Friday, June 27, 2014

The Hell of It

In today's mail, I received a copy of Culture Factory USA's limited edition high-definition CD of Paul Williams' soundtrack for PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE, which I've heard is on the verge of exhausting its 3000 print run. I'm glad I snagged it (from Amazon); the soundtrack album hits the listener differently than the music heard in context, even on the 5.1 Blu-ray discs; as I listened to this CD, I could hear the instrumentation deployed as a means of complementing the lyrics, of couching the lyrics; the placement of a Hammond organ here or an electric guitar there stands out more as an element of composition - as the official statement of this musical idea - than it does when there is a visual element also in play. For these reasons, I found "Upholstery" - in some ways the wittiest of its musical satires if one of the score's less compelling songs - is in some ways the most revelatory cue from a production angle. But listening to this collection of songs again confirmed for me all the more that this is Williams' masterpiece. The libretto cuts deep into matters of life and love and metaphysics, not in the least shying away from the film's satirical basis in FAUST, but also the forces of irony that bring us all to our knees at one time or another. In some ways, it's more than De Palma's film warranted, and the primary key to its greatness.

Here's a song that I think could stand as an epitaph for almost anyone who's been around the block, in the arts, in business, in life or love - which I think gives its vaudevillian/music hall trappings a real sting, one that says that all stories must come to an end because the show must go on.

Sunday, June 22, 2014


Caught Delmer Daves' THE RED HOUSE late last night on Hulu Plus, almost in the spirit of emergency after failing to find anything else acceptable to the two of us. It's a bit overlong, helpless to resist adding loving brushstrokes to secondary characters, but so much of value to savor here... It's not exactly a horror movie, but its mystery and suspense are of a high order, conveyed within an unusual but effective atmosphere that is hard to peg, somewhere between a Lewton RKO and a Disney Hardy Boys serial. (It's beautifully shot by DP Bert Glennon, who had earlier pictures like the 1933 ALICE IN WONDERLAND, Sternberg's THE SCARLET EMPRESS and John Ford's STAGECOACH under his belt.) Had this movie been presented to me without credits, I would have thought it was the work of Jacques Tourneur, if only for its deceptively mild, delicate handling of young romantic leads Lon McCallister and Allene Roberts -- whom I remembered from a couple of ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN appearances, notably the (again) similarly pitched episode "The Haunted Lighthouse." The scenes between a very young but quickly ripening Rory Calhoun and Julie London look ripped from the pages of LIL' ABNER and have the snapping, lusty vitality of early Russ Meyer -- in fact, the entire film, while superficially wholesome, contains a surprising number of fairly forthright sexual references in its dialogue; this serves to foreshadow the romantic obsession/mental ilness that's finally revealed as the prime motivator behind the mystery, which builds to a surprising, semi-giallo intensity given Edward G. Robinson's somewhat fetishized dread "The Red House."

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Some VIDEO WATCHDOG (P)updates

I neglected to mention that, on June 15, VIDEO WATCHDOG marked the 24th anniversary of the printing and delivery of its very first issue. So VW is now officially in its 25th year of publication. It's hard to believe that we're not only still doing this after all these years, but still evolving it.

You're surely wondering what has happened to the Digital Edition of VW 176, especially since 177 is already in the hands of our first-class subscribers. It is coming, but Donna has been very tied up with other duties - sending out the new issue, prepping the next one (which I'm programming and editing now) and also working with associates to get our back issue inventory digitized and digitally restored so that we can keep our Indiegogo promise to deliver that Digital Archive before the end of the year. But all the digital bells and whistles are in place for 176 - she just has to find the time to drop everything into its proper place and upload it.

For those of you who keep track of my audio commentaries, we're now in the midst of a virtual epidemic of them. Since last fall, I've recorded an even dozen commentaries for various companies, most of them in the UK. My most recent ones for Kino Lorber/Redemption have been out for awhile now, the three Jess Franco titles (A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD, NIGHTMARES COME AT NIGHT and THE AWFUL DR. ORLOF) and Bava's 5 DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON. Available now, or in the immediate future, are two from Arrow Films: Roger Corman's PIT AND THE PENDULUM (also available as a steelbook) and Robert Fuest's DR PHIBES RISES AGAIN in their box set THE COMPLETE DR PHIBES. The cherry on top of the cake (or is it the cake on top of the cherry) will be the release of the BFI's ALAIN ROBBE-GRILLET 1963-1974 box set which includes a new commentary from me on each of the five main features; as audio commentaries go, I have to say this is my proudest accomplishment. I've also delivered a commentary for one of my favorite movies, Georges Franju's EYES WITHOUT A FACE, for the BFI's upcoming release of that title. I've agreed to do another commentary for an upcoming US release which hasn't yet been announced, and still another is being discussed.

Donna and I also intend to be adding some material to our digital edition of MARIO BAVA ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK in acknowledgement of Mario's centenary on July 30 of this year. If you've already bought and downloaded the book's digital edition, your copy will be automatically updated. And if you haven't, what are you waiting for?

