic, is starting off the New Year in a most impressive and unexpected way. In this age of rampant blogging, Mirek is going back to print! He is launching KRIMI CORNER, a by-mail-only newsletter devoted to detailed coverage of the West German crime cinema based on the works of Edgar Wallace and his son Bryan Edgar Wallace. The first issue consists of only four pages, but they are four quality pages, encompassing an introductory essay about Wallace père, a checklist of Edgar Wallace krimis produced by Rialto Film, and an in-depth, illustrated review of Retromedia's double-feature DVD, THE MONSTER OF LONDON CITY and THE SECRET OF THE RED ORCHID. It's well worth the $2.00 asking price, and five-issue subscriptions are available for $8.00; it's mailed folded in a standard mailing envelope, unless you prefer it mailed flat in a manila envelope at an additional fifty cents per issue. Order with checks, money orders, or well concealed cash from M. Lipinski, PO Box 2398, New York NY 10009, or send PayPal payments to Mirelski@aol.com. The first issue gave me a lot of pleasure, and I'm looking forward to the pleasure the future issues will provide me as they accumulate in a binder. It's such a pleasure to see something like this printed on paper, that can be read in any room in the house, or outside the house! Bravo, Mirek!

Regular readers of VIDEO WATCHDOG may recall that, several issues ago, we covered the release of something called "The Monster Box," a box set of actual size reproductions of 8mm horror movie box cover art from the 1950s and 60s. Now, Mixed Nitrate -- a division of Pulp Novelties, the company behind the original release -- has issued "The Monster Box, Vol. 2" which consists of 25 additional vintage 8mm movie covers. Among the classic covers included in this latest selection are THE BLOB (pictured above), FRANKENSTEIN'S NEW BRAIN (scenes from THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN), ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE, and THE WEREWOLF, as well as a few titles that reach into the late '60s and early '70s like FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED, FRENZY, SQUIRM, and EQUINOX. I found particularly interesting the "weird menace"-style artwork given to DOCTOR X (featuring a mad doctor seemingly patterned on Everett Van Sloan), THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (an artist's rendition of a scene from THIS ISLAND EARTH!) and THE WOMAN IN THE COFFIN ("Beautiful Girls Stolen for Experiments," says the box... evidently this was a condensed version of the Baker & Berman film BLOOD OF THE VAMPIRE). A fun nostalgia item, "The Monster Box,Vol. 2" and its predecessor are both available here.

Some weeks ago, a fellow named Jeremy Richey sent me a link to his new blog The Moon in the Gutter. I responded as I always do to such links, by telling Jeremy that I would visit his site as time permitted and would comment only if I found his work there of personal interest. In the short time Moon has been up and running, Jeremy has proven himself an outstanding online essayist about film and music, and I find his choice of topics fascinating, as well as the angles he takes in approaching them. Check out what he's doing here.

Some of you may be aware of my long-running obsession with the San Francisco-based psych group Jefferson Airplane -- in addition to penning the liner notes for the "Ahuka's Choice" archival live sets and reviewing some of their bootleg albums for the Fly Jefferson Airplane site, I've written two drafts of an unproduced biopic screenplay about them (a four-hour miniseries chronicling the band's full history, and a feature-length draft focusing on Grace Slick).

This background is preamble to my recommendation -- to those kindred spirits among you -- of a new, telephone directory-sized book called TAKE ME TO A CIRCUS TENT, written and compiled by Craig "The Airplane Man" Fenton. This compendium from Infinity Books (which takes its title from a line in the song "3/5ths of a Mile in Ten Seconds") consists partly of interviews with band members and associates, more than 260 answered questions about Airplane arcana, 90 archival photographs (one particularly rare one contributed by me), and -- of particular interest -- a complete run-down/description of every documented live setlist in the band's history, including their 1989 reunion shows. Fenton actually times every song performed, gives authenticated names to various instrumental jams and improvs, mentions guest musicians (like Nicky Hopkins on piano at Woodstock), and notes the first and final live performances of individual songs. He also presents his choices for the band's ten best-ever live performances. The book could have used the attention of a proofreader in terms of spellings and grammar but, as an informational source, it's absorbing and can hardly be faulted. This is the kind of fan scholarship that infects with its rabid enthusiasm, and I recommend it. You can order TAKE ME TO A CIRCUS TENT from Amazon.com here -- or from Craig's own website, where you'll also find "Jeffersounds Audio," a healthy number of downloadable mp3s of live performances by various incarnations of the band, as well as band members' solo and secondary group projects.

In closing, on a different note, I wanted to mention that, last night, Game Show Network ran two 1968-era WHAT'S MY LINE? episodes with mystery guests Gerald R. Ford (then Congressman, not yet US President) and James Brown (then "soul singer," not yet Godfather). This was less than 40 years ago, and both men appeared surprisingly young and vital, yet they died at ages 93 and 73, respectively. A sobering reminder of how short our time on life's stage really is... so as we embark upon 2007, let's join together in our resolve to seize our days and make the most of them.

Or, as Donna says, "Don't expect parades when you're gone. Make the most of what you have now. This is as parade as it gets."

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Another Year Done Gone

Despite my lingering head cold, which now seems to be moving down my throat, Donna and I began closing out 2006 last night in high style, with a welcome visit from our out-of-town friends Mr. and Mrs. Charles Kilgore of ECCO fame.

