Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Citizen Ditko

I read on Mark Evanier's blog today that BBC4 will be running a Jonathan Ross documentary entitled IN SEARCH OF STEVE DITKO next Sunday night. Sounds exciting. I'm not sure of the times, but if a WatchBlog reader within range of that broadcast could record a copy for me, I'll promise to blog about it and thank you personally. DVD-R or VHS welcome.

Postscript 3:58pm: A kind soul has come forward with a promise to record this event for me, but I will leave the above posted to inform others of the broadcast.

Monday, September 10, 2007


Vincent Price as the corrupt puritan Matthew Hopkins in WITCHFINDER GENERAL, a.k.a. THE CONQUEROR WORM.

It's been a long time coming.

It was in May 1988, in the debut of "Video Watchdog" in the pages of GOREZONE #1, that I first reported the atrocities imposed upon Michael Reeves' cult classic THE CONQUEROR WORM (aka WITCHFINDER GENERAL, 1968) by HBO Video's VHS release. It was the film's home video debut. In the nearly twenty years since, the film has never been available for viewing here in the States as Reeves intended it. Not only was the 17th century historical drama cut to soften the blow of its gore (and hence its outrage); worse still, its original Paul Ferris score, an enormous factor in its emotional sweep and impact, was replaced with an anachronistic synthesizer score by NEON MANIACS composer Kendall Schmidt. The film was the last ever made by the prodigious Reeves, who died of an accidental barbiturates overdose in 1969, at the age of 25 -- and it looked as though his best bid for remembrance was doomed by its current owner's refusal to pony up for the renewal of its music rights. In my two decades as a Video Watchdog, it remains in my view the most abominable offense ever perpetuated by a home video company, one that was instrumental in diminishing the reputation of a talented young man no longer among us to defend himself or his legacy.

Tomorrow, all this nonsense finally comes to an end with 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment's "Midnite Movies" release of a fully restored WITCHFINDER GENERAL. The score is back in place, sounding grand and giving this modestly-made picture a measure of majesty, and the film has also been restored to the extent of including some shots never before seen in American release. Here are two of them, featuring Maggie Kimberley as an accused witch being prepared for burning.

There are also other additional shots of gore, witch-pricking and torture that have heretofore only been available as part of a patchwork reconstruction of the movie issued on R2 DVD. The quality of Fox's reconstruction -- actually MGM's reconstruction, as it was done there under the aegis of James Owsley -- is seamless and the movie looks remarkably good, even to the extent of darkening some previously overbright day-for-night shots and brightening some shots that have always been impenetrably dark. I have only one quarrel with the transfer, which I'll illustrate with the following grab:

The reds are far too hot, and not only in these military uniforms. The blood is so luminously red, it looks fake -- it's always been overly bright, but distractingly so. So I recommend you buy the disc and mute your color somewhat before watching. Some of the deep royal blues in the film may look more indistinguishable from black as a result, but the film overall will play better.

The extras consist of a featurette ("WITCHFINDER GENERAL: Michael Reeves' Classic") with appearances by VW's own Kim Newman, Stephen Jones and Vincent Price exhibit curator Richard Squires. (I wish the producers could have invited Price biographer Lucy Chase Williams or one of Reeves' two biographers for some first-hand input; Mr. Squires seems a nice fellow, but I could tell where he read everything he has to say about the film, none of which -- this not being a text presentation -- is attributed.) There's also a very fine audio commentary by actor Ian Ogilvy and producer Phillip Waddilove (who, parents may wish to know, drops a few f-bombs while reminiscing about the once GP but now "Not Rated" feature), moderated by the articulate and respectful Steve Haberman. The extras can also be found on the WITCHFINDER disc included in Fox's new VINCENT PRICE - MGM SCREAM LEGENDS COLLECTION box set.

Alas, with this restoration comes some loss. This is the British director's cut version of the film, so it doesn't feature the opening and closing US narration by Vincent Price (reciting stanzas from Edgar Allan Poe's "The Conqueror Worm"), nor does it feature the continental version's nude tavern wenches as seen in all previous home video releases of the film under its US release title, THE CONQUEROR WORM. The loss of the Kendall Schmidt score is nothing to cry about, of course, but these other omissions fall under the heading of necessary ephemera as far as we collectors and completists are concerned. They really should have been included here as extras.

In short, WITCHFINDER GENERAL is a long overdue release of one of the milestone horror films of the 1960s -- a job well done, but one which also leaves room for improvement the next time around.

Who Is Number One?

