Thursday, March 05, 2009

846, or On Second Thought...

At Donna's suggestion, I am going to reactivate Video WatchBlog -- but not to become what it was before. Because VIDEO WATCHDOG remains our bread and butter, we need a place to make timely announcements to our readers, and this is the most convenient and sensible place to do that. So, while I will not be posting additional articles or essays here, I will pop back from time to time to advise you of special offers, personal appearances and such.

I am, I repeat, AM done with blogging.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

845


I have no more time in my life for this blog,
Too much else that I'd rather be doing;
It's hard to have a life and do the Watchdog
And this; it seems I'm always reviewing.

This is post Eight hundred and forty five
But I need to pull the plug, I just do.
The show will go on, the mag will still thrive,
But from here, I must bid you adieu.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Birthday Love to Coralina

Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni is Italian horror's reigning Diva of Delicious Death Scenes, but she is also a dear friend, an inspiring fellow artist, and our beloved sister, so Donna joins me today in sending her our warmest regards on the anniversary of her birth. She's seen here with us at last October's Cinema Wasteland convention, embracing her own personal copy of the Bava book, while we embrace her -- as I wish we could be doing right now.

Coralina first won the hearts of horror fans as another birthday girl: the ill-fated, talon-sprouting, pus-erupting Sally of Lamberto Bava's DEMONS 2: THE NIGHTMARE BEGINS -- a legitimately great monster performance. She can currently be seen in what is surely the most outrageous of her many death scenes in Dario Argento's MOTHER OF TEARS (featured in the new issue of VIDEO WATCHDOG), and is presently engaged in many different projects we eagerly await, including an ambitious authorized biography written with Filippo Brunamonti, new paintings and music, and some original screenplay projects written in collaboration with the talented writer-director Mariano Baino (DARK WATERS).

You can see the delightfully experimental and allusive 6m trailer for Coralina's and Filippo Brunamonti's forthcoming book on her MySpace page here (which includes a Hitchcock-like cameo by... er, another book), and also sample tracks from her CD, LIMBO BALLOON -- which capture the real Coralina I know and love.

"Happy Birthday!" the dark incubus spake.
"Now tie the birthday girl down
And... cut the cake!"

Criterion's MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION reviewed

Robert Taylor chases Irene Dunne's skirt right into the path of a speeding car in the 1935 version of MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION.

My review of Douglas Sirk's -- and John M. Stahl's -- MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION (Criterion DVD) appears in the March 2009 issue of SIGHT & SOUND, now on newsstands. It can be also read for free on their website, here.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Latest on VIDEO WATCHDOG

If this blog should be doing anything, it is helping to promote the venerable hub of this freewheeling enterprise: VIDEO WATCHDOG magazine. I've been solipsistically remiss in mentioning here that VW 147 is now en route to subscribers and newsstands, and available now from our toll free 1-800-275-8395 number.

For those of you who favor Eurohorror, this current issue features an engrossing and illuminating (if I do say so myself) round table discussion of Dario Argento's MOTHER OF TEARS, with input from Maitland McDonagh, Kim Newman, Richard Harland Smith, Brad Stevens and yours truly. And, obsessives that we are, we let the thing roll on for 21 pages illustrated in full color! Where else are you going to get that? This is also one of those proud issues that has something to offer readers of every taste, from Jean-Pierre Melville noirs to horror classics from the '30s through present day, and both Kim Newman and Audio Watchdog Douglas E. Winter have their respective says about Peter Watkins' seminal rock-oriented cautionary tale PRIVILEGE. You can get the whole rundown on the issue here, complete with four free sample pages to whet your appetite.

Those of you who have been secretly wishing to write for VW over the years, but have been deterred by our "on an invitational basis only" restriction, may find an announcement in my current editorial of especial interest.

A great issue, this one, but being a monthly gives us no time to rest on our laurels. Last week, we put the finishing touches on our next issue, VW 148, which is now at the printer. Our readers have been urging us to follow our head by covering more obscure product, which we're happy to do, but if we want to keep the folks at Diamond Comics Distribution (and, by extension, ourselves) happy, we're going to have to do everything we can to keep our covers more recognizably commercial. I think Charlie and Donna's cover for 148 is a stellar example of doing this in the prettiest and most tempting way possible.