This was the year we discovered/fell in love with/collected everything I could find by 50s rockers The Collins Kids (pictured, whom Charles plans to see in concert next month when they preside over a Link Wray tribute in Alexandria, VA), so we treated our guests to a number of the Collinses' TOWN HALL PARTY performances -- available on DVD from Bear Family. The Kilgores had never before seen Larry and Lorrie Collins in action, and they were as delighted as we've been through all three volumes of the Bear Family DVDs and also the two-disc CD box set from the same German import label. The music is rockabilly, but as I was listening to the second disc in the CD set, I was literally stunned by Lorrie's 1960 rendition of "Another Man Done Gone" -- which is such a chilling, despairing and erotic slab of blues that I can't help but imagine David Lynch will build a movie around it someday. I was so flabbbergasted to hear this morbid, piano-wire-scraping masterpiece in the context of so much buoyant fun that I had to play it a second, a third, AND a fourth time in succession just to believe it really existed. Now that I've worked myself up over it again, I'm regretting that I didn't play it for the Kilgores.

After watching a sampling of soda-poppin' performances that showed Lorrie's sultriness and Larry's flea-hopping, double-necked guitar-picking enthusiasm at their finest, we headed out to the nearby Primavista restaurant, with its superb Italian menu and a spectacular view overlooking the city on a crisp, clear, and not-very-cold winter's night. We've only been there once before under its current management, last November 7th for Donna's birthday, but hostess Isabella remembered us and made us all feel well-liked and at home. The food was beyond spectacular, and we can all recommend their Espresso Martini, which we bought for the table and each sampled (with me, the germy one, sampling last). Afterwards, we brought the Kilgores back to the house and treated them to a perusal of the Bava book proofs, and it was exciting to witness a fresh reaction to what we've been creating here all this time.

After our company departed, I scanned the cable channels and discovered that Joe Massot's WONDERWALL, a cult movie from the '60s I hadn't seen, was coming up on Flix -- so I tuned in. It's most notorious for featuring a music score by "George Harrison, M.B.E." (the first solo music by a Beatle ever released, if you don't count "Yesterday"); I'm fond of the soundtrack album, which is inventive and somewhat Krautrockish, but as accompaniment to the film, its aural mandalas and arabesques become rather grating. The screenplay also has a high pedigree, being based on a story by Polanski associate Gérard Brach (there are echoes or presentiments of THE TENANT here) and scripted by Cuban novelist G. Cabrera Infante (THREE TRAPPED TIGERS), but unfortunately it doesn't add up to much. It's basically overbearingly quirky British surrealism about an aging academic (Jack MacGowran) who knocks a peephole into his wall that peers into the otherworldly apartment of his neighbor, a beautiful but depressed fashion model (Jane Birkin). The eccentric supporting cast were impeccably chosen (THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS' Iain Quarrier, THE GREAT ROCK & ROLL SWINDLE's Irene Handl, FAHRENHEIT 451's Bee Duffel all good fun to see in ensemble) and the film itself is imaginatively designed and gives us a lot of Jane Birkin in her prime to admire, which is a good thing. I wasn't stoned while watching it, not even on Nyquil, which might have helped. Curiously, Flix presented the film in a noticeably aged, unremastered transfer with the odd splice, audio thumps, and other imperfections of the sort I haven't seen in a cable broadcast in more years than I can count.

Another long-missed movie I was happy to recently catch was Richard Lester's directorial debut, IT'S TRAD, DAD!, an early Amicus production that Turner Classic Movies broadcast a couple of nights ago under its US title, RING-A DING RHYTHM. The barest of plots finds a couple of college-age kids (UK chart toppers Helen Shapiro and Craig Douglas) challenging a curmudgeonly mayor (Felix Felton) who closes down the jukebox at a popular hang-out for lack of an entertainment license. They decide to stage a talent show to force a reconsideration, don't ask me how. Most of the music showcased here is Dixieland swing (the most famous proponent being Mr. Acker Bilk), hardly the sort of thing that would have led to a generational gap here in America, but there are bargain chip appearances by Del Shannon, Chubby Checker, Gary "U.S." Bonds, Joe Meek discovery Joe Leyton, and The Paris Sisters. What keeps the film from being absolutely insufferable, besides the music, is Lester's already developed spirit of madcap innovation and non sequitur comedy. Derek Nimmo, the dove-producing magician in A HARD DAY'S NIGHT, is here as a head waiter, and Bruce Lacey (the gentleman in HELP! who trims lawns with wind-up chattering teeth) is also on hand, using hedge-clippers to trim the lettuce off sandwiches. The two leads have dialogue exchanges with the offscreen narrator, who moves them from one location to another by replacing their backgrounds -- momentarily exposing the sprocketholes of the film print, the sort of thing previously seen only in Tex Avery cartoons. It runs out of steam toward the end, where the Dixieland music takes over completely, but it's beautifully photographed (by Gil Taylor) and made with far more invention than the Milton Subotsky script deserved.

This is the last day of 2006 and, as always, one feels an inclination to reflection and resolve. Our big resolution, of course, is to get the Bava book out by the spring, but I am under contract for a second book that will be out in the fall, which should also be exciting... and there's still another book assignment I'm hoping to get. With this, plus the nine DVD audio commentaries coming out in the spring, 2007 is looking like my most productive and important professional year so far, and I'm only talking about part of what's in the works. I thank you all for your continued attendance and friendly correspondence over the past year, and wish each of you the best of health and prosperity in 2007.

Friday, December 29, 2006

A Quiet Day at Home

I've been laid low by a post-Christmas head cold, and haven't felt like doing much of anything the past few days. My favored mode of relaxation and recovery has been converting tapes from the attic to DVD-R -- everything from the Paul Naschy DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN (aka ASSIGNMENT: TERROR) to BEAT CLUB anthologies to THE MONSTER OF PIEDRAS BLANCAS. It's an appropriately Christmassy thing to do, to focus on the things you're privileged to have, and to appreciate them.

