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.