Friday, November 30, 2018

Own the Mask of Satan!

Barbara Steele in Mario Bava's BLACK SUNDAY.

I was recently contacted through Facebook by a representative for Timothy Ramzyk, who - some years back - had published THE MONSTER BOX, a set of 25 restored reproductions of the original box art for 8mm Monster movies sold in the 1950s and '60s which I had reviewed for VIDEO WATCHDOG. (There have since been two additional MONSTER BOXes released, available through his website Pulp Novelties.) I was told that a gift was coming my way and to be on the lookout for it. It later arrived, a sizable box addressed to both Donna and me, so I awaited her availability so we could open it together. To say that we were astounded by what rested inside its styrofoam support casing is an understatement.

It was a full-sized reproduction of the Mask of Satan, as seen in Mario Bava's classic film La maschera del demonio (1960), better known as BLACK SUNDAY! It was sent to us as a belated but most generous thank you for writing and producing MARIO BAVA - ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK.

The original Mask, of course, was sculpted by the director's father Eugenio Bava, a great cinematographer and special effects technician of the silent screen; Timothy's Mask is the culmination of his meticulous study of the film's images and some enriching embellishments of his own. The piece has incredible presence. It's a powerful object to behold and a most impressive object to display. It has the authority to overwhelm every other object in a room, and is a tribute not only to Timothy's love for the movie and his attentive craftsmanship, but the thunderous vision of the original artifact. 

Javuto (Arturo Dominici) rises from unhallowed ground in BLACK SUNDAY.

Since I received this staggering gift, Timothy has taken the necessary steps to make his Mask an authorized product - it has been licensed through Naor World Media Film, the present owner of the film - and he is beginning to accept orders TODAY. 

For the curious, here are some views of the Mask from different angles - including the reverse side, which people automatically want to know about. 

Please note: The Mask of Satan is manufactured by hand, not mass-produced; therefore, while the item is licensed for years to come, the presently available quantity is limited. If you're interested in acquiring one (and who wouldn't be?), I would recommend you stake your claim now - especially if you'd like to have yours in time for the holidays.

It is priced at $272.00 plus postage, and it can only be obtained by writing to Timothy here

(c) 2018 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

For the Love of Toho IV... PLUS

aka GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER (Kraken Releasing BD)
After the 1966 theatrical release of GHIDRAH THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER (1965), the correct chronology of Godzilla films started getting confused in the American consciousness. Here, the release of Ishirô Honda's wonderful MONSTER ZERO (aka INVASION OF THE ASTRO-MONSTER, 1966) got skipped over and delayed until 1970, while this subsequent 1967 adventure seemed to pop up out of nowhere on television in the late 1960s. I had seen the dubbed version televised two or three times over the years, but this was my first viewing of the Japanese version with English subtitles. A young man in search of his missing brother talks a group of peers into lending their boat to his purpose, which takes them to an irradiated island guarded by a giant lobster, and inhabited by a dormant Godzilla. Not frightening in the least, which the series hadn't been since the first film, but somehow appreciably less of a monster-fest than the most recent films, even though Mothra and a somewhat flea-bitten-looking giant condor make cameo appearances. In addition to monster tennis, this one includes some absolutely superb optical and matte shots (not the work of the credited Eiji Tsubaraya but his successor Sadamasa Arikawa, who was supervised by Tsubaraya), and I like the Godzilla suit in this one; it has a certain scrappy character. I miss the Peanuts as the Infant Island Twins, though; they are played here by a less endearing sister act, Pair Bambi. There's absolutely no doubt in my mind that Masaru Satô occasionally surf-poppy score is where the B-52s' Ricky Wilson got the inspiration for his “Rock Lobster” riffs. Fun movie, gorgeous looking and sweet-sounding Blu-ray presentation - the packaging says DTS HD Master Audio mono, but I could have sworn there was some stereo separation going on. Order here.

LATITUDE ZERO (Tokyo Shock Media Blasters DVD)
From a distance this looks like a homogenized ATRAGON warm-over, so it's not surprising it hasn't garnered the cult audience it deserves... but track this thing down and buy it. Till then, just imagine this: Cesar Romero is cast as a cackling mad scientist, who - miles below the ocean surface - single-handedly removes the brain of a sedated lion and replaces it with the brain of his coldly discarded mistress, then grafts two wings of a woebegone condor (yes, the same one from EBIRAH!) onto its back, while two screaming observers are forcibly restrained by a pair of leering half-human bat creatures that look flown in from TWILIGHT PEOPLE. Romero is so carried away by his own genius that it never occurs to him that his ex’s brain might carry a grudge. Incredibly, this mayhem was rated G (!!!) at the time of the film's release. Joseph Cotten and his wife Patricia Medina are also aboard. The special effects are once again credited to Eiji Tsubaraya (who died not long after the film's release) though actually executed by Sadamasa Arikawa and others; they are among some of the best to be found in Toho's output. Also, this film being a co-production with America, you get to hear suave Toho regular Akira Takarada speaking his English lines in his own voice. Alternately impressive and uproarious - time well spent! Originally produced in stereo, the DVD upgrades the mix to 5.1 and includes other special features, like deleted scenes and the Japanese cut. Order here.

