Thursday, December 19, 2013

Last Year at Collinwood

Many years ago, I wrote a feature article for CINEFANTASTIQUE about the making of Oliver Stone's feature debut SEIZURE that was never published and, in the course of researching it, conducted the first interview Oliver ever granted. I thought I knew everything there was to know about that 1974 movie (even some unpublishable things) but apparently not. I believe I've just discovered evidence that SEIZURE's star Jonathan Frid had worked once before with actor Henry Baker, who played the mute Executioner in that film.

Unless I'm mistaken, I believe that's Henry (whom I was told had gifts as an opera singer) who appears in a few 1969 DS episodes as Istvan, the mute henchman of gypsy leader King Johnny Romano, In Episode 827 (aired 8/26/69), which I watched yesterday, the character appears briefly onscreen with Jonathan's Barnabas Collins, who soon sends Istvan to his doom atop Widow's Hill. Here are some grabs from that sequence:




And here they are in SEIZURE, five years later:



As a mute henchman, Henry had no lines on DARK SHADOWS, so did not receive a screen credit - but I'm pretty sure that's him! I wonder if he and Jonathan remembered this fleeting earlier collaboration?

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Radio On

Donna and I are going to be the guests for the full hour, live, on Ted Coe's Freak Power Ticket webcast tomorrow - Monday, December 16 - at 2:00pm eastern/11:00am Pacific time. We'll be talking about VIDEO WATCHDOG, of course - its long history, our favorite issues, and naturally our current Kickstarter project. Since the interview will be live, Ted will be also accepting calls and questions from listeners. So tune in at KCSB-FM 91.9 (http://www.kcsb.org/webcast), call in at 805-893-2424, or email your question to freakpowerticket@gmail.com!

Alas, Peter O'Toole

"I'm WHAT?!"


I'm sad to bid thee farewell, Peter O'Toole, but the frank truth of the matter is that you were always a mystery to me. I've always liked the cut of you, enjoyed you immensely on talk shows; you were always as sharp as a stoned tack, but for some reason you had the most uncanny knack for selecting projects that weren't geared to grab me.

Forgive my candor, old bean, but it's true, lamentably true.

I put off LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, LORD JIM, BECKETT, THE LION IN WINTER and others until later in life, when I reached a point where I felt it was then or never. LAWRENCE aside (it was always your pinnacle, and it still shines brightly in HD), I found them all competent, even rewarding in fleeting moments, but they mostly left me feeling like I was sitting in a church to which I did not subscribe. You hit the ground running as King of the Roadshows, didn't you? To your credit, it was a canvas you could command - but very often these movies needed your grandeur to sell themselves.

I always thought you were best in smaller films that revealed your enormity of character. The films of yours that did attract me - WHAT'S NEW, PUSSYCAT?, THE RULING CLASS, THE STUNT MAN, CALIGULA - I saw them right away; they all had points of interest and, again, were perfectly fine... but somehow they failed to unlock my unconditional admiration, too. And something's amiss when I still can't get into WHAT'S NEW, PUSSYCAT? when it's got Françoise Hardy, Romy Schneider AND Peter Sellers in the bargain.

You did make a marvelous Quixote in MAN OF LA MANCHA, I do admit - though, again, musical theater onscreen has never been my forte. MY FAVORITE YEAR was a special film of yours, but as charmingly acted and entertaining as it was, you were cast as a jubilant car wreck - as yourself, as many noted - so I've always attended your Oscar-worthy performance with regret about all the real years and opportunities you wasted in pursuit of a good time and a bigger blast. I look over your filmography and ask myself how so much money could have been generated for what amounts, really, to so little of lasting worth. I guess therein lies the real proof of your own value.

But what a face!
What a voice!
What an amazing character you were!

And there is something you gave me...

If ever I stopped what I was doing to listen, really hard and intently, at the quiet surrounding me, at any point in my life, and I could sense a happy, gallivanting disturbance in the faraway ether, I knew it was likely you, having at it in the midst of some mad offscreen adventure. The world will seem a good deal more still and sober, now you're gone, and that's why I'm saddest to see you go.

Friday, December 13, 2013

VIDEO WATCHDOG: Our Favorite Discs of 2013


It's that time again. We don't do this every year, but I wanted to put our best foot forward this year, for several reasons. One: this was an exceptionally rich year for home video releases; two: we're behind schedule and want to get this information out to our readers to help guide their last-minute holiday purchases; three: there's never a good time to get this information into print, anyway; and four: if you feel you derived some value from this information, perhaps I could persuade you to contribute the monetary equivalent of that value to our Kickstarter campaign, which we very much want to succeed for the common good.

What we have here are 38 main selections, followed by an additional 35 notable restorations. To compile the main list, I invited our critics to submit their Top Five (5) choices only - I felt that restricting our selections to five would tighten the focus to those titles we considered absolutely indispensable, while also keeping the length of the list somewhat manageable. (Five turned out to be impossibly tight for me, so I granted myself slightly more room to allow for a few more titles I felt absolutely had to show; even so, I allowed myself no personal eurekas like TCM's REMEMBER THE NIGHT and Criterion's 3:10 TO YUMA, nor long-craved arrivals like Shout! Factory's ULTRA Q and JOHNNY SOKKO AND HIS FLYING ROBOT sets.) Only one release - the BFI's ROBIN REDBREAST (which I've not seen) - drew more than one vote. The titles appear in alphabetical order with the critic's byline at the end of each blurb. The list of notable restorations was mostly compiled by me, with additional contributions from Eric Somer.

