Saturday, September 29, 2007

Uncut Craven and Wiederhorn

I hate to tempt my readership, but word is getting around that Warner Home Video's TWISTED TERROR COLLECTION box set contains the uncut versions of Ken Wiederhorn's EYES OF A STRANGER (1981) and Wes Craven's DEADLY FRIEND (1986). Both films were originally rated X for graphic violence by the MPAA and, being contractually obliged to carry R ratings, were subjected to additional cutting. Neither film excited much enthusiasm at the time, and while the passing years haven't exactly been kind to them either, these uncut versions are said to play marginally better. So, once again, art triumphs over the politics of the past.

Also included in the set are John Carpenter's very good Hitchcockian TV-movie SOMEONE IS WATCHING ME!, Oliver Stone's first major studio release THE HAND, the final Amicus anthology film FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE, and Larry Drake's post-L.A. LAW vehicle DR. GIGGLES. The set would be a lot more attractive without DR. GIGGLES -- Warners missed a great opportunity to release CRAZE (1974), which surely would have filled the "Twisted" bill, or even Hammer's CRESCENDO (1972) -- but even so, now I'm thinking I may have to snag one of these for myself.

Friday, September 28, 2007


It's been kind of a slow week here at Video WatchBlog, but an involved enough week elsewhere in my life. I just added a new photo update to the Bava Book Update blog (with additional comments from producer Alfredo Leone and actors Stephen Forsyth and Dante Di Paolo -- check it out), and we've also finally found the time to update our website to include a page for VIDEO WATCHDOG #134, which is available now.

Today I need to announce that there is going to be a two-month disruption of VW's monthly publishing schedule.

Donna and I usually begin working on each new issue of VIDEO WATCHDOG at the first of the month, which is when new submissions from our contributors are due. This month, by the time the principal mailing of the Bava book was finished, we found that we were already more than halfway through the month, making our October issue no longer possible; we would have to skip one month of publication. Donna and I were exhausted, so I personally welcomed this news, as Margaret Dumont might say, "with open arms."

But finishing the principal mailing of the Bava book doesn't mean that our deck is clear. With three weeks set aside for fulfilling those orders, Donna is now a bit behind in filling our usual subscription and back issue orders, and new orders for the book and other VW products are continuing to come in every day. I'm also being called upon to promote the book (and the upcoming Anchor Bay box sets) with interviews, one of which is requiring us to look into webcam technology. With all this in mind, we've decided that we're going to take next month... not "off" exactly, because we'll continue working, reviewing, filling orders... but let's say "easy." We're going to try to reward our recent overactivity by taking next month a little more easily. Not exactly the vacation we need, but not having to produce new issues in addition to everything else that needs doing during this period should offer us the minimal respite we need.

So please pass the word that there won't be a new issue of VIDEO WATCHDOG in October or November; it may help to cut down the number of calls we're inevitably going to get when our subscribers notice a two-month gap in their delivery. We won't be gone long: VIDEO WATCHDOG #135 should be published sometime around Thanksgiving, near the end of November, and that will be our December 2007 issue.

Of course, this news does not affect Video WatchBlog, which will remain in full session during this period! Halloween is coming, and you can expect me to write about some interesting releases, new and old, through the weeks to come.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Go Directly to the Bava Book Blog

It seems like only last week, but it was exactly one month ago today that Donna and I received shipment of MARIO BAVA ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK. And awaiting you today on the Bava Book Update blog are a photograph and letter that, believe me, embody the best possible reward for our past 32 years of shared endeavor.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Anne Desclos at 100

The woman born Anne Desclos one hundred years ago today left her greater marks on the world under different names. As Dominique Aury, she was a renowned writer, translator and resident critic for the venerable French publishing house Gallimard; but most of those who know her by either of these names likely knew her first as Pauline Réage, the pseudonymous author of the erotic novel HISTOIRE D'O (THE STORY OF O), first published in 1954. Desclos died in 1998, but has since become the subject of a wonderful documentary by Pola Rapaport, WRITER OF O, which I reviewed for the July 2006 issue of SIGHT & SOUND (unfortunately not archived online).

As a voracious reader in my late teens and early twenties, before video came along to dilute such self-improving disciplines, I always looked to Grove Press as a brand of quality. I would haunt the used bookstores of Cincinnati in search of unfamiliar authors who had the good fortune to share literary barracks with the works of Samuel Beckett, William S. Burroughs, Henry Miller, and the translated works of Alain Robbe-Grillet, Jean Genet, and others. This was how I discovered writers and books like John Rechy's CITY OF NIGHT, Frantz Fanon's THE WRETCHED OF THE EARTH, Robert Gover's THE ONE HUNDRED DOLLAR MISUNDERSTANDING, and the harrowing works of Hubert Selby, Jr. (LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN, THE ROOM). It is also what led me to the austere, white-jacketed First Edition of THE STORY OF O that I was so lucky to find -- and it was the only book out of hundreds acquired over the years at Cincinnati's late, lamented Acres of Books that caused the perenially self-absorbed proprietor to give me a second look. Remarkably, though I had read any amount of scandalous prose under the Grove imprint, THE STORY OF O was the only one of their books to carry a disclaimer on the dust jacket recommending its sale be limited only to those over the age of 21.

Perhaps because I was young enough to read THE STORY OF O for the first time without any real foreknowledge of sadomasochistic subculture, before I had read either Sade or Masoch. Therefore I was able to receive it in the spirit in which it was written: as a bravely told love story so selfless in its desire that the act of submission became a state of grace. I have reread THE STORY OF O since and I still believe it is one of the most important novels of the 20th century and a sure contender, at least in Richard Howard's translation (the best I can judge), for one of the most beautifully written. But of Mme. Réage's works, I am most irresistably drawn to the prologue called "A Girl in Love," which opens her slim 1967 sequel to her premiere work, RETURN TO THE CHATEAU. Among the happy accomplishments of Pola Rapaport's film is committing a very convincing interpretation of this short piece -- in which the author looks back on the circumstances under which O came to be written, delineated in some of the most perfect, naked, emotional prose I've ever read -- to celluloid. I reread it for the umpteenth time before going to sleep last night and it remains, for me, perhaps the most moving description of the writing process I've found, with not a word misplaced. I bow to her.

To mark the centenary of someone like Anne Desclos, and more particularly Pauline Réage, is somehow more profound, I find, than marking the centenary of an actor or filmmaker, as I usually do on this blog. It reminds me that time and history claim more of us than our names and the broad outlines of our biographies; they also absorb the secret and powerful stories, told and untold, of our most violent passions.