Saturday, February 16, 2008

A Big Rondo for the Little Lady?

Donna burning the midnight oil as she designs the discography layout for the Bava book, with lil' Pip riding shotgun, on March 10, 2007.
I filled out my Rondo Classic Horror Awards ballot a couple of nights ago and sent it in, but last night I received an e-mail from a friendly reader and customer that jolted my thinking about a particular category.
Tim Hammell of Calgary, Alberta wrote: "Just did my Rondo voting with MARIO BAVA ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK as Best Book, yourself as Best Writer for said book, and wrote in Donna as Best Artist for book design of said book."
This friendly note was gratifying to read, but especially for the part that had nothing to do with me. I'm on the ballot for the Bava book, but to be perfectly honest, I had not considered Donna for the Best Artist category and had cast my vote for someone else, someone who paints and draws. But as soon as I read Tim's note, I knew immediately that Donna was not only worthy of the award, but -- as I had witnessed at first hand -- had done more to earn it this year than anyone else. The wording of the category guidelines only served to further solidify my conviction:
25. ARTIST OF THE YEAR (for 2007)
Not your favorite all-time artist (although they might be the same), but which painter, illustrator, model-maker or designer did the best published (or online), work in 2007?
The key word here is "designer." Most everyone who received the Bava book has written or called to tell us how overwhelming it is visually, and I know myself that it actually satisfies the reader on purely visual and visceral levels before they read a word of my text. What Donna achieved with her design of the book is extraordinary, and if you agree, I ask that you consider Donna Lucas as your choice for Best Artist of 2007. Or -- if you've already voted, like me -- there is still the option of writing to Rondomeister David Colton at taraco@aol.com and reconsidering your previous vote.
Donna is the first to remind people who compliment her efforts on the book that she was assisted in her labors by people who are more deserving of being called artists -- Charlie Largent, Simonida Perica-Uth, and Matt Bradshaw -- but I can personally testify that it was Donna's vision of the book that guided them all, and that she and her computer were the final filters through which all of her assistants' digital work had to be passed, processed, and finally applied to page.
I think it's wonderful that the Rondo rules are flexible enough to allow for the recognition for the superhuman work she did. If you were impressed by the book, I would naturally appreciate your vote in the appropriate category or categories, but I would particularly love to see Donna win a Rondo all her own for what she contributed to MARIO BAVA ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Recorded at the Real Tombs of Horror!

2007 was an outstanding year for movie soundtrack discs; indeed, the market has become so vast yet specialized that it's easy for some very worthy small label releases to be overlooked. A good case in point is Elysee Productions' 1000-unit limited pressing of Tito Arevalo's soundtrack for the Hemisphere drive-in classic MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND (1969). This is the kind of "impossible dream" release that should be causing all horror fans of my generation to froth joyously green at the mouth, but I haven't found much discussion about it online. It didn't make the ballot for the 2007 Rondo Awards either, so I was obliged to cast my vote on its behalf as a write-in -- and was proud to do so.

True, the score -- played by a smallish Filipino orchestra with choir and recorded in mono -- isn't particularly tuneful, but it is original, distinctive, and played with a lot of sweat, saliva and brio. I don't think any other soundtrack CD in my collection quite as effectively conjures up memories of my own grindhouse experience. Listening to this deliriously woozy music, equal parts voodoo exotica and barroom brawl, one is sorely tempted to shake the images in the illustrated booklet violently in front of one's face to fully recreate the experience of the zoom-crazed picture. Tracks 11 and 18 in particular will make fans of Hemisphere and Independent-International's movies squirm in delight because they seem like the theme music for something like 90% of their horror trailers.

The disc has a total running time of 50:43, the main sequence consisting of 20 cues with an additional 14 bonus tracks, including a few with bilingual studio chatter -- which adds greatly to the atmosphere and documentary value of the release and is at least as wondrous a thing to own as the music itself. ("It's incredible! It's unbelieeeeeevable!" as Brother Theodore famously opined.) But the finest additional value brought to these previously unissued recordings is the eight-page full-color annotated booklet written by disc producer Tim Ferrante, who presents a forensically detailed account of how this music came to be recorded, used, reused (in the movie BRAIN OF BLOOD and the trailers for CHILLER CARNIVAL OF BLOOD and BLOOD-O-RAMA SHOCK FESTIVAL), and even re-recorded (the same music was later rerecorded with a smaller orchestra to provide score for BEAST OF BLOOD). A useful bio of Tito Arevalo, who died in 2000, is also included, along with photos of the original session reels and a rare MAD DOCTOR giveaway doll (only a few of these are known to still exist).

The MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND soundtrack is available from Xploited Cinema here for $19.95 -- admittedly a trifle steep for a domestic single-disc release, but reasonable when one considers the rarity of its limited pressing and the scholarship that went into its liner notes. It can also be obtained directly from the Elysee Productions website, where you can read more about the disc and actually sample some of its ineffable sounds in Real Audio or mp3 format. Here's a link to an interview with Tim Ferrante about the production. I encourage you to support this release, which can only encourage Mr. Ferrante and Company to undertake others in the same vein in the months and years ahead.

Speaking of the Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards, a few weeks still remain for casting your votes. Voting ends at 12:00am midnight (eastern time) on March 8, so use the link above to support your favorite nominees and write-in candidates while you still can!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

What Some DVD Distributors Find Unthinkable

Dietrich Kerky is tempted by hitchhiker Ingeborg Steinbach in an especially exuberant episode of SCHOOLGIRL REPORT 3.

On the Mobius Home Video Forum, Don May, Jr. of Synapse Films has announced that Xploited Cinema has agreed to assume all distribution duties for Impulse Pictures' new DVD release of SCHOOLGIRL REPORT #3: WHAT PARENTS FIND UNTHINKABLE. Impulse -- a sub-label marketed by Synapse -- took special precautions to ensure that this 1972 sequel (co-directed by Walter Boos and Ernst Hofbauer) was uncut, in response to earlier complaints about a missing segment from their supposedly complete release of Hofbauer's SCHOOLGIRL REPORT #1 (1970). Evidently, the uncut content of this particular film was too much for Synapse's usual distributor to bear; after examining a preview disc, they refused to issue it.

Admittedly, SCHOOLGIRL REPORT #3 is one of the darker and bolder films in the series, featuring a few vignettes involving teenage rape at the hands of school officials, peers and pedophiles. However, the bothersome segment in question is undoubtedly one that features some fleeting prepubescent male nudity in a story about a teenage girl who volunteers to satisfy her younger cousin's curiosity about the ways in which their bodies differ. Granted, the boy's nudity can be a bit startling to American sensibilities, but let's be realistic: there is no erotic contact between the girl and boy (which one couldn't say, for example, of a similar scene between Laura Dern and Lukas Haas in RAMBLING ROSE) nor does the scene show anything couldn't be seen on a nude beach.

The film also has its share of more lighthearted, comic vignettes, two of which feature the respectively aged and twitchy series regulars Rosyl Mayr and Michael Schreiner, and there's a remarkably zesty romp -- one of the most erotic in the entire series -- involving doctor/father Dietrich Kerky and experience-seeking student Ingeborg Steinbach in which both performers appear to be enjoying the hell out of themselves... and each other. Jess Franco veteran Erik Falk is also featured in the final episode.

Thanks to the folks at Impulse, Synapse and Xploited for going the extra mile with this important Euro-exploitation series. Here's a link to the SCHOOLGIRL REPORT #3 ordering page at Xploited Cinema. They also have the first two releases in the series, as well as a highly collectable, full-color, 82-page souvenir magazine featuring dozens of poster and stills reproductions, as well as articles and bios pertaining to each film in the series and their key cast and crew members.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Steve Gerber: Gone from a World He Never Made

I am feeling very saddened by the news of comics creator Steve Gerber's passing from pulmonary fibrosis at the too-young age of 60. I stopped reading comics when I discovered higher forms of literature in my mid-teens, and it took Gerber's HOWARD THE DUCK to bring me back to them in my twenties.

I can remember with great clarity the day I discovered the book on the racks, when it was in its third issue, and it quickly became a passion that left me seeking out the back issues and Howard's back history; it also got me started drawing cigar-smoking ducks which adorned our refrigerator and were also left scattered about our apartment to convey messages to my wife. I bought duck posters like "The Duccaneer" and another one that depicted a Howard-like duck wielding a tommy gun in a scene out of THE UNTOUCHABLES. It was a sweet time of life. I got so deeply into Gerber's brand of comic book existentialism -- that's exactly what HOWARD was, a populist form of Sartre mixed with Groucho Marx -- that I also wrote my first and only letter to Marvel Comics in a lifetime of devoted reading, which appeared in HOWARD THE DUCK #10.

I never met or communicated with Steve Gerber directly, but somehow -- I don't recall how it came together -- I learned that the inspiration for the Duck lived in my hometown of Cincinnati and I tracked him down. Howard Tockman, apparently a college buddy of Gerber's and an aspiring writer, came to our apartment on Dixmyth Avenue with his wife and consented to an interview for CINCINNATI Magazine -- as the first in a series of projected interviews with so-called "Cincinnati Dreamers" -- which they never used. I must still have the article somewhere in my attic files, but I do have a comics newspaper with Howard the Duck on the cover that Howard himself cordially signed. A nice souvenir of those heady times.