This is not to be mistaken for a Year's Best Movies list; it's a compilation of what were, in our view, the most outstanding home video experiences on disc since December 2012. Asterisks (*) after titles in the main list denote significant digital restoration, as well. - TL 
 
ALAIN ROBBE-GRILLET: RÉCITS CINÉMATOGRAPHIQUES *
1961-2006, Carlotta DVD (French Import)
This affordable box set collects almost the complete filmed works of the celebrated nouveau romaniste, with the exception of his penultimate Un bruit qui rend fou (THE BLUE VILLA, 1995). Included in newly HD-remastered transfers are L'Immortelle (THE IMMORTAL ONE, 1961), Trans-Europ-Express (TRANS-EUROPE EXPRESS, 1966), L'homme qui ment (THE MAN WHO LIES, 1970), Eden et l'après (EDEN AND AFTER, 1971) and its rarely-screened alternate cut N. a pris les dés (N. ROLLS THE DICE, 1972), Glissements progressifs du plaisir (SUCCESSIVE SLIDINGS OF PLEASURE, 1974), Le jeu avec le feu (PLAYING WITH FIRE, 1975), La belle captive (1982) and C’est Gradiva qui vous appelle (GRADIVA... IS HER NAME, 2006), as well as lengthy interviews with the director,  a 128-page full-color book, a facsimile booklet inspired by a prop from Trans-Europ-Express, and new introductions by his widow Catherine Robbe-Grillet. A marvelous, dense, playful and highly erotic body of work, beautifully packaged, impossible to access in such quality till now - unfortunately not English-friendly, but this problem will be settled when the BFI begins undertaking their release of these titles next year. - Tim Lucas

AMERICAN MARY
2012, Universal Blu-ray (UK Import)
A quantum leap over their feature debut, the $2500 miracle DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK, this stylish and darkly comic horror film by Canadian twins the Soska Sisters (Jen & Sylvia) is at once a scathing indictment of the North American academia and medical establishments, a passionate defense of individual expression through cosmetic surgery, and serves up a magnificent portrait of feminist survival in Katharine Isabelle's impeccably modulated performance. It should be seen in this import edition, which preserves the sleek gloss and candy-rich color schemes of the cinematography, which is noticeably more pallid on the domestic BD release from XLRator. - Tim Lucas

BLACK SABBATH *
1963, Arrow Films Blu-ray/DVD (UK Import)
Mario Bava's three-storied masterpiece, finally presented in its most complimentary setting (Blu-ray) and in both its Italian and English versions, the latter preserving Boris Karloff's own voice in one of his most intimidating horror performances - available on home video for the first time since a 1990s LaserDisc release. The detail and the lushness of the colors are hallucinatory, and the extras are abundant: a detailed visual account of the points of variation between the two versions, a video interview with actor Mark Damon, an introduction by Alan Jones and written contributions by David Cairns and Yours Truly, including my interview with Samuel Z. Arkoff. - Tim Lucas

BLACKFISH
2013, Magnolia Blu-ray/DVD
In a year that brought a number of significant achievements in non-fiction film to home video (i.e. A BAND CALLED DEATH, ROOM 237, MY AMITYVILLE HORROR, HAPPY PEOPLE), my favorite film of the year has the power to change human thinking regarding the captivity and training of wild animals. After seeing BLACKFISH, you will never feel the same about those family trips to the zoo--past, present or future. BLACKFISH is also notable for scoring one of the year’s best social networking marketing campaigns. - Eric Somer

BYZANTIUM 
2013, MPI Home Video Blu-ray/DVD
Director Neil Jordan and writer Moira Buffini craft an original, slinky, stylish, bloody vampire tale (never mentioning the word "vampire") about two young women who claim to be sisters in a seedy resort town. One calls herself Carmilla (wink, wink), but this is possibly the first woman-centered incarnation without a trace of lesbian vampires. I like it a little better than MIDNIGHT SON and BREAKING DAWN PART 2, and those are quite good.- Michael Barrett


CLAUSTROFOBIA
2011, Matchbox DVD-PAL
An assured horror debut from Dutch director Bobby Boermans. The film's ability to induce disquiet from a minimal cast and setting, produces a deep and lasting sense seeping unease within the viewer. - Cleaver Patterson


CLOUD ATLAS 
2013, Warner Blu-ray/DVD
Had I not read David Mitchell's novel, I mightn't have appreciated this lavish, ambitious epic from the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer, who express the recycling of souls via actors in multiple roles. The narrative skips sideways, with an image or dialogue in one timeline triggering another story of people struggling to escape from malevolent forces and finding accord with a kindred soul. If we're generous, the problematic makeup in the Korean segment of "New Seoul" demonstrates not only the "soul" conceit but the theme of repressive society forcing everyone into one artificial mold and making you masquerade as what you're not, which ripples through all the stories. - Michael Barrett

CRIMEWAVE
1985, Shout! Factory Blu-ray/DVD
Sam Raimi’s sophomore feature has a number of problems (many of which were studio-induced), but is filled with the director’s wonderfully maniacal creativity and ranks high amongst that decade’s Guilty Pleasures. It finally reached domestic disc, courtesy of this combo pack release which includes an amusingly candid commentary from co-star Bruce Campbell, who relates the many, many things that went wrong during production. - John Charles

THE CURTIS HARRINGTON SHORT FILM COLLECTION *
1942-2002, Flicker Alley Blu-ray/DVD
This was a great renaissance year for horror's first experimentalist, seeing the posthumous publication of his autobiography NICE GUYS DON'T WORK IN HOLLYWOOD and Kino Lorber's equally worthy Blu-ray release of his feature debut NIGHT TIDE (1961), but its crowning offering was this compilation of hard-to-see film short films, produced in parallel to those of Kenneth Anger and thus revising and rewriting what is generally known about 20th century American avant-garde cinema. Included are "Fragment of Seeking" (1946), "Picnic" (1948), "On The Edge" (1949), the Poe adaptation "The Assignation" (1953), "The Wormwood Star" (1955) and his final work "Usher" (2002), as well as two important pieces of peripheralia, his first effort (a high school-era production of "The Fall of the House of Usher" from 1942) and "The Four Elements" (1966), made for the US Information Agency. - Tim Lucas 