Those who have invested once or more in A&E Home Video's DVD sets of THE PRISONER have cause to weep. Now, to commemorate the ground-breaking programme's 40th anniversary, Network Video has released a new, digitally remastered, R2 edition of THE PRISONER in the UK, and this nifty webpage offers some tantalizing before-and-after screen grabs worth checking out. And if they're not enough to make you want to exclaim "Be Seeing You," take a look at the extras also included.

Sunday, September 09, 2007


As if in reply to the 12-pound heft of MARIO BAVA ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK, Anchor Bay/Starz Entertainment have upped the ante with their forthcoming BAVA - THE MARIO BAVA COLLECTION VOLUME 2. The set has now been increased in size to encompass eight (8) different Bava films!
According to this recently leaked cover art, KIDNAPPED is joining the set. What, no RABID DOGS? I would hope this is an oversight or perhaps an unavoidable omission considering the clearly crowded list of titles. The publicist for the set has promised Video WatchBlog an exclusive on the set's extras as soon as they're confirmed, so keep watching this space for further details.
To refresh your memory, three of these titles -- BAY OF BLOOD, BARON BLOOD and LISA AND THE DEVIL -- will also feature audio commentaries by me, Tim Lucas, as will Bava's wonderful Viking adventure film ERIK THE CONQUEROR, which is being sold separately by the label as it was licensed from a different licensor.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

"My Name is Victoria Winters..."

As those of you familiar with my recent routine will understand, I've lately found myself sorely in need of a nightcap come bedtime. MPI Home Video's newly issued DARK SHADOWS THE BEGINNING - DVD COLLECTION 1 has been just the ticket. This set collects the first 35 B&W episodes of the long-running ABC-TV program, the first "suspense soap opera," which originally aired roughly a year before the vampire Barnabas Collins was introduced to the storyline. What we have here is like a contemporary version of an Ann Radcliffe novel: the gothic story of an orphaned adult, Victoria Winters, and her search for identity at a forbidding mansion in Maine, where she discovers her paternity to be only one of many mysteries and by no means the darkest.

Like many other kids of my generation, I used to run home from school to catch DARK SHADOWS in its heyday, but I didn't stick with it through its entire run. I started when the show started, drifted away when I discovered greater attractions than the mild mysteries it proferred that first year, and came back when I heard that vampires were stalking the stately halls of Collinwood. I was about 11 or 12 at the time and found the miniskirts and shapely legs of Kathryn Leigh Scott compelling viewing, even when Jonathan Frid wasn't baring his fangs. I've since seen individual episodes of later episodes and not gotten hooked all over again, and have been generally mystified by the whole phenomenon of DARK SHADOWS fandom. Nevertheless, I've always been curious to revisit these earliest episodes to see if they were really dull or just over my 10 year old head at the time.

To my amazement, I'm getting hooked. I went through periods of addiction to the CBS-TV soaps GUIDING LIGHT and AS THE WORLD TURNS back in the 1970s, and I have to say that DARK SHADOWS works much like other soaps have worked in my experience. The storyline is not particularly captivating, however, over time, one begins to see through the characters to the people underneath; consequently, one becomes extraordinarily sympathetic to the actors, working under obvious stress (live on videotape), and it is the company of their struggle, the hope we share with them for their occasional triumph, that becomes irresistable. There is also a good deal of cleverness to how the show stretches the most minor of plot points over several episodes, if not several weeks, introducing new bait just before it grudgingly allows the old bait to slide off the hook.

Alexandra Moltke, who plays Victoria Winters, has an interesting dark Irish face poised between blandness and classical beauty, and the scrappy pluck she brings to her performance is winning. David Henesy, who plays a troubled nine-year-old in her charge, is a talented child actor who also has an often-uncorrected tendency to glower into the cameras until his good work becomes risible. Joan Bennett, the star of the show, is properly imperious and cold but, nearly 30 episodes in, I'm still looking for chinks in her armor that might make her at least moderately interesting. Her character is said to have never left Collinwood in over 18 years, but one episode opens with her entering the house from a trip outside. Bennett also has an amusing tendency, in her telephone scenes, to leave no ellipses in her lines to allow for what the person calling might have to say. Louis Edmonds, as the schizo arrogant/avuncular Roger Collins, is a hoot; he's probably the best actor in these early shows and, while it's usually easy to tell when he wanders off-script, he engineers the most graceful rescues for himself and his co-stars you can imagine. It's interesting for me, too, as a longtime admirer, to be reminded of how Kathryn Leigh Scott's Maggie Evans character was first introduced as a blonde-wigged, working class waitress at the hotel greasy spoon; she becomes a warmer, more interesting presence when she loses the wig in Episode 19. And, unapologetic fanboy that I can sometimes be, every time I see Mitchell Ryan, I find myself thinking what a great Nick Fury he might have been. Now-familiar faces I don't normally associate with the series have also been turning up in bit parts: Conrad Bain, Elizabeth Wilson, Barnard Hughes.