Steve Gerber left behind him a good deal more accomplishment than many do, but his death remains a bitter pill -- not just because he was comparatively young, but because we know that he spent much of his prime fighting with his employers over issues like character rights, which ultimately prevented him from leaving behind as much as he might have. It seemed that the initial run of HOWARD THE DUCK ended almost as soon as it hit its stride, and its second incarnation under Gerber was forced by the looming shadow of Disney to evolve into a bizarre mutant strain of its original self, with Howard becoming a rather ratty-looking mouse. But the worst insult of all was the atrocious 1986 Lucasfilm movie adaptation, which eclipsed the actual character in the consciousness of most people and gave the whole franchise -- which included a daily newspaper strip -- the bouquet of stinky cheese.

A couple of years ago, a surge of nostalgia and the right price on eBay inspired me to plunk down for a complete set of HOWARD THE DUCK -- the original comic, the black-and-white magazines, the reboot, the specials, the early appearance books, everything. It held up splendidly, and while it certainly took me back to a specific time and place in my life and heart, I also found it possessed of a certain timeless quality that comes only with art that earnestly speaks the truth. The satiric humor of the book was undeniable, as was its warmth and wit, but what stood out most for me was the pride and passion of Howard's war cry: "Waugh!" Times like ours need that cry, and heroes like Howard the Duck. That's why our world tried to crush and conform him.

I did not know until reading about his death that Steve Gerber had a blog. It is now being handled by his friend Mark Evanier, who hopes to keep it online in an effort to preserve the writing that Gerber did for it and also to give fans a place to vent their feelings of loss over this and coming weeks. Evanier also wrote a moving piece about Gerber on his own blog, News From ME, which you can find by scrolling down here. If Steve Gerber's work meant something to you, you might want to click on these links to read more of and about him. I must plead guilty to unfamiliarity with the greater breadth and depth of his work, but I knew enough of it for his loss to mark a difference in my life. His work will be cherished as he will be missed.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Introducing Ann Carter... and Two Watchdogs

Our next issue is now at the printer, which means it's time for all the teasing to come to an end and for your curiosity to be rewarded.

The much-anticipated main feature in VW 137 is the first career-length interview ever granted by 1940s child actress Ann Carter, best known for her performance as little Amy Reed in Val Lewton's classic THE CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE (1944) — conducted by award-winning film historian Tom Weaver. The photo above, showing Ann with two dogs that appear to have padded out of a stage production of PETER PAN, is a rare promotional shot taken on the set of the film... and just the beginning of a bounty of rare images soon to be unveiled in VIDEO WATCHDOG.

Ann talked to Tom quite a bit about her signature role, and about working with the film's two directors, but did you also know that she also worked with the likes of Katharine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, Edgar G. Ulmer, Lillian Gish, Paul Muni, Veronica Lake, John Farrow, Fred Zinnemann, and Joseph Losey, just to name a few? Hers is an amazing story, not just because she happened to appear in so many classics of the 1940s, but because of the unusual details of her personal life, including the reason why she had to abandon her acting career in 1951. She also responds to the long-circulating rumor that she was killed in an automobile accident in 1978!
We've gone all out with this issue, one of the very best we've done in our 18-year history. Our coverage includes not only Tom's interview, but a total assortment of more than 40 rare (and many never-before-published) photos from Ann's personal collection, and an appreciative introductory essay by Yours Truly. Plus all of our usual features — the reviews, the columns by Ramsey Campbell and Douglas E. Winter, the Letterbox, and more.
The photo above is my way of announcing that there are two Ann Carter issues of VIDEO WATCHDOG coming your way: the regular edition that will be sent to our subscribers and newsstands, and also a VW SIGNATURE EDITION, with unique outside and inside covers, each copy of which will be personally autographed by Ann herself on the front in silver pen — the first fan autographs she has signed in half a century! The VW SIGNATURE EDITION (#2, following our Donnie Dunagan SE #1 of 2004) goes on advance sale today. It will be strictly limited to only 200 copies, so if you count yourself as one of Amy's friends... claim your copy now, while supplies last!
I know you're eager to see the breathtaking covers that Charlie Largent has designed for these two editions (and I mean that; he's outdone himself), and also to see what else is set for the issue, so here's what you've been waiting for — a direct link to our website's "Coming Soon" page, where you'll find both covers, a clickable preview of the interior, and an FAQ about the VW SIGNATURE EDITION #2.
And yes, copies of the VW SIGNATURE EDITION #1 -- personally signed by SON OF FRANKENSTEIN's Donnie Dunagan (also the voice of Bambi) -- are still available!