DAY OF THE DEAD
1985, Scream Factory Blu-ray
In the wake of a disappointing Blu-ray from Anchor Bay a few years back, George A. Romero’s underrated third chapter in his DEAD saga received a very good HD incarnation via this new edition, complimented by another fine, feature length documentary from Michael Felsher’s Red Shirt Pictures. Some have decried the disc’s lack of a stereo option; the movie was originally released in mono and I have no complains with how it is presented here. - John Charles

DRACULA *
1958, Lionsgate Blu-ray/DVD (UK Import)
Despite the message board controversies surrounding this title, there is no question that this disc -- including the 2012 Hammer and 2006 BFI restorations of Terence Fisher's classic - delivers the film we know as HORROR OF DRACULA as it was meant to be seen, as opposed to how it came to look in international distribution. Nightfall becomes a veritable subtext of the picture, making candlelight all the more pronounced an opponent against the vampire's dominion - rightly so, given the role played by candlesticks in the grand finale. But to finally see Dracula's disintegration is tantamount to seeing some footage from LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT, something we didn't dare wish for and can now take for granted, and somehow all the more precious in its unrestored state - how wonderful that the original water-damaged Japanese reels were included! - Tim Lucas  

THE EDGAR WALLACE ANTHOLOGY *
1960-65, Network Video DVD
An overwhelming collection of all 47 films in the series of Wallace adaptations produced by Merton Park Studios of Great Britain during the same period as the better-known Rialto productions from West Germany. Not as garish or progressive as their German counterparts, these are very much in the tone of the English quota quickies - solid, well-crafted B-pictures featuring many beloved actors (Hazel Court, Michael Gough, Patrick Magee, Bernard Lee, Alexander Knox) and made by able directors (Clive Donner, John Moxey, Vernon Sewell and others), and VW's own trusty Kim Newman is along to annotate them in a series of booklets. The seven volumes composing this box set are also sold individually for those who prefer to test the waters first. - Tim Lucas


ÉRIC ROHMER *
1950-2009, Potemkine Films Blu-ray/DVD (French Import)
Are you sitting down? This definitive box set collects the complete works of this seminal French filmmaker on 52 discs, and the new HD transfers are not only English-friendly but blow the previous Criterion masters out of the water. The supplements and extras, including a book, do not share the features' English-accessibility, and it's regrettable that one can only obtain the Blu-rays by also paying for a balance of DVD copies we'll likely have no need to watch, but to possess this set is to feel in possession of a library devoted to youth and beauty, the art of conversation, and many elegant solutions to the most enduring of human problems. - Tim Lucas 
  
EXCISION
2012, Monster Pictures Blu-ray/DVD
Writer / director Richard Bates Jr.'s deliciously subversive, surrealistic horror is shocking and entrancing in equal measure.  Bates' razor sharp script proves that though the horror genre is often dismissed as inferior to mainstream cinema, it can be equally clever and insightful under the right guidance. - Cleaver Patterson

FANTASTIC VOYAGE
1966, 20th Century Fox Blu-ray
Featuring some of the strangest backdrops in a science fiction film, FANTASTIC VOYAGE takes us on a journey through a microscopic universe as eerie and beautiful and fraught with unknown dangers as any solar system or galaxy. The visual effects and set design are still impressive, and the Blu-ray upgrade is the next best thing to enjoying this fantastic voyage on the big screen. The extras from the former special-edition DVD are all here, including the isolation of Leonard Rosenman's important, experimental score. - Bill Cooke 

THE FLY
1958, 20th Century Fox Blu-ray
Reacquainting oneself with THE FLY on Blu-ray, one realizes how unique this film was when it premiered at the tail end of the 50s sci-fi cycle. Eschewing atomic radiation as a potential fall guy, THE FLY localizes horror in human error and scientific overreaching but takes its sweet time in playing its trump card. But what an ace it slaps down on the felt - and the power of the film's grisly finish has not diminished a jot in over fifty years. - Richard Harland Smith

FRANKENSTEIN'S ARMY
2013, Dark Sky Films Blu-ray/DVD
Wacky is not a word normally associated with films from the horror genre, especially those as graphically gory as Richard Raaphorst’s totally off-the-wall trip.  However this freakish fantasy - combining both monsters and Nazis - is so unlike anything you'll ever have seen before, that it will literally blow your mind. - Cleaver Patterson

THE FROZEN DEAD
1966, Warner Archives DVD-R 
No, the restoration of its intended aspect ratio and discomfiting chromatics does not make THE FROZEN DEAD a better movie but, goll-ee, it's just a lot more fun this way. A key title for Monster Kids who came of age in the '60s, this one has only about eight minutes of good material but those eight minutes stick with you well after the final fadeout. - Richard Harland Smith

THE FURY
1978, Twilight Time Blu-ray (USA) and Arrow Films Blu-ray/DVD (UK Import)
As I mentioned in my review in VIDEO WATCHDOG 174, the experience of watching Brian De Palma's post-CARRIE telekinesis film with its career-best John Williams score isolated on Twilight Time's Blu-ray was one of the most education lessons in filmmaking I've ever gleaned from video. Just as the film itself is a marvelous index of ways to keep the eye occupied and tantalized, the audio track provides thrilling illustrations of when music is and is not necessary, how instrumentation can be used to lend coloring to light, and much more. The Arrow set adds an even greater wealth of supplementation to an essential purchase. - Tim Lucas 