Each episode begins with a chalkboard shot that gives the dates of recording and broadcast (generally two weeks apart). In one of these, Nancy Barrett (who plays the cute, blonde, adventure-seeking daughter of Bennett's character) can be seen walking to her mark for the opening scene and vigorously scrubbing at her front teeth with a finger. It's moments such as this that distill the joy of watching DARK SHADOWS and keep me watching. It's really theater rather than television drama, a kind of rough sketch that gives us just enough material to complete in our heads, to fantasize about, to dream on. Perhaps that's why they keep remaking it. Word is going around that Johnny Depp is going to play Barnabas Collins in a blockbuster feature remake; if he gets it wrong, you can bet your sharpened dentures it won't be the last attempt.

In the meantime, DARK SHADOWS THE BEGINNING makes for compulsive, fun, and (I would argue) multi-layered viewing; I can go through three or four in a sitting and wonder where the time went. Full review forthcoming in a future VIDEO WATCHDOG.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

A Week (Or So) Into the Mailing

As I hope you've figured out for yourselves, we've been quiet about the Bava book mailing because we've been overwhelmingly busy with the Bava book mailing -- and still are. I'm not sleepy enough to go to bed yet, so I thought I'd post... not an official update for the Bava Book blog, but some personal WatchBlog notes on how it's going. It's hard work, but it's going very well. Our first day paid off in lower numbers than we hoped, but we quickly adapted to increase our productivity and have been meeting daily goals after midnight that sounded unreasonable (at least to me) earlier in the day. This is new terrain for us, you understand -- a job this size may be new terrain for any married couple living in a modest suburban house. The only way to unpack, sign, repackage and ship, say, 100 twelve-pound books in a day is to go through the experience of unpacking, signing, repackaging and shipping 50 the previous day.

But, with Donna at the helm, it can be done. We've also been blessed to have friends and family members rally to our aid. Donna's mom Ellie Goldschmidt and our friend Jan Perry deserve special applause for being here through virtually every day of this process, cutting bubble paper, boxing the books for shipment, and keeping our spirits buoyant. Our pal Joe Busam, who some of you may remember as the producer of MONSTER KID HOME MOVIES and Rondo's Monster Kid of the Year 2005, has also generously stepped in on occasion to lend some additional manpower. Even on short notice. Even on Labor Day weekend. Donna's sister Barbara Harding, who hosted a wonderful and much-needed family gathering at her house on Sunday, came over to offer some assistance this afternoon. They've all played important roles in helping us get the books to you faster, and we're thankful.

Perhaps you are picturing me in a smoking jacket, sitting in a comfortable wing-backed chair, signing book after book with a flourish, and waving those who carry them to my station blithely away. Not so. According to Jan's calculations, I've been lifting somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 pounds per day. Needless to say, this is not my habit: I'm no stevedore; I'm a guy who sits on his duff and types his thoughts for a living. That's how I got into this predicament in the first place.

Here's my routine of the past week in a nutshell: I wake up around noon. Before coffee, Donna sits me down and tells me how many books she intends to have ready for pickup the next day. The figure is always conspicuously larger than the previous day's. After coffee and a quick breakfast, I set to work lifting and carrying 38-pound boxes from the towering stacks in our foyer and dining room to one of two "signing stations" (eg., card tables set up in our living room and dining room). The stacks are usually taller than me, so there is no way to observe the tradition wisdom "Lift with your legs, not with your back." Before sitting down, I cut each box open, dump the wrapped contents onto the table, tear off the brown shipping paper (or shrinkwrapping, if need be), sign the three books from each box, tip a postcard inside each one, and move the books aside until I run out of boxes. Then I carry the accumulated signed books in stacks of two, three or four (depending on how ambitious or energetic I'm feeling) to the nearest "shipping station" (eg., tables in the foyer and dining room). Generally, we've been starting around noon and carrying on, with a brief dinner break at a local restaurant (nobody's got the time or the will to cook), until 2:00 or even 4:00 in the morning.