VW 148 is not billed as such, but it's actually one of our popular "all-review" issues. We weren't planning to emphasize STARDUST to this extent, but the quality of Sheldon Inkol's writing about the film, and the wealth of beautiful images available to us from it, conspired to give this issue both a special identity and sense of direction. Charlie did a lovely job of framing the ever-photogenic Michelle Pfeiffer on the cover, and adding sprinkles of his own stardust to the framing background. I also like the diversity of Donna's choices for the supporting images on the cover stripe, ranging from the British TV miniseries DEAD SET to Al Pacino (so memorable opposite Pfeiffer in FRANKIE AND JOHNNY) in the thriller 88 MINUTES, to classic stars like Fred Williamson and Sidney "Charlie Chan" Toler. This should be shorthand to our readers that, while our cover aims to appeal to wider or at least consistent numbers, the innards of this issue delve well into our usual depths.
Aside from reviews of everything from Herschell Gordon Lewis' MOONSHINE MOUNTAIN to Hideo Nakata's thought-lost ghost story KAIDAN (a remake of a Nobuo Nakagawa classic, to which we have frame grabs comparing and contrasting both versions), the real centerpiece of this issue is Kim Newman's review of the seven features collected in Fox's CHARLIE CHAN VOLUME 5 (including the spooky and rarely seen DEAD MEN TELL), which we've chosen to present in the form of a feature called "Charlie Chan: Curtain Down at Fox." You can read more about this terrific issue here, in our current "Coming Soon" section.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Before or After VW?

While perusing the Mario Bava items currently being hawked on eBay, I was startled to find this strangely familiar box art for a Greek VHS release of BLOOD AND BLACK LACE [Sei donne per l'assassino, 1964]. This Video Cronos release isn't dated anywhere on the auction page, but it's possible this box art design actually predates the debut of VIDEO WATCHDOG, since VHS has been around since 1979 or thereabouts. If this release came after 1990, it would offer compelling proof of VW's influence. If it dates from before 1990, it's an impressive bit of foreshadowing, linking Bava with the magazine that would later publish his biography.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Recent Activities

Donna and I spent the Valentine's Day weekend in Nashville, Tennessee -- our first-ever visit there -- where we visited with friends, had some delicious sushi at a Sapporo in Rivergate, and spent some time at a full-scale replica of the Parthenon, constructed there over 100 years ago for the city's centenary celebration.

While there, I also went inside to pledge eternal fealty to the goddess Athena.
The timing of this trip was cosmically fortuitous. During the four-hour drive from Cincinnati to Nashville, we drove past the Kentucky birthplace of Abraham Lincoln -- on his 200th birthday. Two days later -- in the early hours of St. Valentine's Day (when the above pictures were taken), for a total of 18 minutes -- the Moon was reportedly in the seventh house and Jupiter aligned with Mars, signalling the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, as described in the popular song from the 1960s musical HAIR.
I've also been...
... celebrating my and VW's various Rondo nominations, and the recent optioning of my original horror script SCARS & STRIPES by the British production company Livestock Entertainment.
... polishing an unpublished science fiction novel, THE ART WORLD, for another crack at publication.
... planning a four-issue graphic novel story arc for a leading comics company.
... enjoying some particularly wonderful, rewarding correspondences. One of these inspired me to revisit Bergman's FANNY AND ALEXANDER, which was time very well spent.
... looking forward to returning to the pool with my new Finis SwiMP3 player. I imagine Scott Walker and Echo and the Bunnymen will sound especially good underwater.
... reading Frank Harris' legendary MY LIFE AND LOVES (Grove Press). I can remember a time when this book looked too long to read. Very educational; should have read this in my 20s.
... listening a lot to Marianne Faithfull's BEFORE THE POISON, which I find superior to her celebrated '70s album BROKEN ENGLISH.
... thinking seriously about selling off large chunks of my poster, lobby card, book and magazine collections. Now that my body has lost 40+ pounds, I'm finding that my acquisitions weigh too much.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

VW Sweeps Rondo 7 with 10 Nominations!

The nominations for the 7th Annual Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards were posted over the weekend at the Rondo Award website, and I'm pleased to report that VIDEO WATCHDOG earned no fewer than ten (10) nominations, while my own outside projects, including this blog, earned another three (3)! They are as follows...

BEST BOOK
THE BOOK OF LISTS: HORROR edited by Amy Wallace, Del Howison and Scott Bradley (to which I contributed)


Also nominated: VW's own Tom Weaver and Anthony Ambrogio for, respectively, I TALKED WITH A ZOMBIE and YOU'RE NEXT! LOSS OF IDENTITY IN THE HORROR FILM.

BEST MAGAZINE OF 2008
VIDEO WATCHDOG

BEST ARTICLE (8 nominations! More than any other magazine!)
'Amy and Her Friends: The Ann Carter Interview,' by Tom Weaver, VIDEO WATCHDOG #137. A career retrospective with the young star of a Val Lewton classic.

'Bewitching Hazel,' by David Del Valle, VIDEO WATCHDOG #140. Remembrance of late Hammer star Hazel Court.