GORGO *
1961, VCI Blu-ray
While it still isn't perfect, the blu-ray goes a long way toward restoring the picture quality of Eugene Lourie's final statement in the giant-creature genre. The film - about a sea monster's decimation of London while searching for its captured young - is one of the most colorful and exciting pictures of its type, unhampered by a romantic sub-plot and moving at breakneck speed toward a climax both thrilling and surprisingly emotional. VCI's new transfer of a superior film element brings a new level of excitement to the eye-popping visual effects. - Bill Cooke

HANDS OF THE RIPPER
1971, Synapse Films Blu-ray/DVD
This latter day Hammer horror seems rushed in execution but mature and forward-looking in design while serving as a linchpin between the studios' black-and-white psychothrillers of a decade earlier and the looming slasher cycle. One can even discern seeds of HALLOWEEN in this tale of Jack the Ripper's daughter cutting a bloody swath through Edwardian England. - Richard Harland Smith
 
HOUSE OF WAX
1953, Warner 3D/2D Blu-ray
One of the finest 3D movies and a horror classic in any format, Andre De Toth’s 1953 remake of MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM finally hit Blu-ray in as good a recreation of its original dual projection 3D as is technically possible at home. Both the beautifully composed sense of depth and comin’ at ya gimmickry work wonderfully and leave one hoping that Warner also plans to give semi follow-up PHANTOM OF THE RUE MORGUE (1954) the same deluxe treatment in future. - John Charles

THE IMPOSSIBLE 
2012, Summit Inc/Lionsgate Blu-ray/DVD
Director J.A. Bayona (THE ORPHANAGE) coordinated the most intelligent disaster film on record with THE IMPOSSIBLE, based on the actual tsunami that assaulted Thailand in 2004. In his feature film debut, Tom Holland delivers an amazing performance as Lucas, a boy who is unusually talented at helping others. What a shame he did not receive an Oscar nomination. Nonetheless, one can predict a bright future for him. - Eric Somer

KOMMISSAR X *
1966-69, Anolis Entertainment DVD (German Import)
Though pricey, this seven-disc set may be the most fan-friendly box set ever. It collects six of the seven Kommissar X spy thrillers starring Brad Harris and Tony Kendall - sub-Bondian movies, but no less loveable - in English-dubbed and English-subtitled German editions, with an alternate Austrian version of the second, bonus interviews, Easter egg trailers in the filmography, photo and poster galleries, and an astonishing seventh disc that chronicles a joyous 2009 reunion of the two stars and their quirky director Gianfranco Parolini, filmed only months before Kendall's tragic death from cancer. - Tim Lucas 

THE LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT OF ROSALIND LEIGH
2012, Image Entertainment DVD
Emphasizing style and substance over the instant gratification offered by many modern horror movies, this film by first-time writer/director Rodrigo Gudiño (the power behind Rue Morgue magazine), haunts the memory with its suggestion and subtlety - and the overriding presence of Vanessa Redgrave. - Cleaver Patterson

LIFE OF PI 
2012, 20th Century Fox Blu-ray/DVD
Which story do you want to believe? Director Ang Lee proves yet again he can handle any genre, any premise, any potential narrative problem. LIFE OF PI is the most gorgeous 3D film to date (I am commenting on the theatrical presentation here), and looks stunning in HD 2D as well. - Eric Somer

THE LOST FILMS OF HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS * 
1969/71, Vinegar Syndrome Blu-ray/DVD
Say what you will about the movies in question (and really, the less said the better), this release still represented a major archeological save from a new label that offered up some of the most exciting genre titles of 2013. Not only were these long unseen features (ECSTASIES OF WOMEN, LINDA & ABILENE, and BLACK LOVE) returned to circulation, they looked fresh out of the lab. The first two, in particular, rank amongst the most gorgeous presentations of films from that era offered by any label. - John Charles

NIGHT ACROSS THE STREET
2012, Cinema Guild DVD
This was the last film of Raul Ruiz, master of self-conscious narrative games in the traditions of Borges and Robbe-Grillet. Most scenes are shot in long, insidious single takes as characters engage in baffling banter in a storyline best described as tenuous. An old man recalls his boyhood dialogues with Long John Silver and Beethoven, and he believes his impending retirement means someone will kill him. Strongly resembles a film I watched at the same time, Manoel de Oliveira's elegiac, personal, spellbinding ghost story THE STRANGE CASE OF ANGELICA, but that's a 2011 release or it could have replaced the Ruiz film here.- Michael Barrett

PACIFIC RIM
2013, Warner 3D Blu-ray/2D Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy
Guillermo Del Toro’s long awaited “Robots vs. Monsters” epic felt somewhat compromised by its cost and major studio origins, but one area where the film absolutely did not disappoint was the director’s incredible sense of imagination and design. Seemingly every aspect of the production displays a remarkable, infectious sense of creativity and this deluxe multi-format release showcases the movie beautifully. It also offers up special features that genuinely enhance one’s appreciation of PACIFIC RIM’s considerable strengths. - John Charles

THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES 
2012, Universal Blu-ray/DVD
When Luke (Ryan Gosling) makes his entrance, it is clear you are in good hands with director Derek Cianfrance. Modern film noir is seldom this epic. - Eric Somer


