Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Finally: Anchor Bay's Bava Box Press Release

ANCHOR BAY ENTERTAINMENT
HONORS LEGENDARY DIRECTOR
MARIO BAVA WITH THE 5-FILM
MARIO BAVA BOX SET VOLUME 1 DVD
AND NORTH AMERICAN DVD PREMIERE OF KIDNAPPED ON APRIL 3RD


The Screaming Commences April 3rd

BURBANK, CA – During his four-decade career as a cinematographer, special effects designer and director, Italy’s Mario Bava created some of the most beautiful and macabre films ever to grace the silver screen, with unsettling images that transcended the boundaries of land and language. He is celebrated by horror and cinema fans the world over and his influence can be seen in the works of Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, Tim Burton and Dario Argento. Now, Anchor Bay Entertainment and International Media Films proudly present The Mario Bava Box Set: Volume 1, a 5-disc DVD collection of five landmark films from the first half of Mario Bava’s impressive career. Bowing April 3rd, The Mario Bava Box Set Volume 1 features new transfers of the original international versions, along with brand-new bonus materials, of such seminal Bava classics as The Mask of Satan (Black Sunday), The Three Faces of Fear (Black Sabbath), The Girl Who Knew Too Much, Knives of the Avenger and Kill, Baby…Kill!. SRP is $49.98 with pre-book on February 21st.

On the same day, Anchor Bay will also release Mario Bava’s cult thriller Kidnapped, produced by longtime collaborator Alfredo Leone. Available for the first time on DVD, Kidnapped (aka Rabid Dogs) features two versions of the film: Bava’s original cut and a previously unreleased uncut version. SRP is $19.98, and pre-book is February 21st.

The Mario Bava Box Set Volume 1 is the perfect primer for “The Master of the Macabre” with five films that introduced Bava’s frightening visions to horror fans the world over:

The Mask of Satan (Black Sunday)
Mario Bava’s 1960 directorial debut film The Mask of Satan introduced audiences to a new type of horror film – lyrical in imagery, terrifying in impact. Starring British actress Barbara Steele, John Richardson and veteran character actor Arturo Dominici, The Mask of Satan set a different course for gothic horror films, pulsing with stunning cinematography and landmark special effects. Anchor Bay is honored to present Bava’s uncut and uncensored international version of The Mask of Satan, featuring the original Italian score and English dubbing.

The Three Faces of Fear (Black Sabbath)
Horror icon Boris Karloff is our guide for Bava’s 1963 trilogy of terror, taking us through three journeys into the supernatural. In “The Telephone,” a woman is terrorized by incessant phone calls that may or may not foretell greater danger. In “The Wurdalak,” based on a Leo Tolstoy story, Karloff stars with Mark Damon as the patriarch of a family of bloodthirsty ghouls. “The Drop of Water,” adapted from an Anton Chekhov short story, stars Jacqueline Pierreux as a nurse who avails herself to take a ring off the finger of a dead medium – only to realize that sometimes the dead can take it with them!

The Girl Who Knew Too Much
Bava’s fourth film as credited director is a Hitchcockian thriller that many film scholars cite as the first true giallo. Leticia Roman stars as an American tourist in Rome who witnesses a serial killer’s latest killing and convinces a young doctor (John Saxon) to help her investigate the city’s “Alphabet Murders.” For the first time anywhere, Anchor Bay presents Bava’s original international version of La Ragazza Che Sapeva Troppo (The Girl Who Knew Too Much) in Italian with English subtitles.

Knives of the Avenger
Veteran Bava collaborator Cameron Mitchell stars in their third and last pairing in this Norse variation on the “sword-and-sandal” epics so popular in the 1960’s. Mitchell stars as a Viking drifter torn between guilt, vengeance and his love for a peasant woman and her young son. Co-written by Bava (as “John Hold”), Knives of the Avenger re-imagines the American Western as a Viking epic – complete with pillaging and violence, but with a uniquely humanist slant. It features both the English language audio track and the Italian language audio track with English subtitles, presented together for the first time on DVD.

Kill, Baby…Kill! aka Curse of the Living Dead
Giacomo Rossi-Stuart and Erika Blanc star in Bava’s final gothic masterpiece, a hallucinatory tale of a remote village tormented by the specter of a dead little girl. Alternately known as Curse of the Living Dead and Operazione Paura (Operation Fear), Bava’s 1966 stunner has been plagued for decades by inferior public-domain transfers. For this release, Anchor Bay created the definitive presentation, remastered from all-new elements to create the highest quality version ever seen in North America.

Available as a separate DVD, Kidnapped (aka Rabid Dogs) has a history equal in drama and scope to its explosive narrative. The harrowing story of a botched robbery by three criminals and the aftermath – taking three hostages during their desperate getaway – Kidnapped was never finished due to a dispute with the estate of the film’s financier who died during production. Anchor Bay’s presentation of Rabid Dogs includes both Bava’s original film – now with newly created opening and end credit sequences – as well as the version known as Kidnapped featuring footage shot by producer Alfredo Leone and Mario’s son and longtime assistant Lamberto Bava.

Equally impressive to the feature presentations are the wealth of bonus materials available on The Mario Bava Box Set Volume 1 DVD:

MASK OF SATAN (BLACK SUNDAY)
International version with English dubbing
Widescreen presentation (1.66:1), enhanced for 16x9 televisions
Audio commentary by Mario Bava biographer Tim Lucas
U.S. and International trailers
TV spot
Mario Bava & Barbara Steele bios

THE THREE FACES OF FEAR (BLACK SABBATH)
International version in Italian with English subtitles
Widescreen (1.77:1) presentation, enhanced for 16x9 televisions
Featurette: “A Life In Film - An Interview with Mark Damon”
Audio commentary by Mario Bava biographer Tim Lucas
International & U.S. trailers
TV spot
Radio spot
Poster and stills gallery
Mario Bava & Boris Karloff bios

THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH
International version with English subtitles
Widescreen (1.66:1), enhanced for 16x9 televisions
Featurette: "Remembering the Girl with John Saxon"
Audio commentary by Mario Bava biographer Tim Lucas
International and U.S. trailers
Poster and still galleries
Mario Bava bio