Donna, Jan and I worked straight through the holiday weekend, taking only Sunday evening off, and got a huge number of boxes out the door today. Our goal is to get the remaining boxes of books out of the house in a couple of days, tops. It might be possible: the foyer is now completely clear of all but tomorrow's outgoing books (a hundred or so) and I was pleased, at the end of today, to see that we had made a noticeable dent in the boxes occupying the dining room. I'm seeing every possible variation of my signature all day long yet I've been feeling, from being so long away from my usual work, out of touch with who I am -- another reason I felt the need to blog; I haven't seen a movie in about ten days. This is not a good position to be in, especially when we're supposed to be prepping VIDEO WATCHDOG 135 as soon as the decks are cleared. Also, VW 134 (which we've been too busy to preview either here or on our website yet!) is due back from the printer any day now, and we need to be done with the book shipping to tend to that shipping. Thank goodness I don't have to sign copies of VW!

Yes, the work is punishing and makes us wish we were about 25 years younger to better cope with it. But when we receive e-mails from happy early recipients or discover message boards like this one where folks in Germany are sharing photos of their newly-arrived Bava books with such obvious and infectious joy, the extra effort we've put in makes the pleasure we feel that much more gratifying.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


I don't know who's behind this anonymously written blog, but I've been reading it daily and enjoying it very much. Today's piece on the late actor-comedian Rick Aviles (and, at first indirectly and then very directly, the blogger) is impressive stuff -- so revealing that it's hard to tell whether it's the blogger or the reader who's trembling at the candor. Kudos, whoever you are.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

The Centenary from Planet Arous

Nathan Juran -- the director of such classic matinee fare as THE BLACK CASTLE, HIGHWAY PATROL (Roger Corman's first screen credit), 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH, THE DEADLY MANTIS, THE 7th VOYAGE OF SINBAD, FLIGHT OF THE LOST BALLOON, JACK THE GIANT KILLER, FIRST MEN "IN" THE MOON, and THE BOY WHO CRIED WEREWOLF, in addition to his pseudonymously-directed favorites THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS and ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN (as "Nathan Hertz") -- would have turned 100 years old today.

Take those credits and add in all his early art directorial credits for I WAKE UP SCREAMING, DR. RENAULT'S SECRET, and some of Anthony Mann's finest Westerns, and his subsequent directorial chores on dozens of episodes of VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, LOST IN SPACE, THE TIME TUNNEL and LAND OF THE GIANTS, and we have a lot of entertainment to be grateful for.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

On "Sweet Nothings"

A friendly correspondent notified me today of this very interesting blog, The Savage Critics, where today's posting offers a critical overview of Stephen R. Bissette's TABOO #2, published back in 1989.

This issue included -- among other notable things -- "Sweet Nothings," a deliberately haunting little story by me and illustrated by my sister from another mother, Simonida Perica-Uth. We were venturing out into new realms with this story, certainly in the way it was illustrated (collages of xeroxed photos of Egyptian tombs and monuments), but also in the way the story was told. My literary style has always been... well, stylized, and I wanted to tell this story and others that might have followed in a deliberately spare manner that would seem to resonate down through the ages. Simo and I did a second, even more ambitious story in the same manner, "Clipped Wings," but what with the early demise of TABOO, it was never published. It didn't quite seem to belong anywhere else.

I don't believe I've ever read any printed assessment of the work Simo and I did together before now, but I treasure the memory of Steve telling me, at the time of its publication, that future FROM HELL artist Eddie Campbell, while staying with him, had expressed the feeling that it might be the most adult story he'd ever read up to that time in the comics form.

Copies of this classic issue are still available here at Steve Bissette's Online Emporium.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Digitally Obsessed on the Bava Book

Mark Zimmer's lengthy article about the Bava book and interview with me went live on the Digitally Obsessed website today, and you can read it here. Thanks, Mark!

In the meantime, the shipping ordeal continues and, boy, are my shoulders sore. Our friend Jan Perry has joined the assembly line (yay, Jan!) to help speed things along. I'm not only signing the books, but lifting each 38-pound box to the signing table, cutting them open, removing and unwrapping the books, and then breaking down the boxes for flatter storage. We haven't yet achieved Donna's dream of moving out 100 copies a day, but we haven't given up hope of getting there.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


A friendly correspondent forwarded this link to me today, which leads to an anonymous reader's answers to the "Touchstone Reading Group Guide" questions published in the back pages of my novel THE BOOK OF RENFIELD: A GOSPEL OF DRACULA. What a nice gift! I've never seen anyone's responses to these questions before now, but I found the insights of this reader to be most gratifying.