'California Gothic: The Corman/Haller Collaboration,' roundtable with Roger Corman, Daniel Haller and Joe Dante, moderated by Lawrence French, VIDEO WATCHDOG #138. Tales from the sets of the Poe films and more.

'A Eulogy for Charles B. Griffith,' by Justin Humphreys, VIDEO WATCHDOG #141. A friend remembers the touching final days of the eccentric writer behind AIP classics.

'Harry Redmond Jr.: Last Survivor of Skull Island,' by Mark F. Berry, VIDEO WATCHDOG #146. Interview and revelations from last production veteran of King Kong and other RKO Cooper-Schoedsack-O'Brien classics.

'The Prisoner: A New Order,' by Tim Lucas, VIDEO WATCHDOG #142. Making new sense of the village by reshuffling the episodes.

'Suspense: The Lost Episodes,' reviewed by Kim Newman, VIDEO WATCHDOG #140. Episodes from dawn of TV described in kinoscopic detail.

'The Ubiquitous Dabbs Greer,' by M.J. Simpson, VIDEO WATCHDOG #144. The character actor interviewed about HOUSE OF WAX, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS and more.

An incredibly tough competition!

BEST MAGAZINE COVER
VIDEO WATCHDOG #137 - Ann Carter and Simone Simon cover by Charlie Largent

BEST HORROR BLOG
Video WatchBlog by Tim Lucas

I was also surprised and interested to see that a new "write-in" category has been introduced this year: Best DVD Reviewer.

I sincerely hope you'll all take the time to vote for your favorites in the various categories. As I've said here before, I'm not asking you to vote for VW or for me, necessarily (of course, I'd be the last to discourage you from doing so!); the important thing is to do your part to see excellence in the field of fantastic film journalism and pop culture acknowledged and rewarded. The ballot page tells you everything you need to know about voting; it's easy, and you needn't vote in every category. Voting ends on March 21.
My congratulations and best wishes to all of this year's nominees!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Mario of the Desert

While watching the new Criterion Collection disc of Luís Buñuel's SIMON OF THE DESERT (1965), in preparation for reviewing it for next month's SIGHT AND SOUND, I saw a couple of things that struck me as worth noting here -- namely, a previously unnoted set of connections or coincidences linking the work of Buñuel and his contemporary Mario Bava.

There has been some debate on the subject of which came first: the little girl devil in Bava's KILL, BABY... KILL! or the one in Federico Fellini's TOBY DAMMIT. The answer to that brain-teaser, it turns out, is the one in Buñuel's SIMON OF THE DESERT, played with minxish aplomb by VIRIDIANA's Silvia Pinal. The Devil materializes to tempt the early Christian ascetic Simon (DR. TARR'S TORTURE DUNGEON's Claudio Brook) in various guises, the second of which is as a little girl rolling a hoop. When her innocence has no effect, she turns more womanly and coquettish, displaying a shapely pair of dark-nyloned legs and finally baring her breasts (a startling image which Criterion has boldly posited as the disc's inset), yet Simon remains inviolate.

The hoop accessory is interesting, being analogous to the white ball of Bava and Fellini's evil spectres, but also because it has a Freudian dimension of entrapment when contrasted with the phallic pillar of Simon's proud asceticism.

After the failure of her thwarted seduction, Pinal's Devil returns as a bearded, lamb-cradling Jesus Christ and, still later, as a bare-breasted goddess. The Buñuelian irony of all this, of course, is that Simon's prayers for godly intervention into his selfless life attract only the brickbats of a friendly Hell. Finally, abruptly, the Devil sweeps Simon off the top of his pillar by introducing a jet plane into this early Anno Domini fable.
The sudden assault of futurism anticipates the finale of Bava's LISA AND THE DEVIL (1973), in which Elke Sommer survives a harrowing night among ghosts in what appears to be another century, only to find herself aboard a 747 bound for Hell, piloted by Telly Savalas' Satan. Producer Alfredo Leone has taken credit for suggesting this finale, but it seems remarkably consistent with these and other Buñuelian tropes found in Bava's filmography. LISA AND THE DEVIL, of course, was also filmed in Toledo, Spain -- which Buñuel considered "a holy city." He filmed TRISTANA there in 1969.
Criterion has also issued Buñuel and Pinal's earlier masterpiece THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL (1964), in which a severed hand briefly runs amok. The look of this deathly appendage is nearly identical to a sculpture of a disembodied hand that plays a prominent role in Bava's final feature, SHOCK aka BEYOND THE DOOR II (1978).