The latest batch of pull-downs from the attic included MGM's 2000 Amazon.com exclusive, Elio Petri's A QUIET PLACE IN THE COUNTRY (now out of print). I reviewed this film for VW in issue #72 and haven't thought much about it since; I reviewed it more enthusiastically than I remembered it, actually. I put it on expecting to walk away and do something else, but I found myself instantly gripped by its energy and peculiar way of storytelling. To my surprise, I not only sat there and watched the entire film in my bathrobe, but the movie now felt to me like something profound and significant -- I think it may have joined the ranks of the very limited number of films that have changed my way of seeing. Now I want to see much more Elio Petri.

This raises some interesting questions: Are our perceptions amplified or otherwise altered, when we are running a fever or in some way diseased? Under such conditions, do we respond to films and other stimuli the same way we would when healthy? Does an elevated temperature bring us closer to art and consciousness, or does it effect a distortion? It might be an interesting experiment to watch some other films I feel I didn't entirely "get" on the first pass, and see if they strike more lucid chords in my state of fever.

One thing I completely missed the first time around with this movie: Rita Calderoni, who plays Franco Nero's housekeeper at the villa, is seen earlier in the movie as a model playing a role in one of the "Supersexy" fumettis he reads. If you notice this, it makes her later appearance in the flesh all the more jarring... and it's also curious to see how mousy she is here, in contrast with how prominently sexy she could be in the movies of Renato Polselli.

Anyway, whatever the reason, today turned out to be an exciting day at the movies.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Hardest Working Man in Show Business

The Seed and Creed of Rock and Soul: Mr. James Brown.

The word "LIVE!", shouting from the covers of so many of his albums, seems inseparable from the soul and essence of James Brown. That -- and the boundless energy he showed onstage throughout a 50 year career, not to mention the boundless invention he showed in the recording studio over an equal period of time -- make the news of his death on Christmas morning hard to accept.

Back in the 1970s, when punk was starting to happen, I was in a record store and the seller, who knew my tastes, steered me gently but firmly in the direction of the newly reissued LIVE AT THE APOLLO, VOLUME 1 by James Brown. I was a little hesitant because it was an earlier era of music than I tended to buy, and I was mostly listening to trancey avant garde alternative rock; also, the cover art was kind of kitschy, an airbrushed rendering of JB in a vast pompadour howling into a stage microphone. But I bought it and, lo and behold, it was one of the great musical discoveries of my life. I loved it.

I loved it enough to scoop up a used copy of JB's 1974 double album HELL as soon as I found one; it was recorded in a different era than the APOLLO disc, but it was, if anything, even more feisty and infectious. I especially loved the closing, side-long track "Papa Don't Take No Mess," which has the crackly sound of a groove-sampling epic decades before there were such things. It was around this same time that Robert Christgau devoted an installment of his "Consumer Guide" in CREEM magazine to JB, reviewing and grading all of his 1970s-80s work. I think I would have graded HELL a fraction better than he did, which gave me my bearings and stoked my curiosity. Then, just as I was starting to wonder how some things like "Soul Power" and "Get On The Good Foot" sounded, an Australian import appeared -- the first double-album Greatest Hits collection ever devoted to the full breadth of JB's work. Once I heard "Give It Up or Turnit A Loose" and "Sex Machine," there was no turning back. I had to collect the whole story, hear every track, leave no groove unturned. Again, as if by divine coincidence, GOLDMINE chose that precise moment to devote a feature article to James Brown, equipped with a complete discography -- my road map.

Mr. Brown's first record label, King Records, was Cincinnati-based, which made my quest a bit easier to accomplish, but over the course of the following 8-10 years, I subsequently found and bought every legitimately released JB album on vinyl, and then on CD. We're talking more than 100 albums, plus variants, repackagings, and special releases.

Little Richard calls himself "the architect of rock and roll," but James Brown made an epithet like that seem like so many small potatoes. JB was the architect of everything that came after rock and roll: soul, disco, rap, extended grooves and improvs, drum and bass, trance, sampling (he remains the most-sampled artist ever, possibly for "Funky Drummer" alone), and whatever comes next, probably. He was the first R&B artist to venture outside the box of 4/4 R&B shuffles. His rhythms and increasingly complex polyrhythms struck a mathematical counterpoint to the directness and simplicity of his message, which could be pro-social and constructive ("Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud," "Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved!"), narcissistic ("I paid the cost to be the Boss"), or nakedly rut-hungry ("Can I get INTO it? Can I get INTO it? Can I pull the sheet off of 'em? CAN I GET INTO IT?"). Because the music cut deeper and deeper with each repetition of the groove, no music was ever sexier or more sensual.

I've heard everything he ever recorded, and it must be admitted that he recorded his fair share of material that was dumb or preachy (the very last track on his last album was called "Killing's Out, School Is In") or in questionable taste; and, if truth be told, his live shows have been half-spirited and often tacky since his 1991 release from prison -- but none of that matters in terms of the Big Picture. He was also a visionary artist, a dazzling showman, and he could be very, very funny. (Check out "For Goodness Sakes, Take A Look At Those Cakes," an epic paen to butt-watching in which he actually invites Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles to "lookie here" and "lookie there," or the great moment in "Make It Funky" when Bobby Byrd pathetically beseeches JB to NOT be so funky, and he fires back "I cain't hep it, Byrd.") He was way too prolific to be perfect (someone once said that, if JB sneezed in the studio, he'd release it as a two-sided single), and if his last fifteen years of live performance were not his best, the show with which he toured represented a lot of mouths he had to feed, and he remained James Brown and all that JB represented till the end. Despite that, the quality of his releases always remained respectable (his penultimate album I'M BACK is very good) and his archival releases (especially the unparalleled box set STAR TIME) were among the best on the market.