ROBIN REDBREAST 
1970, British Film Institute DVD (UK Import) 
The vaults of the BBC remain, especially for Americans, largely undiscovered country when it comes to Gothic and ghoulish entertainment. Happily, the BFI has been returning to the light a wealth of scary teleplays, both originals and adaptations of classic works, among them this compelling rural chiller, which serves as a landmark (however obscure) between NIGHT OF THE DEMON and THE WICKER MAN. - Richard Harland Smith


A precursor to THE WICKER MAN (1973), this television drama though not exactly frightening in the traditional sense is decidedly creepy, leaving the viewer in disbelief that the practices at its core could still be taking place in a modern, civilized society.  Accompanied by an enchanting public information film AROUND THE VILLAGE GREEN (1937), which gives an insight into traditional English village life, this is the perfect example of how to produce real horror from the outwardly innocent. - Cleaver Patterson
 
SECONDS
1966, Criterion Collection, Blu-ray
Criterion upgrades this eerie cult item - one of the most interestingly photographed black-and-white films of the sixties - to high definition with stunning results. John Frankenheimer's intensely dark and disturbing tale about a middle-aged man's attempt to start life anew in a surgically transformed body stars Rock Hudson in the performance of his career. Criterion imports the great Frankenheimer commentary from the former DVD and adds a few more extras, including an appreciation from actor Alec Baldwin. - Bill Cooke

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK 
2012, Starz/Anchor Bay Blu-ray/DVD
Director David O. Russell (THREE KINGS, THE FIGHTER) returns to the quirky comic roots he established with 1994's SPANKING THE MONKEY, the indie film that put him on the map as a filmmaker to watch. SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK withstands repeat viewings with ease. - Eric Somer

THE UNINVITED
1944, Criterion Collection Blu-ray/DVD
There are a slew of Top 10 Haunted House movie lists written by fans on the IMDb and none of them include THE UNINVITED. This has less to do with philistinism than the fact that the movie was just unavailable for years. Not missing, not lost... just off the market, withheld. The Criterion Collection's inclusion of this beloved title in its estimable ranks should right that inequity. - Richard Harland Smith
 
THE VINCENT PRICE COLLECTION
1959 - 1971, Shout! Factory, Blu-ray
Six essential titles from Vincent Price's association with American International Pictures (FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER, PIT & THE PENDULUM, THE HAUNTED PALACE, MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH, WITCHFINDER GENERAL and THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES) are oddly presented out of order on 4 discs, but this is still nirvana to the gothic horror fan. It's especially wonderful to finally have PIT AND THE PENDULUM in anamorphic widescreen. The package includes introductions by Price himself (fragments from a vintage interview) and plentiful audio commentaries (both old and new) featuring name talent like Roger Corman, Tom Weaver, Robert Fuest, Price biographer Lucy Chase Williams and VW contributors Tom Weaver, David Del Valle and Justin Humphreys. - Bill Cooke


WAKE IN FRIGHT 
1971, Image Entertainment Blu-ray or DVD 
Ted Kotcheff's rediscovered Australian classic (released in the US as OUTBACK in 1971) is misleadingly sold as a horror movie with shades of DELIVERANCE and STRAW DOGS. Closer to WALKABOUT, it's an expressive, atmospheric, existential character study of a surly, uptight teacher (Gary Bond) who faces his demons over a long weekend with a bunch of drunken yahoos (including a wiry Donald Pleasence) in the middle of bloody nowhere. Intense, foreboding, sometimes shocking. - Michael Barrett

WARM BODIES
2013, Summit Inc/Lionsgate Blu-ray or DVD 
This is a zombie comedy told by the zombie, who forms elegant sentences in his head as his body shuffles with other zombies at the airport (social comment like the mall in DAWN OF THE DEAD). When he meets a living girl while foraging for flesh, she causes his heart to skip a beat, or beat a skip, and his impulse to kidnap and shelter her causes his regression to a state increasingly capable of speech, warmth, etc. as the love bug spreads like a virus through zombie culture. The romance and symbolism are handled with Young Adult Novel sincerity that's never undercut by the absurdity and snarky hipness.- Michael Barrett

ZATOICHI: THE BLIND SWORDSMAN 
1962 - 1973, Criterion Collection, Blu-ray/DVD
This mammoth set from Criterion features 25 films on 9 blu-ray discs, plus standard definition presentations on 18 DVDs. Produced over a decade by the Daiei Studios, this Japanese historical adventure series stars Shintaru Katsu as a blind masseur who also happens to be a master swordsman. Every story has basically the same plot: Zatoichi comes to a new village, encounters people suppressed by local gangsters or politicians (or both), and in the end he must grudgingly use his sword-fighting talents to mete out justice. What makes the stories resonate is the character's profound inner turmoil over his ability to kill, and Katsu's deeply moving and endearing portrayal. - Bill Cooke