SIMON OF THE DESERT runs only 45 minutes and is perfect enough at this length. Buñuel always claimed that the money (supplied by Pinal's furniture magnate husband, who produced) ran out, preventing him from completing the picture. In a supplement on the SIMON disc, a 2008 interview with Pinal includes her surprise confession that she was responsible for pulling the plug, when Buñuel excused himself from another project she was planning, a vanity three-episode anthology inspired by the Mastroianni/Loren hit, YESTERDAY, TODAY AND TOMORROW. The actress now regrets her fit of hubris and recognizes that only her work with Buñuel has entitled her to a place in the history of cinema.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

As Promised

Here's the reply card, provided with copies of MARIO BAVA ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK, that the late, great Lux Interior sent to us back in October 2007. Such a sweet thing to revisit after the sad events of last week. Wish we could have met...

Monday, February 09, 2009

Always Crashing Into Myriem Roussel

The talcum powder scene from Tristesse et Beauté.

My Myriem Roussel fever continues to run high. Thanks to eBay, I've been able to obtain ancient VHS PAL and SECAM pre-records of Joy Fleury's Tristesse et Beauté ("Sadness and Beauty," 1985) and Robert Van Ackeren's Die Venusfalle ("The Venus Trap," 1988), both featuring Roussel, neither of which was ever exported to America.

The former, which co-stars Charlotte Rampling and Andrzej Zulawski, casts Roussel as a sculptress. the younger woman in a lesbian relationship, who is sent by her partner to seduce and destroy a successful writer who broke her heart years before. The film was given a DVD release in Italy, which would certainly have yielded a much superior picture to the French SECAM crap I watched, but it would also have stuck me with Italian dubbed audio; at least on the tape, the original dialogue recording was intact. I found the movie compelling even without understanding all the dialogue; its images are gripping, its depictions of artistic process valid, and Roussel is absolutely lovely, acting with equal conviction in her love scenes with Rampling and Zulawski. It's an erotic film whose standout scenes spotlight personal hygiene, firstly as Roussel powders her body prior to an assignation with Zulawski, and secondly as Rampling uses a straight razor to shave her lover's underarms.


Die Venusfalle, from the director of A Woman in Flames, curiously downplays Roussel in its packaging, which toplines and pictures "Der Neue Erotik-Star" Sonja Kirchberger, though Roussel is given top-billing on the film itself. The movie is typical, pretentious, coked-up, '80s Eurotrash in many ways, with a soundtrack featuring various uncredited Bowie, Roxy Music and Iggy Pop tracks. Nevertheless, Roussel comes across as a real rock star here.

Her introduction, withheld until we're more than 20 minutes into the picture, must be one of the most outrageous ever dared. The unlikeable, arrogant, fashion-plate male protagonist, Max (Horst-Gunther Marx), struts into a pool hall, where he finds Marie (Roussel) playing billiards with a man. It's obvious they notice one another, but they're too cool to acknowledge the attraction, not even exchanging glances as she and her partner finish and leave. Cut to later that night, as both toss and turn in their respective beds with their respective lovers asleep beside them. They both awaken, silently dress, climb into their cars and roar off into the night. Moments later, their two cars independently arrive on opposite ends of the same street and accelerate toward one another in a game of Chicken, finally deflecting off one another in a scrape that sends both vehicles spinning out of control.










The two staggered drivers sit in their cars for a moment or two, eyeing each other like diagrammatically fated pawns. They recover their senses, exit their cars, start walking then running toward one another, collide in an embrace and proceed to make love right then and there, in the middle of the empty strasse.





Yes, the scene is ludicrous, even kitschy, yet it's more vividly staged and carries a stronger erotic charge than anything in Cronenberg's CRASH. And I ask you, does the cinema have a better reason to exist than to bring visions such as this within everyone's reach? (Well, everyone able to play PAL or SECAM tapes, anyway.)

There's another enjoyably preposterous scene where Max disrupts Marie's ballet recital; it's preposterous because Roussel, despite having a perfect swan-like neck and balletic grace, is much too tall to be part of a ballet chorus and looks awkward when raised. This doesn't alter the fact that she's an extraordinary creature and makes the film endurable, even irresistable, with her uncanny presence alone.

Throughout this alternately fascinating and annoying movie, I kept thinking that Georges Franju would have given his left arm to work with Roussel: she's Édith Scob and Francine Bergé rolled into one. Indeed, the final shot, in which she slips out a window wearing a fetching black danceskin, could easily pass for something Franju directed. Alas, though the very young Roussel was the protégé of Jean-Luc Godard, the Roussel of her late 20s and 30s appears never to have found the ideal interpreter of her particular brand of magic.

I understand that Die Venusfalle played in years past with English subtitles on the Australian superstation SBS. If anyone in my audience has a recording of that broadcast, or a copy of the Fleury film in English, please let me know how I might obtain a copy from you.