It's Honorin' Time!

Jack Kirby would have turned 90 today and I don't want to let the day pass without some sort of acknowledgement. I'd hate to think that some of my readers might not know who he was, but if you check his IMDb page, you'll find that -- more than a decade after his death -- he has more blockbusters lined up for future release than just about anybody else on the planet. Stan "The Man" Lee may be getting all the press, but it's more than conceivable that The Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk, The Mighty Thor, The Avengers, The Silver Surfer, Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos, Ant-Man, Nick Fury Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., and not least of all Captain America (who he introduced in 1941) would never have made the impression they did on generations of comics readers (and future filmmakers) without the daring draughtsmanship of the man who was rightfully known as "The King of Comics."

To be candid, I have a streak of the perverse in me that has always pushed Kirby somewhat aside in favor of the comics medium's more eccentric masters, Steve Ditko, Gene Colan, and Jim Steranko. Ditko, I feel, created a unique world of comics unto himself, as different to everything else in comics as film noir is different to drama; Colan introduced a more fluid cinematic verve into his visual storytelling; and Steranko elevated comics to the realms of fine art and post-modernism. But, as I revisit Kirby's work now in the Marvel Masterworks reprints, I find it almost ridiculously evident that he was the bedrock upon which the whole Silver Age of Comics was built. Ditko remains my personal favorite, but even I have to admit that Kirby was the best.

Kirby was the artist of the covers of the first Marvel comics I saw and bought. Even though some of those covers, like TALES OF SUSPENSE #61, TALES TO ASTONISH #63, and JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #112, aren't in a league with his best work, when I see them, I feel a remarkably deep-running emotion that literally thrills my imagination. This cover of THE AVENGERS #4, which dates from a bit earlier, is a classic case in point. The image may be still yet it is full of motion. The characters are leaping right off the page, right off the comics racks into the eager young buyer's hands. I find it somewhat indifferently inked (by Dick Ayers, I believe), but the piece is undeniably a classic. (Admiring it anew, I find myself wondering "If this scene was onscreen, how would it sound?" The mind boggles.) Energy was the essence of Kirby's art, and it's fitting that the technique he innovated of using ink blots to denote powerful fields of cosmic energy has since become known among his fellow artists as "The Kirby Crackle" or "Kirby Dots."

Kirby's energetic style was such a point of sale at Marvel that he was hired to draw the covers for even those books whose interiors he didn't draw. Both the Iron Man and Giant-Man stories in those aforementioned comics were drawn by Don Heck, much to my disappointment, though Kirby could always be depended upon to deliver the Captain America stories in TALES OF SUSPENSE. The two full-length books to which Kirby dedicated himself most whole-heartedly were epic in design: FANTASTIC FOUR and JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY, the latter being the stomping grounds of the mighty Thor and the innovative "Tales of Asgard." These were comics that not occasionally, but habitually, transcended time, space, and dimension in their quest for twelve cents' worth of entertainment. If you happened to miss the Galactus storyline in FANTASTIC FOUR #48-50, you missed something I feel was as essential to the 1960s as anything else that took place in that amazing decade. The version delivered in the multi-million-dollar feature film FANTASTIC FOUR: THE RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER is a mere pittance compared to the Krell-boost my young brain once enjoyed for a combined investment of thirty-six cents.

It's perhaps an impossible task to pick a favorite Jack Kirby cover. I can do it with Ditko, Colan, and Steranko, but not with Kirby. Many of Kirby's most ardent admirers consider Joe Sinnott to have been the ideal inker for his work, but personally I've always been more partial to the inking of Chic Stone on Kirby's pencils. This JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY cover (#110), inked by Stone, is one of many that particularly gets my heart pumping; I can remember a splash page from a Thor story during this period that depicted Dr. Donald Blake in surgery which still makes my jaw drop in its attention to detail. And this is perhaps the most mind-boggling of Kirby's talents -- not how he drew heroes, but how he drew the worlds in which these fantastic heroes dwell. Whether it was the interior of an operating theater, the countryside of Latveria where Doctor Doom reigned supreme, a prehistoric landscape, or the blistering voids at the farthest reaches of the cosmos, Kirby never showed himself less than perfectly at home -- a tour guide to mythic places, hyper-realities, and far-flung frontiers that comics and comics readers might never have reached without him. I love this particular cover more, but the cover of JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY's subsequent issue astounded writer-editor Stan Lee to such an extent that he refused to placard it with the usual Merry Marvel self-congratulation, allowing Kirby's majestic art to speak purely for itself.