Teruo Ishii’s Kyôfu kikei ningen: Edogawa Rampo zenshû is ostensibly a surreal, over the top, tongue-in-cheek adaptation of the complete works of Edogawa Rampo; it started out as an adaptation of a single story but, realizing during production that it might be his only such adaptation, he proceeded to a rewrite that threw in everything but the proverbial kitchen sink. I realized about halfway through this often fascinating, occasionally repugnant, and operatically overdone feature that is it, is in some ways, the movie APOCALYPSE NOW should have been - it depicts the madness that Kurtz should have been up to - so it owes something to Joseph Conrad as well as Rampo. Now available on BD from Arrow Video with two expert commentaries and various extras ported over from a previous Synapse Films DVD release, this is for the adventurous, worthy of sharing a shelf with Moctezuma’s DR. TARR’S TORTURE DUNGEON (MANSION OF MADNESS), the complete works of Alejandro Jodorowsky, and MALATESTA’S CARNIVAL OF BLOOD. Order here.

(c) 2018 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.

Monday, November 12, 2018

RIP Stan Lee (1922-2018)

Stan Lee promoting DOCTOR STRANGE with Ditko hands.
My mother taught me to read, but Stan Lee and Forry Ackerman probably encouraged me to read more than anyone before I could find my own way. When I was a kid, he (or at least the work he signed, it usually carried his unmistakable voice) gave me most of my ideas about what it meant to be a responsible adult, about how sometimes people’s best intentions were not enough, about the importance of continuing on when it just didn’t seem possible. I understand that he had flaws and faults of his own, as always seems to enter the picture with money and success, but when I think of all the talent he introduced and gave a regular platform and voice for so many years, how can I not be eternally thankful? 

I was actually there when what we now know as Marvel's Silver Age was starting up; I have vivid memories of getting THE AVENGERS #3 and THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #14 off of drug store spinner racks.  I remained a serious Marvel collector well into my early teens, when the company's product began losing its character as various of its classic creators left to pursue something closer to their real worth, and when Stan himself began relinquishing his writing duties - around the same time I was beginning to favor actual novels. To me, that decade of real time experience was every bit as privileged as having been around to witness the The Beatles.


(c) 2018 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.

Monday, November 05, 2018


Peter Bogdanovich and John Huston.
Now I can say that I have experienced Orson Welles’ THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND (playing this month on Netflix and in select theatrical engagements), but have I seen it? Is it possible to really “see” it in a single go? 

The storyline is simplicity itself: it's a portrait of a maverick film director (John Huston) on his 70th birthday, trying to find the funding for one last masterpiece that he's basically trying to will into existence without a script. Meanwhile, the old Hollywood studio system is crumbling around him and he must find the humility to beg intercession from a former admirer who has become the hottest young film director in town. It's very clearly about the ironic relationship between Welles himself and Peter Bogdanovich, the difference between them being that Welles refused to play himself. He also initially denied Bogdanovich the opportunity by casting Rich Little in the role of the young successor - ostensibly because he, like Bogdanovich, was known for doing impressions. When that casting failed, Bogdanovich stepped in. One wishes that Welles had been as honest and as brave. His absence from the film (save for a couple of questions his well-known voice addresses from off-screen to Lili Palmer in an interview) prevents the film from achieving supernova as a piece of meta-filmmaking. Huston's not particularly effective in a role that should be larger than life, and his casting underlines Welles' final film as a refusal to admit the obvious, an ironic concession to personal vanity, a backing-down from his last real chance at bat. 

Obviously, without Welles around to offer notes on the final edit it has been given here, this is more of an organization of materials than an actual Welles film, regardless of what the screen credits say. TOSOTW doesn’t have the immediacy of a great Welles film; it’s not really a film of great performances, oddly enough, though it has many great moments; it’s not something you would point to, to introduce someone to Welles as a filmmaker. I’m not even sure I can detect the breath of the living Welles in it. However, his fleeting shadow darts phantom-like between its edits, its bravura, and its paling anger and despair, fed up with the nonsense, the hell of other people that must be endured if one dares to chase the angels.