Donna tells me that we are now officially down to our last 100 copies of MARIO BAVA ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK. The book will never again be published in this same deluxe, unexpurgated format and there are no plans for us to reprint it in any form at present. Remember, this is not just a critical biography of Mario Bava; it also tells the entire story of Italian cult cinema from its silent origins till its climactic crisis in the 1980s. It also encompasses the careers of many other important players in Bava's filmography, notably those of Aldo Fabrizi, Gina Lollobrigida and Steve Reeves. If you want to own a copy, I'll tell you, in all seriousness, that this would be the time to start seriously pooling your resources to do so. We're not going to do a countdown or anything; we'll  just be suddenly announcing one day that it's no longer available from us. And then -- as you and I will both sadly see -- the going price will shoot up even higher as it falls under the control of secondary sellers. But the digital edition will remain available - with all the advantages of the tangible edition (save tangibility!) and none of the disadvantages. It's even easy to read in bed!

I've got some other projects in progress as well. I've been editing and revising an unpublished novel of mine, THE ONLY CRIMINAL, which I've mentioned here before, in the hope that it might soon see the light of day. My BOOK OF RENFIELD appeared some ten years after THROAT SPROCKETS, and it's now going on ten years since BOOK OF RENFIELD appeared, so I'm due to return as a novelist. I also completed a novelette last year that we expected to bring out this year, but which got pushed aside by the imperatives of the Digital Edition project... I got some fabulous advance blurbs on it and am looking forward to its release sometime next year as well.

What else? Oh yes, don't forget that I'm writing a column for GOREZONE called "Tales From the Attic." In their next issue, I offer my own personal list of the Ten Best horror cinema-related books I've read, along with another ten back-up recommendations. Till now, GOREZONE has been available by subscription only, but I understand this is now changing and the next issue will receive some limited newsstand circulation. Check it out!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

DOCTOR ORLOFF'S MONSTER: From Germany, In English

Just watched the new German release of DR. ORLOFF'S MONSTER (1964) called Die Lebenden Leichen des Doktor Jekyll ("The Living Corpses of Doctor Jekyll"), released by Edition Tonfilm. English-speaking Franco fans will be interested to learn that it runs a bit longer than the Image Entertainment release (85m 18s as opposed to 84m 53s; I'm not sure what was added) and offers the English soundtrack (previously limited to a French Mad Movies release), as well as German and French tracks. To see the film uncut and in English is something special, as the US release didn't include any of the nude scenes.

Seeing the film again for the first time in several years, I found myself looking at some scenes I had completely forgotten (like Dr. Fisherman's visit to an opium den) and more impressed with it than previously, perhaps a result of the English track. Another thing that took me by surprise with this viewing were the similarities of Melissa's homecoming to her uncle's castle and Christina's advent into the same predicament in A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD (1971). The character of the aunt played here by Luisa Sala is very similar to Rose Kienkens' character in VIRGIN and, of course, both families consist of killers and corpses! Though not a complete success, this is an ambitious film of its station and a stylistic advance beyond THE AWFUL DR. ORLOF (1962, with which it shares some exteriors and interiors), with Perla Cristal's nightclub performance a particular standout of staging and the tender relationship between Melissa (Agnes Spaak) and the robotized corpse of her late father (Hugo Blanco) looking forward to another important Spanish horror film yet to come: Victor Erice's THE SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE (El espĂ­ritu de la colmena, 1973). 

The disc includes the 11 minutes of nude outtakes that Image included, and as a nice bonus, it adds on the French and Italian trailers (content is identical) and a pinkish Super 8 sound version of THE AWFUL DR ORLOF called THE DEMON DOCTOR, which runs 16m 41s and includes the original (non-nude) surgical sequence. For some reason, though it's in English and opens with the film's BBFC certificate, the Super 8's main titles are from the Italian version, the one with the fake Anglicized credits like "Regia di Walter Alexander." It makes for quite a happy, nostalgic, if pleasingly dirty package.

I obtained this fine product from the good folks at Diabolik DVD. Here are some frame grabs from the main feature and the Super 8 film: 

I had forgotten it's a Christmas picture! Here is Franco's idea of how to decorate a tree!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Farewell, Mater Tenebrarum

Word reaches us today of the passing of the striking Romanian actress Veronica Lazar, at the age of 75. Lazar, who settled in Rome and was married to actor Adolfo Celi (Valmont in DANGER: DIABOLIK), is perhaps the only actress to have been directed by three generations of the Bava family. She was a featured player in Dario Argento's INFERNO (pictured), playing the Nurse/Mater Tenebrarum; in this role, she was directed by Mario Bava for the final special effects reveal of her character and also by the film's credited assistant director Lamberto Bava on the days when Argento was hospitalized for hepatitis, and she more recently appeared in the "Gemelle" episode of the 2012 Italian miniseries 6 PASSI NEL GIALLO directed by Lamberto's son Fabrizio Bava. She worked again with Argento in THE STENDHAL SYNDROME, and also played Martha in Lucio Fulci's THE BEYOND. She was also a recurring cast member for Michelangelo Antonioni and Bernardo Bertolucci, appearing in IDENTIFICATION OF A WOMAN and BEYOND THE CLOUDS, as well as LAST TANGO IN PARIS, LUNA and THE SHELTERING SKY.