I don't think any other one person could be said to have changed (hell, revolutionized) the world of music and the art of live performance to the extent that James Brown did. Mick Jagger didn't dance onstage until he stood in the wings and watched JB dance his way through his T.A.M.I. SHOW performance in 1964, a performance the Stones had to follow, which remains one of the very greatest live pop music performances ever captured on film. In 1986, he was one of the first inductees into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, along with Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Ray Charles, Little Richard and many other fathers of the form; he was the only inductee that year to simultaneously have a new single zooming up the charts (ROCKY IV's "Living In America").

James Brown may be dead, but I guarantee you he's not resting in peace. Somewhere, he's dancing with the renewed energy of a newborn and already scoping out the thangs ain't never been done.

"What I was doin' thirty years ago is what the rest of 'em are doin'... tomorrow." -- JB

MY FAVORITE JAMES BROWN ALBUMS
You could do a Top 10 of Best Ofs with JB, but I'm not going to cheat you like that. It should go without saying that nascent JB collectors need the STAR TIME box set first and above all, followed by ROOTS OF A REVOLUTION, FOUNDATIONS OF FUNK, FUNK POWER 1970, MAKE IT FUNKY - THE BIG PAYBACK, and DEAD ON THE HEAVY FUNK -- all fabulous archival overviews of specific periods in Mr. Brown's 50 year career. You can live content with the knowledge that you know your James Brown if you have only those, or some of those. THE GREATEST HITS OF THE FOURTH DECADE collects some worthwhile cuts not included elsewhere. For this list, however, I wanted to focus on JB's individual albums. I consider everything listed below a stand-alone album; though IN THE JUNGLE GROOVE and MOTHERLODE look like hits compilations, they are actually compilations of archival tracks previously unreleased, or in previously unreleased form. Albums are listed in my personal order of preference. Can't do a Top 10, but this isn't a Top 10, so I don't have to.

1. IN THE JUNGLE GROOVE 2. LIVE AT THE APOLLO, VOL. 1 3. LIVE AT THE APOLLO, VOL. 2 (original version; Side Two's suite of "Let Yourself Go/There Was a Time/I Feel Alright/Cold Sweat" may be the single greatest side JB ever cut) 4. LOVE PEACE POWER 5. THERE IT IS 6. HOT PANTS 7. THINK! 8. I'M REAL 9. HELL 10. IT'S A NEW DAY - LET A MAN COME IN 11. IT'S A MAN'S MAN'S MAN'S WORLD 12. MOTHERLODE.

Radomir Perica, 1924-2006


It is with great sadness that I must announce the death of Radomir Perica, on December 23, from congestive heart failure; he was 82. Radomir, whom we met through our friendship with his daughter Simonida Perica-Uth, one of our closest friends, was an accomplished graphic artist and designer. When Radomir heard that we were launching a magazine, back in 1990, he insisted on bringing his expertise to bear on the project and gifted us with the basic template for our front cover -- including our magazine logo, with its imperfect closing capital G and angled star-- which has been the basis of every VIDEO WATCHDOG cover we've produced in the past seventeen years. And, by extension, the logo you see on this very blog.

In Belgade, Yugoslavia, Radomir (whose name is also transliterated in some sources as "Radomira Perice") worked for many years as a cartoonist, a comics artist, an illustrator of books, and finally as the designer of title sequences for Yugoslavian feature films. I often tried to get him to talk about this period in his life, to help me track down examples of his work in this field, but he disliked talking about himself and blew off any attempt to make his past work the subject of discussion. In the early days of VW, Radomir helped me to obtain helpful information about his former colleague Rados Novakovich, the director of OPERACIJA TICIJAN, which Roger Corman subsequently transmuted into PORTRAIT IN TERROR, BLOOD BATH, and TRACK OF THE VAMPIRE; he even drew a sketch of Novakovich to accompany the first part of my three-part article about the film's history in VW #4.

It was Simonida who told us most of what we knew about Radomir, including that his own story had been the historical basis of a character in the 1986 film HEY BABU RIBA, who is jailed for getting and flaunting a Mickey Mouse tattoo -- which was seen by the authorities as a flagrant and unacceptable endorsement of American imperialism (and, by implication, a nose-thumbing at Leninist rule). In hindsight, it was an heroic gesture of his belief in the freedom of artistic expression in the face of oppressive government. His wife of many years, Vera, passed away not long after the family's relocation to Washington, D.C.

Radomir never lost his love of cinema (or Walt Disney) and attended new movies with his second wife, Mary, weekly. The films of Luís Buñuel and Ken Russell were among his great enthusiasms (we agreed that CRIMES OF PASSION was a masterpiece), and when he insisted to me that Joel Schumacher's BATMAN FOREVER demanded to be taken seriously -- not as a film, perhaps, but as a visual spectacle of rare scope, achievement, and taste in American cinema -- I was compelled to take a second look at it and came away convinced of what should have been obvious to me on the first pass.

Radomir was a brilliantly unique yet adaptable artist; some of the most outstanding examples of his interpretative art can be found here (these are available as stunning lithographic prints, including "Eve," pictured above), while some samples of a more basic, storybook nature can be found here. He also portrayed Nikola Tesla in the docudramatic passages of his son-in-law Robert Uth's award-winning PBS documentary TESLA: MASTER OF LIGHTNING.