KILL, BABY…KILL!
Widescreen presentation (1.85:1), enhanced for 16x9 televisions
English and Italian soundtracks with English subtitles
International trailer
TV spots
Mario Bava bio

KNIVES OF THE AVENGER
Widescreen presentation (2.35:1), enhanced for 16x9 televisions
English and Italian soundtracks with English subtitles
International trailer
Mario Bava bio

KIDNAPPED
Two versions: Mario Bava’s original film (aka Rabid Dogs) and a previously unreleased uncut version
Widescreen presentation (1.78:1), enhanced for 16x9 televisions
In Italian with English subtitles
Featurette: “End of the Road: Making Rabid Dogs and Kidnapped
Audio commentary by Mario Bava biographer Tim Lucas
Mario Bava bio

MARIO BAVA BOX SET VOLUME 1
Street Date: April 3, 2007
Pre-Book: February 21, 2007
Catalog #: DV14854
UPC: 0 1313 14854-9 3
Run Time: 441 Minutes total
Rating: Not Rated
SRP: $49.98

KIDNAPPED (aka RABID DOGS)
Street Date: April 3, 2007
Pre-Book: February 21, 2007
Catalog #: DV13298
UPC: 0 1313 13298-9 6
Run Time: 96 Minutes
Rating: Not Rated
SRP: $19.98
_______________

It looks like the "new wrinkle" was a subtle title change for the set.

Monday, February 19, 2007

The Many Loves of Watchdog à la Mod

William Finley caught in the act of acting in Brian De Palma's
MURDER A LA MOD.

My review of MURDER A LA MOD, Brian De Palma's first stab at the thriller genre, is now available in the current issue of SIGHT & SOUND... and on their website here.

Unfortunately, a wee mistake was made in the editing of this review for publication. The third paragraph ends: "PHANTOM [OF THE PARADISE] fans will be intrigued to spot De Palma's own name on the clapboard in a film-within-the-film." That sentence should read: "PHANTOM [OF THE PARADISE] fans will be intrigued to spot the name of Swan, along with De Palma's own name, on the clapboard in a film-within-the-film."

In other news, here's your first advance peek at the cover of VIDEO WATCHDOG #129. John and I finished editing the issue last night and Donna posted it to our printer very early this morning. As you can see, it sports one of the most commercial covers we've ever had; it emphasizes our feature coverage of Neil Marshall's THE DESCENT (by Richard Harland Smith and Sam Umland), Shane M. Dallmann's "DVD Spotlight" coverage of the SAW Trilogy, and interior reviews of HOSTEL and FINAL DESTINATION 3. We hope to attract some new readers, who, upon opening the issue, will sooner or later find themselves (ha ha ha) in the deep end of the pool, 'doG-paddling about in content as wildly cultish and outré as our seasoned readers have come to expect.

There's a fair amount of Cult TV coverage in this issue, including ULTRAMAN, SECRET AGENT aka DANGER MAN, and the Nigel Kneale BBC series BEASTS and KINVIG; then there are our reviews of the 75th Anniversary editions of DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN; some Toho reviews; the long-awaited return of "Things from the Attic"; Ramsey Campbell on Max Ophüls' THE RECKLESS MOMENT, and lots else.

The BIG news about this new cover, however, is that -- for the first time in our 17-year history -- we've allowed a subtle revision of our familiar magazine logo. You may have overlooked it at first glance, but look again: the central HD in "Watchdog" is now more prominent, flagging the fact that this issue heralds our first steps into the exciting new realms of HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc. There's just a few HD reviews herein, and we're keeping them a secret for now... but you can depend on this becoming an expanding feature of issues to come. A near-complete listing of the issue's contents, a hi-res look at the cover, and free review samples will be posted soon in the Coming Soon area of the VIDEO WATCHDOG website.

Also, I was sorry to notice on Mark Evanier's blog today his announcement of the death of comic artist Bob Oksner at the age of 90.

I'm only familiar with a fraction of Mr. Oksner's work, and when I was enjoying it most as a youngster, I'm not sure that I was even aware of his name; DC Comics didn't always play up the names of their writers ands artists the way Marvel did. However, the lower right hand corner of this cover of THE ADVENTURES OF JERRY LEWIS #73 shows that Mr. Oksner was certainly known and appreciated by his peers. As I kid, I remember thinking that the artist on such books as THE ADVENTURES OF BOB HOPE, THE MANY LOVES OF DOBIE GILLIS, THE ADVENTURES OF JERRY LEWIS, STANLEY AND HIS MONSTER and ANGEL AND THE APE might be an anonymous or pseudonymous Mort Drucker, because the draftsmanship and deftness of caricature were comparable in many ways. In recent years, I've been revisiting some of these classic humor comics from the 1950s-'70s and have found that they're still as funny as they ever were, but my admiration for Oksner's work has grown by leaps and bounds. His work was not only superbly narrative and supportive of the scripted humor (much of it courtesy of THE FLESH EATERS screenwriter Arnold Drake), but it was also funny in itself (not an easy thing) and could also be sexy in an amusing way. (Much of the humor of Bob Hope, Jerry Lewis, and Dobie Gillis in these comics had to do with ogling shapely girls.) In addition to all that, Oksner could draw monsters on a par with Jack Davis -- my highest compliment.

You can read more about Bob Oksner by following the link above to Mark Evanier's blog today and scrolling down several items.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Fine Art of Saying Nothing

It's now late in the afternoon on Sunday, and I've just spent the last hour involved in a pastime at which I've become rather proficient. I read threads on various movie discussion boards, as I'm sure you do, and sometimes I read something that seems to invite my written response. So I set to it: I get the feelings (aggravated, more often than not) off my chest and onto my computer screen; then begins the slow process of their refinement. This involves the slow berry-picking of all the unwanted barbs that come with raw expression, the cooling of any heat, the complementary sharpening of common sense, perhaps even the borrowing of some accepted wisdom from Bartlett's or some other quotation compendium, in the event that some unimpeachable voice like that of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Bob Dylan, or Susan Sontag might be wrangled to lend support to my point-of-view. And then, after thirty to forty to fifty minutes of such fevered polishing, when my retort finally stands before my eyes at its most complete, what do I do?

I delete it.

I can't tell you how many times I've done this. In the dozen or so years I have been actively participating on various film discussion boards, I'm certain that I've deleted enough material to fill a book, if not two.