If you're of a mind to celebrate Jack "King" Kirby tonight, which movie would I recommend? Oddly enough, one in which he had no direct involvement: Paul Verhoeven's ROBOCOP. Unlike the official Marvel movie adaptations we've had to date, it's ROBOCOP alone that really nails the look and feel of an upper tier Kirby comic, right down to the hero's questing body language, his square fingertips, and the squiggly highlights on his metallic chest and arms. Plus, it's a great movie. But really, the best way to celebrate Jack Kirby's 40+ year reign in comics is by revisiting the pages he actually drew -- or, better yet, discovering it for the first time, if you haven't had the pleasure. There's a lot of it now available in book form and you can find it here, for starters.

All hail King Kirby! Excelsior!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

IF.... and NIGHTMARE USA... and My Dish Problem Resolved

My review of Lindsay Anderson's IF...., featured in the current issue of SIGHT & SOUND, is now posted at their website.

Yesterday, Amazon.com delivered to me a fresh, firm copy of Stephen Thrower's new FAB Press book NIGHTMARE U.S.A. I haven't had time to do much more than page through it with great interest, but it certainly looks like one of the most important genre film book releases of the year. I was most excited to discover that it contains a full chapter on MESSIAH OF EVIL (1975), based on interviews with writer-director Willard Huyck, writer Gloria Katz, and the film's editor. I've always been fascinated by this movie and have daydreamed about presenting something like this chapter as a feature in VW someday, but that never happened -- so I'm pleased that someone of Steve's calibre has done the job in our stead. For some reason, I was able to order this book from Amazon last week for $50 or so, but as of now, they seem to have no more sale copies in stock and there's only one "used or new" Amazon store offering it for over $70.

Also, to follow up on an earlier posting, my Dish Network problems have been successfully resolved. We exchanged our VIP 211 MPEG-4 receiver with Dish's 611 DVR, which cleared up the problem with having with hard-matted gray bars cropping all the widescreen programming we were trying to record. The 611 not only gives me the option of storing up to 25 hours of HD programming on its hard drive, but there's an output on the back that allows me to outport a downcoverted signal to our DVD recorder. This is exactly what I needed. You see, the VIP 211 has no downconversion capability. So, for the record, if you're making the leap to MPEG-4 and are interested in recording SD DVD-Rs from your HD channels, my advice would be to stay away from the VIP 211 and go directly for the 611.

Also, I am loving the ability to record HD movies and other programming directly to the 611's hard drive for later viewing at my convenience, rather than having to prepare two sets of timers every time I want to see something that's not on at a convenient time -- and having to miss out on the HD quality I'm paying for as a result. In the past week alone, I've added to my hard drive HD recordings of PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES (my first Bava HD!), ISLAND OF TERROR and GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH -- none of which are available on HD or Blu-ray disc, or likely to be at any time in the near future. Unfortunately, hard drive space is limited (and so is my viewing time), so there's a limit to how much I can save and for how long -- but this introduction to collecting movies in my receiver, though only for the short term, is already changing the way I think about recording and giving me thoughts about where all this technology could and should proceed from here.

I'm coming around to the idea that HD's real future is not HD and Blu-ray discs, but as a cable or satellite conveyance system only, that may ultimately help to wean us away from needing to own every film we like, or may need for future reference, for fear that it may never turn up again. What cable and satellite companies need to start working on is wiping the slate clean of all these wasteful channels that sell their souls nightly to Paid Programming and setting up motion picture and television data banks that we can rely upon to do our collecting for us, and pipe down to us what we want to see, when we want to see it, in HD or SD as the case may be. As it us, people are spending hundreds of dollars per month on DVDs and DVD sets and running out of room in the process. I don't know about you, but I would gladly redirect my monthly DVD allowance toward a monthly subscription to one or more such data banks -- as long as I could rely on them to maintain operation and to provide me with the special interest material I want to see. Of course, such a fantasy would require the hiring of management who truly know and love movies in order to become a successful reality, which is something that Hollywood has never seemed too able or interested in managing -- but with Dish Network and other providers offering in excess of 900 channels, it would be nice to see them used for a higher purpose than selling Girls Go Wild videos and male member enhancement medications.

Monday, August 20, 2007


What better way to celebrate a happy ending to the Bava book auction, and to start a new week, than to make an important announcement about Anchor Bay Entertainment's forthcoming October release of Mario Bava's ERIK THE CONQUEROR [Gli invasori, 1961]?