Donna and I will miss Radomir for his absolute mastery of his craft, his warm endorsement of our projects, his animated spirit of fun and mischief -- in short, his beloved and singular place in our extended family.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

VIDEO WATCHDOG's Favorite DVDs of 2006 - Part 2

VW's FAVORITE DVD OF 2006:
EQUINOX (Criterion)

In selecting our choice for VW's Favorite DVD of 2006, we limited the contenders to only those titles which made our contributors' Top 10 lists -- no Honorable Mentions, no also-rans; only those discs that, in our estimation, were the creamiest of the crop. Criterion's EQUINOX was the only title to appear on three different primary lists, followed by Sony's THE PASSENGER, Paramount's THE CONFORMIST and 1900, and Criterion's THE COMPLETE MR. ARKADIN, each of which scored twice.

And now, as promised, my own personal selections...

TIM LUCAS (Editor's Choice):
Though my Favorites list does not reflect this, I spent most of my viewing hours in 2006 happily absorbed in classic television box sets: Warner's THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN, CBS Video's PERRY MASON (enjoyably restored to full length) and THE WILD WILD WEST (a new discovery for me, and a very pleasant one), MPI's THE RIFLEMAN (incredibly, each episode of this show seems a revelation), THE "COMBAT!" BATTLE BOX (the complete series, superbly packaged and packed with extras, released on December 6, 2005 and a repackaging of material released earlier, thus ineligible for this year's survey), Paramount's MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (I'm just getting into Season 1 and the color photography -- some of it by film noir architect John Alton -- is Bava-like in its rich palette and flagrant intensity); the list goes on and on.

As always, it seems to me that the challenge of preparing any list of this sort is fighting the impulse to simply pick the 10 best Criterion titles -- which I don't think would be as "simple" as all that -- as they continue to move from strength to strength. 2006 was certainly one of the label's banner years. It was also a year of immense volume, and I apologize in advance to those labels whose outstanding product I may have missed or misfiled in memory.


Jean-Claude Brialy admires Laurence de Monaghan in CLAIRE'S KNEE, one of the highlights of Criterion's ERIC ROHMER - SIX MORAL TALES.

1. ERIC ROHMER - SIX MORAL TALES (Criterion)
Criterion outdid themselves with this long-awaited but deeply satisfying presentation of my favorite film series -- a feast for the spirit and the senses. Each film has been utterly rejuvenated over the previous Fox Lorber transfers and complemented with marvelous, thoughtfully chosen extras. My full review of the set appeared in the October 2006 issue of SIGHT & SOUND and can be read here.

2. NORMAN McLAREN: THE MASTERS EDITION (Home Vision)
Don't know anything about Norman McLaren? Neither did I, and perhaps that's the best way to delve into the deep end of this endlessly rich assortment of his work in short form cinema. I'm still in the process of exploring and savoring this set, but animation and experimental film buffs will find that it rewards its purchase almost immediately with its unique and enchanting way of looking at life and art. McLaren (1914-87) was a Scottish-born, Canada-based animator who created a good deal of work with the "camera-less" technique of using strips of film as a direct sketchpad, even drawing in the soundtracks by hand. To watch these films is to sit in admiration of a boundless visual imagination and creative spirit that excites as it entertains. Seven elegantly packaged discs containing 58 short films, assorted documentaries and interviews, audio commentaries, tests, outtakes... a person could conceivably spend an entire year reaping the dividends of this collection. If your collection includes the likes of Ladislas Starevich and Stan Brakhage, this heroic release sits quite nicely between them.

3. THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VÉRONIQUE (Criterion)
Each passing year seems to further reveal this exquisite film as Krzysztof Kieslowski's finest achievement, and the greatest argument to date has been the film's belated arrival on DVD. The French label MK2 beat Criterion to the punch with their ravishing import release of this title, which included as a special limited edition incentive an actual strip of 35mm film; the exact same material was issued in the UK by Artificial Eye. However, Criterion improved on the MK2/Artificial Eye transfer in ways that are subtle, but significant enough to keep the imports on permanent ice. Additional extras further seal the deal, including a delicious book of essays and one of the year's best audio commentaries by Annette Insdorf.

4. JAMES BOND ULTIMATE EDITION, VOLUMES 1 - 4 (MGM)
On the one hand, this is an infuriating release because it's a triple dip released at a time when video consumers know that the HD release of all this material is just around the corner (and has already been shown on HDNET). On the other hand, the films have never looked so handsome or sounded so smashing on disc (new 5.1 remixes), and each film is now accompanied by its own second disc of supplementary materials, new ones (including a CBC interview with Ian Fleming and a radio dialogue between Fleming and Raymond Chandler) along with a balance of materials carried over from previous issues, as well as some premiering audio commentaries.

5. THE PASSENGER (Sony)
Thanks to this low-profile DVD release, 2006 was the year I finally caught up with this 1975 film by Michelangelo Antonioni, and it proved one of the year's most absorbing viewing experiences, and undoubtedly the most haunting. There is a formal perfection about the film, an ambition, a deliberate reach for greatness, that may or may not work against it; I'm still undecided. Yet I still marvel at the closing scene -- as I seem to do with all Antonioni. And how many DVDs can boast a Jack Nicholson audio commentary? Happily, it's a good listen and not one of those "I can't talk, I'm watching the movie" tracks that so many actors deliver, and the second commentary by journalist Aurora Irvine and screenwriter Mark Peploe is also rewarding.

6. BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (20th Century Fox)
This two-disc set is, at once, the perfect presentation of the film, a pitch-perfect tribute to the film, an audio commentary education, and a party on a platter. I've written about this disc at length at an earlier date on this blog, so do a Blogger Search or Google Search and track it down, in case you missed it.

7. MORE SILLY SYMPHONIES 1929-38 (Walt Disney)
I've only been dipping into this new "Walt Disney Treasures" release for the past couple of days, but I'm convinced it belongs here. The two-disc set is evenly divided between black-and-white and Technicolor cartoons and, watched in chronologic order, one can see the evolution of the Disney school of animation in a nutshell (or a tin can); one can even see major Disney characters like PINOCCHIO's Figaro in embryo. Long unseen shorts like "Hell's Bells" and "The Goddess of Spring" are important additions to our fund of animated fantasy, and the inclusion of uncut cartoons like "Cannibal Capers" (included with two different endings) and "Mother Goose Goes Hollywood" make this release particularly commendable as a triumph of restoration.

8. THE CONFORMIST and 1900 (Paramount)
The best of director Bernardo Bertollucci AND cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (not to mention actress Dominique Sanda, the Garbo of the 1970s), brought to DVD in presentations that are not only pictorially splendid, but substantially more complete than they were ever shown in American theaters. These are classic films made with what might be termed contemporary classical craftsmanship, and though the subject matter is relentlessly realistic and historical, Storaro's peerless eye infuses both films with elements of the fantastic. Paramount has gifted both films with a good deal of supplemental respect, proof of the esteem in which these films are held by the film industry, though they are no longer well known by the public at large.

9. THE COMPLETE MR. ARKADIN (Criterion)
Here, Orson Welles' most intoxicatingly oblique, incomplete, infuriating jigsaw is viewed every way except upside down through a glass of water. The Corinth Video version of MR. ARKADIN, the CONFIDENTIAL REPORT version, and a remarkable DVD-exclusive "Comprehensive Version" are collected on three discs, along with a new paperback of the film's novelization, expert commentaries (arguably the year's best) and interviews, and the three episodes of the radio show THE LIVES OF HARRY LIME that later mutated into the film's basis. The set plays like a feature film adaptation of my own MR. ARKADIN reconstructive articles for VIDEO WATCHDOG, only much more definitive.

10. EQUINOX (Criterion)
Not just a film, but an engrossing, multi-chaptered lesson in grassroots independent film production, deal-making, and the retooling of an elaborate home movie into a full-fledged theatrical feature. The theatrical, polished EQUINOX is somehow less impressive than the film in its original, roughly-hewn state, which MONSTER KID HOME MOVIES producer Joe Busam calls "the moat impressive 'monster kid home movie' I've ever seen." That the young collaborators behind this movie grew up to become the likes of Jim Danforth, Dennis Muren and David Allen makes the material that much more compelling, and the extras explore their creative genius to even greater lengths. Allen's fairy tale short THE MAGIC TREASURE is particularly appealing. Hands down, the most exciting and generous monster-themed release of the year.

CLOSE, BUT HAVE A CIGAR (in no particular order):

THE LOONEY TUNES GOLDEN COLLECTION, VOLUME 4 (Warner)
We're getting past the creamiest cream of the crop, but it's still a wealth of laughs and grace notes, delivered with eye-popping color and a delightful bounty of extras.

MASTERS OF HORROR COLLECTION (Anchor Bay)
The Showtime series' first season had a handful of gems -- Joe Dante's "Homecoming", Takashi Miike's "Imprint", Stuart Gordon's "Dreams in the Witch-House", Dario Argento's "Jenifer" and Larry Cohen's "Pick Me Up" are particularly worth acquiring -- but horror buffs with deep pockets and a deep fascination with the challenges of genre adaptation and short form filmmaking will find any and all of these individual sets rewarding on some level. The extras are more valuable than the main features on half or more of these titles.

THE ULTIMATE SUPERMAN COLLECTION (Warner)
Sorry, Richard Donner, but your "Director's Cut" of SUPERMAN II is kind of a lox, despite a couple of interesting additions and fresh footage of Marlon Brando, Christopher Reeve and Gene Hackman, to name a few. That said, this mammoth 14-disc set -- in a tin-encased lenticular slipcase -- includes all of the Superman features made to date (including 1950's SUPERMAN AND THE MOLE MEN) and there are some fans, like myself, who would consider the set's (finally!) perfect and glorious transfers of the original Fleischer cartoons adequate compensation for its asking price. I've seen all the previously issued Fleischer cartoon collections, and believe me, you haven't seen the Fleischer SUPERMAN cartoons till you've seen them here -- given the same lustre as Warner's LOONEY TUNES sets.


V FOR VENDETTA (Warner, pictured)
CASINO ROYALE came close but, ultimately, this was the most impressive major studio production I saw in 2006 - a majestically realized adaptation of the Alan Moore/David Lloyd graphic novel. Available in standard "fullscreen," widescreen single, widescreen two-disc, widescreen two-disc with Guy Fawkes mask, and HD editions.

PANDORA'S BOX (Criterion)
The definitive presentation of the G. W. Pabst classic, which looks cleaner and more complete than ever before, and is presented with a choice of three different musical accompaniments (one by Peer Raben, who scored Fassbinder's BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ). There are some engrossing supplementary programs devoted to Pabst and Louise Brooks, and it's all handsomely packaged with a book of some new and all the relevant essays -- and my copy arrived in the mail on the day of Brooksie's centenary. DVD Savant Glenn Erickson has chosen this as the most impressive DVD of the year, and I can see his point... but I was frankly a bit put off by the audio commentary, which more often than not I found uninvitingly academic.