I delete these replies for many reasons, but the major one is usually that, even though these discussion threads may entice me to the extent of having my say, I intend my participation as a fling rather than as a marriage. If you post your participation in such threads, you'd better have the time and passion to stay involved, because once you're in, you're in.

My time is precious yet -- mea culpa -- before I act on impulse, I seldom stop to ask myself: What purpose is ultimately going to be served by this online grappling with some other movie buff, anonymous or unmasked, on a subject ultimately of little consequence, perhaps even to ourselves when all is said and done?

Something I've learned about myself in the twelve years I've been participating on discussion boards is that my work as a critic has encouraged in me a tendency to make my views known, and to sometimes labor under the misconception that, because my views are my bread and butter, they carry somewhat more than the average weight. Anyone who's been posting on message boards for as long as I have, especially those who do so under aliases, has likely fostered in themselves a similar delusional arrogance, but they may not have reflected on the idea long enough to see it as delusion; in fact, they may have arrived on the Internet with arrogance in full and malicious bloom, their alias a licence for baiting others for their own amusement. You never can tell.

One thing I've learned about the strangers with whom I've shared the same time and place online over time is that the Obvious means different things to different people. You can show other people what seems like common sense to you, but there is no guarantee they will see it or, if they do, that they will see the same gradations of gray in the simplest black-and-white statement. Such divergences don't necessarily mean that one is right and everybody else is wrong; it means that our respective lives and schoolings and reading and environments have led us to different places, where rights and wrongs don't always apply or have the same values. The other fellow's stance in relation to such matters, after all, may lead him/her to destinies of ultimate, unknowable good with which we have no right to interfere. One might easily say the right thing, only to have it misinterpreted and the wisdom put to pervese and destructive use. Despite knowing all of this in my heart of hearts, very often I don't pause to reflect on this bedrock philosophy as I roll up my sleeves and draft the preliminaries of a dive into the fray.

A good seven times out of ten, my posting of any remark on a discussion board is followed by a pang of regret, or at least misgiving. I don't post under phony names, and because my name is synonymous with my magazine, I need to bear in mind that I'm not only representing myself when I speak my mind, but also my place of business. This matters to me, and is another reason why I'm so soul-searching about a form of social participation that most people seem to engage in without a second (or, in many cases, even a first) thought. When I post a reply to an ongoing discussion, common curiosity prompts me to return, to check the responses to what I've written, and it's impossible to say which is more aggravating: to unintentionally encourage debate and be called upon to defend one's point of view (if not one's sanity) for days on end, or to realize after days of checking back, that one has had such a definitive say as to stop a thread cold.

As I've said here before, one of the main reasons I write criticism is to make the reasoning behind my views more conscious to myself. Perhaps this is what I'm doing when I spend so much time in the careful articulation of views about various online discusssions that no one but myself will ever see. If that's the case, I can relinquish some of my guilt because the time and effort are therefore not entirely wasted. Possibly it's this muted (if not moot) eureka that was my ultimate goal in writing on this subject today.

Now that's settled, the question is...

Do I post this blog entry or not?

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Saga Continues

Late today I was sent an official press release on the Anchor Bay MARIO BAVA COLLECTION, VOLUME 1 that basically reiterated where I've told you everything stands. Then, almost immediately, I got another e-mail from the publicist saying, "Please hold off on posting the press release. Apparently, there’s a new wrinkle."

What could it be?

Stay tuned.

PS: Joe Dante is back from Berlin, and it seems the TIME OUT report of the Corman biopic going into production was a bit premature. Nevertheless, the meetings he took in Berlin were heartening and things do seem to be looking up.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

And Now the Bad News

I've just been notified by Ed Peters, the publicist for Anchor Bay Entertainment's MARIO BAVA COLLECTION VOLUME 1, that "the specs [for the set] have changed."

There's no nice way to break the news, so I'll just come out with it: I am now told that the English versions of BLACK SUNDAY, BLACK SABBATH and EVIL EYE will not be included in the set, after all. I'm not privy to the behind-the-scenes story, so don't ask; I've just been asked to make the announcement. I'm as surprised and disappointed as you must be. All I can say is that I hope my audio commentaries for the three films (and the attendant release of RABID DOGS/KIDNAPPED) will be added incentive enough for Bava fans to support the release of the new ABE transfers.

No Confirmation Yet, But

... the online edition of the British magazine TIME OUT is carrying a news story dated the 12th -- two days ago, two days into the Berlinale Co-Production Market -- that puts a very welcome Valentine's Day twinkle into my bloodstream. Charlie and I haven't been told anything yet, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's false or true. I'm guessing that Joe is probably up in the air right now, on the flight back from Germany, so I hope to have more information to share with you once he's back and rested.

Also: Enthusiastic online reviews of Dark Sky's forthcoming KILL BABY KILL (and my audio commentary) from DVD Savant Glenn Erickson and DVD Talk's Ian Jane.

Monday, February 12, 2007

I'm Still Here

... just too overworked at present to give much time or attention to this blog. I wrote the first draft of a book in January, and now I'm editing material -- over 150 single-spaced pages of reviews! -- for the next couple of issues of VIDEO WATCHDOG (which should be ready for print by this time next week), my next SIGHT & SOUND column is due tomorrow, and I spent the early part of this afternoon responding to an interview questionaire from the San Francisco-based magazine THE BELIEVER. The day after tomorrow, I'm expecting to receive my first HD player: the LG BH100, the first hybrid HD unit capable of playing both HD DVD and Blu-Ray discs. So I also have wrestling with wires to look forward to... but the unit will probably have to sit in the box a few days before it gets hooked up, as I see my way clear of creating the next issue or two. As always, enjoy the backlog of material in the meantime.

Also happening right now: Joe Dante is in Berlin, Germany, where he's representing THE MAN WITH KALEIDOSCOPE EYES (the Roger Corman biopic comedy script I wrote with Charlie Largent, about the making of THE TRIP) at the Berlinale Co-Production Market. This event is open to investor-seeking film projects that have already accounted for 30% of their total budget, and TMWKE (which got a headline mention in a recent VARIETY story about the Berlin market) is one of only three American properties represented among this year's Official Selections. I know that you all want to see this movie happen -- almost as much as Charlie and I do -- so join us in holding good thoughts for Joe through the days ahead.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

The Six Stanzas of Fear

Meticulous collectors of my work (if there are such people) will want to know that I'm one of the contributors to the current issue (Feb-May 2007, #14) of the Manchester-based poetry zine THE UGLY TREE. This is the second issue in which my work has appeared, after the previous issue's "Crapulous Elektra." I have three poems in the new issue: "The Breakfast Bell", "Mario Bava", and "Think of the Things You Could Drop in Black Ink."