OTHER SIGNIFICANT RESTORATIONS OF 2013 
AN AMERICAN HIPPIE IN ISRAEL (Amos Sefer, 1972; Grindhouse Releasing) 
A MAN ESCAPED (Robert Bresson, 1956; Criterion) 
A BAY OF BLOOD (Mario Bava, 1971; Kino Lorber) 
BLACK SUNDAY (Mario Bava, 1960; Arrow Films) 
THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN'T DIE in MOVIES 4 YOU - MORE SCI-FI CLASSICS (Joseph Green, 1959/61; Timeless Media/Shout! Factory) - includes supplementary bonus nude footage for the 1st time! 
THE BRIDES OF DRACULA (Terence Fisher, 1960; Icon UK) 
CHINA GATE (Samuel Fuller, 1957; Olive Films) 
CINERAMA HOLIDAY (Robert L. Bendick/Philippe De Lacy, 1955; Flicker Alley) 
COHEN AND TATE (Eric Red, 1988; Shout! Factory) 
COLLEGE (James W. Horne/Buster Keaton, 1927; Kino Lorber) 
CORRUPTION (Robert Hartford-Davies, 1967; Grindhouse Releasing) 
DEMONS (Lamberto Bava, 1985; Synapse Films) 
DEMONS 2: THE NIGHTMARE RETURNS (Lamberto Bava, 1986; Synapse Films) 
THE DEVIL BAT (Jean Yarbrough, 1940; Kino Lorber) 
THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN (Freddie Francis, 1964; Icon UK) 
EYES WITHOUT A FACE (Georges Franju, 1959; Criterion) 
FIVE DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON (Mario Bava, 1970; Kino Lorber) 
GATE OF HELL (Teinosuke Kinugasa, 1953; Criterion) 
THE GRAPES OF DEATH (Jean Rollin, 1978; Redemption/Kino Lorber) 
THE HOT NIGHTS OF LINDA (Jesús Franco, 1973; Severin) 
HOW TO SEDUCE A VIRGIN (Jesús Franco, 1973; Mondo Macabro) 
JUBAL (Delmer Daves, 1956; Criterion) 
THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (Alfred Hitchcock, 1934; Criterion) 
THE MUMMY (Terence Fisher, 1959; Icon UK) 
NIGHT TIDE (Curtis Harrington, 1961; Kino Lorber)
NIGHTMARES COME AT NIGHT (Jesús Franco, 1970; Redemption/Kino Lorber) 
NOSFERATU: A SYMPHONY OF HORROR (Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, 1922; Kino Lorber) 
L'ORGIE DES VAMPIRES (Renato Polselli, 1964; Artus Films France) 
THE PUPPETOON MOVIE (Arnold Leibovit, 1987; B2MP) 
ROLLING THUNDER (John Flynn, 1977;  Shout! Factory) 
SAFETY LAST (Fred C. Newmeyer/Sam Taylor, 1923; Criterion)
SEX KITTENS GO TO COLLEGE (Albert Zugsmith, 1960; Warner Archive)
SHE DEVIL (Kurt Neumann, 1957; Olive Films) 
SOUTH SEAS ADVENTURE (Carl Dudley/Richard Goldstone/Francis D. Lyon, 1958; Flicker Alley) 
A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD (Jesús Franco, 1970; Redemption/Kino Lorber) 
THE WICKER MAN - THE FINAL CUT (Robin Hardy, 1973; StudioCanal UK) 
ZOMBIE LAKE (J.R. Lazer, 1981; Redemption/Kino Lorber)  



Tuesday, December 10, 2013

SCHOOLGIRL REPORT 11 Reviewed


SCHOOLGIRL REPORT 11: TRYING BEATS STUDYING
Schulmädchen-report 11. Teil Probieren geht über Studieren
aka BLUE DREAMS aka CONFESSIONS OF A NAKED VIRGIN
1977, Impulse Pictures, $24.98, 80m 13s, DVD

REVIEWED BY TIM LUCAS

The real maestro of the Schoolgirl Report series, Ernest Hofbauer, returns to direct this eleventh entry, which convenes around the framing story of a group of adult authorities who assemble to do a radio show on the subject of how well today's youth are protected by German youth laws. These experts include youth psychologist Dr. Hammacher (Astrid Boner); Mrs. Thea Berthold (Linda Carroll), a homemaker; Dr. Wolters (Peter Böhlke), the head of a "humanistic" high school; and Police Inspector Jenkel (Ulrich Beiger), who immediately admits that "all laws are in need of improvement."


The stories begin with Dr. Hammacher's account of Martina Behrens (apparently the radio show has no qualms about not protecting the subjects' anonymity), a failing student who relies on her straight A classmate Rolf to help her in exchange for the occasional under-the-desk feel. When she is caught cribbing his notes during a test, Martina fails her exam and is required to take Rolf as a tutor. He is willing to help but his rates are high. After losing her virginity to him, her grades improve greatly, but Rolf soon tires of her and wants to move on, setting up a tragic scenario with a surprisingly downbeat finale for an opening story.


Inspector Jenkel details the case of one Regina Schiminholz (Karine Gambier), who accuses her professor, Werner (Claus Tinney) of beating, molesting and raping her while serving as her tutor, in the presence of his menacing Great Dane. (The introduction of voyeuristic, antic animals during sex scenes is one of Hofbauer's recurring motifs.) After she reports her complaint to the school board, Werner gives his side of the story, in which Regina attended her tutorials in provocative clothing and practically raped him. It sounds absurd until a surprise third party steps forward to set the record straight.


Remarkably, up to this point, SCHOOLGIRL REPORT 11 is a virtual remake of Walter Boos' tenth series entry - with Tinney reprising much the same role in the RASHOMON retread - though filmed with more irony and panache.


Off-mic, Gila, an audio technician at the radio station, tells her male associate that she has a story she could contribute and they feign technical difficulties in order to relate it. When Gila was 16, she and her voluptuous best friend Gabi (#10's possessed girl Alexandra Bogojevic with glasses and a newly freckled face) decided they had been masturbating long enough and that it was time to experience real sex, so they made a date to meet with two boys in that most evocative of Hofbauer locations, a barn. This sequence builds to a remarkable, seismic double tryst that nearly brings down the barn and knocks over a shelf of paint cans - a minor jewel of frenzied exploitation editing that, in its energy and bucolic imagery, recalls the best of Russ Meyer.


When the broadcast taping resumes, Dr. Wolters reminisces about one of his own tragic students, Michaela Rautenberg (Yvonne Kerstin), a promising and serious young student whose school work began to suffer after her mother's health took a turn for the worse. A suicide note left in Wolters' mail box by Michaela tipped him off to her intentions in time to save her, and she confided to him and his wife the truth of her recent life, when she fell under the control of a biker gang that turned her into their sex slave and prostitute.