MAREBITO (Tartan)
Of all the new horror films I saw this year, this was by far the most effective. Shot on the cheap by Takashi Shimizu between JU-ON assignments, it tackles nothing less than the subject of people's attractions to what they fear and taps into areas of horror that seem both primal and advanced.

ICONS OF HORROR: BORIS KARLOFF (Sony)
Worth acquiring, if only for Roy William Neill's extraordinary THE BLACK ROOM (1935); it's Karloff's DEAD RINGERS, as he plays twin brothers -- one murderous, one innocent -- and gives three astounding performances, one as the murderer posing as his own dead brother. A marvel of trick photography, as well. Also includes THE MAN THEY COULD NOT HANG, BEFORE I HANG and THE BOOGIE MAN WILL GET YOU.

A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE (New Line)
David Cronenberg's best film since DEAD RINGERS (1988), brought to disc with interesting extras and one of the director's customarily intelligent, informative and well-spoken audio commentaries.

WRITER OF O (Zeitgeist Films)
Pola Rapaport's exploration of STORY OF O author Pauline Réàge, part documentary, part docudrama, part first-person confession. A rewarding examination of literature at its most courageous, and a moving study of the purpose and process of writing fiction.

THE MAGUS (20th Century Fox)
The film, based on the best-seller by John Fowles, is a bit of a misfire but it's a damnably interesting one and a pleasure to finally see in its original scope ratio. Without delving into the story, suffice to say that it belongs on the shelf with mind-game movies like PERFORMANCE, THE STUNT MAN, and THE GAME. A very nice bonus is a 20-some-minutes profile of author Fowles, with candid input from friends and his step-daughter.

PETULIA (Warner)
One of the great American films of the 1960s, Richard Lester's satirical portrait of middle-aged romance with a kooky member of the Pepsi generation is close to a career best for nearly all its participants, from George C. Scott and Julie Christie to cameraman Nicolas Roeg and composer John Barry (one of his finest non-007 scores). It also had the good fortune to be filmed in San Francisco while its psychedelic music scene was in full bloom, and offers mesmerizing glimpses of The Grateful Dead and Big Brother and the Holding Company (with Janis Joplin). Edited by Antony Gibbs, whose trademark time-fracturing style later resurfaced in Roeg's PERFORMANCE and WALKABOUT.

APOLOGIES TO:
KING KONG - DELUXE EXTENDED EDITION (Universal), GOJIRA (Classic Media), I WAS A TEENAGE MOVIE MAKER - DON GLUT'S AMATEUR MOVIES (Cinema Epoch), JIGOKU (Criterion) and THE SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE (Criterion) -- all likely contenders for my lists, which I haven't been able to screen as yet.

OTHER HONORABLE MENTIONS:
ART SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL (Sony); WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE: A REQUIEM IN THREE ACTS (HBO - like the Umlands, based on the broadcast, as I haven't seen the DVD); ANDY WARHOL - A DOCUMENTARY FILM (PBS); NAKED CITY - SETS 1, 2 and 3 and LANCELOT LINK: SECRET CHIMP (Image Entertainment); PERRY MASON: SEASON 1, VOLUME 1 (CBS Video); THE WILD WILD WEST: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (CBS Video); THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE - ULTIMATE EDITION, VIOLENT MIDNIGHT and HORROR OF PARTY BEACH/THE CURSE OF THE LIVING CORPSE (Dark Sky Films); DUST DEVIL (Subversive Cinema); BLACK CHRISTMAS (Critical Mass); Michele Soavi's CEMETERY MAN (20th Century Fox), UNO BIANCA and ST. FRANCIS (both NoShame Films); BLACK PIT OF DR. M (Casa Negra); THE BRAINIAC (Casa Negra); THE TARZAN COLLECTION, VOLUME 2 (Warner); HENRI LANGLOIS: PHANTOM OF THE CINÉMATHEQUE (Kino on Video); MACUMBA SEXUAL (Severin Films); ABIGAIL LESLIE IS BACK IN TOWN and LAURA'S TOYS (Retro-Seduction Cinema); and THE ZACHERLEY ARCHIVES (Zacktapes/PS Productions), a wonderful compendium of all the surviving kinescopes of John Zacherle's telecasts -- and more -- which actually came out late last year, but which escaped my notice till 2006.



FAVORITE IMPORTS:
1. THE ATROCITY EXHIBITION (Reel 23, Dutch, pictured)
The most visionary new film I saw in 2006. A staggeringly dead-on adaptation of J. G. Ballard's non-narrative novel of a doctor's nervous breakdown and the doors of perception it opens for him and others. Although Jonathan Weiss's independently-produced film was first completed circa 2000, it had to wait until this year, and this import DVD, for its first significant distribution. It may not be for everyone, but for science fiction cinema it represents a quantum leap.

2. LOUIS MALLE COLLECTION, VOLUMES 1 & 2 (Optimum, UK)
Criterion released their own Louis Malle box set this year, 3 BY LOUIS MALLE, as well as a stand-alone release of his dazzling debut, ELEVATOR TO THE GALLOWS (a thriller with a score by Miles Davis). Here they were beaten at their own game by two box sets from Optimum, which include several key titles not yet available in the States in any form -- notably LES AMANTS/THE LOVERS (1958, VOL 1), featuring Jeanne Moreau at her sexiest; ZAZIE DANS LE MÉTRO (1960, VOL 1), the zany kaleidoscope of a movie that arguably launched what we now know as "the Sixties"; LE FEU FOLLET (1963, VOL 1), a gripping study of post-detox depression with a great performance by Maurice Ronet; and the erotic Freudian dreamscape BLACK MOON (1975, VOL 2).