I hadn't read any of these poems since turning them in, but I was particularly pleased upon revisiting the Bava piece. I think I nailed it; I find it picturesque and chilling in the way that Bava's films are, perhaps because I've lived with them for so long -- unlike my other poems, which are usually written on the spot to capture transient moods, frissons, or angles of light.

Where emerald and amber intersect
When clock hands overlap
Dead fingers cut the Tarot deck
As guilt drips from the taps.

That's how it begins. Yes, the Year of Mario Bava includes poetry.

To order your copy, visit the UGLY TREE website here.

Cover Art, As Promised

The Latarnia International forums beat me to it!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

THE YELLOW SIGN AND OTHERS reviewed

Shawna Waldron as a woman whose dreams reconnect her
to a forgotten identity in "The Yellow Sign."

THE WEIRD TALE COLLECTION, VOLUME 1:
THE YELLOW SIGN AND OTHERS
2001-03, Lurker Films, DD 5.1/2.0/16:9/LBX/+, $15.95, 100 minutes (approx.), DVD-5

Lurker Films, the Portland, Oregon-based company behind some well-received compilations of short films based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe, here branch out into different avenues of short form horror with the first offering in a new series, "The Weird Tale Collection." While this disc has some unfortunate presentational faults, the films it collects are worth checking out, made with intelligence and subtlety and show a connoisseur's appreciation for the genre's history and what's best in it.

The program consists of Aaron Vanek's "The Yellow Sign" (2001, 45m 28s), David Leroy's "Tupilak" (2002, 13m 17s), Emilio Guarneri's "Il re giallo" ("The King in Yellow," 2003, 6m 20s), and a 15m profile of weird tales author Robert W. Chambers by French literary scholar Christophe Thill. The films are presented in a variety of formats and different aspect ratios, with "Tupilak" (the only 35mm contribution and the only anamorphic entry) looking the best of the bunch. The disc is best enjoyed on a standard video monitor.

Inspired by THE KING IN YELLOW by Robert W. Chambers, an early collection of dark metafiction that H.P. Lovecraft counted among his most influential readings, "The Yellow Sign" is a contemporary story about a young gallery worker, Tess (Shawna Waldron), who seeks out the reclusive artist Aubrey Scott (Dale Snowberger) to request an exhibition after having a series of nightmares about his work. Scott, who lives in a dank studio surrounded by his disturbing works, agrees to her request on the condition that she pose for him -- an exercise in stillness and concentration that makes her increasingly aware of something animated in a canvas hung on the wall behind the artist... a "yellow sign." Incisively scripted by John Tynes, the film is a good deal more engrossing than most MASTERS OF HORROR episodes, unsettling the viewer with words, ideas, and intimations of other dimensions lurking on the periphery of reality rather than bloodshed. It's well acted by the two principals and disappointed only by one unfortunate scene in which the Sony DV camerawork becomes so busy for its own sake that it upstages the action it should be representing. THE MONSTER SQUAD director Fred Dekker served as associate producer on this project. "The Yellow Sign" is offered in a choice of DD 5.1 or 2.0 audio with a variety of subtitle options, with numerous supplements, including outtakes, "normal" and "profane" audio commentaries, Snowberger's audition tape, and a slideshow.

Dale Snowberger as deranged artist Aubrey Scott in "The Yellow Sign."

Christophe Thill's "Chambers in Paris" documents the years which American author Robert W. Chambers spent in Paris, France, which yielded his obscure masterpiece of terror, THE KING IN YELLOW. For those familiar with the book, Thill's research is a treat as he videocams various authentic locations described in the novel and shows how they look today, which lends a verisimilitude to the fiction that Chambers would have surely appreciated.

"Tupilak," in French with English subtitles and filmed in a two-perf pulldown process called "Multivision 235", concerns the role played by an Inuit avenging spirit in the guilt suffered by two men (one of them played by writer-director David Leroy) who abandoned a dying man during an Arctic expedition. The story is predictable and a bit thin, but the acting is sincere and the film itself is opulently produced, to the extent of a grandiose score performed by the Hungarian Symphony Orchestra. It would be interesting to see such resources and commitment applied to a more ambitious story.

Despite its title, "Il re giallo" is less an hommage to Chambers' THE KING IN YELLOW than a revisitation of the zombie hospital action of Lucio Fulci's THE BEYOND, redone with lots of digital herky-jerky J-horror scare effects.

THE YELLOW SIGN AND OTHERS is available from the Lurker Films website. As the site acknowledges, mistakes were made in the mastering of these films for disc. Contrary to what Lurker Films suggests, however, "The Yellow Sign" or "Il re giallo" are presented in their correct 1.85:1 screen ratios; the problem is that neither film is anamorphically enhanced, which can lead to some playback problems. For example, on my widescreen set, the image defaulted to a correctly letterboxed albeit non-anamorphic format that I had to zoombox to fill my screen. This was okay for "The Yellow Sign" (though it did accentuate its grain), but in the case of the Italian film, it cropped the English subtitles offscreen, requiring me to watch it in "wide zoom" mode, stretching the image horizontally -- distortive but acceptable, considering how short it is. Viewed on my computer, however, I find that both films play back in a 1.78 anamorphic frame but with letterboxing bars visible, causing the image to be horizontally stretched to 2.35:1 or thereabouts, pulling it out like Silly Putty. I suppose it's possible that the disc could play back on some systems this way, and I disagree that either film is "watchable" under these conditions. Anyone who buys independently made product like this, sight unseen, is already meeting it at least halfway and shouldn't have to forgive anything about the presentation. (Incidentally, the frame grabs used to illustrate this piece come from the slideshow for "The Yellow Sign," not from the film itself.) On the bright side, I would imagine that anyone viewing the disc on a standard television monitor wouldn't have any playback problems.