So much whirling, twirling, crossing the line, such egregious chaos and rule-breaking - the first half hour or so reminds me a lot of the first pages of Vladimir Nabokov’s ADA, where the author’s style is so exaggerated, impenetrable and ogreish that it seems dedicated to evicting all but its most dedicated, passionate, determined readers... but once you get past that, there are numerous pleasures in store, including a rare commodity in new movies, some genuine eroticism. In TOSOTW, the greatest pleasures pop out from the richly hued, widescreen movie-within-the-movie; it's during these passages, the ones most fraught with mystery and danger, that the film eases up, slows down, relaxing and giving the viewer a chance to absorb information at their own pace. What surrounds these astounding chunks of protein in the broth is much like life itself: reckless, free-wheeling, fraught with mistakes, regrets, flashes of humility, arrogance, and poetry.

If Welles had ever seen Dennis Hopper’s THE LAST MOVIE (1971), it might well have taken the wind out of his sails in terms of completing this project, because they are much the same animal - except here the villagers who survive the filming are not constructing cameras out of bamboo, but rather an effigy of Welles himself, who is seen only reflected in the eyes of a devoted cast and crew. Like most of his other features, this film is the story of a betrayal, or at least a perceived betrayal, and its fabric consists of everyone in the business who hadn't yet turned their back on Orson Welles. Perhaps the most loyal of all these individuals and individualists was the late cinematographer Gary Graver, whose arch visual style, as it plays around the hard edits, is not only aggressively Wellesian but occasionally evokes Russ Meyer - even before two characters bounce around in the buff on a set of bare bed springs. Thanks in large part to Graver, the greatest compliment I can give the film on the basis of a single viewing - and I think it's one that would very much please Welles - is that this film is as valid a monument to Oja Kodar as THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI was to Rita Hayworth. She is formidable and unforgettable in it.

Robert Random and Oja Kodar.

Like all Welles films, this is complex wine and a fast review would be well before its time. This will need to be seen numerous times - in all honesty, probably more by students, cultists and devotees than general audiences. It's possible that its legend was more valuable, more magical, than its fact - as was the case with Brian Wilson's long unfinished SMILE - but now that Welles' chimera has been coalesced into one thing, assembled (valiantly, by editor Bob Murawski) into a manageable document or entertainment, its admirers can proceed with the work of posterity, which is to say, taking it apart once again.

(c) 2018 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.

Sunday, November 04, 2018

For the Love of Toho III: SHIN GODZILLA (2016)

I realized, in the midst of my Toho viewings, that I have been remiss in buying Hideaki Anno's SHIN GODZILLA on Blu-ray. I had seen it once before and liked it, but evidently it was the English version I saw. The Japanese version, which I watched on Funimation's Blu-ray this evening, is a far sharper, more intricate piece of work.

I've told a friend of mine, who knows the film well, that he ought to write an "Annotated SHIN GODZILLA" and he's replied that one already exists - it's the subtitles of the film. This made me laugh, but now that I've seen the version he loves, I understand absolutely what he means.  It would take numerous viewings to grasp and absorb all that is going on, who everyone is, who they are named after, etc. This is a monster spectacle but in the truest sense; Godzilla's scenes inspire awe and constant surprise. He is not here to entertain us. He is like a mysterious, ever-changing spindle around which world events are suddenly obliged to revolve.

The movie has its faults, like the casting of Satomi Ishihara as the slinky Asian-American with her eye on becoming POTUS someday (in live audio Japanese, she is unconvincing as someone raised in America and hardly articulate enough in English to have attained political clout), but its narrative intricacies encompass so much else that such missteps are mere annoyances. Watching its hectic, intricate design speed past, I was reminded - oddly enough - of the movie I saw last night, Orson Welles' THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND, which also has crazy, whirling, unstoppable energy and a sly political side, but it tells a far more primitive story and, I would have to say, a more narcissistic one. SHIN GODZILLA has a kaleidoscopic complexion too, but it represents different nations and individuals of all classes while organizing a meticulous, faceted sense of strategy, all to a noble purpose - while at the same time satirizing ossified political structures and an over-informed, media-driven world that basically still doesn't have a clue.

I'm sure I'm not the first person to say this, but SHIN GODZILLA is the DR. STRANGELOVE of the 21st century and one of the most impressive feats of filmmaking in the last two decades. It is also genuinely awesome and frightening and, we realize as the end credits roll, humble.

If Ishirō Honda saw this film, on his best day, I believe he would stand up and applaud.

(c) 2018 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.