3. FANTOMAS (Artificial Eye, UK)
All five of Louis Feuillade's feature-length silent serials based on the exploits of Pierre Souvestre and Marcel Allain's masked genius of crime -- available for the first time with English intertitles, and an introduction by VW's own Kim Newman.

4. IKARIE XB-1 (Filmexport, Czech)
Just about the last thing I ever expected to find on DVD: the original Czechoslovakian film that was the basis of the AIP import curiosity VOYAGE TO THE END OF THE UNIVERSE. One wishes, for reference's sake, that both versions had been included in full, but only the opening and closing titles of the AIP version are included -- but to have the original film in its intended form, in 16:9 widescreen with English subtitles... this alone previously seemed too much to hope for.

5. TALES OF THE FOUR SEASONS (Artificial Eye, UK)
Eric Rohmer's most recent sequence of films -- A TALE OF SPRINGTIME (1989), A WINTER'S TALE (1992), A SUMMER'S TALE (1996) and AN AUTUMN TALE (1998) -- are here collected in a handsome set, festooned with director interviews and trailers. The films themselves are not as essential as Rohmer's earlier work, but the master's touch -- his appreciation of the magic that arbitrarily springs to life between two people -- remains deft and unmistakable. An essential companion piece to Criterion's SIX MORAL TALES set.

6. THE GRAHAM GREENE COLLECTION (Optimum, UK)
This box set collects four films based on the work of British author Graham Greene, two of which (THE THIRD MAN and THE FALLEN IDOL) are somewhat better served by their Criterion editions. Where this set becomes essential is in its presentation of the shattering BRIGHTON ROCK (US: YOUNG SCARFACE, with Richard Attenborough as one of the iciest crooks you'll ever meet onscreen) and THE HEART OF THE MATTER (1953), which allows the set to bookend with an outstanding lead performance by THIRD MAN supporting player Trevor Howard. British filmmaking at its finest, from first disc to last.

7. PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE (Gaumont, France)
This two-disc set is analogous to 20th Century Fox's BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS: it takes one of the great cult movies of our time, gives it a definitive presentation, and assembles its cast to pay festive tribute to it over the length of a second disc. Includes a 5.1 audio remix of the feature that raises the goosebumps.

8. DIE RACHE DER WIKINGER / ERIK THE CONQUEROR (Colosseo Film/Elite, Germany)

This disc, the first-ever digital presentation of Mario Bava's 1961 Viking adventure, represents the first time it has been widely available for viewing in its original ratio and color values in 45 years. One of those films that can't be properly appreciated in a faded, cropped print, this is a prolonged wow of the senses -- a worthy companion piece to your copy of Fantoma's HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD. Sweetening the pot is an hour-long documentary focusing on Bava as a special effects master, which offers generous footage from Bava's only two known television interviews with an English subtitles option.

9. DIE STUNDE DER GRAUSAMEN LEICHEN / HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE (Anolis, Germany)
A gorgeous thing. This limited edition import (3000 copies) is packaged in a kind of hardcover book and, after enjoying its contents, you start agonizing about the wait you'll have to endure before you can fill a whole shelf with other titles in this series. (I hope there will be more.) Directed by Javier Aguirre, THE HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE is rightly celebrated as one of Paul Naschy's best performances and one of his most interesting romantic variations on a theme. Warning: Animal lovers (even rat haters) may take exception to scenes involving the immolation of live rats. Includes Naschy's first audio commentary (in Spanish, with English subtitles) and a 34-page color booklet of illustrated essays by Naschy authorities Mirek Lipinski and Christian Kessler.

10. EXTERMINATING ANGEL (Arrow Films, UK)
At long last, a better-than-watchable presentation of one of Luís Buñuel's most delirious films -- the one about the dinner party that refuses to break up and gradually devolves into barbarism. No frills, but this movie doesn't need them; it's enough to finally see everything that's going on.

And last but not least...

DVD RESTORATION OF THE YEAR:
THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN, THE COMPLETE THIRD AND FOURTH SEASONS and THE COMPLETE FIFTH AND SIXTH SEASONS (Warner)
Restoration-wise, the buzz on the street this year is the outstanding job done for MGM's JAMES BOND ULTIMATE EDITIONs. Truth is, the Bond films have always looked good on DVD, even if some of the minor details pertaining to the original release prints have only been properly replicated in this latest round. But in simple terms of comparing things, as they used to look, to how they look now on DVD, the most enormous and gratifying improvement is to be found in the color episodes of the 1950s TV syndication series THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN.

These color episodes were originally broadcast in black-and-white, and when they were syndicated to stations in color in the mid-to-late Sixties, they were saddled with cheap color processing that gave them an ugly, porridgey look that got ten times worse whenever one scene was about to dissolve into the next. Fans assumed that the show must have been filmed with some kind of chintzy '50s color process, doomed to quick and smudgy fading, but Eureka! On DVD, these color episodes now evince a bold color design and sharp detail that's gone unsuspected for the past 50+ years. Yes, these later episodes can be juvenile and silly at times -- but have you read a '50s Superman comic recently? The beefed-up color makes sense of these later episodes by reminding us that they were intended to be DC comic book stories of the period brought to life. Consequently, the restoration compels us to reassess the work at hand and regard the series, as a whole, as a greater all-around success.