Lurker Films promises that the problem will be fixed with the second pressing but, unfortunately, this is no incentive to buy the current, flawed pressing. This is regrettable because it prevents me from more enthusiastically endorsing THE YELLOW SIGN AND OTHERS, whose seriousness, intelligence, and literary grounding are otherwise a breath of fresh air in the "tits and blood" arena of DTV horror. It's a series (and approach) I would like to see continue, and graduate to even better things. In the meantime, I think I'll track down some books by Robert W. Chambers.

Monday, February 05, 2007

More Bava Specs from Anchor Bay

On the same day that Anchor Bay Entertainment will be releasing their MARIO BAVA COLLECTION, VOLUME 1, they will be separately releasing another Bava two-fer feature on DVD.

Also due on April 3 is RABID DOGS/KIDNAPPED, which will present the two extant versions of Bava's cult crime thriller, originally produced in 1975 but impounded when the production was bankrupted and shelved until a belated release more than 20 years later. Anchor Bay's disc will include the following:

RABID DOGS
96 minutes
1.78/16:9
Italian mono with English subtitles
Tim Lucas audio commentary

KIDNAPPED
95 minutes
1.78/16:9
Italian mono with English subtitles
Featurette: "End of the Road: Making RABID DOGS and KIDNAPPED" with producer Alfredo Leone
Mario Bava bio
Bava trailers

A word about the English subtitles on RABID DOGS. I provided ABE with newly corrected English subtitles for the film -- these were written for the original Lucertola Media release, but they included a mistake or two I've long wanted to fix -- but, at the moment, no one at ABE can tell me whether or not they were used. If they weren't used because a subtitle master had already been created, this could be a little embarrassing for me, as I reference some of the choices I made in my audio commentary, and without my subtitles onscreen, those comments won't make any sense. ABE sent me an advance tape to check my audio commentary for accuracy and placement, but it was wedded to an unsubtitled copy of the film, so I can't tell whether or not they'll be included. I guess we'll all find out together.

In closing, you might say that I've buried today's headline. Contrary to my earlier spec notes on the MARIO BAVA COLLECTION, VOLUME 1, I am now told that Anchor Bay's BLACK SUNDAY disc will indeed include both the MASK OF SATAN and BLACK SUNDAY versions of the film! I've corrected yesterday's blog to bring this information up to date.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Anchor Bay BAVA COLLECTION Specs

Everybody's wondering what's going to be included in Anchor Bay Entertainment's forthcoming MARIO BAVA COLLECTION, VOLUME 1 box set (due April 3). Well, I've been wondering too, but today my friends at ABE sent me an itemized list of all the contents and gave me first dibs on sharing them with you, the Video WatchBlog audience. I recorded audio commentaries for a few of these titles last December, but even I was surprised by some of the contents! Suffice to say, there's some very welcome news here, so let's get right down to it. Here's what to expect from VOLUME 1:

BLACK SABBATH / THE THREE FACES OF FEAR
1.77:1/16:9 (both)
English and Italian versions with English subtitles
Featurette: Mark Damon interview
Tim Lucas audio commentary
International & US trailers
TV Spots
Poster and Stills gallery
Mario Bava & Boris Karloff bios
Bava trailers

BLACK SUNDAY / THE MASK OF SATAN
Original Italian export English dub scored by Roberto Nicolosi
American International English dub scored by Les Baxter
1.66:1/16:9
English mono with subtitles
Tim Lucas audio commentary
International and US trailers
TV spots
Radio spots
Mario Bava & Barbara Steele bios
Bava trailers

THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH / EVIL EYE
English and Italian versions with English subtitles
1.33:1 (English), 1.66:1/16:9 (Italian)
Featurette: "Remembering the Girl with John Saxon"
Tim Lucas audio commentary
International and US trailers
Poster and Still gallery
Bava trailers

KILL, BABY... KILL!
English and Italian audio with English subtitles
1.85:1/16:9
International trailer
TV Spots 1 - 3
Mario Bava bio
Bava trailers

KNIVES OF THE AVENGER
2.35:1/16:9
English and Italian audio with English subtitles
International trailer
Mario Bava bio
Bava trailers

The best and most surprising news, of course, is that ABE will be including the AIP versions of BLACK SUNDAY, BLACK SABBATH and EVIL EYE in these sets. (I actually concluded my GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH commentary by saying that I hope the English version will somehow become available someday, and encouraging listeners to ask among their friends for a copy -- so much for how "in the loop" I am!) Also good to know is that BLACK SABBATH will share the same anamorphic ratio as its Italian counterpart, making this the first time that the version featuring Boris Karloff's audio performance will be released on DVD, or in widescreen. These titles were last released on DVD by Image Entertainment back in 2000, so these new remasters should also reflect the improvements made in digital restoration over the past seven years.

The BLACK SUNDAY commentary is the same one I recorded for the out-of-print Image Entertainment release, so I assume the source material will be the same. The contents listing for the BLACK SUNDAY disc make no reference to the sidebar I wrote for the Image release about a scene exclusive to the Italian language version between Prince Vajda and Princess Katia, so perhaps it hasn't been carried over. I was expecting RABID DOGS to be part of this set, because I also recorded an audio commentary for it, so it must be coming out separately or in the second Bava box.

I'm told that I should be able to offer you a preview of the box set's cover art sometime in the coming week.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

First KILL BABY KILL Grabs

In today's mail, I was surprised and pleased to find an advance copy of Dark Sky Films' KILL BABY KILL (no punctuation on the cover). I had some involvement with this disc, and since KBK is my favorite of all Mario Bava movies, I'm feeling new-papa proud. Since I can't very well pass out cigars, I thought I would pop the disc into the old computer and treat Video WatchBlog visitors to some early screen grabs, which you can savor in anticipation of its March 27th release.

This DVD marks the belated debut of the audio commentary I originally recorded back in the summer of 2000 for an Image Entertainment release that failed to materialize. Since recording the track, I found a few minor errors in my talk that I feared would make the commentary unusable. However, after consulting my transcript, I realized that it could still be used, given some easily-made edits. So those errors are now gone, with the exception of my mispronunciation of the film's shooting location of Calcata as ""Calpata." Sorry about that, but when I interviewed Lamberto Bava about this movie, that's how he remembered the name of the village! (Mind you, this track was recorded years before most of us had heard of Google!)