In addition to my own feature-length audio commentary, I provided to the disc's producers a special bonus: a 28-minute excerpt from my 1989 telephone interview with Cameron Mitchell! This material focuses specifically on ERIK and Cameron's warm feelings about Bava himself, whom he described to me as "one of my favorite people on the planet."

I didn't know whether producer Perry Martin would want to use the interview as a separate audio feature, or if he might want to shuffle my commentary and the interview together, but he tells me he's done a little of both. The bulk of the interview will be included as a separate audio option, but those parts that specifically discuss certain scenes in the picture will be mixed in with my commentary. I'm looking forward to seeing and hearing the final results, and I'm delighted that Cameron's personal comments about Bava's best swashbuckler are being preserved for posterity on what promises to be a fantastic release.

The ten of you who won the limited edition CD of my Vincent Price and Cameron Mitchell interviews in the Bava book auction, never fear -- the ERIK DVD will contain only one-third (roughly) of the interview that you'll own in its entirety -- with his further discussions on BLOOD AND BLACK LACE, KNIVES OF THE AVENGER and MINNESOTA CLAY.

It's been a long and exciting night, and Donna and I want to thank everyone who participated in our auction and helped to make it such a grand success. I'm tired, but before I hit the sack for some overdue shut-eye, I want to send out Happy Birthday (or Buon' compleanno) greetings to Alice & Ellen Kessler -- the graceful female leads of ERIK THE CONQUEROR -- who are turning 71 today, and to Bava composer Stelvio Cipriani (BAY OF BLOOD, BARON BLOOD, RABID DOGS), who is celebrating his 70th. And finally, according to the IMDb, I was a year early in wishing a Happy Centenary to Lurene Tuttle last year, who actually turns the big 100 this very day. (What do I know? I watched a PERRY MASON episode last night and was tickled to find Lurene Tuttle starring in it... but when the credits rolled, she turned out to be Josephine Hutchinson!)

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Ultimate Bava Book Auction Ending Soon!

Just a quick reminder to everyone that our Ultimate Bava Book Auction on eBay reaches its exciting conclusion in less than a day!

Here, in the east coast time zone, the final bids will be locked down Monday morning at 7:39:02 am. On the west coast, the auction ends Monday morning at 4:39:02 am, pacific time.

We apologize for timing the auction's end at such an awkward hour for most people. We hadn't sold anything on eBay in many years, and never anything on quite this scale in terms of page design. It was important for us to post the auction no later than Monday morning, to ensure that the winners' names and addresses would be in hand before the books arrive this week. If you're going to bed early, remember to bid your highest before retiring... or set your alarms to be there for the finish.

Thanks to the many numbers of people who are watching and participating in this historic auction! And good luck!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Centenaries, Centenaries! They Pleasure Me!

Greetings, my friends. We are all interested in old age, for that is how you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives. And remember, my friends, drier skin and creakier bones and varicose veins will affect you in the future -- if you are lucky.

You are interested in the unknown... the mysterious. The unexplainable. That is why you visit this blog each day. And now, for the first time, I am bringing to you, the full story (well, the short version) of what happened on that fateful day -- August 18, 1907. I am bringing you all the evidence, based only on the secret testimony of the marcelled-hair soul who was launched that day on a life of prophecy and prediction. My friends, I cannot keep this a secret any longer. Let us call a spade a spade. Let us praise those who have entertained us. My friends, can your heart stand the shocking fact of The Amazing Criswell's centenary?

For years, he told us the almost unbelievable, related the unreal and showed it to be more than a fact. He might never have believed that such a day would come, but yes, friends, the gentleman born Jeron Criswell Konig, better known as The Amazing Criswell, narrator of Ed Wood's PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, was born 100 years ago today.

All of us on this earth know that there is a time to live, and that there is a time to die. Yet death is always a shock to those left behind. It is even more of a shock when Death, the Proud Brother, comes suddenly without warning -- as it did for brother Criswell, on October 4, 1982. Who could have predicted it?

But, fortunately for us, Criswell has become one of the Threshold People, people who are dead but who continue to entertain us from the Beyond. Some sooth-sayers claim that because he took his rest in a coffin in life, Criswell now spends his death in a proper bed. Could this be the reason for his longeivity? Who among us can say? Who are we going to ask -- Jeanne Dixon?

My friend, you have now read this blog, based on sworn testimony. Happy 100th birthday, Cris. And as for the rest of you... Can you prove that it didn't happen?

Friday, August 17, 2007

Dick Miller to Receive Lifetime Achievement Award

And it couldn't happen to a more deserving guy.