The fifth and final story is told by Thea about her own daughter, Heidi, still a virgin as of her 18th birthday. At her party, her thoughtful girlfriends taunt "the Iron Maiden" by relating the quick stories of their own deflorations, which are illustrated with brief vignettes involving the usual greenhouses, barns and farm animal voyeurs. Hofbauer goes so far as to cut away from one young man's exploration of his partner's public hair to the dribbling lips of a Shetland pony.


Heidi's best friend Ulla invites her over one day, on the premise of swapping clothes, but she entraps her in her bedroom with her handsome cousin Achim (Heiner Lauterbach), who has a reputation as a playboy, and refuses to let them out until Heidi is no longer a virgin. Achim admits to Heidi that his reputation is not well-earned, and the couple stage a "radio" event of their own for Heidi's eavesdropping girlfriends. Afterwards, back at Heidi's room, the film concludes with what a suddenly male narrator calls "an example of trust and love," cleverly shot through a revolving glass jar to obscure the love-making and make it more visually inventive.


While not one of Hofbauer's best films, SCHOOLGIRL REPORT 11 is recognizably his work, being an alternately manic and melancholy tour through human travails that builds to a healing finale. It has definite highlights in terms of comedy, tragedy and genuine eroticism, and it doesn't suffer from the erotic fatigue that clings to some of his later pictures. (Even in one of the film's tragic moments, a drug overdose, the revealing shot contains some editorial counterpoint by incorporating a Jimi Hendrix poster.) Again, none of the performers are credited onscreen, but even official cast lists exclude certain key roles, such as those of Gila and Martina.   

Impulse Pictures' 1.66:1 presentation - in German with English subtitles - appears to have originated from an aged, moderately noisy master with noticeable ghosting in the titles. Nevertheless, it is conspicuously more handsome and rich in audio than their SCHOOLGIRL REPORT 10, which is slightly grainier and evidently survives only in edited form. Certainly the extant Japanese and German DVD issues look no better. The color is not as gaudy as in the series' earliest entries, when the girls' fashions could match, but it is pleasingly naturalistic and, while the image loses detail as people and objects gain distance, the close-ups are occasionally smooth and appealing. The 2.0 mono track makes Gert Wilden's score a joy, with bright highs and fat lows.

Buy this title directly from Impulse Pictures here.

(c) 2013 Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.        

Monday, December 09, 2013

SCHOOLGIRL REPORT 10 Reviewed


SCHOOLGIRL REPORT 10
"Every Girl Starts Sometime..."
aka Schulmädchen-report 10. Teil - Irgendwann fängt jede an
1976, Impulse Pictures, 80m 40s, DVD

REVIEWED BY TIM LUCAS

Like all the preceding numbers in Impulse Pictures' releases of the Schoolgirl Report series, this tenth outing is presented in the original German (itself almost always dubbed) with English subtitles. In this case, however, the main titles sequence unreels in English and carries the title SEXY SCHOOLWORK - contrary to the film's earlier dubbed release here on VHS under the title SMARTIE PANTS. Under the direction of Walter Boos, the film attempts to uphold its docudrama pretenses by crediting none of the actors by name.

This time, five different stories are presented as offshoots of a sex education class in an all-girls college. In contrast to the more juvenile or melodramatic nature of the segments themselves, the questions raised in the classroom are surprisingly intelligent and philosophical, proving there was intelligence behind this project if not always within it.


In the first story, related anecdotally by the class professor (Astrid Boner), Dr. Hansel (Reiner Brönneke) is charged with the rape and deflowering of a 17-year old student, Susanne (Bärbel Markus), whom he was tutoring in Latin and English. In a RASHOMON twist, perhaps inspired by Mario Bava's FOUR TIMES THAT NIGHT (1972), we see the incident staged according to the accusation, and then Susanne's real lover, her classmate Bert (Claus Obalski), comes forward with the true story, which we also see enacted.


The second story concerns a student in the class itself, Inga (Marianne Dupont), who reminisces internally about how her own sexual awakening compelled her to pursue young men who might deflower her. The first refuses after a heavy petting session because it's a bother; the second actually does it but in a wham-bam dismissive way that leaves her depressed; the third is a young man working in a greenhouse, who is scared off by her aggression; and the fourth, Freddy, turns out to be a wonderful lover... except that afterwards he turns her over to two biker friends for a gangbang. Fleeing the scene of her violation in tears, she meets a gentle and sensitive young man who may be the answer to her quest for genuine love.


The next story has no apparent connection to the framing story and concerns 17 year-old Kathy Dietz (Yvonne Kerstin), who engineers the break-up of her father's second marriage by promising sexual favors to her boyfriend if he succeeds in making love to her stepmother (Karin Lorsin). He succeeds and discovers that the stepmother is really the woman he prefers to be with.


Episode Four zeroes in on an absent student, Seffi (Alexandra Bogojevic), who is very much in love with her boyfriend Karli (Peter Hamm) but they are both miserable because they have no place to sleep together. In a completely outré contrivance, Karli is introduced by a co-worker to William Peter Blatty's novel DER EXORZIST and conceives a wild idea. He proposes to Seffi that she pretend to be possessed by the Devil, so that he can gain entrance to her bedroom in the guise of a Rasputin-like monk named Horace, and make love to her under the guise of an exorcism! Seffi agrees and commences to make faces and expose herself to all the baffled folk in her small village until "Horace" shows up at the local tavern and makes his expertise known. It's the only episode in which the series' zany sense of humor is apparent.