As you can see, the anamorphic image looks bright and crisp, with the full frame revealed. For these grabs, I've cropped out the slight black horizontal bars at the top and bottom of the frame, but they are present on the disc, testifying to the presence of the frame in its entirety. I'm so accustomed to the crude, cheap processing of the 35mm prints made for US distribution by Europix, which gave the film an even more dreamlike atmosphere, I'll probably never get used to seeing this movie look so brilliant. There's a shot in this transfer where the Baroness Graps points to an old photograph, and the crepe-like textures on the back of actress Giovanna Galletti's hand are incredibly vivid. "Vivid," too, is the word for the colors on display; it wasn't until seeing this version that I became aware of how extensively Bava had used emerald green gels as a signal of the cast members coming into the presence of the Uncanny. By stepping through the reveal of Giacomo Rossi-Stuart's doppelgänger, I noticed that the green light that suddenly illuminates the side of his face flares up a beat or two after he turns to face the hero -- as if it was already on, waiting for a piece of cardboard to drop away, or a lighting "barndoor" to open and expose it.

Talk about all the colors of the dark: look at this amazing atmosphere...

And this shot below, which seems to exist only to present action in most copies of the film I've seen before, but which here exists to encompass an astounding diversity of color...

The disc also includes the dream-come-true featurette "Kill, Bava, Kill," in which David Gregory takes Lamberto Bava back to the film's original filming locations -- it's a nominee for next year's Rondo Award for Best DVD Extra, to be sure. There is also a trailer and a stills gallery that includes the full set of German lobby cards (in Germany, the film is known as DIE TOTEN AUGEN DES DR. DRACULA, or "The Dead Eyes of Dr. Dracula"), some extremely rare Italian fotobusti (I don't have these myself!), and other goodies. The unsigned back cover copy, I hear, was written by VW's own Richard Harland Smith.

I also contributed liner notes to this release, which I was told were going to be used. I don't know what happened, but they don't appear to be present on the disc itself nor included in paper form. That's no reason why you should go without -- as an exclusive for WatchBlog readers, I'll post them here at the time of the disc's release.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

VW Nominated for 7 Rondo Awards!

I am delighted to report that VIDEO WATCHDOG has been nominated seven times in four categories in the Fifth Annual Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards ballot, which was unveiled today at the Rondo website and the Classic Horror Film Boards.

VW's nominations are: Best Magazine, Best Website (Video WatchBlog), Best Magazine Cover (Charlie Largent's classic King Kong for VIDEO WATCHDOG #125), and four nominations for Best Article (more than any other magazine):

"Edgar Wallace and the Paternity of KING KONG," by Tim Lucas, VIDEO WATCHDOG #126. New information about the mystery writer's role in the creation of Kong.

"Hammer and Universal: A Marriage of Monsters," by Bill Cooke, VIDEO WATCHDOG #127. In-depth examination of the Hammer Horror DVD Collection.

"In Search of Del Tenney, Auteur of Party Beach," by Tim Lucas, VIDEO WATCHDOG #127. The cult director who vanished professionally for 40 years.

"Third Dimension of Evil: The Making of AMITYVILLE 3-D," by Paul Talbot, VIDEO WATCHDOG #124. An insightful second look at a film most have forgotten; includes last interview with late Richard Fleischer.

Links to samplings of all these Best Article nominees, and to a detailed enlargement of Charlie's cover art for VW #125, can be found on the VW website home page. All of the different voting categories accept write-in votes, while others are determined by write-in votes only, including (nudge, nudge) Best Writer, Best Artist (I ask you, who has given you more great magazine covers this year than Charlie Largent?), Monster Kid of the Year, and this year's additions to the Monster Kid Hall of Fame.

So what are you waiting for? Follow those links up in the first paragraph, follow the simple voting directions, pick your favorites, and Go Rondo!

Saturday, January 27, 2007

More Words on PERFORMANCE

Warner Home Video's forthcoming DVD of PERFORMANCE is the most beautiful, comprehensive, and comprehensible presentation of the film I've ever seen... but.

Truly, the quality of image and sound is a revelation, and the disc provides a most welcome subtitling option (like the audio, in English only) that clarifies all that the ear cannot easily interpret. The subtitles aren't always perfect, though: when Chas (James Fox) calls his nephew "good boy" on the telephone, the subtitle reads "goodbye," even though they continue talking; there are other faux pas as well, yet somehow "Orbis Tertius" is spelled correctly. Unfortunately, as often happens with DVD subtitles, the song lyrics are not transcribed; they may, however, be present in the closed captioning.

The audio is given a particular boon by the clear digital separation of the dialogue and music/effects tracks, which allow the music in the film to stand out and sparkle (I'm now much more aware of music cues in the film that were not included on the album), and the dialogue to be heard separately from the sounds that have heretofore bled into it, making it more easily understood even without the subtitles. Never before have I followed the details of the plot so well. Never before did I catch the reference to "Mick" before Chas shoots the man who beat him in his apartment, the one time Chas calls Turner "Nick," or Pherber's suggestion that they call "Dr. Burroughs." (Isn't he "the man who works the Soft Machine"?)

The tragic "but" to which I referred in my opener is a very irritating and needless one. During the "Memo from Turner" sequence, when Turner (Mick Jagger) raises a glass in a toast and cries "Here's to Old England!" (reprising an earlier line of Harry Flowers, played by Johnny Shannon), his lips move... but... no sound comes out! Other dialogue heard during the song is intact, so why not this? Boo, hiss.