Dick Miller -- one of the most beloved and iconic character actors of the past half-century, known particularly for his many roles in Roger Corman and Joe Dante pictures -- will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 43rd annual Cinecon, the world’s oldest film festival devoted exclusively to classic motion pictures. The award will be presented by Joe Dante at the gala awards banquet on Sunday, Sept. 2nd at the Renaissance Hotel in Hollywood.

Also receiving awards will be three other actors with significant genre credits: John Saxon, Piper Laurie (an actress who's always had a place in my heart for once marrying a film critic -- Joe Morgenstern of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL) and, of course of course, the time machinist's best friend, Alan Young.

Although you may want to attend just for the banquet, anyone who knows enough about movies to know and revere the name of Dick Miller is strongly encouraged to register for the full conference as well. Over two dozen extremely rare features will be screened -- all but one in 35mm, as well as nearly a dozen shorts (including three chapters of the 1941 Columbia serial THE IRON CLAW). If you love old movies of any stripe, you won’t want to be anywhere else Labor Day weekend.
For more information, click here.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Ultimate Bava Book Auction is Here!

Actually, it's on eBay -- but, believe me, it's worth the trip. Click right here and check out the wealth of production materials and rarities Donna and I have assembled for the 10 lucky winners -- in addition to the first 10 signed and only numbered copies of MARIO BAVA ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK!

What could we possible offer in an "Ultimate Bava Book Auction"? Well, let me put it this way...

You've been pining to hear my never-released KILL, BABY... KILL! commentary? Here's your chance!

You've always wanted to eavesdrop on interviews with the likes of Vincent Price and Cameron Mitchell? Here's your chance!

You've thought of how nice it might be to have some actual manuscript pages from this historic effort? To see how I changed things before they went to press? Here's your chance!

You think 12 pounds and 1128 pages is awfully unwieldy and wish you could own a second copy that could be conveniently slipped into your laptop or jeans pocket? Here's your chance!

And you know what? That's still not even the half of it.

Go to the auction page now (why are you still here?) and check out the full details. Donna and I have worked very hard to make this auction as attractive and exciting and generous as possible. Our goal is to honor this once-in-a-lifetime publishing event by knocking your socks off not once, but twice -- first with the auction, and then with the book itself, which should start shipping shortly after the auction ends!

And remember... If you've already pre-ordered the Bava book, no problem -- you can still participate in the bidding. If you win the auction and have already pre-ordered, we'll gladly refund the price you paid for the book on request! (Some people may want to keep that second copy anyway, since they got it for less than half the cover price, so you'll have to speak up.)


Sunday, August 12, 2007

Orson Bean's New Book

I've written here in the past about my admiration for this gentleman to my left. Actor, author, raconteur, cutting-edge educator (he and his second wife once founded an arts-oriented school where kids were graded for self-expression), stand-up comedian and game show panelist, Orson Bean -- I feel -- has lived an exemplary life. His two works of autobiography, ME AND THE ORGONE and TOO MUCH IS NOT ENOUGH, are amazingly brave and candid works of self-exploration that encompass such matters as his experience in Reichian therapy, the founding of his school, an LSD trip, being stalked by a Satanic cult in Australia, and the failure of his second marriage following a visit to Sandstone (a free sex community) and later experimentation in open matrimony. I should note that the failure of Bean's second marriage was not a failure of the bond between husband and wife; I'm told that Carolyn Bean is still very much a part of Orson's current life with third wife, actress Ally Mills. They all spent last Thanksgiving together.

While visiting Mark Evanier's blog last night, I was surprised and pleased to learn that Orson has written a novel -- his first -- a novella, actually, as the whole thing amounts to less than 125 pages. Originally called MIKEY, it's apparently about spirituality as experienced by people outside of, or alienated by, the Church. Initially, Orson's agent couldn't place the book because Christian publishers found the book too candid (it reportedly includes some profanity and allusions to sexual activity or human sexuality) and mainstream publishers found it too... spiritual. With great largesse, Orson opted to give the book away free online for a short time... until Barricade Press, a publisher in Fort Lee, New Jersey, came forward to express interest in publishing a more polished draft. Now retitled MAIL FOR MIKEY, the book is set to be published in early October 2008.

I haven't read it yet, but I'm betting it's as interesting and as embracing of life and its mysteries as anything else Orson Bean has written.

Scorsese on Antonioni

Just linking to a terrific NEW YORK TIMES memoir by Martin Scorsese of how the films of Michelangelo Antonioni impacted his life.