The final segment is about Iris (Gina Janssen), whose happy affair with a wealthy older man, Walter (Paul Glawion), is suddenly cut off. She finds herself pursued by a younger, yet still older man, Franz (Claus Tinney, previously seen in SGR 8), who turns out to be Walter's nephew and hopeful of becoming the new partner in Iris' love life. To his surprise, Iris turns out to be a more substantial young woman than he expected - she has read Dante in the original, no less - and he is still more surprised when she immediately accepts him. Afterwards, he invites her to dinner but she turns the tables by inviting him to eat with her parents - a careworn mother and a drunken father forever complaining about his war wounds ("an inheritance from Adolph"). His reaction to the dinner decides their future and confirms her wisdom.


In the context of its series, SCHOOLGIRL REPORT 10 is something of an oddity. Despite the subtitle (a sexist tweak on the German original's "Everybody Starts Sometime"), only two of the five vignettes are about the loss of virginity. Furthermore, it's not really a film about the "issue" of teenage sex, as the once-political exploitative series set out to be in 1970. The majority of its stories involve relationships between adult partners and unusually mature, theoretical teenagers. It's common in the series for the teenage girls to be smirkingly knowledgeable beyond their years, but all of the young women in this film are indistinguishable from sexually active adults, even when they are pretending to lose their virginity. The EXORCIST-themed episode is a riotous hoot, like nothing else in the series, and its two principals are plainly adult, impossible to confuse for school-aged lovers. The film gains most of its value from its typically attractive and capable cast, but its most successful erotic scenes involve the older characters; it's otherwise flatly directed and shot, with only intermittent moments where the camerawork shows imagination. Gert Wilden's particolored dance score is somewhat more vivid than usual.

Like the original German release of this title, Impulse's 1.66:1 DVD contains more than a half-dozen brief cuts during scenes of sexual activity -- jumps in the music track help us to pinpoint them at 8:40, 18:09, 18:26, 18:30, 25:05, 25:46 (which apparently omits a lengthy gang-rape), 37:46 and 38:15. There may be others. The omissions are not the fault of Impulse and survive as traces of an attempt on the part of the film's producers to jazz the film up with some added explicitness that was reconsidered before the film hit German theaters. An earlier Region 2 release from the Japanese label Mondo Romantic ran only 78m 02s and omitted the gang rape finale of the Inga segment (and its hopeful conclusion) in its entirety, ending her story on the happy note of finding satisfactory sex with Freddy! While Impulse's transfer of this wintertime movie appears mildly noisy and somewhat drably colored, Mondo Romantic's somewhat more colorful transfer was clearly pumped up too much, creating still more surface distortion. Impulse's release, though flawed, therefore embodies the best possible presentation of SCHOOLGIRL REPORT 10 we are likely to see.

Purchase directly from Impulse Pictures here.

(c) 2013 Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

The Widened Horizons of CINERAMA HOLIDAY


As the year hurriedly draws to a close, I've been trying to catch up with some of my overdue 2013 viewing with an eye toward drawing up my list of year's favorites. Last night I watched Flicker Alley's CINERAMA HOLIDAY, a beautifully restored presentation of the second film lensed in three-camera Cinerama, back in 1955.

Flicker Alley's previous release of the initial film, THIS IS CINERAMA (1953), was fun up to a point but finally succumbed to overbearing, flag-waving patriotism that hasn't dated well. For the second film, Cinerama turned to audience response cards that asked viewers of THIS IS CINERAMA what they'd like to see next. The consensus of opinion reflected a desire for a bigger, more adventurous look at the world, so they took a midwestern American couple and a couple from Switzerland and sent them on tours of each others' respective worlds: the Swiss touring America coast-to-coast, while the Americans visited various stops in Switzerland and France. The resulting film is a far more buoyant and inviting travelogue experience, one that takes us through valleys and deserts in search of the Old West, and then on to Las Vegas and the San Francisco coast; over the Swiss Alps to a variety of ski locations and an outdoor performance by members of the Ice Capades; to jazz and folk performances in the great city of New Orleans (Odetta is briefly glimpsed in performance); and then into Paris, with side trips into Montmartre, the Louvre, the Lido (a stunning acrobatic performance), a jolly Guignol puppet show performance (not to be confused with the Theâtre du Grand Guignol!), and the Notre Dame cathedral, before it all builds to a bizarre twist, in which the film's two couples converge in New York City for the premiere of CINERAMA HOLIDAY, at which they arrive just in time for the supersonic finale featuring the breathtaking stunt flying of the Blue Angels.


Watching this film helped to crystallize something in my thinking. While THIS IS CINERAMA was the demonstration of an extraordinary new technology that didn't quite know what to do with itself yet, CINERAMA HOLIDAY takes the significant step of showing people that the world was truly three-dimensional, not just points on a map. It showed people the larger world's potential for adventure, scenic beauty, drama, romance, spiritual enrichment of the spirit, and also danger. If it is, first and foremost, an improvement over what the first film delivered, it is also, secondly and most effectively, a kickstart for the tourism industry - as well as an inspirator of much cinema yet to come. In cinematic terms, it stands out as perhaps the first film to showcase locations in documentary terms that, at the same time, underscores them with same larger-than-life sensibility that later became a key ingredient of the James Bond film series.

The film runs 129 minutes and is presented complete with overture, intermission (with cigarettes prominently featured in the onscreen art) and exit music. While parts of the second half look slightly overdark, this is an impressive restoration and will have you wishing your home screen, whatever its size, was bigger to lend its imagery the majesty it warrants.

Buy the Blu-ray/DVD combo set of CINERAMA HOLIDAY directly from the Flicker Alley website here