This mistake aside, I had the feeling while watching this disc that it might be the first time I have ever seen PERFORMANCE at the correct projection speed. Everything about the picture seemed a semi-tone lower in register, more comprehensively paced. As I noted yesterday, there's a difference in running time over the previous Warner PAL VHS and NTSC laserdisc releases that amounts to an additional 6 seconds. At present, I can't be sure of where all those seconds occur, but the main titles seemed more revealing than I remembered them, so I took the time to write out a cutting continuity of the title sequence, as it appears on the new disc, and compared it to the shots that open the British tape. I found two brief shots omitted from that earlier continuity; there is an additional shot of Ann Sidney naked between the legs of James Fox and a followup cutaway to the Rolls-Royce, placed immediately prior to a similar shot that shows Fox rocking Sidney from side to side between his legs -- to be blunt, the shot of her giving him head prior to the shot of his orgasm. (The Rolls was removed only to maintain the editing rhythm established by the sequence, so that one Rolls shot wouldn't directly cut to another -- thus tipping the audience off that something had been removed.) Also, one of the shots included in the earlier continuity, also between Fox and Sidney, goes on some frames longer here, permitting a brief glimpse of Sidney's pubic hair. Also, this sex scene was darkened considerably in all earlier presentations, but is brighter here, permitting more obvious glimpses of full frontal and rear nudity, by Fox as well as Sidney. Likewise, later in the film, when Pherber (Anita Pallenberg) is filming Turner as he sleeps nude and covers his genetalia with his hands, a single frame is intact showing Jagger's testicles.

The featurettes are very good. The longer one is about a good deal more than just the film's censor problems; in fact, it hardly touches on them. It's more of an overview of the film's development and production, and an appreciation of its current status. The interviewees include star Anita Pallenberg, producer Sanford Lieberman, associate producer David Cammell, Jack Nietsche Jr. (son of the film's late music supervisor), and author Colin McCabe. The "Memo from Turner" piece does attend to the behind-the-scenes of filming that sequence, and features some neat footage of Cammell directing Jagger, as well as shots not in the final assembly. The trailer is in mint condition.

How the producers of this disc could have been sharp enough to track down millimeters of never-before-seen footage to include in this gorgeous assembly, making it the most complete and brilliant-looking version of PERFORMANCE ever, yet so careless as to mute an important (at least resonant) line of dialogue, I can't explain. I hate to rain on this release over something so minor, especially when it accomplishes so much else, but the error is minor only in length; anyone who already knows this movie is going to miss that line, and wince in pain when they discover it for themselves.

I'd still recommend this disc very highly. If you haven't seen PERFORMANCE, you must; if you're already among the converted, you know you'll have to get this -- just resign yourself to the fact that this won't be the last time we line up to buy this title.

PERFORMANCE streets on February 13.

Friday, January 26, 2007

A Quick Word on Warner's PERFORMANCE

I received my advance copy of PERFORMANCE today and, though it's a busy time here, I wanted to post a quick report.

I was a bit unnerved to see that the packaging carries an R rating -- THAT'S a first! -- but the picture quality looks extraordinary and, best news of all, the disc runs 105m 18s by my time counter... which is a few seconds longer than either the Warner PAL VHS or Warner's previous domestic laserdisc version, both of which clocked in at 105m 12s, according to Rebecca and Sam Umland's DONALD CAMMELL: A LIFE ON THE WILD SIDE. With a movie like this, of course, even a couple of seconds could mean a world of difference. I'll post something more detailed once I've had a chance to properly absorb the disc and its featurettes.

Speaking of the featurettes, "Influence and Controversy" (a new featurette about the film's censor problems) runs about 25m, and "Memo from Turner" (a look at the filming of the song with behind-the-scenes material) runs close to 5m. There is also a 2m 44s trailer.

It looks like a terrific disc.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

VROOM! Forward... Into the Past!

What we have here, to the left, is a typically superior example of Italian poster art for a comparatively obscure Roger Corman film entitled THE YOUNG RACERS (1963). In Italy they called it "The Devils of the Grand Prix." It was filmed in Monte Carlo during Grand Prix season and starred Luana Anders, William Campbell, and Patrick Magee (all of whom would subsequently follow soundman Francis Coppola to Ireland to film DEMENTIA 13), as well as Mark Damon (who would pass up DEMENTIA 13 to make BLACK SABBATH with Mario Bava, and whose performance here was dubbed by William Shatner), Béatrice Altariba of EYES WITHOUT A FACE, and even the obscure actress who later played the mysterious Julia in Antonio Margheriti's CASTLE OF BLOOD, Margarete Robsahm. That's my idea of an outstanding cast.

No, THE YOUNG RACERS isn't due to arrive on DVD, more's the pity. I was motivated to write about it today because it happened to be on a VHS tape I pulled down from my attic to convert to DVD-R. I had assumed that the movie came from American Movie Classics' much-missed, pre-commercial "American Pop" days, but after popping it into my VCR, I discovered that it was actually something even more precious: a relic of Bruce Dern's days as the host of LOST DRIVE-IN, a weekly Saturday night procession of car-related movies that used to run on the Speedvision Channel. I immediately kicked myself for not realizing at the time what a precious gift to movie fans this program was; I should have taped it every week. I didn't, of course, not having a lot of interest in car movies, but I should have learned by then that the real reason to hit the "Record" button for LOST DRIVE-IN was Bruce Dern himself.

Taped in the waning daylight at some abandoned drive-in theater, Dern would sit in the front seat of an old-fashioned roadster or pad around the gravel while reminiscing about the old days of entertainment under the stars, and sometimes about the people in the films he was presenting, when he had memories of working with them. No attempt was made by the producers to glamorize him, and his comments didn't seem to be pre-scripted in any way -- all you got was the straight, undiluted juice from Bruce.

I can't swear to this, but I think all the LOST DRIVE-IN I managed to preserve on tape was THE YOUNG RACERS and a 1967 movie called HELL ON WHEELS, starring Marty Robbins and John Ashley. I had never heard of the latter movie before, but it captured that single summer of my youth when I was into car culture so well (and not in an entirely pleasant way) that I had to snag it when Speedvision re-ran the movie later that same evening. At least I had the good sense not to trim out the host footage. The IMDb tells me that LOST DRIVE-IN ran from 1996 to 2001, so I guess I missed out on some good times.

Speaking of "American Pop" (as I did a few paragraphs ago), I recently had occasion to dub another tape from the attic to DVD-R, which I had recorded from those short-lived golden days when AMC was regularly previewing that Sixties-themed channel that never happened. The movie, a hugely entertaining spy/beach spoof called OUT OF SIGHT, was incidentally produced by Bart Patton, who had previously acted in DEMENTIA 13, probably in the role Mark Damon would have been played, had he tagged along to Ireland with the rest of the YOUNG RACERS cast. (Small world.) Again, I was delighted to discover that my tape not only caught AMC's one-time-only letterboxed presentation of OUT OF SIGHT -- starring Jonathan Daly, Carole Shelyne as "Marvin," and Norman "Woo Woo" Grabowski as "Huh" (I ask you, what more could anyone possibly WANT?) -- but also 30 minutes or so of spy-themed filler, including Scopitones, toy commercials, a Johnny Rivers video of "Secret Agent Man", and other inspired silliness. Silliness, yes, but it takes smarts to compile such ephemera, and that kind of smarts is what's in embarrassingly short supply on television today. It would have made such a great channel, "American Pop." But who needs it when people will pay for 300 channels of after-midnight "Paid Programming" about Vitamin B-12, male enhancement, and how to strike it rich on eBay?

In closing, a little study in interpretation. As I was watching the beginning of THE YOUNG RACERS and making sure the tape was tracking properly, I was struck by the main titles. In addition to offering the usual animation graphics for which AIP films were famous in those days, the titles feature still photos of a boy playing with a toy race car; after a series of shots that show the boy's hand on the miniature racer, and another that finds him making roaring engine sounds with his mouth, he's suddenly joined in frame by a second boy with a toy racer of his own, and the two boys place them side by side to stage a competition in the dirt. Then Roger Corman's credit appears and we're off to the real Grand Prix races.

What immediately struck me about this mostly still photo sequence -- besides its seeming debt to Chris Marker (whose LA JETÉE Corman possibly saw in its first year of release), and allusions to the competitive relationship that Corman was raised to have with his brother Gene -- is that it prefigures the memorable way Corman introduces the motorcycles in THE WILD ANGELS, with a boy pedalling his tricycle down the street until Peter Fonda's thundering hog cuts into frame. In both cases, Corman seems to suggest that the roads of motor racing and cycling run both ways. Children fantasize about the power, velocity, and victory that comes with belonging to those worlds; and, at the same time, the adults who pursue those lifestyles are living out fantasies conceived in childhood and run the risk of never moving beyond them.

My trouble, on the other hand, is that I did move beyond certain interests of my younger days -- like paying more attention to things like LOST DRIVE-IN and "American Pop" -- and now I find myself regretting it. It was only yesterday, it seems, and yet so long ago.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Woo-Hoo! TCM's New Columbia Crime Package


Beginning this month, Turner Classic Movies began premiering a whole new set of additions to their library "from the Hollywood studios of Columbia Pictures." Last week, the delightful and rarely-seen Gainsborough mermaid fantasy MIRANDA turned up on their schedule, the first time I've ever known it to appear on television (now bring on HELTER SKELTER and MAD ABOUT MEN, which also featured Glynis Johns as Miranda!), as well as the Jacques Tourneur classic CURSE OF THE DEMON. A reader called to notify us that TCM inadvertently ran the shorter American version of DEMON, even though the full length cut is available on domestic DVD, and asked me in a voice full of concern if I thought TCM "might be losing it."

To which I must answer "No chance!" -- especially after seeing the lineup they have prepared for us this coming Tuesday. In addition to an early morning broadcast of Howard Hawks' THE CRIMINAL CODE (1931, the film that brought Boris Karloff to the attention of FRANKENSTEIN director James Whale), TCM gets down to the nitty-gritty with their first showcasing of one of Columbia's classic B-mystery series, based on Jack Boyle's pulp fiction character "Boston Blackie."

Rather like Arsène Lupin, the French pulp hero of Maurice Leblanc, Boston Blackie (played by Chester Morris of THE BAT WHISPERS) is a former master criminal who -- with his accomplice-turned-valet The Runt (George E. Stone) -- goes straight, but is somehow never able to convince the law (usually personified by the gruff Richard Lane) of the sincerity of his intentions. Unlike the noirish quality of Columbia's "The Whistler" series, or the sometimes weird extremes of their "Crime Doctor" films, the "Boston Blackie" films are a snappy combination of B-mystery conventions and occasional screwball situation comedy that never outstays their welcome. It was Columbia's longest running B-mystery series, lasting for fourteen films over a period of nine years.

On Tuesday, January 23, between the hours of 1:30 and 6:30 pm eastern time, TCM will be showing the series' first four entries, described thusly on their website:

MEET BOSTON BLACKIE (1941)
A reformed thief uncovers a spy ring while investigating a murder at sea. Cast: Chester Morris, Rochelle Hudson, Richard Lane. Dir: Robert Florey. BW-58 mins

CONFESSIONS OF BOSTON BLACKIE (1941)
A reformed thief cracks a ring of art thieves to clear himself of murder charges. Cast: Chester Morris, Harriet Hilliard, Richard Lane. Dir: Edward Dmytryk. C-65 mins

ALIAS BOSTON BLACKIE (1942)
A reformed thief tracks down an escaped convict so he can prove the man is innocent. Cast: Chester Morris, Adele Mara, Richard Lane. Dir: Lew Landers. C-67 mins

BOSTON BLACKIE GOES HOLLYWOOD (1942)
When he's framed for robbery, a reformed thief takes off to find the real culprit. Cast: Chester Morris, George E. Stone, Constance Worth. Dir: Michael Gordon. BW-68 mins

I was a little disappointed to see that TCM hasn't booked "Boston Blackie" for daily appearances, but I can understand why they wouldn't want to show the whole bunch right away. I haven't seen their February schedule yet, but my fingers are crossed for more. In the meantime, by all means, grab these while you can -- I believe you'll find them habit-forming -- and join me in an eager wait for other Columbia B-mystery series to emerge from the Turner vaults.

The remaining titles, by the way: AFTER MIDNIGHT WITH BOSTON BLACKIE (1943), THE CHANCE OF A LIFETIME (1943), ONE MYSTERIOUS NIGHT (1944), BOSTON BLACKIE BOOKED ON SUSPICION (1945), BOSTON BLACKIE'S RENDEZVOUS (1945), A CLOSE CALL FOR BOSTON BLACKIE (1945), THE PHANTOM THIEF (1946), BOSTON BLACKIE AND THE LAW (1946), TRAPPED BY BOSTON BLACKIE (1948), and BOSTON BLACKIE'S CHINESE VENTURE (1949).

The titles without "Boston Blackie" in them are trickier than the others to find, but hopefully TCM will do what they can to make the search easy for us.